Maker: Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery, St. John’s, Michigan, USA
Distiller: Red Cedar, East Lansing, Michigan, USA (From Uncle John’s own cider)
Age: NAS (2-6 y/o)
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.
Palate: Medium sweet. Maple sugar, partially fermented apple cider.
Finish: Herbal and slightly oaky.
Mixed: Performed well in cocktails with lemon like the Deauville cocktail (brandy, apple brandy, triple sec, lemon juice) named for the seaside resort town down the road from Coudray-Rabut. It did poorly in cocktails containing Vermouth, clashing with the other ingredients.
Parting words: Like most distillers in Calvados, Christian Drouin’s Coeur de Lion distillery makes a range of apple brandies as well as producing cider and perry (poire). The Drouin brandy range includes (in ascending order of age) an unaged apple/pear eau de vie (Blanche de Normandie), Sélection, Réserve, VSOP, XO, Hors d’Age, 25 y/o, and a range of vintage Calvados (dates from 1939 to 1983 are listed on the outdated website).
The Sélection is fine for what it is, a bottom end casual drinking or mixing Calvados. I didn’t know it was made with pears in the mix along with apples. The source material represents itself well, as it should in a young whiskey or brandy. $40 is more than I would pay for a bourbon of this quality but given the inflation of non Cognac French brandy prices, that’s probably fair. I tasted from a 375 ml bottle. If you’re on the fence on this, that might be a good way to dip your toe in the proverbial water. Christian Drouin Sélection is recommended.
My home state of Michigan, like sixteen other states, is what is called a “control state”. This means that the state government is directly involved with the sale of liquor in some way. Many of those states operate state-owned liquor stores but others, like Michigan, merely act as the wholesaler for the state. As a wholesaler, the state of Michigan maintains a list of all the spirits available for purchase from itself called the price book. The price book is issued by the state a few times each year. Supplemental lists (now called new items lists) are issued periodically listing items to be added to or deleted from the price book. These lists contain a variety of information but the most important to consumers is the minimum price at which the spirit must be sold at retail.
This post is a look at the new items for February 28, 2016. The LARA website with links to lists in the recent past is here. Caps retained out of laziness but with full names given where the state has abbreviated them. Proof (Michigan lists everything in terms of US proof which= 2 x %ABV), bottle size in ml and retail price are given for each one. I have added notes at the end of each if I think it necessary. Some items are not actually new, but fell off the list for some reason and have been added back or are new bottle sizes for items already on the list. Sometimes an item will be added and removed at the same time. I think this is a way to make corrections, but it’s still puzzling. For the sake of brevity, I have excluded apparent corrections from this post. Some new items are also gift pack versions of existing items. These are always the same price as the bottle alone.
HOTEL TANGO MIKE MOONSHINE 90, 750, $23.12 Listed under alcohol for some reason. See Hotel Tango Golf Gin below.
EZRA BROOKS BBN 90, 1000, $14.96
REBEL YELL BBN 80, 1000, $21.96 Two of the crummiest bourbons available in the state are now available in liter bottles. What a time to be alive. Both Rebel Yell and Ezra Brooks are from Luxco.
JEFFERSON’S OCEAN AGED CASK STRENGTH 112.0, 750, $99.99 “I’M ON A BOAT”. Jeff’s famous boat bourbon is now available in cask strength, although I would have called it naval strength. Seems like a missed opportunity. From Castle brands (Gosling’s, Knappogue).
1792 SINGLE BARREL 98.6, 750, $41.99 The latest in the flurry of 1792 line extensions spit out since Sazerac bought the brand. Hopefully, I will able to find and buy one of these, since the Sweet Wheat and Port finish seem to have been vacuumed off shelves instantaneously. Distilled in Bardstown at Barton-1792, of course.
Blended American Whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)
TINCUP 84, 1750, $57.99 The sourced blend of straights from the former Stranahan’s guy is now available in handles in the Mitten State.
JACK DANIELS SINGLE BARREL RYE 94, 750, $54.99 At long last, JD has released a mature (on paper anyway) rye whiskey. The unaged and “rested” versions got mixed reviews, but hopefully this is better.
Straight Rye Whiskey
WOODFORD RESERVE RYE 90, 750, $42.96 WRR is finally making it to Michigan. The consensus was that Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection ryes were bad, but I liked them, despite the dumb price. Unlike those, WR Rye is made both at the historic Woodford Reserve distillery on the big copper pot stills and at the distillery in Louisville. [corrected]
KNOB CREEK RYE 100, 1750, $74.99 One of my favorite Kentucky style ryes is now available in a family size bottle. Whoot!
CROWN ROYAL W/BEANIE 80, 750, $27.99 Let the world know your questionable taste in whisky all winter with this gift pack that features a one-size-fits-all black CR beanie. Or make your own.
HUNTER RYE PLASTIC 90, 100, $1.89 Imported by Sazerac, this line extension to the old Seagram’s Canadian Hunter brand is now available in small 100 ml bottles. 50 ml bottles are also available hanging off the necks of bottles of Canadian Hunter blended. Canadian Hunter is sometimes called “the poor man’s Crown Royal” which makes me sad.
BRUICHLADDICH OCTOMORE EDITION: 07.1 119, 750, $164.99 This is the latest release from Bruichladdich’s super duper peated Octomore series.
BRUICHLADDICH OCTOMORE EDITION: 07.3 126, 750, $174.99 7.3 is the 100% Islay barley version of Octomore 7. Owned by Rémy Cointreau.
KIRKLAND BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY 80, 1750, $25.99 Sourced through Alexander Murray & Co. It’s good the state has finally allowed Kirkland/Costco brands in.
Irish Whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)
KNAPPOGUE CASTLE-12 YR 92, 750 $47.99 One of my favorite Irish Whiskeys is back, although it never really left the shelves. From Castle brands (Gosling’s, Jefferson’s).
TULLAMORE DEW (IRISH)-15 YR 80, 750, $79.99 The knock on Tullamore has always been that it’s boring. I doubt this 40% ABV expression is going to help that perception. If tiny Castle Brands can release the 12 y/o Knappogue at 46% ABV for $48, then why can’t big boys like Wm. Grant release Tullamore 15 y/o at a higher ABV when asking $80? The mismanagement of this brand continues.
ST.GEORGE APPLE BRANDY 86, 750, $50.28 This is the (formerly?) limited release apple
brandy from Alameda California’s St. George microdistillery. Their fruit brandies were originally released under the Aqua Perfecta label, but have now thankfully been reissued as St. George fruit brandies. I’m always excited when a new apple brandy comes to Michigan, but a 3-4 y/o apple brandy selling for $50 does give me pause.
HOTEL TANGO ROMEO RUM 90, 750, $27.72 See Hotel Tango Victor Vodka below.
BAYOU RUM SILVER 80, 750, $19.99
BAYOU RUM SPICED 80, 750, $19.99 Bayou rum is a product of Louisiana Spirits, located about twenty miles east of Lake Charles. According to their website, they use all Louisiana sugar cane and a proprietary cane yeast strain for their line of rums. In addition to the silver, spiced (see above) and the Satsuma orange liqueur(see below), they also make Bayou Select, an aged, pot still rum. How long is it aged? They don’t say. Anyway, I’m glad to see a microdistiller focus on rum instead of hopping on the bourbon bandwagon. We need more rum.
PELICAN HARBOR RUM 80, 750, $18.99 See XIII Kings below.
ESPOLON EXTRA ANEJO 82, 750, $99.99 Elderly line extension for Campari’s Espolon comes in a little on the rich side.
HERRADURA ULTRA ANEJO 80, 750, $54.99 Brown-Forman jumps into the weird trend of crystal clear añejo tequilas with this item. At least it’s not $100.
PURA VIDA ANEJO 80, 750, $43.46
PURA VIDA REPOSADO 80, 750, $38.94
PURA VIDA SILVER 80, 750, $33.66 The line of tequilas jointed owned by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and a man named Stewart Skloss has come to Michigan with the three standard variations. Distilled by Feliciano Vivanco & Associates who also make the Siembra Azul tequila line and the ArteNOM 1414 selection, among others.
ANDREW JOHN’S 80, 750, $19.99 There’s no information about this product online at all. It’s distributed by General Wine & Liquor. I’m guessing it’s either a gin named for the rugby player Andrew Johns or it’s something the BuzzBallz people are responsible for. Either way, the total lack of information doesn’t bode well.
SIPSMITH LONDON DRY GIN 83.2, 750, $39.99
SIPSMITH V.J.O.P. 115.4, 750, $59.99 Sipsmith is a gin microdistillery in Chiswick in western Greater London. Three new products from them are on the list, two gins and a sloe gin. The London Dry is their entry level offering. This is their higher end, higher proof gin, which the website describes as a “symphony in J major” (oof). V.J.O.P.= Very Junipery Over Proof Gin. The sloe gin (see below) is made by infusing their London Dry with sloe (blackthorn) berries. Most commercial sloe gin is made with GNS, so good on them for using the traditional method. The website is cheesy but the products sound intriguing.
GRAY SKIES BARREL FINISHED GIN 80, 750, $29.99 Hopped and barrel-finished gin from the Grand Rapids microdistiller of the same chipper name. They also make Gray Skies Utility Vodka below. Coming soon: Rum. Not coming soon (they want to age it): Bourbon & Rye.
HOTEL TANGO GOLF GIN 90, 750, $27.72
HOTEL TANGO VICTOR VODKA 90, 750, $23.12 Hotel Tango is a newish microdistillery in Indianapolis in the historic Fletcher Place neighborhood. Their whiskey is aging (of what type the website doesn’t say), but they also offer gin, rum (above) and limoncello (below). Their focus seems to be cocktails. I’ve never been there or tried any of their stuff but it’s nice to have more craft spirits (especially rum) available in Michigan, assuming they’re not awful of course.
XIII KINGS VODKA 80, 750, $19.99 The BuzzBallz (actual name) unspillable/unbreakable premade cocktail people are releasing their own vodka and rum (see Pelican Bay rum above). I imagine that it’s the same liquor they use in their cocktails so it’s bound to be top quality stuff.
HOTEL TANGO LIMA CHARLIE LIMONCELLO 70, 750, $27.72 See Hotel Tango Victor Vodka above.
BAYOU SATSUMA ORANGE RUM LIQUEUR 60, 750, $19.99 Erroneously listed under rum. See Bayou Spiced rum above.
SIPSMITH SPECIAL EDITION 2013 SLOE GIN 58, 750, $49.96 See Sipsmith VJOP above.
Palate: Medium bodied. Medium dry. Heavily spiced apple pie, dry cider.
Finish: Baked apple, brown sugar, ginger, oak, fades with a little burn carrying through.
Parting words: Founded in 1780 by a Scottish immigrant, Laird’s is one of the US’s oldest commercial distillers, if not the oldest. They are the big dogs of American apple brandy, producing 90% of it, according to their website. Their bottled-in-bond apple brandy was a favorite of mine for a long time. I’ve been actively hoarding it since it was changed to a 3 y/o.
Laird’s Rare is probably the oldest American apple brandy available. If there’s one older, I haven’t had it. It’s good, but the age seems to have stripped it of most of its apple character. Oak is there, but just in the background. I wanted to love this grand old brandy, but it’s too mild on the palate and lacks the complexity of 8-10 y/o apple brandies I’ve had. At $70, I need more. Laird’s Rare Old Apple Brandy is mildly recommended.
Parting words: American micro-distillers are making a lot of garbage right now. Most of that is wretched-tasting whiskey. That’s because bourbon and rye are very popular right now, so I can’t exactly blame them for cashing in. Unfortunately too many are focused on whiskey and ignoring other spirits besides the gin and vodka cash cows. What America needs is not another underaged and overpriced whiskey or vodka made from something someone picked up at the farmer’s market. What America needs is more rum, brandy, and especially apple brandy!
Steve McCarthy, founder of Clear Creek, recognized this thirty years ago (decades before distilling became a fad) and made apple brandy one of the pillars of his portfolio. This gem is the result. They have a range of fruit brandies including pear, raspberry, cherry, two plum brandies and a 2 y/o apple brandy and an “apple in the bottle” brandy.
This apple brandy is said to be made in the traditional methods of Calvados from Oregon Golden Delicious apples. I can’t speak to how closely its manufacture resembles that of Calvados, but it might be the best American apple brandy on the market. It’s definitely one of the best I’ve ever had. Black Star Farms’ 10 y/o is the only one I’ve had that comes close, but that’s $75 and only available at the tasting room. This might also be the best spirit available at this price. Clear Creek Eau de Vie de Pomme, 8 y/o is highly recommended.
Maker: Calvados Coquerel, Milly, Manche, Normandy, France
Age: 2 y/o
Price: $29 (The Party Source. It seems to have disappeared off the Michigan list)
Appearance: Golden auburn, a lot of necklacing, big thick legs.
Nose: Alcohol, dry apple cider, toasted French oak.
Palate: Thin, alcohol, dry apples, maple sugar, celery.
Finish: celery, oak, under ripe apple, Like Arkansas black or similar variety, white sugar, dash of vanilla.
Parting words: Calvados Coquerel was founded in 1937 by René Gilbert and remained in the hands of the Gillbert family until it was purchased by Asbach in 1971. Asbach became a part of Diageo in 1990 but Calvados Coquerel regained its independence when it was sold to Jean-François Martin in 1996 (not to be confused with the Remy-Martin Cognac house).
Fine is the bottom shelf, err “entry level”, apple brandy from Calvados Coquerel. The other grades are Vieux (3 y/o), VSOP(4 y/o) and XO (6 y/o). The line is capped off with the Marquis de la Pomme fifteen and twenty year old brandies. They also make a variety of other apple-related beverages including cider all using Norman apples.
This brandy has been savaged online, maybe a bit unfairly. It’s certainly not great, but as a mixer or casual sipper it’s good enough. The price is a bit hard to swallow, though. One can get the Laird’s 7 ½ y/o apple brandy for three dollars more and the 100 proof Laird’s for just one dollar more. Black Star Farms does make an apple brandy in a similar style but at $22 for a 375 ml bottle, it works out to be much more expensive per ml.
All that said, given European brandy prices, this product isn’t priced too far out of line but that doesn’t mean its worth the money either. Calvados Coquerel Fine is mildly recommended.
Nose: alcohol, mulled cider, apple pie, cardamom, lemon juice, apple sauce with sweet cinnamon, brown butter
On the palate: full-bodied. Sweet brown sugar, a good amount of burn, cinnamon, coriander, cardamom and tart apples.
Finish: warm, dry, that sweet cinnamon again, reminding me of my grandmother’s homemade apple sauce.
Parting Words: This a fantastic spirit. The standard Black Star Farms Apple Brandy is a pleasant sipper that performs nicely in cocktails and in mulled cider. But this 10 y/o apple brandy reaches sublime hights. Black Star Farms’ 10 y/o apple brandy was aged in a new toasted oak barrel, like those used for wine. This results in a spirit that, even at 10 y/o, still has a lot of crisp apple character. It is on par with a fine cognac or Armagnac and is best sipped neat or with a little water in a snifter or Glencairn glass.
There are few micro-distilling outfits that have been in business long enough to offer a 10 y/o product that they made themselves. Even some that are approaching that number have not been putting any back for longer aging. Black Star Farms had the foresight to let this brandy lay. It’s not cheap, I paid $75 at the tasting room for my bottle, but unlike most $75 whiskeys, this stuff is worth every penny. Highly Recommended.
I’m feeling like crap today but I’m going to get this written up, dammit.
On Saturday, Jun 19, 2011 Frind of the Blog Amy and I and our spouses and my baby visited Black Star Farms Old Mission tasting room in Traverse City, Michigan. Black Star Farms is one of the best (if not the best) wineries in Michigan. They are well known for their exceptional late-harvest Rieslings, sur lie Chards and many other excellent wines and even cider. Their website is http://www.blackstarfarms.com/ Look for a review of the 2008 Late Harvest Riesling in the near future!
Anyway we had been there before but, what we were most interested in this time was their spirits program. They produce a number of them.
Red Grape Grappa
White Grape Grappa (I had this and it was excellent)
Spirit of…(eaux de vie)
Plum (also very good)
Pear (also a version with the pear inside the bottle)
Spirit of Apple (NAS but about 12 mos. old)
10 y/o Apple Brandy (spectacular)
For the sake of full discosure, I had been communicating with their Twitterer Coryn and she waived the tasting fees for my party and me, a $25 value.
She also showed Amy and I around behind the scenes. Here are some photos Amy took:
According to Coryn:
The still is run 3-4 times a week
– The clear fruit eau de vie brandies come off the still at approx. 75-80% (150-160 proof). They rest in the glass carboys and are then blended in the stainless steel tanks where they sit for approx. a month. They cut the brandy to be 40% (80 proof) and then bottle it.
– The apple brandy comes off the still at 75% (150 proof) and goes into the barrel at 65% (130 proof) where it ages for approx 12 months. When it is bottled it is cut down to 40% (80 proof).
Their Barrels with aging Apple Brandy
Again, from Coryn:
The barrels are a combination of French and American Oak. They were new when we purchased them and they are used for one rotation of aging for the apple brandy and then they get used to age the Sirius Maple Dessert wine. They are relatively low toasted oak barrels – this style was chosen b/c the idea is to accentuate the fruit of the apple.
Finally, their bottler:
The apple brandy is a very different beast from Laird’s which has so many fans among my fellow bourbon-fanciers. It is a much more delicate spirit than that or even Tom’s Foolery. Spirit of Apple was reviewed few months ago on this blog. When I first opened it I got a weird celery aroma in the nose, but that has calmed down now.
The 10 y/o is just great, great stuff. So complex and elegant, I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it. You all know what a cheap bastard I am, but I have not regreted paying $75 for it yet. A review of that will be forthcoming, hopefully a video review.
Anyway, it’s definately worth the trip if you ever make it “Up North” to Traverse City!
1) Batch 1, bottle 3. Aged in used bourbon barrels.
2) Produced at Black Star Farms Old Mission Peninsula facility, Traverse City, Michigan.
1) Pale gold
2) Slightly darker, edging closer to copper
1) Young, raw, buttery, sweet, but with a dry, slightly sour apple note
2) Rich, spicy, baked apple stuffed with nothing but celery
On the palate
1) Light mouthfeel, still a bit raw, but creamy and sweet with a bit of cinnamon
2) Light, maybe a little too light. The celery flavor is still there, but it is not unpleasant.
1) Low, slow and voluptuous. Rich toffee and brown sugar. Apple crisp comes to mind immediately
2) The celery gives way to a huge wallop of cassia. The big hot finish lingers in the cheeks for a long time.
These are pretty different spirits, despite them both being apple brandies (“applejack” is a traditional American name for apple brandy). The Spirit of Apple is obviously older than Tom’s Foolery, I would guess about twice as old. The celery scent and flavor in the Spirit of Apple was pretty shocking at first, but it wasn’t really a deal-breaker in the end. If you can find it, Black Star Farms put out a 10 y/o Apple Brandy last year. Binny’s had it for $100 a bottle last time I was there. Hopefully, it’s cheaper at the tasting room in Traverse City. UPDATE: According to the official Black Star Farms twitterer the 10 y/o Apple Brandy sells for $75 at the tasting room.
Tom’s Foolery, while definitely very young and equally hard to fine, has loads of potential. Even young, it had a sophistication the Spirit of Apple lacked. In ten years or less, Tom’s Foolery is going to be an incredible, world-class spirit. It’s already very close to that.
Maker: Laird’s (Scobeyville, New Jersey/North Garden, Virginia)
Age: NAS (4 y/o)
Proof: 100 (50% ABV, all spirits labeled “Bottled in Bond” are 100 proof, among other requirements, see b3 here)
Color: Bright copper
Nose: caramel, a bit of spice, sour apple, alcohol
Palate: Sweet, creamy caramel apple on entry, then hot. With a splash of filtered water, sweet apple pie and sour apple Now-n-Laters come to the fore, with a surprising hit of wood at the end.
Finish: hot, dry, finishing up with a big, dry tingle. With the water, the heat abates. There is some wood carryover, but, as on the palate, the sweetness predominates, with sweet apple (gala or honeycrisp) lingering on the tongue for a long time.
Parting words: When it comes to American Apple Brandies, for me, Laird’s BiB (Bottled-in-Bond) is the benchmark. In addition to being delicious, it’s a classic American spirit. In Henry J. Crowgey’s Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking, almost half the pages in the book contain references to the distillation of fruit brandies, especially peach and apple. In a world filled with syrupy, fruity nonsense (and not just on the liquor shelves) or overpriced, overwrought “collector’s bottlings”, Laird’s bottled-in-bond is a charming sip of Americana. And really, really yummy too.