Talisker Storm

Maker: Talisker, Carbost, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK (Diageo)
Talisker Storm

Region: Island

Age: NAS

ABV: 45.8%

Michigan State Minimum: $77

Appearance: Light caramel (likely colored)

Nose: Peat, dried flowers, smoke, alcohol, pine needles. Water brings out more smoke but doesn’t alter the flavor much otherwise.

On the palate: Full bodied and sweet. Smoke, cocoa powder, alcohol. Water brings out vanilla, white cake and then a burst of smoke.

Finish: Soot, alcohol, butterscotch candy, Mexican chocolate. Water doesn’t change much here.

Talisker Storm is a relatively new expression from Diageo. Price-wise it is situated between Talisker 10 y/o ($70 state minimum) and the Distiller’s Edition ($80). All three are bottled at the same proof. I have not had the Distiller’s Edition, so I can’t comment on how Storm compares to that, but Storm is definitely superior to the 10 y/o. Storm tastes more mature and shows better flavor integration than the 10, which seems to vacillate between sappy new make and murky maritime peat. Storm works better than the 10 as a gateway to Talisker and smoky Hebridean single malts in general. There is also a Dark Storm available in travel retail outlets that is aged in heavily charred casks.

If I have one criticism, it’s that it’s by-the-numbers with nothing in the way of surprises lurking in the nose or finish. That’s OK though, since it seems to be intended as a gateway or go-to type malt. It’s not cheap, but the price is firmly in line with comparable malts. If I have two criticisms, it’s that the label and packaging are cheesy.

In sum, I liked it, and could see myself buying it again. Talisker Storm is recommended. It’s worthwhile noting that this whiskyalso won Whisky Advocate’s Highland/Island Single Malt Scotch of the Year for 2013.

Old Scout Ten

Maker: Smooth Ambler, Maxwelton, West Virginia, USAOld Scout 10

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Batch: 3

Bottled: 5/2/2013 by Nikki.

Age: 10 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Price: $55 Michigan State Minimum (this bottle purchased in Kentucky for $50)

Appearance: Dark copper with thin, evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Almond extract, leather, alcohol, dried flowers. More leathery and herbal with water.

On the palate: Full bodied, sweet and rich. Caramel, burn, amaretto candy, cocoa powder. With water more sweetness and some lavender and tarragon.

Finish: Hot. Red pepper flakes, with a touch of oak and caramel as it fades. Less hot with water and sweeter with a touch of basil or tarragon.

Parting words: Smooth Ambler is a breath of fresh air when it comes to micro-distillers/bottlers. Unlike the smoke and mirrors that usually goes with sourced whiskey in this country, Smooth Ambler has always been very up front about the origins of their whiskeys. Their bourbons and ryes are even called “Old Scout” as a nod to the fact that they are indeed sourced, or scouted, from elsewhere. This may not seem like a lot, but even the best known NDPs (Non-Distiller Producers) are usually less than candid about their products.

At any rate, lest that sound like faint praise, their whiskey is damn good too. I’ve reviewed MGPI bourbon before with mixed results. This one is an unqualified success. It shows excellent balance and works well as a rich, creamy after-dinner, cold-weather sipper. The family resemblance to Four Roses is in evidence. Old Scout has a certain aromatic quality (yeast-driven if I were to guess) that I get in Four Roses but no other Kentucky bourbon.

This bottle proves to me once and for all that MGPI can indeed produce high quality bourbon. At $50-$55 it’s not cheap but it’s 100 proof and very tasty. That earns Old Scout Ten a recommendation.

Rémy Martin 1738

Maker: Rémy Martin, Cognac, France (Rémy Cointreau)Remy 1738

Place of origin: Champagne, Cognac, France. (Not to be confused with the winemaking region of the same name).

Age: NAS (minimum 2 y/o )

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $50

Appearance: Auburn with thick legs and necklace.

Nose: Fruity. Fresh wine grapes, cardamom, dried blueberries, saffron, ginger.

On the palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Panettone with raisins.

Finish: Golden raisins, hint of oak and alcohol. Fades fairly quickly.

Parting words: I believe this is the first Cognac I have reviewed for the blog, although I did review an Armagnac back in 2012. I decided that I needed to review a Cognac when I recently purchased a bourbon finished in a Cognac barrel and I realized I couldn’t pick out any specific Cognac influenced aromas or tastes.

For those who may not be familiar with Cognac, it’s a French brandy made from white wine made from grapes grown in and around the city of Cognac in western France, north of Bordeaux. There are six subregions within the Cognac zone: Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bon Bois and Bois Ordinaire. Rémy Martin 1738 is a Champagne Cognac, meaning it was made with a blend of grapes from both Grande and Petite Champagne. According to the Rémy Martin website, it is composed of 65% Grande and 35% Petite. Cognac is distilled in an old style of pot still called an alembic still and must be aged for a minimum of two years in French oak before being sold. The grapes used to produce the wine used to produce Cognac are typically wines that don’t drink very well. Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano) is one of the primary varietals used

1783 (named for the date of a royal warrant the company was granted) is positioned in the middle of the Rémy Martin range and as such I thought it represented a good place to jump in to the Cognac. I was not disappointed. It contains no age statement or age grade (V.O., V.S.O.P., etc), but strikes what seems to be a good balance between fruity youth and oaky maturity. It’s worth the price, but if you’re still not sure, it is availble in 375 and 200 ml bottles as well. Rémy Martin 1738 is recommended.

J. Trees Dry Riesling

Maker: J. Trees, Petersburg, Michigan, USA (tasting room in Tecumseh opening March 2014)J Trees Dry Ries

Place of origin: Michigan (Pioneer Wine Trail), USA

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 12%

Price: $15 (website)

Appearance: Pale straw, scant legs.

Nose: Bartlett pear, dried flowers, orange blossom honey.

On the palate: Medium bodied and slightly tart. Tangerine, wildflower honey, lemon thyme, minerals.

Finish: Surprisingly dry. A touch of grapefruit and thyme. Fades slowly.

Parting words: I am a lover of all Michigan wine, but I don’t love every Michigan wine. The wines Michigan’s AVAs tend to be of consistently higher quality than those that just read “Michigan” on the label. The wineries of the Pioneer Wine Trail in Michigan are spread over many miles in Southeast and South Michigan and their vineyards occupy a wide variety of sites. What they have in common is they are more “continental” in climate with hotter summers and colder, drier winters than points west and north. All that said, any wine that simply calls itself “Michigan” can contain grapes grown anywhere in the state.

J. Trees is a fairly new winery, but they are producing like old pros. Their 2011 Dry Riesling wine is well executed and delicious from start to finish. It’s dry enough to pair well with food traditionally matched with white wines (we had ours with cheese tortellini in chicken stock) but complex enough for Saturday afternoon sipping with a good book.

The price is very fair for a wine of this quality and versatility. J. Trees Dry Riesling is recommended.

Amrut Single Malt

Maker: Amrut, Kambipura, Bangalore, IndiaAmrut SM

Age: NAS

Batch: No. 47, Sept 2012

ABV: 46%

Price: $50 (Binny’s)

Note: Unchillfiltered.

Appearance: Pale gold, long, lazy legs (no coloring used).

Nose: Malt, fresh cut lumber, alcohol.

On the palate: Full bodied and sweet. Butterscotch, vanilla buttercream icing, coconut cream.

Finish: Warm, but not hot with oak and sweet malt. Fades slowly into tingliness.

Parting words: Amrut is a fairly new brand of whisky. It was introduced to the world outside India in 2004 at an Indian restaurant in Glasgow. After a change in distribution strategy, it was eventually launched the North America in 2010. Before that, the distillery produced malt whisky for blending.

As one might expect, whisky and other spirits in India mature much more quickly than in Scotland or even Kentucky due to the hot climate. According to Wikipedia, the evaporation rate for Amrut whisky in the barrel is about 11% per year compared to 2% on average in Scotland.

This whisky does taste like a 10-12 y/o Speyside malt, and a pretty good one at that. The only off note I detected was the cut lumber in the nose. It is close to the sharp woody aroma that comes through in many micro-distilled American malt whiskeys. Fortunately it dissapates as the whisky opens up in the glass and bottle. Overall, Amrut makes for a pleasant after dinner sipper or a starter whisky for a Scotch session.

At $50 it’s not cheap but it is fair for comparable Single Malt Scotches, many of which are at a lower ABV. Amrut Single Malt is recommended.

Castaña Monstrell

Maker: Castaña, Yecla, SpainCatana Monstrell

Grape: 100% Monstrell (Mourvèdre)

Place of origin: Yecla DO, Spain

Vintage: 2010

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for: $9

Appearance: Dark crimson, thick legs.

Nose: Strawberry preserves, blackberries, black cherries, oak. A little boozy.

On the palate: Raspberry jam, black pepper.

Finish: Light and fades quickly. Cherry juice and a touch of leather.

Parting words: For a $9 wine, this a very good stuff. Mourvèdre/Monstrell is a staple of Mediterranean vineyards, especially those in the southern parts of Spain and France. It often is blended with Grenache and similar wines to counteract its rustic character. This is Mourvèdre of a gentler sort.  It’s jammy but has enough structure and oak to make it appropriate for drinking with a hearty meal. Wines from Rioja and the Duero valley have gotten very hot in recent years, but lesser known regions in Spain like Yecla are still producing value wines and this is a great example. Castaña Monstrell is recommended.

Lagunitas Cappuchino Stout

Maker: Lagunitas, Petaluma, California, USALag Cap Stout

Style: Stout with coffee.

ABV: 9.2%

Price: $4.50/ 22 oz bottle

Appearance: Dark coffee with a big head.

Nose: A bit of malt, mocha.

On the palate: Full bodied and fizzy. Cappuchino, roasted malt, tirimisu.

Finish: Coffee ice cream, long, bitter and creamy. Leaves a bit of sticky sweetness on the lips.

Parting words: Yes, we mostly do Michigan beers around here, but without a little context my reviews wouldn’t be worth what you paid for them.

Lagunitas Cappuchino Stout is a delicious beer. It’s not complex or revolutionary but it tastes really good after a meal. It would taste even better shared with 1-2 friends. At this price, it’s hard to beat. It is recommended.

Head to Head: Bourbon Supreme Rare vs. Cleveland Bourbon Black Reserve

BS= Bourbon SupremeBourbon Sup vs Cleve

CB= Cleveland Bourbon Black Reserve, Batch 004


BS: American Distilling, Pekin, Illinois, USA (facility now owned by MGPI and used in ethanol production)

CB: Cleveland Whiskey Co., Cleveland, Ohio, USA



CB: <6 mos.


BS: Tax-stamped, volume listed as 4/5 of a quart. In a bottle resembling Blanton’s with a gold tassel.

CB: Sourced whiskey treated with a patent-pending process intended to speed up aging. The process involves the use of high-pressure, “oxygen infusion” and “heat processed, charred white oak segments”.


BS: 86 (43% ABV)

CB: 100 (50% ABV)


BS: Acquired for free (thanks Oscar)

CB: $30


BS: Light orange. Slightly cloudy with “dusty” floaters. Some light necklacing.

CB: Mahogany with thin, clingy legs.


BS: Wood varnish, the lumber section at a hardware store.

CB: Dry erase marker, grape jelly.

On the palate

BS: Thin and light. Like sawdust-infused vodka.

CB: Medium bodied. Like sucking on a grape-scented marker.


BS: Resembles accidentally inhaling sawdust and then washing your mouth out with cheap vodka. Fades into a locker-room.

CB: Lots of burn, which covers up the taste nicely. Fades into a headache.

Parting words: This is a head to head I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. On the surface, these two whiskeys don’t have a lot in common. Bourbon Supreme is a “dusty” that was made in Illinois at an industrial alcohol plant and Cleveland Whiskey is a new product made in Cleveland by a startup company.

What they do have in common is that they are two of the most frequently mentioned names in discussions of the worst American whiskeys ever made. They live down to the hype.

Bourbon Supreme quickly belies its origins as industrial alcohol more suited to use as racing fuel than a beverage. The wood notes are very clear, but there is no integration and no balance with anything resembling traditional bourbon flavors like caramel, vanilla or spice.

Cleveland Bourbon resembles something kids might huff to get high. The headache mentioned in the finish came on just seconds after I swallowed the first sip. It was remarkable. I have never had that experience before, except for a Croatian Cabernet that gave me a headache at the moment I first smelled it. At least Croatian wine let me know how awful it was right off the bat.

Can anything good be said about either of these? Bourbon Supreme is still fairly easy to find on shelves (for obvious reasons) and the bottle would look attractive as a display piece on the back of a bar. Cleveland Bourbon also has an attractive bottle, is 100 proof and is only $30 which makes it cheaper than most “micro” products of similar age.

Still, these are both terrible products, worthy of their place in the “worst ever” discussion. I will say that I have tasted something worse than these two bourbons: these two bourbons vatted together. Neither Bourbon Supreme Rare or Cleveland Bourbon Black Reserve are recommended.

Blanck Pinot Gris

Maker: Domaine Paul Blanck, Kientzheim, Alsace, FranceBlanck Pinot Grisf

Grape: Pinot Gris/Grigio

Place of origin: Alsace, France

Vintage: 2007

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for: $22 (list price $32)

Appearance: Gold with thick legs.

Nose: Oak, ripe pear, thyme.

On the palate: Full bodied and medium dry. Oak, white cherries, plum, underripe peach, mineral water.

Finish: Mild apple, a whiff of smoke and it slowly fades.

Parting words: What a delicious wine! A nearby wineshop is closing its doors and friend of the blog Amy and I went on an expedidition recently and pooled our purchase so as to get a bigger discount. This is one of my bottles. As long time readers know, I love the white wines of Alsace and their North American cousins, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy something like this at a deep discount.

Blanck is an Alsatian négotiant producing a full line of wines. This one is from their vins de fruits series of varietal wines. They also produce lines of single vineyard, late harvest and borytized wines.

This is classic Alsatian Pinot Gris. It’s rich and aromatic and judicious use of oak provides that little bit of smoke Alsatian Gris is known for. It may have been more fruit forward a few years ago (six years in the bottle is pushing it), but even at this advanced age it’s delicious.

I would be reluctant to spend the full $32 but $25 or less would be an easy buy for me. I will be looking for more Blancks in the future. Blanck Pinot Gris is recommended.