Head to Head: Rittenhouse DSP KY 1 vs DSP KY 354

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Ketucky, USAwpid-20150130_172202.jpg

Distilled

1: Heaven Hill, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

354: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Style: Kentucky rye.

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $24 (DSP 354 edition is no longer being produced).

Appearance

1: Burnt orange.

354: A bit lighter. Bright copper.

Nose

1: Alcohol, caramel, creamed corn, tarragon, sawdust.

354: Softer. Spearmint, alcohol, roasted corn.

Palate

1: Neat- Heat and little else. Water brings out candy and oak notes.

354: Round and soft, even neat. Potpourri, rock candy, alcohol.

Finish

1: Hot and harsh. The caramel and herbal flavors start to shift into something much less pleasant.

2: Long and grassy. Freshly mowed lawn, alcohol, orange peel.

Parting words: After the infamous Heaven Hill fire in 1997, HH turned to their competitors/friends at Jim Beam and Brown-Forman to distill some of their whiskeys for them while they made necessary alterations to their new distillery in Louisville. Brown-Forman (the distillery formerly known as Early Times, DSP 354) picked up the distillation of Rittenhouse, our heroes’ flagship rye, during that period. It is also during that period that many whiskey enthusiasts like myself became big fans of the bonded Rittenhouse. Perhaps the consistently high quality of this rye and Sazerac rye during that period led to the current rye revival in some way.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to do these two head to head for a long time. Now that I have, I’m surprised. I didn’t expect much difference between these two but there was quite a bit. When two whiskeys are so close to each other, those differences can become exaggerated, naturally, but that’s the point to these head to head tastings. “It’s the little differences,” as Vincent Vega said.

Simply put, the DSP 1 did not fare well against the 354. It wasn’t terrible, it but it was comparitively hot and unrefined neat. It was better with a splash of water and even better than that mixed. 354 needed no water and gave off some very pleasant characteristic rye notes in the nose and the palate. When mixed, there was very little difference between the two.

1 is mildly recommended overall but recommended as a mixer. 354 is recommended for all purposes but given its growing scarcity I would save it for sipping neat or close to it.

Arcturos Gewurztraminer

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

Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13%

Price: $22.50 (website)

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Lychee, melon, mango.

Palate: Medium bodied. Cantaloupe, white pepper, white peach, touch of pineapple mint.

Finish: Slightly bitter tempered with tropical fruit.

Parting words: For me, the sweet spot for American Gewurz is 2-3 years, right where this one is. To me, this bottle drinks like a crisper, lighter version of an Alsatian Gewurz. That’s not better or worse, it’s just a matter of style. What they share is a commitment to bringing the spicy aspects of the grape to the fore. This wine is not afraid to embrace its Gewurz-ness. I like that approach and I love this wine. This is another big winner from Black Star Farms and another testament to the character and overall excellence of the 2012 vintage. Pairs well with the usual suspects. Arcturos 2012 Gewurztraminer is highly recommended.

Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 15 y/o

Maker: Mortlach, Dufftown, Moray, Scotland, UK (Diageo)

Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland, UK

Region: Speyside- Dufftown

ABV: 43%

Price: $75 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Dark gold

Nose: Sweet malt, wildflowers, oak, caramel.

Palate: Thick mouthfeel. Brown butter, wildflower honey, beef bullion, alcohol.

Finish: alcohol, butterscotch, vanilla cream, toasted oak.

Parting words: Mortlach was one of the malts that made me reconsider my dislike of Speysiders. This bottling is an excellent example of why I fell in love with this distillery. Meatiness is a house characteristic of Mortlach and it’s in evidence in this bottling. It’s not heavy-handed, though. There’s plenty of sweetness and oak to round it off nicely. It’s complex without being busy. The price is high (for me) but not completely out of whack for a high-quality single malt and cheaper than the new distillery bottlings are going for. If you like the heavier Speyside style and see one of these pick it up. G & M’s 15 y/o Mortlach is recommended.

Good Harbor Cherry Wine

Maker: Good Harbor, Leland, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-01-21-20.33.42.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan, USA

Cherries: Montmorency, Balaton.

ABV: 10%

Purchased for $12

Notes: Estate grown.

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Spiced cherry pie,

Palate: Medium bodied. Tart cherries, nectarine, white pepper.

Finish: Black cherries slowly morphing into a lingering tartness.

Parting words: I don’t recall ever drinking, let alone seeing, an estate grown Michigan cherry wine before this one. Lots of credit to Good Harbor for taking cherry wine seriously and most of all, making a very good one. This is an elegant dessert wine that’s worth every penny. Good Harbor Cherry Wine is highly recommended.

English Whiskey Company Cask Strength Binny’s Handpicked Dual Cask Peated Single Malt

Maker: English Whisky Co., Roundham, Norfolk, England, UKwpid-2015-01-16-16.11.11.jpg.jpeg

Age: NAS

ABV: 60.9%

Price: $70

Notes: Natural color, unfiltered. Limited edition: Casks 108 & 166.

Appearance: Pale gold with thick legs.

Nose: Lemon pepper, peat, vanilla.

Palate: Full bodied. Lemon Meringue, peat, then burn and a touch of gravel.

Finish: Lots of heat and smoke. Hot but enjoyable.

Parting words: OK, so the name of this one doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it is delicious. I’ve had English Whisky Co.’s Classic Malt in years past and it struck me as whisky with lots of potential, but nothing impressive. This is impressive. It easily goes toe to toe with entry level peated Scotches without being an imitation of peated Scotch. The sweet citrus notes in the nose and on the palate set it apart from Islay and other attempts at peated spirits from outside of Scotland.

$70 for a cask-strength peated whisky this delicious is a steal. There are only a few bottles left (mine is #405 out of 426) so run to Binny’s immediately and grab yourself a couple. English Whiskey Company Cask Strength Binny’s Handpicked Dual Cask Peated Single Malt is highly recommended.

Peninsula Dry Riesling

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-01-07-21.45.18.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Hawkeye, Kroupa vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 12%

Price: $18 (website)

Appearance: Bright gold.

Nose: Fresh cut green apple, Anjou pear, sweet melon, fizzy mineral water.

Palate: Drying. Underripe apple, white mulberry, gravel.

Finish: Racy, slightly tart. Lingers faintly for a moderate length of time.

Parting words: Peninsula Cellars is located in the central part of the Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City, Michigan. They’re best known for their table blends, Old School White, Old School Red and Detention. The school theme comes from the old school house that serves as their tasting room (at a different location than their winery).

Peninsula’s blends may be their most popular and best known wines, but they also produce some seriously good varietals, including a single-vineyard Gewürztraminer and this dry Reisling from grapes grown at two nearby vineyards, Hawkeye and Kroupa. It’s a first rate example of how this style of Reisling is done in Michigan. The winemakers have done a wonderful job of balancing fruit with dry minerality. Like most dry Reisling, it does well with poultry, fish and Asian dishes, but this is one that you’ll want to spend a summer or even winter afternoon contemplating. Peninsula Cellars’ 2012 Dry Reisling is highly recommended.

Standard Issue Gin

Maker: Few Spirits, Evanston, Illinois, USA

wpid-2015-01-13-21.11.14.jpg.jpeg

Batch: 4/14

ABV: 57%

Price: $40 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Clear with thick legs.

Nose: Powerful. Cut pine, fennel, alcohol, wet earth, dried wildflowers.

Palate: Full- bodied and velvety. Sweetness then burn.

Finish: Sappy and sweet but quickly drying into citrus blossom and orange peel with a hit of anise at the end.

Mixed: Good in a dry martini with an aggressive, grassy vermouth. Does even better in a perfect martini. Sublime in a Negroni. OK with tonic and with bitter lemon, but overwhelms the mixer. Ditto with orange juice. I would recommend using 1/3 to 1/4 less than your usual proportions when mixing due to the high ABV and powerful flavors of this gin.

Parting words: Last time I was at Binny’s, I was hoping to find some of Few’s much ballyhooed rye. They were all out of that (a promising sign!) so I went home with a bottle of this, which is their navy strength gin.

Once I opened it, I was not disappointed. This is powerful stuff, even when taken down to proof. Big sappy juniper and fennel/anise dominate with everything else taking a backseat. If you enjoy those flavors (I do) you will love this gin. If you prefer your gin a little dryer or milder, then you may not love it. It does fine with tonic and similar mixers but this is a cocktail gin at heart.

$40 is a good price for a gin of this quality and strength. Few Standard Issue Gin is recommended.

Cup A Joe

Maker: Short’s, Elk Rapids, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-01-05-20.53.18.jpg.jpeg

Style: Coffee Cream Stout (made with FTO coffee from Higher Grounds roasters, Traverse City, Michigan).

ABV: 7%

Purchased for $12/6 pack

Appearance: Dark coffee with a short-lived lacy head.

Nose: Fresh ground coffee, sour yeast, cocoa.

Palate: Coffee with extra cream, and a little bit of funk.

Finish: Bitter and caffeinated like your ex but with a sweetness he or she lacks.

Parting words: This is one of my favorite styles from one of my favorite Michigan breweries, so buying it was an easy decision to make. I was not disappointed. The coffee, stout and cream elements blend together seamlessly and the result is a great after-dinner (or as-dinner) stout. Doesn’t do too bad with food either, at least with (electric) grilled pork chops. It’s pricy but worth it. Cup A Joe is recommended.