Review: Faoch Heather Ale

Maker: Williams Bros. Brewing, Alloa, Scotland

ABV: 5%

Fun Fact: I was friends with a girl named Heather Beers in college.

Cloudy gold

Faint, but some malt, and fresh floral (I’m assuming heather) notes

On the palate
Nice full body, silky sweet with a good bit of bitterness, maybe some floral notes.

The finish is where the heather comes to the fore. It’s long and vibrant but fades very quickly at the end.

Parting words
This ale is less than I expected, actually. I’m not sure if the tradition of heather ales really does go back 4,000+ years like the label says, but I hope it was more interesting back in the Bronze Age. It’s not bad really. But I found myself having to search for the heather flavors to the point where I am not actually certain that I tasted them. It does have some good bitterness and a lot of body. Not a bad pour if you’re curious, but not necessarily worth seeking out.

Review: Belhaven Scottish Ale

(tasted with fried, leftover haggis.  No, seriously)

Maker: Belhaven, Dunbar, Scotland

ABV: 5.2%

Color: Auburn

Nose: Malty, a bit sour

On the palate: Nice, thick, heavy mouthfeel.  Rich, toasty malt, lightly sweet, with a bit of a sour note.

Finish: Lingering maltiness, the sour note migrates to the cheeks and hangs about for a long time.

Parting words

Pairs very nicely with haggis.  The toasted malt of the ale is a great counterpoint to the gamey, livery flavor of the offal.  The sour note is not quite to the level where I would call it a fault, but enough to make me wonder if it is not supposed to be there.  Perhaps it was a result of the long trip to Michigan.  Nevertheless, Belhaven is a fine, rich, enjoyable ale.

Review: Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Maker: Laphroaig, Port Ellen, Scotland (Beam Global, Deerfield, Illinois)

Age: NAS (partially aged in a smaller “quarter cask” rather than the standard 53 gallon model in supposed imitation of 19th century whisky)

ABV: 48%

Color: Light amber, dark straw, like a slightly over-the-hill chardonnay

Nose: alcohol, fall bonfires, peat, smoke, saltwater, wildflower honey

On the Palate: With a little bit of water, this really opens up.  The big smoke is still there, but there is a floral, honeyed sweetness lurking beneath.  There is a bit of a beauty and the beast thing going on here.

Finish: Pure Islay delight.  Long, tingly, smokey, peaty bliss.  This is a Scotch that knows what it wants to be and makes no apologies.  Burn, followed by smoke, followed by peat, followed by tobacco.

Parting Words: When I wrote these notes a few months ago, this was the first Islay Scotch I had ever purchased.  I’ve had several others since then, but Quarter Cask holds its own with all of them.  For some reason, there’s always something special about your first love.  Especially a smoky beauty like this one.

Review: Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water

Maker: Fever-Tree

Tasted: neat and w/a combo of two world-wide middle-shelf gins with a wedge of lemon

Neat: Delicate, sweet aroma, in the mouth a lot of sweetness, a touch of citrus, some quinine, fading to a bitter, but still very sweet finish.

In G & T: The sweetness comes through but is mitigated by the gin and melting ice.  A nice bit of bitterness comes out in the finish, but this tonic is still one-dimensional.

Parting words

Frankly, I don’t know if I could tell the difference between this and, say, Schweppes’s or Canada Dry.  I have no beef with those two brands but I don’t think it’s worth paying a premium  price for a boutique tonic water like Fever Tree if I can get something that tastes the same for a fraction of the price at my local grocery store.  As you might have guessed by now, this tonic water is not recommended.

Review: Elijah Craig 18, Single Barrel (Binny’s select)

Age: 18 (+)

                Barreled: 4/2/1991

                Barrel: 2932

Proof: 90

Distillery: Heaven Hill, Bardstown, KY

Color: dark copper

Nose: Pecans, oak, bit of sweetness

On the palate: dry, light, then sweet, then a long, lingering, luscious, with walnutty wood.

Finish:  dry oak, but balanced with a soft, sophisticated sweetness.

Parting Words

This is an upper shelf bourbon that I never really cared for before this bottle.  The other ones I had were much too dry and woody.  Why is this one so much better?  Maybe it’s my palate changing, the actual age of the barrels going into these releases (according to a second-hand source, the earliest bottles of Elijah Craig 18 were actually from barrels that were 21 years old), or more likely, Brett and the other whiskey wizards at Binny’s know how to pick ‘em!  It’s well under $50 too, a great bargain for a bourbon this age.  I don’t know how many of these are left, but if you can track one down, get it!

Head to Head How much wood?: Woodchuck Fall Cider vs. Woodchuck Winter Cider

1)      Woodchuck Fall Cider (with added spice)

2)      Woodchuck Winter Cider (flavored with French and American oak)


1)      5%

2)      5%


1)      Dark Amber

2)       Copper


1)      Sweet, pumpkin spice: allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon

2)      Pungent, sourdough bread, effervescent

On the Palate

1)      Fairly heavy mouthfeel.   Very sweet, like pumpkin bread.  Very little apple coming through.

2)      Light apple flavor, dark sweetness, drier than most Woodchuck.  A surprising amount of wood, with a very faint hint of vanilla


1)      Cloying, sweet fairly short.

2)      Still short, but dry and lightly sweet.

Parting words

I really didn’t care too much for the fall Woodchuck.  It was too sweet and too heavily spiced.  The winter edition was much better.  The addition of the wood adds an extra dimension to the latter that makes it very much worth trying.  The fact that wood barrels are not mentioned on the label, only that French and American oak was used, leads me to believe that it was flavored with wood chips, not in barrels.  So what do you say, Woodchuckers?  How about a bourbon barrel Woodchuck sometime in the future?

How ya like them apple (brandies)? Head to Head: Tom’s Foolery vs. Black Star Farms

1)      Tom’s Foolery Applejack

2)      Black Star Farms Spirit of Apple


1)      Tom’s Foolery (Chagrin Falls, Ohio)

2)      Black Star Farms (Sutton’s Bay, Michigan)


1)      80 (40% ABV)

2)      80 (40% ABV)


1)      2 y/o

2)      NAS

Other Info:

1)      Batch 1, bottle 3.  Aged in used bourbon barrels.

2)      Produced at Black Star Farms Old Mission Peninsula facility, Traverse City, Michigan.


1)      Pale gold

2)      Slightly darker, edging closer to copper


1)      Young, raw, buttery, sweet, but with a dry, slightly sour apple note

2)      Rich, spicy, baked apple stuffed with nothing but celery

On the palate

1)      Light mouthfeel, still a bit raw, but creamy and sweet with a bit of cinnamon

2)      Light, maybe a little too light.  The celery flavor is still there, but it is not unpleasant.


1)      Low, slow and voluptuous.  Rich toffee and brown sugar.   Apple crisp comes to mind immediately

2)      The celery gives way to a huge wallop of cassia.  The big hot finish lingers in the cheeks for a long time.

Parting Words

These are pretty different spirits, despite them both being apple brandies (“applejack” is a traditional American name for apple brandy).  The Spirit of Apple is obviously older than Tom’s Foolery, I would guess about twice as old.  The celery scent and flavor in the Spirit of Apple was pretty shocking at first, but it wasn’t really a deal-breaker in the end.  If you can find it, Black Star Farms put out a 10 y/o Apple Brandy last year.  Binny’s had it for $100 a bottle last time I was there.  Hopefully, it’s cheaper at the tasting room in Traverse City.  UPDATE: According to the official Black Star Farms twitterer the 10 y/o Apple Brandy sells for $75 at the tasting room.

Tom’s Foolery, while definitely very young and equally hard to fine, has loads of potential.  Even young, it had a sophistication the Spirit of Apple lacked.  In ten years or less, Tom’s Foolery is going to be an incredible, world-class spirit.  It’s already very close to that.

Now Drinking: Crispin Honey Crisp Natural Hard Cider (Artisanal Reserve Series)

Maker: Crispin Cider Co. (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

ABV: 6.5%

Despite the name, this is not a cider made from the Honey Crisp apple variety, but a dry apple cider made with organic honey.

Color: cloudy lemonade

Nose: Lightly effervescent, slighty yeasty, tangy

On the palate: light, fresh, dry, with a slight crisp apple flavor, and pleasantly bittersweet bite-o-honey which balances out the dryness.

Finish: short but fresh and crisp

Parting words: Eminently refreshing, this is a great summertime cider or mealtime cider (think Sauv Blanc), that, obviously still does the job in the winter.  It pays to read the label on these bottles, though.  I managed to follow instructions with regard to serving it over ice (counterintuitive, but it works) but I forgot to give the bottle a swirl to disperse the sediment, as recommended.  So my second glass was cloudier and yeastier but it speaks well to the quality of the beverage that it still tasted great.  Very well done and a pleasant change of pace from the very dry blue label Crispin ciders (not that they aren’t good too).

Review: Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy, bottled-in-bond

Maker: Laird’s (Scobeyville, New Jersey/North Garden, Virginia)

Age:  NAS (4 y/o)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV, all spirits labeled “Bottled in Bond” are 100 proof, among other requirements, see b3 here)

Color: Bright copper

Nose: caramel, a bit of spice, sour apple, alcohol

Palate:  Sweet, creamy caramel apple on entry, then hot.  With a splash of filtered water, sweet apple pie and sour apple Now-n-Laters come to the fore, with a surprising hit of wood at the end.

Finish: hot, dry, finishing up with a big, dry tingle.  With the water, the heat abates.  There is some wood carryover, but, as on the palate, the sweetness predominates, with sweet apple (gala or honeycrisp) lingering on the tongue for a long time.

Parting words: When it comes to American Apple Brandies, for me, Laird’s BiB (Bottled-in-Bond) is the benchmark.   In addition to being delicious, it’s a classic American spirit.  In Henry J. Crowgey’s Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking, almost half the pages in the book contain references to the distillation of fruit brandies, especially peach and apple.  In a world filled with syrupy, fruity nonsense (and not just on the liquor shelves) or overpriced, overwrought “collector’s bottlings”, Laird’s bottled-in-bond is a charming sip of Americana.  And really, really yummy too.