Parting words: Despite mocking Diageo and lionizing Vijay Mallya on Twitter for years, the fine folks at Diageo graciously sent me a sample of Crown Royal French Oak Cask Finished Canadian Whiskey.
I’m not a great fan of the regular CR or the special deluxe, but I have enjoyed several of the other expressions, like the Blender’s Mash and Northern Harvest Rye. This is another good one. The French oak (sourced from the Vosges) is not overwhelming and mixes with the classic roasted grain flavors of Canadian whisky to produce pleasant potpourri aromas. Unfortunately, like many Canadian whiskies, the palate doesn’t deliver on the promise of the nose. An extra 5% ABV would probably help in that regard. Still, it’s worth the MSRP, though the Michigan price is pushing it. Crown Royal French Oak Cask Finished is recommended.
Place of origin: Magnificent Mile Vineyard, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA
Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)
Purchased for $9 (Costco)
Appearance: Pale gold.
Nose: peach cobbler, roux.
Palate: Peach, citrus, lemon butter, grave.
Finish: Clean and dry. Lemon thyme.
Parting words: This wine was also a part of June 2019’s Twitter Riesling Roundtable. It was the most impressive Riesling from LMS in the tasting. I dodn’t usually go for buttery Riesling but this wine was so perfectly balanced that I didn’t mind the butter. In fact, it worked with the fruit notes to create baked good aromas and flavors. $9 is hard to beat for a wine this good. As I’ve said before, don’t sleep on St. Julian. Tbere’s a lot more to them than Blue Heron. St. Julian Reserve Riesling is highly recommended.
Maker: Bowers Harbor, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.
Place of origin: Block II, Bowers Harbor estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.
Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)
Purchased for $16 (Holiday Market)
Thanks to Holiday Market Wine for ordering this for me.
Appearance: Pale gold.
Nose: Golden apple, orange zest, lemon thyme, peach,
Palate: Full-bodied. Meyer lemon, Valencia orange, mineral water.
Finish: Drying with a little tartness.
Parting words: When I heard that 2017 Block II was going to be a part of a Riesling Roundtable hosted by the Michigan Wine Collective on Twitter on June 24, 2019, I was very excited. Block II is one of my all-time favorite Michigan wines and is the gold standard for dry Riesling in Michigan, in my opinion. I reviewed the 2013 vintage a couple years ago and I’ve been madly in love ever since. I also reviewed the 2010 vintage back in 2015.
The 2017 vintage is already showing itself to be another strong one, if this wine is any indication. I love the freshness and acid here and I can’t wait to see how the other bottle I bought will develop in my cellar. Drink now or cellar for another year or two. 2017 Block II Riesling is highly recommended!
Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)
Style: Mix of standard and high-rye bourbon.
Recipes: OBSV, OBSK, OBSF, OESV, OESK, OESF
Age: 6 y/o (per hang tag)
Proof: 104 (52% ABV)
Price: $58 (The Party Source)
Appearance: Dark copper.
Nose: Underwhelming. Charcoal smoke with lighter fluid, asparagus, canned green beans, toffee.
Palate: Mild. Brach’s caramels, field mint, burn.
Finish: A little amaretto, burn, fiddleheads.
Parting words: I can’t remember the last time I was disappointed with a Four Roses bourbon, but I’m disappointed with this. First, this is an uncharacteristicly unflavorful Four Roses. It’s strong enough in a Glencairn glass, but it gets totally lost in a tumbler with ice in a way that no 104 proof bourbon should. What flavor is there is unpleasant. I blame the F yeast with its weird minty, vegetal character. I’ve never cared for this strain, especially not the OESF which tastes like something Heaven Hill might dump on the bulk market. My favorite Four Roses expressions have featured or at least included the sexy, floral Q yeast. I understand that its a PITA to deal with for the distillers, but nothing says Four Roses to me than that aroma that was such a big part of the 2008 and 2009 Mariage releases and the 2009 Limited Edition Single Barrel.
It breaks my heart to say this, but Four Roses Small Batch Select is not recommended.
Palate: White chocolate apple, vanilla custard, burn.
Finish: Butterscotch hard candy, ginger, kiss of oak.
Parting words: Roger Groult is a family-owned Calvados producer in the Pays d’Auge, in the eastern half of the Calvados AOC. Groult produces a full line of apple brandies that often show up on the shelves of large liquor stores in the US.
I haven’t tried any of the other Groult brandies so I can’t comment on how this one compares to the others, but I did enjoy it. There’s nothing too distictive but there’s also nothing unpleasant. At 8 years I did expect a bit more oak, but I’m not big on oaky apple brandies, so that was fine with me. I just wish that there was a little more depth. $60 isn’t terrible for an age-stated Calvados so Roger Groult 8 year old Calvados is recommended.
Maker: Sidreria Gurutzeta, Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country, Spain
Style: Natural Basque Spanish cider
Purchased for $12/750 ml at Vine & Table in Carmel, Indiana.
Appearance: Very hazy gold.
Nose: Apple cores, dried flowers, apricot, lemon thyme.
Palate: Apricot, Golden Delicious apple, chalk dust, pinch of sweetness.
Finish: Tangy. Siracha burn in the back of the throat as it warms in the glass.
Parting words: This is the second Basque cider (or Sagardoa as they call it) I’ve reviewed. The other one was in November of 2017. It was Isastegi Sagardo Naturala, made in Tolosa about 17 miles (27 km) south of Astigarraga. The two ciders are similar in style but Gurutzeta is more acidic and less funky than Isastegi. Neither have more than a trace of sweetness.
Basque ciders are not what I’d call good entryway ciders for most North American drinkers. While they’re not as dominated by tannin as Norman ciders, they do have much more of it than most English or American ones. and they tend to have high levels of acid and funk with virturally no sweetness. It may sound silly, but for those new to Basque cider I would suggest getting a solid feel for French cider before venturing into Basque Country. It will help you understand this unique tradition better. At any rate, Gurutzeta Original Basque Cider is recommended!
Parting words: CR Blender’s Mash began life as CR Bourbon Mash but Diageo, which never seems to remember that it owns bourbon brands, was forced to change the name due to bourbon’s protected legal status. This decision was right and good, in my not particularly humble opinion. The decision was made after the labels were already printed and affixed to bottles, so if you enjoy collecting things that nobody cares about, try to seek out some of those bottles for your collection.
At any rate, Blender’s Mash is a Canadian blend starring one of CR Deluxe’s constituent whiskies. It has a bourbon-like recipe with 65% corn and 31% rye (malt makes up the rest). The result is a very bourbon-like product. It’s rather mild neat or on the rocks but it mixes surpringly well. It makes great Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. In Coke or in a Boulevardier it gets a little lost, but is still pleasant.
I don’t enjoy the standard Crown Royal or the Special Reserve, but this is enjoyable. It’s more refined and sweeter even if it is underpowered. $20 is $5 less than regular Crown and $25 less than Special Reserve, so this is a good QPR selection if you’re into that sort of thing. Crown Royal Blender’s Reserve is recommended.
Palate: Semi-sweet. Black cherry, raspberry, red currant jelly.
Finish: Blackberry jam, French oak, apple wood smoked pork.
Parting words: I discovered this bottle sitting on a dusty bottom shelf at Holiday Market in Royal Oak. The bottle was on the shelf, that is. I had heard of Boathouse, but never visited there. I wasn’t sure if a Pinot Noir from a small winery would hold up after seven years, but I decided to take a chance. I was pleasantly surprised!
This is a full-flavored and ripe Pinot, similar to some California ones I’ve tasted in the same price range. I prefer a softer, more acidic wine from this grape, but there’s nothing to complain about, really. This is a very food-friendly wine that has held up surpisingly well for being left to languish in obscurity. 2012 Boathouse Pinot Noir is recommended.
Palate: Black walnut, a little peat, some smoke, brown sugar.
Finish: More peat and smoke, oak, a little bite.
Mixed: Very good in strong cocktails like Manhattans or Boulevardiers.
Parting words: This is the second of two bottles I got at Motor City Gas a few months ago. I was very impressed with it at the distillery. It seemed smokier and peatier (?) there too, probably because I tasted it after their rum-finished bourbon. It was still enjoyable at home, though. The peat blends seamlessly into its young, woody character to the point where it’s nearly impossible to disentangle the two. It doesn’t drink like 105.8 proof, either, which is dangerous. It’s at its best in cocktails, though, where it can stand up to just about any mixer, even amaro and black vermouth.
The price is high (even though I can remember what it was), but it’s barrel proof and the best peated bourbon I’ve had, although there aren’t very many to be had. Available only at the distillery on the outskirts of downtown Royal Oak, Michigan. Midnight Oil is recommended.
Note: The tour of Copper & Kings was complimentary for my party and me.
On my last few trips to Kentucky, my crew and I have not done much in the way of activities. When you’ve been going for ten years or so, you’ve done all the tours and seen pretty much all the sites so my inclination is to just kick around town or the hotel and not do a bunch of driving here and there. In other words, we fell into a rut.
This April I decided to do more. I scheduled two day trips for us. The first was to Frankfort (more on that later), and the second was to Louisville. In the latter, I scheduled a tour of the Old Forester Distilling Company (Brown-Forman’s excellent answer to the Evan Williams Experience), a lunch with award-winning bourbon journalist Maggie Kimberl, and then a tour of Copper & Kings distillery.
For the second year in a row I had forgotten that the Louisville Marathon is that Saturday morning and as a result many of the streets downtown are closed off to vehicular traffic. Despite this we managed to sucessfully navigate through the streets of downtown Louisville by car and then by foot to make our way to Old Forester Distilling Co ahead of schedule.
Lunch was a different story. I had neglected to call ahead to our chosen lunch meeting
place and when we met Maggie there, the wait was forty-five minutes. That wouldn’t work, so Maggie told us to all jump into her minivan and she took us to a popular restaurant near Copper & Kings called Butchertown Grocery. Their wait was even longer but they told us to go down the street to a newer, smaller place called Naive. They had seats and good food, drinks, and service.
After that, we bid farewell to Maggie and walked to Copper & Kings. A winding path through repurposed shipping containers (containing a gift shop and restrooms) runs from the front of the property into a courtyard that occupies the space in front of the main building. The space is set up for outdoor events and includes a bar, a firepit and a large tent (in case of rain, I assume). Just about everything is orange.
Our tour group assembled in the large tent (it was raining) and we got a brief opening talk from our tour guide Margaret. She gave us the basics about what brandy is and told us a little about the According to Margaret, before prohibition there were 400 or so brandy distilleries in the US. Very few survived and many of those that did, make sweet, dessert brandies. That is not what Copper & Kings makes. They aim to make brandy for bourbon-drinkers. The distillery began operations in 2009 and opened to the public in 2014.
Margaret then led us through the courtyard into the first floor of the main building by the stills. They had three steam-heated alembic stills at the time, with one on the way, all manufactured by Vendome. The smallest is Sara (50 gallons), followed by Magdalena (750 gal), and Isis (1,000 gal). Their newest still, Rosemary (2,000 gal), had not yet been delivered when we were there. In case you were wondering, all the stills are named after women whose names appear in Bob Dylan songs, mostly in songs from his 1976 album Desire. Rosemary appears on the prior album Blood on the Tracks. I would have gone with Patty Valentine, but what do I know? According to Margaret, the stills are currently run around the clock but vary according to the phase of the moon. Distillation takes shortest during a full moon, longest during a new moon. I know that sounds like baloney, but it’s based on data compiled over the years by former C & K employee Alan Bishop. The difference is not great but it does exist, especially during a “super moon”. Alan is currently master distiller at Spirits of French Lick in French Lick, Indiana.*
No fermentation takes place at the distillery. All the wine, cider or whatever that is destined for the stills is feremnted elsewhere and taken to the distillery. The grapes (Columbard, Muscat Alexander, and Chenin Blanc) are sourced from California and the apples from Michigan. Yeast strains are chosen on a year to year basis.
After looking the stills over, Margaret took us down to the cellar in which brandies were
aging in a bewildering variety of cooperage. The brandy destined for C & K’s core line are aged in ex-bourbon casks originally from Heaven Hill, makers of Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and many more. The rest were aging in ex-sherry, ex-Cognac, mead, beer, wine, cider and many many more. There were even a few barrels of oddball spirits that C & K has acquired over the years, presumably for future releases. The barrels are obtained through Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville.
Copper & Kings practices something they call sonic aging. This has nothing to do with an elderly hedgehog. It’s the practice of placing speakers (20 total including five sub-woofers) in the cellar and cranking the volume up to get the spirit moving and increase the amount of contact between the spirit and the barrel. Appropriately enough, they were playing My Morning Jacket while we were there.
We then moved upstairs to a large, lounge-like
space to sit down and do some sampling. I tried their 5th anniversary brandy, called A Song for You, a high-powered gin and a delicious barrel-finished absinthe. We all tasted each other’s samples as well, and the biggest standout of those was an unusual distillery-only pear brandy. I didn’t end up going home with that but I kind of wish I had.
After the sampling, we all headed to the rooftop bar for a cocktail and a good view of Louisville and the solar panels on the roof. Sustainability is a big concern for Copper & Kings. In addition to the solar panels, they have planted a monarch butterfly garden that doubles as run-off mitigation and offer anyone who rides a bicycle to the distillery 50% off the price of a tour.
The rooftop bar.
Solar panels and the skyline.
That was the end. Our guide Margaret was wonderful, and if I have any complaint, it was that everything was a little too orange. Don’t get me wrong, as a graduate of Broad Ripple High School and Anderson University I have great affection for the color, but it got to be too much. Anyhow, a tour of Copper & Kings is recommended.
I also recommend stopping at Butchertown Market after your tour for some light souvenir and candy shopping. We did and got some good stuff. Check it out!
*Big thanks to Alan for answering my question via FB messenger and to Maggie Kimberl and Steve Beam for connecting me with him!