Dupont Reserve

Maker: Domaine Dupont, Victot-Pontfol, Normandy, France20190218_100331.jpg

Style: Calvados-barrel-aged cider.

Apples: 67% bittersweet, 33% acidic

Place of origin: (Pays d’Auge) Normandy, France.

Vintage: 2016 (bottled 2017)

Notes: Unpasteurized, wild yeast fermented. Aged in Calvados barrels for six months.

ABV: 6.9%

Purchased for $25/750 ml (Vine & Table, Carmel, Indiana)

Parting words: Domaine Dupont is one of the big cheeses of Calvados and like many other Calvados houses, they make cider and pommeau as well. The domaine has been owned by the Dupont family since 1917. Current patriarch Éitienne Dupont modernized the estate when he took over from his father Jules in the 1980s. He handed the business over to his son Jérôme and daughter Ann-Pamy in 2002. Sadly, Jérôme was killed in an accident in August of 2018. Éitienne has come out of retirement to help Ann-Pamy and the management team to lead the company.

Dupont’s line of ciders consists of the entry-level Cidre Bouche (reviewed in 2014), an organic cider, Triple (triple fermented from 100% bittersweets), Cuvée Colette (champagne method), and this one, the Calvados-barrel aged Reserve. I didn’t care for the Cidre Bouche when I tried it (too dry and funky) but I really enjoy this cider. The barrel aging adds a wonderful creamy sweetness that balances out the chalky funk. The result is a well-rounded, complex but easy-drinking cider that anyone can enjoy.

That doesn’t come cheap, but Dupont Reserve is easily worth the price. Dupont Reserve is highly recommended.

 

Head to Head: Charbay No. 89 vs No. 83

Distiller: Charbay, Ukiah, Mendocino Co, California, USA (Karakasevic family)20190207_205341.jpg

Note: Samples provided by Charbay Distillery.

Grapes

83: Folle Branche (100%)

89: Pinot Noir (74%), Sauvignon Blanc (26%)

Place of origin

83: Mendocino Co, California, USA

89: California, USA

Age

83: 27 y/o (distilled 1983, released 2010)

89: 24 y/o (distilled 1989, released 2013)

ABV

83: 40%

89: 46%

MSRP

83: $475

89: $240

Appearance

83: Medium copper.

89: Light copper

Nose

83: Leather, Parmesan cheese, cola, lavender, ghost pepper.

89: Leather, woodruff, dried flowers, vanilla custard.

Palate

83: Dry and light bodied. Butterscotch, tarragon, oregano, old oak.

89: Mild. Dried flowers, lemon meringue, oak, crushed coriander seed.

Finish

83: Cola, burn, raisins.

89: Leather, Meyer lemon, burn.

Parting words: The Charbay Distillery is one of the oldest micro-distilleries in the US. It’s best known product is its distinctive line of whiskeys distilled from drinkable ( as opposed to distiller’s) beer sourced from local brewers with hops also usually added after distillation. As one might expect, they’re pretty weird. They are also very expensive, even by micro-distiller standards. The flagship expressions are the 6 y/o Charbay Releases I-V (brewed from a pilsner with hops also added after distillation). Release III sells for $375 per 750 ml bottle at K&L Wine Merchants in Southern California, with IV listed at $500 and V for $650 (the latter two are listed as out of stock). There is also the R5 made from Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA (1 y/o, $75) and Whiskey S made from Bear Republic’s Big Bear Stout (2 y/o, $90). They also produce a line of infused vodkas.

I’ve had a couple of the Releases and I didn’t care for them. Long time readers will know that I’m not a fan of funky hops or young, expensive whiskey, so that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. On November 9, 2018 I saw some folks on Twitter talking about Charbay whiskey and I rattled off a snarky tweet in response: “Charbay is gross, there I said it.” It got a little interaction but I didn’t really think about it much afterwards.

Then on January 13, 2019 I got a response from the distillery asking if I was interested in trying any of their other products since I obviously didn’t like the whiskey. After some back and forth on the tl and in the dms, Jenni of Charbay kindly sent me samples of their two brandies, the Nos. 83 and 89.

No. 83, coincidentally distilled in 1983, was the first thing to ever come out of Charbay’s still. It was distilled twice and aged in Limousin oak for 27 years. It seems to fall into the quirky house style, but I’ll admit that I haven’t had enough 27 y/o brandies to truly make a fair comparison. It’s the most Cognac-like of the two, which should come as no surprise since it’s made from Folle Blanche grapes, one of the historic grape varieties of Cognac. Wood is prominent, but there’s enough herbs and spices to keep No. 83 from being one-dimensional.

No. 89 is a different animal altogether. It was distilled in 1989 from two popular wine grapes, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir brandies are rare but not completely unknown, with fellow Ukiah distiller Germain-Robin producing a celebrated one. Sauvignon Blanc is more rare, but is still not completely unheard of as a source material for brandy. There’s slightly more fruit in 83 than in 89, but there’s still not a lot. What is there is a citric acidity that cuts through the oak to make for an enjoyable special occasion sipper.

I’m not going to do the thing I typically do in the final paragraph of a review and evaluate these on price. These are both special, one of a kind brandies and their prices reflect that. Both are outside of my price-range for any spirits, although I could see myself paying $240 for something exceptional if my wife got a big bonus or promotion or when we become empty-nesters. Nos. 83 and 89 are important pieces of micro-distilling history. If you get a chance to taste them, jump on it! You’ll never taste anything like them again.

One pairing suggestion: If you do pay full price for these bottles or over $50 for a pour in a bar, maybe make a matching donation to your favorite charity or local DSA chapter.

Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut

Maker: Jim Beam, Claremont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)20190208_215424.jpg

Age: 5 y/o (label says 5-6 but the age of the youngest barrel in the mix is the legal age of the whiskey)

Style: Standard rye-recipe bourbon.

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Cayenne pepper, caramel, peanut butter, tarragon.

Palate: Medium-bodied and hot. Behind the heat there’s toffee and caramel and grape soda.

Finish: hot pepper-infused peanut brittle.

Parting words: Jim Beam has been putting out so many new expressions in recent years, I’ve literally been unable to keep up. If I had, I would have probably purchased and reviewed this bourbon sooner! It’s 100 proof like its stablemates Jim Beam Bonded  and Knob Creek. Unlike those, it’s not chill-filtered and is 5 y/o (the label annoyingly calls it 5-6 y/o). This makes it identical on paper to the Urban Stillhouse Select. In the glass, the USS is more rounded and shows more baking spice than peanut brittle. Compared to Beam Bonded, it is older and less funky but the price is identical, at least in this state. If you like the funk, stick with the Bonded. If you want something a little more refined but still firmly Jim Beam, pick up some JB Distiller’s Cut. It is recommended.

 

 

Old Westminster Somm Cuvée, 2013

Maker: Old Westminster, New Windsor, Carroll Co, Maryland, USA20190130_190651.jpg

Grapes: Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot.

Place of origin: Maryland, USA (Northern Maryland according to back label)

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for $32 (Glen’s Market, Washington, DC)

Note: 50 cases produced

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Blackberry, cut green pepper, allspice,  a drop of vanilla.

Palate: Dry, medium-bodied. White cherry, blueberry wine, roasted red pepper, nutmeg, oak.

Finish: Chewy with a little fruit.

Parting words: New Windsor is a historic small town in Maryland, about 25 miles northwest of Owings Mills. It’s known for its hot springs and the presence of a Church of the Brethren mission center.

Andrew Stover, the sommelier behind the Somm Cuvée is based in DC currently but is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also the founder of Vino50 selections, a wine wholesaler that specializes in “regional” American wines.

I enjoyed this wine, but it was a little high in pyrazine (bell pepper aroma) for my taste when drinking solo. I don’t mind little bit of that aroma, but I expected something a little more refined in a wine this expensive and this rare. That said, it did pair very nicely with quinoa and lamb chops and homemade pork and beans. Maybe it just needed more time in the bottle. That might mean less fruit, unfortunately. So, I don’t know what exactly to tell you to do with this wine. Anyway, due to the relatively high price, I’m going to give this vintage at this time a mild recommendation.

 

Ballechin 12, Vine & Table Cask

Maker: Edradour, Pitlochry, Perthshire, Scotland, UK20190125_195157.jpg

Region: Highlands

Style: Peated single malt

Age: 12 y/o (distilled 10/26/05, bottled 7/17/18)

ABV: 57.5% (cask strength)

Notes: 100% burgundy cask aged. Natural color. Cask #316, 262 bottles produced. Exclusive to Vine & Table, Carmel, Indiana, USA.

Purchased for $135

Appearance: Reddish copper.

Nose: Alcohol, smoke, peat, baking cherry pie, leather.

Palate: Alcohol, smoke, cherry-vanilla custard, peat, old oak.

Finish: Big & smoky, with oak, fruit and burn.

Parting words: Edradour is in the Perthshire town of Pitlochry in the Central Highlands. It shares the town with the Diageo-owned Blair Athol distillery, known for its heavy, nutty malts. Edradour has a reputation of being mild (to put it kindly). I bought a bottle several years ago and I have never felt the desire to buy another one again.

I can’t resist the smooth talking salespeople of the Vine & Table whiskey section, though, so I bought this bottle (at least double what I normally pay for any spirit) after a very impressive taste at their tasting bar. Ballechin is a new, heavily peated malt from Edradour, presumably intended to buck their dull rep.

For me, man of the people and cheap skate, to buy something this expensive, it has to be good, of course, but it should also be unique. This is both. It’s not only a peated Highlander, it’s aged entirely in a former red Bungundy cask. This gives it some unusual fruit pie aromas that set it apart from other peated malts, in a good way. I’m not sure how many of these are left but I recommend saving your pennies or drinking out of your bunker for a couple of months for this one. You won’t be disappointed. Vine & Table’s Ballechin 12 y/o is highly recommended. Adding a splash of water is also recommended at this ABV.

 

Cognac Campagnère VS

Maker: Tessendier & Fils, Cognac, Charente, France20190117_174418.jpg

Age category: VS (at least 2 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $37

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Raisins, toasted oak, cola, alcohol.

Palate: Mild and sweet. Sugared dates, grape soda, alcohol.

Finish: sweetened raisins, lavender, burn.

Mixed: Sucessful in every cocktail I tried it in: B & B, French 75, Phoebe Snow and a sidecar.

Parting words: Tessendier is a medium-sized Cognac house that also produces Park and Grand Breuil. It’s family-owned and they do own some of their own vineyards, but from what I can tell, they a lot buy from elsewhere too. Park is best known in the US, but Compagnère has a presenence as well, although it’s not offered in the same bewildering number of variations as its stablemate. Campagnère comes in VS, VSOP, XO and the NAS Prestige.

Most VS cognacs I’ve had have been innoffensive, a few have been rough. This one is fruity and pleasant. It’s not complex, but it’s a refreshing after dinner pour and is wonderful in cocktails. Price is good too. Campagnère VS is recommeded.

Belly Up Bourbon

Maker: Motor City Gas, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA20190111_164605.jpg

Style: Bourbon finished in rum barrels

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Price: I forgot (only available at distillery).

Mixed: Due to limited time frame, I only tried a couple. Very good in a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned.

Appearance: Medium-light copper.

Nose: Toasted hazelnuts, caramel, new leather.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Grade A maple syrup, vanilla cream soda, cinnamon.

Finish: Hot and a little syrupy, fading into oak.

Parting words: Motor City Gas is a bar/distillery on the eastern edge of downtown Royal Oak, Michigan. Most other Bar/Distillery combos focus on using their stable of spirits in cocktails, but at MCG the emphasis is on the whiskeys themselves, of which there are a bewildering amount. When I was there, they had seventeen different whiskeys and whiskey-based liqueurs on the menu, including bourbon, rye, corn whiskey, malt whiskey, oat whiskey and ginger and hickory nut liqueurs. Most of the whiskeys were finished or infused with rum, apple cider, hops, apple pie, and stout barrels making an appearance. There were a couple peated whiskeys too, with a peated malt and a peated bourbon (review coming soon) on the menu.

At the time I bought this bottle, I didn’t realize this bourbon was finished in a rum barrel ( I may have been a tad tipsy at time of purchase), until I sat down to write this review. If I hadn’t know that I probably wouldn’t have guessed. The rum barrel brings a sweet, slightly syrupy, vanilla taste that works very well in classic cocktails. I don’t remember the price but a full bottle is pretty expensive. The 375 ml bottles cost the same per ml but as I’ve said before, it’s better to pour out half of a $30 bottle than three quarters of a $60 one. Belly Up Bourbon is recommended.

No labels: The federal shutdown and selling booze.

john_m_med.jpg
John J. Manfreda, TTB administrator since 2005

As I write this, the US federal government has been partially shut down for about twenty days, due to an impasse over President Trump’s desire to build a wall on the southern border.

One of the agencies affected by the shutdown is the Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), the division of the Department of the Treasury charged with regulating and taxing alcohol, tobacco and firearms. The TTB was created in 2003 when the old bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was split in two. The law enforcement functions of the agency were moved to the Department of Justice and retained the ATF name. The tax and regulation functions stayed within Treasury and were re-christened the TTB.

If you’re interested in my personal take on the politics of the shutdown check my Twitter feed and likes. You should be able to piece together my politics from those.

More interesting than my dumb opinions is how the federal shutdown, particularly the closure of the TTB, is affecting beverage producers in Michigan and elsewhere. So I reached out to some friends of the blog to ask how the shutdown has impacted their business. Here’s what they said:

20170707_120535
Sean O’Keefe

At this point our biggest concern (besides the unraveling of our civil society) is getting new labels approved by the feds. I’m glad that we don’t have too many new wines that we need to get to market soon.

-Sean O’Keefe, Winemaker, Mari Vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan

I just found out about [the shutdown] yesterday (January 8, 2019). Government shut down, tax collecting part of the TTB not shut down so I still have to do my 5120.17 annual report. So if it does affect me, I am unaware of how.
Nathaniel Rose, owner & winemaker, Nathaniel Rose Wines, Suttons Bay, Michigan (via text).

Only real effect (so far) has been the slow-doon (sorry) of federal label approvals, which I believe is considered a non-essential governmental service. Obviously, if the shutdown continues indefinitely, you will not see the emergence of scores of new wine, beer and spirits labels. (This may in fact be the only real blessing of the shutdown.)

-Randall Grahm, president & winemaker, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, California

Obviously not this one, but from the shutdown that happened while we were getting licensed I can say that the timeline for approval was extended 25%+ *after* things started back up. From memory it was the same for existing companies getting label approval. So even if the shutdown ends tonight I’d expect it would be the end of the month at least before everything was back to normal.

-Corey Bowers, formerly of Tualatin Valley Distillery, Hillsboro, Oregon (via Twitter).

The government shut down actually impacts us quite a bit. Unlike most other distilleries we release new products very often. Since we opened in March of 2015 we have released over 50 whiskies. Most of these required government approval on their labels before we can sell them. When the government shuts down so does review of our new labels. We actually have several labels currently out for review that we’ll need to wait for the shut down to end before we can release those products. We are also in the process of designing our second distillery expansion that will include additional barrel storage and a new still that will increase our production capacity. Depending on how long the shut down goes this could delay our plans as government approvals are required before we can start construction and order our still.

lisa wicker
Lisa Wicker ascending a staircase

-Rich Lockwood, owner, Motor City Gas Distillery, Royal Oak, Michigan

We are fortunate we had our pending approvals finished before the shut down, but I am certainly feeling it for the people in queue. The TTB always slows over the holidays, so if the shutdown ends soon, the catch up for them may be eased. But…if it continues for any length of time, there will be a mess. I know I’ve had product on allocation in the past and waiting on formula and process approvals to have to wait again on labels, a lesson in patience when things are normal so I’m guessing there are producers, let’s say politely, tearing their hair out!
-Lisa Wicker, president & head distiller, Widow Jane Distillery, Brooklyn, New York
So, it seems that the shutdown is not yet a huge issue for winemakers and distillers without new products in the pipeline. The longer it drags on the greater the impact becomes, though, even after things start back up again. Here’s hoping they do soon.
Lisa Wicker photo used with permission.

Chateau Grand Traverse Ltd Ed Pinot Noir, 2016

Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20190108_200128.jpg

Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%, looks and tastes like 100%)

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

Vintage: 2016

Note: 5 months in oak

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $13 (Meijer)

Appearance: Translucent ruby, like a good red Burgundy.

Nose: Very ripe strawberry, cherry syrup, crushed mulberry, nutmeg.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Dry but fruity. Strawberry fruit leather, black cherry, raspberry, actual leather, earth.

Finish: Fruity and leathery.

Parting words: Although I think it should be Gamay, Pinot Noir is probably Old Mission’s finest red wine grape right now. Chateau Grand Traverse produces some of the peninsula’s finest, and they should, seeing how long they’ve been at it.

This wine is like a quality vin de bourgogne, or even a village Burgundy at a similar age. There’s not much earthiness, but loads of fruit and cool-climate Pinot character. It should improve and show better integration over the next two or three years too, if stored properly. That said, it’s very tasty now and at a price where one doesn’t feel obliged to let it lounge in the cellar for a long time. I like this wine a lot. 2016 Chateau Grand Traverse Limited Edition Pinot Noir is highly recommended.

Dunkerton’s Dry Organic Cider

Maker: Dunkerton’s, Herefordshire, England, UK20190104_171219.jpg

Apples: Various heirloom varieites.

Style: Dry English cider.

ABV: 6.9%

Purchased for $7/500 ml (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Big head on opening. Persistent bubbles. Slightly hazy.

Nose: Yeasty funk, mulled cider, tannin, lemon zest.

Palate: Dry. Leather, Meyer lemon juice, clove, filtered apple juice.

Finish: Dry and leathery. Lingers faintly in the cheeks.

Parting words: I reviewed Dunkerton’s Perry back in August. I enjoyed it quite a bit. This is even better. It’s a good example of a well-balanced, dry cider. It has big tannins, funk, acid, spice and sweetness, in that order. While the tannins and funk may turn off some casual cider drinkers, I can see Dunkerton’s being a an easy (and easy to find) first step into the world of dry, wild-fermented ciders. I can also see it becoming one of my go-tos. $7 for 6.9% (just under the line for apple wine) is a great price too. Dunkerton’s Dry Organic cider is highly recommended.