With the help of neighboring wine experts and a blending team that includes a sommelier, Waconia’s J. Carver Distillery has released the first brandy made in Minnesota.
Brandy, which is distilled, fermented fruit juice, is gaining renewed steam with a younger crowd on the coasts and is shaking off its passe, bourgeois image. Most often made from grapes, brandy that comes to the United States is enjoyed most frequently by far in two states: Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Minnesota distilleries, however, usually focus on local products for distillation, which leaves drinkers with abundant local choices of wheat, corn, rye, and even beet-based liquors. Grapes, of course, are harder to come by. Local wineries grow what are known as cold-climate grapes, plants which thrive despite cooler winters, but the wineries import much of their raw product from wine-heavy regions, and they create a blend of the two.
In the Island View Brandy ($50 for 750 milliliters), cold-climate grapes from Minnesota and New York are featured exclusively and bring an important balance of sweetness and acid to the still, a balance not found in traditional wine grapes.
The team at J. Carver began their brandy process the moment the copper stills were up and running because brandy must age for at least two years. The small first batch was started in 2014 with the help of Ben Banks, the winemaker at Sovereign Estates in Waconia.
“The thing people don’t realize is that most brandy [worldwide] is made from leftover grapes. The stuff that’s not perfect enough to be used for wine,” Banks says, pausing a bit. “Well, we use the best grapes. We make very good wine.” This leads to the term Cognac-style brandy, meaning higher quality.
Two factors produced an excellent product, according to Banks. First, there were low volatile acids in the wine, due to the quality of the grapes. Second, it was a slow fermentation. “I don’t know why, but it went very slowly, which is always better,” he says.
The result is a complex and pleasant warming spirit with little alcoholic heat. The aroma contains fresh wood shavings, cocoa, and fig. At first sip, dominant flavors include toasted cedar, nutmeg, and cocoa butter, which are strongly incorporated with one another and smooth. Vanilla comes through on the finish.
Island View works well with both bitter and sweet citrus, which act in contrast to the dessertlike flavors. Its personality blooms beautifully with a splash of water or ice.
The name Island View is a reference to Coney Island on Lake Waconia, which is soon to undergo a major redevelopment. Bottles are now available on liquor store shelves.