Distillers (probable): Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky & MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA
Style: Blend of straight bourbon and straight rye
Age: 2 y/o
Proof: 90 (45% ABV)
Michigan State Minimum: $25
Appearance: Light orange.
Nose: Alcohol, caramel, asparagus, orange zest.
Palate: Light bodied and hot. Caramel, cotton candy, alcohol,
Finish: Menthol, alcohol, cotton candy again. Lingers for a while.
Mixed: Rebel Yell American Whiskey mixes very well across the board. Makes for an excellent boulevardier and Manhattan. Old Fashioned is not quite as good but still decent. Does ok with club soda or on the rocks too.
Parting words: While I would say that my least favorite bottom shelf bourbon is Benchmark, many people would give that dubious honor to Rebel Yell. Once upon a time it was a mid-lower shelf offering from the Stizel-Weller distillery, more famous for the Old Fitzgerald and Weller brands of wheated bourbon (that is, bourbon made with corn, malted barley and wheat rather than corn, malted barley and rye). When Diageo was formed, they sold off all of the old S-W brands except for Rebel Yell, which they intended to make their worldwide flagship bourbon. That didn’t work out so they sold the brand to Luxco, one of the biggest non-distiller producers of bourbon.
Luxco already owned the Ezra Brooks line of rye recipe bourbons but no wheaters so it was a good fit for their portfolio. They released the slightly older Rebel Reserve (no longer made but still languishing on shelves) a few years ago and in 2015 expanded the line again and redesigned the bottle (now Confederate soldier free!). The new products are Small Batch Reserve, Honey and Cherry flavored bourbons, this product and a rye for some reason.
I was pleasantly surprised by this. The high-rye rye balances the caramel and vegetable notes in the bourbon and brings a light citrus flavor to the party. It lacks complexity and depth, but one could do a lot worse for $25. For mixing and casual sipping, Rebel Yell American Whiskey is recommended.
Place of origin: Pelee Island VQA
Purchased for $13 (Northwood Market)
Appearance: Dark plum.
Nose: Blackberry, blueberry, dried tobacco, strawberry.
Palate: Blueberry, black raspberry, strawberry, leather.
Finish: Very mild then fades into a strong bitter flavor.
Parting words: I reviewed the 2007 vintage way back in 2011 and I liked it. It was a fine, table-grade Pinot. This is certainly table-grade but not fine. The soapy, bitter finish ruins a decent (though clunky) wine. It fares a little better chilled but not much. Pelee Island has been in the game for a long time. Surely they can pull of something better than this mess. I wish I had a better review for Canada Day, but this vintage of Pelee Island Pinot Noir is not recommended.
Style: Kentucky “barely legal” style rye
Age: >1 y/o
Proof: 86 (43% ABV)
Purchased for $36/750 ml. $25 for 375 ml.
Appearance: Bright gold. Slightly hazy.
Nose: Fruity. Tangerine, alcohol, potpourri.
Palate: Full bodied and soft. Caramel, amaretto, cherry, ripe peach, ancho chili.
Finish: A pinch of chipotle, followed by vanilla and a dark chocolate. Lingers for a long time.
Parting words: Motor City Gas is a brand new micro-distillery very close to Sipology Blog HQ in Royal Oak, Michigan. When I visited in early June with friend-of-the-blog Amy, we had a chance to chat with Rich, the owner and operator of MCG. He started his journey as a home brewer. He then became interested in whiskey and (according to articles in the local press) worked at a several distilleries to learn the craft, including Koval, Grand Traverse and the East Lansing distillery. His intent is to exclusively produce whiskeys, possibly branching out to other brown spirits in the future. No gin or vodka.
They had two whiskeys available at the time, this and a bourbon. The bourbon was ok, with a peanutty aroma that reminded me of George Dickel No. 12 or Elijah Craig. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the rye was what really impressed me. They have since released a malt whiskey which I have not yet had.
Royal Oaked rye is a rare thing in a microdistilled product; it’s something I could see becoming a go-to. Its combination of fruit and spice reminds me of DSP KY 354 Rittenhouse or Baby Saz in their primes. It beat the current DSP 1 bottle of Ritt I have open, hands down. It mixes well, too, but it’s almost too good for that. Maybe my expectations were too low going in, but I really love this whiskey. $36 is a fair price, considering micro-inflation and the relative scarcity of good rye these days. I almost can’t believe I’m saying this but Royal Oaked Rye is highly recommended.
Age: 2 y/o
Price: $29 (The Party Source. It seems to have disappeared off the Michigan list)
Appearance: Golden auburn, a lot of necklacing, big thick legs.
Nose: Alcohol, dry apple cider, toasted French oak.
Palate: Thin, alcohol, dry apples, maple sugar, celery.
Finish: celery, oak, under ripe apple, Like Arkansas black or similar variety, white sugar, dash of vanilla.
Parting words: Calvados Coquerel was founded in 1937 by René Gilbert and remained in the hands of the Gillbert family until it was purchased by Asbach in 1971. Asbach became a part of Diageo in 1990 but Calvados Coquerel regained its independence when it was sold to Jean-François Martin in 1996 (not to be confused with the Remy-Martin Cognac house).
Fine is the bottom shelf, err “entry level”, apple brandy from Calvados Coquerel. The other grades are Vieux (3 y/o), VSOP(4 y/o) and XO (6 y/o). The line is capped off with the Marquis de la Pomme fifteen and twenty year old brandies. They also make a variety of other apple-related beverages including cider all using Norman apples.
This brandy has been savaged online, maybe a bit unfairly. It’s certainly not great, but as a mixer or casual sipper it’s good enough. The price is a bit hard to swallow, though. One can get the Laird’s 7 ½ y/o apple brandy for three dollars more and the 100 proof Laird’s for just one dollar more. Black Star Farms does make an apple brandy in a similar style but at $22 for a 375 ml bottle, it works out to be much more expensive per ml.
All that said, given European brandy prices, this product isn’t priced too far out of line but that doesn’t mean its worth the money either. Calvados Coquerel Fine is mildly recommended.
Place of origin: Leelanau & Old Mission Peninsulas (50/50)
Purchased for $19
Appearance: Bright light gold.
Nose: Bright and mildly fruity. Tart apple, canned pears, crushed mulberry.
Palate: Full bodied and tart. Fresh cut apple, mango, cantaloupe, pinch of lavender.
Finish: Mildly bitter. Limestone and lychee. Fades slowly.
Parting words: Forty-Five North is named after the 45th parallel which runs through Leland and Traverse City, Michigan (and Bordeaux, Piedmont, the Willamette Valley and Upstate New York as Michigan wine folks are fond of pointing out) and the vineyards of winery owners Steve & Lori Grossnickle on Leelanau Peninsula.
While Riesling has reached sublime heights in Northern Michigan, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris/Grigio continue to be underutilized. When they are produced in a good vintage like 2012, they can be very good. This is one of those.
It’s similar in style to other domestic Pinot Gris, falling between the extremes of Veneto crispness and Alsatian buttery fruit. It is food friendly and refreshing without being boring and it even showed up well against the barbecued pork chops I served alongside it last night. $19 is just about right for a Michigan wine of this quality. 2012 Forty-Five North Pinot Gris is recommended.
Grapes: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, various red French hybrids.
Place of origin: Michigan, USA
Purchased for $13
Appearance: Pale ruby.
Nose: Mixed berry jam, white pepper, touch of oak.
Palate: Medium bodied and medium dry. Strawberries, sweet cherries, blackberries, oak.
Finish: Drying with black cherry and blueberry jam. Fading into chewy tannins.
Parting words: I picked up this wine a few days ago while looking for an easy-drinking, casual table wine for a cookout I have annually. I bought the wrong thing, but in a good way.
The words “table wine” on the label threw me off. This is a table wine in the sense of a wine that goes well with fine food, not in the sense of a cheap wine to drink on a weeknight or serve at a party with people who don’t care about wine.
Bower’s Harbor Red is actually their (successful) stab at a Bordeaux/Meritage style blend. It has everything one expects in a blend like this, even though it is a little fruit heavy at this stage. That get me to the only negative thing in the review. Not enough time in the bottle. If I had done a little research in the store, I might have let this one sit in the cellar for a few years before cracking it.
Even at this age, Bower’s Harbor Red 2013 is recommended.
Brewed in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, USA
Style: Spiced ale
Local retail price: $12/6 pack
Thanks to Holiday Market for this bottle (free sample from retailer).
Appearance: Dark brown with a fizzy, short lived head.
Nose: Grape bubble gum, root beer.
Palate: Root beer, aniseed, hint of sweet malt.
Finish: Heavy anise, yeast, and yes root beer.
Parting words: This bottle was dropped into my cart by Holiday Market’s wine/beer/liquor manager Brian after I introduced myself to him. As such it’s the first free beer I’ve received from a retailer after outing myself as a booze blogger. It could very well be my last.
Initialllly, NYFRB tasted just like root beer but it became unbalanced as it sat . The anise flavor became so strong that it took on a bitter quality. The sweetness is way over the top, which I probably should have expected from a product marketing itself as a boozy root beer, but malty notes pop up at unexpected moments leading to some unpleasant clashes of flavor. The fizz dies off much too quickly, too.
I set it aside for a few hours and then went back. It was back to tasting exactly like a decent root beer. I then tried it with ice and it also tasted the same. So my recommendation is to serve it well chilled.
My wife, who enjoys root beer more than I do and actual beer less than I do, tried this and liked it quite a bit, but she did notice the overly strong anise in finish. If your tastes run toward hers, you’ll probably enjoy this and you should act fast, since it’s apparently highly allocated. As for me, though, Not Your Father’s Root Beer is only mildly recommended.
Style: Blended Canadian Rye
Michigan State Minimum: $27
Appearance: Dark (not surprisingly), ruddy copper.
Nose: Big, high-toned rye. Lemongrass, tarragon, alcohol, coriander seed, ginger, butterscotch, toffee.
Palate: Full bodied and creamy. Toffee, caramel, coffee grounds. A bit of bite on the back end.
Finish: Big herbaceous finish. Cilantro, curry.
Parting words: This whisky is essentially a rebranding of the Canada-only Albert Rye Dark Horse whisky. Why they thought “batch” would sell better in the US than “horse” is anybody’s guess, especially since horses are all over many high end bourbon labels.
At any rate, it’s a blend of Alberta-distilled rye with high-rye bourbon (Old Grand Dad) and a little sherry. Many palates I respect have been able to taste the bourbon in the mix, but I confess that I cannot. Perhaps some of the butterscotch and toffee flavors are from the OGD, but it seems more likely that they hail from the sherry than the bourbon.
Whatever is coming from wherever, this is a wonderful whisky, one of the best Canadians readily available. It’s a great value at this proof and price. It mixes surprisingly well too, at least in the Manhattan I just finished! Alberta Rye Dark Batch is highly recommended.
Purchased for $12/6 pack
Appearance: Hazy burnt orange with a frothy head.
Nose: Cut hay, apricot.
Palate: Full bodied but not heavy. More bitter than I expected. A slightly fruity background.
Finish: Very good. Chewy hops and stone fruit with a touch of citrus.
Parting words: I’ve long been a fan of wheat beers so when I saw this one on the shelf I grabbed it immediately. Around these parts, the big dog in summertime wheat beers is Bell’s Oberon, of course. It stands out because of its bitterness, a rare feature in wheats. Although Sunspot has an average number of IBUs (international bittering units) compared to other hefeweizen, its bitterness stood out very strongly to me. This may have been a function of my palate at the time, but I found it surprising. I prefer wheat beers with more fruit than this, but I’m not a style stickler either. The price is high for a beer billed as a refresher, but it is tasty. Sunspot is recommended.
Proof: 111.3 (55.65%)
Michigan State Minimum: $60 (also available in 375 ml bottles for $35)
Appearance: Reddish copper with thin, frequent legs.
Nose: Alcohol, oak, vanilla. Toned down a little with water.
Palate: Hot. Alcohol, leather, vanilla. A little tamer than at full strength. Starts sweet but dries into a bitter char note.
Finish: All alcohol. Pretty tasty with water. Drying with oak and vanilla. Lingers a while.
Parting words: Beam Suntory has been experimenting a lot lately. Most of that has been with Jim Beam, but some of it has spilled over into Maker’s. First Maker’s 46 and now this, Maker’s Mark Cask Stength. Maker’s had a 101 proof expression at one time (although I think it was only available overseas) but other than that, high proof has never been something that Maker’s has really done.
I like standard Maker’s, especially in the summertime. It has a nice, easy drinking sweetness that can refreshing, but is never particularly interesting. This expression tasted drier than I expected (similar to Pappy 15 in that way) but otherwise it is pretty standard Maker’s. The higher ABV brings out more of the bitter char flavors with is not necessarily tasty. I almost wanted to water it down even further but
what’s the point of watering a cask strength bourbon down to standard strength? There’s certainly no price savings here.
Tasting makers at cask strength was interesting but not interesting enough to make me want to buy a second bottle. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is mildly recommended.