Chateau Grand Traverse Semi-Dry Riesling

Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-07-22-19.53.17.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Old Mission AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 12%

Price: $12 (website price for 2013 vintage)

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Mineral water, pear, tangerine, lemon thyme.

Palate: Full bodied and subtly sweet. Fresh squeezed orange juice, gravel dust, winter savory.

Finish: Orange juice then minerals and a lingering sweetness.

Parting words: As much as I love Chateau Grand Traverse and Riesling, I shocked myself when I saw this on a shelf a few months ago and realized I had never tried it. Not sure why I never picked up a bottle but I’m very glad I did.

I’m not sure my tasting notes do it justice. It’s more complex than they might lead one to believe. It’s well integrated but not over-integrated, if that makes sense. The herbal, mineral, and fruit aromas all dance back and forth, each taking their turns leading the wine, but never blurring into one. I like that quality very much. That’s true complexity. The best Four Roses bourbons have that and this wine has it too. The price for this wine is so stupid cheap that I would call this a must buy for anyone who loves Michigan Riesling, or Riesling in general. Chateau Grand Traverse’s 2012 Semi-dry Riesling is highly recommended.

Grant’s: The Family Reserve

Maker: Wm. Grant & Sons, Dufftown, Moray, Scotlandwpid-2015-07-17-19.39.08.jpg.jpeg

Style: Blended Scotch whisky

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $20

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Sweet malt, plum, apricot, custard, touch oak oak and alcohol.

Palate: Full bodied and creamy. Custard, cinnamon, allspice, butterscotch candy.

Finish: Malt, oak and good vanilla ice cream with a little heat. Hangs around for a long time.

Parting words: Reviews of NAS Scotch blends have not gone well on this blog, generally so I was reluctant to review this. I bought it because I was looking for a blend to carry me through the summer and have around for the occasional high-ball or Scotch cocktail. I was very pleasantly surprised when I took my first sip.

This is a great whisky. It’s fruity and flavorful but not clunky and even at 40% ABV, it doesn’t taste weak. The malt elements add elegance and interest but it all rests on the firm, luscious bed of top notch grain whisky. Grant’s works well in cocktails, but I think I prefer to sip. It’s impossible to beat for the price. Grant’s The Family Reserve is highly recommended.

Eighteen Forty-Three Gin

Maker: Starlight Distillery, Starlight, Indiana, USA (Huber Winery)wpid-2015-07-16-11.35.41.jpg.jpeg

Style: American dry gin.

ABV: 46.2%

Price: $30 (distillery)

Note: My wife and I received a complimentary tour, tasting and a discount at the time I purchased this product from the distillery

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Alcohol, coriander, brie cheese rind, citron peel, juniper.

Palate: Sweet and full bodied. Alcohol, juniper, cane sugar, candy orange slices.

Finish: Sweet and fruity. Citrus, coriander seed, cinnamon.

Mixed: Does well in a Dry Martini. Very good in drinks involving red vermouth like Negronis and perfect martinis. Not great with tonic or in a Tom Collins. The earthy elements clash with the mixers in those last two.

Parting words: The first Huber to farm at the site of Huber Farms in Southern Indiana was Simon. Born in Baden Baden, Germany, he started farming in 1843 and the family has continued farming on the same site, only forty miles from the hot springs in French Lick, Indiana. Then as now, wine making and fruit production were the mainstays. Now the (much expanded) farm is a destination for pumpkins and other U-Pick favorites and is home to one of Indiana’s biggest and best wineries. They started distilling in 2001. Brandies are their best known spirits, but they also have vodka and gin (obviously) and a variety of fruit liqueurs and infusions, including an excellent blueberry liqueur. They have two stills currently, operated by owner Ted Huber and master distiller Lisa Wicker (formerly of Limestone Creek).

This gin is similar other craft gins (Few and Corsair spring to mind) but it has a pronounced aroma that I can’t quite put my finger on. Cubeb, maybe? At any rate, like those gins, 1843 is best in quality cocktails but pretty good neat too. Keep a bottle of Seagram’s next to it in the cabinet if you plan on guzzling a lot of Tom Collinses or G & Ts.

For a craft gin of this quality and ABV, $30 is a very good price. Eighteen Forty-Three Gin is recommended.

Rémy Martin XO Excellence

Maker: Rémy Martin, Cognac, Charente, Poitou-Charentes, France (Remy Cointreau)wpid-2015-07-14-17.52.08.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Champagne, Cognac (not to be confused with the wine region of the same name)

Age category: XO (6 y/o or older)

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $150

Apparently: Reddish orange.

Nose: Alcohol, rancio, orange peel, almond extract, cherry, vanilla.

Palate: Full mouthfeel. Semi-dry. Roasted almonds, Queen Anne Cherries, white mulberries, white wine grapes.

Finish: Golden raisins, old oak, leather. Lingers for a very long time.

Parting words: I’m not in the habit of buying $150 bottles of anything, let alone Cognac. Luckily I was able to find a 50 ml bottle of this. I had to share it with you, of course, dear readers.

My biggest question is always, is it worth the money? My Cognac experience is limited but this is by far the best one I’ve ever had. It’s complex and well integrated. Fruity but not sweet. For 40% ABV, it has a lot of power too. If I were tasting blind, I would never guess that it was that low. As a bourbon guy, I would still appreciate a bigger proof at this price, but cask strength Cognac isn’t really a thing so it would probably be unfair to criticize this on that basis.

As elegant as it gets, Rémy Martin XO Excellence is recommended.

Bulleit 10 y/o

Distiller: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (For now. Brand owned by Diageo)wpid-2015-07-10-19.53.00.jpg.jpeg

Style: High rye bourbon.

Age: 10 y/o

Proof: 91.2 (45.6% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $47

Appearance: Burnt orange

Nose: Alcohol, red pepper flakes, charred oak.

Palate: Caramel, toffee, oak, serrano chiles, lavender, grape bubblegum.

Finish: Oak, alcohol, circus peanut.

Parting words: This is the latest installment in the “cleaning out my liquor cabinet” series. I bought this bottle at the distillery. Well, not at the distillery it was distilled at, but at the one that serves as home to the “Bulleit Experience”, Stizel-Weller.

This this bourbon is fine. No flaws, drinks well, etc. But Four Roses Single Barrel is $42, 100 proof and almost always more interesting than this. There’s no good reason to buy this bourbon instead of that one. Bulleit 10 y/o is mildly recommended.

Grand Circus IPA

Make: Atwater, Detroit, Michigan, USAwpid-20150622_193214.jpg

Style: Session IPA

ABV: 4.5%

Appearance: Dark copper with a big sudsy head.

Nose: Very sweet malt, citric hops

Palate: Medium bodied. Hops, balanced by malty sweetness. Hops are present but not overwhelming. Bitterness on the back end.

Finish: Bitterness intensifies and lingers.

This is a part of Atwater’s series of beers named for places around Detroit. The name may sound strange but any clowns one may encounter in Grand Circus Park are purely coincidental. Grand Circus is a semi-circular park in Downtown Detroit that was created as a part of a planned (then abandoned) city-wide network of hub and spoke style roads. In 1865 George Armstrong Custer delivered a eulogy for Abraham Lincoln there and now the park is home to the Russell Alger Fountain, which was designed by Henry Bacon with the statue sculpted by Daniel French, who both did the same for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The park is adjacent to many of downtown’s most important buildings including the David Whitney Building, David Broderick Tower, Central United Methodist Church, The Detroit Opera House and Comerica Park.

Grand Circus the beer is billed as a session beer and it fits that bill. It’s a porch sippin’, food accompanyin’ beer. I got a pack of twelve cans of this for a party so that there would be something hoppy there that everybody could enjoy. It was moderately popular. If you’re a hop head, this probably won’t satisfy your lust, but I liked it, even more since it’s available in cans. Grand Circus IPA is recommended.

Rebel Yell American Whiskey

Maker: Luxco, St. Louis, Missouri, USAwpid-2015-07-03-21.02.47.jpg.jpeg

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.

Pelee Island Pinot Noir

Maker: Pelee Island Winery, Kingsville, Ontario, Canadawpid-2015-06-30-15.51.05.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Pelee Island VQA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 12.5%

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.

Royal Oaked Rye

Maker: Motor City Gas, Royal Oak, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-06-26-16.21.11.jpg.jpeg

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.

Calvados Coquerel Fine

Maker: Calvados Coquerel, Milly, Manche, Normandy, Francewpid-2015-05-26-11.35.46.jpg.jpeg

Age: 2 y/o

ABV: 40%

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.