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.

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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

Pikesville Rye

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USA2016-01-29-16.52.04.jpg.jpeg

Style: Kentucky straight rye whiskey

Age: 6 y/o

Proof: 110 (55% ABV)

Michgan state minimum: $50

Appearance: Dark auburn

Nose: Cut grass, oak, alcohol grape soda, caramel.

Palate: Full bodied. Spicy and hot. Caramel, root beer. Water brings out sweet cinnamon and chili powder.

Finish: Oak, and then habanero. With water: a splash of caramel corn, then a low ancho burn.

Parting words: Pikesville is a fairly old Maryland brand that ended up being the last rye distilled in the state. The distillery stopped distilling in 1972 but kept going using old stock until 1982 in a testament to how bad sales were. Heaven Hill bought the brand then and it served as their bottom shelf, 80 proof rye for the next 30+ years. In 2015 they decided to reboot Pikesville as a 110 proof upper-shelfer. Judging by this bottle, the reboot is a success.

There seems to be a large proportion of pretty old (12 y/o or older) stock in the mix. I have never had an young Kentucky style rye with this much oak showing. It’s remarkable and well worth the price. This a is well balanced with loads of character that drinks pretty easy for 110 proof. If you enjoy Heaven Hill’s other rye, Rittenhouse, you’ll love this. It even stands up to the hallowed Van Winkle Family Reserve rye well. I hope they don’t let the high quality slip over the next few years. Highly recommended.

Bernheim Originial (7 y/o)

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USAwpid-20150904_174616.jpg

Style: Straight Wheat Whiskey (made with at least 51% wheat)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $30

Appearance: Caramel with necklacing and thin legs.

Nose: Alcohol, walnut, whole wheat biscuits.

Palate: Surprisingly hot. Cinnamon, crackers, caramel, pinch of tarragon.

Finish: Butterscotch, amaretto, alcohol, oak.

Mixed: Very good in a Manhattan and an old fashioned. Didn’t try it in anything else.

Parting words: Bernheim Original is a rare thing in two ways. First, it’s the only straight wheat whiskey on store shelves made by a major American whiskey distiller. Second, after years of being NAS, it was reintroduced with an age statement this year! This is unheard of these days when tightening supplies are causing age statements to drop like passes in the hands of rookie wide receivers.

I reviewed the NAS back in 2012. Judging by my old tasting notes, this age stated version is richer and beefier than the old version. It’s no longer a lightweight and has a solid caramel backbone to support the unusual baked goods and cinnamon flavors. This isn’t a novelty anymore, this is seriously good whiskey. With micro-distilled wheat whiskeys popping up all over the place, Bernheim Original has taken its rightful place as the benchmark of the category. The price hasn’t changed much, if it all, since 2012. Even more than three years ago, Bernheim Original is recommended.

Five-Way Honey Liqueur Tasting

Under the “we taste them so you don’t have to” category comes this 5 bottle tasting of bourbon (and Jack Daniels) honey wpid-20150411_205850.jpgliqueurs. While flavored spirits are very popular now, the whiskey liqueur has a long history. In the early days of distilling in Scotland, the spirit (it would not qualify as whisky in the 21th

century) was usually sweetened with honey and flavored with herbs and spices to make it more palatable for recreational consumption. The popular Scotch whisky liqueur Drambuie is a marketed as a modern riff on that tradition. In the mid to late 20th century, many bourbon producers sold whiskey liqueurs as well, the best known and best being Wild Turkey Liqueur. It’s worth a purchase if you ever come across it. This current crop of whiskey liqueurs is only a few years old, but they’re already ubiquitous. They’re all over the place too.

I want to thank Mrs. Sipology Blog, Liz for being my co-taster in this exercise. In fact, it was her idea. So without further ado…

Wild Turkey American Honey, $21, 71°

L: Color like a golden apple. Butter, pear, whiskey. Thick but not sticky. Airplane sippable. Thumbs up.

J: Pale. Light vanilla and honey in the nose. Medium bodied. Sweet and slightly herbaceous with a little burn. Pretty good for what it is.

Evan Williams Honey Reserve, $13, 70°

L: Very, very light in color. Watered down apple juice. Sweeter nose, sweeter overall. More honey than alcohol. Sugary aftertaste. Too sweet to drink neat. Needs mixing, maybe with club soda.

J: Paler. Mildly sweet nose with some peanut butter. Honeyed water. No burn. Honeycomb finish. It’s big. Yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, but unbalanced.

Jim Beam Honey, $20, 70°

L: Bourbon-like in color (contains caramel). Strange smell, like peat, charcoal and corn. More burn than the EW, but not as complex. Honey, charcoal, nothing else. “I don’t think I finish this [1/4 oz pour].”

J: Much darker. Very weird nose, like white dog. Bland with a bit of sweetness and little else, not even honey. Finish like grape soda. Really bad. To the sink!

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, $25, 70°

L: Pretty light. Nose is honey, big time. No burn in the nose. Weird taste on the roof of the mouth toward the back. Smells better than it tastes. [grimaces] “Flat soda. I don’t like it. I don’t want to finish it.”

J: Wonderful jellybean nose. Waxy and perfumed on the palate like a scented candle. Not as bad as the JB, but not great either.

Red Stag Honey Tea, $20, 80°

L: At a loss for notes. More burn, less sugar but dull. Charcoal again. Nice bourbon flavor but too bland overall.

J: An improvement on the JB. Higher proof allows the bourbon to shine through a little more. Close in flavor to the EW until I get to the finish. A big burst of used teabags rounds things out. Better than the JD or JB.

Final results (unanimous)

Winner: Wild Turkey American Honey

Final standings: 1) WTAH 2) EWHR 3) RSHT 4) JDTH 5) JBH

(unanimous decision on both)

Parting words (Josh): This tasting surprised me a bit. The winner did not surprise me, but how bad JB and JD were did. Jim Beam honey was vile, disgusting stuff and Jack wasn’t much better. Another surprise was that Red Stag Honey Tea was not vile. I don’t see myself ever buying a bottle but a casual whiskey drinker might enjoy it on the rocks on a hot day with a slice of lemon.

If one is looking for a bargain, EWHR qualifies, but it’s so bland it hardly seems worth saving the extra $8. The only one on the list that I recommend is Wild Turkey Honey. It’s not as good as the old WT liqueur but it’s by far the best of this bunch. It’s best enjoyed in cocktails or as a digestif.

Head to Head: Rittenhouse DSP KY 1 vs DSP KY 354

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Ketucky, USAwpid-20150130_172202.jpg

Distilled

1: Heaven Hill, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

354: Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Style: Kentucky rye.

Age: NAS

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $24 (DSP 354 edition is no longer being produced).

Appearance

1: Burnt orange.

354: A bit lighter. Bright copper.

Nose

1: Alcohol, caramel, creamed corn, tarragon, sawdust.

354: Softer. Spearmint, alcohol, roasted corn.

Palate

1: Neat- Heat and little else. Water brings out candy and oak notes.

354: Round and soft, even neat. Potpourri, rock candy, alcohol.

Finish

1: Hot and harsh. The caramel and herbal flavors start to shift into something much less pleasant.

2: Long and grassy. Freshly mowed lawn, alcohol, orange peel.

Parting words: After the infamous Heaven Hill fire in 1997, HH turned to their competitors/friends at Jim Beam and Brown-Forman to distill some of their whiskeys for them while they made necessary alterations to their new distillery in Louisville. Brown-Forman (the distillery formerly known as Early Times, DSP 354) picked up the distillation of Rittenhouse, our heroes’ flagship rye, during that period. It is also during that period that many whiskey enthusiasts like myself became big fans of the bonded Rittenhouse. Perhaps the consistently high quality of this rye and Sazerac rye during that period led to the current rye revival in some way.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to do these two head to head for a long time. Now that I have, I’m surprised. I didn’t expect much difference between these two but there was quite a bit. When two whiskeys are so close to each other, those differences can become exaggerated, naturally, but that’s the point to these head to head tastings. “It’s the little differences,” as Vincent Vega said.

Simply put, the DSP 1 did not fare well against the 354. It wasn’t terrible, it but it was comparitively hot and unrefined neat. It was better with a splash of water and even better than that mixed. 354 needed no water and gave off some very pleasant characteristic rye notes in the nose and the palate. When mixed, there was very little difference between the two.

1 is mildly recommended overall but recommended as a mixer. 354 is recommended for all purposes but given its growing scarcity I would save it for sipping neat or close to it.

Parker’s Heritage Straight Wheat Whiskey (2014 edition)

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USAwpid-2014-10-03-14.49.22.jpg.jpeg

Age: 13 y/o

Proof: 127.4 (63.7% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $100

Purchased for $85

Appearance: Dark auburn with long thin legs.

Nose: Alcohol, old oak, caramel, wheat bread in the oven.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet on entry. Butterscotch, toffee hard candy, chewy taffy, cocoa powder. Water brings out more of that trademark Bernheim “biscuity” flavor, but still plenty of candy.

Finish: Pretty hot with lots of oak and a touch of sweetness. Lingers for a very long time.

Parting words: Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Original is the world’s best selling straight wheat whiskey. I can say that with confidence because it’s also the only straight wheat whiskey produced by a major American distiller. To almost everyone’s surprise, they added an age statement recently and those bottles are now hitting the shelves.

An even bigger surprise was when it was announced that the 2014 edition of the PHC was going to be a wheat whiskey. Many mistakenly assumed that it was going to be another wheat bourbon, but that’s not what this is. It’s a wheat whiskey, meaning that it is made from a mashbill containing at least 51% wheat, the rest being corn and malted barley. It is required to meet all the legal requirements for straight ryes or bourbons, only with wheat in the place of rye or corn.

I came in expecting a very dry, subtle whiskey along the lines of Bernheim Original but oakier. I didn’t expect such a lush, sexy whiskey. It has a round voluptuousness that I associate more with Four Roses or older Van Winkle bottles than I do with Heaven Hill (as much as I love HH). Bottling at barrel proof and not chill filtering were the right choices to make for this one, but when aren’t they the right choices? It’s hard to compare this to anything else, but I think it’s the best in the Parker’s Heritage Series since 2010’s Wheat Bourbon edition. It also fits easily into my personal top twenty list.

I got a good deal on mine, but even at $100-$120 Parker’s Heritage Original Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey (full name) is highly recommended.

If you want a second opinion, consider this: I brought a full bottle of this to the table at a recent gathering of some of the most obsessive and discerning American whiskey enthusiasts in the country. It shared the table with dusties from Wild Turkey’s golden age, Four Roses limited editions, Stitzel-Weller products and dozens of bottles of that caliber. After an hour or so I had to hide it under a chair because it was already half empty. That says it all.

Fighting Cock

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USAFighting Cock

Age: 6 y/o

Proof: 103 (51.5% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $18.50

Appearance: Dark copper with long thick legs.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, jalapeno, caramel. Water brings out butterscotch and basil.

Palate: Hot and sweet with a touch of oak. Softer with water but still spicy. Caramel and cayenne.

Finish: Hot and spicy with caramel and a hit of oak. Finish is basically the same with water, but a little less hot.

Mixed: Does very well in all applications I tried. Stands up to Coke and does well with Benedictine. Shines in a Manhattan and an old fashioned. Gets a little lost in a boulevardier but almost everything does. Performs nicely on the rocks.

Parting words: Like most chickens Fighting Cock is delicious but flies under the radar. It’s Heaven Hill’s answer to Wild Turkey. It has a high, odd numbered proof (mine goes to 11!), a bird on the label and a spicy, aggressive taste and aroma. It originally was aged stated at 8 y/o too, just like Wild Turkey used to be.

I like it better than Wild Turkey. It’s hard to find an age stated bourbon at that proof for under $20 these days. The closest cousin to FC is Old Ezra at 101 proof and 7 y/o. It’s probably also distilled by Heaven Hill and it’s a little cheaper. It tends to be grassy which can be off putting to some. I’d probably rank FC above Old Ezra but both are very good. If you like bold, spicy flavors in your bourbon and the name doesn’t make you blush, Fighting Cock is recommended.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown, Kentucky, USAECBP

Age: 12 y/o (not on the front label but on the back)

Proof: 134.2 (67.1% ABV)

Notes: Not chill-filtered. First edition reviewed.

Appearance: Dark brown, like root beer.

Nose: Alcohol, leather, caramels. With a little bit of water, it opens up considerablly. Heaven Hill’s signature herbaceousness comes through, this time as tarragon and lavender, with a big hit of oak joining the party.

On the palate: Hard caramel candy, and lots and lots of burn. Much more drinkable with a bit of water. The herbal notes come through firmly alongside the candy but it’s still quite hot. With a little more water, it opens up into crème brulee, licorice, oak, and more candy.

Finish: Neat, it’s very short and hot, evaporating off the tongue almost immediately. With water, a little or a little more, it leaves a pleasant combination of peppermint, caramel, oak and of course alcohol.

Parting words: This is one of my favorite whiskeys ever. It is very much in the Heaven Hill mold, but the complexity and depth of flavor is unsurpassed for a product of that distillery. It’s much better balanced than the old Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18 y/o and of course much higher proof. It is much closer to the standard 12 y/o Elijah Craig, but even more so to the better vintages of Evan Williams Single Barrel, again at much higher proof. Perhaps an even more apt comparison is to George T. Stagg. This is drinks like Heaven Hill’s answer to Stagg. It is an older, more powerful, richer unchillfiltered edition but one very much in the house style. In the case of Buffalo Trace (the maker of Stagg), that’s sweet vanilla and a little bit of grassiness. In the case of Heaven Hill, that’s caramel, mint and affordability.

The only downside is that for me it was undrinkable at bottle/barrel proof. There will always be the macho men and macho women who will drone on about how they never add water and how that ruins the flavor and so on. Good for them and their gullets, but this whiskey just begs for water. All this and it’s under $50 before tax. You’d be stupid NOT to buy it. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is highly recommended.

Head to Head: A Tale of Three Old Fitz’s

As a part of our winter series on bonded spirits, in this episode we will be comparing three bottles of the same bourbon, Old Fitzgerald, Bottled-in-Bond. Two are from the same distillery (presumably). Special thanks to White Dog & Tommyboy for giving me these bottles (yes they were gifts, those guys are both outstanding individuals).

All three are 100 proof wheated straight bourbons with no age statement (NAS).

The bottles

1) 200 ml bottle with faux tax stamp, distilled & bottled at DSP KY 16 (Stitzel-Weller), Louisville, Kentucky, USAIMG_20130201_155428

2) 1 liter bottle, no tax stamp, distilled at DSP KY 16, bottled at DSP KY 24 (Glenmore) Owensboro, Kentucky, USA

3) 750 ml bottle, distilled at DSP KY 1 (Bernheim), Louisville, Kentucky, bottled at DSP KY 31, Bardstown, Kentucky (current edition)

Appearance

1) Medium copper with fairly thin legs and necklace.

2) Darker, with similar legs and necklace.

3) Same as #1 but with thicker legs

Nose

1) Alcohol, tea, tarragon, caramel corn.

2) Oak, toffee, corn chips, old wood, ancho chilies.

3) Grape bubble gum, alcohol, spearmint

On the palate

1) Full bodied and sweet. Alcohol, creamy caramel. The vegetal notes are gone.

2) Full bodied and slightly drier. Oak, toffee, Mexican chocolate.

3) Medium bodied and even drier. Dry oak, a bit of caramel corn and mint.

Finish

1) Sweet and hot. Seems to get drier as the finish goes on. A bit of oak, then fading back into caramel corn.

2) Woody. The wood lingers for a long, long time with pralines in the background.

3) Pretty hot and minty with touches of oak, eventually settling down into a caramel sweetness.

Parting words

I’ve been wanting to try this line up for a long time. A few things interesting things arose in this tasting. First was how much oakier the later Stitzel-Weller bottle was than the earlier one. The logical explanation for that would be that the bourbon going into the later one was older than that going into the earlier one. Why the maker would do that is a puzzle. Perhaps the infamous whiskey glut was reaching a climax when bottle 2 was filled? Bottles labeled with “Bottled-in-Bond” have to be filled with spirit from the same distillery and the same distilling season. So another explanation for the greater wood influence could be a series of hot summers during the aging period for that batch of whiskey.

Another interesting phenomenon was how minty bottle #3 got as the tasting went on. #1 had an herbal note at first, but that went away within a few minutes. That mint is considered one of the signature notes for the Heaven Hill stable of bourbons. Bottle#3 has convinced me that Heaven Hill, the current distiller of Old Fitzgerald, is now using its own house yeast strain in its manufacture. They are clearly not using Stitzel-Weller yeast or the “Schenley yeast” master distiller Parker Beam reported finding at DSP KY 1 when Heaven Hill took it over.

Finally, while differences certainly showed up between the three, I was surprised at how similar they all were too each other. There was none of the sweet vanilla in #1 & #2 that many of us who are accustomed  to drinking our Stitzel-Weller from bottles labeled “Van Winkle” might expect. Aside from the minty finish on bottle #3, I doubt I could distinguish any of these from each other in a blind tasting. Not to say #3 is the equal of #1 or #2; it’s not. But they are all middle to lower shelf wheated bourbons and they all perform that role well.

Old Fitzgerald, Bottled-in-Bond, whatever the distiller, is recommended.

Head to Head, White on White: Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond vs Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond (White label)

1) Evan Williams, Bottled-in-Bond (white label)

2) Heaven Hill,  Bottled-in-Bond, 6 years old (white label)

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Age

1) NAS (4 y/o minimum)

2) 6 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Nose:

1) Alcohol, roasted corn, caramels

2) Alcohol, basil, toffee, leather, corn tortilla.

On the palate:

1) Medium-bodied. Hot and sweet. Caramel and not much else, but that’s not a terrible thing.

2) Medium-bodied. Butterscotch candy, a bit of oak, peppermint.

Finish

1) Alcohol, corn syrup, lingers for a little while and then fades.

2) Heat, a little corn, wood, tarragon.

Mixed:

1) OK. Not good in a whiskey sour. Clashes with the lemon in a very unpleasant way. Does very well in a Manhattan if good bitters and a good vermouth are used.  Serviceable in an old fashioned and in Coke.

2) Does well in all applications. The sour has a nice whiskey muddiness but doesn’t clash with the lemon juice. The Manhattan is good, but the herbal notes in the HH throw it slightly off balance. Does very well in an old fashioned and in Coke.

Parting words: These are both excellent value bourbons from, yes you guessed it, Heaven Hill. It’s something of a specialty of theirs. Evan Williams BiB is new  to Michigan. I had never tried it before and while it didn’t blow me away it certainly met expectations. As much as I appreciate the higher proof and enjoy the BiB style, I almost think I enjoy the standard Evan Williams a bit more. Seems like it has older whiskey in the mix that the BiB doesn’t because of the requirements for BiBs. At any rate, this is still a good value. Evan Williams BiB is recommended.

The Heaven Hill line is sold primary in the American South, but we do get one wretched expression here in Michigan, the 80 proof Old Heaven Hill (gold label). I wouldn’t use that to clean my drain. Heaven Hill BiB is infinately better. It is in the classic Heaven Hill style. The yeast and corn are the stars here. The yeast provides the trademark mint/eucalyptus (and tarragon and basil to my palate) flavors with the rye riding shortgun. The corn brings the sweet caramel out from the wood. This is not one of the top 5 whiskeys I have ever had, but it stands alongside Very Old Barton BiB one of the best bourbon values, period. To sum up, I will quote my friend and bourbon connoisseur Cliff. Upon tasting Heaven Hill white label at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival last fall he remarked, “This is good bourbon. This is good bourbon. This is solid bourbon!” Heaven Hill BiB, 6 y/o (white label) is highly recommended.