My Wandering Eye: Korbel 12, a Twelve-Year Old California Brandy

Quite a while ago, a friend of mine gave me an unmarked sample and asked my wife and I to try it and report back. Assuming it was a whiskey sample, we went ahead and tried it, found we really liked it and told him so. When we asked him what kind of whiskey it was, he got a smirk on his face and told us that it wasn’t whiskey, it was brandy. In fact, it was an expression from a brandy producer that I had been vocally dismissive of. 

My father, like most of his fellow residents of Wisconsin, loves Korbel brandy. At one point it seems, fully one third of the bottles of Korbel produced ended up in the state (only a case or so of those going to my father’s place). And being the whiskey snob I was, I couldn’t understand why one would drink brandy when they had the opportunity to drink whiskey. Especially the regular expression that was usual in my father’s house.

So when my friend told me the mystery sample was a 12 year old expression from Korbel, I was pretty shocked. I mean, I had no idea that such a thing was produced. Which goes to show the value of a blind tasting. All my preconceived notions of what is good and what isn’t fell away and only the liquid was left. And my, what a liquid it was.

When we started discussing the My Wandering Eye… series, my friend mentioned that the store he got it from still had a few bottles. Needless to say, I ran up the next day and bought one. 

In case you’re new to the series, let me recap. Bourbon prices are creeping up. So much so that even average products have hit the range where they compete price-wise with other types of aged spirits. A $50 750 ml bottle of Cognac or Armagnac doesn’t sound outrageous next to a $50 Old Forester 1870 or a $50 375 mL of the Jim Beam Harvest collection. As a response to this, my eye has started wandering down other aisles of the liquor store.

Korbel 12 Year Old California Brandy

Purchase info: ~$40 for a 750mL bottle, Top Valu Liquor, Columbia Heights, MN.

Details: 12 years old, 40% ABV

Nose: Fruity and floral. Apples, brown sugar and oak. It reminds me of a richer and fuller Woodford Reserve nose.

Mouth: Lively tingle on the tongue and floral. Brown sugar, figs, allspice and oak.

Finish: Warm and of medium length with lingering sweet figs.

Thoughts: Let’s just put it this way. This was the first non-whiskey to get a home on my American Whiskey shelf. That is the shelf I go to the most and this deserved a place where I would reach for it often. It is rich, sweet and hits all the same notes I look for in a bourbon. 

Even at only 80 proof, it has enough heat and flavor to impress while drinking neat. Something most whiskeys can’t do these days. I’d say that at right around $40, it is as good or better than many bourbons of comparable price. This is what I was hoping for when I started this series. accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support, visit Thanks!