Petoskey Stone Gin

Maker: High Five Spirits, Petoskey, Michigan, USA20180519_183720.jpg

Style: Dry

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $30

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Juniper, lemon/lime soda, licorice, peppermint.

Palate: Full-bodied and dry. Juniper, cinnamon.

Finish: Eucalyptus cough drops and lemon heads.

Mixed: OK in a Martini and Negroni. Very nice with tonic and in a Tom Collins.

Parting words: The Petoskey stone is the state stone of Michigan. It’s common around lakeshores in the northwestern Lower Peninsula, especially near Charlevoix and, you guessed it, Petoskey. Polished Petoskey stones are a popular souvenir from summer vacations in the area. They’re chunks of fossilized coral formed in the Devonian period roughly 400 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs. Loads of Petoskey Stones were deposited in northern Michigan by glaciers at some period in the past, unknown to Wikipedia. As real midwestern heads remember from school, large, shallow inland seas covered much of the central US in the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. As a result, fossils of sea life are common throughout the region.

High Five is a start-up micro-distillery in Petoskey with a tasting room. It’s owned by brothers Adam and Mike Kazanowski along with someone named Mike Kolkmeyer. As far as I can tell, their only products so far are Gypsy Vodka and this. They say that a rum (unaged one assumes) is on the way next.

Petoskey Gin is a drinkable, juniper-forward gin that excels with tonic and in a Tom Collins. It’s a summertime-at-the-lake gin. Not too weird, not too demanding, not too expensive. Well, two outta three. $30 is too much for this, but with the standard micro-distillery mark up, it’s not too far out to sea, or out to lake, as it were. Petoskey Stone Gin is mildly recommended.

 

 

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A Visit to Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse

The bourbon boom has been good to tourism in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s the largest city in bourbon country and home to its own cluster of distilleries. Louisville’s bourbon pedigree is second to none (except maybe Bardstown) so it’s in a great position to cash in. It started in 2013 with the opening the Evan Williams Experience downtown and continued in 2014 with the opening of Diageo’s historic Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively Kentucky to the public as a home for the Bulleit brand. 2018 will see the long-awaited debut of Old Forester Main Street Distillery.

Unlike the above distilleries, Jim Beam doesn’t have any historical connections to Louisville. That hasn’t stopped them from joining their competitors, though. In 2014 the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse opened in Louisville’s Fourth Street Live! (sic) development, three blocks south of Main.

I have been to The Evan Williams Experience a couple times and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s Disneyesque, but it does a good job of balancing marketing, education and entertainment. I went into the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse expecting that sort of experience. I should have taken a hint from the name, though. Jim Beam’s Clermont gift shop and visitor’s center is called the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. That is the Urban Stillhouse’s closest parallel, not the other Louisville bourbon attractions.

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The bourbon tree with barrel stave bark, label leaves and bottle lanterns.

The Urban Stillhouse is essentially a gift shop with a tasting bar and event space. There’s virtually no educational component and certainly nothing Disneyesque about it. That’s not to say it’s bad, not at all. It’s just not the Evan Williams Experience. This makes a lot of sense give its location in what’s essentially an outdoor mall. A long, intensive tourist attraction wouldn’t fit well with the chain restaurants and touristy nightclubs of Fourth Street Live! (sic).

Our crew (minus Liz who had a couple church things) stopped in on our way to Bardstown from Detroit. Parking was a little hard to find given the gridlock and our unfamiliarity with downtown Louisville, but we managed to find a garage. The interior is nicely decorated in a similar style to the American Stillhouse. The front part of the space is the gift shop and the back is taken up by a long tasting bar with a cocktail bar on the side. Tastings are $8 per person and include a succinct but largely accurate talk.

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The tasting bar.

We received three samples at first. Ours were Jim Beam Black (now “extra aged”), JB Urban Stillhouse Select (essentially an exclusive version of Distiller’s Cut) , and JB Apple (which our guide correctly described as a liqueur). Our guide walked us through a tasting of the first two, which he said were about the same age. Telling us to hold off the Apple, he then poured us a sample of whatever we wanted from the back of the bar. That included the entire Jim Beam, Jim Beam flavored and Knob Creek lines plus Basil Hayden. I ordered JB Double Wood, which I liked. This extra sample was poured into a souvenir shot glass with Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse, Louisville and the Louisville skyline etched into it. After that, we were instructed to try the Apple. I’m not much of a flavored whiskey guy, but it was fine. Would make a decent shot, substitute for apple pucker or addition to mulled cider.

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Our samples from L to R: JBB, JBUSS, JB Apple (!)

In the gift shop portion of the space there is also a small still and bottling room where visitors can assemble their own custom version of Urban Stillhouse Select from bourbon at a variety of ages. We didn’t do that, so I’m a little fuzzy on the details of that process. I did purchase a full-sized bottle for myself and a 375 ml as a thank-you gift for our neighbors for babysitting our youngest one so we could get an early start on our trip. For the small one, I took advantage of the custom laser etching service available for $10 per bottle. I chose a short, simple message in a single font but in seemed like the folks ahead of me in line were getting the full text of Moby Dick inscribed into theirs in four different fonts. The etching looked nice but it did take a couple times through the machine to get that way.

The etching service is not just for visitors, though. When we were there, there were boxes of bottles inscribed for the Kentucky Derby Marathon, to be held the next day, sitting near the etching machine. There were also inscribed bottles for a political even being held upstairs later that day.

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Here’s a review of Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Select:

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JBUSS & the souvenir glass.

 

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)

Age: NAS

Bottled: April 25, 2018.

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Note: Not chill-filtered.

Price: $46 (only available at the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse)

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Alcohol, yeast, leather.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium dry. Tabasco, burnt marshmallows, caramel sauce on vanilla ice cream.

Finish: oak, grape soda.

Parting words: The price is high on JBUSS (vs Distiller’s Cut at $25, Knob Creek at $35, McKenna SB at $34), but one buys a bottle like this as a souvenir, not a value sipper. Both the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse and Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Select are recommended.

 

 

Cody Kresta Peach

Maker: Cody Kresta, Mattawan, Michigan.20180509_202720.jpg

Fruit: Peach (100%)

Vintage: 2016 (!)

ABV: 11%

Purchased for $16 from Michigan by the Bottle.

Appearance: Light orange.

Nose: Big, overripe peach.

Palate: Medium-bodied, semi-sweet. Squishy, nearly rotten peach.

Finish: Sweet, fade quickly.

Parting words: Peaches are usually associated with Georgia, but California actually produces the most peaches of any state. New Jersey, Washington and New York also rank in the top ten. Those three states are also major cool-climate wine producers, like Michigan. While Michigan isn’t a major peach producer nationally, its climate is great for growing peaches. There are few things I love more than a perfectly ripe Michigan peach in the late summer.

When I first tasted this peach wine at MBTB, that’s what I tasted. It was a beautiful experience and I took a bottle home with me. That was in September 2017. I had a few fruit wines in the cue ahead of this one, so I didn’t get around to opening it until earlier this week. That was a mistake. I love fruit wines, but they usually don’t reward cellaring.

2016 Cody Kresta Peach is tasty and recommended. It has lost some of its freshness, though, so I also recommend drinking it promptly after release!

 

Sandhill Crane Vidal Blanc, 2014

Maker: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USA.20180425_094301.jpg

Grape: Vidal Blanc

Place of origin: Michigan (At least 75% Michigan Vidal by law)

Vintage: 2014

Style: Semi-sweet.

ABV: 12.5%

Price: $16 (current vintage on website)

Appearance: Pale yellow.

Nose: Peach, mango, papaya, wet limestone.

Palate: Full-bodied. Like pineapple syrup and mango nectar, but not cloying.

Finish: Clean, slightly tangy.

Parting words: Vidal is one of the best-known hybrid grape varieities in this part of the world. It’s most famous for its use in Canadian Ice wine, and is grown as far north as Nova Scotia and Sweden for that purpose. As you might have guessed from that last sentence, Vidal is cold-hardy and was able to produce good wine like this even in a Polar Vortex year like 2014. It’s grown fairly widely in Michigan, often for use in dessert wines, but not always, as in this case.

This Sandhill Crane Vidal is heavy on tropical fruit, but not overly sweet, which makes for nice porch sipping and pairs well with pork and chicken. $16 is a fair price, but much more would be pushing it for a non-AVA hybrid wine, even one of this quality. 2014 Sandhill Crane Vidal Blanc is recommended.

Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed for Cider

Brewed by Gordon Biersch, San Jose, California, USA for Trader Joe’s supermarkets.

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Style: Semi-dry apple cider.

ABV: 5.5%

Note: No added sweeteners, flavors or colors.

Price: $8/6 12 oz bottle.

Appearance: Medium dark copper with a short-lived, fizzy head.

Nose: Apple juice, candy apple.

Palate: Medium-bodied, effervescent. Crisp green apple.

Finish: Medium sweet, slightly tannic.

Parting words: Henry “Hotspur” Percy (1364-1403), 2nd Earl of Northumberland, was one of the most famous members of the Percy family of Anglo-Norman assholes aristocrats of Northern England in the late Middle Ages. He was a leading commander in Richard II’s wars against Scotland and later rebelled against Henry IV several times, famously losing his life at the battle of Shrewsbury.

What does Hotspur’s career have to do with this cider? Beats me.

This is a decent, affordable, easy-to-find (at Trader Joe’s anyway) cider that does well with food and isn’t so weird that casual cider drinkers will get turned off. I’d like it if it was a dollar less, but still Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed for Cider is recommended.

Buffalo Trace, Holiday Market Selection

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Retailer: Holiday Market, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA

Age: NAS (true age unknown, but at least 4 y/o by law)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $27

Appearance: New penny.

Nose: Tabasco sauce, copper penny, allspice.

Palate: Full-bodied and round. Marshmallow, caramel, alcohol.

Finish: Caramel, burn.

Parting words: It’s been a while since I reviewed BT selections, but I really should do more. BT, even the standard remains a good value for sipping and mixing from a distillery best known for Pappy, Elmer T. Lee, George T. Stagg and other overhyped, often overpriced bourbons.

This selection reminds me a little of the Binny’s selection I reviewed in the link above. Marshmallow is the dominant flavor, although here its less roasted. The flavor is not assertive enough to make itself known in cocktails with strong mixers, but it does well enough. Buffalo Trace, Holiday Market Selection is recommended.

Floodwall Apple Brandy

Maker: Copper & Kings, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

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Age: 4 y/o

Cooperage: Bourbon & sherry casks

ABV: 50%

Michigan state minimum: $46.75

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Alcohol, new leather, white chocolate.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Sweet sherry, old oak, toffee.

Finish: Rubber, oak, alcohol

Parting words: Copper & Kings is one of the few microdistillers that is taking brandy seriously. In fact, they do more than take it seriously, it’s the heart of their business. They have six brandies on Michigan shelves, including an unaged apple brandy and the aged Floodwall.

Floodwall has a lot of things going for it. It’s 100 proof, a rarity for brandy (although Laird’s does make a bonded apple brandy), is under $50 (a rarity for aged craft spirits), mixes well and tastes a little like an old Calvados.

That last item is also its greatest weakness, though. My favorite apple brandies are ones that are mature but still retain some apple character to balance out the cask characteristics. Old Calvados is usually all cask and Floodwall is too. In Floodwall’s case, the cause is not age, but heavy handed use of sherry cask. There are some interesting things in the nose and on the front end of the palate but it all quickly turns one dimensional. If you like big sherry finishes, you’ll probably like Floodwall, but I wasn’t very keen on it. Floodwall is not recommended.

Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer

Maker: Jackson-Triggs, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada.20180328_195011.jpg

Grapes: Riesling, Gewürztraminer (% unknown).

Place of origin: Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario, Canada.

Vintage: 2014

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for around $10 US (Replacement product currently selling for $14.25 Canadian from the winery)

Appearance: Pale yellow.

Nose: White peach, limestone dust, citrus blossum.

Palate: Dry. Mango, peach, lemon meringue, pink peppercorn.

Finish: Also dry. Meyer lemon, pinch of clove as it fades.

Parting words: There’s not much about the history of Jackson-Triggs kicking around on the internet, but what there is doesn’t seem to be too exciting anyway. The winery was established in 1993 by Messrs. Jackson and Triggs. Jackson-Triggs’ parent company Vincor (also founded by Jackson and Triggs) was purchased by Big International Booze Company Constellation Brands (Mondavi, Corona, Black Velvet, High West) for $1.52 billion Canadian in 2006. With Jackson-Triggs’sibling wineries Sawmill Creek and Inniskillin, Consetellation brands is the largest producer of Canadian wine.

Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer is a crisp, but relatively flavorful white blend. good for summer porch sipping or accompanying roast chicken. This particular wine is no longer sold under this label, but has been rebranded as Crisp and Lively White and is currently selling for $14.25.  Still a fair price. 2014 Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer is recommended.

For my review of the 2011 vintage of J-T’s Vidal Ice Wine, click here.

 

Hawthorne Lemberger, 2013

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape: Lemberger/Blaufränkisch

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

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $35 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Cherry jam, bubble gum, cedar.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Blackberry jam, cherry juice, grows tannic as it hangs around in the mouth.

Finish: Tart, then cheek-filling tannins.

Parting words: Despite my lack of enthusiasm over this increasingly popular grape, I am continuing to drink and review wines made with Lemberger/Blaufränkisch. My thinking is that if I never actually like them, I can at least understand them and appreciate how they should taste.

I expected this wine to be another exercise in “understanding” but to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it! It had the same rustic, tannic character as the other Lembergers I’ve tasted, but this time balanced with acid, which made all the difference. I didn’t even have to chill it. I don’t know if it was the cooler vintage, the terroir, vineyard management, or the skill of the winemaker, but this Lemberger transcends its peasant heritage and becomes a sophisticated, balanced wine even Blau-skeptics like me can enjoy. Hawthorne Vineyards’ 2013 Lemberger is recommended!

Red Bush

Maker: Old Bushmills Distillery, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, UK (Cuervo)20180308_162407.jpg

Age: NAS

Style: Bourbon barrel aged, triple distilled Irish blend.

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium-light copper.

Nose: Blackberry jam, grape juice, Cognac, bubble gum.

Palate: Full-bodied and mellow. Grape soda, oak, sweet bourbon.

Finish: Fruity and long with a little burn.

Mixed: Did well with coffee and with classic cocktails with sweet vermouth. Clashed with dry vermouth and similar mixers.

Parting words: Red Bush is intended to be a gateway Irish whiskey for bourbon drinkers. Unlike the standard “white bush” expression and the more expensive Black Bush that both use a mix of bourbon and sherry casks, Red Bush is made using first (re)fill bourbon barrels exclusively. That gives it a fruity sweetness that makes it an easy drinker and mixer for American palates that aren’t accoustomed to sherry flavors.

Along with stablemate Black Bush and Scotch blend Highland Queen, Red Bush’s name lends itself to cheap, vulgar puns. I’m not the sort of person to engage in such things, but I will say that Red Bush is a fun change of pace for St. Patrick’s day with a good mouthfeel and pleasant aroma. Red Bush is recommended.