A Midwinter Nights Dram

Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USAwpid-2015-10-23-17.15.39.jpg.jpeg

Distillers: MGPI, some Kentucky distillery or distilleries.

Style: Blend of straight rye whiskeys finished in French oak and port barrels.

Age: NAS

Act 2.9, Scene 234

Proof: 98.6 (49.3% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $82

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Alcohol, cut grass, prunes, dried figs, tawny Port.

Palate: Fruity and rich. Apple-mint jelly, cinnamon disks.

Finish: Hot and spicy, then shifts to big menthol and eucalyptus flavors.

Mixed: Makes for a good hot toddy and Manhattan.

Parting words: High West’s Rendezvous Rye is one of my favorite ryes, and this is a finished version of that. Port finished bourbons were all the rage a couple years ago when this product was introduced, ushered in by Angel’s Envy. I have liked the products generally, and I like this one. The minty character of the high rye MGPI tends to run roughshod over everything else here. There’s a little bit of Port that shines through, but not too much (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing).

A Midwinter Nights Dram is good by the fire and would probably be good with a cigar if I smoked. The sweetness complements smoky environs nicely. I can’t really say that I like it more than Rendezvous Rye but I should if I’m paying $30 more for it. A Midwinter Nights Dram is mildly recommended.

Big Bottom Port Cask Finished

Maker: Big Bottom, Hillsboro, Oregon, USAwpid-20150220_122442.jpg

Distiller: Unknown, likely MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: Straight bourbon finished in Port casks.

Age: NAS

Proof: 91 (45.5% AVB)

Batch: 7

Note: Not chill filtered

Price: $40 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Dark auburn.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, wood varnish, hint of port.

Palate: Sweet and oaky on the palate. Alcohol, aged tawny, chocolate covered dried cherries.

Finish: Alcohol, wine grape jam, dates. Lingers for a long time.

Mixed: While I don’t usually mix bourbons in this price range, fortified wine finished bourbons usually mix very well in the classier sort of cocktails so I thought I’d give it a go. I tried it in a Manhattan, perfect Manhattan, boulevardier, Dave Wondrich’s Holdfast cocktail (bourbon, bitters, splash of Gran Marnier) and a whiskey sour. It did well in all but it showed up best in the cocktails with as few mixers as possible to let the finishing show through. These were the Manhattans, Holdfast and the sour.

Parting words: Big Bottom (named after a section of the Lewis & Clark Mt. Hood Wilderness Area, and not to be confused with Big Ass Bourbon) offer a range of bourbons but made their name with their wine-finished ones. They bottle wines finished in Rhone, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Port barrels. I decided to start with their Port-finished expression because I have more experience with Port-finished whiskeys than with any of the others. This one is finished in a ten year old tawny cask.

This is probably the best Port-finished bourbon I’ve had. It is a little hot upon first pour but after blows off it gets much better. BB doesn’t have the strawberry flavors of Angel’s Envy (or the Balvenie Portwood for that matter) but has richer fruit flavors like the cherry and date mentioned above.  It works  very well with red vermouth and is damn near perfect as an after-dinner sipper. The price is fair for a product of this high quality. The care they took in selecting the barrels for finishing shows in the end result. Big Bottom Port finished is recommended.

 

Collingwood

Maker: Canadian Mist, Collingwood, Ontario, Canada (Brown-Forman).wpid-20141121_112418.jpg

Age: NAS (at least three years old)

Style: Blended Canadian finished with toasted maple staves.

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $30

Appearance: Pale copper.

Nose: Popcorn, butterscotch, cut maple.

Palate: Semi-dry with a velvety mouthfeel. Hotter than expected. Maple candy, a bit of grassiness.

Finish: Maple syrup, sweet cinnamon. Fades fairly quickly.

Mixed: Good in an Old Fashioned and in a cocktail I found called a Ste. Agathe made with triple sec, lemon juice and grenadine but it didn’t hold up in one I tried called an Original (shot of whisky with a teaspoon each of sweet vermouth and grenadine). A cocktail from the Collingwood website called a Collingwood Classic (muddled orange peel, bitters and syrup) was tasty and refreshing. Orange seemed to work well with the rye and maple notes in the whisky.

Parting words: “Mellowed” with maple staves in a stainless steel vat after aging, Collingwood is a relatively new addition to the Michigan state list. I’m not sure why that term is used and not  finishing or infusing. Mellowing has the potential to confuse consumers who may be more familiar with the mellowing process used by B-F’s cash cow Jack Daniels. Jack Daniels is filtered through a vat filled with maple charcoal after distilling, so there’s beyond the use of maple wood, there’s no similarity.

I’m not familiar with Collingwood’s sibling, Canadian Mist, so I can’t make that comparison but Collingwood compares favorably with other Canadians in the $20-$35 range. It’s not as good as Gibson’s Finest, but better than Crown Royal and Forty Creek Barrel Select. Plus the maple finishing adds an extra element that justifies a couple extra bucks.

The bottle looks like it should contain aftershave but it does fit easily on a shelf and comes with a built-in pourer like a 175 ml bottle.

Collingwood works best as a quality mixer or a casual post-supper sipper. Recommended.

Grass Widow

Grass Widow Bottle Image
Used with permission of Two James Spirits LLC

Maker: Two James, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: Bourbon whiskey finished in Madeira casks.

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 91 (45.5% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $60

Thanks to Amy for the sample.

Appearance: Light auburn with long thick legs.

Nose: Alcohol, balsamic vinegar, black cherry, grape bubble gum, cayenne pepper.

Palate: Wine grape jelly, oak, jalapeno, honey.

Finish: Madeira, spicy rye, oak, ghost pepper.

Mixed: It did very well in all cocktails I tried it in. Made a good, spicy Manhattan and boulevardier but it did best in an old fashioned. The bitters and sugar brought out the spice and jam very nicely. Similar cocktails should also do well.

Parting words: Many microdistillers have released sourced whiskey products as a way to pay the bills while their own products age. Some, like Two James, actually do have distilled their their own whiskey and are actually waiting for it to age.

The only other product available to that bears much resemblance to Grass Widow that is Angel’s Envy. The latter is Kentucky bourbon finished in port wine barrels. There are big differences between Madeira and Port but both are fortified Portuguese wines. Grass Widow is much richer and spicier than AE. The Madeira wine cask influence adds a dark, grapey taste and aroma to the spirit as opposed to the bright strawberry notes of AE. Both are delicious, but Grass Widow’s finish works alongside the sweetness and spice of the bourbon to while AE’s finish takes the lead and leaves the bourbon to play a secondary role. That puts it slightly ahead of AE for me.

As with most micro-producer products price is an issue. At $60 it’s not going to be anyone’s go-to, but it’s definitely worth a place in any whiskey enthusiast’s cabinet as a weekend after-dinner sip or for a top-shelf cocktail. Grass Widow is recommended.

Head to Head: Bourbon Supreme Rare vs. Cleveland Bourbon Black Reserve

BS= Bourbon SupremeBourbon Sup vs Cleve

CB= Cleveland Bourbon Black Reserve, Batch 004

Maker

BS: American Distilling, Pekin, Illinois, USA (facility now owned by MGPI and used in ethanol production)

CB: Cleveland Whiskey Co., Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Age

BS: NAS

CB: <6 mos.

Notes

BS: Tax-stamped, volume listed as 4/5 of a quart. In a bottle resembling Blanton’s with a gold tassel.

CB: Sourced whiskey treated with a patent-pending process intended to speed up aging. The process involves the use of high-pressure, “oxygen infusion” and “heat processed, charred white oak segments”.

Proof

BS: 86 (43% ABV)

CB: 100 (50% ABV)

Price

BS: Acquired for free (thanks Oscar)

CB: $30

Appearance

BS: Light orange. Slightly cloudy with “dusty” floaters. Some light necklacing.

CB: Mahogany with thin, clingy legs.

Nose

BS: Wood varnish, the lumber section at a hardware store.

CB: Dry erase marker, grape jelly.

On the palate

BS: Thin and light. Like sawdust-infused vodka.

CB: Medium bodied. Like sucking on a grape-scented marker.

Finish

BS: Resembles accidentally inhaling sawdust and then washing your mouth out with cheap vodka. Fades into a locker-room.

CB: Lots of burn, which covers up the taste nicely. Fades into a headache.

Parting words: This is a head to head I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. On the surface, these two whiskeys don’t have a lot in common. Bourbon Supreme is a “dusty” that was made in Illinois at an industrial alcohol plant and Cleveland Whiskey is a new product made in Cleveland by a startup company.

What they do have in common is that they are two of the most frequently mentioned names in discussions of the worst American whiskeys ever made. They live down to the hype.

Bourbon Supreme quickly belies its origins as industrial alcohol more suited to use as racing fuel than a beverage. The wood notes are very clear, but there is no integration and no balance with anything resembling traditional bourbon flavors like caramel, vanilla or spice.

Cleveland Bourbon resembles something kids might huff to get high. The headache mentioned in the finish came on just seconds after I swallowed the first sip. It was remarkable. I have never had that experience before, except for a Croatian Cabernet that gave me a headache at the moment I first smelled it. At least Croatian wine let me know how awful it was right off the bat.

Can anything good be said about either of these? Bourbon Supreme is still fairly easy to find on shelves (for obvious reasons) and the bottle would look attractive as a display piece on the back of a bar. Cleveland Bourbon also has an attractive bottle, is 100 proof and is only $30 which makes it cheaper than most “micro” products of similar age.

Still, these are both terrible products, worthy of their place in the “worst ever” discussion. I will say that I have tasted something worse than these two bourbons: these two bourbons vatted together. Neither Bourbon Supreme Rare or Cleveland Bourbon Black Reserve are recommended.

Jim Beam Signature Craft: Spanish Brandy Finish

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont/Frankfort, Kentucky, USAJB Span Bran

Style: Bourbon finished with Spanish Brandy

Age: NAS

Proof: 86 (43% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $40

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Cereal, alcohol, butterscotch, leather, old oak, yeast.

On the palate: Full bodied and sweet. Butterscotch candy, burn, yeast, a touch of jalapeno.

Finish: Hot but sweet. Lingers and tingles for quite some time with butterscotch, burnt caramel, dandelion stem.

Parting words: The Jim Beam Signature Craft series is a new line from Beam with two parts. One part is a 12 y/o, 86° Jim Beam recipe bourbon and the other is an annual release of a finished or otherwise unusually treated bourbon. The Spanish Brandy Finish is the first of that second piece. This is not a brandy barrel finish, this is finished with a touch of the brandy itself.

This whiskey has gotten mixed reviews from enthusiasts, but I think it’s pretty good. Except for the finish, the brandy does a good job of rounding out the rougher yeasty and vegetal characteristics of young Jim Beam. It brings a rich butterscotch sweetness to the nose and palate too.

Complaints have also been made about the price. Yes, better bargains can be found for $40, but it’s something different and I don’t mind paying a little extra for that. Beam has been doing a lot of experimentation over the past few years. Not all of it has been successful, but I think this is. It’s worth buying a bottle to have another option for sipping after a holiday meal. Jim Beam Signature Craft: Spanish Brandy Finish is recommended.

Head to Head: Woodford Reserve vs. Woodford Reserve Double Oak

WR: Woodford ReserveWR vs WRDO

WRDO: Woodford Reserve Double Oak

Maker: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Style

WR: Standard Recipe bourbon

WRDO: Bourbon finished in a toasted then lightly charred oak barrel

Age: NAS

Proof: 90.4 (45.2% ABV)

Michigan Minimum Price (750 ml)

WR: $36

WRDO: $60 (purchased for $50)

Appearance

WR: Copper with thin legs.

WRDO: Slightly darker with pronounced necklacing.

Nose

WR: Alcohol, oak, dried oregano, homemade caramels.

WRDO: Leather, oak, black walnut, alcohol.

On the palate

WR: Full bodied and sweet. Burn, brown sugar, a touch of cayenne and not much else.

WRDO: Medium bodied and tannic. Alcohol, brown sugar, oak.

Finish

WR: Sweet and slightly oaky with some candy. Then lots of burn.

WRDO: Very oaky. Black walnut, fresh oak, fades into alcohol and then away fairly quickly.

Parting words: Woodford Reserve is a popular whipping boy for bourbon enthusiasts. The knocks on it are that it’s young, overpriced, underpowered and its success is all marketing and packaging and no substance. Knocks on the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, a series of experimental annual releases have been similar but even more harsh.

It’s hard to argue with those points. Woodford is expensive for an NAS of 90 proof with little in the way of distinctive tastes or aromas. Woodford Double Oak, a rebarreled version of Woodford with a strong resemblance to the Seasoned Oak Master’s Collection release, adds some needed oak, but not much in the way of depth, unfortunately.

Both fare well in manhattans, but I don’t recall trying them in any other cocktails.

When the Double Oak was released, it was a marginal buy at $50 but $60 is an absurd price for what this is. If it sold for $40-$50 it would be worth a full recommendation, but as it is it is mildly recommended. Standard Woodford was overpriced when it first came out, but as bourbon prices have risen around it, it doesn’t seem so bad. Still, it is dull and its sister brand Old Forester is a much better buy and available at 100 proof. Woodford Reserve is also mildly recommended.

Angel’s Envy Rye

Maker: Angel’s Envy, Louisville, Kentucky, USAAE Rye

Distiller: Likely MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High rye rye, finished in Caribbean rum casks.

Age: NAS

Batch: 1C

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Thanks to Oscar for help in obtaining this bottle and Amy for splitting it with me.

Appearance: Pale copper

Nose: Butter rum, carrot cake, almond brittle.

On the palate: Medium bodied, sweet and spicy. Fruitcake (the good, homemade kind), crystallized ginger, allspice, nutmeg, clove, mace, molasses.

Finish: More spice cake with a good bit of alcoholic burn. Clears out the sinuses and the sweetness lingers on the tongue and lips.

Parting words: This is another special release from this year that I have delayed reviewing in typical Sipology style. When it was announced that Angel’s Envy was releasing a rye, I was skeptical. When I heard the price, I was even more skeptical. When I tasted it, I was no longer skeptical.

This is a whiskey unlike any I have ever had and in a very good way. The rum flavors are very up front and they meld in an effortless way with the spice of the high-rye recipe rye to create a whiskey that is like drinking a 100 proof spice cake. It’s just an amazing product, albeit a very expensive one. It sold for $70 or more when it was to be found but it’s worth every penny and then some. There may be a few on shelves still, so if you see one, buy it. This is an amazing whiskey. Highly recommended.

Woodward Limited Whiskey

Maker: Valentine Distilling, Ferndale, Michigan.Woodward Ltd

Style: Maple flavored bourbon

Age: NAS (about 4 y/o)

Proof: 88

Appearance: Dark copper with long thin legs.

Nose: Alcohol, maple wood, leather.

On the palate: Sweet but not cloying. Maple syrup (the real stuff), caramel, wood, alcohol.

Finish: Pleasant and drying. Touches of maple linger on as the wood (mostly maple) takes hold and then gently fades away.

Parting words: I’ve been sitting on this review for a while now because of the video reviews but also because I had a lot of questions about Valentine’s operation. Since it’s only a few miles from Sipology Blog HQ, I decided to check the place out for myself before finishing my review. I’m glad I did.

It is distilled and aged in Ferndale in a small building that also serves as tasting room and a cocktail bar. They also make a vodka, an elderflower flavored vodka, Liberator Gin, and a barrel-aged version of Liberator Gin (review coming soon). We also had a sample of their bourbon (presumably with the same mashbill as Woodward Limited) which they sell right out of the barrel at barrel proof from behind the bar. It comes it at 114° and is quite good for its age. The bartender said they also sell it by the barrel which prompted several questions from my friend and me about distribution and the three tier system, none of which the bartender was capable of answering. So if you would like the try the bourbon, I would suggest stopping by the distillery yourself.

At any rate, Woodward Limited Whiskey (named after Woodward Avenue, the historic Michigan highway that runs from downtown Detroit through Ferndale and Royal Oak and on to Pontiac) is a winner. The maple flavoring (syrup according to our bartender) doesn’t overwhelm, but it balances out the youthful edges of the whiskey nicely creating a pleasant after supper sipping whiskey. Where it excels is in cocktails. It makes a very good Manhattan and fantastic Old Fashioneds and Boulevardiers. I’m sure it would work very well in other cocktails as well. As for the price, it’s reasonable for a microdistilled whiskey at just under $40. Woodward Limited Whiskey is recommended.

Head to Head: Spring Mill Bourbon vs. Beer Barrel Bourbon

A. Spring MillSpringMillbeer-barrel-bourbon

B. Beer Barrel

Maker

A. Heartland, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

B. New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USA

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Age: NAS

Proof

A. 90 (45% ABV)

B. 80 (40% ABV)

Notes

A. Rebarreled in new charred oak barrels

B. Finished in barrels used to finish beer in

Appearance

A. Light copper

B. Burnt orange

Nose

A. Wood shavings, alcohol, chocolate-covered caramels, fennel, leather

B. Dried cherries, roasted malt, corn chips, alcohol

On the palate

A. Sweet and hot. Medium bodied. Brown sugar, sweet tea, vanilla

B. Full bodied. Licorice, stone fruit.

Finish

A. Hot and long lasting with a bit of candy behind the burn.

B. Mellow and fruity. Grape soda, alcohol. Fades quickly.

Mixed

A. Excels in a Manhattan and does well in an old fashioned. Gets a little lost in cola.

B. Adds an interesting fruitiness to the Manhattan, does the same in an old fashioned. Downright tasty in ginger ale.

Parting words

Both of these bourbons are examples of small producers selling bourbon sourced from MGPI, Indiana but putting their own stamp on it. Both are successful in creating something different and probably superior to what they started with. As for Beer Barrel Bourbon (B), the fruity aspects of the stout that previously occupied the barrel come through the most, although a little of the roasted malt character also comes through.  It is a successful experiment but I don’t know if I’d buy another bottle. Mildly recommended.

Spring Mill (A) has more of a classic bourbon flavor. Rebarreling the often lackluster MGPI bourbon has added needed depth and sophistication. One of the proprietors of Heartland was not forthcoming about the nature of the second barrel (char level, size) when I communicated with him on social media, but I suspect it is a slightly smaller barrel with a lighter char, maybe 2 or 3. Whatever the case, it worked very well. The ceramic bottle adds interest (although I’m not quite sure how to recycle it) and the fact that the bottle shares the name of a street on the North Side of Indianapolis near where I grew up is a sentimental bonus for me. Spring Mill is recommended. Looking forward to some of the new barrel strength version of this stuff soon!