Burned Wines 3: E&J Gallo XO and Kerouac

E&J Gallo XO does quite well taken over ice.  In fact, I’ve found that splashing the Californian brandy over ice can quickly overtake what was supposed to be a slow and considered evening.

My first impressions of E&J Gallo XO are established by the bottle. I love the hefty green-tinted glass that seems to suggest care and quality.  Interestingly the label translates “XO” as “Extra Smooth” and argues in fine print that the liquor is a “limited release”.  I’m not sure about the precision of this exuberant marketing language (I suppose it is a limited release if one considers that nothing is infinite, but honestly)….however, the packaging is promise of something special.

According to a few minutes of research, I’ve learned that E&J Gallo started producing brandy in 1975 with their VS. In the language of brandy, VS means “very special”. This is supposed to mean the brandy is at least 2 year old. I haven’t seen a brandy that doesn’t at least carry the VS descriptor (I’m sure they exist) but VS seems to be the entry-point for brandy. I’m not sure that makes it special  but I guess we have to go along with the marketing to some extend. Comparing E&J’s tenure to some European producers, 40-something years of production is not a long time.  It is long enough to study the trade and figure out what needs to be done.  The company claims a few things about this brandy on their website:

Smooth, sensual and seductive. Nothing is smoother than E&J XO brandy. XO is barrel-aged to bring out sweet vanilla, creamy toffee, brown sugar and soft maple notes with a hint of toasted oak, along with subtle aromas of lavender and hibiscus. E&J XO looks good, it smells good and it tastes great.

E&J XO is a lusciously smooth brandy with a bold, complex finish that’s loved by fans and respected by critics. XO has won gold medal honors and best of show awards at top spirits competitions all over the globe.

For my part, while consuming my first bottle I enjoyed every scent of the XO and could confirm the brown sugar and maple notes.  I may even have dialled-in to the lavender, but that could simply be the power of persuasion instead of a genuine impression. On my second bottle, I still found extreme pleasure in the scent and approach.  If anything, Gallo’s XO is more suited to summer than winter. And a year after having taken my first sips of XO, it has taken its place as my favorite brandy.

As I said earlier, XO on ice.  That’s my suggestion and I’m sticking with it.

Jack Kerouac

While trying that on, I want to suggest a reading of  Jack Kerouac. I was interested to learn (during my research for this entry) that Kerouac has Canadian connections through French-Canadian parents.  This appeals to my nationalistic streak.  Perhaps, like the XO, I am pleased to have hints of maple in the American product!

Kerouac died just a few days after I was born in October 1969.  It feels fitting to be scribbling in an effort to bring together  poetry and booze…Kerouac died of internal bleeding after a lifetime of alcohol consumption.  Apparently he had been drinking whiskey and malt liquor, scribbling out notes of his own at the time of his death.  He was 47 – and here I sit, myself only, or is it already, the same age.

So let’s read a few lines by Jack and think about the things we have in common as well as the things that make us so very different (rather like comparing brandies from different countries and different times)

‘Tryna get to sunny Californy’ –

Boom. It’s the awful raincoat
making me look like a selfdefeated self-murdering imaginary gangster, an idiot in a rueful coat, how can they understand my damp packs – my mud packs –
„Look John, a hitchhiker’
„He looks like he’s got a gun underneath that I. R. A. coat’
‘Look Fred, that man by the road’ „Some sex fiend got in print in 1938 in Sex Magazine’ –
„You found his blue corpse in a greenshade edition, with axe blots’ 

I’m going to argue that Kerouac is a kind of planetary gear for American culture – there are a lot of working parts and a lot of work is done.  I’m not suggesting that Kerouac is an essential poet to learn the craft of writing – but I am suggesting that much of American culture can be understood better by evaluating his influence.  I’m not sure that Americans (and through nearly constant influence, Canadians) are quite done with his influence.

The Gallo XO isn’t done either.  The hints of brown sugar and maple are an education and there are connections to the broader brandy culture to explore.  Perhaps the Gallo XO will be a valuable touchstone as I continue to explore.  North American poetry and  self-expression has no obligations to the stiff traditions of Europe…and worthwhile brandy does not appear to be the exclusive domain of the Cognac and Armagnac regions of France.  There are other sentiments – and some of them are quite dangerous – but they’re all the more worth exploring for that.

See Also

References and Citations

Article History

All content on www.ericadriaans.com, the Erickipedia, is updated and revised based on new information, further consideration, reader feedback and whim. To recommend updates, provide feedback or comment please use the contact and feedback form.

  1. Original Draft: December 16, 2016
  2. Updated: July 28, 2017
  3. Updated December 9, 2018
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