Under the “we taste them so you don’t have to” category comes this 5 bottle tasting of bourbon (and Jack Daniels) honey liqueurs. While flavored spirits are very popular now, the whiskey liqueur has a long history. In the early days of distilling in Scotland, the spirit (it would not qualify as whisky in the 21th
century) was usually sweetened with honey and flavored with herbs and spices to make it more palatable for recreational consumption. The popular Scotch whisky liqueur Drambuie is a marketed as a modern riff on that tradition. In the mid to late 20th century, many bourbon producers sold whiskey liqueurs as well, the best known and best being Wild Turkey Liqueur. It’s worth a purchase if you ever come across it. This current crop of whiskey liqueurs is only a few years old, but they’re already ubiquitous. They’re all over the place too.
I want to thank Mrs. Sipology Blog, Liz for being my co-taster in this exercise. In fact, it was her idea. So without further ado…
Wild Turkey American Honey, $21, 71°
L: Color like a golden apple. Butter, pear, whiskey. Thick but not sticky. Airplane sippable. Thumbs up.
J: Pale. Light vanilla and honey in the nose. Medium bodied. Sweet and slightly herbaceous with a little burn. Pretty good for what it is.
Evan Williams Honey Reserve, $13, 70°
L: Very, very light in color. Watered down apple juice. Sweeter nose, sweeter overall. More honey than alcohol. Sugary aftertaste. Too sweet to drink neat. Needs mixing, maybe with club soda.
J: Paler. Mildly sweet nose with some peanut butter. Honeyed water. No burn. Honeycomb finish. It’s big. Yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, but unbalanced.
Jim Beam Honey, $20, 70°
L: Bourbon-like in color (contains caramel). Strange smell, like peat, charcoal and corn. More burn than the EW, but not as complex. Honey, charcoal, nothing else. “I don’t think I finish this [1/4 oz pour].”
J: Much darker. Very weird nose, like white dog. Bland with a bit of sweetness and little else, not even honey. Finish like grape soda. Really bad. To the sink!
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, $25, 70°
L: Pretty light. Nose is honey, big time. No burn in the nose. Weird taste on the roof of the mouth toward the back. Smells better than it tastes. [grimaces] “Flat soda. I don’t like it. I don’t want to finish it.”
J: Wonderful jellybean nose. Waxy and perfumed on the palate like a scented candle. Not as bad as the JB, but not great either.
Red Stag Honey Tea, $20, 80°
L: At a loss for notes. More burn, less sugar but dull. Charcoal again. Nice bourbon flavor but too bland overall.
J: An improvement on the JB. Higher proof allows the bourbon to shine through a little more. Close in flavor to the EW until I get to the finish. A big burst of used teabags rounds things out. Better than the JD or JB.
Final results (unanimous)
Winner: Wild Turkey American Honey
Final standings: 1) WTAH 2) EWHR 3) RSHT 4) JDTH 5) JBH
(unanimous decision on both)
Parting words (Josh): This tasting surprised me a bit. The winner did not surprise me, but how bad JB and JD were did. Jim Beam honey was vile, disgusting stuff and Jack wasn’t much better. Another surprise was that Red Stag Honey Tea was not vile. I don’t see myself ever buying a bottle but a casual whiskey drinker might enjoy it on the rocks on a hot day with a slice of lemon.
If one is looking for a bargain, EWHR qualifies, but it’s so bland it hardly seems worth saving the extra $8. The only one on the list that I recommend is Wild Turkey Honey. It’s not as good as the old WT liqueur but it’s by far the best of this bunch. It’s best enjoyed in cocktails or as a digestif.
Place of origin: Michigan, USA
ABV: Unknown (2011 was 12%)
Price: Unknown (2012 is $28.50 on the website)
Appearance: Dark plum.
Nose: Toasted oak, grapes, black currant, blackberry, whiff of hardwood smoke.
Palate: Medium bodied, mild and slightly chewy. Wild blackberry, toasted oak, strawberry, green peppercorn.
Finish: Oak, mixed berry pie.
Parting words: Merlot is not a popular grape for varietal bottlings in Michigan. Its parent, Cabernet Franc, is more dependable in Michigan’s climate and is more widely planted as a result. Merlot makes up less than 4% of Michigan’s total wine grape acreage and most of that in the more continental climate of the south and southwest of the state.
It’s important to note that this is a Michigan Merlot, not an Old Mission (or any other specific AVA) Merlot. That means that the grapes that were used to make this wine probably came from a variety of vineyards from across the state. This is a good strategy even for a winery located in northern Michigan like Black Star Farms. Merlot doesn’t take to northern Michigan as well as Pinot Noir and white wine varieties do, so why chain one’s self to a single appellation? Some of the distinctiveness of the wine may be lost, but that’s better than being distinct in a bad way.
At any rate, this is a tasty example of what this grape can do in this state. It goes beautifully with pork, lamb and beef dishes (I drank it with all three) and works nicely after dinner too. The price (at lest for the latest vintage) is too high, but it’s not too far out of line with other quality Michigan red Bordeaux varietals. Try to find it in the $20-$25 range. The 2010 vintage is ready to drink now, but it could probably go another year or two and be just as good or even a little better. 2010 Arcturos Merlot is recommended.
Price: $15/4 pack (The Party Source)
Note: Annual release (November)
Thanks to Mike for this bottle!
Appearance: Murky brown with a slowly fading creamy head.
Nose: Whiskey, dark toasted malt, oak, smoke.
Palate: Molasses, licorice, burn toast.
Finish: Rye-recipe bourbon, oak, charcoal.
Parting words: This bottle was a gift from a former neighbor. He’s a big beer nerd (among other things) and he and his fiancée Connie are two of my favorite people. I’m a big fan of bourbon barrel aged beer and this is one of the best I’ve had. It’s very well balanced. I can taste the beer and I can taste what the barrel brings to the party as well. The flavors are perfectly intergrated into a seamless whole. This is a fantastic beer, like just about everything Founders does. Backwoods Bastard is highly recommended.
Place of origin: Michigan (Pioneer wine trail)
Appearance: Light maroon with good sized, evenly spaced legs.
Nose: Oak, leather, black currant, blueberry, ground pink peppercorn, raspberry.
Palate: Medium bodied. Blackberries, leather, hint of roasted poblano pepper.
Finish: Light but long lasting. White pepper, oak, bell pepper.
Parting words: Chateau Aeronautique Winery is located in an air park near Jackson, close to Sandhill Crane Wineyards. Their stated aim is to produce Bordeaux-style wines but they also produce wines from a lot of the usual Michigan suspects like Reisling, Pino Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Their Bordeaux style blends, Aviatrix Rouge and Crimson (a “right bank” style blend), are probably their best. They also do a good Syrah, quite a rare bird in Michigan. Cab Franc is much more common here and it features prominently in the Rouge. They use Michigan grapes exclusively.
This is one that has been sitting in my cellar for a little while and I think that time paid off. We had it with a meal of cheese ravioli and tomato sauce and it paired perfectly. Meat-filled ravioli might pair even better. As it sat, it tended to lean more to the peppery notes, but it never went off the deep end. This is a lighter style Cab Franc, though, so don’t go in expecting a bruiser. Michigan producers who can make a quality red like this get me excited at this state’s potential for Bordeaux varietals. Chateau Aeronautique’s 2010 Cabernet Franc is recommended.
Distilled by: Beam, Clemont, Kentucky, USA (Beam-Suntory)
Age: 7 y/o
Proof: 103 (51.5% ABV)
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.
Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
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.
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.
Style: Double Irish-style stout.
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.
Style: Irish blend
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.
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.
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.