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


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


MM: 33%

OF: 30%

MJE: N/A (made with 50% ABV bourbon)


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.


Head to Head Drambuie vs Drambuie 15

Drm= Drambuie

D15= Drambuie 15


Drm: 40%

D15: 43%

Michigan State Minimum

Drm: $39

D15: $60

Appearance: Old gold, with some necklacing. (both)


Drm: Orange blossom honey, alcohol, malt whisky, woodruff, tarragon, a touch of ginger.

D15: Much drier. Sherried single malt, woodruff, thyme, wildflower honey.


Drm: Sweet and syrupy. A bit of burn, then orange and lemon thyme.

D15: Still sweet but not nearly as thick. More like a top shelf toddy than a liqueur. Dry sherry, malt whisky, honey with a faint herbal background note.


Drm: Clingy and sweet like that person you dated in High School. Hangs on for a long time, but with little depth.

D15: Dry and short by comparison. Wildflower honey again, alcohol and malt whisky.

Mixed: I tried them both in three mixed applications: A rusty nail (using a 12 y/o sherried single malt), a recipe from the Drambuie website called a “rusty cola” (self-explanatory), and with club soda on ice. The rusty nail with the standard version was fine and the malt did a good job of cutting the sticky sweetness of the liqueur. The 15 didn’t really add much. It just tasted like a sweet malt. The rusty cola was tasty but very sweet with the standard. The 15 tasted weird with cola at first but it grew on me. Standard Drambuie was refreshing with soda but still very sweet. The 15 was really delicious with soda, like a high-end blend.

Parting words: I don’t review liqueurs much but I have a small bottle of Drambuie languishing in my liquor cabinet and I was able to find a mini of Drambuie 15 so I figured I should do a head to head. They are whisky liqueurs after all.

Anyhow, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed tasting these two. The ordinary Drambuie is so sweet that it’s not something I drink very often but is a nice change of pace. The spice and herbal flavors come through nicely and give it some character beyond the cloying honey. The 15 y/o is truly delicious and does best with soda or neat.

That raises the question of price. Drambuie is not too expensive for a high-end liqueur but for the price of the 15, one could by a decent Highland or Speyside single malt that is just as sweet and complex and have some money left over. That is what keeps it from getting a full recommendation.

If you enjoy honey whisky liqueurs, Drambuie is recommended for mixing and Drambuie 15 is mildly recommended for both mixing and sipping.

Fentiman’s Tonic Water

Maker: Fentiman’s North America, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canadafentimans

Brewer: ???, USA

Neat:  Has a nice spicy, gingery nose with lime and lemon peel. Tart with a little quinine bitterness, but it’s an understated presence.

Mixed: I last tasted this tonic with some Old Tom gin and it was the perfect complement. This is an understated and complex tonic that works very well with understated, quality gins. A lemon slice is the best garnish for a G & T with Fentiman’s. I prefer a spicier tonic, frankly, but Fentiman’s really grew on me. It makes a great change of pace for me, but I can see it being a go-to for many people. This is a high quality tonic and it comes highly recommended.

Cola Head to Head: Faygo Original Cola vs. Towne Club Cola vs. Trader Joe’s Vintage Cola

I don’t do a lot of reviewing of non-alcohol beverages but I thought it might be interesting to do a review of three colas as mixers. Coke, Pepsi and RC are known quantities, so I decided to taste some off brands and one generic. I tasted them by themselves, with bourbon (Very Old Barton 90 proof), and in a Cuba Libre (Olo Silver).

First, Faygo (I bought it in the bottle, can pictured). By itself it has a nice fizz. Syrupy like an old fashioned soda machine where the syrup and water come out separately. Heavy on the cane sugar, light on the spice. Refreshing but too sweet. In bourbon and cola it’s ok, but doesn’t really bring anything distinctive to the table. The bourbon has plenty of sweetness on its own. Faygo adds nothing but more sweetness. In a Cuba Libre it performs better, but it still adds very little. Meh.

Towne Club Cola: By itself it is fairly bland. The only thing interesting going on is a weird fruity note. Very little in the way of spice, just sweetness and stale fruit cocktail. With boubon, the fruity taste is covered up slightly, but still comes through. In a Cuba Libre, it clashes with the lime in a weird way and becomes very unpleasant. Not good.

Trader Joe’s Vintage Cola: Trader Joe’s is known for having good generics of almost every type of food or drink. Vintage Cola is firmly in that tradition. It’s certainly not as good as Coke or Pepsi, but it is on a level with RC. Like Faygo, TJ uses cane sugar, not Corn Syrup. Unlike Faygo, TJ’s is caffeine free. By itself, much more spice than the two others tasted. Works very well with bourbon, the spice and cane sugar complements the  corny sweetness of the bourbon. It’s very good in a Cuba Libre too. Fills out the drink very nicely.

Overall, The Trader Joe’s Vintage Cola was is my favorite of the three. Faygo would be second, but might appeal to drinkers with more of a sweet tooth. Coke is still my favorite, but anyone looking to save a few bucks or cut back on the caffeine should give TJ’s Vintage Cola a try.

Summer Cocktail Fun, Pt. 2

Rock & Rye

250 oz Rye whiskey (I recommend Knob Creek or Bulleit)

2 oz rock candy (or granulated sugar)

1 slice orange (preferably a juice orange)

Place all ingredients into a mason jar or other non reactive container. Place in a warm place for 3-7 days, or until sugar is dissolved. Shake at least once a day. Drink neat or on the rocks or pour 1 1/2 oz into an ice filled rocks glass. Add 2-4 dashes of Fee Bros. Barrel Aged (or angostura or orange) bitters. Top off with club soda to taste for a Rock & Rye cooler.

Rye Highball

1 1/2 oz Rye whiskey (any will do. Also does well with a flavorful Canadian whisky like Wiser’s)

Ginger Ale (I prefer Vernor’s)

2-4 dashes of orange bitters

Pour rye into a highball glass filled with ice. Fill glass with ginger ale or to taste. Add bitters and stir gently.

Bourbon & Coke

Dur. Add Cherry bitters for a fun twist.

Kentucky Mudslide

1 1/2 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream

1 1/2 Coffee Liqueur

1 1/2 oz Vodka

3-5 dashes of Fee Bros. Aztec Chocolate Bitters

Half and Half

Pour first three ingredients into an ice filled rocks glass. Stir. Top off with half and half to taste. Add bitters. Stir.

Rum & Coke


Bourbon & Coke


Cuba Libre

1 1/2 oz White rum

1/2 oz Lime juice


Pour first two ingredients into an ice-filled rocks or highball glass and stir. Fill the rest of the glass with the cola. Garnish with a lime wedge.


Fill a beer mug with 1/2 lemonade and 1/2 beer (light lager or wheat beer works best. Try Full Circle or Whitsun)

Pimm’s Cup

Pour 1 1/2 oz Pimm’s #1 into an ice filled highball glass. Fill the glass with sparkling lemonade.

Summer Cocktail Fun, Pt. 1

I still drink plenty of bourbon, beer and wine in the summertime, but I like to mix it up too. I just got a motorized citrus juicer and I’ve been giving it a workout making light, refreshing drinks for my friends and myself. Here are some of this summer’s most popular.



Cape Codder

1 1/2 oz vodka (fruit flavored is ok if you’re into that sort of thing)

1/2 oz lime juice (fresh squeezed is best)

4 oz cranberry juice cocktail

2-4 dashes orange bitters (or to taste)

Add ingredients  into an ice-filled rocks or highball glass and stir thoroughly.

Lazy’s Man’s Tequila Sunrise

1-1 1/2 oz Silver/Blanco Tequila (1800 Silver, 100 proof)

4 oz Orange juice (fresh squeezed is best)

1 oz Pomegranate Juice

2-4 dashes orange bitters (or to taste)

Add ingredients  into an ice-filled rocks or highball glass and stir thoroughly.

Old Fashioned

1 tsp sugar syrup

4-6 dashes Angostura bitters

1 1/2 oz Whiskey (Bourbon,rye, Canadian, or in Wisconsin, brandy)

club soda

Pour the syrup into a rocks glass. Add the bitters and stir until the bitters are dissolved. Add the whiskey and stir. Fill the glass with ice. Top off with club soda to taste. Garnish with a cherry.

Gin & Tonic

Really? You need me to spell this out for you?

Tom Collins

1 1/2 oz gin

1 1/2 oz lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best)

1 tsp sugar syrup

Club soda

Pour the gin & lemon juice into an empty highball glass. Stir to combine. Fill the glass with ice. Fill with club soda to taste. Stir lightly. Garnish with a cherry and/or an orange slice. Ingredients can also be shaken together in a cocktail shaker over ice, then poured into an ice-filled highball glass, topped off with club soda and stirred.


Leaves from 1-2 sprigs spearmint

1 tsp granulated sugar

1/2 oz lime juice (fresh squeezed is best)

1 1/2 White rum

Club soda

Place the mint leaves into an empty rocks glass. Pour the sugar in on top of them and muddle until a pasty mush is formed. Add lime juice and stir to dissolve sugar. Add rum and stir. Fill glass with ice and stir. Top off with club soda to taste. Garnish with another mint sprig (also works as a stirrer).

Mint Julep

Leaves from 1-2 sprigs spearmint

1 tsp granulated sugar

2-4 oz bourbon (I recommend Buffalo Trace or Old Forester)

Crushed ice

Place the mint leaves into mixing  glass. Pour the sugar in on top of them and muddle until a pasty mush is formed. Add bourbon and stir to dissolve sugar. Pour into stainless steel or silver julep cup (or rocks glass) filled with crushed ice. Stir vigorously. Garnish with a mint sprig and drink promptly.


1 1/2 oz Gin (I prefer Ransom Old Tom for this)

1 1/2 oz Campari

1 1/2 oz Red/Sweet Vermouth (Cinzano or Dolin work well)

1-2 dashes orange or lemon bitters (optional)

Pour ingredients into a mixing glass or shaker filled with ice. Stir or shake to combine. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass.

Noilly Pratt Original French Dry Vermouth

Maker: Noilly Pratt, Marseillan, Hérault, France (Bacardi)

Style: Dry Vermouth

ABV: 18%

Note: Current U.S. forumlation.

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Sweet, sherry-like. Apple juice, Barlett pear.

On the palate: Sweet on initial entry, fading to bitter, herbal but nothing specific.

Finish: Sweet, juicy, long and bitter.

Mixed: Makes a fine, very herbal, martini or Rob Roy.

Parting Words: This is the first vermouth I’ve reviewed. I’ve reviewed mixers in the past but not very much. I drink more cocktails in the summer so I figured this week was as good a time as ever review another.

This vermouth was not as bad as some folks on the internet (besides me) seem to think. Not being familiar with the pre-2009 formula, maybe I’m not in a good place to judge, but it wasn’t bad. I like the herbal edge it adds to martinis. And it’s very cheap. Noilly Pratt Original French Dry gets a recommendation.

Sugar House Bar

Address: 2130 Michigan Ave., Detroit, Michigan (next to Slow’s BBQ)

Hours: Sun-Thurs. 5 pm- midnight. Fri-Sat 5 pm- 2 am

Type: Cocktail Bar

Appearance/atmosphere: On the outside and inside, The Sugar House Bar is contemporary and appealing, if a little dull. Dark paint and exposed brick on the inside. The bar itself is nice and spacious, although the dazzling array of bottles behind it steal the show. Tables are also available. Bathrooms were clean and matched the muted contemporary décor of the rest of the establishment, but they had those weird waterless urinals. For reasons I can’t explain, they give me the creeps. My friend reported that the women’s bathroom was nice.

The atmosphere is fun and casual. It was fairly easy to hear my drinking companion and the bartender.

Service: Service was excellent. Brandon was our bartender and he did an excellent job of suggesting cocktails for both of us. One of Sugar Bar’s specialties is building a drink around whatever mixer or liquor

Menu/Selection:  The drinks menu was nice, and most of my friend’s drinks came off it, while mine were all time-honored standards. I had the three classic whiskey drinks: Manhattan, Sazerac and an Old Fashioned. I took notes on what my friend had but a toddler walked out with them. From what I recall, she had two flip-type drinks and one called a Petruchio. She is in no way shrewish, but she loved it (you’re welcome English majors). She even loved the ones I had, despite repeatedly stating how she doesn’t care for whiskey (due to a HS experience involving Black Velvet and Grape Faygo).

The selection of mixers and liquors behind the bar was impressive. The bourbon and rye was most impressive of all. Just about every major label rye on the market was there: Sazerac, Rittenhouse, Beam, Wild Turkey, Bulleit, the new Woodford Reserve ryes, and even a four year old Willet rye (used to make my Sazerac cocktail). The bourbon selection was vast as well with plenty of sipping and mixing bourbons. There was also a good selection of Mezcal and Islay Single Malts. Not to mention a truly bewildering selection of liqueurs and other mixers including house-made ones.

Prices: The drinks are pretty expensive, most of them being in the low double digits price-wise, but these are craft cocktails and damn good ones. No complaints. We got what we paid for and more.

Transportation: We went on a weeknight, but it still seemed like there would be plenty of parking on Michigan Ave. on a weekend, although a multi-block walk might be in required. The 37 DDOT bus runs the length of Michigan Avenue and is a good option for those in Detroit or even Dearborn. From Dearborn and points west the 200 SMART bus goes down Michigan. Transit from the north is more of a challenge, but if timed right, a transfer or even a walk from one of the Woodward SMART stops should do the trick. Taxis are also an option, of course.

Parting Words: My friend and I had a great experience. Great service, fantastic drinks and good service. The Sugar House Bar gets a big recommendation.

May Wine

As the merry merry month of May winds down in a hot, sticky fashion, I thought it would be appropriate to share my take on the traditional German punch called May Wine. The following recipe is for a pitcher for home consumption, but could serve for a small party. For a larger party, double the recipe and serve in a large punch bowl with a ball of ice and garnishes.

2 Bottles of dry, white Mosel wine or sweeter if you like. A couple inexpensive Michigan or New York Rieslings would work very well too.

1 cup of powdered sugar or other sugar to taste depending on the sweetness of the wine.

6 sprigs of sweet woodruff

1/2 liter of club soda, seltzer or other sparkling water. An inexpensive dry sparkling wine can also be used.

Additional sprigs and orange slices or sliced strawberries (if in season in your area)

Pour half of one bottle (375 ml) into a large bowl or a pitcher. Add the sugar, 6 sprigs of woodruff and stir. Let sit for 30 minutes. Remove woodruff. Combine with the rest of the wine and stir. Just before serving add the soda or sparkling wine. Serve in glasses of your choice with a sprig and a slice of orange or 2-3 slices of strawberries.

Serving suggestion photo courtesy of O.V. Hightower:

Review: Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water

Maker: Fever-Tree

Tasted: neat and w/a combo of two world-wide middle-shelf gins with a wedge of lemon

Neat: Delicate, sweet aroma, in the mouth a lot of sweetness, a touch of citrus, some quinine, fading to a bitter, but still very sweet finish.

In G & T: The sweetness comes through but is mitigated by the gin and melting ice.  A nice bit of bitterness comes out in the finish, but this tonic is still one-dimensional.

Parting words

Frankly, I don’t know if I could tell the difference between this and, say, Schweppes’s or Canada Dry.  I have no beef with those two brands but I don’t think it’s worth paying a premium  price for a boutique tonic water like Fever Tree if I can get something that tastes the same for a fraction of the price at my local grocery store.  As you might have guessed by now, this tonic water is not recommended.