2896 Langley, 2010

Maker: Bowers Harbor, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20170509_183841

Grapes: 60% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon

Place of Origin: Langley Vineyard, Bower’s Harbor estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Style: Meritage

ABV: 13.5%

Price: $38 (original price on shelf. Purchased on sale with a discount from the owner)

Appearance: Inky dark purple.

Nose: Blueberry, cherry juice, oak.

Palate: Medium sweet. Cherry juice, blackberry, pepper, chewy leather on the back end.

Finish: Cherry and lightly fruity. Stays in the cheeks for a good bit of time.

Parting words: 2896 is Bowers Harbor’s big, flagship red. The 2013 vintage is currently selling on the BH website for $55 and the 2012 vintage (considered the best recent vintage for Michigan reds) for $100. I haven’t had either of those, so I don’t know if they’re worth the money, but they are both at the top end of red wine prices in this state.

As for this wine, it’s very good and worth the price that was on the shelf on which it sat. It is well balanced, but still has the laid back, fruity character of a cool season Bordeaux-style red. Enough oak and alcohol to keep it from becoming a fruit bomb but not aggressive or overly tannic. It goes well with beef and smoked or grilled meats. My only complaint is that the gold wax is very hard to get off and it looks corny. The bottle would be better off without it. At any rate, at around $40 or so, 2896 Langley 2010 is recommended.

 

Ask SKU Anything

SKU of SKU’s Recent Eats recently had a fun post in which he answered any questions from any readers of his who wanted to ask. I thought this might be a fun thing to do for my blog too. On the other hand, I have fewer readers than he does, and when I’ve tried things like that in the past the response has been almost nonexistent. So to avoid embarrassment, I’m going to answer the questions that SKU’s readers asked him.

As I was writing this, I learned that SKU is unfortunately ending his long running blog, so I figured what better way to pay tribute to him than to rip him off? After all, I’ve been doing that for a very long time.

So without further ado,

Years ago, you wrote an article for one of the whiskey magazines titled “Craft Whiskey Sucks.” Now, many years later, would you write the same thing? Do you still think it mostly sucks? 

I didn’t write that article, SKU did, but I will answer the question. Yes, they still suck, almost all of them. The best ones have reached the level of “not bad” but they’re still almost entirely awful, overpriced garbage. Ones that have reached “not bad” include Union Horse Reunion Rye, most of Journeyman’s output, Grand Traverse Distillery’s bourbon and ryes and a handful of others whose names escape me right now.

Sku – at what point does a whisky that you own become too expensive that you don’t open the bottle? For instance, I have a 2012 FR Small Batch that I’m told now sells for over $700 – that seems a ludicrous amount to spend on a bottle, and I wouldn’t spend that amount on it and I’m happy I got it at retail back then. But now I find that decision to open is harder and harder, and I might not ever.

I understand the desire to cash out while one can, but the only whiskey I own that comes close to that is Four Roses 2009 Mariage (what I still think is the best bourbon ever made), but I will eventually open and drink it. It might be twenty or thirty years from now, but I am drinking it.

Do Armagnac houses/domaines have recognizable profiles? For example are there specific differences in notes between Chateau de Gaube and Domaine de Busquet that you could expect to find despite the vintage?

Sure, why not.

How many spirits bottles do you tend to have in your personal collection at any given time (more or less)? of that group, what percentage consists of whiskey v. brandy v. other spirits at this point? do you have any favorite spirits categories other than whiskey or brandy (e.g. mezcal or Jamaican rum)?

-JCR 

I don’t know. I’m guessing between 50-100. That’s a big range, I know. The total number is smaller than most people I know who have been in the hobby for as long as I have. I’m not really a hoarder when it comes to spirits. I like to always have certain things on hand and I like variety, but I’m not the guy buying a case of every BTAC every year for fifteen years or whatever.

I like every spirit, pretty much. Most (by a long shot) of my collection is bourbon but I have a growing stash of brandy and always make sure I have multiple bottles of rye, Canadian whisky, Tequila/Mezcal, rum, and Single Malt on hand.

  1. in your opinion are micro-distillers pricing their bourbons too high?
  2. is the bourbon renaissance a bubble? 2a. if it is a bubble how bad will the pop be
  3. are “tech” whiskies like cleveland viable? that is, in the long run, can a “whisky” that’s aged for an hour really compete on price/quality with a bourbon that’s aged for 10 years? in fact, i have seen cleveland priced higher than eagle rare and laughed all the way home.
    regards,
    -dan

1. Yes. 2. No, but there is a bubble on the high end being driven by the secondary market. 2a. I could see a 20-50% drop in price for top shelf tater bait. 3. No. No, that will never happen. If the bubble bursts these operations will be among the first to go under. They’re all examples of the idiocy of the cult of #innovation in late capitalism. “Tastes like shit” becomes “Disruption!” Need to make a better whiskey? No, we just need to “educate” consumers that they should believe our marketing and not their own lying tastebuds. The angels don’t like being cheated.

Simple: 100 duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?

WTF

How does it feel to be the dean of American whiskey bloggers? How much longer do you think you’ll keep going? Do you think blogging about whiskey is still relevant?

I’m not going to lie, it feels really good. I’ll keep posting until they pull the laptop out of my cold dead hands. Whiskey Blogging is only relevant when Dave Driscoll does it.

  1. What is the next big thing in spirits and why is it Armagnac?
  2. Do you believe that dusty bourbon/rye has a familiar profile that you don’t find in today’s products, i.e. “dusty notes”? If so, do you believe that’s due to bottle conditioning or some other factor(s)?
  3. Given the current boom and scarcity of anything allocated or limited edition, are there bottles you regret passing on years ago that you wish you would have bought more of? -signde 

1. Rum is the next big thing in spirits and it always will be. Rum’s problem is also part of what makes it interesting. It isn’t a distinctive product of any one country. Despite what our libertarian friends often say (assuming libertarians have friends for the moment), good state regulation can be beneficial to a spirit. It ensures consistent quality and structures an industry in such a way that makes it easy for enthusiasts to explore and understand. The French wine and brandy regulations are good examples of this as are bourbon and Scotch regulations in the US and UK respectively. No regulatory regime is perfect, but those are mostly good. Example of bad or mediocre regulation are Canadian Whisky, which is governed by a patchwork of regulations on the provincial and national levels and American wine, which has at once too many and not enough appellations, among other problems. Ironically the Canadian VQA system is better than the American system for wine and much better than the Canadian system for whisky!

Rum’s diversity makes it hard to explore. The rewards are great for those with the patience to do so, but it requires time and focus that few people have. There are dozens of countries regulating the manufacture of Rum. Some are good and some are bad, but they’re all different. There’s little consistency from country to country or label to label, even with things as seemingly straightforward as age statements. It’s hard for a newbie to know what she or he is getting when grabbing an unfamiliar brand from the shelf.

Can this be overcome? Maybe. One way to address these problems would be for all the rum producing countries (or at least the big ones) to come together with reps from the countries that are big markets for rum (US, EU, etc) in some kind of rum summit and come to an agreement on consistent labeling and marketing of rum worldwide. In the meantime, writers like Fred Minnick and Josh Miller are doing a great job of educating consumers to help us get over the many obstacles to rum connoisseurship. So will rum ever arrive? I don’t know but I hope so!

I think brandy might be the next thing after rum or at least concurrent with it. Cognac is already ubiquitous and well positioned for a boom as are lower shelf American brandies like Christian Brothers or E & J. Where the biggest expansion may come is in Armagnac and craft American brandy. Too many craft distillers in the US are trying to ride the bourbon and rye wave right now just to stay afloat instead of looking to the future. Brandy is going to be a part of that future. Instead of seeing a crowded market and saying “me too!” distillers in places like Michigan, New York and Southern Ontario should be seizing the opportunities presented by the abundance of fruit in their areas and distilling brandy now so that when the brandy wave hits they will be ready with aged product. As it is, producers in Indiana and Kentucky are getting the better of the Northern fruit belt distillers, often with northern fruit! Brandy should be a part of the distilling identity of Northeastern North America.

Now what was I saying?

2. I do believe that bottle conditioning is a part of it, but never forget that most of these “dusties” were glut era whiskey that was much older than what the label said and older than what is being bottled today.

3. I once had the opportunity to buy half a case of Russell’s Reserve 101 for $35 a bottle. It seemed expensive to me at the time, so I just got two bottles. That was a mistake. I also feel like I had opportunities to stock up on Weller 12 and Pappy 15 that I should have taken but didn’t because, hey that’s really expensive and there’s always next year!

Why “Sku”?

SKU likes to pretend that his initials are S-K-U but he was actually nicknamed SKU after something that happened that happened when he was a toddler. His parents were shopping at a Target store when he wandered off and they couldn’t find him. They searched the store until they heard a squeaky voiced teen stocktaker shout out, “What’s the SKU for THIS?!” They ran over to the aisle, and there was baby SKU sitting on a shelf. Everyone laughed and laughed.

We often talk about the downsides of the bourbon boom? From your perspective, what are some of the positive aspects?

The positive aspecst are more knowledgeable consumers, Four Roses available stateside (I’ve been in it long enough to remember when it wasn’t!), more single barrel selections, more barrel proof iterations, less gas money spent traveling to Kentucky to buy my favorite bottles because Michigan carries almost everything I want, improvements and expansions at the Kentucky distilleries, the possibility of new, good medium sized distilleries coming online, Stitzel-Weller reopening to visitors, the restoration of the Old Taylor Castle, the list goes on. As annoying as things like dropped age statements and the secondary market are, this is a pretty good time to be a bourbon drinker, on the whole.

Does MAO still make you swoon? -Jealous in Jersey

More of a Trotsky guy myself.

 

SKU’s Recent Eats was one of the first independent bourbon blogs by an enthusiast who wasn’t also a whiskey writer or some guy pretending to be a journalist (we all know who I’m talking about). He’s always been a pretty laid back, honest and forthright guy whose work was a big inspiration to me. Cheers Steve!

Head to Head, Mint Julep ed: Old Forester vs Maker’s vs Mint Julep Elixir

OF= Old Forester Mint Julep, MM= Maker’s Mark Mint Julep, Mint Julep made with Old 20170505_114519Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond and True Kentucky Mint Julep Elixir=MJE

Maker

MM: Maker’s Mark, Loretto, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)

OF: Early Times/Old Forester, Louisville, Kentucky, USA (Brown-Forman)

MJE: Town & Country Specialty Foods, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA

ABV

MM: 33%

OF: 30%

MJE: N/A (made with 50% ABV bourbon)

Price

MM: $36/1 liter (The Party Source)

OF: $28/1 liter (Michigan State Minimum)

MJE: $5/5 oz bottle (makes 30 drinks with 2 oz of bourbon accord to label). Works out to around $28 a liter.

Head to head tasting

Tasted in julep cups with crushed ice

MM: Mint strong up front, then fades to bourbon sweetness and iced tea. Pleasant if a little chewy in the finish.

OF: Fruity up front. Not as bitter, but sweeter. Old Forester bite in mid palate fades to a sweet, slightly minty finish.

MJE: Practically all bourbon, even after adding more ice and syrup to make up for high proof. Syrup lingered at the bottom of the cup even with extensive stirring before pouring over ice.

The Liz Factor

My wife is a lover of the Maker’s Mark Mint Julep and always makes sure we come home from Kentucky with a bottle every spring. She tasted MM & OF blind (when I offered her one made with the syrup she politely declined having tried it before) and to her surprise found that she preferred Old Forester even though she liked both. She found MM to have an unpleasant aftertaste.

Parting words: I don’t drink a lot of pre-made cocktails but when we found both the Maker’s Mark and Old Forester Mint Juleps at Liquor World in Bardstown, Kentucky last weekend I thought a head to head would be a fun idea, since Liz enjoys the MM so much. I prefered MM over OF myself, but I’m not sure it’s worth the extra $8 or so. MMMJ has gone off the Michigan list for some reason so I couldn’t do an apples to apple comparison on price unfortunately. The mint julep syrup just didn’t cut it at all and reminded my why we’ve had the same little bottle sitting on our shelf for years. I’ve made my own mint syrup in years past and that worked a little better. None of these are a substitute for a well made home or bar Mint Julep.

Both Maker’s Mark and Old Forester Mint Juleps are recommended, though OF is a better bargain. MMMJ and OFMJ are only available in stores around Kentucky Derby time in late April and early May. True Kentucky’s Mint Julep Elixir is not recommended. Brown-Forman also makes an Early Times Mint Julep which is awful and highly not recommended. It is what is served in the stands at the Kentucky Derby if one orders a julep without specifying a bourbon.

 

Free Run Cellars Grappa

Maker: Round Barn, Baroda, Michigan, USA20170504_170405

Grapes: Gewürztraminer, Muscat.

Style: Pomace brandy.

ABV: 40%

Note: I received a 25% media discount on purchases and a free lunch when I purchased this brandy.

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Alcohol, lavender, antique rose, boxwood, woodruff, mango, pink peppercorns.

Palate: Sweet. Candied orange peel, alcohol.

Finish: Pungent and perfumed. Clears out sinuses and lingers.

Parting words: Free Run is a line of estate spirits and wines from Round Barn in southwestern Michigan. My wife and I (and our baby!) visited there last summer. An account of that, with details on Free Run is here. I reviewed Black Star Farms’ white grappa in 2013 and I loved it. This one is more rose pedals and musk than BSF’s fruity grappa. Some fruit, other than the faint mango note, would have been welcome for balance but this is good all the same. I forgot to write the price down but Free Run brandies are produced in limited runs and are priced accordingly (for a 375 ml bottle). Free Run Cellars Grappa Pomace Brandy is recommended.

Potter’s Farmhouse Cider

Maker: Potter’s Craft Cider, Free Union, Virginia, USA20170428_091604

Style: Medium dry

ABV: 8.5%

Price: $13.50 (Glen’s Garden Market, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC)

Appearance: Medium gold, moderate carbonation.

Nose: Cut applewood, pear, applesauce, pineapple.

Palate: Medium dry. Mineral, apple blossom honey.

Finish: Clean and crisp.

Parting words: The last time I visited DC to visit my sister and her family, I decided that I wanted to pick up some Virginia wine to take back home and possibly review. I found Glen’s Garden Market (on a recommendation from blogger Obi-Wine Kenobi) in Dupont Circle and decided to stop in there. It’s a cool place with an excellent selection of local products including Virginia wine, but I ended up buying a Maryland red, Long Island rosé and this Virginia cider instead!

Potter’s has a wide and eclectic range of ciders. Farmhouse dry is the flagship. It’s dry without being austere and fruity without tasting like something with Mott’s on the label. The company was founded by a couple of Princeton classmates who stumbled upon the beauty of cider while homebrewing.  This is a very good cider with broad appeal. Good at the table too. Potter’s Farmhouse Cider is recommended.

Knob Creek Limited Edition, 2001

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA20170428_091830

Age: 14 y/o (distilled 2001, bottled 2016)

Batch: 1

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $130

Appearance: Very dark, burnt caramel color. Slow, sticky necklace.

Nose: Classic grassy KC nose. Alcohol, cut grass, woodruff, allspice, dried orange rind.

Palate: Burn, cayenne, vanilla custard, orange, chewy oak.

Finish: Hot & herbal with big oak.

Parting words: Long time readers will know that I  never buy whiskey this expensive and that I whine about value even for bourbons as cheap as $20. So why did I buy this one? I don’t know. It was available for one, and I love Knob Creek for another. It had also been a couple months since I had purchased any spirits so I figured it was in the budget.

Let me start off by saying that Knob Creek 2001 is a good bourbon. It’s certainly the best Knob Creek I’ve every had. It has the big velvety tannins one would expect from a bourbon of this age. It’s firmly within the standard KC profile with pleasant spicy and herbal aromas and flavors. If this were a bottle of the old 9 y/o or of the single barrel KC, I would be very impressed. As a $130 limited edition, I’m underwhelmed. For that kind of cash, there needs to be more going on. More candy, more fruit, more of something. It certainly needs more proof. I’m not sure why this wasn’t released at barrel proof (to enable a broader release, maybe?) but one hundred proof isn’t good enough for a $130 limited edition when the same line has a single barrel at 120 proof at $50. If you have the room in your budget to blow $130 on a good bourbon that isn’t great, then you might like this. If you’re a normal human being and not a tater like me, then you might want to skip this. Reports are that batches 2 & 3 may be better, but this batch isn’t  close enough to a fair price for even a mild recommendation. Knob Creek Limited Edition, 2001 (batch 1) is not recommended.

Christian Drouin Sélection

Maker: Coeur de Lion distillery, Coudray-Rabut, Lisieux, Calvados, France.20170320_113028.jpg

Age: Under three years.

ABV: 40%

Price: $40 (Binny’s)

Note: Single distilled. Made from a combination of apples and pears.

Appearance: Shining copper with thick legs.

Nose: Celery leaves, dry cider, cut pear, toasted oak.

Palate: Medium sweet. Maple sugar, partially fermented apple cider.

Finish: Herbal and slightly oaky.

Mixed: Performed well in cocktails with lemon like the Deauville cocktail (brandy, apple brandy, triple sec, lemon juice) named for the seaside resort town down the road from Coudray-Rabut. It did poorly in cocktails containing Vermouth, clashing with the other ingredients.

Parting words: Like most distillers in Calvados, Christian Drouin’s Coeur de Lion distillery makes a range of apple brandies as well as producing cider and perry (poire). The Drouin brandy range includes (in ascending order of age) an unaged apple/pear eau de vie (Blanche de Normandie), Sélection, Réserve, VSOP, XO, Hors d’Age, 25 y/o, and a range of vintage Calvados (dates from 1939 to 1983 are listed on the outdated website).

The Sélection is fine for what it is, a bottom end casual drinking or mixing Calvados. I didn’t know it was made with pears in the mix along with apples. The source material represents itself well, as it should in a young whiskey or brandy. $40 is more than I would pay for a bourbon of this quality but given the inflation of non Cognac French brandy prices, that’s probably fair. I tasted from a 375 ml bottle. If you’re on the fence on this, that might be a good way to dip your toe in the proverbial water. Christian Drouin Sélection is recommended.

 

Pink Satin, 2015

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA

Grape: St. Vincent (per tasting room employee)20170419_171715

Place of origin: Domaine Berrien estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi-dry rosé

ABV: Unknown.

Purchased for $12 (winery)

Appearance: Dark, almost bloody pink.

Nose: Red currant, allspice, blueberry.

Palate: Mild but full bodied. Semi-dry. Apple, cherry juice, white grape juice.

Finish: Linger tang in cheeks. Raspberry, cranberry juice.

St. Vincent is a grape with a mysterious past. It’s probably a French-American hybrid  but its parentage is unknown (Chambourcin/Pinot Noir has been suggested) and nobody seems to care, frankly. It got its start in Missouri and it’s grown widely accross the Eastern US, but not in great volume. It seems to be best at making fruity, semi-dry reds and rosés. It is also used in still or sparkling blends. It’s one of few hybrids grown at Domaine Berrien.

Domaine Berrien is known for their emphasis on Rhone grape varieties (they were the first in Michigan to grow Syrah) and red Bordeaux varieties. They also have their Satin line, consisting of the white blend White Satin and this wine, Pink Satin, affectionately nicknamed Pink Satan by me. Nothing devilish about this wine, though, other than the color. It’s an easy drinking, unchallenging food friendly rosé. If I have a complaint it’s that it’s too mild, but at $12 one shouldn’t be too picky. This is a solid summer porch sipper or hotdog wine. Domaine Berrien’s 2015 Pink Satin is recommended.

Père Jules Cidre de Normandie, Brut

Maker: Léon Desfrièches & Fils, Saint-Désir-de-Lisieux, Calvados, France20170325_130447

Varieties: Undisclosed but “no less than 20 varieities” according to the website.

Place of origin: Normandy, France.

Style: Dry

ABV: 5%

Purchased for $12/750 ml (Pour, Royal Oak, Michigan)

Note: Made from 100% apple juice, no sugar added.

Parting words: The Le Père Jules brand was named for the father of Leon Desfrièches who began the family business in 1919 after returning home to Normandy after World War I. Jules began distilling Calvados in 1923. Son Léon joined the business in 1949 and founded the company as it is today, creating the brand. Jules’ grandson Thierry and Thierry’s son Guilliame run the business now and produce Cider, Perry (Poiré), Pommeau and Calvados. The cider is made in brut (dry), demi-sec (semi-dry) and doux (sweet). Unfortunately, only the Brut Cider and Perry are available in the US as far as I can tell.

When it comes to French ciders, I usually prefer Breton to Norman, because all of the Norman ciders I’ve had have been yeasty and brutally tannic. The Breton ciders have been more balanced and not as puckeringly austere. This cider has changed my mind about Normandy. It’s perfectly balanced with the trademark tannins and yeasty funk but with a counterpoint of fruit to bring it together and produce an elegant harmonious whole. This is the best French cider I’ve had and easily in the top five ciders I’ve had from anywhere. Père Jules Brut is highly recommended.

Last Barrels

Maker: Corby, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Pernod Ricard)20170407_200835

Distilled: Hiram Walker, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (Pernod Ricard)

Style: Unblended sour mash Canadian whisky

Age: 14 y/o

ABV: 45%

Price: $65, Canadian ($48.50 US; Ontario only)

Thanks to Andrew for helping me acquire this bottle!

Appearance: Medium copper with long clingy legs.

Nose: Sharp young oak, black walnut, old oak, grape soda, alcohol.

Palate: Full bodied and silky. Dark chocolate covered caramels, caramel corn, bubble gum.

Finish: Plum juice, chopped walnuts, alcohol

Parting words: This whisky is weird. It’s made from a bourbon-like recipe of  80% corn , 11% rye and 9% malt (similar proportions to Early Times or Buffalo Trace) all mixed together before fermentation (unusual for a Canadian). Unlike most Canadian whiskies, it was also made with a sour mash like bourbon, but it was soured in an unconventional way. According to Canadian whisky sage Davin de Kergommeaux,  master distiller Jim Stanski placed a carton of milk on the counter in the lab at Hiram Walker and allowed it it to sour. He then poured it into the mash to lower the Ph. The idea seems insane but it’s hard to argue with the results.

This limited run (2,000 cases) whisky is called Last Barrels because it made up of the last barrels filled at Hiram Walker during Jim Stanski’s tenure as master distiller. Fear not, Jim didn’t leave the distillery, he just moved up the corporate ladder. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) was looking for a special release for Father’s Day 2016 and the folks at Corby thought Jim’s wacky last batch would be a perfect fit.

I was not a fan of the nose at first, but it has mellowed since I first opened (that or my nose got used to it). It is too sharply woody, like craft bourbons aged in small barrels. It’s wonderful on the palate, though. Full bodied and lucious, it’s like cuddling up in a soft blanket with a soft friend on a warm winter night. It’s stupid cheap too, probably too cheap for how few barrels there are. I’m not complaining, though. There are a few still kicking around the LCBO system, but with the limited number of bottles and a strike looming, act fast. Wiser’s Last Barrels is highly recommended.