Gurutzeta Original Basque Cider

Maker: Sidreria Gurutzeta, Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country, Spain20190616_171204.jpg

Style: Natural Basque Spanish cider

ABV: 6%

Purchased for $12/750 ml at Vine & Table in Carmel, Indiana.

Appearance: Very hazy gold.

Nose: Apple cores, dried flowers, apricot, lemon thyme.

Palate: Apricot, Golden Delicious apple, chalk dust, pinch of sweetness.

Finish: Tangy. Siracha burn in the back of the throat as it warms in the glass.

Parting words: This is the second Basque cider (or Sagardoa as they call it) I’ve reviewed. The other one was in November of 2017. It was Isastegi Sagardo Naturala, made in Tolosa about 17 miles (27 km) south of Astigarraga. The two ciders are similar in style but Gurutzeta is more acidic and less funky than Isastegi. Neither have more than a trace of sweetness.

Basque ciders are not what I’d call good entryway ciders for most North American drinkers. While they’re not as dominated by tannin as Norman ciders, they do have much more of it than most English or American ones. and they tend to have high levels of acid and funk with virturally no sweetness. It may sound silly, but for those new to Basque cider I would suggest getting a solid feel for French cider before venturing into Basque Country. It will help you understand this unique tradition better. At any rate, Gurutzeta Original Basque Cider is recommended!

 

Crown Royal Blender’s Mash

Maker: Crown Royal, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada. (Diageo)20190607_210110.jpg

Style: Canadian Blend

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $20

Parting words: CR Blender’s Mash began life as CR Bourbon Mash but Diageo, which never seems to remember that it owns bourbon brands, was forced to change the name due to bourbon’s protected legal status. This decision was right and good, in my not particularly humble opinion. The decision was made after the labels were already printed and affixed to bottles, so if you enjoy collecting things that nobody cares about, try to seek out some of those bottles for your collection.

At any rate, Blender’s Mash is a Canadian blend starring one of CR Deluxe’s constituent whiskies. It has a bourbon-like recipe with 65% corn and 31% rye (malt makes up the rest). The result is a very bourbon-like product. It’s rather mild neat or on the rocks but it mixes surpringly well. It makes great Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. In Coke or in a Boulevardier it gets a little lost, but is still pleasant.

I don’t enjoy the standard Crown Royal or the Special Reserve, but this is enjoyable. It’s more refined and sweeter even if it is underpowered. $20 is $5 less than regular Crown and $25 less than Special Reserve, so this is a good QPR selection if you’re into that sort of thing. Crown Royal Blender’s Reserve is recommended.

Boathouse Pinot Noir, 2012

Maker: Boathouse Vineyards, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA.20190612_222115.jpg

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $20

Appearance: Dark red.

Nose: cedar, blackberry jam, blueberry pie, clove.

Palate: Semi-sweet. Black cherry, raspberry, red currant jelly.

Finish: Blackberry jam, French oak, apple wood smoked pork.

Parting words: I discovered this bottle sitting on a dusty bottom shelf at Holiday Market in Royal Oak. The bottle was on the shelf, that is. I had heard of Boathouse, but never visited there. I wasn’t sure if a Pinot Noir from a small winery would hold up after seven years, but I decided to take a chance. I was pleasantly surprised!

This is a full-flavored and ripe Pinot, similar to some California ones I’ve tasted in the same price range. I prefer a softer, more acidic wine from this grape, but there’s nothing to complain about, really. This is a very food-friendly wine that has held up surpisingly well for being left to languish in obscurity. 2012 Boathouse Pinot Noir is recommended.

Midnight Oil

Maker: Motor City Gas, Royal Oak, Michigan

Style: Peated bourbon (made with peated malt)

Age: NAS (dumped March 31, 2018)

Proof: 105.8 (53.4% ABV)

Purchased for: I forget (at distillery)

Note: bottle is boring, so no picture, at least for now.

Appearance: Dark copper, almost chestnut.

Nose: Freshly refinished hardwood floor, cherry jam.

Palate: Black walnut, a little peat, some smoke, brown sugar.

Finish: More peat and smoke, oak, a little bite.

Mixed: Very good in strong cocktails like Manhattans or Boulevardiers.

Parting words: This is the second of two bottles I got at Motor City Gas a few months ago. I was very impressed with it at the distillery. It seemed smokier and peatier (?) there too, probably because I tasted it after their rum-finished bourbon. It was still enjoyable at home, though. The peat blends seamlessly into its young, woody character to the point where it’s nearly impossible to disentangle the two. It doesn’t drink like 105.8 proof, either, which is dangerous. It’s at its best in cocktails, though, where it can stand up to just about any mixer, even amaro and black vermouth.

The price is high (even though I can remember what it was), but it’s barrel proof and the best peated bourbon I’ve had, although there aren’t very many to be had. Available only at the distillery on the outskirts of downtown Royal Oak, Michigan. Midnight Oil is recommended.

 

 

A Visit to Copper & Kings

Note: The tour of Copper & Kings was complimentary for my party and me.

On my last few trips to Kentucky, my crew and I have not done much in the way of activities. When you’ve been going for ten years or so, you’ve done all the tours and seen pretty much all the sites so my inclination is to just kick around town or the hotel and not do a bunch of driving here and there. In other words, we fell into a rut.

This April I decided to do more. I scheduled two day trips for us. The first was to Frankfort (more on that later), and the second was to Louisville. In the latter, I scheduled a tour of the Old Forester Distilling Company (Brown-Forman’s excellent answer to the Evan Williams Experience), a lunch with award-winning bourbon journalist Maggie Kimberl, and then a tour of Copper & Kings distillery.

For the second year in a row I had forgotten that the Louisville Marathon is that Saturday morning and as a result many of the streets downtown are closed off to vehicular traffic. Despite this we managed to sucessfully navigate through the streets of downtown Louisville by car and then by foot to make our way to Old Forester Distilling Co ahead of schedule.

Lunch was a different story. I had neglected to call ahead to our chosen lunch meeting

IMG_20190427_151927_561.jpg
Maggie and I

place and when we met Maggie there, the wait was forty-five minutes. That wouldn’t work, so Maggie told us to all jump into her minivan and she took us to a popular restaurant near Copper & Kings called Butchertown Grocery. Their wait was even longer but they told us to go down the street to a newer, smaller place called Naive. They had seats and good food, drinks, and service.

After that, we bid farewell to Maggie and walked to Copper & Kings. A winding path through repurposed shipping containers (containing a gift shop and restrooms) runs from the front of the property into a courtyard that occupies the space in front of the main building. The space is set up for outdoor events and includes a bar, a firepit and a large tent (in case of rain, I assume). Just about everything is orange.

Our tour group assembled in the large tent (it was raining) and we got a brief opening talk from our tour guide Margaret. She gave us the basics about what brandy is and told us a little about the According to Margaret, before prohibition there were 400 or so brandy distilleries in the US. Very few survived and many of those that did, make sweet, dessert brandies. That is not what Copper & Kings makes. They aim to make brandy for bourbon-drinkers. The distillery began operations in 2009 and opened to the public in 2014.

20190427_141501.jpg
Sara & Isis (no terrorism)

Margaret then led us through the courtyard into the first floor of the main building by the stills. They had three steam-heated alembic stills at the time, with one on the way, all manufactured by Vendome. The smallest is Sara (50 gallons), followed by Magdalena (750 gal), and Isis (1,000 gal). Their newest still, Rosemary (2,000 gal), had not yet been delivered when we were there. In case you were wondering, all the stills are named after women whose names appear in Bob Dylan songs, mostly in songs from his 1976 album Desire. Rosemary appears on the prior album Blood on the Tracks. I would have gone with Patty Valentine, but what do I know? According to Margaret, the stills are currently run around the clock but vary according to the phase of the moon. Distillation takes shortest during a full moon, longest during a new moon. I know that sounds like baloney, but it’s based on data compiled over the years by former C & K employee Alan Bishop. The difference is not great but it does exist, especially during a “super moon”. Alan is currently master distiller at Spirits of French Lick in French Lick, Indiana.*

No fermentation takes place at the distillery. All the wine, cider or whatever that is destined for the stills is feremnted elsewhere and taken to the distillery. The grapes (Columbard, Muscat Alexander, and Chenin Blanc) are sourced from California and the apples from Michigan. Yeast strains are chosen on a year to year basis.

After looking the stills over, Margaret took us down to the cellar in which brandies were

20190427_141741.jpg
Margaret telling us about the cellar.

aging in a bewildering variety of cooperage. The brandy destined for C & K’s core line are aged in ex-bourbon casks originally from Heaven Hill, makers of Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and many more. The rest were aging in ex-sherry, ex-Cognac, mead, beer, wine, cider and many many more. There were even a few barrels of oddball spirits that C & K has acquired over the years, presumably for future releases. The barrels are obtained through Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville.

20190427_141745.jpg
Barrels, lots and lots of barrels

Copper & Kings practices something they call sonic aging. This has nothing to do with an elderly hedgehog. It’s the practice of placing speakers (20 total including five sub-woofers) in the cellar and cranking the volume up to get the spirit moving and increase the amount of contact between the spirit and the barrel. Appropriately enough, they were playing My Morning Jacket while we were there.

We then moved upstairs to a large, lounge-like

20190427_142319.jpg
An odd barrel

space to sit down and do some sampling. I tried their 5th anniversary brandy, called A Song for You, a high-powered gin and a delicious barrel-finished absinthe. We all tasted each other’s samples as well, and the biggest standout of those was an unusual distillery-only pear brandy. I didn’t end up going home with that but I kind of wish I had.

After the sampling, we all headed to the rooftop bar for a cocktail and a good view of Louisville and the solar panels on the roof. Sustainability is a big concern for Copper & Kings. In addition to the solar panels, they have planted a monarch butterfly garden that doubles as run-off mitigation and offer anyone who rides a bicycle to the distillery 50% off the price of a tour.

20190427_142721.jpg
The very orange lounge
20190427_143923.jpg
The bottles we could sample from.

That was the end. Our guide Margaret was wonderful, and if I have any complaint, it was that everything was a little too orange. Don’t get me wrong, as a graduate of Broad Ripple High School and Anderson University I have great affection for the color, but it got to be too much. Anyhow, a tour of Copper & Kings is recommended.

20190427_152243.jpg
There was a lot of orange, but there was also this amazing poster.

I also recommend stopping at Butchertown Market after your tour for some light souvenir and candy shopping. We did and got some good stuff. Check it out!

*Big thanks to Alan for answering my question via FB messenger and to Maggie Kimberl and Steve Beam for connecting me with him!

 

 

 

Shady Lane Riesling Reserve, 2015

Maker: Shady Lane, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA20190506_170116.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Shady Lane estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2015

Style: Dry Riesling

ABV: 11.4%

Purchased for $26 (Michigan By The Bottle Sipper Club)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Golden Delicious apples, lemon thyme, mineral water.

Palate: Mandarin orange, lime, chalk dust.

Finish: Drying and rocky. A little tartness.

Parting words: As I’ve written about before, 2014 and 2015 were essentially lost vintages in Michigan due to the infamous Polar Vortex. There were a few vineyards in Northern Michigan that didn’t get hit as hard as others, though. According to a tasting room employee last year, Shady Lane’s vineyards were among them.

The grapes and vines on Shady Lane survived, but it was still a cold vintage, and the wine reflects that. It has developed nice and slowly and hasn’t lost any of its fruit in its 3+ years in the bottle. It also has retained plenty of acid without being an acid bomb. Shady Lane Reserve Riesling is great with food but also has the depth and complexity for solo sipping. It’s everything a dry Michigan Riesling should be. Shady Lane Reserve Riesling is recommended.

 

Left Foot Charley Perry

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20190504_122122.jpg

Variety: 100% Bartlett perry

Style: Dry American perry.

ABV: 6%

Price: $8 (winery IIRC)

Appearance: Very pale straw.

Nose: Pear, cedar, yeast.

Palate: Light & dry with a few bubbles. Hint of pear, apple core, yeast.

Finish: Dry. A little tannin and funk.

Parting words: At this point in my cider-tasting career I’ve had a good number of perries and all but a couple of them have been very sweet. When I saw that this perry was 100% Bartlett, I assumed that I was in for another sweet, one-dimensional perry. I was wrong. LFC’s perry is pleasantly dry with a little yeast and even what tastes like tannin! It was a very pleasant surprise. The winery that makes some of my favorite Michigan wines now also makes my favorite Michigan perry. LFC’s Perry is highly recommended.

Head to head: Extra vs Borderies

Maker: Tessendier et fils, Cognac, Charentes, France20190430_093125.jpg

E= Extra

B= Borderies

Place of origin

E: Grande Champagne, Cognac, France

B: Borderies, Cognac, France

Age category

E:XO

B: NAS

ABV: 40%

Price

E: $100 (K & L)

B: $50 (Binny’s)

Appearance

E: Dark copper.

B: Medium copper.

Nose

E: Oak, leather, apricot, dates.

B: Oak, orange oil, cherry cola.

Palate

E: Sweet, rounded, French oak,  vanilla, black currant jam, alcohol, praline.

B: Lighter, brighter. Orange thyme, cedar, alcohol, roasted almonds.

Finish

E: Nutty. Oak, alcohol, brown sugar

B: Potpourri, alcohol.

20190228_221538.jpgParting words: This is the final installment of my three-part series on the Park Cognacs that came in the little boxed set of six 50 ml bottles I bought at Vine & Table in Carmel (CAR-muhl), Indiana a few months ago. These two are the best of the six.

The Extra is a good example of what a Grande Champagne XO should taste like. It’s complex, but none of the flavors or aromas are outside of the usual file-cabinet of Cognac descriptors. The Borderies was pretty different compared to French brandies I’ve tasted before, more perfume and citrus. That’s not to say that B was better than E, it was just different.

I enjoyed the Borderies as a change of pace, but I would probably not want to drink it all the time. The best comparison I can think of is between bourbon and rye. I enjoy rye as a dry change of pace, but the sweetness of bourbon is what keeps me coming back. Both Park Extra and Borderies are recommended.

Left Foot Charley Gewürztraminer, 2016

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20190415_162818.jpg

Grape: Gewürztraminer (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Grand Traverse County, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $20 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Quite pale gold.

Nose: Big lychee, woodruff, roasted ginger.

Palate: Peach pit, bitter orange, orange thyme.

Finish: More lychee, orange pith.

Parting words: Gewürztraminer is one of my favorite grapes. Its wine is spicy and tastes like no other grape (except Traminette). Next to Riesling, it’s my favorite white wine grape. Like Riesling it’s made in a range of sweetness levels, although it doesn’t reach the sublime heights of high-quality German Spälese or Auslese. LFC Dragon-label Gewürz is firmly on the dry end of the spectrum. The LFC website recommends cellaring this wine until 2022-2024 (!). I prefer Gewürz with a little bit of fruit to balance the spice so I opened mine in 2019, but if I find another bottle I may let it sit for a couple more years.

I’ve had a lot of Michigan Gewürz over the years and this is the best one that I can remember having. It’s good on its own but it is spectacular with spicy food. The first bottle I purchased was taken to a Chinese New Year celebration and was gone in a flash. It paired perfectly with the spicy hot pot at the center of the meal. $20 is more than fair for a high quality wine like this. Left Foot Charley Gewürztraminer (dragon label) is highly recommended.

Old Forester Rye

Maker: Brown-Forester, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20190329_214938.jpg

Style: Kentucky style “barely legal” straight rye whiskey.

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, tarragon, cut grass, catmint, lime jello.

Palate: Medium-bodied, dry and herbaceous. Peppermint, lavender, ghost pepper, alcohol.

Finish: Semi-sweet, woodruff, and a little sweetness. No oakiness at all.

Mixed: Did well everywhere: with ginger ale, in a Sazerac, in a Manhattan, a Monte Carlo, a Normandy Cooler and with a dash of akvavit.

Parting words: This is the first rye made at the Brown-Forman distillery in a very long time. Sort of. When Heaven Hill’s Bardstown distillery was destroyed by a fire in 1996, they contracted the production of their whiskey to other Kentucky distillers, including B-F. They produced the 1998 and 1999 vintages of Evan Williams Single Barrel and, most importantly for this review, they also took over production of Rittenhouse Rye. The Bottled-in-Bond became a cult favorite (look for DSP 354), and I would argue that its success helped kick off the current rye boom. There was a bit of mystery around it, though. Heaven Hill claimed that it was made from their recipe, but sources at Brown-Forman claimed that it was an old recipe that they had dug out of their files. Given the big difference between the current Rittenhouse and the old B-F distilled version, I tend to believe the second story.

When production of Rittenhouse moved to Heaven Hill’s new distillery in Louisville, there was no B-F made rye on the market until this year. Old Forester Rye is made with a recipe that is unusually high in malted barley. The result is a fruity, slightly spicy rye that is in the same vein as Old Forester bourbon. It mixes very well, is 100 proof and the price is right for a macro-distilled rye. Old Forester Rye is highly recommended.

For another perspective, check out Friend of the blog Gary’s review over at Whisk(e)y Apostle!