Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Curiosity can lead to great things, such as Elaine Paul’s question to her husband, Stephen, while barbecuing over mesquite: “What if you made single malt whiskey with ‘mesquited’ malt instead of peated malt?” This question sparked a journey for Stephen Paul, woodworker, furniture-designer, and Scotch-lover, to try his hand at whiskey making. His quest inspired their daughter Amanda to move back home and help found the business, Hamilton Distillers Group, under which the Whiskey Del Bac brand is made.
Though mesquite inspired the journey, Stephen Paul began by learning how to make un-mesquited whiskey. Taking Scotch whisky making as inspiration, Paul learned how to craft single malt from floor-malting the barley to distillation to aging. He began without using peat or mesquite, instead creating an unsmoked single malt “modeled after the unpeated style of Speyside Scotches.”
The fine-tuned methods and recipe became the brand’s “Classic” American Single Malt bottling. As members of the American Single Malt Commission, the Classic is 100% malted barley distilled, aged, blended, and bottled all in-house. The brand takes the requirements a step further by malting in-house, too, using grains from Arizona and Colorado. Distillation is done twice through a copper pot still, and the resulting whiskey is not chill filtered. Aging takes place in smaller and thicker barrels than are typically used in American whiskey making in order to mitigate the “aggressive evaporation in the arid Arizona desert climate which sees diurnal temperature fluctuations averaging at least 30 degrees daily.”
The Classic is the base whiskey for this limited annual release I’m reviewing, the Whiskey Del Bac Normandie American Single Malt. This whiskey is finished in French Calvados casks for 13 months. In honor of the finishing casks, the whiskey is named for the region of origin for Calvados (Normandy) using the French spelling (Normandie).
Calvados is a brandy crafted from apple cider (and occasionally with pear cider, which is known as perry). These are no Honeycrisp apples: Normandy cider, famous in its own right, is made from cider apples that are often too tannic and sour for fresh eating, yet are explosively flavorful. (True cider apples are to Honeycrisp apples what heirloom tomatoes are to those pink rocks sold in the grocery store in the dead of winter.) Unlike Cognac or Armagnac, which are French brandies made from wine grapes, Calvados has complex apple flavors.
Whiskey Del Bac describes the whiskey as showing notes of “caramel-dipped apples, sour cherry, and dulce de leche” on the nose and “bright citrus, peppery notes across the mid-palate, and it finishes with short-but-sweet caramel and stone fruit.” Given the distinct apple aroma and flavor of Calvados, I do expect there to be a strong apple influence on this whiskey.
1,400 bottles of the Whiskey Del Bac Normandie American Single Malt are being released nationwide, though distribution is limited. Expect this year’s release to hit the shelves this fall or visit their web store to order a bottle for pick up at the distillery.
Tasting Notes: Whiskey Del Bac Normandie
Vital Stats: Aged in charred, new American white oak barrels and finished in Calvados brandy barrels, 48.5%% ABV, mash bill: 100% house-malted barley, SRP $90/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: This is moderate amber in color with deep brown undertone.
Nose: Not to my surprise, the first aromas from the glass are apple-forward with notes of warm apple pie and apple fritters. There’s a delicious baked pastry dough aroma and a healthy note of vanilla bean simple syrup. This is like walking into a commercial kitchen where cooks are prepping apple pies for Thanksgiving. Spice scents the air with notes of allspice, bay leaf, sumac, and fresh hops.
As the apple note subsides, touches of golden raisins, French vanilla ice cream, and hot asphalt come out to play, keeping things interesting.
Palate: This is silky and unctuous on the palate, with aromas of apple cider vinegar and hot cast iron. A briny-citrusy characteristic comes out to play, reminding me of salt-preserved lemons. I pick up flavors of golden raisins, sesame crackers, olive-studded focaccia bread, and applesauce.
The finish has a strong astringency that dries the palate, making it an excellent candidate for food or as a palate refresher between courses.
Whiskey Review: Whiskey Del Bac Normandie
This is a keeper, and one I look forward to sipping as fall approaches. Try with an ice cube, as recommended by the brand, which brings out the cereal notes of the barley.
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Suzanne Bayard struck out to the West Coast with her now husband almost a decade ago to explore the intersection of wine and policy in its world-class wine regions. She manages a Portland, OR bottle shop by day as the wine buyer and newsletter editor. She is also the Director...