Ardbeg Perpetuum

Maker: Ardbeg, Ardbeg, Islay, Argyll, Scotland, UK (LVMH)20161220_085145.jpg

Region: Islay

ABV: 47.4%

Michigan state minimum: $100

Appearance: Very light gold.

Nose: Grilled peaches, oak, fireplace ash, cigarette smoke (Marlboro-ish), high corn bourbon, peat.

Palate: Full bodied. Butterscotch, peat ash.

Finish: Alcohol, dry chipotle chilis, sherry, fairly short.

Parting words: Is there better way to end 2016 than with a review of a whisky that was released in 2015? Yes, many better ways. I decided to review this anyway, since I picked it up late this year.

Perpetuum was released in 2015 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Ardbeg distillery. Many distilleries in Scotland were “founded” around 200 years ago. This is no coincidence. Beginning in 1816 and culminating in the excise act of 1823, the UK government passed a series of laws creating a level playing field for distillers in Scotland vs those in Ireland and England. Many illegal distillers went straight, refounding their operations and many new distilleries started up.

Perpetuum is a very good whisky. It’s classic Ardbeg: smoky, spicy, but still complex.Problem is, I’m not sure it’s good enough to justify the $20 markup over Uigeadail which is very similar. The well-reviewed and higher ABV Corryvreckan is $10 cheaper, too. So while Perpetuum is very good, it’s not a very good value. Ardbeg Perpetuum is mildly recommended.

2 Lads Cab Franc/Merlot

Maker: 2 Lads, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20161215_163704.jpg

Grapes: Cabernet Franc (90%), Merlot (10%).

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

ABV: 13%

Price: Don’t remember. 2013 vintage is $32 at winery)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Blackberry, blueberry, cherry, new oak.

Palate: Medium dry. Fruity but with backbone. Blueberry juice, roasted sweet red pepper, oak, vanilla.

Finish: Oak. A little chewy, then light vanilla.

Parting words: My wife and I bought this bottle several years ago when we made our first trip to 2 Lads. It was a part of the hallowed stash of bottles we brought with us from the old house.

I almost opened it a couple times after listening to the opinion of a couple folks in the “screw top wines don’t age” camp, but I’m glad I waited. This wine has aged into an elegant, harmonious example of what a cool climate Cab Franc can be. 2012 is generally the vintage to look for in Michigan reds, but 2 Lads Cab Franc/Merlot is proof that Michigan’s best winemakers still made good wines in cooler “white” vintages. We had this bottle with porterhouse steaks and it paired well, but given its character it could go just as well with BBQ or turkey. 2011 2 Lads Cab Franc/Merlot is recommended.

Sipsmith London Dry Gin

Maker: Sipsmith, Hounslow (Chiswick), Greater London, England, UK. (Beam Suntory)20161220_085558.jpg

ABV: 41.6%

Michigan state minimum: $40

Appearance: Crystal clear.

Nose: Juniper, lime peel, navel orange, alcohol, horehound.

Palate: Full bodied, Orange peel, alcohol, juniper.

Finish: Licorice, alcohol, pepper jam.

Mixed: Out of balance in dry martinis and with tonic. Better with juice and in richer cocktails like Negronis or Princetons.

Parting words: Sipsmith is one of the few micro-distillers that has chosen to focus on gin specifically. Many make it (and make it well) but others are focused on whiskey and see gin and vodka as a way to bring in cash while their whiskey ages. I applaud how gin-focused Sipsmith is and how seriously they seem to take their craft. That care and focus has paid off in a big way for Sipsmith’s founder when they sold out to Beam Suntory for an undisclosed sum earlier this month (December 2016).

All that said, this gin is so unbalanced that I can’t recommend it. I enjoy dry, spicy gins, but Sipsmith London dry takes it too far. It’s all sharp juniper and citrus peel balanced with nothing but alcohol. It’s like a soprano singing a capella at the top of her range for ninety minutes. High notes are good, but absent a chorus with beefy altos and basses, they become noise.

At $40, this gin is on the top shelf, even for micros. That makes its lack of balance even less tolerable. There are dozens of other “craft” gins that manage to be dry without turning into the Mojave desert. Sipsmith London Dry Gin is not recommended.

Cider Rosé

20161210_161342.jpgMaker: Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery, St. John’s, Michigan, USA

Apples: Geneva, Redfield, Watermelon, Niedzwetzkyana, others.

Style: Dry rosé cider.

ABV: 6.7%

Price: $18/750 ml (I think)

Note: At the time of purchase, I received a complimentary bottle of Russet cider and of Uncle John’s Apple Brandy, plus a discount on this bottle and others I purchased.

Appearance: Medium pink with moderately large bubbles. Big champagne-like head at first, but it dissipates quickly.

Nose: Sandalwood, ginger, apple.

Palate: Dry and medium bodied. Slightly tart but grows as it warms. Cardamom, ginger, papaya, watermelon, pomegranate, Granny Smith apples.

Finish: Applewood, big chewy tannins.

Parting words: This is a true rosé cider made from red fleshed apples, not turned pink by the addition of grape juice or something else. It’s firmly in the dry, structured, style of Uncle John’s specialty ciders. More tart than Uncle John’s Russet, it’s closer to Melded but the acid isn’t so much citrus as it is tart apples and pomegranates.
It’s fine with food, but Cider Rosé may clash with acidic salad dressings or cabbagey vegetables.

Uncle John’s Cider Rosé is recommended.
My visit to Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery & Cider Mill is chronicled here.

Jim Beam Bonded

20161209_170242.jpgMaker: Jim Beam, Clermont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)

Age: 4 y/o (minimum)

Style: Bottled in bond bourbon (single season, single distiller, 100 proof, at least 4 years old)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $23

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, cut grass, fresh caramel corn.

Palate: Creme brulee, alcohol, tarragon.

Finish: Alcohol, creamed corn, burnt caramel.

Parting words: Bonded Beam was a staple of the Jim Beam line for decades, but was discontinued in the 1980s. Jim Beam Bonded was (re)released in 2015 at the demand of bartenders, according to Fred Noe. It has a touch of the grassy Beam Funk, but it doesn’t overwhelm. JB Bonded mixes well in everything from Coke to eggnog to Manhattans. It’s not particularly complex but it’s what one expects from a bond at this price. Speaking of price, now that Knob Creek has dropped its age statement, it might be worth looking at JB Bonded for your sipping needs if KC’s price (currently at $37 in Michigan) goes up any more. Jim Beam bonded is a good choice to work into your middle shelf mixer rotation. It is recommended.

Chateau de Leelanau Bianca 2013

wp-1481146103119.jpgMaker: Chateau de Leelanau, Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, USA

Grape: Bianca

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA.

ABV: 12.5%

Price: $18 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Appearance: Pale gold with tiny bubbles.

Nose: Cut apple, lemon thyme, sage.

Palate: Semi-dry and medium bodied. Peach, green apple.

Finish: Soft and apple-y fading to bit of herbal bitterness.

Parting words: When I tasted this wine, I thought it was a blend. I thought I tasted a lot of Riesling in the mix, but I couldn’t put my finger on what else might be in there. Turns out, this is not a blend but a varietal! Bianca is a hybrid with parents from the Villard and Pinot families. It was developed in Hungary and is primarily grown there.

I’m glad some made it to Leelanau because this is delicious. More Michigan vineyards should be growing it! No trace of foxiness, just crisp fruity with a pinch of herbs. Chateau de Leelanau also makes a Bianca Select in a sweeter style. I think I’m going to try to find a bottle of that too! $18 is the right price for this wine. Chateau de Leelanau Bianca 2013 is recommended.