Best of the Best 2011: Spirits: Charbay Brandy No. 83

    By law, cognac must be made in the Cognac region of France, but brandy can be produced anywhere—even in Ukiah, Calif., where 12th-generation distiller Miles Kara­kasevic makes an unusually complex version of this grape-based spirit. After graduating from the University of Belgrade in Serbia, where he studied enology and viticulture, and working at numerous California wineries, the Yugoslavian-born entrepreneur acquired an alambic charentais pot still and established Charbay distillery in 1983. Brandy is typically single distilled, but Karakasevic’s first effort in California was double distilled from Folle Blanche wine. He aged the eau-de-vie in French oak barrels for the next 27 years. On November 8, 2010, the distiller finally bottled Charbay Brandy No. 83 (www.charbay.com, $350 per 750 ml; $185 per 375 ml)—named for the year it was distilled—at a gentle 80 proof. Extremely limited in quantity, his artisan brandy is a velvet tapestry of cherry, chocolate, citrus, and marzipan, with a hint of walnut on the finish.

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