Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

Maker: Arcadia Ales, Battle Creek/Kalamazoo, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-03-02-19.36.32.jpg.jpeg

Purchased: 2012

ABV: 12%

Price: Don’t remember.

Appearance: Dark chocolate brown with a short-lived lacy head.

Nose: Bourbon, sweet malt, strawberry licorice, light molasses.

Palate: Medium bodied and powerful. Coffee, anise, rye recipe bourbon, piloncillo.

Finish: Light with a little bourbon and molasses.

Parting words: Aging beer is something I got really interested in a couple years ago and it’s starting to pay off now. I had an aged Arcadia Imperial Stout at the Arcadia brewpub once and it was good but was all anise and little else. This is much richer but oddly playful. The various flavors pop up seemingly at random on the palate to engage in a tug of war with the others. The result is not well integrated but still very enjoyable. If I have a complaint, it’s that it’s too enjoyable. I almost never get drunk off of beer but after just one of these I felt a pretty big buzz. At 12% ABV this beer is best drunk in the same way as a fortified wine. Find a friend or two and split a bottle after supper. I don’t remember what I paid for it but I think it was around $8 for one bottle which I think is fair for a liquid dessert. Barrel Aged Imperial Stout is recommended. Put it away for a while if you can.

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Big Bottom Port Cask Finished

Maker: Big Bottom, Hillsboro, Oregon, USAwpid-20150220_122442.jpg

Distiller: Unknown, likely MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: Straight bourbon finished in Port casks.

Age: NAS

Proof: 91 (45.5% AVB)

Batch: 7

Note: Not chill filtered

Price: $40 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Dark auburn.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, wood varnish, hint of port.

Palate: Sweet and oaky on the palate. Alcohol, aged tawny, chocolate covered dried cherries.

Finish: Alcohol, wine grape jam, dates. Lingers for a long time.

Mixed: While I don’t usually mix bourbons in this price range, fortified wine finished bourbons usually mix very well in the classier sort of cocktails so I thought I’d give it a go. I tried it in a Manhattan, perfect Manhattan, boulevardier, Dave Wondrich’s Holdfast cocktail (bourbon, bitters, splash of Gran Marnier) and a whiskey sour. It did well in all but it showed up best in the cocktails with as few mixers as possible to let the finishing show through. These were the Manhattans, Holdfast and the sour.

Parting words: Big Bottom (named after a section of the Lewis & Clark Mt. Hood Wilderness Area, and not to be confused with Big Ass Bourbon) offer a range of bourbons but made their name with their wine-finished ones. They bottle wines finished in Rhone, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Port barrels. I decided to start with their Port-finished expression because I have more experience with Port-finished whiskeys than with any of the others. This one is finished in a ten year old tawny cask.

This is probably the best Port-finished bourbon I’ve had. It is a little hot upon first pour but after blows off it gets much better. BB doesn’t have the strawberry flavors of Angel’s Envy (or the Balvenie Portwood for that matter) but has richer fruit flavors like the cherry and date mentioned above.  It works  very well with red vermouth and is damn near perfect as an after-dinner sipper. The price is fair for a product of this high quality. The care they took in selecting the barrels for finishing shows in the end result. Big Bottom Port finished is recommended.

 

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Germain-Robin Alembic Brandy Reserve Vine & Table batch 2012F

Maker: Germain-Robin, Ukiah, California, USAwpid-20150219_171845.jpg

Age: NAS

ABV: 43%

Price: $50

Appearance: Burnt orange with a long, persistent necklace.

Nose: Alcohol, raisins, prunes, mincemeat, black tea.

Palate: Full-bodied and rich. Prune juice, star anise, passito wine, oak.

Finish: Dry and spicy. Fruitcake or mincemeat spices, raisins.

Parting words: Co-founded by a man from a distilling family in Cognac, Germain-Robin is probably the U.S.’s finest producer of brandy. They’ve been in business since 1982 (an eternity in micro-distiller years) and were favorites of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, among others.

This is very much in the style of Cognac but better than most in its price range. As a whiskey drinker primarily, it makes a very pleasant change of pace. I haven’t tried V & T’s other batch, 2012E but I have heard excellent things about it too. Something this tasty at this price is not something I would mix. It’s an excellent value from an excellent maker and an excellent retailer. Germain-Robin Alembic Brandy Reserve Vine & Table batch 2012F is highly recommended.

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2 Lads Riesling

Maker: 2 Lads, Traverse City, Michigan, USAwpid-20150218_213116.jpg

Place of origin: Pratt Farm & Twin Bay vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-dry

Vintage: 2012

Notes: Harvested 10/18 & 10/22/2012, Sugar: 22° Brix, pH: 3.29, 1220 cases produced.

ABV: 11.5%

Price: $16 (website)

Appearance: Bright gold with thin, streaky legs.

Nose: Under ripe pear, mineral water, mild pineapple, star fruit, woodruff.

Palate: Gently tart on entry, white peach, dried thyme and then minerals.

Finish: Dry and clean. Flint, hint of wildflower honey.

Parting words: It’s hard to know what one is getting into when one sees “medium dry” on a Riesling label. One person’s medium dry is another one’s sweet. This one is dryer than I thought it would be but that’s not a bad thing. It has all the stony, bracing qualities one expects in a dry Riesling, but still has enough sweetness to round itself out and keep it from becoming one dimensional. Does very well with food of all kinds and the price is reasonable for a Michigan Riesling of this quality. Drink now or in the near future. 2012 2 Lads (medium dry) Riesling is recommended.

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The Pass Sauvignon Blanc

Maker: Unknownwpid-2015-02-11-16.39.46.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Marlborough, New Zealand.

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 13%

Note: Reviewed 22 hours after opening

Purchased for $9

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: White grapefruit, pineapple, lemon juice. Whiff of acetone.

Palate: Bland on entry, but soon turns grassy and acerbic. Like having a pineapple spear shoved into one’s sinuses.

Finish: Harsh. Citrus pith. Leaves the mouth feeling like one has eaten too much fresh pineapple.

Parting words: Believe it or not, The Pass was even worse when I first opened it. After some time breathing in the fridge it is almost approaching drinkability. 2013 was supposed to be a good vintage for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but you’d never know it from this.

The Pass is is a special label for Trader Joe’s from a New Zealand producer with American ownership (maybe something from the Foley group). I can taste why they wouldn’t want this wine under the label of one of their known brands. I enjoy grapefruit notes in NZ Sauvignon Blanc, but this wine is totally out of balance and is more like an assault on the senses than a crisp summertime sipper. My recommendation is that you take a…wait for it…PASS on The Pass.

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Collingwood 21

Maker: Canadian Mist, Collingwood, Ontario, Canada (Brown-Forman)wpid-20150206_163642.jpg

Style: 100% malted rye Canadian whisky finished with toasted maple wood.

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Bright orange

Nose: Rich and bright. Dried orange peel, vanilla sugar cookies, cut oak, ground walnut.

Palate: Soft and mild. Grade A maple syrup, faint notes of clementine, maple sugar, oak.

Finish: A little oak and potpourri, then softly fades into a gentle sweetness.

Parting words: The nose on this whisky is truly amazing. It’s complex, elegant and beautiful from beginning to end. Wood is very much present, both maple and oak, but it’s never overbearing. Everything is seamlessly integrated. I could just sit and smell this whisky for hours.

Then there’s the taste and finish. Anticlimactic would be a polite word for it. Neither is bad, but they don’t even come close to matching the promise of the amazing nose. This is yet another Canadian Whisky that is held back from being the world class spirit is should be by being bottled at 40%. At 45% or, God forbid, 50% this would be world class. As it is, it’s a sad reminder of what is holding Canadian whiskies back. No, forget sad, Collingwood 21 makes me angry. The women and men who made this product deserve better than a showing like this.

$60 is too high but, my anger not withstanding, at $50 or lower, Collingwood 21 is recommended.

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Dan-Armor Cuvée Spéciale

Maker: Cidres Dujardin, Jurques, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France

Place of origin: Brittany, France

Style: Dry Breton cider

Notes: No sweetener added.

ABV: 5%

Price: $5 (Trader Joe’s)

Appearance: Iridescent orange with a quick, foamy head. Head doesn’t last but the bubbles do.

Nose: Mineral water, apples, caramel.

Palate: Medium bodied and semi-dry. Crisp, dry apples up front with a hint of brown sugar, then fades into bone-dry minerality.

Finish: Clean and slightly chalky.

Parting words: In part three (at least) of my ongoing effort to at least understand French cider, if not enjoy it, I head southwest from Normandy to Brittany. Brittany has a long and fascinating history with deep historical ties to Normandy and the British Isles. I would love to go into all of that here but only one aspect of those connections is applicable here: cider. Cider is beloved in all three areas for cultural, historical and geological reasons. Apples grow much better in all three places than grapes do, so the cider making tradition is strong in all those places.

Anyway, this is my first Breton cider and I’m enjoying it much more than the Norman ones I’ve had. It lacks the sour yeasty funk of those and instead has a delicately sweet and refreshing character that is much more enjoyable. At $5 this is an easy buy.  Dan-Armor Cuvée Spéciale is highly recommended.

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Head to Head: Rittenhouse DSP KY 1 vs DSP KY 354

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Ketucky, USAwpid-20150130_172202.jpg

Distilled

1: Heaven Hill, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

354: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Style: Kentucky rye.

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $24 (DSP 354 edition is no longer being produced).

Appearance

1: Burnt orange.

354: A bit lighter. Bright copper.

Nose

1: Alcohol, caramel, creamed corn, tarragon, sawdust.

354: Softer. Spearmint, alcohol, roasted corn.

Palate

1: Neat- Heat and little else. Water brings out candy and oak notes.

354: Round and soft, even neat. Potpourri, rock candy, alcohol.

Finish

1: Hot and harsh. The caramel and herbal flavors start to shift into something much less pleasant.

2: Long and grassy. Freshly mowed lawn, alcohol, orange peel.

Parting words: After the infamous Heaven Hill fire in 1997, HH turned to their competitors/friends at Jim Beam and Brown-Forman to distill some of their whiskeys for them while they made necessary alterations to their new distillery in Louisville. Brown-Forman (the distillery formerly known as Early Times, DSP 354) picked up the distillation of Rittenhouse, our heroes’ flagship rye, during that period. It is also during that period that many whiskey enthusiasts like myself became big fans of the bonded Rittenhouse. Perhaps the consistently high quality of this rye and Sazerac rye during that period led to the current rye revival in some way.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to do these two head to head for a long time. Now that I have, I’m surprised. I didn’t expect much difference between these two but there was quite a bit. When two whiskeys are so close to each other, those differences can become exaggerated, naturally, but that’s the point to these head to head tastings. “It’s the little differences,” as Vincent Vega said.

Simply put, the DSP 1 did not fare well against the 354. It wasn’t terrible, it but it was comparitively hot and unrefined neat. It was better with a splash of water and even better than that mixed. 354 needed no water and gave off some very pleasant characteristic rye notes in the nose and the palate. When mixed, there was very little difference between the two.

1 is mildly recommended overall but recommended as a mixer. 354 is recommended for all purposes but given its growing scarcity I would save it for sipping neat or close to it.

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Arcturos Gewurztraminer

Maker: Black Star Farms, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

Price: $22.50 (website)

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Lychee, melon, mango.

Palate: Medium bodied. Cantaloupe, white pepper, white peach, touch of pineapple mint.

Finish: Slightly bitter tempered with tropical fruit.

Parting words: For me, the sweet spot for American Gewurz is 2-3 years, right where this one is. To me, this bottle drinks like a crisper, lighter version of an Alsatian Gewurz. That’s not better or worse, it’s just a matter of style. What they share is a commitment to bringing the spicy aspects of the grape to the fore. This wine is not afraid to embrace its Gewurz-ness. I like that approach and I love this wine. This is another big winner from Black Star Farms and another testament to the character and overall excellence of the 2012 vintage. Pairs well with the usual suspects. Arcturos 2012 Gewurztraminer is highly recommended.

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Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 15 y/o

Maker: Mortlach, Dufftown, Moray, Scotland, UK (Diageo)

Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland, UK

Region: Speyside- Dufftown

ABV: 43%

Price: $75 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Dark gold

Nose: Sweet malt, wildflowers, oak, caramel.

Palate: Thick mouthfeel. Brown butter, wildflower honey, beef bullion, alcohol.

Finish: alcohol, butterscotch, vanilla cream, toasted oak.

Parting words: Mortlach was one of the malts that made me reconsider my dislike of Speysiders. This bottling is an excellent example of why I fell in love with this distillery. Meatiness is a house characteristic of Mortlach and it’s in evidence in this bottling. It’s not heavy-handed, though. There’s plenty of sweetness and oak to round it off nicely. It’s complex without being busy. The price is high (for me) but not completely out of whack for a high-quality single malt and cheaper than the new distillery bottlings are going for. If you like the heavier Speyside style and see one of these pick it up. G & M’s 15 y/o Mortlach is recommended.

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