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.



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.

Uncle John’s Fruit House Apple Brandy

Maker: Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery, St. John’s, Michigan, USA20170627_154846

Distiller: Red Cedar, East Lansing, Michigan, USA (From Uncle John’s own cider)

Age: NAS (2-6 y/o)

ABV: 45%

Price: Don’t remember/375 ml. Only available at the winery. Complimentary bottle.

Appearance: Bright copper.

Nose: Apple cider, cola, caramel, leather.

Palate: Sweet and medium bodied. Salted caramel, candy apple, alcohol.

Finish: Lavender, raisins, toasted oak. Long.

Mixed: I tried this brandy in two cocktails, both of which put the brandy front and center. The first was the classic Jack Rose (with lime juice and grenadine). It was good. The second was the Marconi Wireless (basically an apple brandy Manhattan). It was just OK. The pungent sweet vermouth I used overwhelmed the brandy.

Parting words: From my “A Visit to Uncle John’s“: “We then moved on to the really good stuff, apple brandy. They have twelve barrels aging at the Cider Mill. They have two different types of barrels to age their brandy. Some is aged in toasted French oak (in barrels intended for Calvados) and some in Michigan oak barrels, also toasted. The Michigan oak barrels were sourced by St. Julien’s to be distributed to wineries across the state. Mike prefers the French oak barrels but again credits St. Julien’s with doing a good thing for wineries in the state by facilitating the use of home grown wood in wine and spirits production. It’s a cool thing for a Michigan producer to be able to say that [its] product has been aged in Michigan oak.”

Uncle John’s Apple Brandy was fine mixed, but it’s really a back porch neat sipping brandy. I don’t remember the price but I don’t remember it being unreasonable for a half sized bottle. It’s made in very limited quantities (currently sold out) so get some if you’re ever in the Lansing area. Uncle John’s Apple Brandy is recommended.

Bilberry Black Hearts

Maker: Journeyman, Three Oaks, Michigan, USA20170613_212324

Style: Dry gin made with bilberries (a European cousin to blueberries).

ABV: 45%

Michigan State Minimum: $35

Notes: MOSA certified organic. Made via maceration.

Appearance: Crystal clear.

Nose: Alcohol, juniper, vanilla bean, cocoa bean hulls, candied orange, fresh blueberries.

Palate: Sweet, full bodied, fruity.

Finish: Plum, orange hard candy, cherry juice.

Mixed: Fine with tonic and in a Tom Collins. Fruitiness took some getting used to but once I did I liked it. In snootier cocktails like martinis, perfect martinis, negronis and Princetons it did well and never got lost thanks to the titular bilberries.

Parting words: I went through a period of time when I had given up on “craft” gins because they all tasted the same. I’m glad I am over that, because this is a uniquely tasty gin. The reason is the bilberries, scientific name Vaccinium myrtillus (high bush blueberries are Vaccinium corymbosum). The taste is very similar to blueberries but maybe with a little cherry thrown in. Their influence makes this gin worth the relatively steep $35 price tag. Journeyman is doing some stuff. Bilberry Black Hearts is recommended.


Uncle John’s Perry

Maker: Uncle John’s, St. John’s, Michigan, USA20170302_115559.jpg

Varietal: 100% Bartlett

Style: Dry Perry

ABV: 5%

Price: $11/750 ml (Binny’s)

Note: Note: At the time of purchase, I received a complimentary bottle of Russet cider and of Uncle John’s Apple Brandy.

Appearance: Bright yellow with a big fizzy head.

Nose: Fresh cut pear, golden delicious apples, kiwi, papaya.

Palate: Dry and effervescent. Pear peel, Meyer lemon, leather mineral water.

Finish: Drying and slightly tart.

Parting words: Uncle John’s Perry is part of their line of premium ciders including Russet (blend of Russet varieties, with Golden Russet making up the majority), Melded (a blend of English, French and American heritage cider apples), and Baldwin (single variety cider from Lake Michigan Shore apples).

This perry is a source of pride for Uncle John’s co-owner and operator Mike Beck. It’s easy to see why. Many perries taste and smell like fermented syrup from a can of pears. This perry is beautifully dry and gently tannic, all made using Bartlett, the same variety of pears that end up in the can! Mike told me that there are heirloom pear varieties that are intended for use in perry but they are even harder to find than cider apples. If anybody reading this has more information about perry pears, please comment!

Anyway, this is the best perry I’ve ever had. It made me rethink the category as a whole. America needs more good perry! Uncle John’s Perry is highly recommended.

Cider Rosé

20161210_161342.jpgMaker: Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery, St. John’s, Michigan, USA

Apples: Geneva, Redfield, Watermelon, Niedzwetzkyana, others.

Style: Dry rosé cider.

ABV: 6.7%

Price: $18/750 ml (I think)

Note: At the time of purchase, I received a complimentary bottle of Russet cider and of Uncle John’s Apple Brandy, plus a discount on this bottle and others I purchased.

Appearance: Medium pink with moderately large bubbles. Big champagne-like head at first, but it dissipates quickly.

Nose: Sandalwood, ginger, apple.

Palate: Dry and medium bodied. Slightly tart but grows as it warms. Cardamom, ginger, papaya, watermelon, pomegranate, Granny Smith apples.

Finish: Applewood, big chewy tannins.

Parting words: This is a true rosé cider made from red fleshed apples, not turned pink by the addition of grape juice or something else. It’s firmly in the dry, structured, style of Uncle John’s specialty ciders. More tart than Uncle John’s Russet, it’s closer to Melded but the acid isn’t so much citrus as it is tart apples and pomegranates.
It’s fine with food, but Cider Rosé may clash with acidic salad dressings or cabbagey vegetables.

Uncle John’s Cider Rosé is recommended.
My visit to Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery & Cider Mill is chronicled here.

Three way head to head micro-rye tasting: Journeyman vs Few vs Union Horse

J= Journeyman Last Feather Rye, batch 17wp-1468093192015.jpg

F= FEW Rye, batch 15

UH= Union Horse Reunion Straight Rye, batch 1


J: Journeyman, Three Oaks, Michigan, USA

F: FEW, Evanston, Illinois, USA

UH: Union Horse, Lenexa, Kansas, USA



F: “At least one year”*

UH: “Over two years”*

*Age statements like these are not in line with regulatory standards


J: 90 (45% ABV)

F: 93 (46.5% ABV)

UH: 93 (46.5% ABV)


J: $50 (Michigan State Minimum)

F: $60 (Michigan State Minimum)

UH: $39 (MSRP)

Note: Received a complimentary bottle of UH from FleischmanHillard PR for review purposes.


J: Medium copper.

F: A little lighter but still copper.

UH: Quite a bit darker. Shiny auburn.


J: Bananas, cherry bubble gum, alcohol, oak.

F: Christmas tree scented candle, orange peel.

UH: Cut grass, toasted grain. Similar to Canandian Club.


J: Banana, black licorice, alcohol.

F: Mild. Peppermint.

UH: Full bodied and sweet. Brown sugar, oak, alcohol.


J: Big licorice that lingers.

F: Spearmint gum.

UH: Grassy and sweet, then Grape-Nuts cereal.

Mixed: With ginger ale, in a Manhattan and a Sazerac

J: Brought big licorice to all three. Excelled in the manhattan.

F: Did fine in everything. Nothing offensive.

UH: Same as F above.

Parting words: This is one of those head to head tastings that ends up making me mad. The overall winner was Last Feather Rye, but with a couple concerns. I loved the licorice and banana flavors but those are flavors I don’t expect out of rye whiskey. Nothing wrong with that on its own, but those flavors combined with the absence of the word “straight” on the front label makes me wonder if Journeyman is flavoring its rye, a la Templeton. This is legal, but should be disclosed to consumers. If I had my act together, I would have emailed or called them to ask, but I didn’t think of that possibility until now. I’ll try to get that information in the near future. To be fair, FEW isn’t straight either, but with FEW there’s nothing in the glass outside of the typical range of flavors for American ryes.

FEW Rye was ok, but nothing too extraordinary. It drank like a less refined version of Bulleit rye. The mintiness does fine in cocktails but it was overwhelming neat. Reunion was a horse of a different color. Its profile was closer to a Canadian blended rye than any American rye I’ve had recently. It’s better balanced than FEW, but not as flavorful as Last Feather.

The elephant in the room with all of these is the price. Journeyman is $50, which is too high for a whiskey that isn’t a straight. FEW is $60, which is just plain dumb. Reunion is priced better and is a straight, but is still pushing it when it comes to price.

Journeyman is mildly recommended, FEW is not recommended and Reunion is recommended (at or near MRSP)