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.

 

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New and interesting on the Michigan State Liquor List: April 3, 2016

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 as a result. 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. 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 April 3, 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.

American Blended Whiskey

HENDERSON WHISKEY 80, 1750, $41.98

HENDERSON WHISKEY 80, 750, $23.99 American blend best known for its deceptive labeling practices. Nothing to do with Lincoln or Wesley Henderson of Angel’s Envy.

Bourbon

CLEVELAND UNDERGROUND APPLE (etc) 90, 750, $43.99 The new experimental line from the sadists at Cleveland Whiskey Co. includes this and black cherry, hickory and honey flavors. Hey it couldn’t get any worse, right?

LARCENY 92, 750, $28.96

2016-04-05-19.01.15.jpg.jpeg
Grand Larceny

LARCENY 92, 1000, $36.99

LARCENY 92, 1750, $54.99

LARCENY 92, 50, $1.99 Heaven Hill’s successful “small batch” extension to their Old Fitzgerald line of wheated bourbons finally arrives in Michigan and at a dollar less than Maker’s Mark! Great taste, great bottle design, great price. Nothing not to love.

TRAIL’S END BOURBON WHISKEY 90, 750, $44.97 Kentucky bourbon finished with Oregon oak staves. From Hood River Distillers (sic), the importers of Pendleton Canadian Whisky and distributors of McCarthy Single Malt.

VALENTINE SINGLE BARREL-7 YR 100, 750, $89.99 Ferndale Michigan’s Valentine microdistillery releases a fully aged, 100 proof straight bourbon. I tasted some barrel proof bourbon of theirs a few years ago and it was really good. Yes, the price is high, but I’m still excited about this.

WILD TURKEY MASTER KEEP DECADES 104, 750, $149.99 The second Master’s Keep in what is now a series, I guess. I whined to high heaven about the last one, but this one seems to be an improvement, at least as far as the proof goes. The decades refer to the fact that it’s 10 & 20 y/o bourbons mingled together. They may be in violation of federal law for not listing percentages, though.

COLONEL EH TAYLOR SEASONED WOOD 100, 750, $69.99 The latest in the CEHT specialty range, this one has been out for a while in other parts of the country and is already a hot item on the collector’s black market. From Buffalo Trace.

GENTRY CHARLESTON LOWLAND 90, 750, $44.99 The first bourbon made using Terressentia’s TerrePure process to be available in Michigan, it is named after a horse/hotel in Charleston, SC. TerrePure was invented by a man named Ty Tyler, best known for creating a coating for aluminum cans so that soft drinks wouldn’t pick up a metallic flavor. He claims that his process can create the flavors of a fully aged bourbon in a day or so. Many have gone down that road before. All have failed miserably.

MAKER’S MARK AMERICAN PHARAOH 90, 1000, $74.99 Maker’s Mark with a picture of a famous horse on the bottle.

Straight Rye

TEMPLETON RYE-6 YR 80, 750, $44.99 This appears to be a 6 y/o aged stated version of the infamous Templeton Rye. I don’t have any other information on it as of yet. Watch the Twitter feed for some as soon as I get it.

CANADIAN CLUB 100% RYE 80, 750, $19.99 CC’s Chairman’s Select is finally stateside! Woo! Canadian Club released this 100% rye whisky in 2014 to abundant praise. I’ve been planning a trip across the Detroit river to pick some up, but now it looks like all I’ll have to do is annoy some local liquor store owners. That’s much more fun than crossing the border. Canadian Club is owned by Beam Suntory and this product is made at Alberta Distillers in Calgary (the other CCs are made in Windsor, Ontario).

KNOB CREEK RYE 100, 1000, $44.99 One of my favorite Kentucky ryes is now available in liters.

Canadian

PENDLETON MIDNIGHT 90, 750, $32.95 Pendleton bottled at 90 proof and partially aged in American brandy barrels. Imported by Hood River Distillers and distilled by an undisclosed source (Alberta?).

Scotch

AUCHNAGIE 86, 750, $62.99

AUCHNAGIE VINTAGE 92, 750, $274.99

GERSTON 86, 750, $62.99

GERSTON VINTAGE 92, 750, $274.99

STRATHEDEN 86.0 750, $62.99

STRATHEDEN VINTAGE 92, 750, $274.99

LOSSIT 86, 750, $43.01

TOWIEMORE 86, 750, $43.01

Auchnagie, Gerston, Stratheden, Lossit and Towiemore are all releases from the Lost Distillery Company. LDC produces recreations of whiskies from long closed distilleries. They do this via historical research. There is no library of nineteenth century malt whisky samples in cabinet at Lost Distillery Co. HQ that is being consulted to make these, only period sources. Seems like an interesting project.

BENNACHIE 86, 750, $43.01 Bennachie is an old blended malt brand that is still obscure in the US. It’s Speyside-centric and generally well-regarded online from what I can tell. More blended malts on Michigan shelves is a good thing. This is probably the 10 y/o, but 17 and 21 y/o editions are also bottled.

JOHN BARR RESERVE 86, 1000, $29.99

JOHN BARR RESERVE 86, 750, $24.99 The world famous blended whisky in the squarish bottle with a red label and John in the name is now available in The Mitten. John Barr of course! From Whyte & McKay, makers of the Isle of Jura and Dalmore Single Malts.

ROCK OYSTER 93.6, 750, $59.95 Island-centric blended malt from Douglas Laing & Co., makers of Big Peat and other blended malts including Scallywag and Timorous Beastie below.

SCALLYWAG 92, 750, $69.99 Spey-centric blended malt from Laing.

TIMOROUS BEASTIE 93.6, 750, $59.95 Highland-centric blended malt from Laing.

ARDBEG DARK COVE SINGLE MALT 110, 750, $109.99 The “committee edition” of Dark Cove. NAS Ardbeg aged in bourbon and “dark” sherry casks. $110 but also 110 proof. I may actually try and buy this one.

JOHNNIE WALKER BLACK/GOLF DIVOT 80, 750, $39.99 Divot tools are the hot new item to pair with liquor, apparently. I never had any use for them. The PuttPutt people tend to frown on them anyway.

WOLFBURN SINGLE MALT 92, 750, $63.79 New (2013) Highland distillery with the name of an old one. Unless they’re sourcing from somewhere else for the time being, this is going to be a very young single malt.

Irish Whiskey

BLACK BUSH (IRISH) 80, 1750, $53.99

BLACK BUSH (IRISH) 80, 375, $19.99 Like Black Bush in the park? Have a large family that enjoys Black Bush? Bushmills has you covered with new 1.75 ltr and 375 ml sizes! Bushmills is owned by Jose Cuervo.

THE IRISHMAN-12 YR 86, 750, $73.92 12 y/o Irish Single Malt joins its younger sibling, Irishman Original Clan (soon to be rebranded as Founder’s Reserve). I hear good things about this one but I wish the proof was higher.

Other Whiskey

LOCAL CHOICE BLACK CHERRY 90, 750, $29.99 TerrePure flavored whiskey. See also THX gin & rum below.

MAMMOTH WHISKEY 80, 750, $44.00 5 y/o Kentucky-distilled whiskey finished in Michigan Merlot barrels from Bonobo winery on Old Mission Peninsula. Mammoth is located in Central Lake, Michigan. That’s east of Torch Lake, and north of Bellaire (home of Shorts Brewery) or between Petoskey and Traverse City if you prefer.

RED CEDAR CORN WHISKEY BARREL AGED 80, 750, $27.55 Aged corn whiskey from Red Cedar distillery in East Lansing, affiliated with the Michigan State University distilling program.

Gin

GREENHOUSE GIN 80, 750, $22.99 “Artisan” gin from Dynasty Spirits, best known for Nue Vodka and being involved in a convoluted fraud case last year. Acai and cucumber are used to flavor the spirit in addition to the usual aromatics.

WATER HILL GIN 90, 750, $34.19 From Ann Arbor Distilling in Ann Arbor, Michigan (what are the odds?). They also make a vodka, coffee liqueur and unaged rum (see below). Website: http://www.annarbordistilling.com/

THX GIN 92, 750, $19.99 TerrePure gin from Local Spirits. A THX rum is also produced. See below.

NEW HOLLAND BLUE HAVEN 80, 750, $29.99 Blueberry-infused gin from the makers of the excellent Knickerbocker Gin and Beer Barrel Bourbon. They brew beer too, of course.

Brandy, Foreign

BELA OSA 80, 750, $30.80 Serbian Slivovitz (Damson plum brandy). Name translates to “white wasp”. I know nothing else about this.

KRALJICA 84, 750, $30.80 Name translates to “queen”. This is a protected geographical name for Serbian Slivovitz. From the Zarić distillery in Kosjerić, Western Serbia.

NIRVANA 80, 750, $30.80 Pear brandy from Zarić.

RUBINOV VINJAK VS 80, 1000, $25.25 Grape brandy from the Rubin distillery in Kruševac, in central Serbia.

TROYANSKA SLIVOVITZ PLUM-4 YR 80, 750, $24.99

TROYANSKA SLIVOVITZ-7 YR 80, 750, $29.00 Two age stated Sliovitzes from the Troyan monastery (aka The Monastery of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God) near Oreshak in central Bulgaria.

800px-Troyan-monastery-imagesfrombulgaria
The Troyan Monastery

Cognac

CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VS 80, 200, $9.99

CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VS 80, 375, $16.99

CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VS 80, 750, $36.99

CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VSOP 80, 200, $15.99

CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VSOP 80, 750, $49.96

CAMPAGNERE COGNAC VSOP 80, 375, $23.99 Campagnere is a Champagne Cognac produced by Tessendier & Fils in Cognac. What makes Campagnere different from other Champagne Cognac? you may ask. From the website: “From the great variety of eaux-de-vie produced, Jérôme and Lilian subtly blend with feelings and emotions, step by step, up to three hundred eaux-de-vie each year to create one outstanding Cognac, whose rarity is only exceeded by its distinctive originality.” Campagnere is the Cognac with feelings and emotions. Besides the VS & VSOP, they also produce Belle Epoque Single Cask, Prestige (for blending apparently) and an XO. None of those are available in Michigan yet.

Rum

SIX SAINTS 83.4, 750, $24.98 Rum from Grenada named for the six Catholic parishes on the island. The brand is owned by Craft Spirits, Ltd, based in Glasgow. I was unable to find any other information on the company.

SOUL PREMIUM CACHACA 80, 750, $25.99

SOUL PREMIUM CACHACA 80, 1000, $32.99 Cachaça is a Brazilian style of unaged rum. It’s gradually become more available in the US over the past few years. It’s unclear where in Brazil Soul Premium is distilled, but it is imported by Bibo International of Newport, Rhode Island.

WATER HILL RUM 89, 750, $37.57 An unaged Rum from Ann Arbor Distillery. See Water Hill Gin above.

THX RUM 80, 750, $19.99 TerrePure rum. See THX Gin and Gentry bourbon above.

Tequila

AZUNIA BLACK-2 YR 80, 750, $109.99 This is the first Azunia offering available in Michigan. Azunia black sits at the top of their range of traditional process tequilas. Each bottle is signed by master distiller Salvador Rivera Cardona. They also have the standard blanco, reposado and añejo expressions. The first two of those are made with organically grown agave. Hopefully we’ll see the other three expressions here soon.

CASAMIGOS ANEJO 80, 375, $28.96

CASAMIGOS REPOSADO 80, 375, $26.99 Casamigos añejo & reposado now come in half bottles to make them easier to take to a friend’s house.

TEQUILA CHAMUCOS BLANCO 80, 750, $44.98 See below. The blanco is distilled by
Feliciano Vivanco y Asociados, makers of ArteNom and Don Weber.

CHAMUCOS TEQUILA ANEJO 80, 750, $59.74 This gimmicky-looking tequila is a product of the Premium de Jalisco distillery, which also makes Trader Joe’s silver tequila. It was created by unnamed celebrities and places a lot of emphasis on the creativity of the label. How creative to put a picture of a devil on a tequila with the Spanish word for devil as its name!

LUNAZUL BLANCO W/DIVOT TOOL 80, 750, $17.98 Divot tools: Not just for Scotch anymore!

AVION SILVER 80, 1750, $89.99 As seen on the TV show Entourage, this product of
Productos Finos de Agave distillery (maker of Casamigos, amongst others), is now available in family size bottles.

OLMECA ALTOS PLATA 80, 1000, $26.99 Plata= silver. See below.

OLMECA ALTOS REPOSDAO 80, 1000, $26.99 These two Pernod-Ricard tequilas are made using tahona wheel-pressed agave juice are now available in liter sizes.

1800 MILENIO 80, 750, $225.00 A limited edition and downright ancient extra añejo from Cuervo. The first edition was released in 2000, then rereleased in 2014 but it’s now back with an even higher price than the last time. As before, it’s aged for five years in used bourbon barrels, then finished in former Cognac barrels. Reviews put previous editions firmly in the “beaver tequila” category.

Liqueurs

DI SARONNO W/JAR & SQUEEZER 56, 750, $26.99 Make your own fresh-squeezed amaretto sour. Lemons, sugar and egg whites not included.

BRAULIO AMARO ALPINO 42, 1000, 42.96 A minty Alpine Amaro made in Bormio, Lombardy, Italy, on the edge of Stelvio National Park near the Swiss border.

COMBIER PAMPLEMOUSSE ROSE 32, 750, $30.80 Grapefruit liqueur from French artisanal liqueur maker Combier, located in Saumur in the Loire valley.

MONTMORENCY CHERRY LIQUEUR 50, 750, $18.48 A Herzegovinian cherry liqueur. Manufactured by Nero in Mostar.

20160405_200235.jpg
Baiju, I think

JELINEK FERNET 76, 750, $22.00 The famous Moravian Amaro brand is now available for your sipping and mixing pleasure. Made in Luhačovice, Czech Republic, famous for its spa.

LONG ROAD AQUAVIT 90, 750, $34.99 Long Road distillery in Grand Rapids’s take on this caraway flavored spirit.

FEW ANGUISH & REGRET 80, 750, $29.28 As a tribute to their Chicago home base, Few made a Malort. The name says it all.

JIN LIU FU 104, 375, $16.69 I’m not sure what this is. Baiju maybe?

RED STAR ER GUO TOU JIU 112, 375, $8.87 Red Star is the best known brand of erguotou, a style of baiju. Baiju is a Chinese sorghum spirit.

Photo credits

  1. Me
  2. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Troyan-monastery-imagesfrombulgaria.JPG
  3. Me

Liberator Barrel Rested Old Tom Gin

Maker: Valentine, Ferndale, Michigan, USA2016-03-10-16.36.44.jpg.jpeg

Batch 2

ABV: 45.2%

Michigan State Minimum: $49

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Lime zest, orange peel, juniper, earthy red wine.

Palate: Full bodied and semi-dry. Hot. Like eating lemonheads under a pine tree.

Finish: Raw ginger, fresh cut pine.

Mixed: Surprisingly good in Tom Collins and with tonic. Adds a pleasant gingery bite. Does as well as expected in a Negroni, Princeton, Aviation, Bronx and a perfect martini. Much better than expected in a dry martini. This gin was great every way I tried mixing it.

Parting words: I’ve had this gin in my liquor cabinet for quite some time now. I didn’t drink it much because I view barrel rested gins as good for Negronis, perfect martinis and not much else. I was wrong in this case. Liberator barrel rested gin is good for anything you want to do with it.

Like its unrested sibling, Valentine’s rested Old Tom gin is aggressive but still elegantly blanced. It’s like a tall, attractive exchange student who grinds on you at your senior prom. Yes, it may cost you a lot of money, but it’s well worth the experience. Liberator Barrel Rested Old Tom Gin is highly recommended.

Sleeping Giant

Maker: B. Nektar, Ferndale, Michigan

Style: Wildflower mead aged in rye whiskey barrels for one year.

ABV: 19.5%

Purchased for: $25/375 mlSleeping Giant

Appearance: pale gold with big thick legs.

Nose: Brown butter, oak, overdone fruitcake, dandelion stems.

On the palate: Sweet and full bodied. Honey, citrus, cut clover, old oak, woodruff.

Finish: Sweet and viscous. Some acrid oak and orange peel. Then fades slowly.

Parting words: This is a good one. It’s much more drinkable than the first bourbon barrel finished mead they did. The bitter edges of the mead are taken off by the barrel aging and probably my cellaring for even longer. I still have one bottle held back in reserve.

It’s a cliché, but this mead is dangerous for the pocketbook and the brain. It tastes like a before dinner drink but it’s at an after dinner ABV. The price is steep but it’s a one-off and delicious. Sleeping Giant is going to be really hard to find at this point, but consider my recommendation as an endorsement of all B. Nektar barrel aged meads. Sleeping Giant is highly recommended.

Liberator Barrel Aged Old Tom Gin

Maker: Valentine, Ferndale, Michigan, USALiberator aged

ABV: 45.2%

Note: Only available at the tasting room/bar

Nose: lemon peel, Clementine, angelica, cinnamon, ginger, tobacco.

On the palate: Full bodied and spicy. Black pepper, cardamom, cassia, alcohol. A splash of water brings out more sweetness and a lot more cinnamon.

Finish: Cinnamon disk and alcohol burn. Fades very slowly.

Mixed: Does surprisingly well in cocktails that are traditionally better suited to unaged gin. Makes a spicy dry martini and a respectable gin and tonic. It is really fantastic in a perfect martini (half dry and half sweet vermouth) and adds a great spicy aspect to a negroni.

Parting words: Like its unaged sibling, this gin is a wild ride. When I tasted it neat (how Rifino Valentine says he drinks it) it changed in the glass substantially from first sip to last. At first it was all citrus. Then it shifted to more traditional Old Tom Gin flavors, then it became a cinnamon bomb.

As noted above it is available only at the distillery in Ferndale, for a bit more than the standard version. It’s over the top, but it’s delicious. Barrel-aged Liberator is highly recommended.

Zombies Take Manhattan

Maker: B. Nektar, Ferndale, Michigan, USAZ take M

Style: Imperial Apple Mead with cherries added and finished in rye whiskey barrels.

Purchased for:$14/500 ml

ABV: 12%

Appearance: Gold with a reddish tinge.

Nose: Spicy and fruity. Caramel apples, marachino cherries, a bit of curry.

On the palate: Medium bodied and fizzy. More caramel apple but with a little oak, butterscotch and cherries jubilee.

Finish: Semi-sweet and quick fading. A slightly tannic flavor lingers in the mouth though.

Parting words: I’m sick to death of zombies. I never found them all that interesting or scary in the first place but now that they’re everywhere I find them irritating too. What does that have to do with this review? Nothing, I just needed to say it.

The Zombie Killer Cyser with cherry added was one of the first of these 500 ml, horror themed meads from B. Nektar that I enjoyed. Zombies Take Manhattan is a higher ABV, barrel finished version of that product. I’m not sure where the “Manhattan” element in the name comes from and I’m too lazy to do any research on it right now, but I suspect it may be finished in Tuthilltown Manhattan Rye barrels.

As you can see from the “style” category above, they did a hell of a lot of stuff to this zombie. It pays off. It has all the good things barrel aging a mead or beer can bring, but without some of the weird, bitter flavors that sometimes plague barrel finished meads.

The price is high, but you get half a liter and it’s higher ABV so it’s all good. This is an excellent product. Zombies Take Manhattan is recommended.

Woodchuck Barrel Reserve

Maker: Woodchuck¸ Middlebury, Vermont, USA

Style: Barrel-aged cider

ABV: 6.9%

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Toffee apples, vanilla

On the palate: Medium-bodied and creamy. Vanilla, apple crisp a la mode, butterscotch candy

Finish: Tangy apple, carrot cake with vanilla icing.

Parting words: This stuff is so sweet that I ran out of desserty descriptors when I was writing this review. I don’t know where they got the barrel this was aged in, but it imparted a crazy amount of vanilla and caramel to the cider. I assume it all comes from the barrel. I would be disappointed if some vanilla or caramel flavoring was added to “round out” the barrel flavors. Speculation aside, Woodchuck Barrel Select earns a recommendation.