Free Run Cellars Grappa

Maker: Round Barn, Baroda, Michigan, USA20170504_170405

Grapes: Gewürztraminer, Muscat.

Style: Pomace brandy.

ABV: 40%

Note: I received a 25% media discount on purchases and a free lunch when I purchased this brandy.

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Alcohol, lavender, antique rose, boxwood, woodruff, mango, pink peppercorns.

Palate: Sweet. Candied orange peel, alcohol.

Finish: Pungent and perfumed. Clears out sinuses and lingers.

Parting words: Free Run is a line of estate spirits and wines from Round Barn in southwestern Michigan. My wife and I (and our baby!) visited there last summer. An account of that, with details on Free Run is here. I reviewed Black Star Farms’ white grappa in 2013 and I loved it. This one is more rose pedals and musk than BSF’s fruity grappa. Some fruit, other than the faint mango note, would have been welcome for balance but this is good all the same. I forgot to write the price down but Free Run brandies are produced in limited runs and are priced accordingly (for a 375 ml bottle). Free Run Cellars Grappa Pomace Brandy is recommended.

Père Jules Cidre de Normandie, Brut

Maker: Léon Desfrièches & Fils, Saint-Désir-de-Lisieux, Calvados, France20170325_130447

Varieties: Undisclosed but “no less than 20 varieities” according to the website.

Place of origin: Normandy, France.

Style: Dry

ABV: 5%

Purchased for $12/750 ml (Pour, Royal Oak, Michigan)

Note: Made from 100% apple juice, no sugar added.

Parting words: The Le Père Jules brand was named for the father of Leon Desfrièches who began the family business in 1919 after returning home to Normandy after World War I. Jules began distilling Calvados in 1923. Son Léon joined the business in 1949 and founded the company as it is today, creating the brand. Jules’ grandson Thierry and Thierry’s son Guilliame run the business now and produce Cider, Perry (Poiré), Pommeau and Calvados. The cider is made in brut (dry), demi-sec (semi-dry) and doux (sweet). Unfortunately, only the Brut Cider and Perry are available in the US as far as I can tell.

When it comes to French ciders, I usually prefer Breton to Norman, because all of the Norman ciders I’ve had have been yeasty and brutally tannic. The Breton ciders have been more balanced and not as puckeringly austere. This cider has changed my mind about Normandy. It’s perfectly balanced with the trademark tannins and yeasty funk but with a counterpoint of fruit to bring it together and produce an elegant harmonious whole. This is the best French cider I’ve had and easily in the top five ciders I’ve had from anywhere. Père Jules Brut is highly recommended.

Uncle John’s Perry

Maker: Uncle John’s, St. John’s, Michigan, USA20170302_115559.jpg

Varietal: 100% Bartlett

Style: Dry Perry

ABV: 5%

Price: $11/750 ml (Binny’s)

Note: Note: At the time of purchase, I received a complimentary bottle of Russet cider and of Uncle John’s Apple Brandy.

Appearance: Bright yellow with a big fizzy head.

Nose: Fresh cut pear, golden delicious apples, kiwi, papaya.

Palate: Dry and effervescent. Pear peel, Meyer lemon, leather mineral water.

Finish: Drying and slightly tart.

Parting words: Uncle John’s Perry is part of their line of premium ciders including Russet (blend of Russet varieties, with Golden Russet making up the majority), Melded (a blend of English, French and American heritage cider apples), and Baldwin (single variety cider from Lake Michigan Shore apples).

This perry is a source of pride for Uncle John’s co-owner and operator Mike Beck. It’s easy to see why. Many perries taste and smell like fermented syrup from a can of pears. This perry is beautifully dry and gently tannic, all made using Bartlett, the same variety of pears that end up in the can! Mike told me that there are heirloom pear varieties that are intended for use in perry but they are even harder to find than cider apples. If anybody reading this has more information about perry pears, please comment!

Anyway, this is the best perry I’ve ever had. It made me rethink the category as a whole. America needs more good perry! Uncle John’s Perry is highly recommended.

Four Roses Single Barrel Barrel Strength, Gift Shop Selection

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA20170302_144319.jpg

Age: 9 1/2 y/o

Recipe: OESV

Warehouse RN, Barrel 57-2G

Bottled August of 2015

Proof: 112.4 (56.2% ABV)

Purchased for $70? (from memory)

Appearance: Bright caramel.

Nose: Caramel, lavender,  alcohol, oak, butterscotch, pool chlorine. More light chlorine with water.

Palate: Sweet on entry, butterscotch then burn. Bubblegum comes out with water.

Finish: Hot, oaky, chocolatey. Muted with water added.

wp-1488638774417.jpgParting words: Having reviewed pretty much every American whiskey on the market (and some not on the market) over the years, I’m going to start doing something I’ve resisted doing in the recent past: reviewing store picks of bourbon and rye. Given how quickly picks move off the shelves and how slowly I drink them, the goal is not to call attention to the picks themselves but to establish which retailers are good pickers and which aren’t. Gift shop selections are usually a safe bet and the selections from the Four Roses gift shops have been some of the best.

This one I wasn’t so sure about at first, though. With one judiciously applied ice crude, it was all oak. When I finally sat down with it neat, it started speaking to me. It has the beautiful interplay of candy and flowers we all expect from Four Roses. Now, the pool chlorine notes sound bad, I know, but it’s more of a whiff of summer swimming pools than bleach.

This was one of the last gift shop selections made during the tenure of 4R’s sainted former master distiller, Jim Rutledge. It’s a worthy farewell. This Four Roses gift shop selection is recommended.

Smooth Ambler Barrel Aged Gin

Maker: Smooth Ambler, Maxwelton, West Virginia, USA20170301_170705.jpg

Style: Barrel aged (3 months in ex-Old Scout bourbon barrels) dry gin.

Batch 4, bottled 12/13/2012

ABV: 49.5%

Price: $41 (The Party Source, Newport, Kentucky)

Appearance: Very pale gold, like a young white wine.

Nose: Juniper, cedar, bitter lemon, sweet cinnamon, wet earth.

Palate: Full bodied and medium dry. Candy orange slices, five spice powder, mace.

Finish: Sweet and citrusy.

Mixed: Did well in literally everything I put it into. Great in the cocktails in which barrel aged gin usually excels like perfect martinis, negronis and Princetons. Surprisingly, it’s every bit as good with tonic, juice and in a dry martini. Did very well in a McClary Bros. Ginger & Lemon shrub.

Parting words: Smooth Ambler is best known for their wonderful and popular Old Scout line of MGP-sourced bourbon and rye. They’re not just independent bottlers, though. They also distill spirits themselves. One of those spirits is their well-made Greenbriar Gin. It’s a juniper-heavy, but still full bodied gin good for just about anything. Unlike many gin producers, they use a mixed grain recipe that is similar but not identical to the mashbill used for their Yearling wheated bourbon. That gives it complexity and heft that many craft gins lack.

That heft serves it well when they put it into barrels. The result is a gin with the bitterness and spice one expects from a barrel aged, but with an added edge that allows it to work just as well with tonic and dry vermouth as it does with sweet vermouth and amaro. This is a one-stop gin. No need to keep a bottle of Seagram’s in the fridge  for G & T’s when you have this gin on your bar. That versatility goes a long way towards making it worth a purchase even at $41. It’s like that friend you have who is just as much fun to be around at a rock concert as she is at a house party or an art museum. Smooth Ambler Barrel Aged Gin can go anywhere with flavor. Highly recommended.

 

Cider Rosé

20161210_161342.jpgMaker: Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery, St. John’s, Michigan, USA

Apples: Geneva, Redfield, Watermelon, Niedzwetzkyana, others.

Style: Dry rosé cider.

ABV: 6.7%

Price: $18/750 ml (I think)

Note: At the time of purchase, I received a complimentary bottle of Russet cider and of Uncle John’s Apple Brandy, plus a discount on this bottle and others I purchased.

Appearance: Medium pink with moderately large bubbles. Big champagne-like head at first, but it dissipates quickly.

Nose: Sandalwood, ginger, apple.

Palate: Dry and medium bodied. Slightly tart but grows as it warms. Cardamom, ginger, papaya, watermelon, pomegranate, Granny Smith apples.

Finish: Applewood, big chewy tannins.

Parting words: This is a true rosé cider made from red fleshed apples, not turned pink by the addition of grape juice or something else. It’s firmly in the dry, structured, style of Uncle John’s specialty ciders. More tart than Uncle John’s Russet, it’s closer to Melded but the acid isn’t so much citrus as it is tart apples and pomegranates.
It’s fine with food, but Cider Rosé may clash with acidic salad dressings or cabbagey vegetables.

Uncle John’s Cider Rosé is recommended.
My visit to Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery & Cider Mill is chronicled here.

Peninsula Cellars Chardonnay, 2013

20161018_183510.jpgMaker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

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

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 11%

Purchased for $17 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Appearance: Very pale gold with tiny stationary bubbles.

Nose: Peach, limestone dust, touch of oak.

Palate: No apparent effervescence. Medium bodied. Juicy on entry, then dries out. Bartlett pear, mineral water.

Finish: Drying continues. Oak then limestone dust.

Parting words: You’ll notice that the word “oak” appears a lot in this review. This struck me as odd, because when I when back to the MBTBTRRO tasting menu I have describing this wine, it said it was stainless steel fermented. This would tend to rule out oak, unless something unusual went on like adding oak chunks to the stainless steel fermentation vessel. Normally in such circumstances I would tgo back and retaste to figure out what’s going on, but this bottle is long gone. Due to illness and baby care, I have a backlog of tasting notes, and this is one of them.

All that to say that I don’t know what exactly I was tasting, but it was a little chewy and bitter. Whatever it was added a nice counterpoint to the fruit and minerality of this wine. Peninsula Cellars is one of OMP’s best wineries, a perfect match for the grapes of Manigold, one of OMP’s best vineyards. Delivers for the price, too. Not a lot of this vintage still around but other vintages are bound to be just as good. 2013 Peninsula Cellars Chardonnay is recommended.

 

Freshwater Superior Single Barrel Rum

Maker: New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USAwp-1472334213166.jpg

Age: NAS (at least 1 y/o)

ABV: 52.5%

Michigan state minimum: $40

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Light molasses, vanilla cream, leather, alcohol.

Palate: Full bodied. Oak, then brown sugar, cassia, alcohol, vanilla bean.

Finish: Turbinado sugar, cognac, alcohol. Long lasting.

Parting words: New Holland’s Freshwater line is named in honor of three of the four great lakes that border Michigan. The line includes Huron White (hard to find, possibly discontinued), Michigan Amber and Superior Single Barrel. Superior is best and the most expensive of the line. It drinks dangerously easy for 52.5% ABV. I purchased it for a Michigan themed party and it went very fast. I even had guests come up to be and tell me how great it was and how could they get themselves a bottle!

I didn’t do much mixing with it because at $40 it falls into the sipping rum category for me.It does very well neat, on the rocks and/or with a squeeze of lime. It’s complex and balanced, sweet, spicy and vanilla-y. It’s everything you want in a micro-distilled sipping rum. Freshwater Superior Rum is highly recommended.

Uncle John’s Russet Hard Cider

knobby_russet_28520725866329
Knobby Russet apples

Maker: Uncle Johns, St. Johns, Michigan, USA

Apples: Golden Russet, Razor Russet, Knobby Russet and Baldwin.

ABV: 6.5%

Price: $13 (Binny’s)

Note: At the time of purchase, I received a complimentary bottle of this and of Uncle John’s Apple Brandy.

Appearance: Medium gold. Persistently effervescent.

Nose: Cut apple core, sweet cinnamon, old oak, green cardamom.

Palate: Medium dry and chewy. Apple juice, big tannin, tart cherry juice, seasoned lumber.

Finish: Dry, bitter tannins that linger in the cheeks.

Parting words: My visit to Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery & Cider Mill is chronicled here. This is the second of Uncle John’s premium ciders I’ve taken notes on for this blog. The first one I took notes on was Melded, a delicious blend of American, British and French cider apples. That one had tannins and minerals but on a bed of citrus. It was very food friendly and refreshing. I planned on highly recommending it, but I lost those notes due to poorly designed word processing software. I’ve begun handwriting notes so that doesn’t happen to me again.

Russet is different from Melded. There’s plenty of fruit here but it’s all apple and it’swp-1473194518713.jpg wrapped in a chewy, tannic package. It works well with food too, but the tannins are leading the charge here with fruit and acid playing backup. It’s a very good cider and leaves me excited to try the rest of the premium line that I have haunting my cellar.Uncle John’s Russet Hard Apple Cider is highly recommended.

Knobby Russet photo by Leslie Seaton from Seattle, WA, USA – Knobby Russet, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33881166

 

 

Hancock’s President’s Reserve

Maker: Buffalo Trace. Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (Sazerac)wp-1472261717513.jpg

Style: High corn bourbon.

Age: NAS

Proof: 88.9 (44.45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $55

Appearance: Light auburn.

Nose: Alcohol, leather, corn syrup.

Palate: Full bodied. Alcohol, vanilla, creamed corn from the can.

Finish: Canned corn, alcohol. Fairly short.

Parting words: Hancock’s President’s Reserve was released in 1991 as a part of Ancient Age  (now known as Buffalo Trace) distillery’s series of single barrel bourbons introduced by master distiller Gary Gayheart. That series also includes Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms and Blanton’s. All of them are made from what is now Buffalo Trace’s mashbill #2, also used for the lower shelf Ancient Age line. As far as I can tell, Hancock’s was created at that time, although Hancock and Hancock Club bourbons were produced in Cincinnati before prohibition.

I’ve never been able to figure out what Hancock’s Reserve was supposed to bring to the table. Blanton’s has big leathery oak, Rock Hill Farms is elegant and high proof and Elmer T. Lee has the best QPR of the four, or at least did until it started being hoarded by stooges. Hancock’s is more expensive than Elmer, rougher and lower proof than RHF and sappier than Blanton’s. At one time, it was often a good example of BT’s earthiness, but that time has passed. It tastes like it’s barely 5-6 years old now. I tasted it next to the current 36 m/o Ancient Age 10 star ($19), and it tasted better but not by much. It reminds me of what AA 10 star tasted like seven years ago. Best thing I can say for it is that the bottle is one of the best looking on the shelf.

Hancock’s is a sad illustration of how some brands have had to fall by the wayside as Buffalo Trace has struggled to keep up with high demand for its bourbon. Maybe it would be best just to kill this one all together. Hancock’s President’s Reserve is not recommended.