Metze’s Select, 2015 Medley

Maker: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA20160401_170206-1.jpg

Age: 7 y/o

Composition: Medley of two mashbills: 38% 21% rye bourbon distilled in 2006 + 3% 36% rye bourbon distilled in 2006 + 59% 21% rye bourbon disilled in 2008.

Proof: 93% (46.5% ABV)

Purchased for $75 (Vine & Table. $70 at Binny’s).

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Spicy. Hot thai peppers, pink peppercorn then malt, butterscotch.

Palate: Medium bodied and surprisingly hot. Habanero hot sauce with some background amaretto, oak and vanilla notes.

Finish: Aggressive. Refuses to stop burning your mouth even after a minute or two. A fleeting taste of chocolate ice cream on the front end, though.

Parting words: I have tasted some really great whiskeys distilled at MGPI in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Just about every bottle I’ve had from Smooth Ambler’s Old Scout line, for starters. Metze’s Select is unique because it’s the first distillery bottling from MGPI that I am aware of. Only 6,000 bottles were released so it truly is a limited edition. It’s named for Greg Metze, MGPI’s long time master distiller.

When I paid $75 for this bottle, I realized that I was probably paying too much. I was right. This “medley” isn’t undrinkable but it’s unbalanced and shows no integration whatsoever. There is some of the soft fruity sweetness that one associates with its former sibling-distillery Four Roses, but that’s overwhelmed by brash, immature chili pepper and alcohol flavors. Water doesn’t seem to help this at all. It only washes any flavor out entirely.

I’m not sure what happened but I’m guessing that the seven-year-old bourbon component (59%) is what’s dragging this down. Seven years of age is an uncertain time for a bourbon. Some are already world beaters at that age and others taste like they just came off the still. Metze’s Select has way too much of the latter to come close to being worth the money. This is the most disappointing bourbon I’ve tasted in a while. Metze’s Select, 2015 Medley is not recommended.

Huber Starlight Distillery Private Reserve Brandy

Maker: Starlight Distillery, Borden, Indiana, USA (Huber’s Orchard & Winery)wpid-20151029_104412.jpg

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Price: $60 (website)

Note: My wife and I received a complimentary tasting and tour and a 10% discount at time of purchase.

Appearance: Medium copper with thick, sticky legs.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, golden raisins, toffee, pinch of clove.

Palate: Full bodied and medium dry. Dried figs, alcohol, vanilla, salted caramel, custard.

Finish: Back to raisins and oak. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Not at all. Fades a little too quickly though.

Parting words: Starlight Distillery has been making brandy since 2001 and selling it since 2004. They sell two (grape) brandies, actually. There is the Private Reserve, and the cheaper Starlight Distillery Brandy which they didn’t let me taste.

Master distiller Lisa Wicker: “You don’t want that one, it’s only distilled once.”

Me: “That’s OK. Armagnac is too, right?”

Lisa: [laughs and pours me the reserve]

Having been in the business for so long (by micro distiller standards) means they have the reserves to make a consistently good product and that they do. I emailed Lisa about what sort of cooperage and grapes they use for this product, but I have had no reply as of press time. That’s OK, though. Lisa & Tim are two of the good guys and both very busy individuals.

I hosted a bourbon writer in my house recently and he picked this bottle out of my liquor cabinet as we were sitting down to an after dinner chat and sip. He was very impressed. Since we were on the topic of brandy, I asked him about a brandy micro-distillery that near him in Kentucky that had been getting a lot of press lately. “Their stuff is good,” he said, “but not as good as this.”

So there you have it. This is a very good American brandy at a decent price, one that more than holds its own with brandies big and small. Huber Starlight Distillery Private Reserve Brandy is recommended.

Heritage HSR, 2010

Maker: Huber, Starlight, Indiana, USA.wpid-2015-10-20-18.40.58.jpg.jpeg

Grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot.

Place of origin: Indiana, USA.

ABV: 13.9%

Price: $40 (website)

Note: My wife and I received a complimentary tasting and tour and a 10% discount at time of purchase.

Appearance: Dark ruby red.

Nose: Oak, blueberries, black cherries, dark chocolate.

Palate: Blackberry juice, old oak, raspberry, blueberry juice, serrano ham, smoke.

Finish: Chewy and oaky with a faint background of fruit.

Parting words: Huber (not to be confused with Austrian winemaker Markus Huber) is one of Indiana’s oldest and most well regarded wineries. The have a couple stills too and make a variety of spirits, including excellent brandies and a good gin I reviewed here. Their strength is in their red wines, although their Chardonel and Traminette wines are also good. They produce varietal Blaufränkisch (aka Lemberger), Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and in some years Tannat, among others. Their most expensive (and probably best) wines are their Meritage Heritage red blends. We were particularly impressed with the 2012 and this 2010. The wife liked this one better so we purchased it.

Heritage 2010 HSR a tasty, structured, well balanced wine that evokes the best in California blends of this type. We had it with a meal featuring NY strip steaks topped with wine cap mushrooms and it performed swimmingly. It’s drinking well now, obviously, but it will still be good in the next 5 or even 10 years if you’re feeling adventurous.

$40 is more than I like to pay for wine since it’s usually past the point of diminishing returns, but Huber’s Heritage 2010 HSR is close enough to being worth the money that I can recommend it.

The only thing I disliked about this wine was how the cork crumbled when I tried to open it. The cork forced me to strain the wine and then decant into another bottle. Get a new cork supplier, Ted.

Eighteen Forty-Three Gin

Maker: Starlight Distillery, Starlight, Indiana, USA (Huber Winery)wpid-2015-07-16-11.35.41.jpg.jpeg

Style: American dry gin.

ABV: 46.2%

Price: $30 (distillery)

Note: My wife and I received a complimentary tour, tasting and a discount at the time I purchased this product from the distillery

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Alcohol, coriander, brie cheese rind, citron peel, juniper.

Palate: Sweet and full bodied. Alcohol, juniper, cane sugar, candy orange slices.

Finish: Sweet and fruity. Citrus, coriander seed, cinnamon.

Mixed: Does well in a Dry Martini. Very good in drinks involving red vermouth like Negronis and perfect martinis. Not great with tonic or in a Tom Collins. The earthy elements clash with the mixers in those last two.

Parting words: The first Huber to farm at the site of Huber Farms in Southern Indiana was Simon. Born in Baden Baden, Germany, he started farming in 1843 and the family has continued farming on the same site, only forty miles from the hot springs in French Lick, Indiana. Then as now, wine making and fruit production were the mainstays. Now the (much expanded) farm is a destination for pumpkins and other U-Pick favorites and is home to one of Indiana’s biggest and best wineries. They started distilling in 2001. Brandies are their best known spirits, but they also have vodka and gin (obviously) and a variety of fruit liqueurs and infusions, including an excellent blueberry liqueur. They have two stills currently, operated by owner Ted Huber and master distiller Lisa Wicker (formerly of Limestone Creek).

This gin is similar other craft gins (Few and Corsair spring to mind) but it has a pronounced aroma that I can’t quite put my finger on. Cubeb, maybe? At any rate, like those gins, 1843 is best in quality cocktails but pretty good neat too. Keep a bottle of Seagram’s next to it in the cabinet if you plan on guzzling a lot of Tom Collinses or G & Ts.

For a craft gin of this quality and ABV, $30 is a very good price. Eighteen Forty-Three Gin is recommended.

Enlighten

Maker: Chapman’s, Angola, Indiana, USAwpid-20141201_133600.jpg

Style: Kölsch style

ABV: 5.3%

Purchased for $11/4 pint cans

Appearance: Dark gold with a foamy head.

Nose: Sweet cereal, yeast.

Palate: medium bodied. Crisp, grassy and bitter with a subtle underpinning of sweetness.

Finish: Dry and bitter. Lasts quite some time.

Parting words: This is the first beer I’ve had from Chapman’s and it’s pretty good and a good example of the style. It’s a fine table beer and would be quite refreshing served ice cold in the summertime. The biggest problem is the price. For that much, I expect more than this by-the-numbers approach. Chapman’s Enlighten is mildly recommended.

Old Scout Ten

Maker: Smooth Ambler, Maxwelton, West Virginia, USAOld Scout 10

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Batch: 3

Bottled: 5/2/2013 by Nikki.

Age: 10 y/o

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Price: $55 Michigan State Minimum (this bottle purchased in Kentucky for $50)

Appearance: Dark copper with thin, evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Almond extract, leather, alcohol, dried flowers. More leathery and herbal with water.

On the palate: Full bodied, sweet and rich. Caramel, burn, amaretto candy, cocoa powder. With water more sweetness and some lavender and tarragon.

Finish: Hot. Red pepper flakes, with a touch of oak and caramel as it fades. Less hot with water and sweeter with a touch of basil or tarragon.

Parting words: Smooth Ambler is a breath of fresh air when it comes to micro-distillers/bottlers. Unlike the smoke and mirrors that usually goes with sourced whiskey in this country, Smooth Ambler has always been very up front about the origins of their whiskeys. Their bourbons and ryes are even called “Old Scout” as a nod to the fact that they are indeed sourced, or scouted, from elsewhere. This may not seem like a lot, but even the best known NDPs (Non-Distiller Producers) are usually less than candid about their products.

At any rate, lest that sound like faint praise, their whiskey is damn good too. I’ve reviewed MGPI bourbon before with mixed results. This one is an unqualified success. It shows excellent balance and works well as a rich, creamy after-dinner, cold-weather sipper. The family resemblance to Four Roses is in evidence. Old Scout has a certain aromatic quality (yeast-driven if I were to guess) that I get in Four Roses but no other Kentucky bourbon.

This bottle proves to me once and for all that MGPI can indeed produce high quality bourbon. At $50-$55 it’s not cheap but it’s 100 proof and very tasty. That earns Old Scout Ten a recommendation.

Rendezvous Rye

Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USArendezvous-bottle

Distillers: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana (6 y/o, 95% rye component) & Barton-1792, Bardstown, Kentucky (16 y/o, 80% Rye component)

Style: Indiana style rye whiskey (high rye)

Batch: 12A31

Age: 6 y/o (but blended with a 16 y/o)

Proof: 92 (46% ABV)

Appearance: Copper with a pinkish hue. Slightly cloudy.

Nose: Cedar, barbecue sauce, fresh cut grass.

On the palate: Medium bodied and soft. Dry with some spearmint. Water brings out a gentle sweetness to balance out the grassiness. Thyme, caramel, allspice, ginger.

Finish: Light, with a little sweetness but mostly tarragon and burn. Some char comes through and then softly fades. Much the same with water, but the burn has been transformed into a pleasant tingle.

Mixed: Very tasty in a Sazerac. Didn’t try it in anything else.

Parting Words: Rendezvous Rye was the first (or at least one of the first) products to be released by High West. The source material has shifted since that first bottling, but Rendezvous has been HW’s most consistant, and to me, most successful product. The tangy ketchup notes that plague Son of Bourye are here too, but they are kept firmly in the background by caramel and herbal flavors and aromas. Through prudent barrel selection and judicious mingling of ryes of two different styles, High West as created a rye that is very much worth seeking out. With rye supplies tightening, I hope they can continue to keep Rendezvous at an affordable price and at its current level of quality. Rendezvous Rye is recommended.

Prohibition Gin

Maker: Heartland, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

ABV: 40%

Appearance: Clear with long thin legs.

Nose: Neutral spirit sweetness, faint notes of juniper, cinnamon, pumelo, orange peel and lime peel.

On the palate: Medium bodied and soft. Sweet, with some bitter citrus peel and juniper notes.

Finish: Pleasantly citrusy without being sour. Some sweetness, but fades quickly.

Mixed: Works in G & Ts and Tom Collins but doesn’t distinguish itself. Makes for an interesting dry martini. The mild spice complements a mild vermouth very nicely.

Parting words: After having it in G & Ts for a month, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally got around to trying Prohibition Gin in a dry martini and neat. Those applications are where it really excels. The bottle claims that it is from a nineteenth century recipe. I don’t know how accurate that is, but this gin is a departure from the sharp, spicy  mainstream gins popular currently. I don’t know if it officially qualifies as an Old Tom Gin, either but it is close to that style. Sweet and subtle. For a micro-distilled product, it’s not too expensive either. Prohibition Gin is recommended.