Eagle Rare Single Barrel, Rural Inn Selection

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)20171205_161353.jpg

Style: High corn bourbon.

Age: Around 11 y/o (per store owner)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum (for standard ERSB): $31

Thanks to Marshall for the gift of a 375 ml bottle!

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Leather shop, charred corn on the cob, blackberry.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Fruitier with less tannin than the nose. Alcohol, cherry, blackberry, vanilla, oak.

Finish: Vanilla custard. Medium length.

Parting words: Rural Inn is a small liquor store and bar east of Downtown Indianapolis at the corner Rural and Michigan. It has been in operation since 1949, but it seems older than that. I was first brought there by friend-of-the-blog Marshall, even though I drove past it frequently in High School, usually en route from my parents’ home in Broad Ripple to the house of a southeast side girlfriend (there were a few).

Owner Ray has a revolving selection of store picks and every one I’ve had has been good. This Eagle Rare is one of the best and most surprising. Fruit is a rare set of notes to find in bourbon, but it does appear from time to time. The fruitiest bourbons I’ve had have been Old Forester and Four Roses single barrel selections. I have tasted cherry in Buffalo Trace products before but it was more cherry cough syrup than fresh fruit (looking at you Charter 101). I’ve never gotten anything fruity in Eagle Rare Single Barrel so this was a very pleasant surprise. I don’t think there is anymore of this selection left (it was purchased in 2016) but be sure to pick up an ER the next time Rural Inn picks one! Eagle Rare Single Barrel, Rural Inn selection is highly recommended.

For a fun head to head tasting featuring a selection from another Indianapolis store, check out this video review from the summer of 2013 filmed at Walloon Lake, Michigan with Liz, Amy, Jennifer and myself.

 

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Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc, 2012 (The Hog’s Back)

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171205_161540.jpg

Grapes: Merlot (75%), Cabernet Franc (25%).

Place of Origin: The Hog’s Back vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

Notes: 230 cases produced, 13 months in French oak.

Purchased for $25 at Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak (another bottle purchased at winery for $30)

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: Crushed sweet cherry, oak smoke, allspice, raspberries.

Palate: Juicy and slightly tart. Cherry juice, nutmeg, red currant, sautéed mushroom.

Finish: Chewy, then sweet, then tart.

Parting words: The Hog’s Back is a ridge in the central part of Old Mission Peninsula, just north of the unincorporated village of Mapleton (home to the Peninsula Grill). The Hog’s Back vineyard is on the western slope of the ridge. It’s one of the few vineyards on Old Mission to specialize in red varietals. It’s planted with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. While Cabernet Franc is common in all parts of Michigan, Merlot is more rare, especially in the north of the state. It evidently thrives on The Hog’s Back or at least it did in 2012.

This wine is wonderful from start to finish. It was one of my favorites when it was on the menu at MBTBRO, even at a relatively young age. Its structure, fruit and acid made it irresistable. It has gotten even better since then, and is probably the best northern Michigan red I’ve had or the best Bordeaux-variety blend at the very least. It tastes just as good with food as it does after dinner. It’s great now but I’m sure it will still be great in another five years. I’ll report back when I open my other bottle. Hopefully there will be a 2016 vintage of this wine or something like it! 2012 Peninsula Cellars Merlot/Cabernet Franc (The Hog’s Back) is highly recommended.

 

 

Brixx Gin

Maker: New Holland Distillery, Holland, Michigan, USA20171205_161207.jpg

Style: Dry gin finished in red wine barrels.

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $30

Appearance: Pinkish orange, like a light rosé.

Nose: Pomegranate seeds, chocolate orange, alcohol, leather.

Palate: Full bodied. Chili spiced wine.

Finish: Lemonheads, pine cleaner.

Mixed: Added a fruity note to most of the classic cocktails I tried, but does ok with tonic too. Not great in a dry martini, though.

Parting words: I had several questions about the gin and I sent the fine folks at New Holland a message with those questions a few months ago and they never responded, as usual. As a result, I have no idea what variety of wine the barrels held or if they were sourced from a Michigan winery or somewhere else. It would be cool if they were from Michigan, though.

This will probably be the last New Holland spirit I review because I’m sick of reviewing their stuff and not having my existance acknowledged even in the most basic ways. That said, Brixx is pretty good and the price isn’t awful for a barrel finished craft gin. Brixx is recommended.

 

Seventh Hill Farm Riesling, 2013

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171205_175835.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85% by law)

Place of origin: Seventh Hill Farm vineyard, Old Mission Penninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 11.4%

Purchsed for $20 at Holiday Market

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Lychee,  minerals, dried apricot,

Palate: Mineral water, mandarin oranges, lemon thyme, underripe peach.

Finish: Peachy and mineral-y.

Parting words: I’ve said before that I think Left Foot Charley is the best winemaker in Michigan. Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is more evidence to support that claim. 2013 was a difficult vintage for many growers in the state, but one that ultimately produced many wonderful whites (and some good reds too!) According to the label, this wine was fermented for a relatively long time to soften the edgy nature of the vintage. What has emerged is a sophisticated, complex (but not busy) semi-dry Riesling that offers up everything you’re looking for: minerals, herbs, fruit and acid in perfect harmony. This wine is like that extremely chill friend who is at his or her best just lounging in the backyard with you some summer afternoon and talking or even not talking. No awkward silences at Seven Hill Farm.

Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is drinking great right now but would probably hold up for at least another year or two. It goes very well with food (we drank it with grilled porkchops) and is a fair price. There still lots of 2013s hanging around (it’s still available on the LFC website) so buy some if you see them! I’m not sure if there’s going to be a 2016, but if there is, it’s sure to be great too. 2013 Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is highly recommended.

Chateau Aeronautioque Syrah, 2013

Maker: Chateau Aeronautique, Jackson, Michigan, USA20171122_200800.jpg

Grape: Syrah/Shiraz (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

ABV: 14.8%

Price: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room Sipper Club)

Appearance: Deep burgundy.

Nose: Black currant, plum, cedar, white pepper, coriander seed.

Palate: Medium-bodied and medium dry. Fruit of the Forest pie, button mushrooms, clove.

Finish: Tart and oaky, then earthy.

Parting words: Chateau Aeronautique is a part of the cluster of wineries located in and around Jackson, Michigan. Owner/winemaker Lorenzo Lizarralde is known for bold reds and this Syrah is Lorenzo at his best. This wine is bold but never belligerent. The big, spicy flavors are balanced with fruit and earthiness to make for a very food-friendly, enjoyable wine that’s good to drink right now. Good to visit right now is Chateau Aeronautique’s brand new Irish Hills tasting room in Onsted, Michigan on Pentecost Highway between Sand and Evans lakes, south of US 12! 2013 Chateau Aeronautique Syrah is recommended.

 

Isastegi Sagardo Naturala

Maker: Isastegi, Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, Spain.20171122_111432.jpg

Region: Gipuzkoa (Basque country), Spain.

Style: Dry natural apple cider blended in oak casks.

ABV: 6%

Purched for $5/375 ml (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Bright gold, but very cloudy. Yeasty sediment in the bottom of the bottle.

Nose: Crushed crabapple, lemon juice, mild funk.

Palate: Medium-bodied and dry with a little effervescence. Dry baking apple, bitter wood, vinegar shrub.

Finish: Tart, then dry and chewy.

Parting words: This is the first Spanish cider I’ve reviewed and it might be the first Spanish cider I’ve tasted ever. It had a dry funk similar to typical Norman ciders, but balanced with tartness and that weird but pleasant vinegar note. Isastegi is the only Spanish cider I’ve seen on shelves in Michigan. It’s released once a year in March, but barring some explosion in popularity, it should be just as easy/hard to find year round. If you see Isastegi, buy it! Maybe that will lead to more sidura on the shelves. Isastegi Sagardo Naturala is recommended.

Brenne Estate Cask

Maker: Unnamed “third generation distiller” who grows barley on her or his farm in 20171122_111255.jpgCognac.

Owner: Allison Parc (formerly Patel)

Style: French single malt finished in Cognac barrels.

Age: NAS (marketing materials claim that the average age of a cask is 7 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Light caramel.

Nose: Very fruity. Bubblegum, table grapes, leather.

Palate: Medium-bodied and soft. Grape bubblegum, toasted oak, orange marmalade.

Finish: Grape bubblegum again. A little alcohol.

Mixed: I stuck to bourbon or brandy-based cocktails when mixing Brenne. Its fruity, sweet profile seemed to fit better in those drinks than in traditional Scotch or Irish ones. It added a pleasant, fruity aroma to an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, B(renne?) & B, and to my coffee.

Parting words: European whiskies made outside of Scotland and Ireland are a growing segment of the “world whisky” category. France is one of the leaders in this segment with three brands with wide distribution in the US: Bastille (reviewed here), Amorisk (made in Brittany), and Brenne.

I’ve been reluctant to review Brenne for my blog because the way the whisky was promoted when it was first released made me feel a little icky. It all goes back to those heady days of 2012 when whiskey bloggers still read each others’ posts and #WhiskyFabric (note the extremely important absence of an e) was a thing. One of those active bloggers was a woman named Allison Patel who blogged under the name Whiskey Woman. In the early 2010s, she began blogging and connecting with other bloggers as an enthusiast. In 2012 something remarkable occured. She discovered a whisky, and, lo and behold, she already had an import/export company set up to bring it to the US! She would also appreciate it if her fellow bloggers would review it and talk about it! That whisky was Brenne.

There’s nothing illegal about that as far as I know and as Melle Mel would say “you gotta have a con in this land of milk and honey” but the whole thing made me feel crummy. Parc and I were never close, but it gave me that same feeling you get when old friends invite you over for dinner but all they want to do is sell you Amway. It seemed like the connections made to the enthusiast community were for the purpose of promoting her product not for the sake of being a part of the community itself.

Producers and retailers do this all the time but what made the Whisky Woman case different was the appearance of independence. She has stated a few times that Whisky Woman is a labor of love and not intended to promote any of her companies or products but I have never been able to find any explicit statement on the blog of what Parc’s companies are or what brands they handle besides Brenne. In interviews, Parc has mentioned some of the distillers her company has worked with, like Kings County and Balcones. She has posted about both those distilleries but never (that I could find) explicitly disclosed her relationship with them. There are vague statements at the end of a few posts like “I’m lucky to be able to work with such great people as X”. but nothing like “My company exports this brand to Europe.” Whisky Woman is still semi-active. The current About page for it is here.

I asked my followers on Twitter what their views on industry folks posing as bloggers or enthusiasts were and the response was pretty clear.

As for the whisky itself, it’s fine. It has a fresh, fruity flavor that mixes very well and it’s refreshing on the rocks. Parc has talked about how Brenne is meant to reflect the terroir of Cognac. It may be refelected in the distillate, but it’s hard to taste anything other than  the Cognac barrel finish.

The price is the killer. $60 is too high. Bastille 1789 is only $27 in Michigan, and Angel’s Envy, which has a similar, fruity profile, is $10 less (at a slightly higher ABV) in all US markets. Brenne tastes good but it’s not something I’m going to buy again. Brenne is a only  a mild recommendation.

If you don’t care about the price, you should check out Brenne 10, a 10 y/o small batch iteration that goes for around $90.

Bowers Harbor Block II Riesling, 2013

Maker: Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171116_190716.jpg

Grape: Riesling (German clones)

Place of origin: Block II, Bower’s Harbor estate, Old Mission AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Style: Dry

ABV: 12%

Price: $32 (winery)

Note: received complementary media tour in conjunction with 2015 City of Riesling festival (see here).

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Lychee, lemon thyme, dry gravel.

Palate: Medium-bodied and dry. Mineral water, Meyer lemon, fennel, winter savory, clementine.

Finish: Dry and tart. A little pineapple.

Parting words: Block II is a very sandy section of the Bowers Harbor estate, known for its old (by northern Michigan standards) stand of Riesling vines, planted in 1991. Block II is one of three single vineyard Rieslings BHV currently produces. The others are Smokey Hallow (also dry) and Langley Vineyard late harvest.

This is the second review of Block II Riesling I’ve written. I did a review of the 2010 vintage in 2015. It was running out of gas at that point but still good. The 2013 seems to be at its peak or close to it right now. While the 2010 tasted a little tired, this one is vibrant and still full of fruit, with lots of mouth-puckering acid, especially at room temperature. That combo makes for a classically food friendly wine, one that would make for a great addition to the Thanksgiving table.

With some work, you can probably still find a few 2013s kicking around but your better bet is to stock up on 2016s which are sure to be fantastic. The 2016 vintage of Block II Riesling is selling for $26 on the BHV website which is more than fair for a wine of this quality. If you love dry Riesling, stock up now! 2013 Bowers Harbor Block II Riesling is highly recommended.

 

Four Roses Single Barrel, Red Wagon Selection (OESQ)

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA20171117_201130.jpg

Recipe: OESQ (standard rye recipe bourbon, Q yeast strain)

Age: 8 years, 11 months old.

Bottled: March 12, 2016

Proof: 121.6 proof (60.8%)

Michigan state minimum: $62

Appearance: Burnt orange.

Nose: Alcohol, bubblegum, toffee. With water: Sweeter. Leather, grape jelly, wet concrete.

Palate: Sweet. Strawberry hard candy, chew oak. With water: Creamy, Heath bar.

Finish: Hot. Jalapeno. With water: Cooler, but still spicy. Chipotle, oak.

20171117_201026.jpgParting words: Red Wagon is one of the Detroit Metro Area’s best wine and liquor stores. They have two locations, one in Troy (barely) and one in Rochester Hills. The Rochester Hills location is larger but the Troy one is closer and has a well curated selection of wine, spirits, and beer. They’ve been selecting bourbon barrels for a few years now and doing it well for the most part. They had two Four Roses barrels when I purchased this one. I picked the OESQ because of my fond memories of the super-sexy 2009 Four Roses limited edition single barrel (reviewed here).

This is not that. This selection isn’t bad by any stretch but it lacks the sexual chocolate of the 2009 Ltd ed SB. The blisteringly high proof and relative youth factor into this. I would have liked to see how this would have tasted at ten or eleven years old, but maybe Brett and company at Four Roses thought that this barrel had reached its peak or that the proof would continue to rise (or both) and it needed to be bottled right away. It also lacks the distrinctive floral aromas I associate with the Q yeast strain. It tastes just like any other high proof Four Roses bourbon. That’s not a bad thing, though. This Four Roses Single Barrel, Red Wagon Selection is recommended.

 

 

Christian Drouin head to head: VSOP vs XO

Maker: Christian Drouin, Gonneville-le-Theil, Manche, Normandy, France (Drouin family).20171115_142041.jpg

Place of origin: Pays d’Auge AOC, Calvados, Normandy, France.

Age

VSOP: at least four years old

XO: at least six years old

Price

VSOP: $67(Party source)

XO: $80? (From memory. Not listed on the websites of Binny’s, TPS or anywhere else I looked.)

ABV: 40%

Thanks to Amy & Pete for picking the XO up for me!

Appearance

VSOP: Bright orange.

XO: A little darker, burnt orange.

Nose

VSOP: Cut apple, alcohol, leather.

XO: Oak, sweet apple cider.

Palate

VSOP: Full-bodied. Caramel apple (no nuts)

XO: Full-bodied. White chocolate-covered apple.

Finish

VSOP: Fruity and chewy. Pinch of celery leaf.

XO: Bitter oak, a little caramel.

Parting words: Christian Drouin (not to be confused with Joseph Drouhin, the Burgundian négociant) has not been in business very long for the producer of a spirit that’s been around for five hundred years or more. It was founded in 1960 when Rouen industrialist Christian Drouin (the elder) purchased a farm in Gonneville, Manche, near Cherbourg. Since then, the brand has expanded rapidly and is one of the most widely distributed lines of Calvados in the world. It is currently run by Christian Drouin the younger with the elder’s grandchildren also working at the family business. Drouin currently produces (in ascending order of age) an unaged apple/pear eau de vie (Blanche de Normandie), Sélection (reviewed back in April), Réserve, VSOP, XO, Hors d’Age, 25 y/o, and a range of vintage Calvados.

I purchased the VSOP in Indianapolis and when FotBs Pete and Amy stopped off at The Party Source last spring, I asked them to pick up a bottle of the Réserve. The Réserve was not in stock but the XO was, so they picked that one up instead. I was surprised but not disappointed.

Both of these brandies are delicious. If I had to pick one over the other, I would pick the VSOP. It retains more apple aroma and flavor than the XO does and makes a refreshing, but still somplex summertime sip. The XO does retain some spple character but it takes a back seat to the rich, dessert flavors that come with age and use of different types of cooperage, a point of emphasis for Drouin. It is said that as Calvados ages it slowly loses its apple character and moves closer the flavor of aged grape brandies like Cognac. The XO seems to exemplify that phenomenon.

Christian Drouin VSOP and XO are both recommended.