Sagamore Spirit “Calvados Finish” Rye

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.

Sagamore Spirit “Calvados Finish” Rye
50.6% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $59 - $72
Acquired: (750ml bottle) Total Wine and More, San Jose CA, $66

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