And as promised, here’s my review of the original Talisker Storm.
Maker: Crown Royal, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada (Diageo)
Style: Toast French oak cask finished Canadian blend.
Age: NAS (at least 3 y/o)
Michigan State Minimum: $70 (MSRP: $60)
Note: Noble collection series
Thanks to Lisa Wendling and Diageo for the sample.
Appearance: Medium copper.
Nose: French oak, burnt orange peel, pine resin, creamed corn, grains of paradise.
Palate: Subtle. Custard, toasted oak, vanilla, cinnamon.
Finish: Cut lumber, burn.
Parting words: Despite mocking Diageo and lionizing Vijay Mallya on Twitter for years, the fine folks at Diageo graciously sent me a sample of Crown Royal French Oak Cask Finished Canadian Whiskey.
I’m not a great fan of the regular CR or the special deluxe, but I have enjoyed several of the other expressions, like the Blender’s Mash and Northern Harvest Rye. This is another good one. The French oak (sourced from the Vosges) is not overwhelming and mixes with the classic roasted grain flavors of Canadian whisky to produce pleasant potpourri aromas. Unfortunately, like many Canadian whiskies, the palate doesn’t deliver on the promise of the nose. An extra 5% ABV would probably help in that regard. Still, it’s worth the MSRP, though the Michigan price is pushing it. Crown Royal French Oak Cask Finished is recommended.
Maker: Crown Royal, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada. (Diageo)
Style: Canadian Blend
Michigan state minimum: $20
Parting words: CR Blender’s Mash began life as CR Bourbon Mash but Diageo, which never seems to remember that it owns bourbon brands, was forced to change the name due to bourbon’s protected legal status. This decision was right and good, in my not particularly humble opinion. The decision was made after the labels were already printed and affixed to bottles, so if you enjoy collecting things that nobody cares about, try to seek out some of those bottles for your collection.
At any rate, Blender’s Mash is a Canadian blend starring one of CR Deluxe’s constituent whiskies. It has a bourbon-like recipe with 65% corn and 31% rye (malt makes up the rest). The result is a very bourbon-like product. It’s rather mild neat or on the rocks but it mixes surpringly well. It makes great Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. In Coke or in a Boulevardier it gets a little lost, but is still pleasant.
I don’t enjoy the standard Crown Royal or the Special Reserve, but this is enjoyable. It’s more refined and sweeter even if it is underpowered. $20 is $5 less than regular Crown and $25 less than Special Reserve, so this is a good QPR selection if you’re into that sort of thing. Crown Royal Blender’s Reserve is recommended.
Maker: Crown Royal Distillery, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada (Diageo).
Style: Canadian rye.
Michigan state minimum: $55
Appearance: Light copper.
Nose: Alcohol, roast corn on the cob, bubble gum.
Palate: Grape bubble gum, alcohol, touch of oak.
Finish: Aniseed candy, burn.
Mixed: Adds a fruity undertone to Manhattans, perfect Manhattans, and Old Fashioneds. Was also able to stand up to Benedictine when I used it in a Monte Carlo. Be sure to account for high proof if mixing this. It can sneak up on you.
Parting words: Crown Royal gets trashed a lot by whisky enthusiasts, and I think rightly. Crown Royal and Crown Royal Reserve are both garbage. I did like the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, though. It is a solid value, if you enjoy Canadian style rye.
This whisky is closer to Northern Harvest Rye than the standard Crown Royal or the Reserve. The barrels used for these retailer/hand selected barrel CRs are flavoring whiskies. Like Scotch and Irish blends, Canadian blended whiskies are blends of relatively flavorless base whisky with bold flavoring whisky, often but not always made with rye.
Tippins is located on Saline road, on the outskirts of Ann Arbor Michigan. They’re known for good service, good whiskey selections and owner Dominic Aprea’s, uh, let’s say “eccentric” online persona. Aside from an irritating snub on FB, I haven’t had any negative experiences with him, although I have witnessed some strange online behavior from him. At any rate, the man knows how to pick a barrel. As with all CR offerings, the price is high, but $55 isn’t too bad for over 50% ABV. Crown Royal, Tippins Hand Selected Barrel is recommened.
Updated 11/19 to include tasting notes! Sorry!
Maker: Crown Royal, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada (Diageo)
Style: Blended Canadian Rye
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.
Maker: George Dickel, Tullahoma, Tennessee, USA (Diageo)
Style: Tennessee whiskey
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.
I 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.
HATFIELD & MCCOY: DRINK OF THE DEVIL 90 proof, 750 ml, $26.20. Made in Gilbert, WV from alleged McCoy family moonshine recipe.
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.
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.
JOURNEYMAN BILBERRY BLACK HEARTS BARREL AGED 90, 750, $39.87
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.
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.
TEMPUS FUGIT FERNET DEL FRATE ANGELICO 88, 750, $64.99. Imported Fernet bitters 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.
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/
Maker: Cambus, Cambus, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, UK (Diageo)
Style: Grain whisky
Age: 26 y/o
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.
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland.
Distiller: Caol Ila, Port Askaig, Argyll, Scotland, UK
Age: 8 y/o (distilled July 2006, bottled August 2014)
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.