Buffalo Trace, Holiday Market Selection

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)

Retailer: Holiday Market, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA

Age: NAS (true age unknown, but at least 4 y/o by law)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $27

Appearance: New penny.

Nose: Tabasco sauce, copper penny, allspice.

Palate: Full-bodied and round. Marshmallow, caramel, alcohol.

Finish: Caramel, burn.

Parting words: It’s been a while since I reviewed BT selections, but I really should do more. BT, even the standard remains a good value for sipping and mixing from a distillery best known for Pappy, Elmer T. Lee, George T. Stagg and other overhyped, often overpriced bourbons.

This selection reminds me a little of the Binny’s selection I reviewed in the link above. Marshmallow is the dominant flavor, although here its less roasted. The flavor is not assertive enough to make itself known in cocktails with strong mixers, but it does well enough. Buffalo Trace, Holiday Market Selection is recommended.

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Floodwall Apple Brandy

Maker: Copper & Kings, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

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Age: 4 y/o

Cooperage: Bourbon & sherry casks

ABV: 50%

Michigan state minimum: $46.75

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Alcohol, new leather, white chocolate.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Sweet sherry, old oak, toffee.

Finish: Rubber, oak, alcohol

Parting words: Copper & Kings is one of the few microdistillers that is taking brandy seriously. In fact, they do more than take it seriously, it’s the heart of their business. They have six brandies on Michigan shelves, including an unaged apple brandy and the aged Floodwall.

Floodwall has a lot of things going for it. It’s 100 proof, a rarity for brandy (although Laird’s does make a bonded apple brandy), is under $50 (a rarity for aged craft spirits), mixes well and tastes a little like an old Calvados.

That last item is also its greatest weakness, though. My favorite apple brandies are ones that are mature but still retain some apple character to balance out the cask characteristics. Old Calvados is usually all cask and Floodwall is too. In Floodwall’s case, the cause is not age, but heavy handed use of sherry cask. There are some interesting things in the nose and on the front end of the palate but it all quickly turns one dimensional. If you like big sherry finishes, you’ll probably like Floodwall, but I wasn’t very keen on it. Floodwall is not recommended.

Barrel Reserve Old Cockney Gin

Maker: Two James, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Style: Barrel-aged dry gin

ABV: 45.5%

Michigan state minimum: $44

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Alcohol, juniper.

Palate: Sweetness, alcohol, juniper.

Finish: Dry and coniferous.

Mixed: Gives a nice, clean Pine-sol® aroma to classic gin cocktails.

Parting words: This gin is wildly unbalanced. Its sibling, Old Cockney, teeters on the edge of enjoyability, but the barrel-aged version falls right off the cliff. Most barrel-aged gins bring a creamy sweetness to cocktails, but that’s entirely absent here. No mixer can really stand up to the agressive piney-ness of this gin. It leaves all cocktails in ruins, no matter how good or potent the mixers. For $2 less, you can get Valentine’s barrel rested Liberator gin which is superior in every way. Barrel Reserve Old Cockney Gin is not recommended.

Brenne Estate Cask

Maker: Unnamed “third generation distiller” who grows barley on her or his farm in 20171122_111255.jpgCognac.

Owner: Allison Parc (formerly Patel)

Style: French single malt finished in Cognac barrels.

Age: NAS (marketing materials claim that the average age of a cask is 7 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Light caramel.

Nose: Very fruity. Bubblegum, table grapes, leather.

Palate: Medium-bodied and soft. Grape bubblegum, toasted oak, orange marmalade.

Finish: Grape bubblegum again. A little alcohol.

Mixed: I stuck to bourbon or brandy-based cocktails when mixing Brenne. Its fruity, sweet profile seemed to fit better in those drinks than in traditional Scotch or Irish ones. It added a pleasant, fruity aroma to an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, B(renne?) & B, and to my coffee.

Parting words: European whiskies made outside of Scotland and Ireland are a growing segment of the “world whisky” category. France is one of the leaders in this segment with three brands with wide distribution in the US: Bastille (reviewed here), Amorisk (made in Brittany), and Brenne.

I’ve been reluctant to review Brenne for my blog because the way the whisky was promoted when it was first released made me feel a little icky. It all goes back to those heady days of 2012 when whiskey bloggers still read each others’ posts and #WhiskyFabric (note the extremely important absence of an e) was a thing. One of those active bloggers was a woman named Allison Patel who blogged under the name Whiskey Woman. In the early 2010s, she began blogging and connecting with other bloggers as an enthusiast. In 2012 something remarkable occured. She discovered a whisky, and, lo and behold, she already had an import/export company set up to bring it to the US! She would also appreciate it if her fellow bloggers would review it and talk about it! That whisky was Brenne.

There’s nothing illegal about that as far as I know and as Melle Mel would say “you gotta have a con in this land of milk and honey” but the whole thing made me feel crummy. Parc and I were never close, but it gave me that same feeling you get when old friends invite you over for dinner but all they want to do is sell you Amway. It seemed like the connections made to the enthusiast community were for the purpose of promoting her product not for the sake of being a part of the community itself.

Producers and retailers do this all the time but what made the Whisky Woman case different was the appearance of independence. She has stated a few times that Whisky Woman is a labor of love and not intended to promote any of her companies or products but I have never been able to find any explicit statement on the blog of what Parc’s companies are or what brands they handle besides Brenne. In interviews, Parc has mentioned some of the distillers her company has worked with, like Kings County and Balcones. She has posted about both those distilleries but never (that I could find) explicitly disclosed her relationship with them. There are vague statements at the end of a few posts like “I’m lucky to be able to work with such great people as X”. but nothing like “My company exports this brand to Europe.” Whisky Woman is still semi-active. The current About page for it is here.

I asked my followers on Twitter what their views on industry folks posing as bloggers or enthusiasts were and the response was pretty clear.

As for the whisky itself, it’s fine. It has a fresh, fruity flavor that mixes very well and it’s refreshing on the rocks. Parc has talked about how Brenne is meant to reflect the terroir of Cognac. It may be refelected in the distillate, but it’s hard to taste anything other than  the Cognac barrel finish.

The price is the killer. $60 is too high. Bastille 1789 is only $27 in Michigan, and Angel’s Envy, which has a similar, fruity profile, is $10 less (at a slightly higher ABV) in all US markets. Brenne tastes good but it’s not something I’m going to buy again. Brenne is a only  a mild recommendation.

If you don’t care about the price, you should check out Brenne 10, a 10 y/o small batch iteration that goes for around $90.

Four Roses Single Barrel, Red Wagon Selection (OESQ)

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA20171117_201130.jpg

Recipe: OESQ (standard rye recipe bourbon, Q yeast strain)

Age: 8 years, 11 months old.

Bottled: March 12, 2016

Proof: 121.6 proof (60.8%)

Michigan state minimum: $62

Appearance: Burnt orange.

Nose: Alcohol, bubblegum, toffee. With water: Sweeter. Leather, grape jelly, wet concrete.

Palate: Sweet. Strawberry hard candy, chew oak. With water: Creamy, Heath bar.

Finish: Hot. Jalapeno. With water: Cooler, but still spicy. Chipotle, oak.

20171117_201026.jpgParting words: Red Wagon is one of the Detroit Metro Area’s best wine and liquor stores. They have two locations, one in Troy (barely) and one in Rochester Hills. The Rochester Hills location is larger but the Troy one is closer and has a well curated selection of wine, spirits, and beer. They’ve been selecting bourbon barrels for a few years now and doing it well for the most part. They had two Four Roses barrels when I purchased this one. I picked the OESQ because of my fond memories of the super-sexy 2009 Four Roses limited edition single barrel (reviewed here).

This is not that. This selection isn’t bad by any stretch but it lacks the sexual chocolate of the 2009 Ltd ed SB. The blisteringly high proof and relative youth factor into this. I would have liked to see how this would have tasted at ten or eleven years old, but maybe Brett and company at Four Roses thought that this barrel had reached its peak or that the proof would continue to rise (or both) and it needed to be bottled right away. It also lacks the distrinctive floral aromas I associate with the Q yeast strain. It tastes just like any other high proof Four Roses bourbon. That’s not a bad thing, though. This Four Roses Single Barrel, Red Wagon Selection is recommended.

 

 

Early Times Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Brown-Forman, Shively, Kentucky, USA20171027_174632.jpg

Style: High corn bonded bourbon

Age: At least four years old

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $21/ 1 liter

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Roasted corn, cayenne, Mexican oregano, leather.

Palate: Jalapeño, caramel. Gets a little fruity with water. Blueberry, blackberry, watermelon.

Finish: Grape soda, alcohol. Caramel comes out with water.

Mixed: I tried it in an old-fashioned, Manhattan, boulevardier, with Benedictine and with amaretto. Worked well in all of them, even though it didn’t really stand out. That’s not necessarily bad, though. Sometimes the base spirit is best as a, uh, base.

Parting words: Early Times is one of the oldest American whiskey brands still in existence. It was founded in 1860 by Jack Beam (uncle to Jim). Despite the name (an early example of marketing by nostalgia), Jack’s distillery was a throughly modern operation strategically located next to a rail line (the Louisville & Nashville railroad) near Bardstown. After Jack’s death in 1915, his nephew John Shaunty took over. After John’s death in 1922, a man named S.L. Guthrie bought the distillery and sold the Early Times brand to Brown-Forman. Brown-Forman has owned it since then. They even built a new distillery dedicated to the brand (their best seller at the time) in 1955. It’s still in operation today and is home to ET, Old Forester and Cooper’s Craft.

Jack had a colorful family. His final wife, Anna Figg Brown, was much younger than he and lived into the 1960s. After John Shaunty’s death, his widow took up with a con man who robbed her and left her stranded in Atlantic City. S.L. Guthrie had to drive there to pick her up and take her home. All this according to Sam Cecil’s The Evolution of the Bourbon Industry in Kentucky (1999).

At any rate, Early Times spent several years as America’s best-selling bourbon in the mid twentieth century and hung around at number two even after it was overaken tby Jim Beam. Early Times’ slide began when in 1983, as a cost cutting measure, B-F changed ET from a bourbon to “Kentucky Whisky”, a mix of bourbon with whiskey aged in used barrels, in the US. It remained a straight bourbon overseas. The brand still sells with “price sensitive” consumers, but has not regained its former widespread popularity. Back in 2011 Brown-Forman tried to jumpstart Early Times by releasing a new straight bourbon version called Early Times 354. It was not good. My video (!) review of it is here.

Luckily, B-F decided to give ET another chance and released this new bonded version with a beautiful retro label earlier this year. It’s a hit, with me, anyway. It’s sweet, as it and other high corn bourbons tend to be (e.g. Eagle Rare, Elmer T. Lee) but it has enough oak and spice to keep it from becoming boring. It mixes well, but I think it is at its best with one or two ice cubes and maybe a dash or two of bitters.

Price-wise, ET BiB is in a great place. If it were a standard 750 ml bottle, it would be $15.75. That would make it the cheapest bonded bourbon available in Michigan, less than Old Grand Dad ($28), sibling Old Forester Signature ($25, not technically a BiB, but close), Jim Beam ($22), and Evan Williams White Label ($18). All are fine products but Early Times Bottled-in-Bond is as good as any of those and none of them can deliver the same value. Brown-Forman has hit it out of the park again. Early Times Bottled-in-Bond is highly recommended.

What’s next for B-F? I’m hoping an ET with a double digit age statement. Get on it, George.

Talisker Distiller’s Edition (2013 release)

Maker: Talisker, Carbost, Isle of Skye, Highland, Scotland, UK (Diageo)20171013_121622.jpg

Region: Island

Style: Peated single malt, finished in amorosa (cream) sherry casks

Age: 10-11 y/o (distilled 2002, bottled 2013)

ABV: 45.8%

Michigan state minimum: $81

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Peat, old oak, roasted almond, vanilla, lemon meringue.

Palate: Medium-bodied, medium sweet, creamy. Custard, toffee, apricot.

Finish: Big and ashy. Fireplace with a nibble of toffee.

Parting words: Back in 2014 I reviewed Talisker Storm and I liked it a lot, but I thought it was “by the numbers” with little in the way of surprises. The Distiller’s Edition does have some surprises up its sleeve. I’m not a fan of sweetened cream sherries as beverages but their casks do good things to peaty whisky! Talisker DE is complex and rounded in a way that Storm and the 10 y/o aren’t. It’s more than worth the extra $3 over the Storm (which I still do enjoy). It’s a Talisker suitable for after-dinner sipping in the living room, while Storm and the 10 are post-snow-shoveling malts, if that makes sense. This is an older vintage but I don’t think much has changed since 2013. Talisker Distiller’s Edition is recommended.

 

 

 

Entropy

Maker: Gitche Gumee Ciderworks, Hancock,  Houghton County, Michigan, USA20170909_154436

Style: Wild fermented feral apple cider. Finished in French oak barrels

Harvest: 2015

ABV: 6.9%

Price: $15 (only available in the western portion of the Upper Peninsula)

Note: Bottle provided for review by maker.

Appearance: Amber with persistant bubbles. Slightly cloudy.

Nose: Cut lumber, Raclette cheese, cut apple.

Palate: Dry, medium bodied. Tart apple, apple peel, French oak.

Finish: Chewy oak and apple tannins, touch of tartness.

Parting words: I had never heard of Gitche Gumee before founder Phillip Kelm contacted me in August. There’s a reason for that outside my own obliviousness, though. Entropy is their first release. Phillip is currently planning two more releases, Dancing Fatman which he describes as “a more approachable table cider” and Carmelita which will be a thimbleberry-infused cider. Thimbleberry is a wild raspberry native to Western North America and the upper Great Lakes region. It’s beloved in Upper Michigan, especially in the Keweenaw Peninsula where Hancock Michigan is located.

Phillip’s day job is as a brewery builder. In an email to me he wrote, “History of the venture is somewhat involved.  I have worked in breweries for many years.  But my first love was always apples and cider.  Happy to be working with apples and cider now.  I’ve also opened South Korea’s first cidery, made Palau’s first cider, and am working now to finish India’s only cidery.  There’s lots to those stories, but I’ve only so much time to write!”  For more on Phillips’s career, look here.

Phillip was aiming for a French-style cider with Entropy and I think he hit the bullseye. It’s actually better than many Norman or Breton ciders I’ve had. The funk and tannin (augmented by French oak in this case) take the lead, but the are assisted by a supporting cast of acid, fruit and sweetness (in that order). The result is a great cider. Sorry to do this to you, dear readers, but this hard to find American cider is highly recommended.

 

 

Cooper’s Craft

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA20170825_202011

Style: Standard recipe bourbon filtered through beech and birch charcoal and aged in pre-toasted, charred barrels .

Age: NAS (4-6 y/o?)

Proof: 86 (43% ABV)

Price: $24 (The Party Source)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Lumber yard, caramel corn, fennel, nutmeg.

Palate: Full bodied and mellow. Grape soda, tootsie roll, bubble gum.

Finish: Creme brulee, dark chocolate. Similar to a Speyside Single Malt.

Mixed: I tried it in all my usual whiskey cocktails: Manhattan, perfect Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Holdfast boulevardier, with Coke, with ginger ale, and with Benedictine. It excelled in every one of them, hampered only by low proof in the boulevardier.

Parting words: This bourbon from Brown-Forman, with its recipe somewhere between high(ish) rye Old Forester and high corn Early Times, is intended as a tribute to the Brown-Forman cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky. B-F is the only Kentucky bourbon distiller with its own cooperage, a rightful point of pride for them. Cooper’s Craft puts that wood to work (I’m pretty sure that’s a Lil Kim lyric).

The pretoasted barrels and unique filtration process bring out sweet, chocolate flavors rarely found in bourbons, macrodistilled ones anyway. At 86 proof, it’s not a world beater, but honestly “some different flavors” is more than one expects for $24 these days. Cooper’s Craft is recommended.

 

 

 

 

Moletto Gin

Maker: Moletto Società Agricola, Motta di Livenza, Triviso, Veneto, Italy20170808_174534

Style: Dry gin with tomato.

ABV: 43%

Michigan State Minimum: $40

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Alcohol, ripe cut tomatoes, lime zest, juniper.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Lemon, tomato.

Finish: Limeade, tomato juice, juniper.

Parting words: Moletto is a producer of wine and grappa (among other things) in Veneto, in Northeast Italy. I’m not sure when or why they decided to produce this gin, but it is one of the weirdest ones I’ve ever tasted.

I bought it on a whim, looking for something different from the American micro-gins I had been drinking. It’s different all right. Once I realized it was made with tomato I was eager to try it in just about every cocktail I could think of. How would it possibly work in traditional gin cocktails? The tomato would surely clash. Arguably the weirdest thing about this gin is how little it clashed at all. It didn’t do well with tonic or orange juice but it did well with everything else I could think of. Tomato is a natural fit with lemon and the sort of things that go into vermouth, so those cocktails were a good fit. The tomato added a counterpoint of sweetness and acidity to bitter cocktails too. I didn’t try it in a bloody mary. Too obvious.

While it’s never going to be a go-to, I really enjoyed this gin with one caveat: my wife didn’t like it. She’s mostly a G & T drinker, though, so that may have been the reason. The price is high, but it’s unique as far as I know, so that makes it worth a little more to me. Moletto Gin is recommended.