Maker: Black Star Farms, Traverse City/Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA
BSF Blush

Grape: Pinot Noir

Region: Leelenau AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Dry sparkling rosè.

ABV: 12%

Price: $13.50 from the winery online

Appearance: Ruby red with lots of bubbles.

Nose: Pomegranate, cranberry, red raspberry.

On the palate: Effervescent and dry. Not nearly as tart as the nose suggests. More pomegranate, but fades into a grapey flavor with a hint of foxiness.

Finish: Still dry but fairly tart. The cranberries pop up again only to fade into sparkling mineral water.

Parting words: I was skeptical when I saw the word “dry” on the label of Blushed, but it dry it is. It’s color is more like a bleed than a blush, but the dark color is attractive.

Blushed would make a nice change of pace for a sober first round on New Year’s Eve or casual summertime sipping. It is very good in a champagne cocktail (sugar, bitters and sparkling wine). Adequate in a mimosa. The price is right and so is the wine. Blushed is recommended.

Jim Beam Signature Craft: Spanish Brandy Finish

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont/Frankfort, Kentucky, USAJB Span Bran

Style: Bourbon finished with Spanish Brandy

Age: NAS

Proof: 86 (43% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $40

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Cereal, alcohol, butterscotch, leather, old oak, yeast.

On the palate: Full bodied and sweet. Butterscotch candy, burn, yeast, a touch of jalapeno.

Finish: Hot but sweet. Lingers and tingles for quite some time with butterscotch, burnt caramel, dandelion stem.

Parting words: The Jim Beam Signature Craft series is a new line from Beam with two parts. One part is a 12 y/o, 86° Jim Beam recipe bourbon and the other is an annual release of a finished or otherwise unusually treated bourbon. The Spanish Brandy Finish is the first of that second piece. This is not a brandy barrel finish, this is finished with a touch of the brandy itself.

This whiskey has gotten mixed reviews from enthusiasts, but I think it’s pretty good. Except for the finish, the brandy does a good job of rounding out the rougher yeasty and vegetal characteristics of young Jim Beam. It brings a rich butterscotch sweetness to the nose and palate too.

Complaints have also been made about the price. Yes, better bargains can be found for $40, but it’s something different and I don’t mind paying a little extra for that. Beam has been doing a lot of experimentation over the past few years. Not all of it has been successful, but I think this is. It’s worth buying a bottle to have another option for sipping after a holiday meal. Jim Beam Signature Craft: Spanish Brandy Finish is recommended.

Fonseca Bin No. 27

Maker: Fonseca Guimaraens, Valença do Doura, PortugalFonseca Bin

Style: Ruby Port

ABV: 20%

Purchased for $20

Appearance: Dark burgundy

Nose: Grape jelly, alcohol, blueberries, blackberries, clove.

On the palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Strawberry jam, grape juice.

Finish: Black currant, oak. Fades fairly quickly.

Parting words: Bin No. 27 is a fine Port at a decent price, but without much to distinguish itself from the competition. For a “super ruby” I would expect a bit more punch, but if you’re looking for a tasty, easy drinking Port for after a festive holiday feast Bin No. 27 does the job. It is recommended.

Noel de Calabaza

Noel de CalabazaMaker: Jolly Pumpkin, Dexter/Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

Style: Oak-aged, spiced sour ale

Notes: Blend 16, bottled November 19, 2012

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 9% or so.

Purchased for $11/750 ml

Appearance: Coffee brown with a robust foamy head on first pour.

Nose: Malt, balsamic vinegar, clove.

On the palate: Medium bodied and effervescent with underripe plum, hops, clove, aged balsamic vinegar

Finish: Fairly clean and short but with old, ashy oak that lingers for a long time.

Parting words: Noel de Calabaza is another holiday beer that defies expectations. It’s sour but in a more subtle way than many from Jolly Pumpkin. The oak rounds the whole thing out nicely. As you can tell from my notes above, it reminded me a lot of balsamic vinegar, the good aged kind. It doesn’t strike me as a particularly festive beer, but it’s really good. The price is acceptable. Noel de Calabaza is reccomended.

Statement regarding the use of images on this blog.

I have recently had a “come to Jesus” moment regarding the use of images on this blog. As you may have noticed, I have recently been using images I took myself for reviews. I will be doing this going forward. When I don’t have an actual bottle available to photograph, I will attempt to have a friend provide me with a photo or get one from the manufacturer or PR firm representing the brand.

As for images I have used in the past, I will be leaving them in place. I have reviewed well over 300 products and it would be largely pointless drudgery to go through and try to figure out where each one came from. The vast majority were from brand websites and I have never had a single complaint about my use of an image. Links to many reviews with such images have been retweeted by brand twitter accounts without complaint.

All that said, I will take down the last two images I used without express permission (the bottle shots of Wild Turkey Forgiven and Crown Royal) pending my own photos, a friend’s or something from Campari or Diageo or their PR people. I will also remove any photos I run across that are clearly not bottle shots intended for general media use. If you, dear reader, notice an image that you own that you wish to be removed, please let me know and it will be removed as soon as possible.

Thank you for reading and happy holidays!

Concannon Irish Whiskey

Maker: Concannon Vineyard, Livermore, California, USA
Concannon Irish Whiskey

Distiller: Cooley, County Louth, Ireland (Beam)

Style: Irish blend finished in Petite Sirah barrels (from Concannon Vineyard of course)

Age: NAS (around 4 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $23

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Malt, rubber, alcohol, butterscotch, blackberry jam.

On the palate: Full bodied and mildy fruity on entry, mincemeat pie, toffee, burn.

Finish: Malty but still subtly fruity and rich. Drying into a bit more rubber and some burn, but the candied fruit background continues as it fades.

Parting words: Concannon Vineyard is located in Livermore Valley, northeast of Fremont, California. The Livermore Valley AVA is best known as the home of Wente Vineyards, but it also home to a number of other winemakers, obviously. Livermore Valley is a subset of the San Francisco Bay AVA which is itself a subset of the Central Valley AVA. Concannon is notable for bottling the first varietal Petite Sirah in the US (according to their website anyway). Before that, and indeed even after, Petite Sirah was used primarily to beef up red blends.

This whiskey is a tribute to the family’s Irish heritage and its present winemaking ability. It’s a success. It’s clearly young but the wine barrel finishing does a great job of smoothing out the rough edges and giving it added depth. The direct influence of the wine barrel is subtle. There are some vague “dark fruit” tastes on the palate that come through, but little else. If I have complaint about the finishing, it’s that, unlike most finished whiskeys, it’s too subtle. That is refreshing in itself! The rubbery smell isn’t too appealing but it dissipates quickly.

The price is right and the whiskey is too. Concannon Irish Whiskey is recommended.

Forty-Five North Riesling

Maker: Forty-Five North, Lake Leelanau, Leelenau Co, Michigan, USA

Region: Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2010

Style: Dry

ABV: 11.5%

Purchased for: $19

Appearance: Light gold with very little in the way of legs or necklacing.

Nose: Grapey and dry. Pear, peach, Golden Delicious apple, whiff of orange blossom.

On the palate: Medium bodied and semi-dry. White peach, white cherry, underripe plum.

Finish: Dry. Peach, thyme and maybe a little smoke.

Parting words: Forty-Five North Winery is located in the central Leelenau Peninsula, east of Lake Leelanau. It is named for the 45th parallel, the midpoint between the Arctic Circle and the Equator, which runs right through the vineyard belonging to the winery. The family has owned the land around the tasting room for many years but purchased the vineyard and began producing wine commercially only in the past few years. The facilities are in the Leelenau Peninsula but note that the wine is only labeled “Michigan”. This means that grapes from more than just the Leelanau AVA probably went into this wine.

For relative newbies, they have done a good job. This Riesling is crisp and food-friendly but has the complexity to raise it well above the category of a table or casual wine. It is an excellent example of a dry Michigan Riesling and is well worth the price. 2010 Forty-Five North Riesling is recommended.

Great Lakes Christmas Ale

Maker: Great Lakes, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Style: Spiced ale

ABV: 7.5%

Thanks to Brian & Jessica for this birthday beer!

Appearance: Coppery auburn with a nice foamy head.

Nose: Malt, baking fruitcake.

On the palate: Effervescent and spicy. More fruitcake, then malt, toffee and a hit of hops.

Finish: Surprisingly dry. Spicy, malty and lasts for a good while.

Parting words: Great Lakes Christmas Ale is much more typical of holiday brews than Bell’s. It’s sweet with some Christmas spice and a tiny bit of hoppy bitterness. It’s not complex but it is comfortable like a fuzzy Christmas sweater. It goes just as well with a hearty Christmas feast as with conspiring by the fire. Great Lakes Christmas Ale is recommended. GL Xmas

Head to Head: Woodford Reserve vs. Woodford Reserve Double Oak

WR: Woodford ReserveWR vs WRDO

WRDO: Woodford Reserve Double Oak

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA


WR: Standard Recipe bourbon

WRDO: Bourbon finished in a toasted then lightly charred oak barrel

Age: NAS

Proof: 90.4 (45.2% ABV)

Michigan Minimum Price (750 ml)

WR: $36

WRDO: $60 (purchased for $50)


WR: Copper with thin legs.

WRDO: Slightly darker with pronounced necklacing.


WR: Alcohol, oak, dried oregano, homemade caramels.

WRDO: Leather, oak, black walnut, alcohol.

On the palate

WR: Full bodied and sweet. Burn, brown sugar, a touch of cayenne and not much else.

WRDO: Medium bodied and tannic. Alcohol, brown sugar, oak.


WR: Sweet and slightly oaky with some candy. Then lots of burn.

WRDO: Very oaky. Black walnut, fresh oak, fades into alcohol and then away fairly quickly.

Parting words: Woodford Reserve is a popular whipping boy for bourbon enthusiasts. The knocks on it are that it’s young, overpriced, underpowered and its success is all marketing and packaging and no substance. Knocks on the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, a series of experimental annual releases have been similar but even more harsh.

It’s hard to argue with those points. Woodford is expensive for an NAS of 90 proof with little in the way of distinctive tastes or aromas. Woodford Double Oak, a rebarreled version of Woodford with a strong resemblance to the Seasoned Oak Master’s Collection release, adds some needed oak, but not much in the way of depth, unfortunately.

Both fare well in manhattans, but I don’t recall trying them in any other cocktails.

When the Double Oak was released, it was a marginal buy at $50 but $60 is an absurd price for what this is. If it sold for $40-$50 it would be worth a full recommendation, but as it is it is mildly recommended. Standard Woodford was overpriced when it first came out, but as bourbon prices have risen around it, it doesn’t seem so bad. Still, it is dull and its sister brand Old Forester is a much better buy and available at 100 proof. Woodford Reserve is also mildly recommended.

Bell’s Christmas Ale

Maker: Bell’s, Comstock/Kalamazoo, Michigan, USABells Xmas Ale

Style: American Pale Ale.

ABV: 5.5%

Notes: 100% malted Michigan two-row barley, Michigan and Northwest US hops.

Purchased for: $10/6 pack
Appearance: Old gold with a big frothy head and a bit of sediment in the bottom.

Nose: Hops, creamy malt, dried flowers, tea.

On the palate: Full bodied and well balanced. Fruity malt and then the hops take over in a big way.

Finish: Dry and spicy, a quick shot of fruity malt and then hops until the whole thing fades away.

Parting words: Bell’s Christmas Ale is an unusual holiday beer because there’s nothing particularly holiday-ish about it. It’s just a good hearty pale ale. It goes very well with food, even rich food that one has around this time of year, so maybe that’s the idea. Or maybe it’s that it reflects the experience of a typical holiday family gathering. It begins sweet but ends in lingering bitterness. I may be over thinking this a bit.

At any rate, it’s quite tasty and the local angle in the malt and hops adds interest and softens the blow of the price which is a bit on the high side. Bell’s Christmas Ale is recommended.