Maker’s Mark Cask Strength

Maker: Maker’s Mark, Loretto, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)wpid-20150529_191023.jpg

Age: NAS

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.

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The Missing Spire

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.wpid-2015-05-27-17.25.41.jpg.jpeg

Grape: Riesling

Style: Semi-sweet

Place of origin: Michigan, USA (Antrim Co., Grand Traverse Co., Old Mission Peninsula)

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 10.4%

Purchased for $16

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Fresh sliced apple, apricot, gravel, orange peel.

Palate: Medium bodied and very well balanced. Medium tart apple, mandarin orange, woodruff, flint.

Finish: A bit of sweet citrus, then smoke and stone.

Parting words: Missing Spire is named after a spire missing off Building 50 in the former insane asyum in Traverse City where Left Foot Charley is located. There’s nothing missing here, though. This has everything one could want in a Riesling: bit of minerality, a bit of fruit, a bit of acid, a bit of sweetness, a good body and brilliant color. It’s the kind of wine that made me fall in love with this grape years ago. Left Foot Charley might be the best winery in Northern Michigan right now and this is one of their best wines. It’s also a favorite of friend-of-the-blog Oliver Windgätter, who knows more about German Riesling than anybody I’ve ever met. As Nicholas Cage might say, that’s high praise. The Missing Spire is highly recommened.

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Springbank CV

Maker: Springbank, Campbeltown, Argyll & Bute, Scotland.wpid-2015-05-22-20.29.13.jpg.jpeg

Region: Campbeltown

Age: NAS

ABV: 46%

Appearance: Old gold with evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Peat, damp humus, seawater, leather, sweet malt.

Palate: Full bodied and hot. A little water calms it down. Dates, brown butter, butterscotch candy, roasted pecans, brine, smoke.

Finish: Warm and smoky. More earthiness, wet firewood.

Parting words: I fell in love with Springbank 10 at first sip so I then quickly moved on to the 15 y/o expression. I didn’t realy care for it. It had a tired, murky quality to it that I didn’t care for. So I sadly refrained from buying any Springbank until I bought this in an effort to reacquaint myself with the distillery. What better way is there to get to know Springbank than by drinking its CV?

None, that’s what. This is a fantastic whisky. It has the sweet, nutty characteristics of the 10, but with the added depth of earthiness and smokiness that whiskies from the neighboring island of Islay exihibit. I’m usually a skeptic when it comes to the influence of the ocean on Scotch, but there are aromas and flavors that come across as maritime in this whisky.

The complexity is very much by design. The CV is a marriage of malts of a variety of ages and styles all from the Springbank Distillery in Cambeltown, the smallest recognized single malt Scotch region. My bottle is from the second edition (the first got mixed reviews) and I love it, as you can probably tell. Unfortunately it seems to be out of stock at the usual major retailers, but I paid around $70 for mine and it was worth every penny. I’m sure there are quite a few of these still in the wild. Pick one up if you can. Springbank CV (second edition) is highly recommended.

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Evenus Zinfandel Port

Maker: Candlewood Cellars, Graton, California, USAwpid-2015-05-20-20.31.44.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Paso Robles AVA, California, USA

Vintage: 2003

Style: Fortified dessert wine.

ABV: 18.1%

Purchased for $10/375 ml (Trader Joe’s)

Appearance: Dark purple with a slight brownish tinge.

Nose: Raisins, black currant jelly, plum, blueberry.

Palate: Sweet and fruity. Blueberry jam, black cherry, bit of white pepper. Fades into a slight burn.

Finish: Raisiny and warming.

Mixed: Yes, sometimes I mix my port, even when it’s not really Port. Made for a pretty bad Princeton cocktail, but that might have been down to the cheap gin I used. Did well with a squirt of lemon juice.

Parting words: I purchased this bottle many years ago and planned to open it in 2018, but I jumped the gun a bit, as you can see. I’m glad I did.

True Port, of course, has to come from Portugul, but this California version does a good job of being in the style but retaining its varietal characteristics. It has the toasty heat of a California Zin but has enough elegance and sweetness to pair well with dark chocolate or as a dessert in itself. The price is hard to beat too. Evenus 2003 Zin Port is recommended.

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Johnny Smoking Gun Whiskey

Maker: Two James, Detroit, Michigan, USAwpid-20150508_154910.jpg

Age: NAS

Batch 2

Proof: 87 (43.5% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $50

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Young wood, corn whiskey, underseasoned hardwood smoke, alcohol, dust, burnt caramel.

Palate: Full-bodied and hot. Burn, wood, corn syrup.

Finish: Sweet and tannic, heavy alcohol lingers for a long time.

Parting words: I’m not sure exactly what this whiskey is. The distillers have wisely decided to just call it whiskey this time, without a category stated. This gives them a lot more leeway than if they went with a specific type. I’m pretty sure doing that means that flavorings and colors can be added as well. If so, they were used judiciously. I’m guessing that smoke was infused into the whiskey by some undisclosed means as well. It’s composed of a 70% corn, 30% rye mashbill, so the website says, but one source I found described it as a blended whiskey, so it make be a blend of rye & corn whiskeys.

The closest thing I’ve has to this was Corsair’s Triple Smoke, which was a pretty good product for what it was. The concept behind this whiskey is that of a table whiskey, intended to pair with umami-strong Japanese cuisine. It is the only alcoholic beverage sold at the new Johnny Noodle King ramen restaurant in Detroit. I had it there and it went well with my lunch. Frankly, I like it better on its own. It does well as an after-dinner whiskey as a change of pace. I didn’t do too much mixing with it, but it was ok with club soda too.

Craft whiskey inflation is in full effect here, but it has a lot of things that set it apart from the usual craft fare to justify a slightly higher price. That said, this is a whiskey on the edge. It is well balanced and integrated but any more smoke or wood or new-makey flavors would wreck it. Let’s hope they can maintain that balance going forward. Johnny Smoking Gun is recommended.

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Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Riesling

Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USAwpid-20150506_190433.jpg

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 10%

Purchased for $14

Appearance: Iridescent gold.

Nose: White peach, apricot, lime zest, sherry.

Palate: Medium bodied. Sweet and citric. Hazelnuts, lychee, rancio.

Finish: Like an orange push pop but not as sweet.

Parting words: 2011 in northern Michigan was one of the rare vintages that was both prolific and high quality. Reds did particularly well but the whites were no slouch either, as this wine clearly shows. CGT’s 2011 LHR exhibits all the characteristics of an excellent, aged wine of this type. Loads of rich, oxidized flavor but elegantly balanced with citrus and a touch of bitterness. This wine is best on its own or with cheesy or hors d’oeuvres. My wife was craving a white wine with dinner so we ended up drinking it with grilled hot dogs and potato chips and it did just fine with those, bringing out big orange flavors.

This is another big winner from Chateau Grand Traverse and the 2011 vintage. Highly recommended.

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Tequila Ocho, Single Barrel (Binny’s Selection)

Maker: La Alteña distillery, Jalisco, Mexicowpid-2015-05-05-19.52.46.jpg.jpeg

Age category: 1 year, 19 days (Añejo)

Rancho: El Refugio

Harvest: 2012

Barrel: 2/3

ABV: 54.57% (cask strength)

Price: $60 (Exclusive to Binny’s Beverage

Note: I received an informal tequila tasting from a Binny’s staff member before purchasing this bottle.

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: White asparagus with hollandaise sauce, alcohol, lime peel, cane sugar, whiff of smoke.

Palate: Full bodied and rich. Agave syrup, tangerine, orange slice candy, burn.

Finish: Lime pulp, white pepper, burn.

Parting words: La Alteña is best known as the home of El Tesoro tequila, although it makes a few other brands including our friend Tequila Ocho here. Tequila Ocho was developed by Carlos Camarena of the Camarena tequila dynasty in partnership with Tomas Estes as a single-estate (rancho) tequila made using traditional methods.

Binny’s has a tradition of excellent whiskey selections that has now extended into tequila, a spirit that their whiskey staff is also passionate about. As a tequila novice, I found this to be accessible with lots of typical character, but not boring. In spite of being cask strength, it’s subtle and sophisticated with seamlessly integrated vegetal, citrus and sweet notes and aromas. The price is almost impossible to beat, too. Binny’s Single Barrel Tequila Ocho is highly recommended.

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Canadian Mist

Maker: Canadian Mist, Collingwood, Ontario, Canada (Brown-Forman)wpid-2015-05-01-17.23.50.jpg.jpeg

Style: Canadian blend.

Age: 3 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $12

Appearance: Bright orange with short legs and necklacing (coloring is allowed in Canadian whisky.

Nose: Boiled corn on the cob, cumin, winter savory, hint of leather, new make.

Palate: Mild. Lavender, alcohol, multi-grain bread.

Finish: grape jelly bean, new make, burn.

Mixed: Performs well in an old fashioned and in ginger ale, although it gets a bit lost. Servicable with club soda.

Parting words: Canadian Mist is a perfectly adequate, entry level Canadian blend, but not much to write home about. It tastes very young, which it is, and doesn’t have much to offer except grain character with faint whispers of mature characteristics like oak and caramel. If you’re looking for something undemanding to sip with soda or in an old fashioned, Canadian Mist fits the bill. Black Velvet fits the bill just as well but is $2 cheaper. I think you know what I’d do in that situation. Canadian Mist is mildly recommended.

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Seagram’s Extra Dry Gin

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA (Brand owned by Pernod-Ricard)wpid-2015-04-30-16.40.34.jpg.jpeg

Style: Dry American gin.

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $10

Note: 1.75 ml bottle pictured ($22)

Appearance: Clear with a very faint tinge of color.

Nose: Neutral spirit, juniper, citrus peel.

Palate: Milder than the nose would lead on to believe. Neutral spirits and a faint earthiness.

Finish: Burn and crushed juniper berries.

Mixed: Perfectly acceptable in the standard applications, especially in a Tom Collins or with tonic. Even makes a decent martini or negroni. Gets lost in orange juice.

Parting Words: Seagram’s the gin is the best selling American-made gin in the world. Seagram’s the company no longer exists. It was sold off for parts in the late 1990s in order to raise money for Edgar Bronfman’s adventures in the entertainment industry. That began a long, strange trip for the distillery (actually distilleries) in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. It’s now owned by agribusiness company Midwest Grain Products and is best known as the supplier of rye and bourbon whiskey for an endless parade of “micro-distillers” who are just selling it until their own product is ready, they swear. MGPI contains an entirely separate distillery for the manufacture of gin and vodka, though, and that’s where Seagram’s Gin (now owned by French giant Pernod-Ricard) continues to be made.

In days of yore, Seagram’s Gin was “rested” in oak barrels to take the edge off the spirit and give it a saffron tinge. The process was changed sometime before September 2013, , according to a source-friend of mine. The yellowish tinge (now barely there) is created by running the spirit through a juniper slurry under pressure. Barrel resting is a thing of the past. Just going by memory, it doesn’t seem to have altered the taste much. If anything, it’s a little less harsh than I remember.

At any rate, this is a perfectly serviceable well-gin. It’s barely palatable neat, but it does just fine for casual cocktails. Seagram’s is a fine gin for your Wednesday night G & T or your third martini on Saturday night. Recommended.

That said, I hate the bottle redesign. The cross-hatching thing is dopey. #BringBackTheBumpyBottle

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Five-Way Honey Liqueur Tasting

Under the “we taste them so you don’t have to” category comes this 5 bottle tasting of bourbon (and Jack Daniels) honey wpid-20150411_205850.jpgliqueurs. 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.

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