A Beer-Lover’s Special (and Very Limited) Beer Alternative
Cidre Brut, a Génépi-infused cider created by the US Grant Hotel, is a one-of-a-kind taste experience
Cidre Brut | Photo by Bruce Glassman
Cicerone and sommelier Jeff Josenhans has spent the last few years creating some of San Diego’s most unique and interesting fermented beverages. As director of banquets, restaurants, and bars for the US Grant Hotel, Jeff has collaborated with producers to develop various small-batch proprietary products, including a beer, a wine, whiskey, and—most recently—a hard cider.
Jeff’s previous collaboration, which he did with Mission Brewery, produced an Imperial Red that was aged with cherries in Manhattan-seasoned whiskey barrels. That beer, which was called Gentleman Grant, made a big splash—and its success encouraged Jeff to pursue other partnerships in order to create proprietary beverages that he could offer exclusively through the US Grant.
Most recently, Jeff oversaw the creation of a house-made Génépi, which is an Alpine-style cordial (Absinthe, Chartreuse, and Amaro are examples of Génépis). The drink is traditionally a bitter, brandy-based cordial with an infusion of indigenous herbs—primarily aromatics in the Wormwood family. “Our original idea was to kind of create our own house-made Chartreuse, which is a big thing in the mixology and spirits world,” Jeff says.
But, as they began testing and playing around with the flavor mixes, they realized that trying to emulate Chartreuse was not the direction they wanted to go. Jeff felt it was too limiting to try to emulate such a well-known product and to have his creation immediately compared to such an established brand. As a result, Jeff decided to go a more creative route and assemble something unique and reflective of local resources.
The end result was what Jeff calls “Génépi Americana.” The drink was made by using wildflower honey from Orange County and 29 California-based botanicals, including wormwood, angelica root, lavender flower, rose petals, thyme flower, hyssop, orange peel, lemon peel, sage, and coriander seed. These are the kinds of botanicals you would see normally see in beverages such as Amaro or Vermouths.
Whereas a traditional Génépi uses brandy as its base, the US Grant team decided to use a white whiskey made by Dickel of Tennessee as its base. They purchased a brand-new custom-toasted French oak barrel and filled it with 29 different batches of whiskey; each batch had been infused with one of the botanicals.
For more than a month, Jeff and his team worked on their blend—working with their lavender whiskey, hyssop whiskey, orange peel whiskey, and all the other infusions—creating a final cuvee just a few drops at a time. Once the blend was done, the Génépi was aged for 6 months before the first third was tapped. After another 6 months, they pulled out another third. The final third was left to age for another year so, when they were done, they had cordials that had been barrel-aged for 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years.
The finished product was met with great enthusiasm, and even garnered accolades from the official spirits press. “We were actually the only spirit that didn’t come from a distillery to ever win a medal at a spirits competition,” Jeff explains. “We submitted it to the L.A. International Spirits Competition and we took a silver medal. We were up against places like Laphroaig and Maker’s Mark—real distilleries!—and here’s us, the outsider guys, with one barrel of production that was made in a bar!”
While he enjoyed the reception he was getting to his Génépi Americana, Jeff had a decision to make. Once the Génépi barrel was emptied, Jeff and his team had a vessel that was infused with all the wonderful botanicals and flavors that two years of aging imparted. “It was the most beautiful barrel I had ever seen,” Jeff recalls. “It was like upper-eschelon-quality, like an Opus One barrel.”
They sealed it and plastic-wrapped it and then set to figuring out what they were going to do with it. At the same time, Jeff saw that they were selling a lot of Gentleman Grant, and that’s when it occurred to him that the Génépi barrel could be great for aging a champagne or a cider. He soon made contact with Paul Thomas, from Julian Hard Cider, and pitched the idea of aging a hard cider in this very special vessel. “He loved the idea,” Jeff says.
Thomas visited the US Grant and tasted the Génépi as Jeff explained his concept: “I told him we wanted to be a French-style, dry Génépi-infused cider.” When harvest time rolled around—in September—Jeff brought the barrel up to Julian and worked with Paul to create a specific cider blend that would work best with all the other flavor components in the mix.
The finished product, called Cidre Brut (7.2% ABV), is a heady mix of intoxicating aromatics that play beautifully with the sweet apple aromas and the crisp, spicy, herbal, tart, lightly carbonated cider. It has the brightness of a champagne, the tartness of a light kettle-soured beer, and the rich, satisfying herbal and spicy flavors of a Saison. “Actually, I was surprised by how much the Génépi came through in the finished cider,” Jeff says. “It really picked up the Génépi notes beautifully.”
If you’re a beer lover with a taste for adventure, this kind of complex hard cider can provide a nice detour from the usual beer lineup. And, if you’re not yet an avowed beer enthusiast, this kind of beverage provides a great bridge between the wine world, the beer world, and the spirits world. Says Jeff: “It’s a very unique product, and it’s something you don’t have in any other cider.”
Cidre Brut will have its official release on April 1 and—alas—will only available at the bar or in the restaurant at the US Grant Hotel.