S= Jura Superstition (NAS)
16= Isle of Jura, Diurach’s Own, 16 y/o
Maker: Isle of Jura, Argyll, Scotland, UK (?) (Whyte & Mackay/United Breweries)
Michigan State Minimum
Appearance (caramel color likely added)
10: New penny with long, well-spaced legs.
S: Slightly darker like a middle aged penny. Extensive necklacing.
16: Even darker. Old amber with long thick legs.
10: Light clover honey, heather, alcohol, hint of leather.
S: Light peat, alcohol, honey, alcohol.
16: Baklava, oak, alcohol.
10: Medium bodied. Golden apple, wildflower honey, chamomile tea.
S: Butterscotch, thyme, alcohol.
16: Toffee, butterscotch, vanilla custard.
10: Orange blossom honey but without any bitterness.
S: Smoke finally comes through followed by burn but it then settles down into a peat-infused sweetness.
16: Dark chocolate covered caramels with a little bitter oak on the tail end.
Parting words: I love mini sets like this, because they enable me to affordably give you the head to head tasting you so love, dear readers.
Isle of Jura (distilled and aged on the Isle of Jura, Islay’s neighbor to the northeast) was one of the first single malts I ever tried. Back then all I could find was the ten year old version. I always found it enjoyable but dull. Tasting it again now hasn’t changed my assessment too much. It’s still mild, but it’s enjoyable enough and works well as an entry level or weeknight malt.
Superstition was one of the first Jura line extensions available in the US. It is mildly peated, which adds a nice extra dimension to the malty, honeyed character of the standard Jura.
The 16 y/o is a big toffee-filled dessert dram. It’s not cheap compared to the others, but it’s more affordable than most single malt whiskies its age. Again, it’s not particularly complex but it does one thing and does it very well. In the state of Michigan it also comes in a gift pack with a pair of glasses (for your whisky, not your eyes), so factor that into the price.
All three are good values and recommended.
Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $15
Appearance: Light gold with
Nose: ripe peach, granny smith apple, bitter orange.
Palate: Medium bodied. Red pear, navel orange, mineral water, white grapefruit.
Finish: Clean and dry. More peaches and pears with a hint of vanilla.
Parting words: The 2011 vintage in Northern Michigan continues to impress me. Leelanau is a much larger area than Old Mission with many more wineries, so the region as a whole is less consistent than the OMP. Verterra itself is of consistently high quality, though. I recommend trying anything of theirs you see.
This wine is everything a dry Michigan Riesling should be. It’s dry and food-friendly without sacrificing any character. Orchard fruit in abundance with a touch of acid for balance. Even eighteen hours after opening, it was still delicious, maybe even better. It’s worth every penny and then some. Verterra’s 2011 Dry Riesling is highly recommended.
Notes from label: Single barrel. Aged in French Oak, La Mesa Ranch, barrel No. 3719, bottle No. 174.
Michigan State Minimum: $50
Appearance: Clear with abundant, evenly spaced legs.
Nose: Agave syrup, peppermint, lavender, jicama, touch of oak, cracked white pepper.
Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Alcohol, white grape juice, orange rind.
Finish: Black pepper, red dradish, oak, lime peel.
Mixed: I tried it in several traditional tequila cocktails, despite the high price. My preferred method for drinking tequila is with a squeeze of lime, but that didn’t really complement the flavors in this one. It did very well in a traditional margarita and in a tequila sunrise. Did OK in cola with a squeeze of lime but got a little lost.
Parting words: Maestro Dobel Tequila is a single estate tequila from the Cuervo people. It’s technically a reposado, but is actually a blend of reposado, añejo, and extra-añejo tequilas. For some reason it’s been filtered so as to strip away all color from the spirit. Maybe it had an unappealing color or clear was deemed to be more marketable.
At any rate Maestro Dobel is a sweet, easy drinking sipper that works ok in top shelf cocktails too. At this price I would like a little more character and proof, but as it stands I think it’s worth a purchase. Maestro Dobel is recommended.
Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USA
Distillers: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana/Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA
Style: Blend of straight bourbons (cannot be called straight because bourbons are from different states)
Age: 6 y/o (blend of 6 y/o MGPI with 10 y/o Four Roses)
Proof: 92 (46% ABV)
Michigan State Minimum: $42
Appearance: Medium copper with evenly spaced legs.
Nose: Alcohol, bubble gum, leather, salted caramel, whiff of steamed asparagus.
Palate: Spicy and a little hot. Cotton candy, jalapeno, oak, country ham.
Finish: Semi-dry. Oak, raw pecans, alcohol.
Parting words: High West has gone from a start up to one of America’s premier blenders and rectifiers in just a few short years. This bourbon (their first & only to my knowledge) is actually a reunion of sorts. The distilleries now called MGPI and Four Roses were both once owned by Seagram’s, which I imagine led to a lot of farcical missed meetings. “OK, I’m in Lawrenceburg, where are you?” “I’m in Lawrenceburg, where are YOU?” “Lawrenceburg, Kentucky!” “UHOH!”
Anyway, American Prairie Reserve is not cheap, but it’s well done and worth the price, especially considering that 10% of after tax profits go toward efforts to establish a federal American Prairie Reserve in northeastern Montana. That’s also why there’s a grouse on the label.
American Prairie Reserve is recommended.
Style: Black IPA
Purchased for $11 for a 6 pack.
Appearance: Dark coffee, lacy, light colored head.
Nose: Grapefruit, lavender, coriander, toasted brown bread.
Palate: Sweet and spicy. Black pepper, coffee, hint of chipotle.
Finish: Mildly sweet and more dry hoppy spice. Black cherry, then a bit roasty bitterness.
Parting words: I’ll admit to being a man who got sick of IPAs. The IPA madness seems to have died down about so I came out of my hiding place to buy myself a pack of Anger.
Anger makes me happy. It has lots of hoppy IPA aggression but it is perfectly balanced by toasty and subtly sweet flavors. It goes ok with food, but some of the subtlety is lost. This is an IPA I can drink (a lot) and enjoy. Anger is recommended.
Distillers: Various (One cask each from five whisky regions)
Style: Blended malt whiskey (formerly known as vatted malt).
Age: 15 y/o
Price: $74 (The Party Source)
Appearance: Pale gold (no coloring)
Nose: Butterscotch, fig, vanilla, alcohol, oak.
Palate: Soft and semi-sweet. Apricot, vanilla bean crème brûlée, alcohol, gingerbread.
Finish: Fairly hot, sweet malt, toffee, white chocolate.
Parting words: I bought a mini bottle of The Wild Scotsman on a lark as I was checking out at a liquor store in Indianapolis. I had never heard of it before, but I have found it enjoyable.
Although the makers of Wild Scotsman blended malt claim that there are whiskies from five regions in each batch, it is quite Highland in character. Perhaps the Island and Islay components were unpeated because I detected no peat or smoke at all. At any rate, “wild” is a bit of a misnomer for this whisky but it still has plenty of character. It’s very fruity with lots of creamy dessert notes, but the relatively high proof and lack of chill filtering keeps it from being dull.
$74 is pricy for what it is, but vanishing age statements and tightening malt supplies being what they are, that’s probably a fair price. I wouldn’t pay much more than that, though. Wild Scotsman is recommended.
Michigan State Minimum: $20
Appearance: Clear with
Nose: Harsh. Alcohol, lime peel, juniper, hint of licorice.
Palate: Surprisingly Sweet. GNS, sugar, pine sap, orange juice from concentrate.
Finish: Cedar, alcohol, sugar.
Mixed: Unremarkable but adequate in a G & T, Princeton and Tom Collins. Flat in a dry martini and AWOL in a Negroni.
Parting words: With this gin, Ugly Dog (known primarily for their bacon flavored vodka) is doing the opposite of what most micro-distillers are trying to do. Instead of producing something different than what the big distillers are doing, their strategy seems to be to make an unpretentious, indistinct, workhorse gin. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that the big boys can do it much cheaper. Beefeater & Bombay are $18, New Amsterdam & Pearl are $12, Seagram’s Dry is $11 and Gilbey’s & Gordon’s are $10.
To add insult to injury, the label and bottle are ugly as hell. Gin is all about aromas and the smell of dog is not what most gin drinkers are looking for. Plus, it made me think of this scene from The Simpsons. “Needs more dog”.
Anyway, as you may have guessed, Ugly Dog Gin is not recommended.
Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Price: $11 (website)
Appearance: Light gold with some necklacing.
Nose: Semi-dry. Underripe pears, Golden Delicious apples, lemon thyme.
Palate: Medium bodied and semi-dry. White peach, pink grapefruit.
Finish: Dry and herbal. Mineral water, sage, a bit of smoke.
Parting words: When I think Pinot Grigio, I think of boring, sorry, “crisp” wines from the Veneto that are pounded back on movie nights and in cheesy restaurants. When I think Pinot Gris (The French name for the same grape, “gray pinot”) I think of the wonderfully smoky and herbaceous made from this grape in Alsace. This wine is somewhere between those camps. When chilled according to bottle directions, it is in the crisp camp but as it warms up, some Alsatian character comes to the fore.
It’s cheap for a wine of this quality and does very well with food. This is a Grigio you can drink and not feel embarrassed or bored by. Chateau Grand Traverse 2012 Pinot Grigio.
JB12= Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o
Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)
JBB: 8 y/o
JB12: 12 y/o
Proof: 86 (43%)
Michigan State Minimum
JBB: New penny, long legs of medium thickness
JB12: Middle aged penny, thicker, slower legs.
JBB: Barrel char, alcohol, sourdough bread, crisp oak.
JB12: Oak, caramel, ancho chili, alcohol, crème fraiche.
JBB: Light and creamy. Dolce de leche, alcohol, French lavender.
JB12: Full bodied but light. Same as above, but without the herbal note on the back end.
JBB: Semi-dry, a bit of yeasty funk, then alcohol and a hint of wood. Doesn’t stick around too long.
JB12: More balanced. Caramel, creme brulee, oak, alcohol. Fades fairly quickly.
Parting words: Before summing up the tasting notes, I would like to comment on some wording on the labels of these two bottles. First, Jim Beam Black calling itself “double aged” is a bit silly. All it means in this context is that JBB is aged twice as long as the standard Jim Beam with the white label. Silly and a bit slippery, but no harm done, really.
The other bottle is a little more problematic, at least to some. It reads “Jim Beam Signature Craft” with a label lower down on the bottle stating that it’s 12 y/o and 43% ABV. There has been much weeping and gnashing of teeth lately regarding the use of the word “craft” by large producers like Beam and Diageo. The controversy stems from the use of the word by micro-distillers to refer to themselves. Big producers who call themselves craft are, the argument goes, stealing the micros’ thunder and basically lying to consumers.
The use of craft by large producers does not bother me in the slightest. In my view, the term has already been emptied of all meaning by these micro producers themselves. ADI and other organizations of micro-producers have allowed too many phonies to claim the name of craft for it to mean anything anymore. There are “craft distillers” who do nothing more than cut whiskey distilled by someone else with local water and claim to be artisans. There are some who don’t even go to that much effort. Even those who do distill their own product often have a brewery make their mash or use prepackaged yeast. Jim Beam does all their own mashing at their three Kentucky distilleries and has at least three proprietary yeast strains. That sounds pretty crafty to me. So I have no problem with Beam using the word for what it does. If the micro-distilling community wanted to protect the sanctity of craft, then they should have done a better job of regulating themselves and come down harder on the fakers.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to the bourbon. Neither of these are bad. The Black has some rough edges but it’s drinkable and refreshing on the rocks on a hot summer day. The 12 y/o (“Triple Aged”?) is more sophisticated and nicely balanced. It works well as a summertime after-dinner pour.
My gripe with both of these is the low proof. It’s less of an issue with Beam Black, since it’s fairly cheap and the low proof may help mellow out the funk. It is recommended. There is no justification for a $40 bottle of bourbon like Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o to be bottled at only 86 proof. If Heaven Hill has enough stock to produce a 12 y/o bourbon at over 90 proof for under $30, then Beam can afford to up the proof on its “Signature Craft” series at $40. Because of that, Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 y/o is only mildly recommended.
Place of origin: Douro, Portugal.
Purchased for $7 (Trader Joe’s)
Appearance: Dark burgundy,
Nose: Raspberry, toasted oak, whiff of hardwood smoke.
Palate: Sweet and tart on entry then dries out. Raspberry jam, blueberry, oak, white pepper.
Finish: Chewy with heavy tannins, black cherry, oak.
Parting words: For a $7 wine, Tuella is pretty good. What I tell people is that most of the wines at Trader Joe’s taste like a wine about twice the price. The $15 ones taste like $30 ones, the $20 ones taste like $40 ones and the $4 ones taste like $8 ones. This tastes like a $14 wine.
Tuella is OK on its own, but it’s a little unbalanced. It does very well with food, though. We had it with a cheese and red pepper pizza and it drank beautifully. It may well age nicely but I have a hard time devoting my limited cellar space to a wine that cost me less than $10. Tuella 2011 is recommended.