sagamore spirit calvados finish review
Sagamore Spirit Calvados Finish Rye Whiskey
Distillery: Sagamore Spirit
Type & Region: Rye whiskey, Indiana / Maryland, USA
Composition: Blend of MGP’s 95% rye and 51% rye mashes.
Aged: NAS – finished for at least 11 months in Calvados casks
Price: $69 (750mL)
From the Sagamore Spirit Press Release:
“For those who crave a brown spirit that’s perfect before, during and after dinner, Sagamore Spirit today announced a new limited release rye whiskey that threads the needle: Sagamore Spirit Calvados Finish. Straight rye whiskies consistent with Sagamore Spirit’s two distinct, signature mash bills are finished in Calvados barrels for over 11 months to imbue silky soft notes of baked apples, cinnamon and honey from the storied French apple brandy casks.”
sagamore spirit calvados finish overview
Sagamore Spirit Calvados Finish is the next release in the Baltmore, MD distillery’s growing line of finished rye whiskeys, including (in no particular order) the Moscatel (a very sweet dessert wine), Vintner’s (finished using multiple types of wine), Cognac, Port, and Double Oak. For the Calvados Finish, the standard rye whiskey was finished for at least 11 months in Calvados barrels, blended together, and aged for another 9 months in low-rye American oak barrels. Technically, this rye whiskey is double finished, a fun extra fact.
I don’t know much about Calvados, but in short, it’s a type of peach or apple brandy specifically from Normandy, France. It’s similar to other regional French brandies such as Cognac, grape brandy from Cognac, France, and Armangac, grape brandy from the Armangac region. Given that I like apple cider (with or without alcohol), this is a promising start.
Twenty months is a lot of extra time to put into finishing a whiskey, but Sagamore Spirit definitely has been at the forefront of finishing to create unique and interesting whiskeys. Doing a quick Google search shows that this is may be one of the first American whiskeys finished in Calvados. The only other one I can think of is One Eight’s Untitled No. 9, a wheated bourbon finished in Calvados casks. Calvados finished whiskey is very novel and unknown to me, so let’s find out if it adds new and wonderful dimensions in this Sagamore Spirit Calvados Finish Rye Whiskey review.
Thank you to Sagamore Spirit for generously providing this sample. All opinions are still my own.
* April 2020 update: Sagamore Spirit Calvados Finish won double gold at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
sagamore spirit calvados finish smell
Sagamore Spirit’s Calvados Finish’s nose is definitely interesting and unique. It’s very sweet and fruity as I expect, starting with the MGP high-rye licorice sweetness awash in pear. This also reminds me a little bit of applesauce mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg. Believe me, I know that scent because I still eat applesauce from time to time, and add cinnamon and nutmeg for extra kick and flavor. A little fresh pine needle, toasted oak, and clove appear following the fruit, playing second fiddle to the licorice and Calvados. There’s a little alcohol, but overall is toned-down.
Swirling brings out a little more dense, almost syrupy, fruitiness with pear, apple, and licorice – much like spiced apple cider or fancy applesauce with anise, fennel, and caraway seeds for extra fragrance. Gently musty oak and grain provide some contrast, but make no mistake that this is a pear-forward rye whiskey (I’m abundantly aware that this was finished in apple brandy, it just smells more like pear than apple to me). There is also a slight fruity funk that appears here and there, reminiscent of fermenting fruit. So good news, the Calvados finish is not overdone and melds well with the rye, creating a lovely nose.
sagamore spirit calvados finish taste & aftertaste
Whoa, Sagamore Spirit Calvados Finish’s flavors aren’t quite what I expected. The flavors dance back and forth between slightly herbal licorice and sweet pear notes, oak, cinnamon, and cocoa powder. There’s just enough heat so that it’s not just straight cider.
“Chewing” through it my second time around gives me more time to taste the sweet rye bread, caraway seed, licorice, and caramel from the rye followed by pear and cinnamon. The rye comes out more this time while the apple and pear from the Calvados play a complementary role. I can taste the gentle oak foundation and the heat is well contained, ending with a thin slice of apple with the skin left on it. For whatever reason though, the more than expected rye maltiness makes me think that this is younger than it probably is. Then again, I may be unreasonably hung up on how amazingly tropical, vibrant, and rich the Costco Barrel Select was, and hoping to get more of that.
On the finish, I’m initially left with a mashup of pear, licorice, honey, cinnamon, and oak, with long lingering oak, cinnamon, and pear-y licorice. After “chewing”, there’s lightly drying oak and sliced apple sweetness followed by licorice, spiced fruits, and grains. The finish becomes more fruity and licorice-y with each subsequent sip, and fades into a little dark chocolate after a few minutes. There’s a lot to like and the Calvados finish is a nice touch, but the flavors lack a certain intensity and depth that I’ve come to expect from great rye whiskeys. I’m incredibly spoiled with rye whiskey, in part because of other fantastic whiskeys that Sagamore Spirit sells.
Place on the Whiskey Shelf
Sagamore Spirit Calvados Finish is my first experience with Calvados, and overall, I’m pleased with the experience. Finishing and barrel aging in general are such funny and fickle things, because the nose is a near 50/50 split of rye and Calvados while the flavors are more like 75/25 split.
Calvados-finished rye makes so much sense because spiced apples already exist in forms such as mulled cider or applesauce. The nose is my favorite part, as the Calvados has nicely integrated with the MGP rye to dispense a perfumey mix of spiced apple cider, anise, and oak. The flavors are a little less bold and developed (with the rye coming off younger than it probably is), but the end result nonetheless is still interesting and fun. This is a “Top Shelf” nose with “Mid Shelf+” flavors. A finished version of the 6-year-old Sagamore Spirit Barrel Select would have been outrageously outstanding, but I’ll keep on dreaming.
The $70 price-tag isn’t what I would call affordable, but the Calvados finish is unique, expensive, and time consuming, so you’ll pay a premium for it. I personally am starting to get more interested in finished whiskeys as they add new dimensions that can’t be created with just virgin oak barrel aging, so this has been a fun learning experience. Sagamore Spirit Calvados Finish is not quite the must have as the Barrel Select was (it was incredible), but it certainly is worth buying if you want to enjoy and try something novel and interesting. To Sagamore Spirit – keep the fun finishes coming, and maybe you’ll even indulge me in a cask strength version.