Between Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the United States, it's easy to ignore the growing category of brown goods developing in other regions across the globe—Asia, Australia, other parts of Europe—under the catchall term "World Whisky." This week's pairing serves as a wake-up call with a relatively new expression emerging from the brandy-making French region of Cognac.
Brenne Single Malt Whisky is a brand developed by American entrepreneur Allison Patel in conjunction with a third-generation Cognac maker who grew organic barley in fields surrounding its distillery for the food industry.
Patel, who made her way into importing whisky via careers in ballet dancing and the jewelry trade, describes Brenne as a fruit bomb, but it is much more than that. It started to take form when the French family grew grains for cereal making, but suddenly realized, "That's silly. Let's drink some."
Utilizing waters from the Charente River, the grain is fermented and then distilled in a live-fired copper alembic of local tradition. The whisky is aged in new French limousin oak and then finished in casks formerly used to mature Cognac.
The effect is quite different from traditional whiskies you might have tried, but that's the point: to create a whisky that reflects its region, not just a Scotch-style dram. It's also well worth a taste, especially in conjunction with a good smoke.
(Cigar pairing on next page)
Brenne French Single Malt Whisky Barrel No. 270 (80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $65 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Bright orange to amber color. Chunky, slow teardrop legs.
NOSE: Very sweet aroma of apple sauce, cinnamon, graham cracker, butterscotch and honey.
PALATE: The candied qualities of the nose—especially the apple and cinnamon—make their way to the palate to be joined by creamy, orange notes. Then comes a tanginess and ultimately a whisky flavor. That may sound like an obvious descriptor for a whisky, but this stuff is so different you almost need to be reminded. Suddenly it has shifted gears and becomes very spicy.
FINISH: As the spice evolves on the back end—cinnamon, anise and pepper—you get an idea of just how complex this whisky is after what seems at first flush to be a full frontal fruit and sugar foray.
CIGAR PAIRING: Flor de las Antillas Toro (6 inches by 52 ring gauge, $6.90, 96 points, Cigar Aficionado's No. 1 Cigar of the Year 2012) Tawny and pressed with distinct shoulders and a contoured head. Each chewy puff imparts a concentrated interplay of white pepper, nutmeg and lavender flavor. The floral qualities of the smoke bring out the same on the whisky and you think, "Of course, the Cognac casks." Then the whisky gives back, heightening the cigar's nutmeg. And then arrives the synthesis of both as a nutty, rancio flavor seem to arise out of no where. Keep comparing and a sweet woody, almost leather quality appears. A very engaging pairing.