Review: OMAGE Puts a New Twist on Brandy
A purposeful nod to Cognac via California, these brandies honor tradition but also aim for a modern taste profile
What we’re drinking: OMAGE Very Special, VSOP and XO
Where it’s from: The Brand House Group is behind this Cognac-inspired brandy, produced in California using four grape varietals from the Central Valley.
Why we’re drinking this: I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter about “California brandy” and was curious about how this style would compare with Cognac.
With OMAGE, there are similarities with French brandy, but also important differences. OMAGE uses the méthode cognaçaise of pot distillation, but there’s an added column distillation for refinement; plus, the barrel aging takes place in charred and toasted bourbon barrels and French oak barrels.
OMAGE is the brainchild of Julious Grant, a 30+ year industry vet (Beam Suntory, Bacardi, Moët Hennessy, Diageo and Seagram). “I’ve got quite the extensive background,” he admits, while also noting that he “led the team that created Bulleit Bourbon.” Most importantly, he’s worked with three of the four big Cognac houses, which is what led to him to try something different.
“The taste of Cognac is really good, but not what the consumer wants,” Grant tells InsideHook. “The consumer has to acquire the taste or mix it; the wood is too intense and they want some sweetness. I respect what the French have done — I’m paying homage here — but they have to make Cognac in a very similar way. It’s regulated by the government. And I wanted something more flavorful, easier to drink, but still has character and robustness.”
Another difference here is the type of grapes (although there is some varietal crossover, Grant says “Cognacs use high-acidity grapes, while we use something more fruit-forward”). As well, Grant also wanted to differentiate from the domestic brandy industry, aiming for something more refined and less sweet … with a price point that puts OMAGE right between other California brandies and some popular Cognacs, which have seen an uptick in price due to demand.
Can OMAGE split the difference and create a real market for a California, fruit-forward spirit?
How it tastes: Grant made an interesting point that he sees these expressions as somewhere between bourbon, Cognac and rum. I think he’s right, as I noticed elements of all of these — and could see some of these expressions as interesting substitutes in cocktails more associated with one of those spirits. Each bottle is 40% ABV.
- Very Special: Aged 2+ years, this is extremely approachable with a lot of caramel, fruit and citrus notes. You wouldn’t drink a bourbon at two years, but here you’ve got something that would work in brown spirit cocktails or on its own.
- VSOP: Aged 4+ years, you’ll find stone fruit, vanilla and more oak. This makes for an excellent take on an Old Fashioned.
- XO: Aged 6+ years, the stone fruit dominates here. I found this one the most similar to a Cognac, particularly with the barrel notes, but also showing characteristics of a well-aged rum. Best sipped neat.
Fun fact: The Brand House Group, the parent company of OMAGE that launched in 2019, also puts out a range of Japanese spirits, including several whiskies (including Bikoku, a pure malt made from the underground waters of Mt. Fuji) and a strawberry gin.
Where to buy: The three expressions of OMAGE ($26, $36 and $90) are available in 31 states and online here.
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