Four Roses Single Barrel

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

Style: High-rye bourbon

Age: NAS (about 8-9 y/o)

Warehouse/Barrel: DS/43-IV

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Appearance: Bright Copper

Nose: Boiled peanuts, rye, oak, jalapeno. With a splash of water, I get heirloom roses, leather, and hard candy. A fun night for somebody!

On the palate: Full-bodied. Cassia, cotton candy. A little water loosens it up a bit. A perfumed sweetness, rosewater, sweet cinnamon, a bit of caramel & jalapeno jelly.

Finish: Hot, but complex. Spicy cassia, rye, cotton candy then a light sweetness lingers like a stolen kiss from an old lover. Not that I’ve been kissing any old lovers recently (have I used that line before?).

Parting words: I reviewed this early on in the blog when I was still doing “Now drinking” posts. This is a very different barrel from that one. To use a baffling booze reviewer term, this is a very tight whiskey. At 100 proof it is very assertive and has loads of rye character. It even reminded me of Templeton Rye, which is produced at LDI, Four Roses’ former sister distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Cut down from 100 proof to somewhere in the 90s, it becomes a relaxed, genteel bourbon suitable for sipping on finer front porches. Aside from special releases, Four Roses Single Barrel is the best bourbon on the market, or at least my favorite. Highly recommended.

Arcturos Late Harvest Riesling

Maker: Black Star Farms, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape: Riesling

Ripeness: Late Harvest

Region: Old Mission Peninsula AVA

Vineyards: Capella & Montague Estate

Vintage: 2008

ABV: 8.5%

Appearance: Light straw

Nose: Peaches, apricots, Macintosh apples, tangerine

On the palate: Full-bodied. Lots of light, sweet fruit, with overripe peach, more Macintosh, tangerine and ruby-red grapefruit. A hint of coriander seed and green cardamom.

Finish: Long, strong finish of tart apples, more granny smith now than Macintosh.

Parting words: This is a classic Michigan Riesling from a winery that does it better than just about anybody else. The voluptuous body and sweetness calls to mind a traditional German spätlese but the Old Mission terroir puts its own delightful, unmistakable stamp on things. Complex, sensual, fruity and sweet but never cloying or flabby. Arcturos Late Harvest Riesling is all a Northern Michigan Riesling should be. This would probably still be as tasty as it is now in a year, but I had waited long enough on this one. Highly Recommended.

Great King Street

Maker: Compass Box, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Age: NAS

ABV: 43%

Appearance: Golden straw, with long elegant legs.

Nose: Classic Scotch blend nose. Toffee, butterscotch candy, lemongrass.

On the palate: Full-bodied and creamy.  A little heat, then rich taffy, toffee and assorted hard candies with a soft kiss of peat and a hint of ginger.

Finish: Luxurious finish. The ginger races to the front in the finish, complemented by the peat and the heat. Wonderful.

Parting Words: After my disappointment with White Horse, I wasn’t expecting any more than a pleasant, refreshing dram from this. But now, unfortunately, my expectations of blended Scotch have been raised again. Great King Street is refreshing and easy drinking, as a blend should be, but also complex and interesting. Great King street is put out by American-born John Glaser’s Compass Box Co., creator of a series of great blended malts including the Peat Monster, Eleuthera, Flaming Heart and many, many more. Great King Street is highly recommended.

Oarsman Ale

Maker: Bell’s, Comstock, Michigan, USA

Style: Sour mash wheat ale.

ABV: 4%

Appearance: Gold, slightly hazy.

Nose: Sour, Meyer lemon, yeast.

On the palate: Light bodied. Sour, more Meyer lemon, grains of paradise, coriander seed, lemongrass.

Finish: Quick with a little sweet and sour hit at the beginning.

Parting words: The level of sourness in this beer was a bit of a shocker at first, but by the time I got to the end of the six-pack, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s more complex than it seems at first sip, but isn’t so cerebral it doesn’t work alongside a sandwich. Oarsman ale is recommended.

Sugar House Bar

Address: 2130 Michigan Ave., Detroit, Michigan (next to Slow’s BBQ)

Hours: Sun-Thurs. 5 pm- midnight. Fri-Sat 5 pm- 2 am

Type: Cocktail Bar

Appearance/atmosphere: On the outside and inside, The Sugar House Bar is contemporary and appealing, if a little dull. Dark paint and exposed brick on the inside. The bar itself is nice and spacious, although the dazzling array of bottles behind it steal the show. Tables are also available. Bathrooms were clean and matched the muted contemporary décor of the rest of the establishment, but they had those weird waterless urinals. For reasons I can’t explain, they give me the creeps. My friend reported that the women’s bathroom was nice.

The atmosphere is fun and casual. It was fairly easy to hear my drinking companion and the bartender.

Service: Service was excellent. Brandon was our bartender and he did an excellent job of suggesting cocktails for both of us. One of Sugar Bar’s specialties is building a drink around whatever mixer or liquor

Menu/Selection:  The drinks menu was nice, and most of my friend’s drinks came off it, while mine were all time-honored standards. I had the three classic whiskey drinks: Manhattan, Sazerac and an Old Fashioned. I took notes on what my friend had but a toddler walked out with them. From what I recall, she had two flip-type drinks and one called a Petruchio. She is in no way shrewish, but she loved it (you’re welcome English majors). She even loved the ones I had, despite repeatedly stating how she doesn’t care for whiskey (due to a HS experience involving Black Velvet and Grape Faygo).

The selection of mixers and liquors behind the bar was impressive. The bourbon and rye was most impressive of all. Just about every major label rye on the market was there: Sazerac, Rittenhouse, Beam, Wild Turkey, Bulleit, the new Woodford Reserve ryes, and even a four year old Willet rye (used to make my Sazerac cocktail). The bourbon selection was vast as well with plenty of sipping and mixing bourbons. There was also a good selection of Mezcal and Islay Single Malts. Not to mention a truly bewildering selection of liqueurs and other mixers including house-made ones.

Prices: The drinks are pretty expensive, most of them being in the low double digits price-wise, but these are craft cocktails and damn good ones. No complaints. We got what we paid for and more.

Transportation: We went on a weeknight, but it still seemed like there would be plenty of parking on Michigan Ave. on a weekend, although a multi-block walk might be in required. The 37 DDOT bus runs the length of Michigan Avenue and is a good option for those in Detroit or even Dearborn. From Dearborn and points west the 200 SMART bus goes down Michigan. Transit from the north is more of a challenge, but if timed right, a transfer or even a walk from one of the Woodward SMART stops should do the trick. Taxis are also an option, of course.

Parting Words: My friend and I had a great experience. Great service, fantastic drinks and good service. The Sugar House Bar gets a big recommendation.

Canadian Club

Maker: Some distillery or distilleries in Canada (Beam Inc.)

Age: 6 y/o

ABV: 40%

Appearance: Copper with thick sticky legs.

Nose: Very faint maple sugar, alcohol, sherry, table grapes, a bit of oak.

On the palate: Full-bodied but very light in flavor. Sweet, with some wood, nutmeg and clove as a counterpoint.

Finish: Very long finish. Mostly hot, but with a bit of sweetness punctuated with solera sherry and sugar plum flavors.

Mixed: Does pretty well in an Old Fashioned. Lacks the punch and flavor to pull off a whisky sour.

Parting Words: I didn’t expect this to be too good, based on my past experience and honestly it wasn’t. My aim in reviewing Canadian Club was to establish a baseline for tasting Canadian whiskies. It works for that purpose. When it comes to taste, it’s not too bad but the nose is almost non-existent and the finish isn’t much better. All that said, it’s cheap, available in all sizes and does what it sets out to do. Canadian Club gets a mild recommendation.

Black Star Farms Cherry Wine

Maker: Black Star Farms, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

ABV: 10%

Appearance: dark burgundy with broad, slow legs.

Nose: tart cherry, wild blackberry, walnut.

On the palate: Full-bodied, with a sumptuous mouthfeel. Mildly sweet and mildly tart. Bold, robust cherry flavors with a little clove and allspice.

Finish: slightly sweet, tart and tingly.

Parting words: Cherry wine and other fruit wines are looked down upon by many connoisseurs as pop wine or a representative of the bad old days of American wine. There are plenty of bad, sickly and cloying fruit wines on the market, granted. In the right hands, though, fruit wines and especially cherry wine (a northern Michigan staple) can be fine dessert wine. A cherry wine will probably never reach the heights of complexity of a decades old vintage Port, but a good one like this can give a ruby a run for its money. Black Star Farms takes what could be little more than a sop to the fudgies and transforms it into something worth drinking. Recommended.

My Two Ounces: What’s that mean? Whiskey Edition

All disciplines and hobbies have their own set of lingo. The world of whiskey is no exception. What makes this even more confusing is that all whiskey-producing countries have their own terms and laws. Here are some of the most common terms found on whiskey bottles of all types and the most basic definitions I could give them. I have only included terms used for Scotch, American, Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskies. These are all I can think of for now. I hope it is enlightening. And please give me crap about it if I screw up. That’s what the internet’s all about.

ABV: Alcohol By Volume, in other words, how much of the volume of the liquid in the bottle is taken up by ethanol (the alcohol in alcoholic beverages). This is expressed as a percentage. If I knew more about chemistry, I’m sure I could explain it better. See proof below.

Age Statements: The age statement refers to the time between when the unaged spirit was put into the barrel and when it was removed from the barrel, usually rounded down to the nearest year. When there is an age statement on a bottle of whiskey of any country, the number refers to the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle. Whiskeys without age statements are described as NAS (No Age Statement). They are usually, but not always, close to the minimum age allowed by law. That is four years old for American straight whiskeys and bonded whiskeys (see below), and three years old for all Scotch, Irish and Canadian whiskies.

Barrel Strength/Cask Strength/Barrel Proof/undiluted: The whiskey has been bottled at the same proof  it was when it left the barrel. No water has been added.

Blended Whiskey/Whiskey, a blend: All whiskey-producing countries have their own rules and practices regarding blending.

Blended Scotch: A blended Scotch is composed of two components, single malt (usually several of them, see below) and grain whisky (also see below). Generally, the more expensive the blend, the higher the proportion of single malt. If the blend has an age statement, it applies to the grain whisky component as well.

Irish Blends: Irish blended whiskey is usually a blend of whiskey made from malted barley in a pot still and unmalted barley. Generally, the more expensive the blend, the higher the proportion of malt. If the blend has an age statement, it applies to the grain whiskey component as well. Most Irish whiskeys are blends.

Canadian Blends: Canadian Blends are somewhere between Scotch/Irish blends and American blends taste-wise. The grain whisky element is distilled until it is almost, but not entirely, flavorless. The malt component in Scotch/Irish blends is replaced by flavorful whiskies similar to American rye, bourbon and corn whiskeys. Generally, the more expensive the blend, the higher the proportion of flavoring whisky. If the blend has an age statement, it applies to the grain whisky component as well. All but one or two Canadian whiskies are blends. See Canadian Whisky.

American Blends: Most American blends are basically vodka favored with whiskey. Bottles labeled blended bourbon or rye contain a blend of vodka (flavorless neutral spirit) with bourbon or rye. Some newer whiskeys that blend two or more types of whiskey (bourbon with rye, for example) also qualify as blends, but their makers tend to downplay that term since American blends have a bad reputation among enthusiasts. If the blend has an age statement, it applies to the neutral spirit component as well.

Japanese blends: Similar to Scotch blends above.

Blended Malt: Formerly known as vatted malts, blended malt Scotches are blends of multiple single malts. Unlike true blends they contain no grain whiskey element.

Bottled-in-Bond or Bonded: The Bottled-in-Bond law stipulates that any American spirit labeled as such must be at least four years old, bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV), and the product of one distillery in one distilling season. It is mostly used for bourbons, but also for rye and apple brandy and can even be used for vodka or gin. It was intended as a sort of quality control but now some bourbons that qualify as Bottled-in-Bond choose not to use the term because it sounds old fashioned.

Bourbon: An American Whiskey made from at least 51% corn and aged in a new oak barrel that has been charred on the inside. It must be made in the U.S. It does not have to be made in Kentucky, although the vast majority of it is.

Bourbon cask, sherry cask, port cask, etc: Scotch, Irish and similar whiskies are almost always aged in used barrels (casks). The former contents of the cask impart different flavors to the whisky. Most whisky producers use a variety of casks to age their product. Bourbon and sherry are the two most commonly used in Scotland and Ireland.

Canadian Whiskey: Whiskey made in Canada. Almost all of it qualifies as blended by American standards. Like Scotch and Irish, it must be at least three years old. Unlike in the British Isles and the U.S., under Canadian law non-whisky flavoring elements may be added to whisky. These include sherry, port, madeira and other wines, brandy, and even fruit juice. See Canadian Blends above.

Cask Strength: See barrel strength above.

Charcoal Filtered: The whiskey has been filtered through activated charcoal, similar to a home water filter, after aging. Some labels display the words more prominently than others, but most whiskeys are filtered in this way. This is different from charcoal mellowing and in addition to chill-filtering; compare chill-filtering and Tennesee Whiskey below.

Corn Whiskey: An American whiskey made from at least 80% corn (compare bourbon above) and either unaged or aged in a used oak barrel. There is a subtle difference between unaged Corn whiskey, which is meant to be consumed as is, and White Dog (see below) which has been distilled with the intent to be aged at a later date, at least in theory.

Diluted: Any whiskey (or other spirit) that is sold at under 80 proof/40% ABV in the U.S.

Finished: The whiskey has been transferred to a different barrel (or had oak chunks added to the barrel or the like) for a brief time at the end of the aging process. Bourbon and other American whiskeys are allowed to be finished in a used barrel as long as the bottle is labeled as “finished in X barrels” or something to that effect.

Grain Whisky: In the Scotch and Irish whiskey worlds, grain whisky is whisky usually made in a continuous still (as opposed to a pot still) and made from something other than malted barley. Usually it is just whatever grain is cheapest at the time with corn (maize) and wheat being the most common grains used. Grain whisky is typically blended with single malt whisky to produce blended whisky. It is occasionally bottled on its own as a curiosity. The term is not used in American whiskey circles.

Irish: Any whiskey made in Ireland. Traditionally, Irish whiskey is made from malted and/or unmalted barley and distilled three times before aging. By law it must be at least three years old.

Japanese Whisky: Whisky made in Japan. It is made in a similar style to Scotch single malt and blended whisky.

Natural Colo(u)r: No caramel coloring has been added. Adding caramel color is legal for Scotch, Irish, Japanese and Canadian whiskies.

Proof: Now only used for American whiskey. American proof is the ABV doubled. So 50% ABV= 100 proof and so on. American whiskey must be at least 80 proof to be sold in the U.S. Otherwise it must be labeled as diluted.

Pot Still: Implies that the whiskey was at least partially distilled in a pot still as opposed to a continuous still.

Regions: Single malt Scotches are classified according to where they were distilled. There are four traditional regions. These are often mentioned on bottles of Single Malt Scotch. They are Highland, Lowland, Islay and Campbeltown. The Highland region is the largest by far and is subdivided into other regions, like the Islands and Speyside. Speyside is the largest of those in terms of number of distilleries and is itself subdivided into smaller regions like Dufftown and the Livet valley. Region plays a much smaller role in the classification of Irish, Canadian, Japanese and American whiskies.

Reserve: Meaningless marketing term meant to convey the image of extra age or rarity.

Rye: A traditional American whiskey made from at least 51% rye and aged in a new oak barrel that has been charred on the inside. Same goes for other named whiskey types but with their respective grains. Wheat whiskey is at least 51% wheat, American malt whiskey is at least 51% malted barley, and so on.

Scotch: Any whisky made in Scotland. By law, all Scotch whisky must be aged for at least three years in a barrel or cask as it is more commonly called in Scotland. See Single Malt, Blend, Grain Whisky.

Single Barrel/Cask: All the whiskey in the bottle is from one barrel. Most whiskeys are a combination of the contents of different barrels.

Single Malt: Used for Scotch and Irish whiskies, a single malt is a whisky made from only malted barley in a pot still and is the product of a single distillery. It is usually blended with grain whisky to produce a blended whisky. Single Malts are also bottled on their own, either by the company that owns them or by a private bottler. Single Malt used on a bottle of American whiskey is only an indication that it qualifies as a malt whiskey by American law. Other whiskeys that call themselves Single Malts generally follow the Scotch usage.

Small Batch: From a smaller batch of barrels than bigger selling brands. It’s essentially a meaningless term meant to make the whiskey inside the bottle seem rare and desirable.

Sour Mash: The mash (distiller’s beer) is brought to a low Ph before distilling. Although some whiskey labels display the words more prominently than others, all major American whiskey brands are made using a sour mash.

Straight: American whiskey legal term. Any whiskey that is at least two years old and the product of a single U.S. state may be called straight whiskey. If it is under four years old, the label must bear an age statement.

Tennesee Whiskey/Whisky: Whiskey made in Tennesee. In practice, Tennesee whiskey is very similar to bourbon. It uses a recipe that is identical to a bourbon, but unlike bourbons it undergoes a process of charcoal mellowing, also known as the Lincoln County process. Before barreling, the white dog (see below) is run through a large vat of maple chunk charcoal. This removes some flavor compounds and adds a few others. It is then barreled and aged like bourbon and other straight whiskeys. Tennesee whiskeys could probably be sold as bourbons, but Tennesee whiskey makers prefer to sell it as Tennesee whiskey.

Unfiltered/Unchillfiltered/Non-chill filtered: The whiskey has not undergone a process called chill-filtering in which the whiskey is chilled to around zero degrees Celsius and then filtered. The process is performed after aging and is intended to reduce any haziness that the whiskey may exhibit. Chill-filtering produces a clean-looking spirit that looks good on the store shelf, but the process can also remove some flavor compounds. Whisky producers marketing themselves toward enthusiasts will often not chill filter their products and brag about that fact on the label. Unfiltered also implies that the whiskey has not been filtered through activated charcoal, a common practice (see above).

Vatted Malt: See Blended Malt above.

Wheated Bourbon: This style of bourbon is made with corn, malt and wheat instead of the more usual corn, malt and rye.

Whiskey: A spirit distilled from grain and then (usually) aged in an oak barrel. In layperson’s terms, a whiskey is a beer that has been run through a still. Most whiskeys are then aged in a barrel for a period of time. Whiskey with an e is the preferred spelling in the U.S. and Ireland, although some American brands like Maker’s Mark, Old Forester and George Dickel omit the e. Curiously, U.S. Federal regulations governing whiskey also use the e-less spelling.

Whisky: See whiskey above. Whisky without an e is the preferred spelling in Scotland, Japan and Canada. In spite of what some believe, there is no more difference between whiskey and whisky than there is between labor and labour or color and colour.

White Dog: A term from the American whiskey world meaning a clear spirit that is destined to be aged in barrels and become whiskey. The Scotch equivalent is new make. Many start-up and even established distilleries have been releasing their own white dog recently as a curiosity or to raise some quick cash in the case of the start-ups.

Confused about wine labels? So is everybody else. Check out the simple interactive guide to reading world wine labels from here.

Dirty Blonde

Maker: Atwater Block, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Style: Spiced Blonde Ale

ABV: 4.5%

Appearance: Not surprisingly, dirty blonde.

On the palate: full-bodied, a little bitterness but a lot of sweet, fruity, a very subtle hint of spice.

Parting Words: A serviceable, summertime ale, but not much to write home about. Not a bad buy but not a very interesting one. Mildy recommended, especially if on tap. It always seems to taste better from the tap at Grand Trunk Pub.

Trapiche Oak Cask Chardonnay

Maker: Trapiche, Mendoza, Argentina

Importer: Wildman

Grape: Chardonnay

Region: Mendoza, Argentina

Vintage: 2009

ABV: 13.5%

Appearance: Bright gold. A very pretty wine.

Nose: Woody and creamy, a little bitter.

On the palate: Slightly sweet with a big hit of oak and brown (possibly burnt) butter. The wood is over the top and completely overwhelms whatever sweet or delicate flavors this wine may have. Its price would indicate that this is intended to be a table-quality varietal. There is so much wood here that it clashes with food and produces nasty bitter flavors, even with chicken soup.

Finish: Bitter and astringent. Even worse with food. Very unpleasant.

Parting words: My expectations for this wine were simple. I wanted a chard with a bit of wood and sweetness that would pair well with chicken. I figured Trapiche is a reputable producer, Mendoza is a fine region, Chard should be easy for them to grow there, and the time it spent in the bottle should have smoothed any rough edges it may have had, so this should satisfy my simple needs. I was wrong. This is a terrible wine, one that I wouldn’t even give to a carrion-eating scavenger like the Andean condor on the label. Trapiche Oak Cask Chardonnay is highly not recommended.