Brenne is a new single malt whisky brand which hails from France. The whisky is uniquely farm-to-bottle, aged in new limousin oak and finished in ex-cognac barrels. I first came across this brand at Whisky Live which is where I met founder and owner Allison Patel.
Two months later Allison and I sat down at a wonderful bar in West Village to talk whisky. I wanted to know more Brenne, and not just the stuff that you can read from the website, I needed to go deeper. Allison was enthusiastic and cheerful throughout the conversation as I pelted her with question after question. Here’s part one of a very informative interview.
Why release Brenne now? Was the timing planned to coincide with the uptick in popularity of single malt whisky in the US?
Allison: It was luckily by chance. I discovered this whisky when it was three years old. The distiller let me come in and do barrel management with him. When I got it up to 5 years old in the new limousin oak, I moved it to ex-cognac barrels and I was thinking that the finish would only take 6-9 months. I quit my job at that time, then realized that the spirit needed at least 2 years time to finish in cognac. At 2 years it hit that extraction level that I was looking for – it really balanced out the whisky in such a beautiful way giving it a very strong overtone of fruit while also giving ode to the grain. It was a total fluke that Brenne launched now when world whiskeys are so interesting to people. I feel blessed that I’m able to release a seven/eight year old whisky in this time period.
Did you sample whisky from other distillers besides the Cognac distiller you are working with?
Allison: Absolutely. The part that was by chance was I didn’t expect to discover an untapped whisky source that was made by a distiller who had no plans to take it to market. I also was planning to import whisky from non-traditional countries. That being said, I was expecting to work with established brands that have yet to be introduced to the US market. I traveled a lot and met different distillers from all over the world. I was lucky to meet a distiller who would let me create my own barrel program and launch my own brand.
How do you ensure consistent quality and flavor profile of the whisky? Do you visit the family distillery to taste before bottling?
Allison: My first expression is the Brenne Estate Cask – it’s 100% estate grown barley. Harvest of barley in this region in France happens in July and August. We then send the barley off-site to a be malted. Because the barley is grown at the estate, we only produce the whisky once a year. I supervise all of the barrel management which is one of the key factors in whisky producing.
The distiller and I agree on the flavor profile for the bottlings jointly. We’ll analyze barrels together and sample everything to make sure it is up to the quality we expect. Just a note: since our bottlings are single cask, different casks will have slightly different color and flavor profiles, but overall they will share a similar flavor that makes them distinctly Brenne.
How many cases of Brenne are produced annually? Is production continuing? Any plans for special releases like a cask strength bottling?
Allison: I have 33-35 barrels per year which yields 2500 cases of Brenne. Because it’s a handcrafted seed-to-spirit whisky, production is capped on the Brenne Estate Cask expression and we don’t have the ability to expand.
I had five barrels rolled aside for a potential 10 year release. Right now they’re at eight years and they seem to be aging pretty well. I might hold one of those five aside for a 12 or 15 year bottling. However, every time I hold something aside it takes away from my annual allocation for Brenne Estate Cask expression. If I do an older release it won’t be something that I’ll do every year. Although I do think it’s exciting to release something special occasionally.
With regards to cask strength – it truly depends. The profile and approachability of Brenne is key to the brand so the Estate cask expression will always be bottled at 40% ABV. I try this whisky at cask strength regularly, it’s awesome, complex and big! But, I also like the delicacy of our core expression. With regards to the ten year, you never know! You’ll just have to stay tuned to see what I do with proof.
Do you plan to release to other markets outside US?
Allison: There are so many positive requests coming in, particularly from Canada, France and the UK. But with 2500 cases annually it makes it very hard to decide where you want them to go. It’s very rewarding to me to be able to bring Brenne here and now have other countries wanting it. I do feel a little guilty that I haven’t allocated any to France yet – it is made there and is their rightfully owned product.
Where do you see this brand 10 years down the line? Do you have any plans for expansion?
Allison: Brenne is very special and part of what makes it so is the fact that it’s not mass produced. It’s truly a hand crafted whisky in the most honest sense. At this point in time, I don’t foresee us buying barley from somewhere else and running the stills year round to increase production. But whether or not I start other projects – you’ll have to stay tuned. The sky’s the limit!
Click for here for part two