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Round Barn Apple Demi Sec

Region: Lake Michigan Shore AVA

Maker: Round Barn Winery, Baroda, MI

ABV: 12%

Round Barn is a jack-of-all-trades winery.  Located in the heart of the SW Michigan Lake Michigan Shore AVA (American Viticultural Area), they cut their teeth on the white wines and fruit wines that are the lifeblood of the Michigan wine industry.  They have branched out into brewing and distilling, producing (or at least bottling) a vodka made from their own grapes.

The concept of an apple wine still seems odd to me.  Why not drop the prentense and call it a cider?  But after a few drinks, I understand why they call it an apple wine.  First of all, as you may have noticed, the alcohol content is much closer to a wine than a typical cider, which frankly is a little dangerous, I can already tell you.  It is also more acidic than typical ciders and has a delicate dryness that is as close to a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as it is to a glass of Woodpecker, for instance.

Still, the apples are leading the charge.  It is in the lighter, dry style of most British ciders.  The smell reminds me of working my way through grad school in the childcare industry and the hordes of apple juice guzzling children I shepherded through their single digits.  It lacks the robust body of my favorite ciders, but has a lightness that makes a good change of pace on a summer afternoon.

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Four Roses Single Barrel Barrel Strength KSBW

Age: NAS, ca. 9 y/o

Proof: 112.8 (56.4% ABV)

Recipe: OBSO (For a breakdown of the 10 recipes, click here)

Barrel: GE 553C (bottle 1/172)

This whiskey is not available at your friendly neighborhood grab & go.  This is what is called a “private bottling”.  Where the law permits, certain liquor stores, clubs or even individuals will buy an entire barrel of whiskey (or brandy, rum, tequila, etc) and have it bottled for them by the producer.  The producer will usually pour samples of the contents of a few different barrels, then the purchasers will try them and decide which barrel(s) to purchase.  Binny’s Beverage Depot in Chicago is well known for its private bottlings of bourbon, rye and Scotch, for instance.  The Bourbon Society of Louisville, KY is also known for its private bottlings for members.  Two friends of mine even got together and bought a barrel of Four Roses single barrel that is very well regarded and very tasty.  I know because I’ve had some.

Not all distilleries do private bottlings though.  Four Roses, Willet (not really a distiller, but a producer of excellent whiskeys nevertheless) and Buffalo Trace are well known for their private offerings, but Heaven Hill has started doing them with their single barrel whiskeys too, and one will even find a private bottling of Wild Turkey’s Kentucky Spirit on occasion.

At any rate, in 2009, Four Roses decided to release some of their 10 recipes at barrel strengthas private bottlings to select liquor stores across the country.  Binny’s, as usual, got some of the best barrels.  This one, OBSO, is one of the constituent whiskeys in Four Roses Small Batch.

When sipped at barrel strength, it does that magical thing that high proof spirits do.  The moment a drop hits your tongue, it vaporizes.  This trick is amusing the first few times it happens.  After that, you decide you would like to actually taste it, and you decide you don’t want to have heartburn all night.  So you add a splash or two of water.

The whiskey itself is a dark amber, the proverbial copper penny color.  The nose has a lot of caramel, but a sharp edge to it, too, as the barrel char punches through.  Even with a splash of water, it’s still a hot whiskey.  But it’s a mature heat, more Kim Cattrall than Megan Fox.  The caramel is still there and even stronger on the palate.  The char has retreated a bit, but adds depth to the sweetness and keeps this whiskey from becoming one dimensional.  Not the best one of these Binny’s Four Roses bottlings I’ve had, but still worth the price of admission.

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Bloody Caesar Cocktail

Recipe: 2 oz vodka, 6 oz (or so) Clamato juice cocktail, dashes of hot sauce and worchestershire sauce.

Featured: Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Clamato, Lea & Perrin’s, Deathwish Habanero Hot Sauce

To celebrate the completion of my midterm in my class on the Roman Republic, I’ve decided to enjoy a Bloody Caesar.  Because I have a feeling the class is going to end with one.

A bloody caesar is a bloody mary made with Clamato rather than tomato juice.  Clamato is a tomato juice cocktail made with clam juice.  It makes a much thinner, more mild drink than tomato or vegetable juice makes.  So I always find myself putting more worchestershire and hot sauce into a Caesar than I do into a Mary.  Especially this hot sauce which, despite the name, is less than deadly.  I also forgot to add any prepared horseradish.  Still, the clam came through.

At any rate, in my expereince pepper (black or red) or tomato infused vodka seems to work best with Clamato juice.  It gives its mild flavor a good boost.  At any rate, my Bloody Caesar was pretty tasty.  A nice change of pace from the Mary, even if it does lack its richness and bite.

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Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2009 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (KSBW)

Age: 12 y/o

Proof: 97 (48.5% ABV)

Distillery: Early Times, Shively, KY

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, KY

Glass: Old Forester 75th anniversary of Repeal Glencairn Glass

On September 2, 1846 baby George Garvin Brown was born in Mumfordville, KY near Mammoth Cave, just over 70  miles down the Dixie Highway from  Louisville.  That bouncing baby boy grew up to found the Brown-Forman company, which is still doing brisk business in whiskey.  Brown-Forman’s flagship bourbon whiskey (for well over a century) has been Old Forester.  It holds the distiction of being the only pre-prohibition brand of bourbon that is still being made by the same company.  It is also one of the few brands to be made before, during (as a medicinal whiskey available by prescription) and after.  Besides Old Forester, Brown-Forman makes Early Times (soon to be a bourbon in the U.S. again).  In 1952 they purchased a little brand you may have heard of called Jack Daniel’s.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is a limited edition annual release.  Other distilleries do this too, most notably Buffalo Trace and Four Roses.  Like them, the folks at B-F go for a different profile every year.  Some years are certainly better than others, but they’re always interesting.

The 2009 edition is nothing if not interesting.  Some long-time members of Straightbourbon.com notoriously said this whiskey smelled and tasted of plastic baby diapers when they first opened it.  My response was “how do they know what baby diapers taste like?”  At any rate, when I opened it, I did notice an unusual odor.  I could see how it could have been interpreted as the smell of plastic.  It wasn’t really unpleasant, just odd.  That smell lessened the longer the bottle sat.

Now, the nose has moved closer to the conventional Old Forester nose.  It’s like a mincemeat pie.  Dried figs, raisans and dates seasoned with clove, nutmeg, and allspice.  It is fuller-bodied than the standard issue Old Forester.  When swirled (glencairns are especially good for this) it leaves big, sluggish “legs” in the glass.  Legs are those rivulets of whiskey, wine or whatever that are left after the liquid is given a good swirl.  Thick legs are a sign of a good body.

When it enters the mouth, though, things get weird.  The richness of the 2008 edition is there in the 2009, but it is soon overwhelmed by something.  What is it?  I’m not sure I know.  Maybe it’s smoke, or acrid wood, but a taste like you get when you hold a pill in your mouth for too long emerges.  The finish is bitter too.  Bitter chocolate, maybe, but whatever it is, it’s clearly coming from the char inside the barrel in which it was aged.

What do I make of this whiskey?  I don’t know.  Do I like it?  Yes, I think so.  Would I buy it again?  Probably not.  Will I buy the 2010 edition?  Oh yeah.