Rock Oyster

Maker: Douglas Laing & Co, Glasgow, Scotland, UK20161007_111358.jpg

Distilleries: Isles of Arran, Jura, plus unidentified distillers from Orkney (Highland Park?) and Islay.

Style: Blended island (including Islay) malt.

Age: NAS

ABV: 46.8%

Michigan state minimum: $60

Note: Not chill filtered, likely not colored either.

Appearance: Pale straw with thick sea legs.

Nose:Peat, alcohol, smoke, sherry, seaspray.

Palate: Medium bodied. Sweet butterscotch, then brine, peat smoke and burn.

Finish: Peat, buttercream, then burn. Lang lasting.

Parting words: 68 year old independent bottler and blender Douglas Laing & Co had a big hit a few years ago with their Big Peat blended Islay malt. They’ve now followed up with other regional blended malts. Rock Oyster is the Island edition, as one might guess from the name. Islay is usually considered its own region and not a part of the islands or Highlands but Islay whisky (-ies?) are included in the blend here. This isn’t Big Peat Jr, though. The smoky, peaty, Islay malt is balanced with sherry, bourbon and maritime aromas to great effect.

It’s hard to get a single malt this complex for $60 in these parts. There’s nothing I don’t love about Rock Oyster. Highly Recommended.

Atomic Apple Hard Cider

Maker: Uncle John’s Fruit House, St. John’s, Michigan, USA20161003_171139.jpg

Style: Hard cider flavored with cinnamon candies.

ABV: 6.5%

Price: $11 (Binny’s)

Note: At the time of purchase, I received a complimentary bottle of premium cider and of Uncle John’s Apple Brandy. I got a 30% discount on the rest of my purchase.

Appearance: Nearly fluorescent pink. Lots of fizz.

Nose: Apple juice, hint of cinnamon.

Palate: Apple sauce with red hots, flint.

Finish: Cinnamon candy, then dry. Goes quickly.

Parting words: The last cider I reviewed was Cinnamon Girl from Left Foot Charley. That was flavored with single origin cinnamon from two different places and no sugar was added. Uncle John’s took a completely different approach to creating a cinnamon hard cider. They threw a bunch of Atomic Fireball candies into the fermentation tank. The result is something like when my grandmother made applesauce and put red hots in while it was cooking. I enjoyed the flavor then and I enjoy it now, but it’s not as nuanced as Cinnamon Girl. Atomic Apple is cheaper and still pretty good, though. All that said, my wife hated it. Atomic Apple is recommended.

Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select

Maker: Jack Daniels, Lynchburg, Tennessee, USA20160930_180620.jpg

Style: Tennesee Whiskey

Age: NAS

Proof: 94 (47% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $52

Parting words: Single Barrel select was the first premium line extension to Jack Daniels. It was introduced in 1997 and had a fairly good reputation whiskey enthusiasts as the most (or only) drinkable JD iteration, at least after the standard JD was lowered to 80 proof. JD Single Barrel has now turned into its own line. There is now also a 100 proof bottled in bond (originally a travel retail selection), barrel strength and a single barrel rye (the last two released this year).

I haven’t had any of the new ones, but I’ve never been impressed with the SB Select but this bottle was even worse than I remember. It strikes a balance between boring and unpleasant as only JD can. Other than the proof and the price, this is indistinguishable from the last glass of standard JD I had. The price is not as outlandish as the Frank Sinatra Editions ($170 and $450 respectively) but still dumb money. Individual barrels may vary, of course, but overall Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select is not recommended.

Cognac D’Usse VSOP

Maker: Chateau de Cognac, Cognac, Charente, France. (Bacardi)20160929_162624.jpg

Region: Blend.

Age category: VSOP (at least 4 y/o).

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $51

Appearance: Brownish copper with long, elegant legs.

Nose: Alcohol, felt, old oak, prune juice.

Palate: Full bodied. Juicy and a little chewy with a bold burn throughout.

Finish: Raisins, oak, heat. Long.

Parting words: Cognac d’Ussé is best known for being developed (endorsed?) by Jay-Z. Don’t confuse it with other celebrity spirits like Conjure Cognac or Ciroc vodka. Those are garbage, this is not. D’Usse is a product of Chateau de Cognac, appropriately located   in a castle in central Cognac. Baron Otard is Chateau de Cognac’s primary product line with all the usual suspects. Unlike those, D’Usse (this and the $200+ XO) is made by blending brandies from all over CdC’s estates. It was intended to rope in a young, hip audience. How young and/or hip I am is up for debate, but I have been roped in.

There are no flavors or aromas here that are too far outside the norm for Cognacs, but they’re all amped up while remaining balanced. As a newcomer to good Cognac, I really enjoyed it. The price is in the same ballpark as other VSOPs from Cognac houses of comparable size. Not that it matters but the bottle is really cool looking too. D’Usse VSOP is recommended.


Rivers-Marie Occidental Ridge Pinot Noir

Maker: Rivers-Marie, Yountville, California, USAwp-1475111484518.png

Place of origin: Occidental Ridge Vineyard, Sonoma Coast AVA, California, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13.8%

Price: $50 (winery)

We received a complimentary tasting and tour of the winery at the time of purchase.

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Dynamic. Red raspberry, crushed blueberry, wet oak, smoke.

Palate: Pomegranate, tart cherry juice, old oak, leather, morel mushrooms.

Finish: Mixed fruit jam, crimini mushrooms, custard, oak. Softly lingers f0r a moderate length of time.

Parting words: This wine is from our (Mrs. Sipology’s and mine) trip to NoCal a couple years ago. I wrote up the trip here. Rivers-Marie produces (or at least produced in 2012) two single vineyard Sunoma Pinots, Occidental Ridge and Summa ( the latter owned by one of the co-owners of R-M) as well as a general Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.

Four years in the bottle have turned a good wine into a great one. Rivers-Marie makes some of the best Pinot in California. It’s fruity, earthy and bold without being too aggressive and killing the beautiful character of the grape. If you can find some, buy it. Recommended.


Cinnamon Girl

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USAwp-1474425628803.jpg

Apples: Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Ida Red.

Style: Apple cider with Sumatran and Vietnamese cinnamon (no sugar added).

ABV: 5%

Purchased for $8/500 ml (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Appearance: Very pale gold, slow bubbles.

Nose: Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal, apple sauce.

Palate: Crisp and acidic, then the cinnamon kicks in.

Finish: Some tartness and cinnamon, then elegant tannins.

Parting words: Left Foot Charley might be Michigan’s best winemakers, and their ciders are very good too. Cinnamon Girl is better than most spiced ciders because the spice doesn’t cover up any of the apple character. No traditional cider apples were used in its production but there’s just the right amount of tannin, tartness and sweetness to balance the spice and bring it all together. Cinnamon Girl is recommended.

Gin Head to Head: Kentucky Wild vs 269

KW= Kentucky Wildwp-1473976333900.jpg

269= 269


KW: New Riff, Newport, Kentucky, USA (The Party Source)

269: Round Barn, Baroda, Michigan, USA


KW: Dry gin from rye spirit.

269: Dry gin from grape spirit.


KW: 47%

269: 40%


KW: $16/375 ml ($30/750 ml)

269: $20/375 ml

Appearance: Clear (both).


KW: Varnish, roasted grain, then burn.

269: Plum eau de vie, varnish, alcohol.


KW: Identical to the nose.

269: Fruity gum, light burn, orange peel.


KW: Nail polish fumes, then burn.

269: Orange soda, then fades quickly.


KW: Pretty good in all applications I tried: with tonic, dry Martini, Negroni, Princeton.

269: Pretty bad in all applications I tried except for the Negroni and Princeton in which it virtually disappeared. Fruity aroma clashed with the bitterness of the tonic and dry vermouth.

Parting words: New Riff is the distillery founded by The Party Source wine, beer, spirits, part supplies, etc superstore in the Cincinnati area. The distillery is a modern building located adjacent to the  TPS parking lot. They make Kentucky Wild, a barrel aged version of it, a rye and a bourbon, as well as bottling an MGPI sourced bourbon called OKI (Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana).

I wrote about Round Barn’s distilling program here. 269 uses the same base as their successful DiVine grape vodka. This gin tasted fine at the distillery, but when I had the chance to spend more time with it at home, I liked it less and less. It is little more than a lightly infused version of their vodka. The distillate is firmly in the drivers seat with the only other passenger being an orange peel.

I didn’t care much for either of these, frankly. KW was virtually undrinkable neat but was adequate in cocktails. 269 was better neat, but was a cocktail killer at a wimpy proof and high price. Kentucky Wild is mildly recommended for cocktails and 269 is not recommended for anything.



Freshwater Superior Single Barrel Rum

Maker: New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USAwp-1472334213166.jpg

Age: NAS (at least 1 y/o)

ABV: 52.5%

Michigan state minimum: $40

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Light molasses, vanilla cream, leather, alcohol.

Palate: Full bodied. Oak, then brown sugar, cassia, alcohol, vanilla bean.

Finish: Turbinado sugar, cognac, alcohol. Long lasting.

Parting words: New Holland’s Freshwater line is named in honor of three of the four great lakes that border Michigan. The line includes Huron White (hard to find, possibly discontinued), Michigan Amber and Superior Single Barrel. Superior is best and the most expensive of the line. It drinks dangerously easy for 52.5% ABV. I purchased it for a Michigan themed party and it went very fast. I even had guests come up to be and tell me how great it was and how could they get themselves a bottle!

I didn’t do much mixing with it because at $40 it falls into the sipping rum category for me.It does very well neat, on the rocks and/or with a squeeze of lime. It’s complex and balanced, sweet, spicy and vanilla-y. It’s everything you want in a micro-distilled sipping rum. Freshwater Superior Rum is highly recommended.

Uncle John’s Russet Hard Cider

Knobby Russet apples

Maker: Uncle Johns, St. Johns, Michigan, USA

Apples: Golden Russet, Razor Russet, Knobby Russet and Baldwin.

ABV: 6.5%

Price: $13 (Binny’s)

Note: At the time of purchase, I received a Note: At the time of purchase, I received a complimentary bottle of this and of Uncle John’s Apple Brandy.

Appearance: Medium gold. Persistently effervescent.

Nose: Cut apple core, sweet cinnamon, old oak, green cardamom.

Palate: Medium dry and chewy. Apple juice, big tannin, tart cherry juice, seasoned lumber.

Finish: Dry, bitter tannins that linger in the cheeks.

Parting words: My visit to Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery & Cider Mill is chronicled here. This is the second of Uncle John’s premium ciders I’ve taken notes on for this blog. The first one I took notes on was Melded, a delicious blend of American, British and French cider apples. That one had tannins and minerals but on a bed of citrus. It was very food friendly and refreshing. I planned on highly recommending it, but I lost those notes due to poorly designed word processing software. I’ve begun handwriting notes so that doesn’t happen to me again.

Russet is different from Melded. There’s plenty of fruit here but it’s all apple and it’swp-1473194518713.jpg wrapped in a chewy, tannic package. It works well with food too, but the tannins are leading the charge here with fruit and acid playing backup. It’s a very good cider and leaves me excited to try the rest of the premium line that I have haunting my cellar.Uncle John’s Russet Hard Apple Cider is highly recommended.

Knobby Russet photo by Leslie Seaton from Seattle, WA, USA – Knobby Russet, CC BY 2.0,



Gooderham & Worts

Maker: Corby, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (Pernod-Ricard)wp-1472861776243.jpg

Style: Canadian blend (Four grain)

Age: NAS

ABV: 44.4%

Price: $45 Canadian (about $35 US)

Appearance: Dull caramel.

Nose: Fresh cut orange, roasted malt, oak, cut hay, butterscotch.

Palate: Brown sugar, black walnut, plum, alcohol, aniseed.

Finish: Grape soda, alcohol.

Parting words: Gooderham & Worts is an old name in Canadian whisky, originally manufactured in York, Ontario, now a part of Toronto. G & W was one of the biggest Canadian whisky brands during the nineteenth century. In 1923 it merged with Hiram Walker and production continued in Toronto until 1990. The area around the old distillery is now the distillery district development.

This latest incarnation is distilled at the Corby plant in Windsor, also home to Canadian Club and Wiser’s. The bottle is big and beautiful with a picture of the old distillery on the front and a picture of a windmill on the back, perhaps based on the windmill co-founder James Worts used to kill himself.

G & W is balanced and complex with a fairly robust ABV that adds enough punch to keep things interesting to the last sip. I only wish that it had even more punch and was available in the US. Maybe it will be eventually. Gooderham & Worts is recommended.