Belly Up Bourbon

Maker: Motor City Gas, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA20190111_164605.jpg

Style: Bourbon finished in rum barrels

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Price: I forgot (only available at distillery).

Mixed: Due to limited time frame, I only tried a couple. Very good in a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned.

Appearance: Medium-light copper.

Nose: Toasted hazelnuts, caramel, new leather.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Grade A maple syrup, vanilla cream soda, cinnamon.

Finish: Hot and a little syrupy, fading into oak.

Parting words: Motor City Gas is a bar/distillery on the eastern edge of downtown Royal Oak, Michigan. Most other Bar/Distillery combos focus on using their stable of spirits in cocktails, but at MCG the emphasis is on the whiskeys themselves, of which there are a bewildering amount. When I was there, they had seventeen different whiskeys and whiskey-based liqueurs on the menu, including bourbon, rye, corn whiskey, malt whiskey, oat whiskey and ginger and hickory nut liqueurs. Most of the whiskeys were finished or infused with rum, apple cider, hops, apple pie, and stout barrels making an appearance. There were a couple peated whiskeys too, with a peated malt and a peated bourbon (review coming soon) on the menu.

At the time I bought this bottle, I didn’t realize this bourbon was finished in a rum barrel ( I may have been a tad tipsy at time of purchase), until I sat down to write this review. If I hadn’t know that I probably wouldn’t have guessed. The rum barrel brings a sweet, slightly syrupy, vanilla taste that works very well in classic cocktails. I don’t remember the price but a full bottle is pretty expensive. The 375 ml bottles cost the same per ml but as I’ve said before, it’s better to pour out half of a $30 bottle than three quarters of a $60 one. Belly Up Bourbon is recommended.

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No labels: The federal shutdown and selling booze.

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John J. Manfreda, TTB administrator since 2005

As I write this, the US federal government has been partially shut down for about twenty days, due to an impasse over President Trump’s desire to build a wall on the southern border.

One of the agencies affected by the shutdown is the Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), the division of the Department of the Treasury charged with regulating and taxing alcohol, tobacco and firearms. The TTB was created in 2003 when the old bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was split in two. The law enforcement functions of the agency were moved to the Department of Justice and retained the ATF name. The tax and regulation functions stayed within Treasury and were re-christened the TTB.

If you’re interested in my personal take on the politics of the shutdown check my Twitter feed and likes. You should be able to piece together my politics from those.

More interesting than my dumb opinions is how the federal shutdown, particularly the closure of the TTB, is affecting beverage producers in Michigan and elsewhere. So I reached out to some friends of the blog to ask how the shutdown has impacted their business. Here’s what they said:

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Sean O’Keefe

At this point our biggest concern (besides the unraveling of our civil society) is getting new labels approved by the feds. I’m glad that we don’t have too many new wines that we need to get to market soon.

-Sean O’Keefe, Winemaker, Mari Vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan

I just found out about [the shutdown] yesterday (January 8, 2019). Government shut down, tax collecting part of the TTB not shut down so I still have to do my 5120.17 annual report. So if it does affect me, I am unaware of how.
Nathaniel Rose, owner & winemaker, Nathaniel Rose Wines, Suttons Bay, Michigan (via text).

Only real effect (so far) has been the slow-doon (sorry) of federal label approvals, which I believe is considered a non-essential governmental service. Obviously, if the shutdown continues indefinitely, you will not see the emergence of scores of new wine, beer and spirits labels. (This may in fact be the only real blessing of the shutdown.)

-Randall Grahm, president & winemaker, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, California

Obviously not this one, but from the shutdown that happened while we were getting licensed I can say that the timeline for approval was extended 25%+ *after* things started back up. From memory it was the same for existing companies getting label approval. So even if the shutdown ends tonight I’d expect it would be the end of the month at least before everything was back to normal.

-Corey Bowers, formerly of Tualatin Valley Distillery, Hillsboro, Oregon (via Twitter).

The government shut down actually impacts us quite a bit. Unlike most other distilleries we release new products very often. Since we opened in March of 2015 we have released over 50 whiskies. Most of these required government approval on their labels before we can sell them. When the government shuts down so does review of our new labels. We actually have several labels currently out for review that we’ll need to wait for the shut down to end before we can release those products. We are also in the process of designing our second distillery expansion that will include additional barrel storage and a new still that will increase our production capacity. Depending on how long the shut down goes this could delay our plans as government approvals are required before we can start construction and order our still.

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Lisa Wicker ascending a staircase

-Rich Lockwood, owner, Motor City Gas Distillery, Royal Oak, Michigan

We are fortunate we had our pending approvals finished before the shut down, but I am certainly feeling it for the people in queue. The TTB always slows over the holidays, so if the shutdown ends soon, the catch up for them may be eased. But…if it continues for any length of time, there will be a mess. I know I’ve had product on allocation in the past and waiting on formula and process approvals to have to wait again on labels, a lesson in patience when things are normal so I’m guessing there are producers, let’s say politely, tearing their hair out!
-Lisa Wicker, president & head distiller, Widow Jane Distillery, Brooklyn, New York
So, it seems that the shutdown is not yet a huge issue for winemakers and distillers without new products in the pipeline. The longer it drags on the greater the impact becomes, though, even after things start back up again. Here’s hoping they do soon.
Lisa Wicker photo used with permission.

Chateau Grand Traverse Ltd Ed Pinot Noir, 2016

Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20190108_200128.jpg

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%, looks and tastes like 100%)

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

Vintage: 2016

Note: 5 months in oak

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $13 (Meijer)

Appearance: Translucent ruby, like a good red Burgundy.

Nose: Very ripe strawberry, cherry syrup, crushed mulberry, nutmeg.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Dry but fruity. Strawberry fruit leather, black cherry, raspberry, actual leather, earth.

Finish: Fruity and leathery.

Parting words: Although I think it should be Gamay, Pinot Noir is probably Old Mission’s finest red wine grape right now. Chateau Grand Traverse produces some of the peninsula’s finest, and they should, seeing how long they’ve been at it.

This wine is like a quality vin de bourgogne, or even a village Burgundy at a similar age. There’s not much earthiness, but loads of fruit and cool-climate Pinot character. It should improve and show better integration over the next two or three years too, if stored properly. That said, it’s very tasty now and at a price where one doesn’t feel obliged to let it lounge in the cellar for a long time. I like this wine a lot. 2016 Chateau Grand Traverse Limited Edition Pinot Noir is highly recommended.

Dunkerton’s Dry Organic Cider

Maker: Dunkerton’s, Herefordshire, England, UK20190104_171219.jpg

Apples: Various heirloom varieites.

Style: Dry English cider.

ABV: 6.9%

Purchased for $7/500 ml (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Big head on opening. Persistent bubbles. Slightly hazy.

Nose: Yeasty funk, mulled cider, tannin, lemon zest.

Palate: Dry. Leather, Meyer lemon juice, clove, filtered apple juice.

Finish: Dry and leathery. Lingers faintly in the cheeks.

Parting words: I reviewed Dunkerton’s Perry back in August. I enjoyed it quite a bit. This is even better. It’s a good example of a well-balanced, dry cider. It has big tannins, funk, acid, spice and sweetness, in that order. While the tannins and funk may turn off some casual cider drinkers, I can see Dunkerton’s being a an easy (and easy to find) first step into the world of dry, wild-fermented ciders. I can also see it becoming one of my go-tos. $7 for 6.9% (just under the line for apple wine) is a great price too. Dunkerton’s Dry Organic cider is highly recommended.

The Quiet Man

Maker: Niche Brands, Derry, Northern Ireland, UK (Luxco)20181223_194138.jpg

Distillery: Undisclosed

Style: Blended Irish whiskey

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Price: $30 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Bright gold.

Nose: Malt, bourbon barrel, Riesling.

Palate: More sweet malt, touch of oak, alcohol, apricot, vanilla custard.

Finish: More apricot, custard, burn.

Parting words: There are a lot of sourced, blended Irish whiskeys on the market right now, and like The Quiet Man, most of their producers are in the process of building a distillery. Whether these distilleries will ever be able to fully supply the brands they’re associated with is an open question (see also Lux Row).

As it stands, though, The Quiet Man is a good, entry-level/tumbler blend. The bourbon barrels used for finishing give it warm, dessert flavors and aromas which complement the fruity sweetness of the malt spirit. $30 is a solid price for this solid whiskey. The Quiet Man is recommended.

 

 

Cave Spring Gamay, 2015

Maker: Cave Spring, Jordan, Ontario, Canada20190102_153901.jpg

Grape: Gamay Noir (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Niagara Escarpment VQA, Ontario, Canada

Vintage: 2015

ABV: 13%

Price: $12.50 USD ($17 Canadian, LCBO)

Appearance: Dark burgundy.

Nose: Black pepper, earth, blackberry jam, peony.

Palate: Semi-dry and full-flavored. Reminiscent of Cru Chénas or Cru Juliénas. Earthy but fruity. Blackberry, mushroom.

Finish: Tart with a little spice. Fades pretty quickly.

Parting words: This is the last wine I have left from my last trip to the LCBO a few months ago. It was a part of my effort to give myself a crash course in Gamay. I expected it to be similar to the Gamay produced by Chateau Grand Traverse or Hawthorne on Old Mission Peninsula in Northern Michigan, but it was not like those at all. Cave Spring’s was fruity but “darker” and spicier than I expected. I found that quality off-putting at first, but I grew to enjoy it over the time it was open. That’s where the comparison to Chénas comes in. I remember the first time I tasted one, I was shocked at how unlike it was from any other Beaujolais I had tasted before. I was intrigued, though, and at that moment began planning the crash course.

At any rate, this is a Gamay that one can easily drink with any sort of cuisine and at $12.50 (plus border toll) it’s affordable enough to be in weeknight rotation. 2015 Cave Spring Gamay is recommended.

 

Crispin Pacific Pear

Maker: Crispin, Colfax, California, USA.20181223_193746.jpg

Fruit: Unknown apple and pear varieties.

Style: Pear cider (Pear & apple)

ABV: 4.5%

Price: $11/6 pack of 12 oz bottles (Binny’s)

Appearance: Light gold, moderate carbonation.

Nose: Mild cut Bartlett pear.

Palate: Light-bodied. Dessert pear, semi-dry Riesling.

Finish: Clean, a little sweetness.

Parting words: As I learned from the comments on the last pear cider I reviewed, there is a difference between a pear cider and a true perry. This is the former. It’s a relatively dry and crisp, although no one would ever mistake it for a dry English or Norman cider. Pacific Pear has a good amount of pear flavor but still sticks to the Crispin house which is crisp and easy-drinking. This is a fine entry pear cider or good for pounding back at a summer BBQ. Pacific Pear is recommended.

Old Forester: The Statesman

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20181221_182753.jpg

Age: NAS

Proof: 95 (47.5% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $55

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Peanut brittle, toffee, tarragon.

Palate: Caramel, date, fig, five spice powder.

Finish: Hot and sweet with tarragon.

Parting words: The Statesman was intended to be a limited release to promote the film The Kingsmen: The Golden Circle in 2017. The movie got mixed reviews, but the bourbon was popular so they kept it around.

It’s richer and spicier than the 86 and 100 proof Old Forester expressions and it occupies a place at the top of the price range of the main Old Forester line, ten dollars above Old Forester Single Barrel. It pushes a bit on its $55 price, but it’s full-flavored and good for sipping or high-end mixing with nothing unpleasant at all. It does get a little thin if it hangs around too long in the bottle, but drink it before it gets to that point and it’s not a problem. Old Forester: The Statesman is recommended.

Domaine Barrien Vignoles, 2015

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA

Grape: Vignoles (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2015

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore (Berrien Springs)

Style: Semi-dry

Purchased for $16 from Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak (Sipper Club)

Appearance: Bright gold.

Nose: Honey, camomile, lychee.

Palate: Semi-dry and medium bodied. Peach nectar (without the sweetness), mineral water, woodruff.

Finish: Strong lychee, drying.

Parting words: Vignoles is one of what I have dubbed on Twitter the “noble hybrids”, hybrid wine grape varieties that are capable of being good even when bottled as a varietal. The others on my list are Traminette, Chardonel, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin and Baco Noir.

Vignoles is often made in a sweet style but also does well in dry and off-dry styles, as in this wine. It’s not complex, but is very pleasant with food or for Saturday afternoon sipping any time of year. 2015 Domaine Berrien Vignoles is recommended.

Big Peat

Maker: Douglas Laing, Glasgow, Scotland, UK20181128_194107.jpg

Distilleries: Caol Ila, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Port Ellen, Islay, Argyll & Bute, Scotland, UK

Region: Islay.

Style: Blended Malt

Note: No color or chill-filtering.

ABV: 46%

Michigan state minimum: $70 ($60 at Binny’s)

Appearance: Pale straw.

Nose: Anti-septic, peat, vanilla, tar.

Palate: Full-bodied and creamy. Peat, creme brulee, smoke, leather, alcohol, lemon juice.

Finish: Big smoke, fading into amaretto.

Parting words: Big Peat was Laing’s breakthrough blended malt and it remains the blender’s flagship. There’s even an annual Big Peat Christmas edition at 53%. It’s even harder to find than the regular Peat!

If ever a name summed up the taste of a whisky, it’s Big Peat. Peat is the dominant aroma and taste by a long shot but judicious blending has resulted in strong supporting roles from smoke, lemon and cream. It’s probably worth $70, but it tastes even better at $60. Big Peat is recommended.