Glenfarclas 12 y/o

Maker: Glenfarclas, Ballindalloch, Scotland, UK (J & G Grant)Glenfarcas 12

Region: Speyside, although the label describes it as “Highland”

Michigan State Minimum: $52

Appearance: Light gold (natural color) with long thin legs.

Nose: Sherry, barley bread, dried flowers, crème brûlée.

Palate: Medium bodied and desserty. Butterscotch, French lavender, oak, mace (the spice not the chemical weapon).

Finish: Fairly hot but sweet. Lingers on the lips for a short time.

Parting Words: Glenfarclas is one of the few truely independent malt distilleries left in Scotland. The Grant family (not to be confused with many other Grants making Scotch whisky) has owned Glenfarclas since the nineteenth century and they have continued to do things their own old fashioned way. They refer to their whisky as Highland on the label although most would refer to them as Speyside these days given their proximity to the Spey river. Their labels are simple, their bottles are butch and their range of malts is based primarily on age. In the U.S. a 10, 12, 17, 21, 25, 40 and a 105 proof cask strength NAS version. Also available (but very expensive) are the Family Cask series of vintage bottlings.

The 12 y/o Glenfarclas is a very good whisky.The packaging and marketing may be spartan, but the whisky is not. The distinctive earthy aromas of the older expressions are muted in the 12 , but are still there faintly in the sherry and oak. The result is a classic sherried Speyside profile of the heavier sort, like Balvenie or Mortlach. It’s an excellent after dinner sipper well suited to books and back porches. I don’t smoke cigars, but I have been told that it goes well with them as well.

$52 is a steal for a mature, quality single malt from anywhere these days. Nothing not to like about Glenfarclas 12. It is recommended.

Half Moon Orchard Gin

Maker: Tuthilltown, Gardiner, New York, USAHalf Moon

ABV: 46%

Notes: Made from wheat and apples. No. 1316, Batch 3

Appearance: Clear.

Michigan State Minimum: $40/1 liter

Nose: Juniper, cedar, lime zest, bourbon “white dog”.

On the palate: Full bodied. Unaged whiskey, cedar, maybe a little citrus. Unbalanced and crude.

Finish: A bitter note, then nothing but alcohol.

Mixed: The strong raw spirit flavors overwhelm and ruin tonic, dry martinis and white ladies. It’s adequate to good in drinks using red vermouth like perfect martinis (made using equal parts dry and red vermouth), Negronis and Princetons.

Parting words: This is an unusual gin. It seems to be something of an experiment based upon the question of what a gin would be like if its flavor was driven by what the spirit was made from instead of the botanicals infused into it. St. George’s Dry Rye gin seems to be a similar experiment, one which I think also fails miserably. St. George luckily has two other excellent botantical-driven gins for it to fall back on. Tuthilltown does not have that luxury, unfortunately. They also have a vodka made from apples which I have not tried. Given my “no vodka reviews” rule and my distaste for Half Moon, don’t expect a notes on that any time soon.

One of the many puzzling aspects of Tuthilltown’s operation is why they have a gin and a vodka made from apples but no apple brandy. Maybe they don’t have access to cider made with the proper varieties of apples for brandy or there’s some other good reason. It could be that they have already made some and are waiting for it to age but given Tuthilltown’s love for small barrels and underaged whiskey that seems unlikely.

Half Moon comes only in liter bottles, at least in Michigan, which would be nice if the product were better. If it were $10-$20 cheaper I might be more inclined to be more generous, but at $40 I expect something much better than this half baked gin. Half Moon is not recommended.


Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USABaker's

Age: 7 y/o

Proof: 107 (53.5% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $47

Appearance: Dark Copper with thick legs.

Nose: Leather, alcohol, caramel. Water brings out a weird rotten vegetable smell.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Cotton candy, plum, oak, oregano, clove. Goes down a little easier with water and brings butterscotch into the mix.

Finish: Hot and sweet. Peppermint cotton candy. I don’t know if such a thing exists but if it does, it tastes like this. Milder and sweeter with H2O.

Parting words: Baker’s is named after Baker Beam, grandson of Jim’s brother “Park” Beam (not to be confused with Parker Beam, Heaven Hill master distiller) and thus second cousin to Booker Noe. For further confusion, consult the interactive Beam family tree here.

It’s is a part of Beam’s Small Batch collection. The other members are Knob Creek, Booker’s and Basil Hayden. Basil is the whipping boy of the group, being no more than Old Grand Dad in a fancier bottle. Knob Creek is very popular and rightly so. It’s the oldest and the only one with line extensions (Rye, Single Barrel, Smoked Maple). Booker’s is barrel strength and is the sort of flagship of the group, with a 25th anniversary, 10 y/o edition being released soon. Baker’s is 7 y/o and 107 proof and unfortunately occupies the “ignored middle child” spot in the Small Batch family.

I bought this bottle when I learned that Baker’s price was going up substantially in Michigan. I hadn’t had it in a very long time and I was pleasantly surprised. I reviewed the now dusty Beam Distiller’s Series last year. It was also 7 y/o and tasty, but Baker’s has a depth of flavor and weight that the DS lacked. This is probably because of the lower barrel entry proof used for Baker’s and Booker’s. It also fares well compared to Booker’s. Booker’s is higher proof but its age has been creeping down as its price has been creeping up. Booker’s currently sells for close to $60 in Michigan, which in my opinion is absurdly expensive for a 6 y/o bourbon, barrel strength or not. Baker’s price has risen in tandem with Booker’s, but it has stayed 7 y/o which gives it the edge over its cousin.

The only flaw is the inexplicable rotten garbage smell that came out with water. That problem is easily solved by not adding  water or using it very sparingly. Overall Baker’s is a very good bourbon at a decent price. That earns it a recommendation.

Uncle Steve’s Irish Stout

Maker: Short’s, Bellaire/Elk Rapids, Michigan, USUncle Steve's Irish Stout

ABV: 5.5%

Purchased for $9

Appearance: Black with a foamy chocolate head

Nose: Dark toast, molasses, malt.

On the palate: Medium bodied, dry and effervescent. Dark roasted malt and a little sourness. A little sweetness at the end.

Finish: More dark toast and bubbles. Fades fairly quickly.

Parting words: It doesn’t take a lot of guesswork to figure out what brand of beer a craft “Irish Stout” is aimed at. If you like Guinness, you’ll like this. It’s a bit of an improvement on Guinness, but not enough to make it a repeat buy for me since I’m not a fan of that style of stout in the first place. I prefer my stouts more flavorful and chocolaty. Uncle Steve’s Irish Stout is mildly recommended.

Redbreast 12 y/o, Cask Strength

Maker: Irish Distillers, Midleton, County Cork, Ireland (Pernod-Ricard)Redbreast 12 CS

Style: Single Pot Still (distilled in a pot still using malted and unmalted barley)

ABV: 59.9%

Notes: Unchillfiltered.

Michigan State Minimum: $65

Appearance: Dark copper (color probably added) with long, thick legs.

Nose: Rich and powerful. Caramel, butterscotch, old fashioned bourbon, leather, alcohol. Water opens it up a little and dials down the alcohol burn.

On the palate: Full bodied and sweet. Vanilla nougat, homemade caramels, chocolate covered toffee bars and bourbon with a big hit of alcohol on the tail end. Again, a splash of water tones down the burn but here it also obliterates the chocolate notes.

Finish: Classic Irish finish. Sweet cereal with a little bit of rubber and a lot of tingle all around the mouth as it fades slowly. Water opens it up and brings the cereal notes to the fore.

Parting words: Irish Distillers is the largest producer of whiskey in Ireland, producing two of the biggest brands of Irish whiskey worldwide, Jameson’s and Power’s. Redbreast is their high-end line of Single Pot Still (as opposed to blended) whiskey. The other expressions are the the standard Redbreast 12 y/o which I reviewed back in 2011, the 15 y/o and the new 21 y/o.

I loved the standard 12 y/o. This is even better, and at just $5 more it’s a fantastic bargain. The one off note I detected was the rubbery note, but it only shows up in the finish and dissipates quickly. Rubber or not, Cask Strength Redbreast is a truly great whiskey. It is exquisitely balanced but powerful and full of Irish character. It’s the best Irish whiskey I’ve ever had and one of my favorite spirits of any type. Redbreast Cask Strength is highly recommended.

The Lost Abbey Serpent’s Stout

Maker: Port, San Marco, California, USALost Abbey Serpents

ABV: 11%

Price: $14/750 ml (Binny’s)

Thanks to Rhiannon to help in acquiring this bottle.

Appearance: Black coffee with a big frothy head

Nose: Faint. Coffee.

On the palate: Full bodied and rich. Roasted malt, effervescence, chocolate covered raisins, Ethiopian Harrar coffee.

Finish: Bitter and slightly sweet. Coffee and dark chocolate stick to the lips for a long time.

Parting words: Lost Abbey’s Serpent’s Stout is one of the best stout’s I’ve ever had. It’s fantastic beer that has a strong classic stout profile but is has a complexity and balance that puts it ahead of the competition. The fruity notes were a bit of a surprise but a welcome addition. As usual, I feel like I’m reaching for descriptors for a beer. I all have left to say is that one tastes really good. Lost Abbey Serpent’s Stout is highly recommended.

Old Medley

Maker: Charles Medley, Owensboro, Kentucky, USAOld Medley

Distiller: Unknown (Contract distilled)

Bottler: Frank-Lin, Fairfield, California, USA

Age: 12 y/o

Proof: 86.8 (43.4% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $46

Appearance: Copper with thin legs.

Nose: Dry oak with a hint of sweetness.

Palate: Medium bodied and a little hot. Light brown sugar, oak, cocoa powder, alcohol, cayenne pepper.

Finish: Well-balanced and long. Alcohol, oak, caramel.

Parting words: Old Medley is a relatively new product and a very new one to Michigan. According to the best information available, Old Medley is a (relatively) high malt bourbon, coming in at 13% malt, higher than the percentage of rye in the mash. 1792 Ridgemont Reserve has also been rumored to be made with a high malt mashbill, but there has never been any evidence to confirm those rumors.

The Medleys are one of the great distilling families of Kentucky with a history that reaches far back into the nineteenth century. Most of that history is in and around Owensboro, Ketucky. The current Roman Catholic bishop of Owensboro is even a Medley. A distillery with the name of Charles Medley still stands there, but it is currently not in operation although its owner, the government of Trinidad & Tobago (long story), have been shopping it around for years with little success. After the Medleys lost control of their own distillery, they carried on as a non-distiller producer with Wathen’s Single Barrel ($33 state minimum), named after ancestor R. Wathen Medley (himself named for the Wathen family of which his mother Florence was a member). Wathen’s son Charles (b. 1941) and grandson Sam (b. 1975) are currently running the business. Recently a NAS, 102 proof bourbon by the name of Medley Brothers has also been released, but has yet to make it to Michigan.

As for the bourbon itself, it’s quite good. It’s an easy drinking mature bourbon. Sometimes I think it’s too mature and might be a little better at 10 y/o with more sweetness and less oak. But that’s a minor gripe and most of the time I enjoy it.

There are a lot of very good 12 year old bourbons on the market that are better values than Old Medley. Elijah Craig and Weller 12 are hard to beat. On the other hand, there are also a lot of garbage bourbons on the shelves that NDPs or micro-distillers are changing $40-$50 for. Old Medley is not that. It’s an easy going after dinner porch sipping whiskey. It is recommended.

Epicuro Beneventano Aglianico

Maker: Unknown (Trader Joe’s exclusive)Epicuro Aglianico

Grape: Aglianico

Region: Beneventano IGT, Campania, Italy

Vintage: 2011

ABV: 13%

Appearance: Very deep purple, nearly black.

Nose: Blueberry, pomegranate juice.

Palate: Medium bodied and fruity but with a little chewiness to hold everything together. Light cherry juice, blueberries, white mulberry, plum, touch of leather.

Finish: Medium dry. Toasted oak, vanilla, clove.

Parting words: Epicuro is another Trader Joe’s line of <$10 wines but one of the few I have not explored as of yet. Epicuro’s wines are all marketed by the varietal and all from relatively lesser known (i.e. not Piedmont or Tuscan) regions.

Beneventano IGT (IGT is roughly equivalent to the French vin de pays; for a synopsis of the Italian regional wine system look here) is in Campania in southern Italy. Campania and neighboring Basilicata constitute the home turf of Aglianico. The latter is home to the best known DOC featuring the grape, Aglianico del Vulture and the former is home to the Taurasi DOCG.

When doing research for this review I discovered that f.o.t.b. Oliver has reviews on three vintages of Epicuro’s Salice Solentino here. It’s a personal favorite of his. He and other reviewers don’t typically hold the Aglianico in as a high regard, but as you can tell from my review above, I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say it was a game-changer for me, but it was easy drinking and cheap without any real flaws. It paired moderately well with beef stew with peas (from an Italian cookbook) but it might work better with pork or chicken as a summer BBQ wine.

Arcadia Ales 15 Ale

Maker: Arcadia, Battle Creek, Michigan, USAArcadia 15 Ale

Style: Sour Brown Ale with cherries, finished in a bourbon barrel

ABV: ??

Appearance: Murky auburn with a moderate head.

Nose: Charred oak, hops, roasted malt, hint of cherry.

Palate: Medium bodied and delicately sweet. Cheery, oak, bourbon, brown ale.

Finish: Fruity and slightly sour. Carries on in a low key fashion for quite a while.

Parting words: I normally don’t review beer one-offs like this, especially not years after they were released, but I have an enormous backlog of beers to review and not a lot of space to store them in so I have decided to review what I have instead of buying new stuff.

This beer was one of two special releases Arcadia put out in honor of their 15th anniversary in December of 2011. The other one was XV ale. It was finished in white wine barrels while this one got the bourbon barrel treatment. This one was said to be a sour brown ale brewed with cherries but I don’t get much sour out of this at all. Either the sourness has mellowed during the time in the bottle or the cherry sweetness has done the mellowing.

I bought it in 2013 or 2012 when visiting Arcadia with Friend-of-the-Blog Oscar. I don’t remember how much I paid for it, but I am sure it was between $10 and $24. I don’t mind paying that much for a one-off of this quality in a 22 oz. bottle like this. If you can find it, Arcardia’s 15 Ale is recommended.