Peninsula Cellars Manigold Vineyard Gewürztraminer, 2013

Maker: Peninsula Cellars, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20170627_155041

Place of origin: Manigold Vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Syle: Dry (Semi-dry)

ABV: 12%

Price: $20 (winery)

Appearance: Medium gold with tiny still bubbles.

Nose: Lychee, limestone, pineapple sage, apple juice.

Palate: Meduim bodied and juicey. Peach, mango, pink peppercorn, raw ginger, thyme, mineral water.

Finish: Fruity but with a lot of spice on the back end.

Parting words: Manigold is one of my favorite vineyards on Old Mission. It’s known best for Gewürztraminer and also has Chardonnay vines. The vineyard is only two acres in size but its wines are big. Gewürz’s spicy character is in full effect here but there is also loads of tropical fruit making for a complex, aromatic, flavorful wine. I could gush over this for a few more paragraphs, but I’ll spare you. Hard to find a better Gewürz at this price from Michigan or anywhere. Peninsula Cellars 2013 Manigold Vineyard Gewürztraminer is highly recommended.

 

 

Uncle John’s Fruit House Apple Brandy

Maker: Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery, St. John’s, Michigan, USA20170627_154846

Distiller: Red Cedar, East Lansing, Michigan, USA (From Uncle John’s own cider)

Age: NAS (2-6 y/o)

ABV: 45%

Price: Don’t remember/375 ml. Only available at the winery. Complimentary bottle.

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Apple cider, cola, caramel, leather.

Palate: Sweet and medium bodied. Salted caramel, candy apple, alcohol.

Finish: Lavender, raisins, toasted oak. Long.

Mixed: I tried this brandy in two cocktails, both of which put the brandy front and center. The first was the classic Jack Rose (with lime juice and grenadine). It was good. The second was the Marconi Wireless (basically an apple brandy Manhattan). It was just OK. The pungent sweet vermouth I used overwhelmed the brandy.

Parting words: From my “A Visit to Uncle John’s“: “We then moved on to the really good stuff, apple brandy. They have twelve barrels aging at the Cider Mill. They have two different types of barrels to age their brandy. Some is aged in toasted French oak (in barrels intended for Calvados) and some in Michigan oak barrels, also toasted. The Michigan oak barrels were sourced by St. Julien’s to be distributed to wineries across the state. Mike prefers the French oak barrels but again credits St. Julien’s with doing a good thing for wineries in the state by facilitating the use of home grown wood in wine and spirits production. It’s a cool thing for a Michigan producer to be able to say that [its] product has been aged in Michigan oak.”

Uncle John’s Apple Brandy was fine mixed, but it’s really a back porch neat sipping brandy. I don’t remember the price but I don’t remember it being unreasonable for a half sized bottle. It’s made in very limited quantities (currently sold out) so get some if you’re ever in the Lansing area. Uncle John’s Apple Brandy is recommended.

Grand Macnish, 150th Anniversary ed

Maker: Macduff International, Glasgow, Scotland, UK.20170616_193341

Distillers: Unknown (Seems to be Highland-centric, though)

Style: Blended Scotch whisky

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $19

Appearance: Pale copper.

Nose: Sweet malt, apricot, old leather.

Palate: Medium bodied and light. Saltwater taffy, clotted cream.

Finish: Malt, vanilla, oak, burn.

Mixed: Good with club soda, on the rocks and in everything else I tried it in: Rob Roy (sweet and dry), rusty nail, Scotch Orange Fix.

Parting words: Grand Macnish was founded in 1863 by a man named Robert Mcnish (the a was added to aid in pronunciation). McNish is a sept of the MacGregor clan which explains why the MacGregor motto, forti nihil difficile*, appears on the cap. Corby purchased the brand in 1927. Grand Macnighs has been owned by Macduff International (owner of Lauder’s and Islay Mist) since 1991. Three other iterations of Grand Macnish are available in Michigan, the standard, bottom shelf Macnish ($9), the 12 y/o ($25) and the smoky black edition ($35). The 150th (released in 2013) and the 12 y/o are the most highly regarded among the four, which is not saying a lot, it must be said.

There’s nothing too interesting happening in this bottle but there’s nothing offensive either. It’s much better than similarly priced blends from Dewars, Cutty Sark or J & B, but it’s not quite as much of a value as Grant’s. What it has in common with Grant’s is a weird bottle that draws attention to itself on the bar. $19 is a good price for “inoffensive” so Grand Macnish 150th anniversary edition is recommended.

*To the strong, nothing is difficult.” This was also Benjamin Disraeli’s motto for some reason.

Bilberry Black Hearts

Maker: Journeyman, Three Oaks, Michigan, USA20170613_212324

Style: Dry gin made with bilberries (a European cousin to blueberries).

ABV: 45%

Michigan State Minimum: $35

Notes: MOSA certified organic. Made via maceration.

Appearance: Crystal clear.

Nose: Alcohol, juniper, vanilla bean, cocoa bean hulls, candied orange, fresh blueberries.

Palate: Sweet, full bodied, fruity.

Finish: Plum, orange hard candy, cherry juice.

Mixed: Fine with tonic and in a Tom Collins. Fruitiness took some getting used to but once I did I liked it. In snootier cocktails like martinis, perfect martinis, negronis and Princetons it did well and never got lost thanks to the titular bilberries.

Parting words: I went through a period of time when I had given up on “craft” gins because they all tasted the same. I’m glad I am over that, because this is a uniquely tasty gin. The reason is the bilberries, scientific name Vaccinium myrtillus (high bush blueberries are Vaccinium corymbosum). The taste is very similar to blueberries but maybe with a little cherry thrown in. Their influence makes this gin worth the relatively steep $35 price tag. Journeyman is doing some stuff. Bilberry Black Hearts is recommended.

 

Wölffer Estate Rosé, 2015

Maker: Wölffer Estate Vineyard, Mattituck, NY20170516_082230

Grapes: 49% Merlot, 30% Chardonnay, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Riesling (2016 vintage)

Place of origin: Wölffer estate vineyards, Long Island AVA, New York, USA

ABV: 11.9%

Purchased for $18 (Glen’s Garden Market, Dupont Square, Washington DC)

Appearance: Pale pink, almost orange.

Nose: Very light. Mineral water, strawberry, straw.

Palate: Medium bodied and austere. Limestone dust, woodruff, underripe peach, orange peel.

Finish: A little more fruit in the finish but still very dry for a rosé.

Parting words: This is the first Long Island wine I’ve ever purchased or maybe even tried. I picked it up while in DC visiting friend of the Wölffer Estate is located near Bridgehampton on the eastern end of Long Island. They make a wide range of wines including at least two other rosés and of course ciders. This wine itself is made from a wide range of grapes, as seen above. It is not a blend of reds and whites, though. None of the juice had contact with skins for any length of time.

Wölffer Estate Rosé isn’t particularly flavorful, but it is a great summertime lunch or dinner on the patio wine. Very good with grilled pork or chicken but at its best with hot dogs. I’m officially against austerity, but it feels natural here, not imposed. Wölffer Estate Rosé is recommended.

WaterFire Riesling, 2013

Maker: WaterFire Vineyards, Kewadin, Michigan, USA20170516_082046

Place of origin: WaterFire estate, Antrim County, Michigan, USA

Style: Medium dry.

ABV: 11%

Purchased for $18 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Mandarin orange, meyer lemon, lychee, woodruff.

Palate: Lemonade, mineral water, navel orange.

Finish: Pineapple, lemon thyme.

 

Parting words: The WaterFire winery is located in Northwest Michigan, on the isthmus between Torch Lake and Grand Traverse Bay, opposite Old Mission Peninsula. It’s not within the bounds of any of the Northern Michigan AVAs but it is close to all of them. Antrim County is one of the county appellations that were grandfathered in when the new AVA system was rolled out in the 1980s.

Chantal Lefebvre, owner and winemaker of Water Fire does not have natural, organic or biodynamic certification for her wines, but she is firmly committed to growing grapes and making wine in a way that is in harmony with the natural world. I had a fairly long conversation with her about that topic at the 2016 Michigan Wine Showcase in Detroit. Water Fire wines are estate grown and limited production but are some of the best wines Michigan has to offer. They currently produce Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner.

2013 was a banner year for white wines in Michigan as you, the attentive Sipology reader, know. 2013 Water Fire Riesling ranks near the very top of great Michigan Rieslings in a year full of them. This wine’s minerality and herbal aromas provide the perfect foundation for the gothic cathedral of acidity that rises up through the palate. I love this wine and this winery. WaterFire deserves to be a household name, and their wines deserve a place at your table. 2013 WaterFire Riesling is highly recommended.

 

 

Wyncroft Avonlea Chardonnay 2011

Maker: Wyncroft/Marland, Pullman, Michigan, USA20170502_111830

Place of origin: Avonlea vineyard, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

ABV: Unknown.

Price: $35 (Michigan by the Bottle, Auburn Hills)

Appearance: Medium gold with a thin robe.

Nose: Rancio, golden raisins.

Palate: Full bodied and medium sweet. Sherry, gruyere cheese, sweet butter, hint of oak.

Finish: Sweet. Apricot, croissants.

Parting words: Wyncroft/Marland is a very limited production, estate winery in the Southwestern Michigan co-owned by winemaker Jim Lester. Jim was one of the earliest boutique winemakers in Michigan, as he frequently reminds people. He’s one of the rare big talkers who lives up to his own hype, though.  The Wyncroft label is used for limited production estate wines with Marland used for their line of more affordable wines from vineyards they don’t own. I’m very fond of his reds, but I haven’t always liked his whites. It’s not that they’re inconsistent, it’s that I haven’t always enjoyed the style in which they’ve been made. No accounting for taste, as they say.

Avonlea vineyard is Wyncroft’s flagship, planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling. Avonlea was hit hard by the Polar Vortex in 2014 with substantial loss of Chardonnay vines, according to Wyncroft’s website. The surviving Chardonnay vines had their fruit devoured by a murder of crows shortly before harvest. The damaged area has been replanted. In the meantime the 2011, 2012 and 2013 vintages are available.

This heavy, buttery style of chardonnay is not my favorite, especially not when from Michigan. Avonlea Chardonnay was pleasant but heavy handed  when first opened. As it opened up, it became even more unbalanced and took on unpleasant oxidized and burnt butter flavors. Even Mrs. Sipology, who normally enjoys oaky chards, didn’t like it. I can’t say I liked it either. I don’t know if this wine is flawed or tainted (I don’t think it’s the latter) or what, but I really can’t recommend it, especially not at $35.

2896 Langley, 2010

Maker: Bowers Harbor, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20170509_183841

Grapes: 60% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon

Place of Origin: Langley Vineyard, Bower’s Harbor estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Style: Meritage

ABV: 13.5%

Price: $38 (original price on shelf. Purchased on sale with a discount from the owner)

Appearance: Inky dark purple.

Nose: Blueberry, cherry juice, oak.

Palate: Medium sweet. Cherry juice, blackberry, pepper, chewy leather on the back end.

Finish: Cherry and lightly fruity. Stays in the cheeks for a good bit of time.

Parting words: 2896 is Bowers Harbor’s big, flagship red. The 2013 vintage is currently selling on the BH website for $55 and the 2012 vintage (considered the best recent vintage for Michigan reds) for $100. I haven’t had either of those, so I don’t know if they’re worth the money, but they are both at the top end of red wine prices in this state.

As for this wine, it’s very good and worth the price that was on the shelf on which it sat. It is well balanced, but still has the laid back, fruity character of a cool season Bordeaux-style red. Enough oak and alcohol to keep it from becoming a fruit bomb but not aggressive or overly tannic. It goes well with beef and smoked or grilled meats. My only complaint is that the gold wax is very hard to get off and it looks corny. The bottle would be better off without it. At any rate, at around $40 or so, 2896 Langley 2010 is recommended.

 

Ask SKU Anything

SKU of SKU’s Recent Eats recently had a fun post in which he answered any questions from any readers of his who wanted to ask. I thought this might be a fun thing to do for my blog too. On the other hand, I have fewer readers than he does, and when I’ve tried things like that in the past the response has been almost nonexistent. So to avoid embarrassment, I’m going to answer the questions that SKU’s readers asked him.

As I was writing this, I learned that SKU is unfortunately ending his long running blog, so I figured what better way to pay tribute to him than to rip him off? After all, I’ve been doing that for a very long time.

So without further ado,

Years ago, you wrote an article for one of the whiskey magazines titled “Craft Whiskey Sucks.” Now, many years later, would you write the same thing? Do you still think it mostly sucks? 

I didn’t write that article, SKU did, but I will answer the question. Yes, they still suck, almost all of them. The best ones have reached the level of “not bad” but they’re still almost entirely awful, overpriced garbage. Ones that have reached “not bad” include Union Horse Reunion Rye, most of Journeyman’s output, Grand Traverse Distillery’s bourbon and ryes and a handful of others whose names escape me right now.

Sku – at what point does a whisky that you own become too expensive that you don’t open the bottle? For instance, I have a 2012 FR Small Batch that I’m told now sells for over $700 – that seems a ludicrous amount to spend on a bottle, and I wouldn’t spend that amount on it and I’m happy I got it at retail back then. But now I find that decision to open is harder and harder, and I might not ever.

I understand the desire to cash out while one can, but the only whiskey I own that comes close to that is Four Roses 2009 Mariage (what I still think is the best bourbon ever made), but I will eventually open and drink it. It might be twenty or thirty years from now, but I am drinking it.

Do Armagnac houses/domaines have recognizable profiles? For example are there specific differences in notes between Chateau de Gaube and Domaine de Busquet that you could expect to find despite the vintage?

Sure, why not.

How many spirits bottles do you tend to have in your personal collection at any given time (more or less)? of that group, what percentage consists of whiskey v. brandy v. other spirits at this point? do you have any favorite spirits categories other than whiskey or brandy (e.g. mezcal or Jamaican rum)?

-JCR 

I don’t know. I’m guessing between 50-100. That’s a big range, I know. The total number is smaller than most people I know who have been in the hobby for as long as I have. I’m not really a hoarder when it comes to spirits. I like to always have certain things on hand and I like variety, but I’m not the guy buying a case of every BTAC every year for fifteen years or whatever.

I like every spirit, pretty much. Most (by a long shot) of my collection is bourbon but I have a growing stash of brandy and always make sure I have multiple bottles of rye, Canadian whisky, Tequila/Mezcal, rum, and Single Malt on hand.

  1. in your opinion are micro-distillers pricing their bourbons too high?
  2. is the bourbon renaissance a bubble? 2a. if it is a bubble how bad will the pop be
  3. are “tech” whiskies like cleveland viable? that is, in the long run, can a “whisky” that’s aged for an hour really compete on price/quality with a bourbon that’s aged for 10 years? in fact, i have seen cleveland priced higher than eagle rare and laughed all the way home.
    regards,
    -dan

1. Yes. 2. No, but there is a bubble on the high end being driven by the secondary market. 2a. I could see a 20-50% drop in price for top shelf tater bait. 3. No. No, that will never happen. If the bubble bursts these operations will be among the first to go under. They’re all examples of the idiocy of the cult of #innovation in late capitalism. “Tastes like shit” becomes “Disruption!” Need to make a better whiskey? No, we just need to “educate” consumers that they should believe our marketing and not their own lying tastebuds. The angels don’t like being cheated.

Simple: 100 duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?

WTF

How does it feel to be the dean of American whiskey bloggers? How much longer do you think you’ll keep going? Do you think blogging about whiskey is still relevant?

I’m not going to lie, it feels really good. I’ll keep posting until they pull the laptop out of my cold dead hands. Whiskey Blogging is only relevant when Dave Driscoll does it.

  1. What is the next big thing in spirits and why is it Armagnac?
  2. Do you believe that dusty bourbon/rye has a familiar profile that you don’t find in today’s products, i.e. “dusty notes”? If so, do you believe that’s due to bottle conditioning or some other factor(s)?
  3. Given the current boom and scarcity of anything allocated or limited edition, are there bottles you regret passing on years ago that you wish you would have bought more of? -signde 

1. Rum is the next big thing in spirits and it always will be. Rum’s problem is also part of what makes it interesting. It isn’t a distinctive product of any one country. Despite what our libertarian friends often say (assuming libertarians have friends for the moment), good state regulation can be beneficial to a spirit. It ensures consistent quality and structures an industry in such a way that makes it easy for enthusiasts to explore and understand. The French wine and brandy regulations are good examples of this as are bourbon and Scotch regulations in the US and UK respectively. No regulatory regime is perfect, but those are mostly good. Example of bad or mediocre regulation are Canadian Whisky, which is governed by a patchwork of regulations on the provincial and national levels and American wine, which has at once too many and not enough appellations, among other problems. Ironically the Canadian VQA system is better than the American system for wine and much better than the Canadian system for whisky!

Rum’s diversity makes it hard to explore. The rewards are great for those with the patience to do so, but it requires time and focus that few people have. There are dozens of countries regulating the manufacture of Rum. Some are good and some are bad, but they’re all different. There’s little consistency from country to country or label to label, even with things as seemingly straightforward as age statements. It’s hard for a newbie to know what she or he is getting when grabbing an unfamiliar brand from the shelf.

Can this be overcome? Maybe. One way to address these problems would be for all the rum producing countries (or at least the big ones) to come together with reps from the countries that are big markets for rum (US, EU, etc) in some kind of rum summit and come to an agreement on consistent labeling and marketing of rum worldwide. In the meantime, writers like Fred Minnick and Josh Miller are doing a great job of educating consumers to help us get over the many obstacles to rum connoisseurship. So will rum ever arrive? I don’t know but I hope so!

I think brandy might be the next thing after rum or at least concurrent with it. Cognac is already ubiquitous and well positioned for a boom as are lower shelf American brandies like Christian Brothers or E & J. Where the biggest expansion may come is in Armagnac and craft American brandy. Too many craft distillers in the US are trying to ride the bourbon and rye wave right now just to stay afloat instead of looking to the future. Brandy is going to be a part of that future. Instead of seeing a crowded market and saying “me too!” distillers in places like Michigan, New York and Southern Ontario should be seizing the opportunities presented by the abundance of fruit in their areas and distilling brandy now so that when the brandy wave hits they will be ready with aged product. As it is, producers in Indiana and Kentucky are getting the better of the Northern fruit belt distillers, often with northern fruit! Brandy should be a part of the distilling identity of Northeastern North America.

Now what was I saying?

2. I do believe that bottle conditioning is a part of it, but never forget that most of these “dusties” were glut era whiskey that was much older than what the label said and older than what is being bottled today.

3. I once had the opportunity to buy half a case of Russell’s Reserve 101 for $35 a bottle. It seemed expensive to me at the time, so I just got two bottles. That was a mistake. I also feel like I had opportunities to stock up on Weller 12 and Pappy 15 that I should have taken but didn’t because, hey that’s really expensive and there’s always next year!

Why “Sku”?

SKU likes to pretend that his initials are S-K-U but he was actually nicknamed SKU after something that happened that happened when he was a toddler. His parents were shopping at a Target store when he wandered off and they couldn’t find him. They searched the store until they heard a squeaky voiced teen stocktaker shout out, “What’s the SKU for THIS?!” They ran over to the aisle, and there was baby SKU sitting on a shelf. Everyone laughed and laughed.

We often talk about the downsides of the bourbon boom? From your perspective, what are some of the positive aspects?

The positive aspecst are more knowledgeable consumers, Four Roses available stateside (I’ve been in it long enough to remember when it wasn’t!), more single barrel selections, more barrel proof iterations, less gas money spent traveling to Kentucky to buy my favorite bottles because Michigan carries almost everything I want, improvements and expansions at the Kentucky distilleries, the possibility of new, good medium sized distilleries coming online, Stitzel-Weller reopening to visitors, the restoration of the Old Taylor Castle, the list goes on. As annoying as things like dropped age statements and the secondary market are, this is a pretty good time to be a bourbon drinker, on the whole.

Does MAO still make you swoon? -Jealous in Jersey

More of a Trotsky guy myself.

 

SKU’s Recent Eats was one of the first independent bourbon blogs by an enthusiast who wasn’t also a whiskey writer or some guy pretending to be a journalist (we all know who I’m talking about). He’s always been a pretty laid back, honest and forthright guy whose work was a big inspiration to me. Cheers Steve!

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

Maker

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

ABV

MM: 33%

OF: 30%

MJE: N/A (made with 50% ABV bourbon)

Price

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.