Trader Joe’s Block Red

Maker: Unknownwpid-2014-08-20-21.13.54.jpg.jpeg

Grape: Shiraz

Place of origin: Austalia.

ABV: 13%

Price: $10-$12/3 liter box

Appearance: Dark plum with hardly any legs or necklace.

Nose: Alcohol, mixed berry pie, heavy on the blackberries. A touch of oak.

On the plate: Raspberry jam, toasted oak, black pepper.

Finish: Cherry juice, smoldering hardwood.

Parting words: If I were to taste this wine in a blind tasting, it might not fare well. It’s drinkable enough and fares better with food, but it’s not exactly exciting. It has too much bitterness and is simultaneously a hair too tart. The effect is like eating a slightly burnt fruit pie. But it’s cheap. Really cheap. TJ’s Block Red is recommended.

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Soft Parade

Maker: Short’s, Bellaire, Michigan, USAwpid-2014-08-18-20.21.51.jpg.jpeg

Style: Strong rye ale with pureed strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.

ABV: 7.5%

Purchased for: $11

Appearance: Golden brown with a hint of pink. Lacy head.

Nose: Roasted malt, fruit juice.

Palate: Medium bodied and nicely balanced. Hot cereal, Hawaiian Punch, wild blackberries.

Finish: Dark rye toast, with a tiny bit of mixed berry jam.

Parting words: Summer is the time for fruit beers and this one is very popular in these parts, and not just because of the great label art. It’s everything a fruity summer beer should be. It’s fruity and refreshing while still having the character of the “base” beer, in this case a strong rye ale. The ABV is sneaky and could take one unawares, but there’s nothing not to love about this beer except maybe the price. Soft Parade is recommended.

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Trillium

Maker: Good Harbor, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USAwpid-20140807_084633-1.jpg

Grapes: Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles, Seyval Blanc.

Place of origin: Leelanau peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

ABV: 12%

Price: $10 (website)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Light. Dried flowers, white peaches.

Palate: Full bodied and semi-dry. Underripe peaches, light apple juice, a touch of white grape juice.

Finish: Dry and slightly fruity. Fades quickly.

Parting words: Besides being the flower that SHOULD be the Michigan state flower (apple trees aren’t native, bro), Trillium is the name of Good Harbor’s perennially popular white table wine.

Unlike other popular Michigan whites in this price range, Trillium is actually fairly dry. It pairs very well with food like a true table wine should and while it has just a whisker of fox, it isn’t too noticeable and shouldn’t shock any Europeans you may serve this wine to.

Trillium is inoffensive in both senses of the word. Not bad but not interesting either. I’ve seen it as high as $15, but as long as it’s around $10, it’s recommended.

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Atwater Summer Time Ale

Maker: Atwater, Detroit, Michigan, USAwpid-20140804_170659.jpg

Style: Wheat ale brewed with lemon peel & grains of paradise.

ABV: 5%

Purchased for $9/6 pack

Appearance: Dark copper with a light foamy head. Slighly cloudy.

Nose: Malt, mandarin orange, peach.

Palate: Medium bodied and effervescent. Lightly roasted malt, hint of yeast, balanced by some acidity.

Finish: Fruit then a bit hit of bitterness. Lingers for a long time with a bit of stickiness on the lips.

Parting words: This Atwater’s take on the summer wheat ales that Michigan brewers have made popular (we can all name at least one).

This one is different than its cousins, though, because of its bitterness and much more subtle fruit flavors. If I hadn’t read the label, I would never have known that lemon peel was used in the brewing of this beer. That’s not a knock, though. Some of these types of beers can be too fruity and ham-fisted in their use of fruit and spice. If anything this is a little too far on the other side of the spectrum. There’s a little too much bitterness and richness for a summer ale. Seems more fitting for fall.

Still, it’s enjoyable and the price is typical for microbrews. Atwater’s Summer Time Ale is recommended.

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Old Charter: The Classic 90

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)wpid-20140801_130826-1.jpg

Age: 12 y/o

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Note: No longer in production.

Thanks to @Primo55 for the suggestion of the final three words below

Appearance: Auburn with

Nose: Oak, black walnut, alcohol, caramel.

Palate: More walnuts, old oak, and a hint of butterscotch and brown sugar.

Finish: A little hot, but then a long, sumptuous oakiness that never falls into bitterness.

Parting words: Old Charter is an old brand dying a quiet death. It was founded in the nineteenth century by the Chapeze brothers (there is still a Chapeze house in Bardstown available for events), and was acquired by Sazerac in the 1990s when the newly spawned Diageo was selling off Kentucky bourbon brands. In recent memory, there have been 7 y/o, 8 y/o, 10 y/o, The Classic 90 (12 y/o) and Proprietor’s Reserve (13 y/o) Old Charters and Charter 101 (NAS). The only two left are the 8 y/o* and Charter 101. In the good old days of the glut, the 10 y/o and The Classic were two of the best bargains in bourbondom and the Proprietor’s Reserve (OCPR to bourbon nerds) was one of the finest bourbons of its era.

The Classic is a classic after dinner sipping bourbon. Even though they were a mere year apart in age, it  and OCPR taste very different from each other. OCPR was subtly sweet butterscotch while The Classic is defined by oak. There’s a resemblance to Barterhouse bourbon from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel series, but the oak in The Classic is balanced by sweet caramel and nuts so it doesn’t taste tired like Barterhouse. A better point of comparison might be Elijah Craig 12 y/o. The role of oak is similar but in both cases there’s enough sweetness to keep it from going into “beaver bourbon” territory.

For many years Old Charter The Classic 90 was fairly easy to find but with the growing popularity of “dusty” out of production bourbons, it’s not so easy to find these days. It’s highly recommended if the price is right. I won’t be looking for any in the near future since I have two bottles in the bunker. Neener, neener, neener.

*Thanks to John B for reminding me via Facebook that even the 8 y/o is NAS now. They’re now calling it “#8″ in true Sazerac style.

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Beefeater 24

Maker: Beefeater, Lambeth, Greater London, England, UK (Pernod-Ricard)wpid-20140731_173501-1.jpg

Style: London dry gin.

ABV: 45%

Michigan State Minimum: $24

Appearance: Clear with a pearl necklace.

Nose: Juniper, citrus peel, grapefruit, hint of black tea.

Palate: Thick mouthfeel, but light flavor. Some bitter orange but mostly alcohol burn and sweetness.

Finish: Sweet and spicy with angelica, horehound and sugar.

Mixed: The best way to describe the way it mixes is “crisp”. Makes a nice crisp G & T and Tom Collins which is good. The 24 dry martini and Negroni were also crisp which is fine if you like that quality in those drinks, but I prefer mine with more spice.

Parting words: Beefeater 24 is a step up from the standard Beefeater at six dollars more and, curiously, 2% lower ABV. I didn’t get a chance to taste them side by side like I wanted but based on memory, it’s an improvement.

Besides the lower proof, the difference seems to be in the botanicals. Bitter orange, grapefruit and tea are singled out on the label and their presence is certainly evident in the glass. My knock on the standard Beefeater has always been that it’s dull. 24 narrowly avoids that fault through the added earthy depth of the tea. There’s also some gibberish on the label about 24 being made from a handmade cut from the “heart of the run”. I’m not sure how one makes a “cut” by hand in this instance. Karate chops, maybe?

At any rate, 24 is a step up from the snooze-fest that is the standard Beefeater. $24 isn’t all that expensive in the grand scheme of things and the bottle is really pretty for what that’s worth. Beefeater 24 is recommended.

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Chateau Grand Traverse Botrytis Riesling

Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

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

Vintage: 2007

ABV: 12.5%? (label partially rubbed off)

Purchased for: $18/500 ml (Original price around $25)

Appearance: Dark gold with thick legs that disappear quickly.

Nose: Wildflower honey, tart apples, oregano.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Orange blossom honey, orange push pops, very ripe peaches, caramel covered pear.

Finish: Clingy. Canned peaches, lingers for a very long time.

Parting words: Botrytis is a class of fungi that attack fruit and can be very harmful to berries of all kinds. Under certain circumstances, though, it becomes a “noble rot” that shrivels grapes into raisins and produces a thick, intensely sweet wine like this one.

I bought this wine many years ago and let it sit in my cellar for just about longer than I have let anything else sit there. My patience was rewarded.

Online reviewers have called this wine “beerenausleselike” but I haven’t had enough of that particular class of wines to evaluate those statements. I’ll just say it is very much in the style of Botrytised Rieslings from Germany and it’s very very good. It’s best as a dessert wine but may pair with salty pork dishes or other snacks.

If you can find it, it will probably set you back a pretty penny, but then again it might not. I got this bottle out of a bargain bin at a local grocery store. It was very much worth the wait and the high price. Chateau Grand Traverse Botrytis Riesling is highly recommended.

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Bastille 1789

Maker: Daucourt , Angoulême, France

Style: Blended (Malt/Wheat) Whisky.

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $27

Thanks to Keith for the sample.

Appearance: Bright gold with thin legs.

Nose: Similar to an Irish whiskey but fruitier. Alcohol, malt, raisins, cherry pie.

Palate: Medium bodied and light. Some burn, malt, sugar plums, dried figs.

Finish: Alcohol burn, cherry juice, then a big weird blast of dried chili chipotle.

Mixed: The Bastille website recommends three cocktails: a manhattan, whisky sour and an old fashioned. The old fashioned was very good. The fruity notes came out without too much of the chipotle. The manhattan was really exceptional. The fruity aromas dovetailed perfectly with the red vermouth. I didn’t try the sour because I was too lazy.

Parting words: My expectations were low coming into this review. I expected it to be boring and flawed. While it wasn’t exactly a barnburner of a whisky, it wasn’t bad and was just different enough to be interesting, at least until the end of the sample bottle. The price is not too bad either. It’s in the same price range as Jameson and it compares favorably to it. It mixes very nicely which is a nice bonus. It won’t knock your socks off but as a curiosity (ever tried a French whisky?), change of pace and mixer it’s worth buying. Bastille 1789 is recommended.

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A Capella

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir

Place of origin: Capella and Montaña Rusa vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $25

Appearance: Deep burgundy with slow, medium width legs.

Nose: Walnut, cherry, touch of cedar.

Palate: Earthy. More so than any other Michigan Pinot I’ve had. Black cherries, wet loam, plum, white pepper, toasted oak.

Finish: A little tart, then more mild cherry followed by wood. Lingers for a long time, but faintly.

Parting words: Yes, it’s another Michigan Pinot. This one, unlike the previous two, is very much in the earthy camp. The oak is well integrated into the earth, but the fruity notes not as much. Nothing bad here though. It goes great with pasta and pork and excellent just on its own. Very much worth the price and would make a nice entry in a horizontal tasting of Michigan Pinots. 2011 A Capella Pinot Noir is recommended.

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Old Overholt

Maker: Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)OO

Style: Kentucky rye whiskey

Age: 3 y/o

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $22

Appearance: Pale copper.

Nose: Burnt corn syrup, white dog, lavender, epazote, wood varnish.

Palate: Sugar, alcohol and an indescribable herbal note.

Finish: Peanut brittle, tarragon, alcohol.

Mixed: Did well mixed in everything I tried it in. Did well with ginger ale and just fine in a Sazerac. The OO Manhattan was very good but I used a strongly flavored vermouth so Overholt was a bit overmatched. I didn’t try anything else but Don Draper once used it to make an Old Fashioned.

Parting words: Old Overholt is one of the oldest whiskey brands in America. It was originally made in Pennsyvania, first under the ownership of Abraham Overholt then his grandson industrialist Henry Clay Frick. The brand became a part of National Distillers after Prohibition. Production was moved from Pennsylvania to the Old Grand-Dad distillery (a.k.a. The Forks of the Elkhorn) in Frankfort, Kentucky after ND shut down its distilleries in PA. Production was moved to Clermont when Beam acquired National Distillers in 1987. It now occupies the bottom shelf of Beam’s rye brands (the others being Jim Beam Rye, Ri1, Knob Creek Rye) at 3 years old and 80 proof.

Old Overholt’s history is neat, but I would never recommend drinking it neat. It’s rough and weak. The best that can be said for it is that it’s easy to find (now that it is finally in Michigan), mixes well and is relatively cheap. On the other hand, Rittenhouse rye is also easy to find these days and is only $2 more. It has the added advantages of tasting great both neat and mixed and being 100 proof. Sazerac and Bulleit rye are more expensive (both are $28) and Sazerac is much harder to find but both taste good either way.

In summary, if all you do with your rye is mix it, then Old Overholt is mildly recommended. If you want a rye to drink neat, with water or on the rocks then look elsewhere. Not recommended.

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