American whiskey? Absolutely. Scottish whiskey? You bet. Japanese whiskey? Bring it on. But French whiskey? The folks at Brenne Whiskey are working to make the name for French whiskey, so today we decided to find out how they’re doing.
Brenne has a very unique backstory- not the least of which is that it’s founder is a woman in a very male-dominated industry. Allison Parc started her professional career as a ballerina in the New York City based Joffrey Ballet company. As she tells it, her career was dominated by people telling her that she just wasn’t good enough to succeed, something that she didn’t experience when she was enjoying whiskey with friends.
When she retired from ballet and turned her attention to her next career, she thought of whiskey. As someone who was interested in the effect of terroir (the effect of the location on the taste of a product) on wine, she wondered if anyone was taking the same approach with whiskey. Knowing how seriously the French took their appellations and the terroir effect, she headed there to learn more. It was here where she found a cognac distiller who shared some of the same ideas she did.
Using her personal savings account as startup money, she formed a partnership with the cognac distiller and they created Brenne Whiskey, a brand focused on grain to glass whiskey production that brings the nuances of cognac production to the whiskey world. The first batch was released in 2012, when Allison personally peddled the product (on a CitiBank bicycle) to local shops in New York. The gamble finally paid off in 2017, when the brand was picked up by an international distributor and is now widely available.
Brenne starts with two strains of heirloom barley that are grown on-site at the cognac distillery in Cognac, France. Once mature, the barley is malted, cooked, and combined with a strain of yeast that has been in the distiller’s family for generations. From there, the mash is distilled two times in traditional cognac stills.
The newly made single malt whiskey is placed in oak barrels sourced from the Limousin area of France and old cognac casks for conditioning and aging. Once properly matured, the spirit is bottled and shipped worldwide.
There’s a certain elegance that comes from a simple design. It’s something that modern French style uses to great effect, and I think the folks at Brenne have captured that aesthetic perfectly in this bottle.
The bottle itself is tall and slender, something that will definitely make it stand out on a liquor shelf. The majority of the bottle is transparent, showing off the beautiful golden color of the whiskey within instead of trying to hide it like some other designs. The only real branding is a single small square label that defines the manufacturer’s information and a wrapper around the cap (which is a synthetic and cork stopper). All of the labeling is done in a pale blue color that’s very French indeed.
The liquid is a pale amber color in the glass, almost more like you just poured yourself a glass of gold. The smell is consistent with that lighter coloring — what I get is mainly a lot of fruit. I think apple is the primary fruit in there, with some lemon added for good measure and perhaps a touch of orange. From smell alone, it honestly reminds me, just a bit, like a green Jolly Rancher.
The flavor is, as you would expect, very light and fruity. That apple flavor is once again making itself known, but there’s also a bit of vanilla from the barrels creeping in on the sides. The liquid itself is very light and thin, probably closer to the consistency of skim milk than most whisky.
It’s delicious, that’s for sure. Light, crisp, and fruity. Easily sippable by itself, but I would caution that the lighter flavors might get lost among some of the common whiskey-associated activities (such as cigar smoking).
With the added ice, the more subtle fruity and floral flavors start to drop out. There’s absolutely some apple still in there, but the vanilla that was in the background has become more prominent.
In fact, on the rocks, Brenne Whiskey is pretty much all apple and vanilla. It’s sweet and delicious — it easily could have veered into the cloyingly sweet territory but the light viscosity, which is definitely lighter than a typical whiskey, keeps it from being syrupy. I don’t know if this was intentional or accidental, but it’s a win either way.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
When you have a whiskey that’s richer and darker there’s something to counter the bitters and orange flavors of an Old Fashioned. But in this case, there’s just not enough corn-derived sweetness or dark tones to counteract the bitters — and since Brenne was already very heavy on the citrus flavors, adding more citrus doesn’t help the situation.
I’d say this an Old Fashioned actually ruins the spirit, sad to say.
The whiskey just gets lost in the mix. There’s a bit of the apple note coming through, but otherwise the drink is just far too sweet.
To be fair, this isn’t the whiskey’s playground. The purpose behind the Mule is to try and overwhelm the whiskey with another bold and contrasting flavor, so you have to use a bold whiskey (think Rye), or you just have a lot of ginger flavor. In this case, we have a light and delicate whiskey that is just completely overwhelmed by the ginger flavor.
I’ve seen a lot of bottles of whiskey that are all branding and no substance, people who just slap a pretty label on some mass produced whiskey and try to call it a craft spirit. Full disclosure? I thought this would be more of the same, a chic looking label with some slick branding that just tries to fake it until they make it.
Boy was I wrong.
Allison’s goal was to create a whiskey as unique and complex as the different varieties of French wine, and she nailed it. This isn’t a mixing whiskey, this is a light and crisp sipping whiskey. On par with just about any scotch whisky. And it is goddamn delicious.
Production: Cognac, France
Classification: Single Malt
Grain bill: 100% malted barley
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $55.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 5/5
It might be because I love all things French. But this is fruity and delicious.