New and interesting on the Michigan State Liquor List: January 31, 2016

Barsol_Mosto Verde_2014-07-10_0I love doing tasting notes, but I thought it might be fun and valuable to you, dear reader, to offer a new service. My thought was to list new and interesting items being added to the Michigan state liquor list and offer a few comments of an informational nature on some of them. This is the trial run of such a feature. Please let me know if it is informative or entertaining or both in the comments!

For those who may not know, Michigan, like sixteen other states, is what is called a “control state”. This means that the state government is directly involved with the sale of liquor in some way. This often includes the sale of beer and wine, although not in the case of Michigan. One of the weird quirks of the 21st amendment to the US constitution is that while it repealed national prohibition, it also gave sweeping powers to the states to regulate alcoholic beverages in whatever way they saw fit. Many states like Pennsylvania, Utah, North Carolina and Vermont operate state-owned liquor stores as a result. Others, like Michigan and West Virginia, merely act as the sole wholesaler in the state. Most are somewhere between the two extremes.

As a wholesaler, the state maintains a list of all the spirits available for purchase from itself. This list contains information on the licensed distributor the spirit is available from (these are all private companies), the alcohol content, size of the bottle in ml, how many bottles are in a case, the price the state pays for them, the price to bars, restaurants and retailers and, most importantly to consumers, a minimum price the spirit must be sold for at the retail level (always with a built-in profit for the retailer). Retailers are free to hike prices up as high as they like above the minimum, but many advertise state minimum prices which keeps the prices on most low and middle shelf spirits at or close to the minimum. The price list is readily available on the internet, so it’s easy for costumers to shop around for the best prices, too.

The price book is issued by the state a few times each year with supplemental lists (now called new items lists) published in between price books listing items to be added to or deleted from the price book. Lists of price changes for items are issued as well (I plan to make note of significant price changes in future posts like this). All of them come with a date on which the spirits in question are available for ordering from the state through to distributor. Each price book is issued in PDF and Excel forms. New items lists are only available in PDF.

The January 31, 2016 new items list is here. The LARA website with links to lists in the recent past is here. Caps retained out of laziness but with full names given where the state has abbreviated them. Proof (Michigan lists everything in terms of US proof which= 2 x %ABV), bottle size in ml and retail price are given for each one. I have added notes at the end of each if I think it necessary. Some items are not actually new, but fell off the list for some reason and have been added back or are new bottle sizes for items already on the list. Sometimes an item will be added and removed at the same time. I think this is a way to make corrections, but it’s still puzzling. Bureaucracy works in mysterious ways.

Corn Whiskey

HATFIELD & MCCOY: DRINK OF THE DEVIL 90 proof, 750 ml, $26.20. Made in Gilbert, WV from alleged McCoy family moonshine recipe.

Bourbon

BUFFALO TRACE BOURBON 90, 1000, 34.99. Now available in 1 liter bottles if that kind of thing turns you on.

REBEL YELL REBEL RESERVE 90.6, 50, 1.49. I really thought Rebel Reserve was dead, but I guess not.

YELLOWSTONE SELECT 93, 750, $44.99. Yellowstone, a hallowed old bourbon brand formerly made at the Glenmore distillery in Louisville, has just been rebooted by Luxco. It will be produced at Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, Kentucky eventually, but for now it’s sourced whiskey.

Other American whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)

THE GIFTED HORSE 115, 750, $49.96. The latest from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel project, this is 17 y/o UD era Bernheim bourbon blended with 4 y/o MGPI bourbon and 4 y/o MGPI corn whiskey.

Single Malt Scotch

BUNNAHABHAIN-8 YR 86, 750, $20.78. This young Bunna is on here as a correction so I’m not sure how new it actually is, but it does sound interesting.

GLENMORANGIE MILSEAN 92, 750, $99.99. This year’s entry into the private edition range. Finished in re-toasted wine casks. “Milsean” is a Gaelic word meaning “candy” but is also the name of a well-known horse.

SPEYMALT FROM MACALLAN 1998 86, 750, $64.99. From Gordon & MacPhail’s series of vintage Speyside single malt bottlings. This vintage is listed as discontinued on the G & M website, though, so it’s a bit of a head scratcher here.

Irish Whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)

THE POGUES 80, 750, $33.99 If there’s any band one would trust to pick their own whiskey, it’s The Pogues. From West Cork Distillery. West Cork’s standard blend and 10 y/o single malt are also available in MI, though I don’t remember ever seeing them on a shelf.

THE QUIET MAN TRADITIONAL IRISH, 80, 750, $32.99

THE QUIET MAN-8 YR SINGLE MALT 80, 750, $49.96 Named for the founder’s father and definitely not the cheesy 1952 John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara romance of the same name, The Quiet Man is hitting the US now. It’s a joint project between Ireland’s Niche Drinks (St. Brendan’s Irish Cream) and Luxco (Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks). Word on the street is that these were distilled at Cooley, according to blog friend Bourbon & Banter.

POWERS SIGNATURE RELEASE 92, 750, $44.99 This has been out for a while, but has just now come back to the state. It’s a single pot still release. Curiously, the standard Gold Label Powers has dropped off the list leaving this and the 12 y/o John’s Lane release as the only Powers offerings in the state. Powers is not a big seller in these parts so I’m sure there’s still plenty of Gold Label out there and it will probably come back onto the list at some point.

Brandy (foreign)

BARSOL PISCO SUPREME MOSTO VERDE 82, 750, $42.96 Not a lot of Pisco available in Michigan, so it’s always nice to get another one. Mosto verde (green must) Pisco is distilled from partially fermented must, as opposed to other styles that use fully fermented wine. This results in lower ABV and more grape character. Three other styles of Pisco are available from Barsol in Michigan. Imported by Anchor Distilling.

Gin

JOURNEYMAN BILBERRY BLACK HEARTS BARREL AGED 90, 750, $39.87

Rum

JOURNEYMAN ROAD’S END 114, 750, $54.99. Two barrel-aged non-whiskey spirits from West Michigan’s Journeyman distillery are listed as new, but they’ve both been around a while. Let’s hope this means wider distribution beyond the distillery and Binny’s for both of them.

Tequila/Mezcal

BLUE NECTAR ANEJO FOUNDER’S BL 80.0, 750, $59.99 Founded by a Southfield, MI businessman with the help of former Bacardi master blender Guillermo Garcia-Lay, Blue Nectar is distilled at the Amatitán distillery, which also makes Don Azul.

MAESTRO DOBEL HUMITO 88, 750, $53.99. New smoked silver Tequila from Dobel.

Liqueurs

TEMPUS FUGIT FERNET DEL FRATE ANGELICO 88, 750, $64.99. Imported Fernet bittersTempus Fugit Fernet del Frate Angelico Bottle Shot_2015-02-24_0 from Northern California Absinthe specialists Tempus Fugit (associated with Anchor Distilling). Distilled at the Matter-Luginbühl distillery in Kallnach, Switzerland from an old Italian recipe. Erroneously listed under foreign brandy. TF’s Gran Classico bitters are also available in Michigan.

CELTIC HONEY 60, 750, $19.65. Irish whiskey based liqueur made with Irish honey and Irish botanicals from Castle Brands (Gosling’s, Jefferson’s, Knappogue).

TIJUANA SWEET HEAT 70, 750, $14.96. Tequila based, agave syrup sweetened abomination from Sazerac, the people who brought you Fireball. The concept is the same. Shoot it while shouting “woo!” Also available in 1 liter and 50 ml bottles for your alcohol poisoning pleasure. Erroneously listed under Tequila.

Vodka, etc

LONG ROAD DISTILLERY WENDY PEPPERCORN 101, 750, $34.99. Pink peppercorn flavored vodka from the Grand Rapids based microdistiller. Good for Bloody Marys, probably.

OLE SMOKY MOONSHINE BLUE FLAME 128, 750, $19.99. Ole Smoky’s attempt at a “serious” “moonshine”. Formerly only sold at their distillery in Gatlinburg and their outlet in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Listed under miscellaneous whiskey.

EVERCLEAR ALCOHOL PL 151, 50, $1.49. Even though Everclear has an ABV% that makes it impossible to take on an airplane, you can now pretend you’re drinking yourself to death on one with these nifty, affordable 50 ml bottles. Also great for watching youth sports, long church services or Philadelphia 76ers games.

Images from Anchor Distilling website media section here: http://www.anchordistilling.com/media/

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whiskey

Maker: James Sedgewick Distillery, Wellington, Cape Winelands, Western Cape, South 2016-02-05-22.26.42.jpg.jpegAfrica

Style: Single grain whisky (100% maize)

Age: NAS (4-5 y/o)

ABV: 43%

Michigan State Minimum: $30

Appearance: Medium gold with medium, evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Roasted sweet corn, corn syrup, sweet hay, cardamom.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Caramel, amaretto, then burn. Opens up and gets fruity with water. Wild cherry, candy fruit slices.

Finish: Bubblegum, plum, then burn the rest of the way. A little less fruity and hot with water but otherwise the same.

Parting words: “World whisky”, i.e. whisky made outside of the five traditional whisky-making countries (Scotland, Ireland, Canada, US, Japan), is getting a lot of attention. New distilleries in Sweden, Australia, Taiwan, India and elsewhere are launching their products in the US and getting written about. James Sedgewick distillery is getting attention too, but it’s hardly new. It was founded in 1886 in the heart of South African wine country. Their Three Ships line is what they are best known for, but Bain’s appears to be their only product available for sale in the US.

It was a surprise to me. Before opening, I had expected it to taste like a Scotch grain whiskey or an Irish blend but it didn’t resemble either of those. The nose was very similar to a Canadian whisky but the palate was closer to a high rye bourbon with its bubble gum and caramel flavors. I bought it as a novelty but I could see Bain’s easily entering my regular rotation. It mixes OK, but I like it too much neat to use it for cocktails too much. Unlike many other world whiskies entering the US, Bain’s is very affordable at $30. All that adds up to a big recommendation.

Left Foot Charley Pinot Blanc, 2013

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20160203_155824.jpg

Place of origin: Island View Vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

ABV: 13.5%

Other information: 21.4° brix at harvest, harvested 10/19/2013, 6 g/l residual sugar.

Purchased for $24

Appearance: Pale straw

Nose: Mild lychee, lemon thyme, mineral water

Palate: Tangerine, Meyer lemon, sage, pear, peach, thyme.

Finish: Overripe Bartlett pear, mandarin orange, tannin.

Parting words: Pinot Blanc is a funny wine. In Europe, it’s associated with Alsace, but Alsatian Pinot Blanc is really just a white wine blend made with white wines from grapes in the Pinot family. In Alsace, Pinot Blanc (the variety) and Auxerrois (a very close sibling to Chardonnay) are the most common components. Sometimes Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir (vinified white) are blended in as well. Comparing an Alsatian Pinot Blanc to an American varietal Pinot Blanc is not really a fair comparison because of that.

I had intended to compare this wine to an Alsatian I had in my cellar, Emile Beyer’s Tradition Pinot Blanc. I didn’t end up doing that comparison because it just didn’t seem fair to compare the two for the reasons above, but also because Tradition is $10 cheaper and is not single vineyard. That said, I did drink them in close proximity and the LFC Pinot Blanc held up well, for what it’s worth.

Pinot Blanc is a grape variety that has come up as a potential “signature grape” for Michigan. I’ve ranted about this on Twitter at least twice. When the marketeers who love the idea of signature grapes talk about Pinot Blanc they use buzzwords like “crisp”, “clean” and “quaffable”. Those words always translate to “boring”. The idea is to grab Pinot Grigio drinkers who are looking for book club type wines that are easy to pound down and don’t require much contemplation. I think this is the wrong approach because I don’t want to see Michigan tying its fortunes to a dull grape and being perceived as a dull wine state, instead of one producing robust, complex white wines on par with anywhere else in the world.

Most Michigan Pinot Blancs I’ve had have indeed been boring. They have very little going on other than acidity. The ones that aren’t boring have been bad. Left Foot Charley’s 2013 Pinot Blanc is the exception. It’s complex and fruity, but with plenty of acidity to keep things moving along. $24 puts it on the high side for Michigan whites, but it’s worth it. If all Michigan Pinot Blancs could be like this, I might change my mind about the grape. Left Foot Charley 2013 Pinot Blanc is recommended.

Beard Bender

Maker: Blake’s Hard Cider, Armada (ar-MAY-duh), Michigan, USA20160202_121545.jpg

Style: Dry cider

ABV: 6.5%

Purchased for $10/6 pack (cans)

Appearance: At first pour has a big, fizzy, soda pop head. Light gold and slightly cloudy.

Nose: Homemade applesauce, medium sweet aroma.

Palate: Semi-dry. A little apple character and minerality. Tannin on the back end.

Finish: Tannic and bone dry. Apple core, fresh picked apple, gravel dust. Progressively less apple and more dryness as one moves throught nose, palate and finish.

Parting words: I reviewed Blake’s (semi-) sweet cider Flannel Mouth a couple weeks ago. It was fine as an entry level cider or something for the casual drinker. Beard Bender is drier but still very accessible. Drinkers who are used to sweet corporate ciders might be taken off guard a little, but by the time they finish it, they’ll love it.

Beard Bender is an ideal table cider as well. It works best with the sort of cuisine that naturally pairs with dry white or pink wines, but no need to get picky. I had it with a porterhouse steak once and it still did very well. Not as well as a big dry red wine or a porter, it still did well. $10 is a solid price, too. Beard Bender is recommended.

Pikesville Rye

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USA2016-01-29-16.52.04.jpg.jpeg

Style: Kentucky straight rye whiskey

Age: 6 y/o

Proof: 110 (55% ABV)

Michgan state minimum: $50

Appearance: Dark auburn

Nose: Cut grass, oak, alcohol grape soda, caramel.

Palate: Full bodied. Spicy and hot. Caramel, root beer. Water brings out sweet cinnamon and chili powder.

Finish: Oak, and then habanero. With water: a splash of caramel corn, then a low ancho burn.

Parting words: Pikesville is a fairly old Maryland brand that ended up being the last rye distilled in the state. The distillery stopped distilling in 1972 but kept going using old stock until 1982 in a testament to how bad sales were. Heaven Hill bought the brand then and it served as their bottom shelf, 80 proof rye for the next 30+ years. In 2015 they decided to reboot Pikesville as a 110 proof upper-shelfer. Judging by this bottle, the reboot is a success.

There seems to be a large proportion of pretty old (12 y/o or older) stock in the mix. I have never had an young Kentucky style rye with this much oak showing. It’s remarkable and well worth the price. This a is well balanced with loads of character that drinks pretty easy for 110 proof. If you enjoy Heaven Hill’s other rye, Rittenhouse, you’ll love this. It even stands up to the hallowed Van Winkle Family Reserve rye well. I hope they don’t let the high quality slip over the next few years. Highly recommended.

The Exclusive Malts- Cambus, 1988

Maker: Cambus, Cambus, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, UK (Diageo)

Style: Grain whisky

Age: 26 y/o

ABV: 48.1%

Price: $180 (K & L)

Thanks to Marshall for this sample.

Appearance: Old gold with thick, very slow legs.

Nose: Old oak, butterscotch pudding, serrano chili, alcohol

Palate: Banana pudding, then burn. With water the burn and banana fades into creamy vanilla custard.

Finish: Sweet and custardy, banana cream pie. Similar with water but with oak on the back end.

Parting words: Cambus was one of the first grain whisky distilleries in Scotland, and possibly the first to use a column (aka Coffey or patent) still. Its early history is fuzzy, but it may have been founded in 1806. What is known for certain is that it began at its current site in 1836 and was one of the founding members of Distiller’s Company Limited (DCL) a corporate ancestor of Diageo. When UDV (one of Diageo’s parents) was formed in 1993, Cambus was shuttered. This being Scotch, Cambus-distilled grain whisky has hung around for a long time.

A little ironically, The Exclusive Malts bottled this grain (not malt) whisky as a part of a big batch of vintage single cask Scotches they released last year. This one is the oldest. The others are all mid 1990s vintage. They include casks from nearby Deanston, Ben Nevis, Glen Keith, Glen Garioch, and Allt-A-Bhainne (no, that last one isn’t made up).

I love Twitter. One of the reasons is that it enables me to meet whiskey enthusiasts from all over the world and chat with them. One of the persons I’ve met that way is Marshall. We met in person back around Christmas (or was it Thanksgiving?) and he generously gave me a sample of this at that time. Earlier this week I was thinking of a special Scotch to review for the Friday before Burns Night and this one seemed perfect. It is delicious. It’s also surprisingly bourbon-like, specifically it’s like old bottles of Old Taylor, Very Old Barton or Old Charter Proprietor’s reserve (slope-shoulder Louisville version) that I’ve had. Big butterscotch and tropical fruit flavors, but perfectly balanced with wood, sweetness and vanilla. $180 isn’t chump change but it’s not unreasonable for a whisky of this quality and age from a closed distillery. Cambus 1988 is recommended.

Blake’s Flannel Mouth Hard Cider

Maker: Blake’s, Armada, Michigan, USA2016-01-19-10.54.28.jpg.jpeg

Style: Semi-sweet apple cider

ABV: 6.5%

Price: $10/6 pack of cans

Appearance: Pale gold with a fizzy but short-lived head.

Nose: Apple juice, fresh off the tree apples, gravel, citrus blossom.

Palate: Semi-sweet and slightly effervescent. Light and easy drinking with good apple flavor and some structure-providing tannin.

Finish: Sweetness with some minerals in the background.

Parting words: Blake’s, like Uncle John’s, is an cidery and an agricultural attraction like Uncle John’s. Blake’s is closer to Detroit, though, just twenty-five miles north of Sterling Heights, Michigan in Macomb county, one of the three counties in the metro area. They produce a line of ciders including the dry Beard Bender, spiced El Chavo, hopped Catawampus, farmhouse Cider Dayze and sweet Flannel Mouth. They also produce a line of seasonal ciders and limited editions.

Flannel Mouth is a pretty good entry-level cider. It’s pretty sweet, so it may not be one to serve to those who think cider is too sweet, but for the casual cider drinkers or the ci-curious it’s a good choice. Acessible, but with depth. $10 for a six pack isn’t cheap but it isn’t bananas either. Flannel Mouth is recommended.

Kentucky Tavern, Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Barton-1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA2016-01-15-16.21.13.jpg.jpeg

Age: NAS (At least four years old)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Price: Unknown ($12? Possibly discontinued)

Appearance: Medium copper with a thin necklace

Nose: Alcohol, toasted pecans, sage, butterscotch.

Palate: Soft and mild on the palate. Shifts to hot on the back end. Caramel, a little oak.

Finish: Warming, caramel candies, butterscotch.

Mixed: Subtle, but excellent in a Manhattan, Boulevardier, sour, Old Fashioned and with Coke and Ginger Ale. OK on the rocks.

Parting words: Kentucky Tavern is a pretty old brand, dating back to 1903. Its original parent company folded shortly thereafter and the brand was sold to brothers James and Francis P. Thompson. Their company was called Glenmore and it owned the brand for most of its history. It was made at the Glenmore distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky but may have also been made at Glenmore’s Louisville distillery which was best known as the home of Yellowstone bourbon. Kentucky Tavern was a rye-recipe bourbon then and served as Glenmore’s flagship brand. In 1991, Glenmore was purchased by Guinness and became a part of United Distillers. KT was actually a wheat bourbon during this brief period. The Louisville distillery was closed at that time and four years later Kentucky Tavern and the Owensboro distillery were sold to Barton Brands (later Constellation). The Glenmore facility was then used only as a bottling and warehousing center, as it still is today. Sazerac, owners of Buffalo Trace distillery, purchased the Barton distillery in Bardstown, the old Glenmore facility and Kentucky Tavern (among other things) in 2009. Kentucky Gentleman bourbon was begun as something of a knockoff of Kentucky Tavern, but ironically is now also owned by Sazerac and produced at Barton.

The word on the street is that Kentucky Tavern is the same mashbill as 1792 Ridgemont Reserve bourbon, which has been described as either high rye or high malt bourbon. It could actually be both, as long as it’s still 51% corn. Notoriously tight-lipped Sazerac has never released any information on the mashbill for KT or any other products produced at Barton, though.

The 80 proof Kentucky Tavern is available here and there, popping up at The Party Source, Binny’s and a few other large retailers in the Midwest and Kentucky. The bonded is much harder to find, and may actually have been discontinued, judging by how none of the retailers I consulted have it in stock. I bought this bottle at Liquor World in Bardstown, Kentucky the last time I was there. I called them earlier today and they said they did not have any in stock. Online reports of recent finds are non-existent too.

If it has been discontinued, it’s a shame because this is a very good bourbon for the money and a very good mixer. If you can find it, Kentucky Tavern Bottled in Bond is recommended.

Aviatrix Rouge 2010

Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan, USA2016-01-07-11.13.04.jpg.jpeg

Grapes: 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 15% Syrah, 10% Merlot (acc. to website)

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Style: Left bank-ish red Bordeaux blend

ABV: Unknown (14%-ish)

Price: $35 (Michigan by the Bottle)

Appearance: Dark burgundy with a brownish hue.

Nose: Black currant jam, blueberry, wild blackberry, vanilla.

Palate: Understated. Blueberry juice, black cherry, wine cap mushrooms, vanilla.

Finish: Oaky, then fades into chewy berries. Slight tang at the end.

Parting words: I was very impressed with this wine. I expected a smoky beast like its cousin and successor, Aviatrix Crimson, but what I got was a multifaceted gem of a wine. The fruit, oak, earthy and other elements are in perfect harmony here. Rereading my notes, they seem to give the impression that this is a very fruity, sweet wine. It’s not. The fruit notes are all fairly muted and balanced out with flavors I can’t quite name.

$35 is hell of a lot of money for a Michigan red. I think this one lives up to the price tag, though. Paired great with a steak and with pork roast. Drinking great now (especially after breathing for a while) but will probably be as good or better for the next two to three years or longer. Aviatrix Rouge 2010 is recommended.

Camus VS Elegance

Maker: Camus, Cognac, Charente, France2016-01-06-14.57.54.jpg.jpeg

Age category: VS (at least 2 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Price: $26 (The Party Source)

Appearance: Bright copper with thick, slow moving legs

Nose: Raisins, old oak, fig, alcohol.

Palate: Soft and mild. Oatmeal raisin cookies.

Finish: Dried fig, dates, alcohol, vanilla.

Parting words: The Camus Cognac house dates back to 1863. Unlike its much bigger competitors it is family and French owned, and always has been. The current president is Cyril Camus (b. 1971), a descendent of founder Jean-Baptiste Camus (b. 1835). They also share similar facial hair. Cyril created the Elegance line of entry level, age category cognacs, and the Borderies XO, made with grapes from the family vineyards in the Borderies sub-region of Cognac. He also began a line of cognacs made entirely with grapes from Île de Ré, a small island (33 square miles or so) off the coast of western France. Frankly, Camus produces a bewildering number of products for such a small company.

The Elegance line, as mentioned above, seems to be intended as an entry level product line. It also includes Elegance VSOP, XO and Extra (in ascending order of age). The VS is the least expensive but the VSOP is affordable as well. Unfortunately, the state of Michigan does not carry the VS, but the VSOP retails for $39, which is not bad in the grand scheme of things. Michigan also carries Elegance XO ($157), Borderies XO ($177), Extra Elegance ($500) and Cuvee 5.150 ($14,000).

I expected this brandy to be mixing quality at best. I was pleasantly shocked. The fruity quality of the distillate clearly takes the lead here, but it’s very good on its own and is balanced with enough cask character to keep it from tasting like an unaged eau de vie. I tasted from a 50 ml bottle so I didn’t quite have enough to try it mixed, but I can see the assertive fruit getting in the way of some mixers. Or maybe it wouldn’t. What I can say with certainty is that Camus Elegance VS is very good. Recommended.