Saturday, October 13, 2007

Last Night's Tipple

There are those who say that Americans should try to make American-style alcoholic beverages, not to attempt to ape European-style ones. The most obvious example of this argument is Paul Draper from Ridge Vineyards, who has famously emphasized American grapes like Zinfandel and Petite Sirah (American grapes in the sense that they have not been major wine-making grapes anywhere but in America for the past 100 or 150 years, not in the sense of ultimate origin) as part of field blends like Lytton Springs and Geyserville and even more famously ages all of his wines, including his top-of-the-line Cabernet Sauvignon (Monte Bello) in American oak instead of French oak. Though this argument is less prominent in the world of spirits, it's still there. Chuck Cowdery, who is a prominent writer about American whiskey, thinks that it is absurd for American distilleries to try to make Scotch single-malt-style whisky. We've evolved an excellent whiskey-making tradition in America, he says, just as the Scots have in Scotland. We should honor our own traditions, not automatically think that they're inferior to the traditions in other countries.

Paul Draper and Chuck Cowdery might not like the motivation behind Clear Creek Distillery's Eau de Vie de Pomme, then. Clear Creek is in Oregon; and Steve McCarthy, Clear Creek's distiller, is explicitly trying to rival the best Calvados with this product. He distills it using an alembic pot still, just like Calvados. He ages it in ex-Cognac casks, just like Calvados. The time in barrel is 8 years, which is common among better Calvados. The only difference, aside from his scale of production, is that he uses local Golden Delicious apples rather than the Norman cider apple varieties like Rouge Duret, Ramboult, Mettais, Saint Martin, and Frequin (thanks, Wikipedia!) that Calvados producers use. And, indeed, the result is a very Calvados-like apple brandy. It's more lightly-colored than I remember Calvados of similar age to be and it has less of the unctuous caramel-cinnamon flavors that the best Calvados has, but it is very good. The only thing that I have to complain about is the fact that every now and then, I get an aroma like nail polish remover, which is off-putting. It's not consistent, though, which is a good thing. While I respect the argument made by Draper and Cowdery and while I think many Americans could benefit from not reflexively assuming that European is equivalent to better, I can't fault anyone who wants to make apple brandy that tastes like Calvados, which is undoubtedly one of the world's most sublime spirits. This brandy is not inexpensive at $21 for a 375 ml bottle, but it is a very good attempt.

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