Sunday, May 17, 2015

Brenne 10 - Taking It To Another Level

Brenne, the single malt whisky brand from Cognac, is preparing to release a 10 year old limited edition expression this Fall.  This is exciting news to people who have been seduced by the ineffable combination of creamy fruity flavors and silky mouth feel of Brenne Estate (a single cask bottling that is 7, and sometimes 8 years old).  It's also intriguing news to those who have wondered what Brenne would taste like at higher proof and with more oak.  How will additional maturation affect the flavors? (I have some answers later on.  And if you aren't familiar with Brenne, I have some links at the bottom of this post.)

Brenne's stills.
Brenne is all about the terroir of Cognac.  It is distilled from a mash of Vanessa and Prestige barley strains grown on the same estate where it is distilled, plus local Charente River water, and the same yeast strains used for the estate's Cognac.  It is double distilled in charantais alembic stills normally used for Cognac and then matured with an interesting wood management scheme that starts with half a decade in virgin French oak and then finishes for a couple of years in ex-Cognac casks.  That wood management story is, as it turns out, something else that is unique about Brenne 10 beyond just the maturation.  Instead of being a single cask product, it is a vatting of casks with a varied wood management program, including ones that have spent the full ten years in virgin oak and ex-Cognac casks.
Allison Patel nosing Brenne new make.

Allison Patel, Brenne's creator, is a personal friend of mine.  Over the years she had mentioned that she was holding stocks back to make a ten year old expression - but had wanted to keep things confidential until she could get all the details arranged.  Secrets aren't easily kept in the whisky world, however.  There have been rumors of this release for months.  Steve Ury of skusrecenteats blog keeps tabs on the COLA label announcements on the TTB's web site and he tweeted out Brenne 10's label application back on April 4th:

Brenne 10 label from the TTB COLA form back in April.

A couple of weeks ago Brenne's Facebook fan page released a couple of photographs of Allison picking color swatches and working on the bottle's design.  Those (plus a few more from the Brenne FB page and some she e-mailed me are the photos you see here.  All of them, minus the COLA form, are courtesy of Allison Patel.) 

The story of how this 10 year old expression came to be is a testament to Allison's foresight and perfectionism.  Demand for Brenne has run high and she could easily have sold every drop she had.  But she deliberately held back stocks in both cask types to understand how each kind of wood affects the spirit over time.  She did so because she's a whisky geek (bless her heart).  She's also a genius at branding and releasing a higher end expression a couple of years in builds excitement and provides fresh exposure.

I asked Allison a few questions about it and her responses are illuminating:

Q: Normally Brenne is aged for 5 years in unused toasted french oak casks and then finished for 2 years in ex-Cognac casks. Is the 10 aged 5 years in new and 5 years in ex-Cognac?
A: "This first release (the 2015 bottling) of Brenne Ten - the 2nd product in my French Single Malt brand - is a blend of 4 barrels of Brenne. I'm using a combination of virgin French Oak and ex-Cognac casks as I've done for Brenne Estate Cask but choosing this time to have some that have been in both barrels and others that are exclusively aged in either the virgin French Oak or the Cognac barrel for the full 10 years."

Allison Patel working on the label and box for Brenne 10

Q: Did you specially select the casks that became 10 early on? What criteria did you use in cask selection for the 10?

A: "When I first met my distiller, a majority of the whisky he had been making prior to our introduction had been laid down in virgin french oak (the oldest of these barrels being 4 years old at the time, when they came up to 5 years old, I started moving some of them into the Cognac barrels which have now been released at 7-8 yrs old in the Brenne Estate Cask line). There were a few barrels at that time that had been aging exclusively in Cognac barrels (not started in the virgin French oak). To be able to study the barreling effects on his (and now our) distillate, I wanted to keep those aside as well as age further some of the all-virgin Limousin oak barrels AND the double barreled juice once we had that going too. Every year since I've kept an assortment of barrels aside. So, when I was playing around with the idea of releasing some of the oldest ones in a 10yr old expression, it was exciting to my palate to use a combination of these barrels a blend them together (versus doing single cask releases like Brenne Estate Cask) to showcase the typical profile of Brenne in much a richer & balanced way. "

A darker shade of blue.
"The fun continued when it came time to choosing the proof at which I wanted to bottle the Brenne Ten. At cask-strength, it's totally awesome but you loose too much of the subtleties of the fruit and floral notes. At 40% abv I found Brenne Ten to be far too weak. So I played around in the 45% abv - 55% abv range and settled on 48% abv, experiencing that this gave the whisky's characteristics just the right platform upon which to really shine."

Q: Will the 10 become a regular (limited) expression or is it a one time thing?
A: Yes, the goal of Brenne Ten is to release it in limited quantities annually. Since the initial release is so small (just 290 cases), I predict it won't be something that stays on the shelf a long time but I hope there is enough that those who want it are able to get it. While I have this year launched Brenne in France (through Les Whiskies du Monde), Brenne Ten will be something exclusive to the USA this first year.

Allison had a small sample of a pre-release batch of Brenne 10 at Whisky Live in April.  This is the stuff that she used to develop the expression.  It's a half year or so younger than the final released version will be, but it shows her thinking and what the product, in the main, will taste like.  She was nice enough to provide a bit of it to me.  Peter Silver and I tasted it shortly thereafter and tasting notes follow.  Because all of the branding prowess and great story doesn't mean a whole lot if the whisky isn't good.

Brenne 10 - Prebatch 1 (aged 9 1/2 years) - 48% abv 

Color: Gold

Nose:  richly floral (magnolia and lily), fresh cream, and citrus buttercream confectionery filling.  Undercurrents of musk, canola, and oak.  The oak is light and refined - like fresh sawn yard aged oak.

Palate: Really big ripe banana amid floral sweetness on the opening.  Spiciness like cloves tingle  on the expansion.  Then sweetness and waxing apricot cream on the mid palate which blooms with toasted oak and some incense complexity and filigree.  The turn has a moment of musk melded with apricot and cream.  The finish is medium long on apricot banana with oak tannin with some herbal bitters and pumpkin seeds.

My dominant impression is the massive banana on the opening.  I should make it clear that this sample is from Allison's initial development of the product.  It's at least half a year younger than the released product will be.  But still, this answers the question of whether extra maturation will amp up the esterification already rampant in Brenne.  The answer is "yes",  This already effusively estery fruity whisky has become even more intensely so with additional years in the wood.  At higher proof  and with this extra time there is more intensity and richer flavor with the 10 than the regular expression, which is most welcome in my book.  This is Brenne on steroids.  It's more everything.  Like a trip from Angoulême to Cognac on the back roads, this whisky breathes the air, soil, and water of a magical place.

FYI: Brenne Ten is scheduled for release in the Fall of 2015 via Classic Imports ( It will retail in the $100-$120 range.

Other posts about Brenne:

The story of the "Last Call" cocktail which marries Brenne and Sorel:
The first rumor of Brenne:
"One of her current projects is the development of an exciting new single malt world whisky expression called Brenne. It promises to be a significant new spirit: Cognac's first single malt."

A great review of Brenne on Sean Fousheé's WhiskyMarks:


  1. Word has it that the distiller is Cognac Frapin. Regardless of whether this is true it is no surprise that Brenne has been made available in France - it is a remarkable product. Can't wait for the Ten to be released.

    1. I have no idea who the distiller actually is. But I doubt it's Frapin. That said, Frapin is one of the only estate branded Cognacs, period, and one of my absolute favorites. (Look at the links on the left. I've tagged Frapin 3 times in reviews so far!) Brenne is clearly very influenced by Cognac flavors.