Woodinville Private Select, Holiday Market, barrel 4884

Maker: Woodinville, Woodinville, Washington, USA

Style: Single barrel, barrel strength, straight bourbon.

Age: NAS (at least four years old).

Proof: 121.28 (60.64% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $70

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Spicy. Caramel, hot pepper jam, mace, cassia.

Palate: Full bodied and lucious. Caramel and cream, with big burn on the end. Water calms things down a bit, but doesn’t rob it of its richness. It also brings out the char and a little chocolate.

Finish: Sweet and oaky, in the “dusty” bourbon way.

Parting words: Woodinville is a farm-to-bottle distillery in the wine country near Seattle. Like many micro distilleries around the US, they claim the late Dave Driscoll as a formative influence on their business. After parting ways with Maker’s Mark in 2008, Driscoll went into business as a travelling consultant and worked with scores of start up distilleries over the next ten years, Woodinville included.

I’m not very well acquainted with Woodinville, and this is the first bottle I’ve purchased, so I had no expectations upon opening it. When I first opened it, I drank it mostly on the rocks, and I was not particularly impressed. Once I started drinking it in a Glencairn glass with a splash of water, my opinion changed immensely.

It has a richness that reminds me a lot of some of my favorite old “dusty” discontinued bourbons. I don’t remember how old it is, but I don’t really care, frankly. It’s one of the best “craft” bourbons I’ve had. $70 is a perfectly reasonable price given the quality and proof. I really like this, and I can’t wait to try more Woodinville selections. Woodinville Private Select, Holiday Market selection (barrel 4884) is highly recommended.

Bel Lago Cabernet Franc, 2016

Maker: Bel Lago, Lake Leeland, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Cabernet France (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA. (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for $44 (Michigan by the Bottle Royal Oak)

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Blackberry, blueberry, violets.

Palate: Dry but fruity. Blueberry, mulberry, tiny nip of tannin.

Finish: Tart and a little chewy.

Parting words: Bel Lago consistently makes some of the best wines from Burgundian (and Burgundy-adjacent) grape varieties in Northern Michigan. Their Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Auxerrois are all sought after by Michigan wine enthusiasts.

Judging by this wine, they have some work to do with their Bordeaux varietals. While perfectly drinkable, it lacks the depth and complexity of Bel Lago’s Pinots and Auxerrois. It’s virtually all fruit, without anything in the way of spice, minerals, or oak, despite spending 34 months in the latter. 2016 was a hot vintage, and Charlie, Bel Lago’s co-founder, likes his grapes ripe (and the microclimate of the estate is happy to oblige him) so perhaps they had a little too much hangtime.

As I said before, there’s nothing flawed or unpleasant here, it just doesn’t quite live up to my expectations of Bel Lago or of $45 wines. That said, I’m definitely trying the 2017 if I see it. 2016 Bel Lago Cabernet Franc, 2016 is only mildly recommended.

2 Lads Sparkling Rosé, 2018

Maker: 2 Lads, Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Grapes: Chardonnay (90%), Pint Noir (10%).

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

Style: Dry Sparkling Rosé.

Vintage: 2018.

ABV: 12.2%

Purchased for: $32 (winery).

Appearance: Dark pink (yes, that’s a thing).

Nose: Fresh bagette, strawberry, white mulberry.

Palate: Dry to semi dry (in the brut range). Very effervescent. Limestone dust, white raspberry.

Finish: Dry, but juicy and tart.

Parting words: We picked this bottle up from the winery back in July, when we were showing my sister and her husband around Old Mission Peninsula. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we stopped in and I asked what they had that isn’t available at Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room. The man I asked (looked like he wasn’t older than 23) gave me a puzzled look. When I explained what that was he said he didn’t know 2 Lads was distributed that far “downstate”.

Anyway, this is an easy-drinking dry, but not too dry, traditional method (I think) pink sparkler. It pairs well with just about any food, including stir fry and Indian food. It is at its best at the table, but is a good porch sipping wine too.

I like the pop-cap closure. It adds to the bottle’s contemporary look and makes opening the bottle much easier. I’m usually a romantic when it comes to these sorts of things, but I’ve wasted too much of my life screwing around with tiny cages and big corks. More caps, please, winemakers.

$32 isn’t cheap, but this wine doesn’t taste cheap either. Drink now through 2023 or so. 2018 2 Lads Sparkling Rosé is recommended.

Kirkland Small Batch: Barton 1792

Maker: Barton 1792, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Style: Standard recipe straight bourbon.

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 92 (46% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $28/1 liter. Comes out to $21/750 ml

Appearance: Shiny copper.

Nose: Pretty hot for a 92 proofer. Cinnamon imperials, baking spice.

Palate: Cinnamon disks, cayenne pepper, oak.

Finish: More candy notes, but some oaky tannin and caramel.

Parting words: When Costco announced that they were going to be releasing a new line of Kirkland bourbons, all distilled at Barton 1792, I was excited, even though there were some who shrugged their shoulders. As you know, dear readers, I love Very Old Barton. Unfortunately, it’s highly allocated in the Great Lakes State where I live. As much as I love it, I find it hard to motivate myself to drive all over the metro area looking for a $14 bourbon. Kirkland Small Batch is slightly easier to find, but at least it comes in bigger bottles.

The question on my mind when this line was announced was which recipe was going to be used for it, Barton or the high malt 1792 recipe. After spending a couple months with this bottle, I can firmly say that I have no idea. If pressed on the matter, I would say Barton, given the sweetness and spice.

Either way, this is pretty much what I expect in a $21 bourbon. Some oak and spice, but a little thin. Strangely enough, I actually like this bourbon better on the rocks. Everything seems to be much more harmonious and integrated.

At any rate, Kirkland Small Batch: Barton 1792 is recommended! I really hope my local Costco gets some of the Bottled-in-Bond, or Single Barrel in soon!

Blustone Pinot Noir Rosé, 2019

Maker: Blustone, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA.

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%).

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for $20 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak).

Appearance: Pale rust.

Nose: White mulberries, strawberry, pink peppercorn.

Palate: Dry, crushed orange raspberries, limestone.

Finish: Tart, and dry.

Parting words: I don’t usually let my rosé get this old, but we bought a big pack of pinks from MBTBTRRO and the beginning of the pandemic as they had switched entirely to retail. Because of my overly complex system of rotating wine through my cellar, liquor cabinet and then china cabinet we still had a couple of those bottles left at the beginning of the year.

This is a very good pink Pinot Noir. Time seems to have dried it out and muted the fruit flavors somewhat, but this is still very refreshing and fantastic with food or just chilling on the back porch on a sweaty afternoon. Given the amount of crap being sold these days at well over $20, this was a steal. The 2022 vintage is selling for $22 currently, which is less of a steal, but still a good price for a good wine. 2019 Blustone Pinot Noir Rosé is recommended.

Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey

Maker: Nelson’s, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Distiller: Undisclosed (Dickel? Prichard’s? Somewhere else?)

Style: Wheat recipe Tennesse whiskey.

Age: NAS (not labeled straight so no minimum age)

Proof: 91 (45.5% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $30

Thanks to Amy for giving me this bottle!

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Tarragon, grape soda.

Palate: Roasted corn, dried cherry, cayenne chilies.

Finish: A bit rough, then mellowing into more grape soda.

Mixed: It was fine mixed with Benedictine, but what character it had got lost. Other than that I didn’t have a chance to try it mixed.

Parting words: Nelson’s Greenbrier is the bottom shelf (ok more lower middle shelf) offering from Nelson’s distillery in Nashville Tennessee. They’re best known for their very good Belle Meade Bourbon line, one of which I thought I had reviewed at some point, but I guess I didn’t. No place to start like the bottom, though, right?

To be clear, this isn’t really the same stuff as the Belle Meade bourbons. Greenbrier is put through the famous Lincoln County Process (filtration through maple charcoal) and is made with wheat as the “flavor grain” unlike most TN whiskeys which use rye. None of the Belle Meade are made with wheat or given the LCP treatment.

Nevertheless it does sit at the lowest price point of the Nelsons’ offerings in Michigan, and it tastes like it, frankly. It’s not terrible, but it’s much closer to the level of quality of a $10 bourbon from a major distillery, than other bourbons or TN whiskeys priced in the $30s. Dickel #s 8 and 12 are both cheaper than this, as is Jack Daniels black label. Gentleman Jack is around the same price but it’s even more vile than the regular Jack Daniels, so I don’t think it’s a good comparison.

If you’re looking for a mixing Tennessee whiskey with a beautiful (it really is gorgeous) label, this is for you. Otherwise, you’re better off saving a few bucks and buying a Dickel. Nelson’s Greenbrier is mildly recommended.

Eastern Kille Bottled In Bond

Maker: Eastern Kille, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Style: standard recipe, pot distilled straight bourbon.

Age: Not disclosed but at least 4 y/o by law.

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Purchased for $48 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Sawdust, anise, over-roasted almonds.

Palate: Full-bodied and mild. Caramel, barrel char, dark chocolate, dash of amaretto.

Finish: Hot and woodsy.

Mixed: Performed pretty well in Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, with Coke, and with Cherry Coke.

Parting words: To me, the moment when a new bourbon distillery comes of age is when it can release a bottled in bond bourbon. So I was very excited to try this from Michigan’s own Eastern Kille. It feels like they’ve arrived.

But where have they arrived? I’m split. The nose and finish have that sharp sawdust note that I used to associate with small barrel bourbon, but I’m not so sure that’s where it’s from anymore (mashing maybe?). I don’t fine that aspect very pleasant, and it occasionally interfered with mixers. The palate is silky and chocolatey and very good, though, so I don’t know where to land.

Water turns the sawdust down but it also turns down the chocolate and char. So I think I’m going to give Eastern Kille’s BiB a recommendation, with a few drops of water or with strong mixers (boulevardier, Manhattan with good vermouth, or Cherry Coke!). There are some really nice things going in this bourbon, and I hope they continue refining it until it’s highly recommended!

Shady Lane Pinot Noir, 2017

Maker: Shady Lane Cellars, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Shady Lane estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $20 (Michigan by the Bottle Sipper Club).

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Fresh strawberry, red currant, blueberry, white pepper.

Palate: Medium bodied. Red raspberry, red currant, clove, French oak.

Finish: A little more tannic but with a lot of fruit still present.

Parting words: We drove past Shady Lane (the road) on our last trip Up North, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to stop in. Thank God for Michigan by the Bottle, then, for carrying Shady Lane wines at their Auburn Hills location.

This is a solid Northwest Michigan Pinot Noir with a bit of spice, and loads of fruit, but not overly ripe fruit. If I have any criticism of this wine it’s that it has a little more tannin than I like in my Pinot, though it’s mostly held in check by the acid.

2017 reds from all over Michigan are drinking well right now, except for the really cheap ones which you should have drank already. Given the strength of the 2017 vintage and the quality of the winemaking at Shady Lane, this wine should be able to take at least another year in the cellar and still taste great. Good thing, too, since I have another bottle of this squirreled away to try next year or the year after that.

2017 Shady Lane Pinot Noir is recommended.

Bear Face

Maker: Mark Anthony Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Distiller(s): Undisclosed.

Style: Single grain (corn) Canadian Whisky.

Cooperage: Ex-bourbon, then finished in French oak wine red wine barrels, then in new Hungarian oak.

Age: 7 y/o

ABV: 42.5% ABV

Michigan state minimum: $33

Appearance: Medium copper (coloring is allowed in Canadian whisky).

Nose: Roasted corn, leather.

Palate: Full-bodied and rich. Corn syrup, leather, Cabernet Franc, dried cayenne chili.

Finish: Silky and a little sweet, with a bite at the end.

Parting words: The Mark Anthony Group has nothing to do with the Roman general or the pop singer, it originated in 1972 as a BC-based wine importer. Its best known product is the (in)famous White Claw sparkling seltzer. Bearface is not Mark Anthony’s only Canadian Whisky. It also owns a brand called Dillon’s, which is not sold in Michigan, and I haven’t seen anywhere else in the US.

“What is elemental aging”? you may ask. As far as I can tell, it’s when they put the finishing casks in unheated storage containers outside and let them sit for a bit. I was a little disappointed to read that. I had hoped that they placed the casks in the woods to encounter actual bears, but alas no.

Bearface smells like a punched up version of Crown Royal (probably because of all the corn) but it’s much more pleasant to drink. Too often finishes are used in an attempt to improve bad whisky. I suspect that’s not the case here, but if it is, the attempt has been successful. $33 is a good price for a Canadian of this age and quality. The packaging is a little corny (oh no a bear attacked the bottle!) but Bearface is recommended.

Braganini Reserve Cabernet Franc, 2017

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA

Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Sandland Farms (Nathan & Julie Nitz), GDN Estate (Ron Nitz), Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $23

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Blackberry jam, black cherry, a whiff of oak.

Palate: Crushed bramble berries, pink peppercorn, leather.

Finish: Balanced with fruit, acid, and tannin.

Parting words: Cabernet Franc is one of the great workhorse red wine grapes of the world, but as longtime readers know, it can make excellent varietal wines as well. This is a great example. There’s loads of fruit and acid with a little spice as the only trace of the infamous bell pepper aromas that can show themselves in poorly made Cab Franc.

St. Julian puts too much energy into making a bewildering assortment of forgettable wines, but the Braganini Reserve line is almost always a good glass of wine. This is no exception. This wine is probably at its peak now, but it could probably go for another year or two if you are so moved. Braganini Reserve 2017 Cabernet Franc is recommended.