Featherbone Bourbon Whiskey

Maker: Journeyman, Three Oaks, Berrien County, Michigan, USA.20190823_222646.jpg

Style: Wheat/Rye bourbon whiskey (not straight)

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $50

Appearance: Orangy copper.

Nose: Wood shop, licorice.

Palate: Full-bodied and hot. Licorice, cinnamon gum, strawberry candy.

Finish: Hot and woody.

Parting words: Journeyman is a whiskey distillery located in the heart of Southwest Michigan wine country. They’re in the perfect place to capitalize on tourist traffic but they don’t content themselves cottage-dwellers wandering in, they make an effort to produce unique, high-quality spirits.

The flavors are largely good, but it could be better integrated and have less sawdust in the nose and on the palate. That comes with more time in a full-sized barrel. I’m hoping they are allowing the Featherbone to linger longer and longer with every batch, so that future editions will be less harsh and more velvety.

The hardest thing about rating micro-distilled whiskeys is factoring in the price. I would not pay $50 for something like this from a big bourbon producer, but is it acceptable from a small one? Maybe it would be if it were 100 proof or higher, but at 90 proof, Featherbone garners only a mild recommendation.

 

Peerless Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Maker: Peerless, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20190802_215134.jpg

Style: Sweet Mash standard recipe (?) bourbon

Age: 4 y/o

Proof: 109.8 (54.9% ABV)

Price: $70 (IIRC)

Big thanks to Mike Matsumoto for letting me borrow his bottle!

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Oak, leather, walnuts, pine resin, serrano pepper.

Palate: Dry, more pine resin, horehound, alcohol.

Finish: Oak, salted caramel, hot sauce.

Parting words: Peerless is a micro-distillery that has revived an old Henderson, Kentucky (west of Owensboro) bourbon brand. Founders Corky Taylor and his son Carson are descendents of the Kraver family who originally owned that brand and distillery. The orignal distillery shut down during World War I, never to reopen. When Corky and Carson decided to revive the brand, they acquired the name and the old DSP number (50) and an old building in Louisville to put their new distillery in.

The story is similar to many others and one might expect Peerless to be putting out sharp, small barrel whiskey or weird gin or “craft vodka” or whatnot. They’re not doing that. They’re doing it the right way. Their rye was released in 2017 and was delicious. Their first release of bourbon was earlier this month, July 2019. My pal Mike was on the guest list for the intial bourbon release and he graciously allowed me to borrow his bottle and take samples for blogging purposes.

I’m very glad he did. This is easily one of the best micro-distilled bourbon’s I’ve ever had. The down side to doing it the right way is that the product ends up being expensive. The rye has a Michigan state minimum price of $118 (it is barrel proof, though) and this bourbon is $70 at the distillery, which is less, but still high for a four year old, even at barrel strength. It is mature beyond its years, though, and if I had an opportunity to buy a full bottle myself, I probably would. The price alone is what keeps it out of highly recommended territory for me. As it is, Peerless Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is recommended.

Four Roses Small Batch Select

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)20190621_175819.jpg

Style: Mix of standard and high-rye bourbon.

Recipes: OBSV, OBSK, OBSF, OESV, OESK, OESF

Age: 6 y/o (per hang tag)

Proof: 104 (52% ABV)

Price: $58 (The Party Source)

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Underwhelming. Charcoal smoke with lighter fluid, asparagus, canned green beans, toffee.

Palate: Mild. Brach’s caramels, field mint, burn.

Finish: A little amaretto, burn, fiddleheads.

Parting words: I can’t remember the last time I was disappointed with a Four Roses bourbon, but I’m disappointed with this. First, this is an uncharacteristicly unflavorful Four Roses. It’s strong enough in a Glencairn glass, but it gets totally lost in a tumbler with ice in a way that no 104 proof bourbon should. What flavor is there is unpleasant. I blame the F yeast with its weird minty, vegetal character. I’ve never cared for this strain, especially not the OESF which tastes like something Heaven Hill might dump on the bulk market. My favorite Four Roses expressions have featured or at least included the sexy, floral Q yeast. I understand that its a PITA to deal with for the distillers, but nothing says Four Roses to me than that aroma that was such a big part of the 2008 and 2009 Mariage releases and the 2009 Limited Edition Single Barrel.

It breaks my heart to say this, but Four Roses Small Batch Select is not 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.

 

 

Tommyrotter Triple Barrel American Whiskey

Maker: Tommyrotter Distillery, Buffalo, New York, USA20190222_200053.jpg

Distilleries: Undisclosed distilleries in Indiana and Tennessee (hmm, which ones could they be?)

Style: Wine-barrel finished American whiskey. A mix of two Indiana bourbons and one Tennessee whiskey aged in new and used oak barrels and then the wine barrel, hence Triple Barrel.

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Notes: No coloring or chill filtration added. Sample provided by Tommyrotter Distillery.

Price: $35 (Premier Group).

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Complex. Young toasted oak, tarragon, bubblegum.

Palate: Medium and fruity. Mixed berry jam, French oak, burn.

Finish: Sweet. Corn syrup, raspberry, cocoa powder.

Parting words: Tommyrotter was founded in 2015 by Bobby Finan and Sean Insalaco in Buffalo New York. They currently produce three regular products, vodka, gin, and this Triple Barrel Whiskey plus a line of limited releases (including a bourbon barrel gin to be reviewed in the near future).

Triple Barrel Whiskey is composed of three whiskeys. Two Indiana bourbons (one high-corn, one high-wheat) and one Tennessee whiskey. The high-corn is around 18 months old, the wheater is about 5 years old and the Tennessee 7 y/o. The bourbons are aged in new charred white oak, and the Tennessee Whiskey is aged in used charred oak barrels. They are mixed together and then finished in French red wine barrels. As Bobby Finan told me, Triple Barrel doesn’t count as a blend of straight whiskeys because of the youth of the high-corn bourbon. That could change in the future though.

The result is a delicious, easy-drinking whiskey. It’s young, but the rough edges are smoothed out by judicious use of cooperage. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough in the sample to do any mixing, but I suspect Triple Barrel would do very well in Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. I’m very glad Bobby reached out to me. Triple Barrel is recommended.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

Old Forester: The Statesman

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20181221_182753.jpg

Age: NAS

Proof: 95 (47.5% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $55

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Peanut brittle, toffee, tarragon.

Palate: Caramel, date, fig, five spice powder.

Finish: Hot and sweet with tarragon.

Parting words: The Statesman was intended to be a limited release to promote the film The Kingsmen: The Golden Circle in 2017. The movie got mixed reviews, but the bourbon was popular so they kept it around.

It’s richer and spicier than the 86 and 100 proof Old Forester expressions and it occupies a place at the top of the price range of the main Old Forester line, ten dollars above Old Forester Single Barrel. It pushes a bit on its $55 price, but it’s full-flavored and good for sipping or high-end mixing with nothing unpleasant at all. It does get a little thin if it hangs around too long in the bottle, but drink it before it gets to that point and it’s not a problem. Old Forester: The Statesman is recommended.

Tom’s Foolery Bonded Bourbon

Maker: Tom’s Foolery, Chagrin Falls, Ohio, USA

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Distilled 2012, barrel 99

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Purchased for $42 (forgotten Toledo liquor store)

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Spiced caramel corn, sawdust.

Palate: Sweet, full-bodied. Cinnamon, habanero chilies.

Finish: Hot and sharp. Woody.

Mixed: Very good in an Old Fashioned. The sharp wood pokes through the vermouth in a Manhattan and even the amaro in a Boulevardier. I didn’t try it with cola or ginger ale.

Parting words: I reviewed Tom’s Foolery’s apple brandy early in the history of the blog and I looked forward to trying their bourbon some sweet day. Now, that day is here.

When I first tried this bourbon, I really didn’t like it. It had the classic splinter-up-the-nose micro-distilled bourbon aroma. Not as bad as Hudson Baby Bourbon, but present. This sharpness serves well in cocktails with sweet or strongly flavored mixers.

20180818_230039.jpg
The bonded tasting line up.

To get a better handle on this whiskey, I included it in a casual BiB bourbon tasting with friends. The tasting also included Old Bardstown, Early Times, Old Grand-dad, Heaven Hill white label and Very Old Barton in a cameo at the end. Tom’s Foolery stood out in this line up. I still wasn’t sure but everybody else really enjoyed it.

Maybe it’s peer pressure, but Tom’s Foolery is growing on me. I doubt it will ever be a favorite, but it’s not as bad as I feared it would be. At $44, it was the most expensive in the tasting, but factoring in micro-distillery inflation, it’s not too bad. It is 4 y/o and bonded, which is more than you can say about most micro bourbons in this price rant. I guess Tom’s Foolery Bonded Bourbon is recommended.