Big Peat

Maker: Douglas Laing, Glasgow, Scotland, UK20181128_194107.jpg

Distilleries: Caol Ila, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Port Ellen, Islay, Argyll & Bute, Scotland, UK

Region: Islay.

Style: Blended Malt

Note: No color or chill-filtering.

ABV: 46%

Michigan state minimum: $70 ($60 at Binny’s)

Appearance: Pale straw.

Nose: Anti-septic, peat, vanilla, tar.

Palate: Full-bodied and creamy. Peat, creme brulee, smoke, leather, alcohol, lemon juice.

Finish: Big smoke, fading into amaretto.

Parting words: Big Peat was Laing’s breakthrough blended malt and it remains the blender’s flagship. There’s even an annual Big Peat Christmas edition at 53%. It’s even harder to find than the regular Peat!

If ever a name summed up the taste of a whisky, it’s Big Peat. Peat is the dominant aroma and taste by a long shot but judicious blending has resulted in strong supporting roles from smoke, lemon and cream. It’s probably worth $70, but it tastes even better at $60. Big Peat is recommended.

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Copper & Kings American Craft Brandy

Maker: Copper & Kings, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20181128_194202-1.jpg

Age: NAS

ABV: 45%

Michigan state minimum: $38.52 (?!)

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: New leather, alcohol.

Palate: Medium-bodied and semi-dry. Mild, high-corn bourbon, toasted oak, sugar plums, toffee.

Finish: Raisins, touch of oak, burn.

Mixed: Tried in an old fashioned, B & B, something else I forgot, eggnog. Good in everything except eggnogg.

Parting words: The first Copper & Kings brandy I reviewed was Floodwall Apple Brandy. I didn’t care for it because I found the sherry finish to be overwhelming. I like this a lot better. This brandy is simple, unadorned aged grape spirit. It lacks the richness and complexity of a well-aged Cognac or Armagnac, but it’s a perfect brandy for people who are stepping up from (or skipping over) brandies like Christian Brothers or E & J.

C & K American Craft does well in most cocktails and is cheap by micro-distillery standards. There’s nothing not to love. Copper & Kings American Craft Brandy is recommended.

Blue Water Unoaked Chardonnay, 2015

Maker: Blue Water Winery, Carsonville, Michigan, USA20181128_194004.jpg

Grape: Chardonnay (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2015

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $18 (Michigan by the Bottle Sipper Club)

Appearance: Bright gold.

Nose: Classic Chard. Apricot, melon, ambrosia salad.

Palate: Medium-bodied, semi-dry. Peach, Meyer lemon, pineapple sage.

Finish: Dry and pleasantly bitter.

Parting words: There are a lot of wineries located in tourist areas in Michigan. Some of them are bad and serve no purpose other than to suck money from the wallets of tourists with garbage palates. Some are ok and take care to produce enjoyable, accessible table wines. Others are more ambitious and seek to join the ranks of their more established cousins in Northwest and Southwest Michigan. Blue Water is one of those. They haven’t always been successful, in my opinion, but they continue to try to produce fine wines with varietal and terroir character.

This unoaked Chardonnay is one of their successes. It has loads of fruity Chard character, is well-balanced, and is great with chicken and vegetarian meals. Blue Water Winery Unoaked Chardonnay is recommended.

 

Santa Rosa Hard Cider

Maker: Blake’s Hard Cider, Armada, Michigan, USA20181121_114225.jpg

Apples: “Late season varieties”

Style: Sparkling apple cider fermented with plum skins.

ABV: 5%

Purchased for $10/500 ml (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Little head, but persistent bubbles.

Nose: Apple juice, citrus blossom.

Palate: Effervescent and semi-sweet. Semi-tart table apples, pinch of tannin, pinch of yeast.

Finish: More acid and tannin with lingering sweetness.

20181121_114524.jpg
The exact location of the plums at Blake’s!

Parting words: Blake’s Foraged series includes ciders made with fruit “foraged” from Blake farms. There’s Nova, made with Nova raspberries, and then there’s this cider made with the skins of Santa Rosa plums also grown on the estate (see map). Santa Rosa is a 112 y/o variety created by Luther Burbank, inventor of the russet potato. Santa Rosa was very popular through most of the twentieth century but it doesn’t ship well so it’s not often found in grocery stores. It’s soft and sweet and has tart, slightly tannic skin.

The specific varieties that go into this cider are not disclosed on the label but we are told that they are late-season varieties. Whatever they are, they work perfectly with the plum skins, adding tartness and tannins to produce an elegant, balanced cider with a beautiful pinkish color. There is no plum flavor at all here, there’s just added depth and structure.

Santa Rosa pairs very well with food and I even served it at Thanksgiving this last year. $10 is a great price too. I love this cider. Blake’s Santa Rosa is highly recommended.

 

 

Traverse City Whiskey Co. North Coast Rye

Maker: Traverse City Whiskey Company, Traverse City Whiskey Co., Michigan, USA20181114_115315.jpg

Style: High-rye blended rye.

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $40

Appearance: Burnt orange.

Nose: Oak, peppermint, woodruff, alcohol, basil.

Palate: Toffee, butterscotch, burn.

Finish: Starlight mints, oak.

Mixed: Adds a pleasant minty note to classic cocktails like the Sazerac, Manhattan and Brooklyn. Undistinguished with ginger ale.

Parting words: When sourced Traverse City Whiskey Co. whiskey first hit shelves, I was very skeptical of whether they would ever actually distill anything, let alone anything good. I’m glad to see my skepticism was unfounded! I reviewed their first release, Traverse City Whiskey Co. Bourbon back in 2012, with friend-of-the-blog Amy, on the shores of Walloon Lake. Watch it here.

If you like Bulleit Rye, you’ll like this. It’s in the same minty style. The label says that it was distilled by TCWC themselves and is a blend of 100% (non-straight) rye and straight rye. My first suspicion was that this was a blend of Indiana rye and TCWC’s own distillate, but I’ll take the label at its word.

Assuming it’s all accurate, more micro-distillers should be making good blends like this instead of rushing underaged bourbons and ryes to the market for inflated prices. Speaking of the price, it’s not terrible when one factors in the usual micro-distiller inflation, although Bulleit is $13 less. North Coast Rye is recommended.

Artez Historical Varietal Set

Maker: Artez, Arthez-d’Armagnac, Landes, France

Grapes: Ugni Blanc, Folle Branche, Baco (Blanc)

Place of origin: Bas Armagnac

Age category: Napoleon (10 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Price: $50/3 200 ml bottles

UB= Ugni Blanc, FB= Folle Blanche, BB= Baco

Appearance

UB: Bright copper.

FB: Bright copper.

BB: Slightly darker.

Nose

UB: Oak, caramel, Amaretto, leather.

FB: Cherry, plum, oak,

BB: Blackberry, anise.

Palate

UB: Semi-dry. Balanced, alcohol, cream, vanilla, leather.

FB: Mild. Grape, tarragon, leather.

BB: Richer, Grape/apple juice, burn.

Finish

UB: Eucalyptus, bitter oak.

FB: Oak, raisin.

BB: Very mild, dark fruit, touch of oak.

Parting words: Artez is a small producer of Armagnac (and a few other things) with vineyards in the west of Lower Armagnac. They grow three varieties of grapes on their estate: Ugni Blanc (best known for Cognac), Folle Blanche (the original Armagnac variety) and Baco Blanc (the most common variety in Armagnac currently). So a three bottle set like this is an obvious thing to put out.

Going in, I was skeptical as to whether I would be able to tell the difference (if any) between these three bottles from the same maker at the same age. I actually was! To summarize each in one word: UB is creamy, FB is fruity and BB is spicy (anise specifically). All three and the set as a whole is recommended.

 

Kirkland Blended Scotch

Maker: Alexander Murray & Co, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK20181109_201041.jpg

Distillers: Unknown

Age: NAS (at 3 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $23/1.75 liter (~$10/750 ml; only available at Costco)

Appearance: Medium copper (caramel color likely added)

Nose: Vanilla custard, lemon zest, butterscotch.

Palate: Full-bodied, mild and dry. Toffee, oak, alcohol, touch of smoke.

Finish: Alcohol, butterscotch, oak.

Parting words: Costco sources its basic blended Scotch from Alexander Murray & Co, an independent bottler out of Aberdeen. There’s nothing earth-shattering about this blend. It has two things going for it: it’s pretty good and it’s very cheap. I like it best in hot toddies (great for sipping out of a travel mug while the kids trick-or-treat) but it does well in other cocktails, with soda or neat in a tumbler. Kirkland Blended Scotch is recommended.

 

Fenn Valley Merlot Reserve, 2013

Maker: Fenn Valley Vineyards, Fennville, Michigan, USA20181107_112736.jpg

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Fenn Valley estate, Fennville AVA, Lake Michigan Shore, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $22 (winery)

Appearance: Dark reddish-purple.

Nose: Blackberry pie, clove, oak.

Palate: Medium-bodied and mostly dry. Baking spice, blackberry, mulberry.

Finish: Crushed blackberry, toasted oak.

Parting words: Fennville is Michigan’s only sub-appellation. It’s as old or older (sources conflict) than its parent AVA Lake Michigan Shore. It’s essentially a one winery appellation. That winery is Fenn Valley. It’s to the north and west of the big wineries in LMS, so it doesn’t get the same traffic as the others, but it’s very much worth a trip up the road to Fennville or to the tasting room in Saugatuck. Those are the only place one can reliably find Fennville wines. Judging by this one, it’s a prime spot.

This wine is a classic cool-climate Merlot. It has the chewy fruit one expects from Merlot, but with that cool climate (and cool vintage) tang that brings it all together and makes it a perfect match with pork chops, roast duck or sirloin steak. At $22, it’s worth every dollar and more. 2013 Fenn Valley Merlot Reserve is highly recommended.

 

KELT VSOP

Maker: Kelt, Nogaro, Gers, France20181024_213226.jpg

Grape: Ugni Blanc

Region: Grande Champagne Cognac (not specified on the label of the 50 ml bottle I sampled from)

Age: At least 4 1/2 y/o (VSOP)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $71.47

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Oak, Saltwater taffy, golden raisins, Crème brûlée topped with mixed berries.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Caramel apple, burn.

Finish: Complex and long-lasting. Menthol cough drops fellowed by oak, followed by raisins.

Parting words: KELT is what we would call an NDP (Non-distiller producer) product in the bourbon world, but what they call a négociant in Cognac. Monsieur Kelt buys spirit and ages it, in this case on a boat. Like Jefferson’s Ocean bourbon, it’s a silly gimmick, but the end result is pretty good.

This is a solid product all around but the finish is what was most striking. I don’t think I’ve ever had a spirit with a finish close to that. I like it, but I could see myself getting sick of it after a while. $71.47 is an odd price and it’s just about as much as I’d be willing to pay for a whole bottle. Luckily, smaller sizes are available in Michigan and elsewhere, so you can make an informed decision. KELT VSOP is recommended.

Find Wild Fruit Traminette

Maker: Nathaniel Rose, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA20181023_182657.jpg

Grape: Traminette

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013 (harvested October 6)

ABV: 20%

Purchased for $18 (Winery, received media discount)

Appearance: Pale lemon.

Nose: Funk, lychee, fresh Bartlett pear.

Palate: Full-bodied and dry. Limestone dust, bitter apple, pinch of ginger, cardamom.

Finish: Lychee. Fades fairly quickly.

Parting words: It would be weird to call this an Alsace-style Traminette, since Traminette is a hybrid, but that’s kind of what this is. Gewurztraminer is one of parents of Traminette, so it’s not really too much of a stretch. It has the body, funk and dryness one expects from Alsatian Gewurz. I was taken aback by those characteristics when I first opened the bottle but they grew on me quickly.

This wine comes from a batch of “wild fruit” Nathaniel was able to obtain and bottle. Its label is obviously inspired by the greatest educational DOS game of all time (sorry Number Munchers), Oregon Trail. Nathaniel always thought that finding wild fruit was the most interesting thing that happened on that game, so when he came accross some Traminette, he thought this label would be the perfect tribute to one of his favorite gaming moments.

This is a great wine from a great winemaker at a fair price. Find Wild Fruit Traminette is highly recommended. For more on Nathaniel’s operation see my visit to him here.