Roger Groult, 8 y/o

Maker: Roger Goult, Valorbiquet (Saint-Cyr-du-Ronceray), Calvados, Normandy, France.20190620_214902.jpg

Place of origin: Clos de la Hurvanière, Pays d’Auge AOC, Calvados, Normandy, France.

Age: 8 y/o

ABV: 41%

Price: $60 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Crushed cider apple, toasted oak, vanilla, nutmeg.

Palate: White chocolate apple, vanilla custard, burn.

Finish: Butterscotch hard candy, ginger, kiss of oak.

Parting words: Roger Groult is a family-owned Calvados producer in the Pays d’Auge, in the eastern half of the Calvados AOC. Groult produces a full line of apple brandies that often show up on the shelves of large liquor stores in the US.

I haven’t tried any of the other Groult brandies so I can’t comment on how this one compares to the others, but I did enjoy it. There’s nothing too distictive but there’s also nothing unpleasant. At 8 years I did expect a bit more oak, but I’m not big on oaky apple brandies, so that was fine with me. I just wish that there was a little more depth. $60 isn’t terrible for an age-stated Calvados so Roger Groult 8 year old Calvados is recommended.

Gurutzeta Original Basque Cider

Maker: Sidreria Gurutzeta, Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country, Spain20190616_171204.jpg

Style: Natural Basque Spanish cider

ABV: 6%

Purchased for $12/750 ml at Vine & Table in Carmel, Indiana.

Appearance: Very hazy gold.

Nose: Apple cores, dried flowers, apricot, lemon thyme.

Palate: Apricot, Golden Delicious apple, chalk dust, pinch of sweetness.

Finish: Tangy. Siracha burn in the back of the throat as it warms in the glass.

Parting words: This is the second Basque cider (or Sagardoa as they call it) I’ve reviewed. The other one was in November of 2017. It was Isastegi Sagardo Naturala, made in Tolosa about 17 miles (27 km) south of Astigarraga. The two ciders are similar in style but Gurutzeta is more acidic and less funky than Isastegi. Neither have more than a trace of sweetness.

Basque ciders are not what I’d call good entryway ciders for most North American drinkers. While they’re not as dominated by tannin as Norman ciders, they do have much more of it than most English or American ones. and they tend to have high levels of acid and funk with virturally no sweetness. It may sound silly, but for those new to Basque cider I would suggest getting a solid feel for French cider before venturing into Basque Country. It will help you understand this unique tradition better. At any rate, Gurutzeta Original Basque Cider is 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.

 

 

Left Foot Charley Perry

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20190504_122122.jpg

Variety: 100% Bartlett perry

Style: Dry American perry.

ABV: 6%

Price: $8 (winery IIRC)

Appearance: Very pale straw.

Nose: Pear, cedar, yeast.

Palate: Light & dry with a few bubbles. Hint of pear, apple core, yeast.

Finish: Dry. A little tannin and funk.

Parting words: At this point in my cider-tasting career I’ve had a good number of perries and all but a couple of them have been very sweet. When I saw that this perry was 100% Bartlett, I assumed that I was in for another sweet, one-dimensional perry. I was wrong. LFC’s perry is pleasantly dry with a little yeast and even what tastes like tannin! It was a very pleasant surprise. The winery that makes some of my favorite Michigan wines now also makes my favorite Michigan perry. LFC’s Perry is highly recommended.

Ballechin 12, Vine & Table Cask

Maker: Edradour, Pitlochry, Perthshire, Scotland, UK20190125_195157.jpg

Region: Highlands

Style: Peated single malt

Age: 12 y/o (distilled 10/26/05, bottled 7/17/18)

ABV: 57.5% (cask strength)

Notes: 100% burgundy cask aged. Natural color. Cask #316, 262 bottles produced. Exclusive to Vine & Table, Carmel, Indiana, USA.

Purchased for $135

Appearance: Reddish copper.

Nose: Alcohol, smoke, peat, baking cherry pie, leather.

Palate: Alcohol, smoke, cherry-vanilla custard, peat, old oak.

Finish: Big & smoky, with oak, fruit and burn.

Parting words: Edradour is in the Perthshire town of Pitlochry in the Central Highlands. It shares the town with the Diageo-owned Blair Athol distillery, known for its heavy, nutty malts. Edradour has a reputation of being mild (to put it kindly). I bought a bottle several years ago and I have never felt the desire to buy another one again.

I can’t resist the smooth talking salespeople of the Vine & Table whiskey section, though, so I bought this bottle (at least double what I normally pay for any spirit) after a very impressive taste at their tasting bar. Ballechin is a new, heavily peated malt from Edradour, presumably intended to buck their dull rep.

For me, man of the people and cheap skate, to buy something this expensive, it has to be good, of course, but it should also be unique. This is both. It’s not only a peated Highlander, it’s aged entirely in a former red Bungundy cask. This gives it some unusual fruit pie aromas that set it apart from other peated malts, in a good way. I’m not sure how many of these are left but I recommend saving your pennies or drinking out of your bunker for a couple of months for this one. You won’t be disappointed. Vine & Table’s Ballechin 12 y/o is highly recommended. Adding a splash of water is also recommended at this ABV.

 

Crispin Pacific Pear

Maker: Crispin, Colfax, California, USA.20181223_193746.jpg

Fruit: Unknown apple and pear varieties.

Style: Pear cider (Pear & apple)

ABV: 4.5%

Price: $11/6 pack of 12 oz bottles (Binny’s)

Appearance: Light gold, moderate carbonation.

Nose: Mild cut Bartlett pear.

Palate: Light-bodied. Dessert pear, semi-dry Riesling.

Finish: Clean, a little sweetness.

Parting words: As I learned from the comments on the last pear cider I reviewed, there is a difference between a pear cider and a true perry. This is the former. It’s a relatively dry and crisp, although no one would ever mistake it for a dry English or Norman cider. Pacific Pear has a good amount of pear flavor but still sticks to the Crispin house which is crisp and easy-drinking. This is a fine entry pear cider or good for pounding back at a summer BBQ. Pacific Pear 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.

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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.

 

Dunkertons Organic Perry

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Maker: Dunkertons, Pembridge, Herefordshire, England, UK

Style: Perry (100% organic, heirloom perry pears)

ABV: 6.9%

Price: $8/500 ml bottle (Binny’s)

Appearance: Big, fizzy head. Straw-colored with persistant bubbles.

Nose: Yeast, cut fruit wood, lemon zest.

Palate: Dry and funky. Chewy old pears, wood chips, pear syrup.

Finish: Clean with a little funk and tannin on the back end.

Parting words: Dunkertons comes from Herefordshire, in the West Midlands of England, near the border with Wales. They exclusively use heritage cider apples and perry pears. The latter are nearly impossible to find in North American perries. Those pears and the use of wild yeast give this perry a unique farmhouse-cider taste and aroma unlike any other perry I’ve had.

This perry is fairly well-distributed in the US and is an excellent value considering how rare perries like this are. Dunkertons Organic Perry is highly recommended.

Domaine d’Ognoas XO

Maker: Domaine d’Ognoas, Arthez d’Armagnac, Landes, France.

20180712_192648.jpg
The Bottle

Grapes: Baco, Ugni Blanc, Folle Branche.

Place of origin: Bas-Armagnac

Age: XO (at least 10 y/o)

Purchased for $60 (Astor Wines)

Appearance: Oxidized blood.

Nose: Alcohol, old oak, raisins, cherry wine.

Palate: Burn, macerated raisins, oak, cherry vanilla ice cream.

Finish: Dates, walnuts, old leather.

portes-ouvertes-au-domaine-dognoas_2015_01
The Domaine in 2014

Parting words: The history of the Ognoas estate dates back to the viscounts of Marsan in the Central (aka High) Middle Ages but the estate as it exists now traces its history to the 18th & 19th century Lormand family. Etienne Lormand, born around 1701 to a bourgeois family in Bayonne, purchased the estate in 1770 and added a neighboring one in 1775. The last of the Lormands, Jacques-Taurin (b. 1762), died without heirs in 1842 and left the estate to the church. Armagnac was first made at the estate by the Lormands.

In 1905 the property (along with many others) was nationalized and it has remained in the hands of the French government since then. The over 1600 acre estate includes hiking trails, vineyards, forests (which supply the wood for the barrels), other agriculture, a fortified 13th century house, an 18th century mill, renovated tenant cottages available for rent, and more.

1410-01_ognas_distillerie_02_HD
The still

The wood-fired continuous still at Ognoas is said by the domaine to be the oldest working still in Gascony. It dates from 1804 with additions and improvements made to it throughout the 19th century.

The d’Ognoas line includes the usual suspects: VS, VSOP, XO, hors d’age, XO premium, and Millésime. Quality XO Armagnac can be hard to find around here, and harder to find at a reasonable price. When Liz had to be in NYC for work a few months ago, I asked her to pick up a bottle of this for me. At $60 (plus NYC taxes) d’Ognoas XO is an excellent value. It’s the sort of thing that’s right up my alley: affordable and easy-drinking but not boring. Domaine d’Orgnoas XO is highly recommended.

Photos: 1- mine. 2 & 3- from Domaine d’Ognoas media library.

Stalk & Barrel: Red Blend

Maker: Stillwaters Distillery, Concord, Ontario, Canada20180601_200954.jpg

Style: Blended Canadian whisky (Malt, rye, corn)

Age: NAS

ABV: 43%

Michigan state minimum: $42

Purchased for $35 Canadian at the LCBO ($27 US)

Appearance: Brassy orange.

Nose: New oak, corn whiskey, sweet cinnamon.

Palate: Medium bodied. Corn whiskey with a bit of rye spice with creamy malt on the back-end. Green cardamom, milk chocolate, oak.

Finish: Drying, chocolate covered pretzels.

Mixed: Stalk & Barrel Red did very well in all cocktails I tried: Old Fashioned, high ball with ginger ale, Manhattan, Trois Rivières, and a couple of others I don’t remember.

Parting words: Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein (actual names of two different people) founded Stillwaters Distillery, makers of Stalk & Barrel, in 2009. Their first blend was 11+1. It was entirely sourced. It has since been replaced by the Stalk & Barrel Blue (40% ABV) and Red blends which contain a combination of sourced and Stillwaters distillate. Stillwaters may be best known for their highly regarded Stalk & Barrel 100% Malt whisky which sells for $70 at the LCBO ($54 US). They also have a new (I think) 100% Rye whisky which sells for about the same price. Both are entirely made from spirit distilled by Stillwaters.

Red blend’s price is a great one in Canada. Not so much in the US. This is a good weeknight or mixing blend, but it’s not $42 US good. If you can get a bottle at LCBO prices, Stalk & Barrel Red Blend is recommended.