Paul Masson Brandy Price

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Paul Masson American Brandy Grande Amber When you look at the explosive growth of wine in the United States, you’d think that grape-based distilled spirits would also be wildly popular, but they aren’t. For some odd reason grape based spirits like brandy, cognac, and armagnac are often absent from many home liquor cabinets, and are rarely found on many conventional cocktail menus. Brandy seems to have gotten a bum rap: it is often relegated to a ‘cooking spirit’ and ignored by lifestyle press.

But brandy is delicious, and not only does it deliver some of the great flavors people are drawn to with wine, it’s also quite compatible with food. American brandy is also pound for pound one of the most affordable aged products on the market, and a majority of American brandy (60%) is actually made and consumed in the United States. So why aren’t more people drinking it?The answer may come down to perception.

Because of its relatively low price, American brandy often is considered ‘cheap’, so instead of looking at the immense value in the spirit category, it’s dismissed for being priced so low. For us, it wasn’t until we had an opportunity to blind taste American brandy next to all the other kinds of brandy at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition that the lightbulb really turned on. Divorced of all of the perception issues, we discovered a delightful spirit that not only captured what we love about grapes but also what we love about spirit aged in American Oak barrels.

That spirit that we fell for was Paul Masson Brandy. Paul Masson Brandy is made from “premium grapes”  distilled and blended in central California, then aged and bottled in Bardstown, KY at the Tom Moore distillery alongside bourbon from Sazerac. Paul Masson Grande Amber Brandy VS (80 proof / 40%, $14) – that’s right, $14 a bottle for a product that has been aged for three years in oak. Most VS Cognac sells for twice that price, and even most vodkas (which aren’t aged) sell for more.

Golden brown in color, the Grand Amber VS has a very light nose with vanilla, chocolate, and light oak.The entry is very flavorful with pear, raisin, dried fruit, vanilla, and caramel nicely balanced with oak spice. The flavors only intensify in the midpalate where the oak spice increases. The finish is fairly dry with a little heat and it captures the oak spice along with dried fruit, vanilla, and caramel.

Three years is still a relatively young spot for an aged grape distillate, and this youth does show on the finish, but it’s still a very drinkable and enjoyable brandy. Paul Masson Grande Amber Brandy VS is a light, pleasing American brandy which does a great job of integrating the sweet and spicy notes into an eminently drinkable spirit.  At this price it’s also a spirit that doesn’t have to be treated with any pretense.

Paul Masson VS does exceptionally well in tonic, with ginger ale, and it’s even good in Coke and far less assertive than a Jack and Coke. For people stepping up from unaged spirits like vodka, a brandy like this one is an easy way to begin to enjoy the impact of oak on a spirit that is still relatively light, flavorful, and easy. Paul Masson Grande Amber Brandy VSOP (80 proof / 40% ABV, $12) – another shockingly low price for a spirit that has been aged for four years! The Paul Masson Grande Amber VSOP is actually a blend of American brandy and French cognac, mostly from the the Bon Bois region of Cognac, and all at least four years old.

Dark amber in color, the VSOP has a wonderful dried fruit note in the nose, joined by a nice oak spice, ginger, vanilla, and dark chocolate. The American oak bourbon barrel is clearly there but it doesn’t overpower the underlining brandy. The entry is sweet and fruity with remarkable cognac characteristics. It isn’t until we get to the midpalate where the American oak notes really being to emerge.

While the oak is clearly there in the midpalate, it isn’t overpowering nor does it overwhelm the other flavors there including vanilla, caramel, iris, ginger, and raisin. It’s really hard to believe the level of flavor and complexity here in such a rock-bottom priced spirit. The ginger from the midpalate combines from the oak spice to lead the finish which is slightly spicy, fairly soft, and easy with a soft, sweet, and light undertone of caramel and fruit.

Paul Masson Grande Amber Brandy VSOP is a superb example of great American brandy: it captures all the wonderful qualities that a grape brandy can offer and then adds the signature notes from American oak that help really distinguish the spirit as something decidedly American. It’s hard not to keep coming back for the price, too – $12! It’s shockingly low and may be the most underpriced and undervalued spirit on the market.

Paul Masson Grande Amber VSOP is so easy, so enjoyable, and so affordable, it’s easy to see drinking it as casually as you would a bottle of wine. As with the VS, the VSOP goes well in tonic, is good with ginger ale, and is great sipped neat on its own. Paul Masson Brandy is proof positive that good spirits don’t have to be expensive and that low priced spirits can be quite good. There’s so much attention given to American whiskey, it’s a shame that more people aren’t seeking out American brandy as a great alternative that’s easier on the palate and on the pocketbook.

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Exploring the delicious world of a lesser-known liquor. Even in today’s more cocktail-centric world, in which quality ingredients and careful preparation are celebrated, and liquor is enjoying a wave of popularity and respect that it hasn’t seen since perhaps the days before Prohibition, even the best brandy still suffers from a bit of a stuffy reputation. No more, I say! Forget that image of an older gentleman in a robe, nestled into his arm chair in front of a roaring fire, swirling a gigantic snifter of amber liquid in his hand and taking from it the occasional sip.

Brandy can be much more than that. Like whiskey or gin, Brandy comes in many varieties, each with its own subtle nuances. It can be bold and bright, subtle and warming, high proof or toned down. It can be mixed with or taken neat, and is just as happy serving as a modifier in a cocktail as taking center stage. In short, it’s a versatile, delicious liquor worthy of celebration and a place of honor in your liquor cabinet.

Great … But What Is It? Brandy is the distilled alcohol extracted from any fruit-based mash. A good deal of the world’s brandy is made from grapes and, indeed, the word “brandy” derives from the Middle Dutch “Brantwijn” or “Burned [i.e.: distilled] Wine.” Wine-based brandies come in two types: regular and “pomace,” the latter of which is distilled from the skins and peels of grapes, in addition to just the juice.

This gives a different, earthier flavor to the finished product. Examples of this type include Italian grappa and South American pisco. It’s also possible to make brandies from fruits like apples, pears, cherries, and more. These fruit brandies are often called eaux-de-vie, which is French for waters of life. Many wine-based brandies are, like whiskey, aged in oak barrels for some period of time.

This gives the liquor its amber color and notes of spice, caramel, and dried fruit. Like whiskies, the aging process also increases the price. Fortunately, there are inexpensive brandies out there that are very good, and we’ll be covering a few. Brandies made from other fruits are sometimes aged (the French apple Brandy Calvados, for example) and sometimes not (some pisco, most eaux-de-vie). Types of Brandies While brandy is a catch-all descriptor for this type of alcohol, there are many specific types worth mentioning.

The two best-known types of brandy in the world are probably Cognac and Armagnac, both from France. These two brandies can only be produced in their respective regions, from specific grape varietals. Fine cognacs can run in the thousands of dollars for a bottle, and that’s not even getting into vintages that were distilled before the introduction of American phylloxera mites to European grape stocks utterly decimated the brandy-making world in the 1860s.

Yes, you can still buy brandy from before that era … if you have ten grand or more to spend on a single bottle of booze. Beyond the two French styles, though, there is a whole world of brandy on offer. We’re going to cover as many as we can here. As always, feel free to chime in down in the comments with further suggestions! Cognac Here we have the grande dame of brandies, against which all others are measured.

Cognac is both a type of brandy and the region in France that produces it. It’s an aged, grape-based brandy that usually comes with a tremendous depth of flavor. Younger cognacs often present light fruit and oak notes, with older ones blooming into lots of dried fruit and spice.  Cognac is usually bottled at 80 proof (40% ABV). By law, you can’t make cognac outside of Cognac, and even inside Cognac you must use specific grapes, and follow specific aging restrictions.

Most cognac contains a blend of brandies, and is labeled according to the period of time the youngest brandy of the bunch has spent aging in oak casks. In general the average age of the blend is much older than that of the youngest brandy, with many XOs easily reaching an average age of twenty years. The labeling scheme is: Very Special/Superior (VS) – Aged for at least two years. Very Special/Superior Old Pale (VSOP) – Aged for at least four years.

Extra Old (XO) – Aged for at least six years. According to Wikipedia, citing the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac, this will be raised to ten years in 2016. Brands to Try: Courvoisier, Hennessy, Remy Martin, Hine, Camus, Martell Suggested Cocktail: Cognac will work beautifully in any brandy-based cocktail, but it’s especially at home in one of the most venerable of the bunch, the Old-School Sazerac.

Armagnac A little harder to find than cognac, armagnac is nonetheless available at most quality liquor stores. Like Cognac, it’s named after the region of France which produces it, and only brandies made there can legally be called armagnacs. Fruitier than its cousin early on due to a different distilling process, Armagnac transitions into caramel and toffee notes as it ages and takes on more character from the wood.

Armagnac is usually bottled at 92-96 proof (46-48% ABV). Also Like cognac, armagnac must adhere to certain labeling requirements, with the classification built on the age of the youngest brandy in the blend. Armagnacs designated by the year of their bottling are common, and you can find many a liquor store in France with a wide selection reaching back fifty years or more. The labeling system for armagnac is: VS – Aged for at least two years.

VSOP – Aged for at least five years. XO – Aged for at least six years. Hors d'âge – This roughly translates to “beyond age” and is aged for at least ten years. Brands to Try: Castarède, Cerbois Bas, Sempe, Delord Suggested Cocktail: Armagnac pairs incredibly well with the Benedictine and Dry Vermouth found in a classic Vieux Carré. American Brandy American brandy, like American wine, suffered from a bad rap for a long time.

Well past the time, in fact, when it had actually gotten good. No more: people know now that you can get some amazing wines from California, Oregon, and other parts of the US … and some of those wines are being distilled and aged in oak, just like their French cousins. The flavor profile of American brandy is usually similar to that of cognac, though because the Americans are free to use a wider variety of grapes, there is a broad range of possibilities.

Like Cognac, American brandies often use the VS, VSOP, and XO classifications to denote the age and quality of the liquor within, although unlike Cognac and Armagnac, those designations are not legally enforced. Because American brandies are, shall we say, not always quite so refined as their French cousins, I recommend VSOP or better. The good news: American brandy is often a fraction of the price of Cognac or Armagnac.

In fact, finding any other oak-aged liquor at these prices, whiskey or brandy or otherwise, is almost impossible. E&J XO, for example, is a terrific brandy that’s on par with many VSOP Cognacs, can be had for about $15 at many liquor stores. Brands to Try: E&J, Paul Masson, Christian Brothers, Korbel Suggested Cocktail: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better brandy-based cocktail than The Sidecar.

Brandy de Jerez Spanish brandy, like Spanish wine (both normal and fortified) is often overlooked. You just don’t hear as much about Brandy de Jerez as you do about French and American brandies. That’s too bad, because the Spanish brandy-making tradition is robust and produces some unique entries, many with subtle flavors of nuts and dried fruit. You may have heard of Jerez before – it’s the region of Spain responsible for giving sherry, a fortified wine similar to port, its name.

Brandy de Jerez is made using many of the same grapes and techniques that produce sherry, including the Solera technique, in which older liquids are blended continuously with newer batches to create the final product. Like other brandies, Brandy de Jerez has a classification system. Solera has an average age of one year and is light and fruity. Solera Reserva has an average age of three years and displays more oak characteristics.

Solera Gran Reserva has an average age of ten years and brings lots of dried fruits, roasted nuts, and other notes traditional in liquors long-aged in oak. Brands to Try: Lustau, González Byass, Magno Suggested Cocktail: The Between the Sheets, while often made with other brandies, works very well with Brandy de Jerez. The aged rum will really help bring out the brandy’s flavor. Calvados Calvados is a delicious French brandy distilled from fresh apples.

It has a significant apple scent, but in flavor is delicate, with apple notes that combine very well with the traditional wood and caramel flavors that come from oak aging. It’s produced in the lower part of the Normandy region, in the north of the country, and its production dates back at least to the mid-sixteenth century. To qualify as Calvados, rather than eau-de-vie, the distillate must be aged in oak for a minimum of two years.

Much like seemingly everything else in France, there are many laws dictating exactly how Calvados can be labeled. In addition to certain location designations, Calvados uses age indicators similar to Cognac and Armagnac.  The age on the bottle always refers to the youngest brandy in the blend, and is labeled as follows – two years: Fine, Trois étoiles, 3 Star, or Trois Pommes. Three years: Vieux or Reserve.

Four years: VO, VSOP, or Vielle Réserve. Six or more years: Extra, XO, Napoléon, Hors d’Age, or Age Inconnu. Brands to Try: Daron, Busnel, Chateau Du Breuil, Boulard Suggested Cocktail: The Widow’s Kiss is a big, rich, decadent cocktail made with Calvados. We recommend it with fervor. Applejack / Apple Brandy This is Calvados’s wild, unrefined, American cousin. Originally made by repeatedly freezing hard apple cider and skimming the ice from the top, thus slowly increasing the alcohol content, it’s now most typically distilled and stored in the same manner as Calvados.

Generally speaking, apple brandies (and applejack in particular) have a heartier apple flavor than French entries, and are a little rougher around the edges, owing in part to the fact that there’s no clear-cut grading system established. Don’t let that frighten you, though. Applejack is inexpensive and delicious, and many American apple brandies are just as fine as Calvados. Brands to Try: Laird’s, Clear Creek, Orchard Hill Suggested Cocktail: The Jack Rose is a classic Applejack cocktail with a nice blend of sweet and sour that really works with the base liquor’s apple flavor.

Pisco Pisco is a South American pomace brandy made in Chile and Peru that is often clear and occasionally light yellow. As many varieties of grape can be used in its production, and as the two countries that produce it have very different methods of doing so, Pisco has a wide range of flavors, though the majority of them have a fresh grape scent at the forefront. Peruvian pisco is aged for as little as three months in chemically inert vessels (i.

e.: glass, metal, etc), and thus has none of the flavors associated with oak aging. It cannot contain additives of any kind. It is bottled at distillation strength, without dilution. At its base, Peruvian Pisco resembles strong, slightly grape-scented vodka. However, some methods of creation are specifically designed to retain more flavors from the fermenting grape mash, giving the alcohol much more character.

Chilean pisco is aged in oak and can be diluted to various strengths before bottling. At the lower end of the spectrum, Chilean pisco resembles low-strength white rum, but the older and higher-alcohol variants have a great deal of flavor. The longer it’s aged, the more wood flavors it picks up, with long-aged variants coming to resemble French and American brandies, albeit with a much stronger grape flavor due to the use of grape must in the distillation.

Brands to Try: Pisco Portón, Macchu Pisco, Control C, Capel Suggested Cocktail: The Pisco Sour is the most classic pisco cocktail you’re going to find, and the unique use of bitters makes it an interesting variant on the standard sour. Eaux-de-Vie If you start with fruit as a base, distill it, and bottle the result without aging it in wood for any extended period, you’ve got eaux-de-vie. These typically clear (but sometimes colored) liquors resemble vodka with subtle fruit notes, and are often served chilled in small glasses as digestifs.

Common fruits used in making eaux-de-vie include pears, apples, plums, and peaches, but other fruits may also show up. In Germany, this type of liquor is called Schnaps, but don’t confuse that with the syrupy-sweet, heavily-flavored stuff that gets labeled “Schnapps” in America. They’re effectively unrelated. German Schnaps, like all other Eaux-de-Vie, are sugarless, high-proof liquors like the rest of the brandies on this list.

Brands to Try: Clear Creek, Harvest Spirits, and dozens of European brands. Suggested Cocktail: Believe it or not, there really aren’t any classic Eau de Vie cocktails out there. I recommend giving the Poire Bomb, created by Dan Chadwick, a shot: 2 oz. Pear Eau de Vie .5 oz. Maraschino .5 oz. Ginger Liqueur .5 oz. Lemon Juice 1 Dash Peychaud’s Bitters Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake thoroughly.

Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a pear slice.

Hazel Gordon

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