Kirkland Premium Small Batch Bourbon

Maker: Costco, Issaquah, Washington, USAwpid-20150326_121209.jpg

Distilled by: Beam, Clemont, Kentucky, USA (Beam-Suntory)

Age: 7 y/o

Proof: 103 (51.5% ABV)

Batch B-5183

Purchased for around $20/1 liter (Not available in Michigan)

Appearance: Dark copper with thin legs and a lot of necklacing.

Nose: Sweet peanut butter, lavender, alcohol, cut grass.

Palate: Caramel, toffee, alcohol, milk chocolate.

Finish: Dry and herbaceous with a touch of toffee.

Parting words: Costco’s Kirkland brand has appeared on everything from bottled water to dog food and beyond, including booze. There’s Kirkland beer, wine, vodka, rum, tequila, bourbon, Canadian whisky and even a 40 year old single malt Scotch distilled by Glenlivet.

All are good values but the bourbon is a standout. On paper, it’s hard to do better. Where else can one get a liter of 103 proof, 7 y/o bourbon for around $20? Nowhere, unless you have a time machine. It’s almost as good in the glass as it is on paper. The label’s statement that it was distilled and bottled by a company with facilities in Clermont & Frankfort, Kentucky reveals that this is a Jim Beam product.

The Beam product that is closest to this is the 7 y/o, 107 proof Baker’s bourbon, a sleeper bourbon if there ever was one. While this is similar, it’s a bit milder (4 proof points will do that) but the lower price more than makes up for that. Kirkland is a little harsh at first pour, but opens up beautifully the longer it sits, bringing out chocolate-covered toffee.

I’m a sucker for a cheap, high proof bourbon in the 6-10 year range. The 6 y/o Very Old Barton Bottled-in-Bond is about the only one that tops this in that category. Kirkland Premium Small Batch is highly recommended.

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Verterra Reserve Chardonnay

Maker: Verterra, Leland, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-03-25-14.54.50.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

Price: $20 (website)

ABV: Unknown (not listed on label or received from producer by press time)

Appearance: Medium gold with some necklacing.

Nose: Butter, toasted oak, plum, white peach, mineral water.

Palate: Golden delicious apple, lychee, oak, white pepper.

Finish: Chewy oak, canned pear, brown butter.

Parting words: Verterra is one of the best producers on Leelanau and it shows in this wine. They make two Chards, an unoaked (a popular style in these parts) and this one that spent several months in french oak before being bottled, also undergoing malolactic fermentation. It tastes pretty Californian to me, which isn’t a bad thing if you like that style like I do (usually).

As the wine sat and warmed in the glass, some of the fruit seemed to disappear, which was disappointing. It was still tasty, just not quite so well balanced as it was when the cork first came off. Unfortunately, due to poor meal planning, I was unable to taste it with food, but based on experience with similar wines I think it would pair well with chicken, swordfish, shark and the like. The price is very nice for a quality Michigan wine. The 2012 Verterra Reserve Chardonnay is recommended.

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Green Hat “Ginavit” (Fall/Winter edition) Gin

Maker: New Columbia, Washington D.C., USAwpid-2015-03-17-20.40.25.jpg.jpeg

ABV: 45%

Price: Unknown, $35 for standard edition gin at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.

Thanks for Lee & Abby for the bottle.

Appearance: Mostly clear but with an amber tinge.

Nose: Grain alcohol, lime peel, caraway, pine sap.

Palate: Full and soft with some harshness on the back end. Citrus, angelica, licorice, caraway.

Finish: Big cough drop finish. Sap and alcohol linger for a very long time.

Mixed: Did very well in cocktails with vermouth (martinis, Negroni, etc), but overpowered in tonic and a Tom Collins.

Parting words: New Columbia was founded by two hobbyist couples (related I’m guessing) back in 2011. In spite of the corny prohibition-related marketing (The man with the green hat was apparently a DC bootlegger), this is an idiosyncratic but solid cocktail gin. It lacks the finesse of Miller’s, another caraway-forward gin, but if they’re going for something like Aquavit, as the name suggests, maybe the rougher character is in keeping with that tradition.

At any rate, Green Hat Fall/Winter edition is recommended.

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Moher Stout

Maker: Shorts, Bellaire, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-03-16-10.30.26.jpg.jpeg

Style: Double Irish-style stout.

ABV: 9.7%

Purchased for $13/6 pack

Appearance: Dark coffee brown with a beige lacy head.

Nose: Slightly toasty, sweet malt.

Palate: Sweet and a little sticky. Oatmeal, molasses, effervescence.

Finish: Some bitterness and a bit of smoke. Dry.

Parting words: Moher Stout is named for a scenic group of cliffs in Ireland that were, according to the bottle, the scene of at least one shipwreck.

Anyway, this differs from their Uncle Steve’s Stout in two ways. First, it’s at “double” strength and second oatmeal is used in the making of it. These two factors lift it above Uncle Steve’s and into highly recommended territory. Unfortunately the high price takes it down a peg from there. Moher Stout is, like I said, recommended.

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Jameson Special Reserve, 12 y/o

Maker: Irish Distillers, Midleton, Cork, Irelandwpid-2015-03-13-17.43.43.jpg.jpeg

Style: Irish blend

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $70

Appearance: Bright amber (coloring probably used).

Nose: Cut oak, cashews, vanilla, alcohol.

Palate: Full bodied, soft and mild. Butterscotch hard candy, alcohol.

Finish: Chewy. Oak with a whiff of smoke. Fairly short.

Parting words: There are two age stated whiskeys from Jameson available in the state of Michigan, this and the 18 y/o edition. The 18 y/o goes for $140 here so chances are good that this is the oldest Jameson expression you’ll see grace this blog.

This is certainly a step up from the standard Jameson. It has much more depth of flavor and a lot more oak. Unfortunately, the charming floral characteristics of the standard edition are gone too. Still, this is a tasty, flavorful whiskey.

Its only problem (one shared with all the other Jamesons) is price. In Michigan, Redbreast 12 is $65, Power’s 12 is $45 and Knappogue Castle 12 is $32(!).  All of those are as good or better than Jameson 12, and two of those are made at the same distillery as Jameson! That price disparity earns Jameson Special Reserve, 12 y/o only a mild recommendation.

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Spice Tree

Maker: Compass Box, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Style: Blended malt in American oak with toasted French oak barrel heads (see here for more information: http://www.compassboxwhisky.com/pdf/TheSpiceTree.pdf)

Region: Northern Highlands

Note: Not colored or chill-filtered.

ABV: 46%

Michigan state minimum: $62

Appearance: Medium gold with long thin legs

Nose: Sweet malt, vanilla, nutmeg, pinch of ginger.

Palate: Soft with a hint of spice. Custard, cassia, allspice, mace, ginger, clove.

Finish: Spice followed by a hit of vanilla fading into alcohol heat.

Parting words: The original edition of Spice Tree was aged with French oak barrel inserts. The Scotch Whisky Association threatened legal action against Compass Box because of this process. Compass Box decided not to fight the SWA and changed their process to one utilizing French oak barrel heads instead of the inserts.

I never got a chance to taste the old controversial version but this one is very good. I enjoy the Northern Highland whiskies very much on their own and the French oak process has nicely enhanced the spicy flavors of these malts. One would also be hard pressed to get a malt from any of those distilleries at this price that tastes this good. Spice Tree is recommended.

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Batasiolo Barbera D’Alba

Maker: Batasiolo, La Morra, Cueno, Piedmont, Italywpid-2015-03-01-19.37.06.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Alba, Cueno, Piedmont, Italy

Vintage: 2007

ABV: 14.5%

Purchased for $17

Appearance: Very dark purple, nearly black.

Nose: Cherry jam, hardwood smoke, blueberry juice, blackberry.

Palate: Slightly chewy but not overly tannic. Toasted oak and cherry again.

Finish: Big cherry in the finish.

wpid-20150304_111028.jpgParting words: Barbera is a long suffering grape. Given a bland or worse treatment in its Piedmontese homeland for many years, it was involved in a deadly contamination scandal in the 1980s when thirty people died from drinking Barbera containing a deadly amount of methyl alcohol. As one can imagine, when a wine kills a bunch of people consumers tend to shy away from it for a while.

Barbera can be delicious when done right and this is a great example. It’s bold and a little spicy but still very fruity and easy to enjoy with or without food. We had it with medium rare rump roast and roasted rutabagas (a.k.a. swedes) and it did well. It also threw a crazy amount of sediment into the glass, as you can see.  Batasiolo Barbera D’Alba 2007 is recommended.

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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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