Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition 2011

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)

Age: 12 y/o

Recipe: OBSQ

Warehouse/Barrel: QN/17-34

Proof: 118.6 (59.3% ABV)

Appearance: auburn with long, clingy legs.

Nose: Like distilled jerk sauce. A lovely balance of spice, heat, and fruity sweetness.

On the palate (with water): The fruit really comes to the fore. Less jerk and more Pickapeppa® now. Wild Blackberry, raspberry, pomegranate juice, sweet red currant. All this with some caramel and a tiny hint of oak, but it’s not missed. Like a baroque concerto grosso. No one element dominates, but each takes its own turn on the tongue, resulting in a sublime balance of disparate elements.

I tasted a 9 y/o Party Source bottling of OBSQ for comparison’s sake. The extra three years in the bottle make a pretty big difference. All the elements are there in the younger bourbon, but the hot spice overwhelms the fruit. More like a Buffalo Wing sauce or a romantic solo concerto.

Finish: Hot, then tannic and slightly sweet. This is by far the oakiest part of the whole experience. But even here the sweetness and fruit provide a refreshing counterpoint to the wood.

Parting Words: Not much else can be said about this amazing whiskey. I loved the 2009 edition but like the younger OBSQ, it was more solo than grosso. The sweet cotton candy and bubblegum flavors overran the other elements. The 2010 was the 100th Anniversary (of the distillery building) edition. It was 17 years old, and was too woody and dry for my taste. The 2011 is on par with the first two releases in the series (2007’s 40th anniversary and 2008’s 120th anniversary). It’s expensive for a bourbon (>$70 for per bottle) but it is worth much more than that. Coming from a cheap bastard like me, that’s high praise. It goes without saying, but this bourbon is one of the best I’ve ever had and is very highly recommended.

Zeppelin Bend Straight Malt Whiskey

Maker: New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USA

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Burnt orange with long sticky legs.

Nose: Prunes, cardamom, ginger, mace, cocoa

On the Palate: Full-bodied and sweet upon first entrance. Heavily spiced mincemeat pie, and then red wine chocolate truffles dusted with Dutch process cocoa powder. Yes those exist.

Finish: Hot, but then a dry chocolaty sweetness that too quickly fades.

Mixed: A highball of Zeppelin Bend and club soda on the rocks is pretty good, even if it does taste a bit like a watered down Choc-Cola. Other classic Scotch cocktails work well, too. A rusty nail has a nice bitter, spicey note that balances out the honey liqueur nicely, and a Rob Roy is quite good, even if it’s not quite sure if it’s a Rob Roy or a Manhattan.

Parting Words: American straight malt whiskey is has not been very popular historically, and as a result has not been made much by American distillers. Like a rye or bourbon, American malt must be aged in new charred oak barrels and must have a mash bill of at least 51% of the grain in question, malted barley. But where Big Whiskey saw no reason to tread, a few micro distillers saw an opportunity. Stranahan’s in Colorado led the way, followed by (among others) Pritchard’s in Tennesee, and New Holland in Holland Michigan. Bourbon and rye still excite me more than any other American whiskeys, but of the American straight malts I’ve tried, Zeppelin Bend is the best. This is another case in which a micro is doing what a micro should be doing: offering interesting spirits that the big boys don’t.

Pelee Island Pinot Noir

Maker: Pelee Island Winery, Kingsville, Ontario, Canada

Grape: Pinot Noir

Region: Pelee Island VQA, Ontario, Canada

Vintage: 2007

ABV: 13%

Appearance: light Burgundy (of course) nice, thick legs

Nose: Black raspberry, black currant, black cherry

On the Palate: light body, raspberry, tart cherry, leather, firewood, blackberry, blueberry

Finish: leather, blackberry jam

Parting words: Two things make Pelee Island’s terroir unique in Canada.  First, Pelee Island, located in Lake Erie, is the southernmost point in Canada (ok, a small island south of Pelee actually is). Its latitude is approximately  42° N, which also passes through Spain, Corsica, Central Italy, and constitutes the border between California and Oregon, all wine country to varying degrees. Second the waters of the lake moderate the climate preventing late frosts in spring and early frosts in winter. Pelee Island’s climate is warm and temperate compared even to other areas of Southern Ontario. The island is also host to a wide variety of rare (for Canada) flora and fauna, many of which make appearances on Pelee Island Winery labels.

Southern Ontario, like its neighbors in upstate New York and Northern Michigan, is not known for its reds. Pinot Noir is grown in Ontario and adjacent areas but is up and down in terms of quality, and often gets chucked into table blends. This wine, however, is an up one.  It is an enjoyable and reasonably complex wine that can stand up to any middle-shelf Pinot on the planet. Recommended.

Four Roses Single Barrel Barrel Strength Head to Head: What a difference a yeast makes!

1)     OBSK (Binny’s, barreled 4/27/99)

2)     OBSF (Binny’s, barreled 7/11/02)

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)

Age: NAS (around 9 y/o)


1)     121.2 (60.6% ABV)

2)     124.2 (62.1% ABV)


1)     Reddish copper

2)     Auburn, with a little char in the bottom.

Nose (with water added)

1)     Caramel, spice, jalapeno

2)     Peppermint candy

On the palate (with water added)

1)     Full-bodied. Caramel, a little clove and peppercorn mélange, then burn.

2)     Even fuller bodied. Big herbal hit of mint on initial entry. Then some oak that gets more prominent as the whiskey lingers in the mouth. Bourbon lovers will know what I mean when I saw that at times I wondered if this wasn’t a Heaven Hill product rather than a Four Roses.


1)     Burn, and a little bit of wood. This hangs around for a long time and as it does, it transforms itself into cotton candy and a little tingle that lingers on the lips like the kiss of a long-distance lover.

2)     In the finish, the mint starts to become unpleasant. It feels like I just got done brushing my teeth. Not that it’s a bad feeling, just way too much mint. It doesn’t linger long though. Much shorter finish than the OBSK.

Parting Words

Yeast is something that doesn’t get a lot of discussion in the world of whiskey. Until recently there wasn’t much opportunity to do a head to head comparison. But over the past few years Fours released all 10 of their individual bourbons (2 mashbills, 5 yeasts) as single barrel barrel strength selections at around nine years old to big retailers like Binny’s in Chicago, Party Source and Cork & Bottle in the Cincinnati area, and Julio’s in Massachusetts. For a breakdown of the 10 recipes and the products that use them, click on friend-of-the-blog Oscar’s post here:

In addition to being really tasty, these releases offered a chance to deconstruct Four Roses and conduct amateur experiments (like this one) on the impact of mash bills and yeast strains on the taste of the finished product. As you can see above, it makes a big difference.

Viewed simply as individual whiskeys, I’d have to give the edge to OBSK but the OBSF is tasty too, especially when vatted with other whiskeys, like Four Roses Small batch or another single barrel barrel strength recipe. Both are recommended, the OBSK highly.

Debonné Vineyards Riesling Reserve

Maker:  Chalet Debonné, Madison, Ohio

Grape: Riesling

Vintage: 2008

Region: Grand River Valley AVA

ABV: 11%

Appearance: Gold with good legs.

Nose: peach, orange blossom

On the palate: medium bodied, sweet and lightly fruity. Easy going, pairs well with a light supper and does fine on its own on a hot humid night.

Finish: Not much in the way of a finish, but pleasant enough. A bit of sweetness then a slow fade.

Parting words: This is a standard Midwestern Riesling. It’s sort of the Kyle Orton of wine. It might not win the game for you, but it won’t lose it for you either. Refreshing and eminently poundable…err…quaffable. Recommended if the price is right.

Knickerbocker Gin

Maker: New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USA

ABV: 42.5%


Appearance: Crystal clear with pearl necklace-ing.

Nose: Sweet, a little rough. Citron, anise, a touch of horehound and eucalyptus, a hint of juniper.

On the palate: Full-bodied, but light in flavor. Water brings out the juniper in a big way. The sweet old-fashioned stick-candy flavors are there too: licorice, horehound and bitter lemon.

Finish: Herbal and floral neat, sweetness and candy with a splash of water.


Tom Collins: Does very well. Adds depth to the drink without overwhelming it.

G & T: Does fine, but doesn’t particularly distinguish itself when mixed with good tonic. Ironically (or not) it seems to stand out more against supermarket brand tonic.

Bitter Lemon: Overwhelmed by the citrus flavors.

Dry Martini (w/Noilly Pratt): Adds a nice sweet note to balance the assertive herbaceousness of the vermouth. Brings a good amount of body too. As I reach The Olive Zone at the bottom of the glass, it stands up to the brine well. Knickerbocker would probably work even better in a perfect (½ dry vermouth, ½ sweet) martini, but unfortunately I didn’t think of that until the bottle was almost gone. I don’t remember this gin doing nearly this well in a martini the last time I bought it. If they tinkered with it in the recent past, they did a good job. Like Corair’s gin, this is a fine, if less ambitious, example of what micro-distillers can do well. Recommended.

Arcturos Cabernet Franc

Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA

Grape: Cabernet Franc

Region: Old Mission AVA, Michigan, USA “Three Block Lot” (three vineyard blend)

Vintage: 2004 (different vintage pictured)

ABV: 12%

Appearance: Deep dark red, nearly black

Nose: Black Currant, plum, cherry, a bit of wood.

On the Palate: Light bodied for such a dark wine. A little sweetness, cherry and other stone fruit, with a touch of wild blackberries and black currants. Delicate, but not a pushover.

Finish: Not much in the finish. A little wood and cherry, and then a slow fade.

Parting Words: This a wonderful, subtle Cab Franc. It does well with food but take some time to sip and contemplate before digging into your meat and potatoes. At 7 y/o, it may be a little past its prime (this may account for its subtlety) but it’s still very good. Cab Franc does very well in Michigan and the Northeastern US. For those who turn up their noses at Eastern reds, this may be an eye-opening wine. Highly recommended.

Four Roses Small Batch

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky (Kirin)

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Golden straw with nice long legs.

Nose: Dry and subtle for a Four Roses product, but some alcohol and rye spice.

On the palate: Medium bodied and sweet. As it lingers flavors come through. A bit of bitter char, a bit of sweetness. A very delicate whiskey. Closer to the standard Four Roses (“yellow label”) than the single barrel.

Finish: Light and sweet with a bit of burn.

Parting words: Goes down easy. Makes for a dry but good Manhattan. 4RSmB brings out some pleasant bitter flavors that do a good job of balancing the sweetness of the vermouth. Small batch does a better job of this than its little brother Four Roses does. Small Batch’s higher proof is better able to stand up to a gutsy red vermouth like Cinzano.

Boffo Brown Ale

Maker: Dark Horse Brewing Co., Marshall, Michigan

Style: Brown Ale

ABV: ???

Appearance: Big pillowy head that takes a while to calm down. The body is chocolate brown.

Nose: Sweet and a little fruity and yeasty.

On the palate: Full-bodied. Nice balance of sweetness and bitterness. Like chocolate chip cookies chased with a shot of espresso. Closer to a porter than to a typical brown ale.

Finish: Roasty bitterness mitigated by some background sweetness.

Parting Words: Dark Horse is a brewery known for its ugly labels, and this one is one of the ugliest I’ve ever seen. It looks like it was drawn by a 6 year-old child with serious psychological problems. What’s inside more than makes up for it, though. This is a well-executed brown ale that goes well with beefy spicy food or on its own. Recommended.

Blanton’s (Kahn’s Select)

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky (brand is owned by Age International, a division of Takara Shuzo Ltd)

Barrel: 86,Rick 7, Warehouse H (Kahn’s select barrel #3).

Age:  NAS. Dumped 2/23/09.

Proof: 93 (46.5% ABV)

Appearance: Dark copper. Long, thick legs, like Khloe Kardashian.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, leather, delicately sweet caramel, a bit of corn syrup.

On the palate: medium bodied, rich caramel, wood, burn, leather

Finish: Burn, cocoa power, burn, wood, burn leather, burn.

Parting words: Along with rickhouse and something else I won’t mention here, leather is one of my favorite smells. For my 17th birthday, I asked for and received a black leather jacket I wore almost every day for the next three years. That said, I rarely taste leather in whiskey. This was the first bottle I ever got leather out of. It bears a family resemblance to Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms, and Ancient Age. The tannins that come out as black tea in AA are the leather here. Blanton’s is not a bourbon I talk or think a lot about, but I can’t think of any other bourbon that better represents Buffalo Trace’s #2 mashbill than this. It has all the earthiness, sweetness, and balance that epitomize Buffalo Trace’s Single Barrel offerings. Definitely recommended.