Maker: Journeyman, Three Oaks, Berrien County, Michigan, USA.
Style: Wheat/Rye bourbon whiskey (not straight)
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.
Maker: Motor City Gas, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA
Style: Bourbon finished in rum barrels
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.
Maker: Traverse City Whiskey Company, Traverse City Whiskey Co., Michigan, USA
Style: High-rye blended rye.
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.
Maker: High Five Spirits, Petoskey, Michigan, USA
Michigan state minimum: $30
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.
Maker: Two James, Detroit, Michigan, USA
Style: Barrel-aged dry gin
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, USA
Style: Dry apple cider with cherries & orange peel
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.
Maker: Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery, St. John’s, Michigan, USA
Distiller: Red Cedar, East Lansing, Michigan, USA (From Uncle John’s own cider)
Age: NAS (2-6 y/o)
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.
Maker: Journeyman, Three Oaks, Michigan, USA
Style: Dry gin made with bilberries (a European cousin to blueberries).
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.
Maker: Uncle John’s, St. John’s, Michigan, USA
Varietal: 100% Bartlett
Style: Dry Perry
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.