Interview with Allison Patel of Brenne French Single Malt Whisky

by Ernie Ayres on May 12, 2013

Brenne Whisky Labels

Last week I had the privilege of speaking with Allison Patel, owner of Brenne French Single Malt Whisky, owner of Local Infusions, LLC an import/export company, and whisky blogger at TheWhiskyWoman. The About Page on her website gives most of her background that one would need to know so I won’t rehash all of that. What you do need to know is that she is driven, intelligent, curious, and sorry fellas, happily married.

Earlier that day I tweeted that I would be visiting the Bottle Shop in Franklin, TN where Allison would be meeting people and pouring samples. I got a response from both Allison and the Bottle Shop stating that they were looking forward to meeting me too! I thought that was great! Both of them have a lot going on, especially Allison, and they took the time to respond to a tweet I made? I thought that was very cool. It was also great when I got there that Allison was excitedly telling me about Brenne before she knew who I was or that I would be writing about it. She truly is passionate about her product.

After the introductions and a taste of Brenne, I asked her a few questions:

WN: How did you pick this particular flavor profile? What was the process?

AP: I actually discovered the whiskey from a third generation cognac distiller. They had no intention of bottling it, selling it, labeling it. Hopefully I was savvy enough…well, I can say that I was savvy enough because I got the contract. I didn’t necessarily go into it saying “This is what the profile needs to be.” I think that the whisky kind of tells you. And if you really think about the whole process of it, this is all estate grown barley. The barley is grown right there in Cognac with that chalky-rich soil, with that micro-climate. And the PH balance of that soil from the uni blanc grapes produces a very, very smooth distillate. We found the same to be true for the whisky. It is distilled in a traditional cognac still, and that gives it a lot more fruit-forward notes. That was already beginning to be defined by the process. When I discovered it, it had already been started in new French Limousin barrels which gives it a lot of vanilla, clove, and cinnamon  I didn’t want it to get only that. I wanted it to have a nice balance of fruit in it also, so it was my choice that once it reached five years old in the new French Limousin to moving it into cognac casks. What I was looking for was a truly well balanced, well rounded spirit, I didn’t want it to be too linear. I didn’t want it to be one dimensional. I wanted it to sing in your glass. If you leave it in that glass and you enjoy it, just sipping on it, it will really change and open up. And it is very smooth. I didn’t want to pull it out of the barrels too soon, I didn’t want it too harsh. It was from the oak and truly, from the seed that defined what the profile was going to be. And it was really my job, I felt, to develop that and bring it into fruition. I feel like I just listened to the grain and the oak.

WN: So you didn’t go in with a grain in mind.

AP: No, I didn’t say, “Here’s the recipe, make it for me.” No. Not at all. Truthfully, I didn’t start out thinking that I was ever going to own my own whisky label. I had to teach myself barrel management. I didn’t know it, I just had a lot of confidence in myself. And I truly, I really listened to myself and I trusted my own palate and my own nose. As I was getting barrel samples delivered via DHL and Fedex over the course of months and years I needed to really make sure that I felt confident in those barrels. In that we had extracted enough and it was balanced enough and that it was ready and if we proof it down it will be really elegant. My goal was to have something that was smooth, that was approachable, that was beautiful. I don’t ever want anything that’s different for the sake of being different because that’s when you’re just a marketing company. I think if you can be different for the sake of artistry and terroir and passion and the love for the spirit and for the idea that you can actually bring innovation into it. Because…whose ever heard of French whisky? There is no definition of what that could be so the sky is the limit.

This is when I interjected that she could use the term “Frotch” to describe it, a combination of French and Scotch, obviously. She had already been referring to it as “Frisky,” French and Whisky. OK  mine wasn’t that great when compared to hers. ‘Frisky’ it is.

WN: So when you came in to this project, how old was the whisky?

AP: Three and four years. Most of the bulk’s max age was three years old. I had very few barrels that were four years old and a few that were one or two.

WN: And the barrels were made from what oak again?

AP: New Limousin oak. It comes from the Limousin forest in France. It is a very, very expensive wood to buy. If you could imagine to buy a basic new American Oak barrel it is about $80. per barrel if I was buying it wholesale. To buy a new French Limousin barrel it is about 1200 to 1600 euros. So you’re looking at a very very different category. You’re just in a very different game over there. And the Limousin forest, I don’t think they cut the trees down until they reach about fifty years old. And they’re only allowed to cut down so many trees per year. The grain is all yardage barrels, they don’t kiln dry anything. It is a stunning, stunning grain. It makes very beautiful vanilla, creme brulee-like flavors in any spirit that goes into it.

WN: Have you said who the distiller is?

AP: No, and for a couple reasons. One, I’m not allowed to. It’s like grower champagnes. It’s little producers, they make the champagne and they sell it to the big boys. But there’s also no name to the distillery. It’s been in their family for three generations since the 1920’s. There’s no name. They’ve never produced anything under their own label. And second, even if I said what the family’s name is it wouldn’t mean anything. You couldn’t even find them.

WN: As far as your overall portfolio, are you going to do anything more than this?

AP: That’s to be determined, stay tuned!

Brenne French Single Malt Whisky held by owner Allison Patel

At this point, more people were approaching Allison to talk to her and sample her whisky. Once it slowed down we resumed. I regret to say, however, that I had a technical difficulty with my recorder and lost the second part of our conversation. It was only one last question and lasted about three minutes. I asked her if, because she is a woman in the whisky industry, has she noticed predjudices or not being taken seriously. She said she had…but not by anyone actually in the industry. Rather, it has been on the consumer level. She mentioned one instance where she was working a trade show and after going through the description of the whisky and that *she* decided the final flavor profile or that *she* owns the company, people would ask where the owner is or something similar, treating her more like a booth babe than the owner. I guess we still have some distance to cover with that topic.

It was truly a pleasure to spend a few minutes with her learning about Brenne. She is energetic and a great spokeswoman for her brand. I am confident that she will be around for a long time working on one of her many projects.

I would also like to thank Larry and Jeanne Boone from Boonedocks Distribution and Lisa Quillman Coviello from the Bottle Shop in Franklin, TN. **Side note** The Bottle Shop has a great selection and very friendly people working there to help you with any questions you may have.

In my next post I will review Brenne Single Malt Whisky.

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