Tom’s Foolery Bonded Bourbon

Maker: Tom’s Foolery, Chagrin Falls, Ohio, USA

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Distilled 2012, barrel 99

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Purchased for $42 (forgotten Toledo liquor store)

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Spiced caramel corn, sawdust.

Palate: Sweet, full-bodied. Cinnamon, habanero chilies.

Finish: Hot and sharp. Woody.

Mixed: Very good in an Old Fashioned. The sharp wood pokes through the vermouth in a Manhattan and even the amaro in a Boulevardier. I didn’t try it with cola or ginger ale.

Parting words: I reviewed Tom’s Foolery’s apple brandy early in the history of the blog and I looked forward to trying their bourbon some sweet day. Now, that day is here.

When I first tried this bourbon, I really didn’t like it. It had the classic splinter-up-the-nose micro-distilled bourbon aroma. Not as bad as Hudson Baby Bourbon, but present. This sharpness serves well in cocktails with sweet or strongly flavored mixers.

20180818_230039.jpg
The bonded tasting line up.

To get a better handle on this whiskey, I included it in a casual BiB bourbon tasting with friends. The tasting also included Old Bardstown, Early Times, Old Grand-dad, Heaven Hill white label and Very Old Barton in a cameo at the end. Tom’s Foolery stood out in this line up. I still wasn’t sure but everybody else really enjoyed it.

Maybe it’s peer pressure, but Tom’s Foolery is growing on me. I doubt it will ever be a favorite, but it’s not as bad as I feared it would be. At $44, it was the most expensive in the tasting, but factoring in micro-distillery inflation, it’s not too bad. It is 4 y/o and bonded, which is more than you can say about most micro bourbons in this price rant. I guess Tom’s Foolery Bonded Bourbon is recommended.

 

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Kirkland Blended Scotch

Maker: Alexander Murray & Co, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK20181109_201041.jpg

Distillers: Unknown

Age: NAS (at 3 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $23/1.75 liter (~$10/750 ml; only available at Costco)

Appearance: Medium copper (caramel color likely added)

Nose: Vanilla custard, lemon zest, butterscotch.

Palate: Full-bodied, mild and dry. Toffee, oak, alcohol, touch of smoke.

Finish: Alcohol, butterscotch, oak.

Parting words: Costco sources its basic blended Scotch from Alexander Murray & Co, an independent bottler out of Aberdeen. There’s nothing earth-shattering about this blend. It has two things going for it: it’s pretty good and it’s very cheap. I like it best in hot toddies (great for sipping out of a travel mug while the kids trick-or-treat) but it does well in other cocktails, with soda or neat in a tumbler. Kirkland Blended Scotch is recommended.

 

Fenn Valley Merlot Reserve, 2013

Maker: Fenn Valley Vineyards, Fennville, Michigan, USA20181107_112736.jpg

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Fenn Valley estate, Fennville AVA, Lake Michigan Shore, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $22 (winery)

Appearance: Dark reddish-purple.

Nose: Blackberry pie, clove, oak.

Palate: Medium-bodied and mostly dry. Baking spice, blackberry, mulberry.

Finish: Crushed blackberry, toasted oak.

Parting words: Fennville is Michigan’s only sub-appellation. It’s as old or older (sources conflict) than its parent AVA Lake Michigan Shore. It’s essentially a one winery appellation. That winery is Fenn Valley. It’s to the north and west of the big wineries in LMS, so it doesn’t get the same traffic as the others, but it’s very much worth a trip up the road to Fennville or to the tasting room in Saugatuck. Those are the only place one can reliably find Fennville wines. Judging by this one, it’s a prime spot.

This wine is a classic cool-climate Merlot. It has the chewy fruit one expects from Merlot, but with that cool climate (and cool vintage) tang that brings it all together and makes it a perfect match with pork chops, roast duck or sirloin steak. At $22, it’s worth every dollar and more. 2013 Fenn Valley Merlot Reserve is highly recommended.

 

KELT VSOP

Maker: Kelt, Nogaro, Gers, France20181024_213226.jpg

Grape: Ugni Blanc

Region: Grande Champagne Cognac (not specified on the label of the 50 ml bottle I sampled from)

Age: At least 4 1/2 y/o (VSOP)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $71.47

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Oak, Saltwater taffy, golden raisins, Crème brûlée topped with mixed berries.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Caramel apple, burn.

Finish: Complex and long-lasting. Menthol cough drops fellowed by oak, followed by raisins.

Parting words: KELT is what we would call an NDP (Non-distiller producer) product in the bourbon world, but what they call a négociant in Cognac. Monsieur Kelt buys spirit and ages it, in this case on a boat. Like Jefferson’s Ocean bourbon, it’s a silly gimmick, but the end result is pretty good.

This is a solid product all around but the finish is what was most striking. I don’t think I’ve ever had a spirit with a finish close to that. I like it, but I could see myself getting sick of it after a while. $71.47 is an odd price and it’s just about as much as I’d be willing to pay for a whole bottle. Luckily, smaller sizes are available in Michigan and elsewhere, so you can make an informed decision. KELT VSOP is recommended.

Find Wild Fruit Traminette

Maker: Nathaniel Rose, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA20181023_182657.jpg

Grape: Traminette

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013 (harvested October 6)

ABV: 20%

Purchased for $18 (Winery, received media discount)

Appearance: Pale lemon.

Nose: Funk, lychee, fresh Bartlett pear.

Palate: Full-bodied and dry. Limestone dust, bitter apple, pinch of ginger, cardamom.

Finish: Lychee. Fades fairly quickly.

Parting words: It would be weird to call this an Alsace-style Traminette, since Traminette is a hybrid, but that’s kind of what this is. Gewurztraminer is one of parents of Traminette, so it’s not really too much of a stretch. It has the body, funk and dryness one expects from Alsatian Gewurz. I was taken aback by those characteristics when I first opened the bottle but they grew on me quickly.

This wine comes from a batch of “wild fruit” Nathaniel was able to obtain and bottle. Its label is obviously inspired by the greatest educational DOS game of all time (sorry Number Munchers), Oregon Trail. Nathaniel always thought that finding wild fruit was the most interesting thing that happened on that game, so when he came accross some Traminette, he thought this label would be the perfect tribute to one of his favorite gaming moments.

This is a great wine from a great winemaker at a fair price. Find Wild Fruit Traminette is highly recommended. For more on Nathaniel’s operation see my visit to him here.

 

Round Barn Merlot, 2013

Maker: Round Barn Winery, Baroda, Michigan, USA20181002_174123.jpg

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for $33 (with press discount) at winery.

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Cherry juice, smoked Memphis-style pork ribs.

Palate: Medium bodied and a little chewy. Fruit of the forest pie, vanilla, clove, aniseed.

Finish: A little sweetness and tannin in the cheeks.

Notes: Received complementary tour, free tasting and press discount at time of purchase. Grapes harvested October 21, 2013 at 20.5 brix. In French oak for 20 months.

Parting words: Merlot isn’t a grape that is very closely associated with Michigan but it does pretty well here, especially (but not exclusively) in the LMS AVA. It is often used in red blends where it serves to balance out the bold, savory flavors of the widely grown Cabernet Franc, which I suspect may be rounding out the blend here.

Vintners will tell you that 2013 was a tough vintage in Michigan, mostly on account of it being a cool one, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of very good wine made. Wines of 2013 in just took a little longer to mature than their 2012 (or 2016) compatriots. As a result, the 2013 Bordeaux variety reds are hitting their stride now, so dig into your cellar and drink up now!

This wine has the cherry and berry flavors one expects from Merlot, but with a touch of pork (yes, I know that sounds like a Pigs in Space porn parody) and spice with judicious use of oak. The price is too high, but not so high that I feel like I need to wag my finger at the folks in the Barn by only giving this a mild recommendation. 2013 Round Barn Merlot is recommended.

Head to head: Maraska Šljivovica vs Spirit of Plum.

SL= Maraska Šljivovica, SP= Spirit of Plum20180910_120626.jpg

Makers

SL: Maraska, Zadar, Dalmatia, Croatia.

SP: Black Star Farms, Suttons Bay/Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Style

SL: Slivovitz (traditional Damson plum brandy)

SP: Damson plum eau de vie “made in the traditional style”

ABV: 40%

Price

SL: $26 Michigan state minimum

SP: $27.50 (website)

Appearance: Clear

Nose

SL: Varnish, plum pits, oak.

SP: Underripe plum, varnished wood.

Palate

SL: Full-bodied and sweet. A little fruit then all burn.

SP: Light-bodied. Fruit then a little burn.

Finish

SL: Mild and sweet.

SP: Fruitier but less sweet. Long.

Parting words: The Maraska distillery is located in Zadar on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. It’s the oldest continually occupied city in Croatia, first mentioned on a Greek instription in 384 BCE, but is likely much older than that. It was refounded as a Roman colony in 48 BCE. I had trouble following the timeline on the Maraska website, but it seems that Maraska was founded in the 18th century by an Italian businessman (it was under Austrian rule at the time). Maraska produces a wide range of liqueurs including its flagship maraschino. Its Slivovitz is widely distributed in the US, or at least is in the US. It is certified Kosher.

Black Star Farms is no stranger to readers of this blog. Their spirits line includes an eau de vie of just about every fruit anybody distills. Their website invokes Slivovitz in the blurb on Spirit of Plum, but its unclear if they use ground up pits in the production of the spirit like slivovitz manufacturers do.

I didn’t do a lot of digging into the world of Slivovitz before I chose Maraska for this exercise. I just found one that was relatively cheap. Maraska is what it is. It doesn’t have much going on except sweetness and burn. What plum character exists is subtle.

Spirit of Plum is elegant and has much more fruit character. It works best as a pleasant, slightly rustic, summertime digestif. Although it’s nearly twice the price per ml, I’d rather have 375 ml of Spirit of Plum than 750 ml of Maraska Šljivovica. Spirit of Plum is recommended. Maraska Šljivovica is not.

 

Good Harbor Rosé, 2016

Maker: Good Harbor Vineyards, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA20180910_114821.jpg

Grape: 100% Marechal Foch

Place of origin: Good Harbor estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 11.7%

Purchased for $16 (winery)

Appearance: Very dark for a rosé. More light ruby Burgundy than pale Provançal pink.

Nose: Grape jelly, crushed mulberry.

Palate: Cherry soda, allspice.

Finish: Sweet and fruity.

Parting words: This is a simple but very tasty wine. It’s very fruity but not overly sweet. Goes down easy with food or on its own. I haven’t had a lot of Foch, but I think maybe the world needs to see more of it, at least in pink.

2016 Good Harbor Rosé is recommended.

Manoir de Montreuil Cambremer Pays d’Auge Cidre

Maker: Domaine Manoir de Montreuil, Montreuil-en-Auge, Calvados, Normandy, France (Giard family)20180909_174314.jpg

Apples: Various heirloom French cider varieties.

Place of origin: Domaine Manoir de Montreuil, Pays d’Auge, Calvados, Normandy, France.

ABV: 4.5%

Purchased for $13/750 ml (Westborn Market, Berkley, Michigan)

Appearance: Golden orange.

Nose: Sourdough starter, sawdust, dried apricots.

Palate: Fizzy and sweet. Caramel apple with peanuts, smoked pork shoulder.

Finish: Mild but meaty. Apple wood smoked pork.

Parting words: The Giard family has owned the Manoir de Montreuil estate since the eighteenth century. Like many apple growers in Calvados, the Giards produce cider and brandy from their estate, both under the Pays d’Auge appellation.

As far as I can tell, the brandy is not available in the US, except for in California where it sells in the $40-$45 range, which seems like a bargain for estate Calvados. One of the estate’s claims to fame is its large herd of free-range cattle which are allowed to roam the orchard and fertilize the soil the old-fashioned way.

I have found some Norman ciders to be overly tannic and funky. While the nose is funk and tannin forward, the palate is surprisingly fruity and even meaty on the back-end. While the orchards may be home to a lot of beef, the finish is porky. It’s like quality pork chops smoked over fruit wood.

It pairs very well with food of all kinds and is a great value at $13. Be careful, though! When I started to untwist the wire cage, the cork shot out, leaving a foamy mess all over my dining room floor.

Manoir de Montreuil Cambremer Pays d’Auge Cidre is recommended.

R & R Reserve

Distillery: Unknown. (Hiram Walker? Brand owned and bottled by Sazerac).20180907_191155.jpg

Style: Canadian blend.

Age: NAS (at least 3 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $10

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Alcohol, rye toast, grilled sweet corn.

Palate: Full-bodied and round. Creamed corn, burn, a touch of oak.

Finish: Burn, Red Pop, tiny touch of oak.

Mixed: Did well with Ginger ale, on the rocks and in an Old Fashioned.

Parting words: When I was writing this review, I went back to look at my notes on Rich & Rare to compare the two. What I noticed was that I forgot to write the tasting notes and only had the basic information and parting words. I dug into the depths of my tasting notebook and found my R & R notes and I have now updated that post.

Ahem. So, how does it compare? R & R was heavy on the dessert notes, especially vanilla and butterscotch. R & R Reserve is more balanced and has much more rye character and fruit than its cheaper sibling. R & R R is better suited to sipping than R & R, but R & R R mixes just as well or maybe even better. So while R & R is a good value, it’s worth your while to lay down an extra $2.50 for the Reserve.

The bottle is very pretty too, for what it’s worth. R & R Reserve is recommended.