A & G Michigan Brandy Reserve

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw , Michigan, USA

Grapes: Chardeonnay, Pinot Gris, Vidal Clanc.

Place of origin: Michigan, USA.

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Note: Aged in Michigan, and French oak.

Michigan state minimum: $46

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Light. Raisins, leather, toasted almonds.

Palate: Semi-sweet, medium bodied. Vanilla, grape soda, toasted French oak.

Finish: Juicy and hot.

Parting words: When I first opened this brandy, I didn’t like it at all. I was reluctant to even review it, because I didn’t know if I wanted to post something that might serve as discouragement to Michigan brandy-makers. You see, I’ve been begging, pleading, and whining about Michigan brady for years now, and I didn’t want to complain about one of the few Michigan brandies currently being made!

I’m glad I didn’t review this brandy right when I opened it because it’s grown on me since then. It’s still not making any of my favorites lists, but it was pretty good mixed, and once I got past the sweetness, it was actually pretty good in a snifter.

A & G Reserve is not going to blow anyone away, but it’s a nice step up for someone used to Christian Borhters or Martell VS. It’s a little expensive for a mixing brandy but it does well mixed. It might make an interesting alternative to bourbon or rum in eggnog, too.

The standard craft distilling mark-up applies here, so I can’t really sneeze at $46. A & G Michigan Brandy Reserve is recommended.

Eastern Kille Toasted Barrel Finish Barrel Strength, Holiday Market selection

Maker: Eastern Kille, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Selected by: Holiday Market, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA

Style: Toasted barrel finished Michigan straight, rye recipe, bourbon

Age: 3 y/o (Barreled 10/31/17, bottled 11/4/20)

Batch: 70139 (or TOB9)

Barrel: TOB62420-9

Proof: 125.2 (62.6% ABV)

Purchased for $45.

Note: Tasted with a splash of water.

Appearance: Dark copper.

Nose: Oak, sawdust, wood varnish, ash, whiff of amaretto.

Palate: More sawdust and toasted oak, with some sweet dessert flavors lurking somewhere in the background.

Finish: Sawdust, then burn.

Parting words: Eastern Kille (Gray Skies until dumb Campari threatened them with a lawsuit over the word sky, which they apparently own now), is a distillery and bar in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Like many other businesses of the type, Eastern Kille also gets distribution around the state. I thought I had reviewed one of their products before, but it turns out I hadn’t.

They seem to be one of the distilleries that is trying to do things “the right way” so I jumped at the chance to try a single barrel selection from one of my favorite places to buy spirits. The toasted barrel appealed to me because rebarreling can sometimes be a good way to give young whiskeys a little more depth and oak character. The downside is that if the whiskey is left in the second barrel too long or the finishing barrel is too small (or both) the wood can overwhelm the spirit, and turn it into what I call “beaver bourbon.”

Sadly, the latter is what has happened here. Eastern Kille Toasted Barrel Finish is an overly woody, unbalanced whiskey. There are some interesting things going on under all that oak, but they fade as soon as that finish hits like a 2×4. I tried mixing it with some success in a boulevadier, but that was all it was good in. The oak quickly overwhelms everything else, even a Manhattan made with a bold vermouth.

Eastern Kille Toasted Barrel Finish is not recommended. That said, I’m not giving up on this distillery. There’s a good, solid base here so I’m eager to try their standard bourbon. Watch this space for that review!

St. Julian Michigan Grappa

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA

Grape: Traminette

Style: Pomace Brandy

ABV: 40%

Price: $20/375 ml (only available at St. Julian tasting rooms)

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Alcohol, grape stems, white pepper, ginger, violets.

Palate: Full-bodied, semi-dry. Yellow cayenne, pepper melange, lavender.

Finish: Fresh, clean, more lavender.

It’s much drier and spicier than the other grappa

Parting words: One of my common social media rants about the state of craft spirits in Michigan is frustration at the lack of brandy being produced in a state that makes quite a bit of quality wine. Along with Black Star Farms, St. Julian is one of the few wineries in the state actually making brandy. This “grappa” (Italian for pomace brandy) is the best brandy I’ve had from them.

It’s much drier and spicier than the other grappa I currently have open, one from Moscato grapes. It’s good, but Traminette’s spice does wonderful things to this spirit. I like it a lot. It’s my favorite brandy in my current rotation. At $20, it’s an easy buy, too. St. Julian Michigan Grappa is highly recommended.

Featherbone Bourbon Whiskey

Maker: Journeyman, Three Oaks, Berrien County, Michigan, USA.20190823_222646.jpg

Style: Wheat/Rye bourbon whiskey (not straight)

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $50

Appearance: Orangy copper.

Nose: Wood shop, licorice.

Palate: Full-bodied and hot. Licorice, cinnamon gum, strawberry candy.

Finish: Hot and woody.

Parting words: Journeyman is a whiskey distillery located in the heart of Southwest Michigan wine country. They’re in the perfect place to capitalize on tourist traffic but they don’t content themselves cottage-dwellers wandering in, they make an effort to produce unique, high-quality spirits.

The flavors are largely good, but it could be better integrated and have less sawdust in the nose and on the palate. That comes with more time in a full-sized barrel. I’m hoping they are allowing the Featherbone to linger longer and longer with every batch, so that future editions will be less harsh and more velvety.

The hardest thing about rating micro-distilled whiskeys is factoring in the price. I would not pay $50 for something like this from a big bourbon producer, but is it acceptable from a small one? Maybe it would be if it were 100 proof or higher, but at 90 proof, Featherbone garners only a mild recommendation.

 

Belly Up Bourbon

Maker: Motor City Gas, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA20190111_164605.jpg

Style: Bourbon finished in rum barrels

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Price: I forgot (only available at distillery).

Mixed: Due to limited time frame, I only tried a couple. Very good in a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned.

Appearance: Medium-light copper.

Nose: Toasted hazelnuts, caramel, new leather.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Grade A maple syrup, vanilla cream soda, cinnamon.

Finish: Hot and a little syrupy, fading into oak.

Parting words: Motor City Gas is a bar/distillery on the eastern edge of downtown Royal Oak, Michigan. Most other Bar/Distillery combos focus on using their stable of spirits in cocktails, but at MCG the emphasis is on the whiskeys themselves, of which there are a bewildering amount. When I was there, they had seventeen different whiskeys and whiskey-based liqueurs on the menu, including bourbon, rye, corn whiskey, malt whiskey, oat whiskey and ginger and hickory nut liqueurs. Most of the whiskeys were finished or infused with rum, apple cider, hops, apple pie, and stout barrels making an appearance. There were a couple peated whiskeys too, with a peated malt and a peated bourbon (review coming soon) on the menu.

At the time I bought this bottle, I didn’t realize this bourbon was finished in a rum barrel ( I may have been a tad tipsy at time of purchase), until I sat down to write this review. If I hadn’t know that I probably wouldn’t have guessed. The rum barrel brings a sweet, slightly syrupy, vanilla taste that works very well in classic cocktails. I don’t remember the price but a full bottle is pretty expensive. The 375 ml bottles cost the same per ml but as I’ve said before, it’s better to pour out half of a $30 bottle than three quarters of a $60 one. Belly Up Bourbon is recommended.

Traverse City Whiskey Co. North Coast Rye

Maker: Traverse City Whiskey Company, Traverse City Whiskey Co., Michigan, USA20181114_115315.jpg

Style: High-rye blended rye.

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $40

Appearance: Burnt orange.

Nose: Oak, peppermint, woodruff, alcohol, basil.

Palate: Toffee, butterscotch, burn.

Finish: Starlight mints, oak.

Mixed: Adds a pleasant minty note to classic cocktails like the Sazerac, Manhattan and Brooklyn. Undistinguished with ginger ale.

Parting words: When sourced Traverse City Whiskey Co. whiskey first hit shelves, I was very skeptical of whether they would ever actually distill anything, let alone anything good. I’m glad to see my skepticism was unfounded! I reviewed their first release, Traverse City Whiskey Co. Bourbon back in 2012, with friend-of-the-blog Amy, on the shores of Walloon Lake. Watch it here.

If you like Bulleit Rye, you’ll like this. It’s in the same minty style. The label says that it was distilled by TCWC themselves and is a blend of 100% (non-straight) rye and straight rye. My first suspicion was that this was a blend of Indiana rye and TCWC’s own distillate, but I’ll take the label at its word.

Assuming it’s all accurate, more micro-distillers should be making good blends like this instead of rushing underaged bourbons and ryes to the market for inflated prices. Speaking of the price, it’s not terrible when one factors in the usual micro-distiller inflation, although Bulleit is $13 less. North Coast Rye is recommended.

Petoskey Stone Gin

Maker: High Five Spirits, Petoskey, Michigan, USA20180519_183720.jpg

Style: Dry

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $30

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Juniper, lemon/lime soda, licorice, peppermint.

Palate: Full-bodied and dry. Juniper, cinnamon.

Finish: Eucalyptus cough drops and lemon heads.

Mixed: OK in a Martini and Negroni. Very nice with tonic and in a Tom Collins.

Parting words: The Petoskey stone is the state stone of Michigan. It’s common around lakeshores in the northwestern Lower Peninsula, especially near Charlevoix and, you guessed it, Petoskey. Polished Petoskey stones are a popular souvenir from summer vacations in the area. They’re chunks of fossilized coral formed in the Devonian period roughly 400 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs. Loads of Petoskey Stones were deposited in northern Michigan by glaciers at some period in the past, unknown to Wikipedia. As real midwestern heads remember from school, large, shallow inland seas covered much of the central US in the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras. As a result, fossils of sea life are common throughout the region.

High Five is a start-up micro-distillery in Petoskey with a tasting room. It’s owned by brothers Adam and Mike Kazanowski along with someone named Mike Kolkmeyer. As far as I can tell, their only products so far are Gypsy Vodka and this. They say that a rum (unaged one assumes) is on the way next.

Petoskey Gin is a drinkable, juniper-forward gin that excels with tonic and in a Tom Collins. It’s a summertime-at-the-lake gin. Not too weird, not too demanding, not too expensive. Well, two outta three. $30 is too much for this, but with the standard micro-distillery mark up, it’s not too far out to sea, or out to lake, as it were. Petoskey Stone Gin is mildly recommended.

 

 

Barrel Reserve Old Cockney Gin

Maker: Two James, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Style: Barrel-aged dry gin

ABV: 45.5%

Michigan state minimum: $44

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Alcohol, juniper.

Palate: Sweetness, alcohol, juniper.

Finish: Dry and coniferous.

Mixed: Gives a nice, clean Pine-sol® aroma to classic gin cocktails.

Parting words: This gin is wildly unbalanced. Its sibling, Old Cockney, teeters on the edge of enjoyability, but the barrel-aged version falls right off the cliff. Most barrel-aged gins bring a creamy sweetness to cocktails, but that’s entirely absent here. No mixer can really stand up to the agressive piney-ness of this gin. It leaves all cocktails in ruins, no matter how good or potent the mixers. For $2 less, you can get Valentine’s barrel rested Liberator gin which is superior in every way. Barrel Reserve Old Cockney Gin is not recommended.

Wakefire

Maker: Blake’s, Armada (ar-MAY-duh), Michigan, USA20170705_162046

Style: Dry apple cider with cherries & orange peel

ABV: 6.5%

Price: $10/six pack of cans (Binny’s)

Appearance: Orange light bubbles.

Nose: Apple juice with a squirt of black cherry.

Palate: Medium bodied. Crisp apple, hint of cherry juice and citrus.

Finish: Biggest cherry flavor is here. A little citrus identifiable as orange peel when I look at the can.

Parting words: I bought Wakefire to have a flavored cider option at my annual Michigan-themed party in June. It was the more popular cider, even over a high quality dry cider also in a can. I didn’t get a chance to taste it that day, but I did later and I understood why. It’s easy drinking, but with enough flavor to avoid being dull. The cherry and orange peel are barely there, but I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. If the can says it has certain flavors, I expect those flavors to be present, but I also don’t enjoy ciders with too much flavor. If I ever resolve that conundrum, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, Wakefire is recommened.