Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Along with Germain-Robin, and Anchor Distillery, Osocalis Brandy is one of the grandfathers of the craft distilling movement in California. Founded by Dan Farber, Osocalis is in Soquel, California in the Santa Cruz area. I recently attended a brandy trade event with Dan and he is one of those guys whose enthusiasm is contagious. He prides himself on doing things the old fashioned way. He only makes a few expressions, he only makes brandy and he doesn't use shortcuts, additives or coloring. He offered his entire range for tasting as well as some others whiskeys by his co-host Nicolas Palazzi. Here are my impressions of the Osocalis range.
Osocalis Rare Alembic Brandy, Lot VII, 40% abv ($43)
The Rare Alembic is made largely from Pinot Noir, Colombard and Semillion grapes and aged around six years, though there are older brandies in the mix. The nose has a nice must grape note without being two sweet and a pleasant earthy notes. The palate is sweeter than the nose lets on but it maintains the earthiness which lasts into the finish. This is a fairly light, wonderfully drinkable brandy. For $43, this is a huge deal.
Osocalis XO, Bottling 2, 40% abv ($106)
The XO is made from Colombard, Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Pinot Noir grapes. The nose on the XO has more earthiness than the Rare Alembic with some fruit notes in the back. The same dynamic occurs on the palate with a blast of earthy notes, some spiciness and then sweetness on the back end leading into the finish where some of the pepper comes back.
Osocalis Heritage, Bottling 1, 40% abv ($130)
The Heritage is made from 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Colombard grapes and the brandies that go into it are around 20 years old. The Heritage has a fantastic nose with strong woody notes; it's almost bourbon like though a bit of fruit creeps in. The palate has a great balance of wood and fruit. It starts in with those strong, bourbon-like notes of oak, caramel and spice, then the fruit emerges and leaves you with a lighter brandy like finish, though still with some oak notes. This is a beautiful, complex brandy and a perfect one for bourbon lovers. If I were tasting blind, I'm not sure I wouldn't have guessed it was bourbon.
Osocalis Apple Brandy, Bottling 1, 40% abv ($70)
Osocalis also makes an apple brandy made from over a dozen varieties of apples. The nose has apples and vanilla, like an apple pie a la mode. The palate is very pure, sweet apples, and the finish actually has some sherry like notes of dried fruit. This one is a bit on the sweet side for me, though I bet it works well in cocktails.
Osocalis is making some really fantastic stuff. The Heritage is clearly their masterpiece and has a complexity that makes it shine. The Rare Alambic, as I noted, is a fun easy-drinking brandy. I was less enamored of the XO; it just didn't seem as special, and I found the apple brandy to be overly sweet.
Like most brandies, Osocalis shies away from anything over 80 proof, but as I was sipping the Heritage, which is great, I was thinking that it could be transcendent at cask strength. Dan has thought about every element of his spirit making and has been doing this for a long time, but I would appeal to him to think about pushing the abv barriers a little bit. There's an audience of whiskey drinkers out there that I bet would snap up a cask strength version of the Heritage with it's bourbon like profile.