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

Makers

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

269: Round Barn, Baroda, Michigan, USA

Style

KW: Dry gin from rye spirit.

269: Dry gin from grape spirit.

ABV

KW: 47%

269: 40%

Price

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

269: $20/375 ml

Appearance: Clear (both).

Nose

KW: Varnish, roasted grain, then burn.

269: Plum eau de vie, varnish, alcohol.

Palate

KW: Identical to the nose.

269: Fruity gum, light burn, orange peel.

Finish

KW: Nail polish fumes, then burn.

269: Orange soda, then fades quickly.

Mixed

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_28520725866329
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 complementary bottle of this and a of Uncle John’s Apple Brandy. I got a 30% discount on the rest of my purchase.

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33881166

 

 

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.

Hawthorne Barrel Reserve Chardonnay

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USAwp-1472691746227.jpg

Style: Oak aged Chardonnay (17 months in oak).

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

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12.3%

Price: $22 (winery)

Appearance: Bright straw.

Nose: Brown roux, lemon thyme, oak.

Palate:Mandarin orange, bitter oak.

Finish: Strong oak with a bit of tartness and sweetness.

Parting words: This is a pretty good buttery, oaky  Chardonnay. I was a big fan of it at the winery but for whatever reason (probably the state of my palate), it’s not thrilling me currently. Nothing remotely objectionable here, though. It’s not complex but it does serve up pleasant citrus, butter and oak flavors. The oak is strong but some people like that sort of thing (even I do sometimes). If you’re a fan of big Cali Chards, you will also enjoy 2013 Hawthorne Barrel Reserve Chardonnay. It is recommended.

Hancock’s President’s Reserve

Maker: Buffalo Trace. Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)wp-1472261717513.jpg

Style: High corn bourbon.

Age: NAS

Proof: 88.9 (44.45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $55

Appearance: Light auburn.

Nose: Alcohol, leather, corn syrup.

Palate: Full bodied. Alcohol, vanilla, creamed corn from the can.

Finish: Canned corn, alcohol. Fairly short.

Parting words: Hancock’s President’s Reserve was released in 1991 as a part of Ancient Age  (now known as Buffalo Trace) distillery’s series of single barrel bourbons introduced by master distiller Gary Gayheart. That series also includes Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms and Blanton’s. All of them are made from what is now Buffalo Trace’s mashbill #2, also used for the lower shelf Ancient Age line. As far as I can tell, Hancock’s was created at that time, although Hancock and Hancock Club bourbons were produced in Cincinnati before prohibition.

I’ve never been able to figure out what Hancock’s Reserve was supposed to bring to the table. Blanton’s has big leathery oak, Rock Hill Farms is elegant and high proof and Elmer T. Lee has the best QPR of the four, or at least did until it started being hoarded by stooges. Hancock’s is more expensive than Elmer, rougher and lower proof than RHF and sappier than Blanton’s. At one time, it was often a good example of BT’s earthiness, but that time has passed. It tastes like it’s barely 5-6 years old now. I tasted it next to the current 36 m/o Ancient Age 10 star ($19), and it tasted better but not by much. It reminds me of what AA 10 star tasted like seven years ago. Best thing I can say for it is that the bottle is one of the best looking on the shelf.

Hancock’s is a sad illustration of how some brands have had to fall by the wayside as Buffalo Trace has struggled to keep up with high demand for its bourbon. Maybe it would be best just to kill this one all together. Hancock’s President’s Reserve is not recommended.

Chateau de Leelanau Cabernet Franc

Maker: Chateau de Leelanau, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USAwp-1472127765860.jpg

Place of origin: Leelanau Penninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 12%

Production: 210 cases

Price: $24 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting room Sipper Club selection)

Appearance: Dark plum

Nose: Wild blackberries, toasted oak.

Palate: Raspberry juice, black cherry, crimini mushrooms, oak, smoke.

Finish: Blackberry jam, oak.

Parting words: I wrote off Chateau de Leelanau for dead years ago after visiting the place and being unimpressed with everything, except the cherry wine which rose to the level of mediocre. I reviewed the wine back then, and got an annoyed comment from “Matt” who rattled off a long list of awards and an “interesting reaction” comment from MBTB’s Courtney Casey. I stand by that review, but after hearing that they’ve changed ownership since then I decided to give them another chance at a review.

Holy cats, am I glad I did. This is a fantastic wine, easily one of the top five Michigan Cab Francs I’ve had, maybe the best one. It’s earthy, fruity, oaky, perfectly balanced and delicious. Only two things about this wine disappointed me. First, that I only had one bottle. Second, that I didn’t wait for another year or two to open it. It’s only gonna get better kids. CDL’s 2012 Cab Franc is an example of the best that vintage has to offer. This is one to seek out. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

Ballentine’s 12 y/o

Maker: Ballentine’s, Dumbarton, Dumbartonshire, Scotland, USA (Pernod-Ricard)wp-1470744396154.jpg

Age: 12 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $30

Appearance: Shiny caramel, thick, widely spread legs

Nose: Wood varnish, honey, vanilla buttercream, old oak.

Palate: Medium bodied and light in flavor. Butterscotch, salted caramel.

Finish: Werther’s Original candy, alcohol, grape soda, puff of smoke.

Parting words: This review was supposed to be a head to head with Ballentine’s Finest, the entry level NAS blend, but I lost my notes to that. As a friend said to me on Twitter, “Jesus saves and so should you.” True words, but MS should also make it so that autosaved versions of one document doesn’t pop up when you open a different document and give you the opportunity to delete the autosaved versions of the one document.

Anyhoo, not much was lost because there isn’t too much going on with Ballentine’s Finest. It’s inoffensive, but $25 should buy you more than that (though the mid-century style bottle is pretty cool). For $5 more, you can buy the 12 y/o Ballentine’s which is better. This is a Speyside-centered blend with sweet malt and sherry as the leading aromas with some oak and smoke thrown in to round it out. It’s mildly interesting and priced in the same neighborhood as its competition like Dewar’s. That whole neighborhood is overpriced, though. Get yourself a 1.75 liter bottle of Grant’s instead. Ballentine’s 12 y/o is mildly recommended.

Sandhill Crane Strawberry

Maker: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USAwp-1471463533730.jpg

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Vintage: NV

ABV: 11%

Price: $16/375 ml

Appearance: Dark, brassy pink.

Nose: Strawberry jam.

Palate: Full bodied. Strawberry pie filling.

Finish: Fruit salad with ripe in-season strawberries, as opposed to those pale, tasteless Florida or California ones you get in the fall or winter.

Parting words: Of all the summer berries, strawberries are probably my least favorite. Years of being forced to make due with crap, imported strawberries (see above) took their toll and I now view strawberries as the opening act to blueberries and cherries.This wine is changing my mind though. It captures the essence of strawberries at their very best in late May or early June, perfectly ripe and sweet, but not sticky or cloying. Perfect chilled on the patio after dinner on a humid summer evening.

The price is admittedly high for a fruit wine, but this and the raspberry dessert wine are Sandhill’s best in the dessert category. It’s limited edition so this year’s iteration may be sold out already, but if you can find it Sandhill Crane Strawberry wine is recommended.