I was shocked – shocked! – at how good Sagamore Spirit’s baseline rye is, especially because it – like a dizzying array of other products on the shelf – is just blended MGP rye. Something about the combination of skillful blending and skillful barrel selection has allowed Sagamore to elevate the category of sourced rye. That’s not something I thought was possible without building a distillery, which of course Sagamore Spirit has also done (construction finished in 2017).
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m a sucker for a Calvados finish. They’re super rare, though, so when I spotted this one on the shelf I didn’t even blink at the $66 price tag and lack of an age statement.
Like the baseline rye, this is a blend of straight rye whiskies, all sourced from MGP (Midwest Grain Products, the artist formerly known as LDI). The website reveals the age to be 4-5 years (so, 4) but doesn’t specify the amount of time spent finishing in Calvados barrels. This bottling is a part of Sagamore Spirit’s “Reserve Series”, which includes Cognac, Port, and various wine finishes. This Calvados Finish is bottled at a robust 50.6% ABV. My bottle is from Batch 1A, which I’m guessing means the first batch.
Nose: Ah yes, no mistaking the calvados. Sticky dried apples, oaky brandy, and a smattering of rye spices. This smells exactly like mulled cider, if mulled cider were 101 proof. There is a lot of nose tickle, but the aromas are also robust and deep.
Palate: Medium body. Sweet, with oaky vanilla, thick slices of dried apple, marshmallow, and a sachet of mulling spices. It tastes just what the aroma promised, and the tongue burn is moderate. Yum.
Finish: Medium-long. A little barrel char – slightly bitter – takes over, and the finish becomes dry. Ghosts of clove, cinnamon, cardamom, and a touch of anise (black licorice) linger.
With Water: A few drops of water refresh the aroma, which had been flagging after a rest in the glass. The water doesn’t, however, add anything new. The palate seems a little thinner. I would only suggest using water with this if it seems too hot to you, or if you want to experiment with the proof.
Overall: This is exactly what I thought I would be getting when I read the label. It uses Sagamore Spirit’s well-chosen and well-blended MGP rye as a kind of sweet-and-spicy canvas for the delectable apple notes from the apparently very active calvados cask. We’re not talking about a faint wisp of apple here. Apple is center-stage and unlike some cheaper apple brandies, the fruit comes through clear and concentrated.
I’ve always been an easy mark for a calvados finish, and this one delivers precisely. That makes it so very worth the price to me. $66 might be a bit of an ask if you’re not already an apple brandy fan, though, or if you balk at the idea of paying craft prices for MGP liquid.