Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

Updated 11/19 to include tasting notes! Sorry!

Maker: Crown Royal, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada (Diageo)20161118_190337.jpg

Style: Blended Canadian Rye

Age: NAS

ABV: 45%

Michigan state minimum: $32

Appearance: Medium copper

Nose: Bubblegum, spearmint, alcohol, dried wildflowers

Palate: Full bodied. Grape jelly, maple sugar, cut hay.

Finish: Grape soda, oak, butterscotch.

Parting words: Whisky writer Jim Murray proclaimed Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye his 2015 Whisky of the Year, to much internet snickering and mockery. His announcements are usually met with snark, but in 2015 it seemed to be stronger than usual. Many online whisky heads found it laughable that Murray chose a $30 or so Canadian Whisky from Crown Royal for his big award. The whisky itself got lost in the shuffle.

That whisky is good. It’s not a world beater, but at $32 it doesn’t need to be. It’s unlike Alberta Premium (or its kin). It tastes like something between that and an Kentucky style rye. Sweet, with a little spice and a little herbal aroma on the back.As I said in my last review the days of good rye for cheap is over, largely. Stuff like this is as good as it’s going to get in the near future. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is recommended.

George Dickel No. 12

Maker: George Dickel, Tullahoma, Tennessee, USA (Diageo)wp-1465608740749.jpg

Style: Tennessee whiskey

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Peanut brittle, tarragon, leather, alcohol

Palate: Light. Caramel, grape bubble gum, oak, alcohol.

Finish: Fruity finish, fades to basil and burn.

Mixed: Did well in all applications, especially Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and a Godfather. OK in cola, with Benedictine and on the rocks. Gets lost in a Boulevardier, but who doesn’t?

Parting words: I was shocked and appalled that I had not yet reviewed this whiskey. It was long one of my favorites and even a go-to. The peanutbuttery flavors are not for everyone, I realize, but I’ve always enjoyed them. Good in cocktails too, but it’s at its best when sipped need on a humid summer afternoon on a rocking chair on a wrap-around porch. Or in another sort of chair in another circumstance of your choice. Point is, it’s a good casual sipper.

If I had reviewed it back when I first started drinking it, it might have earned a highly recommended. I can’t go that far now. What happened? Well, Dickel was one of the last distilleries to get out of the great whiskey glut of the 1980s and 1990s. The distillery had so much stock that it actually shut down for a few years until it sold its old stock. It reopened in 2003 to a brief shortage of their lower shelf No. 8 whiskey. The first bottles I had were from the shutdown years and tasted like they had spent more time in the barrel than this version. It may not be the steal it once was but I still like it. George Dickel No. is recommended.

New and interesting on the Michigan State Liquor List: January 31, 2016

Barsol_Mosto Verde_2014-07-10_0I love doing tasting notes, but I thought it might be fun and valuable to you, dear reader, to offer a new service. My thought was to list new and interesting items being added to the Michigan state liquor list and offer a few comments of an informational nature on some of them. This is the trial run of such a feature. Please let me know if it is informative or entertaining or both in the comments!

For those who may not know, 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. This often includes the sale of beer and wine, although not in the case of Michigan. One of the weird quirks of the 21st amendment to the US constitution is that while it repealed national prohibition, it also gave sweeping powers to the states to regulate alcoholic beverages in whatever way they saw fit. Many states like Pennsylvania, Utah, North Carolina and Vermont operate state-owned liquor stores as a result. Others, like Michigan and West Virginia, merely act as the sole wholesaler in the state. Most are somewhere between the two extremes.

As a wholesaler, the state maintains a list of all the spirits available for purchase from itself. This list contains information on the licensed distributor the spirit is available from (these are all private companies), the alcohol content, size of the bottle in ml, how many bottles are in a case, the price the state pays for them, the price to bars, restaurants and retailers and, most importantly to consumers, a minimum price the spirit must be sold for at the retail level (always with a built-in profit for the retailer). Retailers are free to hike prices up as high as they like above the minimum, but many advertise state minimum prices which keeps the prices on most low and middle shelf spirits at or close to the minimum. The price list is readily available on the internet, so it’s easy for costumers to shop around for the best prices, too.

The price book is issued by the state a few times each year with supplemental lists (now called new items lists) published in between price books listing items to be added to or deleted from the price book. Lists of price changes for items are issued as well (I plan to make note of significant price changes in future posts like this). All of them come with a date on which the spirits in question are available for ordering from the state through to distributor. Each price book is issued in PDF and Excel forms. New items lists are only available in PDF.

The January 31, 2016 new items list is here. 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. Bureaucracy works in mysterious ways.

Corn Whiskey

HATFIELD & MCCOY: DRINK OF THE DEVIL 90 proof, 750 ml, $26.20. Made in Gilbert, WV from alleged McCoy family moonshine recipe.

Bourbon

BUFFALO TRACE BOURBON 90, 1000, 34.99. Now available in 1 liter bottles if that kind of thing turns you on.

REBEL YELL REBEL RESERVE 90.6, 50, 1.49. I really thought Rebel Reserve was dead, but I guess not.

YELLOWSTONE SELECT 93, 750, $44.99. Yellowstone, a hallowed old bourbon brand formerly made at the Glenmore distillery in Louisville, has just been rebooted by Luxco. It will be produced at Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, Kentucky eventually, but for now it’s sourced whiskey.

Other American whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)

THE GIFTED HORSE 115, 750, $49.96. The latest from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel project, this is 17 y/o UD era Bernheim bourbon blended with 4 y/o MGPI bourbon and 4 y/o MGPI corn whiskey.

Single Malt Scotch

BUNNAHABHAIN-8 YR 86, 750, $20.78. This young Bunna is on here as a correction so I’m not sure how new it actually is, but it does sound interesting.

GLENMORANGIE MILSEAN 92, 750, $99.99. This year’s entry into the private edition range. Finished in re-toasted wine casks. “Milsean” is a Gaelic word meaning “candy” but is also the name of a well-known horse.

SPEYMALT FROM MACALLAN 1998 86, 750, $64.99. From Gordon & MacPhail’s series of vintage Speyside single malt bottlings. This vintage is listed as discontinued on the G & M website, though, so it’s a bit of a head scratcher here.

Irish Whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)

THE POGUES 80, 750, $33.99 If there’s any band one would trust to pick their own whiskey, it’s The Pogues. From West Cork Distillery. West Cork’s standard blend and 10 y/o single malt are also available in MI, though I don’t remember ever seeing them on a shelf.

THE QUIET MAN TRADITIONAL IRISH, 80, 750, $32.99

THE QUIET MAN-8 YR SINGLE MALT 80, 750, $49.96 Named for the founder’s father and definitely not the cheesy 1952 John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara romance of the same name, The Quiet Man is hitting the US now. It’s a joint project between Ireland’s Niche Drinks (St. Brendan’s Irish Cream) and Luxco (Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks). Word on the street is that these were distilled at Cooley, according to blog friend Bourbon & Banter.

POWERS SIGNATURE RELEASE 92, 750, $44.99 This has been out for a while, but has just now come back to the state. It’s a single pot still release. Curiously, the standard Gold Label Powers has dropped off the list leaving this and the 12 y/o John’s Lane release as the only Powers offerings in the state. Powers is not a big seller in these parts so I’m sure there’s still plenty of Gold Label out there and it will probably come back onto the list at some point.

Brandy (foreign)

BARSOL PISCO SUPREME MOSTO VERDE 82, 750, $42.96 Not a lot of Pisco available in Michigan, so it’s always nice to get another one. Mosto verde (green must) Pisco is distilled from partially fermented must, as opposed to other styles that use fully fermented wine. This results in lower ABV and more grape character. Three other styles of Pisco are available from Barsol in Michigan. Imported by Anchor Distilling.

Gin

JOURNEYMAN BILBERRY BLACK HEARTS BARREL AGED 90, 750, $39.87

Rum

JOURNEYMAN ROAD’S END 114, 750, $54.99. Two barrel-aged non-whiskey spirits from West Michigan’s Journeyman distillery are listed as new, but they’ve both been around a while. Let’s hope this means wider distribution beyond the distillery and Binny’s for both of them.

Tequila/Mezcal

BLUE NECTAR ANEJO FOUNDER’S BL 80.0, 750, $59.99 Founded by a Southfield, MI businessman with the help of former Bacardi master blender Guillermo Garcia-Lay, Blue Nectar is distilled at the Amatitán distillery, which also makes Don Azul.

MAESTRO DOBEL HUMITO 88, 750, $53.99. New smoked silver Tequila from Dobel.

Liqueurs

TEMPUS FUGIT FERNET DEL FRATE ANGELICO 88, 750, $64.99. Imported Fernet bittersTempus Fugit Fernet del Frate Angelico Bottle Shot_2015-02-24_0 from Northern California Absinthe specialists Tempus Fugit (associated with Anchor Distilling). Distilled at the Matter-Luginbühl distillery in Kallnach, Switzerland from an old Italian recipe. Erroneously listed under foreign brandy. TF’s Gran Classico bitters are also available in Michigan.

CELTIC HONEY 60, 750, $19.65. Irish whiskey based liqueur made with Irish honey and Irish botanicals from Castle Brands (Gosling’s, Jefferson’s, Knappogue).

TIJUANA SWEET HEAT 70, 750, $14.96. Tequila based, agave syrup sweetened abomination from Sazerac, the people who brought you Fireball. The concept is the same. Shoot it while shouting “woo!” Also available in 1 liter and 50 ml bottles for your alcohol poisoning pleasure. Erroneously listed under Tequila.

Vodka, etc

LONG ROAD DISTILLERY WENDY PEPPERCORN 101, 750, $34.99. Pink peppercorn flavored vodka from the Grand Rapids based microdistiller. Good for Bloody Marys, probably.

OLE SMOKY MOONSHINE BLUE FLAME 128, 750, $19.99. Ole Smoky’s attempt at a “serious” “moonshine”. Formerly only sold at their distillery in Gatlinburg and their outlet in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Listed under miscellaneous whiskey.

EVERCLEAR ALCOHOL PL 151, 50, $1.49. Even though Everclear has an ABV% that makes it impossible to take on an airplane, you can now pretend you’re drinking yourself to death on one with these nifty, affordable 50 ml bottles. Also great for watching youth sports, long church services or Philadelphia 76ers games.

Images from Anchor Distilling website media section here: http://www.anchordistilling.com/media/

The Exclusive Malts- Cambus, 1988

Maker: Cambus, Cambus, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, UK (Diageo)

Style: Grain whisky

Age: 26 y/o

ABV: 48.1%

Price: $180 (K & L)

Thanks to Marshall for this sample.

Appearance: Old gold with thick, very slow legs.

Nose: Old oak, butterscotch pudding, serrano chili, alcohol

Palate: Banana pudding, then burn. With water the burn and banana fades into creamy vanilla custard.

Finish: Sweet and custardy, banana cream pie. Similar with water but with oak on the back end.

Parting words: Cambus was one of the first grain whisky distilleries in Scotland, and possibly the first to use a column (aka Coffey or patent) still. Its early history is fuzzy, but it may have been founded in 1806. What is known for certain is that it began at its current site in 1836 and was one of the founding members of Distiller’s Company Limited (DCL) a corporate ancestor of Diageo. When UDV (one of Diageo’s parents) was formed in 1993, Cambus was shuttered. This being Scotch, Cambus-distilled grain whisky has hung around for a long time.

A little ironically, The Exclusive Malts bottled this grain (not malt) whisky as a part of a big batch of vintage single cask Scotches they released last year. This one is the oldest. The others are all mid 1990s vintage. They include casks from nearby Deanston, Ben Nevis, Glen Keith, Glen Garioch, and Allt-A-Bhainne (no, that last one isn’t made up).

I love Twitter. One of the reasons is that it enables me to meet whiskey enthusiasts from all over the world and chat with them. One of the persons I’ve met that way is Marshall. We met in person back around Christmas (or was it Thanksgiving?) and he generously gave me a sample of this at that time. Earlier this week I was thinking of a special Scotch to review for the Friday before Burns Night and this one seemed perfect. It is delicious. It’s also surprisingly bourbon-like, specifically it’s like old bottles of Old Taylor, Very Old Barton or Old Charter Proprietor’s reserve (slope-shoulder Louisville version) that I’ve had. Big butterscotch and tropical fruit flavors, but perfectly balanced with wood, sweetness and vanilla. $180 isn’t chump change but it’s not unreasonable for a whisky of this quality and age from a closed distillery. Cambus 1988 is recommended.

Gordon & Macphail Vine & Table Selection- Coal Ila 8 y/o, cask strength.

Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland.2015-12-23-15.16.36.jpg.jpeg

Distiller: Caol Ila, Port Askaig, Argyll, Scotland, UK

Region: Islay

Age: 8 y/o (distilled July 2006, bottled August 2014)

ABV: 58.8%

Price: $65 Exclusive to Vine & Table, Carmel (CAR-muhl), Indiana, USA

Notes: Single cask, natural color, not chill filtered. Aged in a refill sherry hogshead, cask #306213. One of 260 bottles. At cask strength, this whisky was all peat and smoke to me, so I diluted it to around 50% ABV for this review.

Appearance: Medium copper with thin, irregular legs.

Nose: Peat, smoke, black tea, drop of sherry.

Palate: Full bodied and hot. Some tropical fruit and vanilla in the beginning then the burn grows as does smoke, but without a lot of peat.

Finish: Ashy. Fireplace, old ashtray at grandma’s house back in the 1980s when people smoked inside. A belch after drinking this is the closest we humans will come to knowing what it’s like to be a dragon.

Parting words: Diageo’s Caol Ila is best known as a supplier of smoky malt for a myriad of independent bottlers and makers of blended malts. There’s also a 12 y/o distillery bottling that I reviewed here and friend of the blog My Annoying Opinions reviewed here. There was at one time a Distiller’s Edition, but I’m not sure how available that was in the US. In recent years there have also been a number of young, cask strength, independent bottlings like this one making the rounds. Most single malt Scotch doesn’t get bottled at anything less than ten years of age, but smoky malts often do because the smoke is more prominent at a younger age.

If fire is what you crave, this is the malt for you. A belch after drinking this is the closest we humans will come to knowing what it’s like to be a dragon. There’s not much else going on, though. There’s a hint of sweet malt and sherry, but it is hard to find behind the inferno. This Caol Ila is one dimensional, but it is only $65 and at cask strength which makes it more attractive than it might be at a standard proof. A volcano like this is especially good if you enjoy making your own blends at home. I mixed a little bit in with some Craigellachie 13 and some 16 y/o grain whisky and it added a nice extra bit of smoke to both of those.

If you enjoy smoky whisky like I do or if you’re looking for some smoke in your personal blending lab, Vine & Table’s 8 y/o, cask strength Caol Ila from V & T is a good choice. Recommended.

Crown Royal Reserve

Distiller: Crown Royal, Gimili, Manitoba, Canada (Diageo)wpid-2015-09-11-20.50.45.jpg.jpeg

Age: NAS (supposedly older than the standard Crown Royal)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $44

Appearance: Dark copper (likely colored)

Nose: Alcohol, spoiled onion, discount deli ham, ghost pepper.

Palate: Full bodied and mildly sweet. Not much going on other than sweetness and a touch of caramel. No oak anywhere in sight.

Finish: Light anise flavor followed by mild heat.

Mixed: Due to the limited amount I had available of this whisky, I didn’t try Crown Royal Reserve mixed, except for with some soda. It was nearly impossible to taste in that application, but that’s probably for the best.

Parting words: I reviewed the standard Crown Royal a couple years ago and I didn’t like it. I was hoping the reserve would be better. I imagined something more rounded and refined. That is not what I got. Crown Royal Reserve is even worse than Crown Royal. The nose has gone from disgusting to putrid and CR’s grainy character has been replaced with a total lack of any sort of character beyond the garbage (literally) nose. The only pleasant part of drinking this was the delicate, but flavorful finish, but it doesn’t even come close to being worth the silly price.

In the interest of being helpful, here’s a list of “reserve” or equivalent Canadian blends that are cheaper and better than CRR: Black Velvet Reserve ($13), Canadian Club Reserve ($18), Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve ($27), and Gibson’s 12 ($28). Not to mention Alberta Dark Batch ($27), CC Sherry Cask ($22), Collingwood ($30) and Tangle Ridge ($18).

Don’t buy this. Crown Royal Reserve is not recommended.

I.W. Harper Bourbon Whiskey

Maker: Diageo, Louisville, Kentucky/Norwalk, Connecticut, USAwpid-2015-07-12-19.19.19.jpg.jpeg

Distiller(s): Unknown

Age: NAS

Proof: 82 (41% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $30

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Alcohol, cayenne pepper, leather.

Palate: Sweet and mild. Brach’s caramels, chocolate covered toffee, a little bit of alcohol bite.

Finish: Sweet but a little spicy. Caramel, cocoa, alcohol.

Mixed: Excellent in all cockltails- Manhattan, Perfect Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Boulevardier. OK on the rocks and with soda.

Parting words: I.W. Harper was reintroduced to the U.S. this year after being gone for a couple decades. I.W. Harper begin life as the flagship bourbon of Isaac Wolfe Bernheim’s (d. 1945) distillery. After prohibition, the distillery and brand were sold to Schenley. Through a series of mergers I.W. Harper came to be owned by Diageo, even though the Bernheim distilley was sold to Heaven Hill in 1997. Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Wheat Whiskey is a tribute to I.W. Berneim and his brother Bernard.

One of the first ever “dusties” I found was a bottle of I.W. Harper. It was also the first dusty I was ever disappointed with. It was bland and watery. The 15 y/o (a part of the Bourbon Heritage Collection) was bland and watery but with a little oak thrown in. This is a big improvement on those two. It’s not extremely complex, but it’s got a great mouthfeel and enough spice to keep things interesting. It also plays very well with mixers. There are better choices at $30, but I.W. Harper isn’t a bad one.

I.W. Harper is recommended.

Bulleit 10 y/o

Distiller: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (For now. Brand owned by Diageo)wpid-2015-07-10-19.53.00.jpg.jpeg

Style: High rye bourbon.

Age: 10 y/o

Proof: 91.2 (45.6% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $47

Appearance: Burnt orange

Nose: Alcohol, red pepper flakes, charred oak.

Palate: Caramel, toffee, oak, serrano chiles, lavender, grape bubblegum.

Finish: Oak, alcohol, circus peanut.

Parting words: This is the latest installment in the “cleaning out my liquor cabinet” series. I bought this bottle at the distillery. Well, not at the distillery it was distilled at, but at the one that serves as home to the “Bulleit Experience”, Stizel-Weller.

This this bourbon is fine. No flaws, drinks well, etc. But Four Roses Single Barrel is $42, 100 proof and almost always more interesting than this. There’s no good reason to buy this bourbon instead of that one. Bulleit 10 y/o is mildly recommended.

Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 15 y/o

Maker: Mortlach, Dufftown, Moray, Scotland, UK (Diageo)

Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland, UK

Region: Speyside- Dufftown

ABV: 43%

Price: $75 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Dark gold

Nose: Sweet malt, wildflowers, oak, caramel.

Palate: Thick mouthfeel. Brown butter, wildflower honey, beef bullion, alcohol.

Finish: alcohol, butterscotch, vanilla cream, toasted oak.

Parting words: Mortlach was one of the malts that made me reconsider my dislike of Speysiders. This bottling is an excellent example of why I fell in love with this distillery. Meatiness is a house characteristic of Mortlach and it’s in evidence in this bottling. It’s not heavy-handed, though. There’s plenty of sweetness and oak to round it off nicely. It’s complex without being busy. The price is high (for me) but not completely out of whack for a high-quality single malt and cheaper than the new distillery bottlings are going for. If you like the heavier Speyside style and see one of these pick it up. G & M’s 15 y/o Mortlach is recommended.

Dickel 9 y/o Single Barrel Head to Head: Spec’s vs. Red Wagon

Maker: George Dickel, Tullhoma, Tennessee, USA (Diageo)Dickel vs Dickel

Style: Tennessee Whiskey

Proof: 103
(51.5% ABV)

Spc= Selected by Spec’s, Houston, Texas, USA

RW= Selected by Red Wagon, Troy/Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA

Appearance

Spc: Dark copper, long, well developed legs.

RW: Brighter copper, similar legginess.

Nose

Spc: Alcohol, leather, lavender, char.

RW: Less alcohol, oak, peanut butter candy.

Palate

Spc: Well balanced with peanut brittle, a bit of maple.

RW: Sweet and bold with lots of maple and wood. A bit of peanut butter in the background.

Finish

Spc: Fairly hot finish that tingles for a long time with the signature George Dickel vitamin finish.

RW: Huge Dickel finish. Chewable vitamins, maple sugar candy and alcohol.

Parting words: Dickel’s single barrel program got kicked off a few months ago with a series of 9 y/o and 14 y/o retailer selections. The early reports had the 9 y/o barrels being superior to the 14 so I decided to invest in two of the 9s. In fact, I had been inquiring at Red Wagon about whether or not they would be participating in the program for weeks when I decided to just acquire one from an out of state store. The day after my Spec’s bottle arrived, I happened to be in Red Wagon and, lo and behold, theirs was sitting right there on the shelf. So, of course, I bought one of theirs too.

I was pleasantly surprised at the differences between these two bottles/barrels. Both were good but I give Spec’s the edge. Red Wagon’s tasted like an amped up version of Dickel #12. Lots of sweet peanut butter and maple with a touch of that famous vitamin note. I enjoy the #12 so I didn’t mind that, although anymore of that vitamin taste would have been unpleasant.

Spec’s had those signature Dickel flavors and aromas but they were more subtle and had a sweet leathery quality that reminded me of Elmer T. Lee and similar Buffalo Trace bourbons. It was surprising and showed how subtle and elegant George Dickel has the potential to be. Let’s hope it’s a sign of good things to come from Tullahoma.

 

Red Wagon’s 9 y/o Dickel Single Barrel is recommended and Spec’s is highly recommended.