Glen Grant 16 y/o

Maker: Grent Grant, Rothes, Moray, Scotland, UK (Campari)

Region: Speyside- Rothes

ABV: 43%

Michigan State Minimum: $80

Appearance: Dark straw. Coats the inside of the glass with thick, gentle legs.Glen Grant 16

Nose: Green apple, sherry, caramel pear, lemon thyme. Water brings it together and brings out some light spice like sweet cinnamon and ginger and a firm but unobtrusive oak structure.

On the palate: Medium bodied and a little hot. Custard, butterscotch candy, caramel.

Finish: Hot but rich and sweet. Lingers for a long time.

Parting words: I don’t like sherry. I have tried to like it but I have never been able to develop a taste for it despite my heavily British genetic makeup.

My dislike of sherry has kept me away from Speyside single malts because of their traditionally heavy use of sherry casks and the resulting sherry flavors. I’m starting to rethink my aversion to Speysiders, though. This is a powerful, flavorful and well-balanced single malt. It is now my favorite Speyside single malt. It’s everything anybody could want in a Speyside malt. At $80 it’s not cheap but one could to worse for more. As frugal as I can be with whisky, I have never regretted buying Glen Grant 16. Highly recommended.

Head to Head: Starlight Applejack vs. Tom’s Foolery Applejack, Batch 4

Starlight vs Toms FS= Huber’s

TF= Tom’s Foolery


S: Starlight Distillery, Starlight, Indiana, USA (Huber Orchard & Winery)

TF: Tom’s Foolery, Chagrin Falls, Ohio, USA

Age: Both NAS


S: 41.5%

TF: 45%


S: $30 (from distillery website)

TF: $41 (MSRP)


S: Bright copper with thin legs.

TF: Lighter but similar.


S: Alcohol, dry apple cider, lavender, cardamom

TF: Brown sugar, apple crisp with Granny Smiths, toasted oak.

On the palate

S: Full bodied and dry. A kiss of apple and wood, but not much else other than sweetness and alcohol.

TF: Medium bodied and rich. Apple pie a la mode, brown sugar, bourbon.


S: Curry, alcohol, heirloom apples.

TF: A touch of burn, but then maple sugar then it slowly dries out.

Parting words

These are both good micro-distilled apple brandies. One of the great things about the micro-distilling movement is that more products like these are available. In eighteenth and nineteenth century America fruit brandies, especially apple and peach, were very popular, but faded from popularity with the rise of rye and bourbon whiskeys. Microdistillers, especially those associated with wineries or orchards, saw an opportunity to re-introduce fruit brandy to the drinking public and they seized it. These are two fine examples of the bourgeoning apple brandy renaissance.

They are from neighboring states but they don’t have much in common. Starlight Distillery is attached to the Huber Winery in Southern Indiana and makes a line of apple and grape brandies along with a grappa. This product, the Applejack, is aged in used “small” used whiskey barrels. Their other (more expensive at $60) apple brandy is aged in “small French oak barrels”, presumably toasted. It is bottled at 40% ABV. I haven’t had that one, but this Applejack shows no signs of small barrel syndrome. It’s pleasant tasting, easy drinking and is recommended.

I reviewed the first edition of Tom’s Foolery Applejack here and I said it showed a lot of potential. That potential is now being realized. It is delicious and ranks as one of the best apple brandies I’ve had. Through adroit management of cooperage (at least three types of barrels are used for aging: ex-bourbon, ex-Cognac and new charred oak) Tom and his family have created a symphony of flavors that come together as  liquid apple crisp à la mode, only better. It’s an amazing spirit and an example of micro-distilling at its very best. And it’s just going to be getting better as it spends more time in oak and their bourbon comes of age in a few years. Don’t be scared off by the price or its scarcity, it’s worth every penny. Tom Foolery’s Applejack  Batch 4 is highly recommended.

Abita Purple Haze

Maker: Abita, Abita Springs, Louisiana, USAAbita Purple Haze

Style: Lager with raspberry.

ABV: 4.2% ABV

Appearance: cloudy burnt orange.

Nose: Malt and a vague fruitiness.

On the palate: Heavy cereal notes with a background of raspberry. Like eating a bowl of Grape Nuts with raspberries, only the raspberries have already been eaten and all that’s left is the raspberry infused milk with the cereal.

Finish: Light with more cereal and what seems to be a touch of hops. Not much fruit to be found.

Parting words: I traded a Rübæus for this with a friend. I think she got the better of the trade. There’s nothing wrong with this beer. It’s very easy drinking and if you like lots of cereal flavors in your beer, you’ll like it. I think it needs more raspberry, though. If I didn’t want something that tasted like it’s been made with raspberries, I wouldn’t get this beer. So I want more raspberry not more. Anyway, it’s good enough to warrant a mild recommendation.

My Two Ounces: Suntory, Beam and Marketing

Cap from Maker's Mark Facebook Page
Cap from Maker’s Mark Facebook Page

It was announced earlier this week that Suntory, a privately held Japanese whisky company, will purchase Beam Inc. (owner of Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Old Grand Dad, Maker’s Mark, Laphroaig, Canadian Club, Teacher’s and many other brands) this summer for somewhere between $13 and $16 billion dollars. Online reaction was swift and passionate, to put it kindly. While the response from enthusiasts has been nearly all positive, most of the non-enthusiast response was negative. Much of the negative was xenophobic and some of it was flatly racist. Most of those critical voices can and should be written off as cranks. People claiming that they will no longer drink Maker’s Mark or Jim Beam because their grandfathers fought against the Japanese in the 1940s shouldn’t taken seriously and neither should people who don’t know the difference between China and Japan.

My first reaction was was that this news signals a big restructuring in the spirits industry. It is technically an acquisition, but the result will look more like a merger. Suntory already owned two Japanese distilleries, three single malt distilleries in Scotland and the McClelland’s single malt Scotch brand. With Beam’s holdings, Suntory is poised to become the third largest spirits company in the world behind Diageo and Pernod-Ricard. Consolidation has been the theme of the booze world from the 1930s to the present and that won’t be changing any time soon. Beam Inc. itself is the result of a series of mergers and acquisitions over the past few decades.  As an enthusiast I was excited about the possibility of new ownership of Beam’s brands, especially since the management of some of those brands has been poor in recent years.

Why was the reaction so negative among non-enthusiasts? It’s because they believed what Beam told them.

Bourbon marketing is something that most enthusiasts become immune to quickly. A little knowledge goes a long way to dispel the yarns the bourbon industry spins. Yarns like the one that Jim Beam has been made by the same family with the same recipe since the eighteenth century. Or that Maker’s Mark was first whipped up in Bill Samuel’s kitchen and has been a quaint, family-oriented, backwoods operation ever since. There may be tiny threads of truth in both yarns, but they are not true in any real sense. A few minutes reading a book or searching on the internet is enough to dispel most myths like those. The harder ones might take a few hours. Enthusiasts have the inclination to do that . Most drinkers don’t.

Those drinkers who don’t are the ones who are angry. They’ve grown emotionally attached from years of hearing those myths. Hearing that their favorite little family business is actually a multinational corporation that is about to be swallowed up by another multinational makes them feel like they’ve been played for suckers. Which makes them angry, which makes them look for someone to direct that anger toward, which is where Suntory and Japan come in.

Something that is not a myth is the American-ness of bourbon. By federal and international treaty it can only be made in the U.S. It is mostly made from what we call corn and the rest of the world calls maize, a New World grain, and aged in American white oak. Congressional proclamations have been made about how American bourbon is. Bourbon producers use an appeal to patriotism in their marketing in the U.S. and even overseas advertising and labels themselves stress how American a drink it is. Bourbon producers aren’t the only ones who use this kind of marketing. American automakers have used this angle to sell cars and especially trucks over the years. Like the yarns about the producers themselves, these messages get repeated and work their way into the consciousness of the uncritical whiskey drinkers. For them, drinking becomes a patriotic exercise. What they drink shows how much they love their country. So when they discover that the maker of their patriotic beverage is owned by a Japanese or Italian or British company, they feel, again, played for suckers. Which makes them angry.

Where does this leave us? This whole ugly mess should lead drinkers, producers and their marketers to do more thinking about what they’re doing. The producers need to think about if they are setting themselves up for backlash further down the road with short-sighted marketing focused on myth-making or patriotism. For their part, drinkers (and consumers in general) need to take a little more time to know what they’re drinking, how it’s made and who makes it. This means moving beyond skimming the label, it means picking up a book or at least a few web searches.  I recognize that most people don’t have the time to do a lot of digging into what they drink, but knowledge is viral. If one person take the time to dig up some good information, that person tells another and that person tells another who might be inspired to do a little more digging herself. Let’s hope that’s what’s happening now.

Gill’s Pier Riesling

Maker: Gill’s Pier, Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Gill's Pier 2011 Riesling

Place of origin: Leelenau AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-dry

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 10%

Online from winery: $17

Appearance: Pale straw.

Nose: Ripe pear, Golden Delicious apples, gravel, a pinch of thyme.

On the palate: Full bodied and medium dry. Bosc pear, more Golden Delicious, white grape juice, flint.

Finish: Slightly tart and dry. Get more tart as it fades, but the faint mineral background remains.

Parting words: The first product I reviewed from Gill’s Pier was their tasty cherry wine. This is the first grape wine of theirs I’ve tried. When introducing myself to a Michigan winemaker, I always go for a Riesling first. I love Riesling and, like it or not, it’s Michigan’s unofficial signature grape and it has been for a while. Gill’s Pier passed the Riesling test with flying colors.

When I read “semi-dry” on a wine bottle, I usually expect something sweet. For once a semi-dry actually tastes semi-dry to me. It has a robust mouth feel and orchard fruit notes typical of sweeter Rieslings but without their sappiness and weight and with the minerality of better drys. It’s good with food, but is best on its own. If any aspect of this wine could stand improvement, it’s the nose. I would have preferred more intensity. That said, this is a good wine and worth the price I paid. 2011 Gill’s Pier Riesling is recommended.

Four Roses 125th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch (2013)

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)4R Ltd Ed Small Batch 2013

Age: 13 y/o

Recipes: OBSV (18 y/o), OBSK & OESK (both 13 y/o)

Proof: 103.2 (51.6% ABV)

Appearance: Medium Copper with thick persistent legs.

Nose: Alcohol, leather, pomegranate juice, habanero chili. After a while in the glass it settles into a more conventional high-rye bourbon profile. Caramel, jalapeno, and leather continues.

On the palate: Surprisingly easy to drink at barrel/bottle proof, but then again it’s a surprisingly low proof out of a barrel. Cherry juice, oak, sweet corn, blackberry, white mulberry, burn. Water brings out sweetness and fruity notes.

Finish: Alcohol, caramel, leather. As on the palate, water brings out the fruity sweetness in the finish and tones down the alcohol.

Parting words: For the second year in a row, the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch has won Whisky Advocate’s American Whiskey of the Year, and with very good reason. Last year’s was very very good, the best since 2009, but this one is even better. It’s a very similar mix of recipes, but with a higher (probably) proportion of bourbon made with the K yeast. It’s older too, which makes its balance of barrel and fruit even more remarkable. As bourbons get into the double digits, they usually get dry and oaky. This one has all the fruit of a young bourbon like Very Old Barton at close to three times the age. It’s a neat trick. It’s balanced, complex, sophisticated and bold all at the same time and it’s one of the best bourbons I’ve ever tasted.

These limited edition Four Roses releases are the 21st Century’s answer to Very Very Old Fitzgerald. Four Roses is the Stitzel-Weller of now. Unfortunately for those of us who have loved them for a long time, they are starting to be snatched up like S-W. I was able to get several bottles of last year’s release fairly easily, but this year the prices are much higher and the bottles are harder to find, even though they are more widely distributed. If you see one, buy one. If you can get more, get more. If you break your budget buying them, I’d be happy to take a few off your hands. I paid around $90 for mine which is a lot, but worth every penny. Four Roses 125th Anniversary Limited Edition Small Batch is highly recommended.

Old Cockney Gin

Maker: Two James, Detroit, Michigan, USAOld Cockney

Style: London dry gin.

ABV: 41%

Michigan State Minimum: $34

Appearance: Clear with abundant necklacing.

Nose: Lemon zest, green cardamom, coriander seed, aniseed, wormwood.

On the palate: Full bodied and dry. Cinnamon, anise, horehound, tumeric.

Finish: Dry. Like sucking on a licorice throat lozenge. Fades slowly.

Mixed: Adequate with tonic, but a little too sharp. Excellent in a dry martini with a relatively sweet vermouth. Very good in an old cocktail I found called a Princeton (1 part Port [Fronseca Bin 27 in this case], 2 parts gin, orange bitters and a twist of lemon peel). Old Cockney’s sharp dryness perfectly cuts through the sweetness of the Port. It does the same in a perfect martini.

Parting words: Old Cockney is a pretty aggressive gin compared to most that are in the London Dry style, or at least aiming in that direction. The mainstream gin it most reminds me of is Tanqueray with its trademark sharp edge, but Old Cockney goes beyond that. It teeters on the edge of being too sharp for me. That puts it in the realm of cocktail gins (as opposed to neat sipping or G & T gins) but it’s price pretty much puts it there anyway. Not that it’s unreasonably priced, it’s quite fair. At any rate, sweet cocktails are the way to go with this one. Try the Princeton or something similar, you won’t be disappointed. Old Cockney is recommended.