The brand conquers all. At times it smothers onlookers. The existence of the whisky relegated to a footnote on page 4 of the latest press release. Implemented and deployed with precision it represents a lifestyle or aspiration that the consumer will strive to buy into.
There is a graveyard for failed brands and whatever you want to call these tactical deployments. Diageo called it premiumisation when they devastated Mortlach and the beast still hasn’t recovered. Longmorn was another failed attempt and who can forget the glorious dayglow attempts from Glen Scotia? Brilliant eye candy if fundamentally flawed. Then there are the changes at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society that alienated an element of its subscription base whilst attempting to attract a new influx to the format. A brand is a force to be reckoned with and whilst success is never guaranteed it can quickly become toxic.
At MALT we don’t really care much for brands, press releases, promotional trinkets or lifestyle concepts. Personally, I grew up drinking out of a brown paper bag and have no inhibitions about doing so again. What has changed is the appreciation of the contents. Buckfast, K-cider, White Lighting, Hooch and a lethal concoction of tramp juice only existed to pulverise your mind into oblivion. To numb the pain of a small town teenage monotony and the expectations placed upon haphazard shoulders.
Brenne is the creation of Alison Parc and she is ultimately the face and brand of Brenne whisky. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Alison nor am I likely to residing in my Fife bunker. We circle in different paths and the only time I’m visiting France – or Paris to be more specific – is to finance an expensive shopping trip along Rue Cambon. She seems very charming and bubbly from the Instagram accounts with that overriding positivity that makes a dour Scotsman want to barf into the nearest brown paper bag. Old habits die hard eh?
Her story is inspiring, underling what you can achieve if you pursue your dreams. A former professional ballerina, Alison developed a taste for the finer things in life including whisky. Being able to travel and discover new delights she utilised this exposure to harness a new career as ballerinas can only pirouette for so long. The opportunity to work with an unnamed French Cognac distiller presented itself and grasping this unusual commodity, Alison brought Brenne to the world.
Cognac for those unaware is a strictly regulated doubled distilled French spirit that is growing in popularity with sales continuing to increase year on year. During 2017 just under 200 million bottles were exported and almost half of these were destined for the markets of North America and Mexico. We’re also seeing greater appreciation of Cognac in the UK and recently the Scotch Malt Whisky Society has moved into this market as well. From a MALT perspective whilst we’re thoroughly occupied with whisky or whiskey with the added bonus of a rum, more spirits might be on the menu including mescal in good time.
Back to Brenne and the unnamed 3rd generation French distiller had been conducting his experiments for 3-4 years prior to Alison’s arrival. A fun sideline to the main emphasis of distilling Cognac for the third party market. The single malt methodology utilised the same tools including a Cognac yeast strain and the distinctly shaped copper alembic stills that are more bulbous on top. The spirit then resided in French Limousin oak barrels with no true destination of a commercial release. You could jokingly call it the French Daftmill, but eventually, the realisation of a purpose appears on the horizon however distant. We should mention terroir with the heirloom barley being grown organically in the surrounding fields and matured nearby. Cognac casks made from either Quersus pedunculata or Quersus sessiliflora are introduced to the mix adding more French vanilla chic towards the end of the maturation process.
Brenne is produced on a more limited basis with a small batch ethic being adopted. This means there will be batch variations that will transmit into the contents. Whilst this is a no age statement expression, on average the contents will be around 7 years in age. That’s a considerable period in French oak that can leave a potentially damaging impact if not managed carefully. Impressively Alison is active in the cask management of stock and decides when it is ready for market. For Cognac, the interaction between the wood and the spirit is more refined and prolonged. If you’ve ever tasted a 40 of 50 year old Cognac bottling from Cadenheads in recent times, then you can appreciate the age and style of the spirit and in some cases when the balance has been tipped in favour of the wood.
Cognac casks are rarely used by Scottish distilleries. In recent times there’s been a flamboyant dance around all types of casks that meet the SWA rulebook. The Cognac cask has become the domain of a single cask release or finishes to offer something different. Deanston, for instance, a couple of years ago introduced a Cognac finish release exclusively for the North American market – perhaps suggesting its flavour profile goes down better on the other side of the Atlantic where they love a bit of vanilla.
Brenne’s major markets are France and North America, still, the whisky enjoys distribution within the UK thanks to online retailers. By chance whilst in Malta, I did stumble across several bottles that were 55 Euros and the sterling price seems to along similar lines. Fully aware of my growing stash at Cadenheads instead I elected to purchase a sample. Brenne whisky is bottled at 40% strength and you can pick this up at the Whisky Exchange for £55 or via Amazon for the same price.
Brenne Cuvée Spéciale French Single Malt Whisky – review
On the nose: quite robust with the wood influence and full-on vanilla sweetness. An articial lemon legacy much like a cleaning product followed by fudge and nougat. Mashed bananas followed by bubblegum, margarine and popcorn – it’s a distinctive presentation certainly.
In the mouth: well, certainly not what I was anticipating. There’s a wateriness – perhaps to contend with the power of French oak initially that dissipates. Some marzipan, banana chewits, a creamy caramel that moves into more sugariness. Personally, I wouldn’t add any water here it is too fragile. More bubblegum. A brief flourish of mango and pineapple before the vanilla spirit takes ahold into the finish.
I’m left slightly confused by this whisky. My gut reaction is that Brenne is a whisky for non-whisky drinkers. A half-way house before you move into the benign starter whiskies like Glenfiddich, Glenkinchie or Auchenthoshan. There’s a sweet wood influence. Maybe something you could put into a tumbler with ice or as a cocktail?
As a standalone whisky there is only 1 score I can give here.
Lead image from the Whisky Exchange and there are commission links – such factors don’t influence our views or score – as you can clearly see.