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.

Advertisements

Old Overhold Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Jim Beam, Claremont/Boston, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)20180824_172229.jpg

Style: Kenctucky-style bonded straight rye

Age: At least 4 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Cut grass, leather, tarragon, alcohol, black pepper.

Palate: Full-bodied and silky. Startlight mints, oak, tarragon.

Finish: Anise candy, woodruff, oak, alcohol. Long.

Mixed: Did well on the rocks, with soda and with Ginger Ale. Subtle but good in a Manhattans, and Sazeracs. Quite good with a splash of Akvavit.

Parting words: Old Overholt was founded in Pennsylvania in 1810, making it one of the oldest whiskey brands in the US (maybe the oldest), even older than most single malt Scotch distilleries. It was one of National Distillers’ brands back in 1987 when Beam and ND “merged”. Once the ND distillate ran out, Beam filled OO with its youngest, worst rye, similar to how it turned Olds Crow and Taylor into bottom shelf bourbons. Until last year, Beam little interest in Old Overholt, aside from 2013’s weird, ill-fated “The Olds” ad campaign in collaboration with Onion Labs (yes, affiliated with The Onion).

Jim Beam improved its Jim Beam rye a few years ago, raising it to 90 proof and four years of age. I reviewed it here. ND had produced a BiB years ago, but it had not been produced in decades and was pretty rare even as a “dusty”. Last year, Beam finally brought OO BiB back. The popularity of Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse Rye was probably a factor in the reintroduction of OO BiB. OO’s old-timey label is also appealing to bearded hipster mixologists and now it finally has liquid inside that will appeal to them too.

Old Overholt Bottled-in-Bond is a good companion to the other fine ryes in Beam’s stable and outclasses competitors like Rittenhouse and Sazerac ($3 more and 5% lower ABV). OO BiB is recommended.

Minor Case Rye

Maker: Limestone Branch, Lebanon, Kentucky, USA

Distiller: MGP, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA20170811_180024

Style: Low rye rye whiskey finished in sherry casks.

Age: 2 y/o

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $50

Thanks to Eric for the sample!

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, black tea, cayenne, cut grass.

Palate: Ghost pepper, caramel, sugared dates.

Finish: Peppermint, serrano chili.

Parting words: There are a lot of micro-distilled products around with weird names. Minor Case Rye get its weird name honestly, though. Minor Case Beam was a Kentucky distiller active in the early twentieth century and first cousin to Jim Beam of Jim Beam fame. M.C. Beam as he was better known was partner and later sole owner of the T. J. Pottinger distillery in Gethsemane Station, Kentucky, near the famous Trappist monastery that was once home to writer and theologian Thomas Merton. M.C.’s son Guy was grandfather to Stephen and Paul Beam, the owners of Limestone Branch.

I try not to read a lot of reviews of products I’m planning on reviewing in the near future so I did my best to stay away from the gobs of reviews of Minor Case Rye that have come out recently. I tasted it semi-blind, not knowing the age, proof, or that it was finished although I suspect I knew that at one point. When I (re)learned that it was sherry-finished, I was surprised. I thought it had an interesting array of aromas, some of which are outside the usual stable of rye whiskey descriptors. The sherry influence didn’t come through at first. Nothing in the way of raisins or rancio flavors , only a rounded fruitiness providing structure for chilies and herbs. Once I knew to look for it, I found it, but I would not have guessed it.

I was also surprised by its age, two years old. This explains the capsacin flavors, but again, I would not have guessed that it was that young. The sherry finish is used deftly to mask the harsh flavors of young whiskey while still more or less incognito. That’s an impressive feat. I can say without reservation that Minor Case Rye is the best two year old rye whiskey I’ve had, finished or not.

The $50 price tag is what really gives me pause. My inner cheapskate strongly resists paying that much for a whiskey so young, but I gotta say it tastes like a $50 whiskey. That said, I do hope it gets older. Minor Case Rye is recommended.

 

Centennial Limited Edition

Maker: Highwood Distillers, High River, Alberta, Canada.20170728_183830

Style: Blended Canadian rye (with wheat base whisky)

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

LCBO: $27.45 ($22 US)

Appearance: Medium copper, medium, evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Caramel, tarragon, plum, roasted sweet corn.

Palate:  Medium bodied and spicy. Peanut brittle, black pepper, clove, serrano chilies, butterscotch hard candy, caramels.

Finish: Creamy and a little fruity. Vanilla cream, dried dates, brown sugar.

Mixed: Did well mixed but hampered a bit by the proof. Tried it in a Manhattan, 8e Arrondissement, Frontenac and Mammamattawa.

Parting words: Highwood Distillers is a relatively new distillery, founded in 1974 in High River, Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies. They’re Canada’s largest privately owned distillery. Centennial also comes in a variety of flavored iterations including spiced, maple, coffee bean and dark chocolate. In addition to the Centennial line, Highwood also makes the White Owl white rye whisky, Ninety, Century, Highwood, and Potters whiskies among others. They also produce vodka, gin, liquers and import rum.

I picked this one up during my last trip to the Windsor, Ontario LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) stores. The old ten-year-old expression of Centennial was a popular favorite with Canadian whisky lovers. The new NAS version is still popular from what I understand. I had heard good things, but never tried it. I was reluctant because of the low proof, but Centennial packs a lot of flavor into 40% ABV. It’s full of classic Canadian rye aromas with the wheat contributing just enough sweetness to pull it all together. It’s a well balanced but full flavored Canadian rye. Pick one up at your next opportunity. Centennial Limited edition is recommended.

 

A Visit to Castle & Key: A Photo Essay, pt 2

Last week, I posted part 1 of my photos of the Castle & Key distillery, FKA The Old Taylor Distillery. The photos were of the World’s Longest Rickhouse and some other buildings on the site that were not yet restored. This week, the photos will be of the distillery itself (and associated buildings), the springhouse and the the dam.

For further reading on this building and Castle & Key check out what friend-of-the-blog Chuck Cowdery has had to say about Old Taylor/Castle & Key here, and posts on Old Taylor’s sister distillery, Old Crow here and here.

Other friend-of-the-blog Fred Minnick takes better pictures than I do. He’s been to OT/C&K several times. Here’s his visits from 2015,  and 2013, just before the current owners purchased the property.

Also check out the Lipmans’ piece about Old Taylor and Old Crow from 1999 (with a 2015 update).

Without further ado…

 

20170429_121841
The iconic springhouse. 
20170429_121324
Columns holding up the springhouse roof. All of the springhouse is original, except for that roof, which has been replaced.
20170429_120856
The iconic view of the iconic key hole shaped springhouse. The pool is ten feet deep. The water looks murky but is perfectly clear when drawn out. Minimal filtration is needed for use. The water is high in calcium and magnesium. The benches now placed around the pool were found inside it!
20170429_121344
The top of the key with the new roof visable. The springhouse is popular for wedding, prom and other photos.
20170429_121807
The well house between the springhouse and the dam on Glenn’s Creek.

I took a short video of the dam and the well house too.

20170429_121929
Entering the boiler building.
20170429_122405
New skylight in boiler building, to eventually become a visitor’s center. The roof was repaired with materials recovered from other buildings on the campus.
20170429_122009
Where the boilers was.
20170429_122530
The front entrance to the distillery building, aka the castle.
20170429_122621
The tower by the main gate, for defensive purposes, obviously.
20170429_122609
The front door.
20170429_123225
Original hardwood floor inside the entrance.
20170429_123400
Fermentation room. White corn is used for the bourbon.
20170429_123254
Heating coils inside the fermenter.
20170429_123604
The still column behind our guide. They’re distilling a lot already about 20 barrels worth a day. They have capacity to go up to 60 a day. They’re doing a lot of contract distilling too. According to our guide, 70% of their output is contract, 30% for themselves. He said it was “no secrets” contract distilling, at least on their end.
20170429_123538
The pot still, thumper, doubler, whatever it’s called. The second part of the still. Their bourbon enters the barrel at 107 proof, rye at 118 proof. I should have mentioned it earlier but they will be using barrels from the Speyside Cooperage in Jackson, Ohio. They swear by them. Laser cut, never leak, apparently. They use numbers 3 and 4 char.
20170429_125716
Distillery building on the right, on the left is the building that was the lab, now serves as an office (upstairs) for Master Distiller Marianne Barnes and a bride’s room (downstairs).
20170429_124424
Walkways from the distillery building to the old lab.
20170429_124454
Second floor walkway to old lab, with Old Taylor stone.
20170429_124526
Same stone as above, from a different angle. Construction began on the distillery building in 1887 and it took twelve years or so to complete, according to our guide. That stone is visible from the road, but before the restoration, it was overgown with vines. I have a picture of this somewhere, but I haven’t been able to track it down.
20170429_125946
Panoramic photo of the beautifully sunken garden behi
20170429_131058
View from the garden looking back at the castle and the old lab.
20170429_130321
Opposite view with Warehouse E on the left.
20170429_130048
The fish pond at the center of the garden.
20170429_131123
Closer view of the pond. When the sunkern garden was being restored, the pond was called “the snakepit”. It was meant literally.
20170429_122556
View of the old office building across McCracken Pike. The roof has collapsed entirely. Eventually, Castle & Key hopes to restore this building too. Hope you enjoyed the photos! Peace.

A Visit to Castle & Key: A Photo Essay, pt. 1

Back when I first started going on annual/semi-annual pilgrimages to Kentucky, I heard tale of two abandoned distilleries on McCracken Pike, near Frankfort Kentucky and even nearer to the Woodford Reserve (aka Labrot & Graham, aka Oscar Pepper) distillery. To get there, you turned left out of the Woodford reserve parking lot and kept going until you thought you were lost in the woods and needed to turn around. Then you went around a bend and a giant castle-like building virtually lept out of the woods at you. That was the Old Taylor Distillery (shuttered in 1972). Just a little down the road was the Old Crow distillery which was also interesting in its own right, but not nearly as impressive as the Castle, as it was called. You could park across the road at the collapsed office building if you wanted to take a look at the castle, but you had to look out for The Guy in the Red Truck, who was guarding the place. The Guy in the Red Truck was not a monster, though, and you could reason with him and he might let you get close and take pictures. He would also show you the grave of a Revolutionary soldier that he preserved nearby.

The Castle was wild looking and a little sad and occasionally spooky like in this picture I25784_422752045399_76845_n took on a rainy day in 2010. “Legit” whiskey bloggers (i.e. actual journalists) would occasionally get a chance to wander around and take pictures. At the time, we bourbon lovers all wondered what it would take to restore the building. The conventional wisdom was that the building would be too expensive to ever restore, let alone reuse.

We were wrong. The Old Taylor Castle is now being restored, thanks to the partners who own what is now called the Castle and Key (after the key shaped spring house) Distillery. In 2014 it was purchased for less than a million dollars from an Atlanta investor group that was selling the distillery buildings for scrap. The destruction was stopped and restoration was begun. The invester group managed to snag Marianne Barnes, rising star at Brown-Forman (makers of Old Forester, Early Times, Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniels), to be their master distiller. The intention is to produce gin, vodka, rye and bourbon. The Bourbon, at least, is going to be released as a mature, bottled-in-bond product.

In late April of this year (2017) a group of folks from StraightBourbon.com including yours truly, Mrs. Sipology Blog and friends of the blog Amy and Pete were graciously allowed a tour of the campus, even though it’s not open to the public yet. Here are some pictures I took. I hope you like them.

For a concise, illustrated history of the property check out http://www.distillerytrail.com/blog/castle-key-distillery-rising-ruins-old-taylor-distillery-narrowly-escaped-wrecking-ball/

20170429_105317-4
Botanical garden for gin on the site of a collapsed rickhouse near the parking lot at the back gate.
IMG_20170429_105551_236
Other side of the botanical garden. “World’s Longest Rickhouse” in background.
20170429_112321
Walking over to to World’s Longest Rickhouse (WLR), completed in 1917 with a capacity of 32,000 barrels (quite large for a rickhouse). It’s their main warehouse at present. Currently mostly occupied by other people’s whiskey (the rickhouse is highly regarded and a source of income for them), but C & K is now aging their whiskey in there too.
20170429_112742-1
The front tower of the WLR with tracks for rolling barrels around.
20170429_112848
My wife Liz peaking into the WLR at one of the 13,000 barrels currently stored there.
20170429_113303
Looking up at the WLR.
20170429_114335
Walking down the broad pathway flanked by old buildings over to Warehouse E (center right) and the distillery building (center).
20170429_114427
My friend Brian and I snuck off into one of the buildings on the side and discovered this picture of the castle.
20170429_114454
Same building as above. Strange but cool green glass panels.
20170429_114839
Building with barrel tracks going over the road. According to our guide, locals tell of when barrels would pop off the track onto the road for enterprising folks to recover.
20170429_114535
Toward Warehouse E
20170429_115217-1
The concrete monster that is Warehouse E.
20170429_115333
Inside the entrence to Warehouse E, which I dubbed “World’s Creepiest Warehouse”. Cave-like enviroment. Looks like a set out of one of the Blade movies.
20170609_212107
Taylor used brass bands for his barrels so Castle & Key sometimes use them for special ones.
20170429_120555
Walking over to the distillery building under the crenellated water tower.
20170429_120614
Had no idea my ex worked here! But seriously folks, more pics, including the castle itself, the springhouse, sunken garden and more next week!

 

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

Updated 11/19 to include tasting notes! Sorry!

Maker: Crown Royal, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada (Diageo)20161118_190337.jpg

Style: Blended Canadian Rye

Age: NAS

ABV: 45%

Michigan state minimum: $32

Appearance: Medium copper

Nose: Bubblegum, spearmint, alcohol, dried wildflowers

Palate: Full bodied. Grape jelly, maple sugar, cut hay.

Finish: Grape soda, oak, butterscotch.

Parting words: Whisky writer Jim Murray proclaimed Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye his 2015 Whisky of the Year, to much internet snickering and mockery. His announcements are usually met with snark, but in 2015 it seemed to be stronger than usual. Many online whisky heads found it laughable that Murray chose a $30 or so Canadian Whisky from Crown Royal for his big award. The whisky itself got lost in the shuffle.

That whisky is good. It’s not a world beater, but at $32 it doesn’t need to be. It’s unlike Alberta Premium (or its kin). It tastes like something between that and an Kentucky style rye. Sweet, with a little spice and a little herbal aroma on the back.As I said in my last review the days of good rye for cheap is over, largely. Stuff like this is as good as it’s going to get in the near future. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is recommended.

Woodford Reserve Rye

Maker: Woodford Reserve, Versailles, Kentucky, USA (Brown-Forman)20161112_174733.jpg

Style: Straight Kentucky style Rye Whiskey (low rye)

Age: NAS

ABV: 90.4 (45.2% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $38

Appearance: Dark orange with evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Burnt caramel, cedar, burnt orange.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Maple sugar candy, chocolate orange, burn.

Finish: Hot and chocolaty. Goes strong for a long time.

Mixed: Does very well

Parting words: This is the third rye Woodford Reserve has released, but the first wide release. The first two were the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Rye whiskeys, both entirely distilled and aged at the beautiful Woodford campus (aka Labrot & Graham) in Versailles, south of Frankfort. They were released in a set of two 375 ml bottles in a decorative box. One was aged in used barrels, another in a new charred barrel. I liked them both, but I’m in the minority. I reviewed it here on the shores of Walloon Lake in Northern Michigan, with the help of friends-of-the-blog (and sisters) Amy and Jennifer. This whiskey’s other kin is Rittenhouse Rye, owned by Heaven Hill but contract distilled for them by Brown-Forman at their big Louisville distillery after the devastating 1996 Heaven Hill fire. Rittenhouse is now distilled by Heaven Hill.

Like the standard Woodford, this is a combination of Louisville and Versailles distillate. It has some characteristics of both, but I don’t want to read too much into that, since it may be a different recipe(s) from Rittenhouse and the WRMC. It has the caramel and orange of Rittenhouse but also the light spice of the WRMC ryes. Before rye became popular, probably would have dragged this whiskey for being too expensive and boring. In those days one could get beautiful, aged ryes like Rittenhouse or Sazerac for well under $30, but not anymore. Cheap ryes now taste like cheap ryes. Woodford Rye is not exactly thrilling, but it is a good example of the style and it lacks any obvious flaws. In its price range, I would rate Knob Creek Rye (at 100 proof) higher, but this bottle is still a recommendation.

 

Three way head to head micro-rye tasting: Journeyman vs Few vs Union Horse

J= Journeyman Last Feather Rye, batch 17wp-1468093192015.jpg

F= FEW Rye, batch 15

UH= Union Horse Reunion Straight Rye, batch 1

Maker

J: Journeyman, Three Oaks, Michigan, USA

F: FEW, Evanston, Illinois, USA

UH: Union Horse, Lenexa, Kansas, USA

Age

J: NAS

F: “At least one year”*

UH: “Over two years”*

*Age statements like these are not in line with regulatory standards

Proof

J: 90 (45% ABV)

F: 93 (46.5% ABV)

UH: 93 (46.5% ABV)

Price

J: $50 (Michigan State Minimum)

F: $60 (Michigan State Minimum)

UH: $39 (MSRP)

Note: Received a complimentary bottle of UH from FleischmanHillard PR for review purposes.

Appearance

J: Medium copper.

F: A little lighter but still copper.

UH: Quite a bit darker. Shiny auburn.

Nose

J: Bananas, cherry bubble gum, alcohol, oak.

F: Christmas tree scented candle, orange peel.

UH: Cut grass, toasted grain. Similar to Canandian Club.

Palate

J: Banana, black licorice, alcohol.

F: Mild. Peppermint.

UH: Full bodied and sweet. Brown sugar, oak, alcohol.

Finish

J: Big licorice that lingers.

F: Spearmint gum.

UH: Grassy and sweet, then Grape-Nuts cereal.

Mixed: With ginger ale, in a Manhattan and a Sazerac

J: Brought big licorice to all three. Excelled in the manhattan.

F: Did fine in everything. Nothing offensive.

UH: Same as F above.

Parting words: This is one of those head to head tastings that ends up making me mad. The overall winner was Last Feather Rye, but with a couple concerns. I loved the licorice and banana flavors but those are flavors I don’t expect out of rye whiskey. Nothing wrong with that on its own, but those flavors combined with the absence of the word “straight” on the front label makes me wonder if Journeyman is flavoring its rye, a la Templeton. This is legal, but should be disclosed to consumers. If I had my act together, I would have emailed or called them to ask, but I didn’t think of that possibility until now. I’ll try to get that information in the near future. To be fair, FEW isn’t straight either, but with FEW there’s nothing in the glass outside of the typical range of flavors for American ryes.

FEW Rye was ok, but nothing too extraordinary. It drank like a less refined version of Bulleit rye. The mintiness does fine in cocktails but it was overwhelming neat. Reunion was a horse of a different color. Its profile was closer to a Canadian blended rye than any American rye I’ve had recently. It’s better balanced than FEW, but not as flavorful as Last Feather.

The elephant in the room with all of these is the price. Journeyman is $50, which is too high for a whiskey that isn’t a straight. FEW is $60, which is just plain dumb. Reunion is priced better and is a straight, but is still pushing it when it comes to price.

Journeyman is mildly recommended, FEW is not recommended and Reunion is recommended (at or near MRSP)

Pikesville Rye

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USA2016-01-29-16.52.04.jpg.jpeg

Style: Kentucky straight rye whiskey

Age: 6 y/o

Proof: 110 (55% ABV)

Michgan state minimum: $50

Appearance: Dark auburn

Nose: Cut grass, oak, alcohol grape soda, caramel.

Palate: Full bodied. Spicy and hot. Caramel, root beer. Water brings out sweet cinnamon and chili powder.

Finish: Oak, and then habanero. With water: a splash of caramel corn, then a low ancho burn.

Parting words: Pikesville is a fairly old Maryland brand that ended up being the last rye distilled in the state. The distillery stopped distilling in 1972 but kept going using old stock until 1982 in a testament to how bad sales were. Heaven Hill bought the brand then and it served as their bottom shelf, 80 proof rye for the next 30+ years. In 2015 they decided to reboot Pikesville as a 110 proof upper-shelfer. Judging by this bottle, the reboot is a success.

There seems to be a large proportion of pretty old (12 y/o or older) stock in the mix. I have never had an young Kentucky style rye with this much oak showing. It’s remarkable and well worth the price. This a is well balanced with loads of character that drinks pretty easy for 110 proof. If you enjoy Heaven Hill’s other rye, Rittenhouse, you’ll love this. It even stands up to the hallowed Van Winkle Family Reserve rye well. I hope they don’t let the high quality slip over the next few years. Highly recommended.