Woodinville Private Select, Holiday Market, barrel 4884

Maker: Woodinville, Woodinville, Washington, USA

Style: Single barrel, barrel strength, straight bourbon.

Age: NAS (at least four years old).

Proof: 121.28 (60.64% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $70

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Spicy. Caramel, hot pepper jam, mace, cassia.

Palate: Full bodied and lucious. Caramel and cream, with big burn on the end. Water calms things down a bit, but doesn’t rob it of its richness. It also brings out the char and a little chocolate.

Finish: Sweet and oaky, in the “dusty” bourbon way.

Parting words: Woodinville is a farm-to-bottle distillery in the wine country near Seattle. Like many micro distilleries around the US, they claim the late Dave Driscoll as a formative influence on their business. After parting ways with Maker’s Mark in 2008, Driscoll went into business as a travelling consultant and worked with scores of start up distilleries over the next ten years, Woodinville included.

I’m not very well acquainted with Woodinville, and this is the first bottle I’ve purchased, so I had no expectations upon opening it. When I first opened it, I drank it mostly on the rocks, and I was not particularly impressed. Once I started drinking it in a Glencairn glass with a splash of water, my opinion changed immensely.

It has a richness that reminds me a lot of some of my favorite old “dusty” discontinued bourbons. I don’t remember how old it is, but I don’t really care, frankly. It’s one of the best “craft” bourbons I’ve had. $70 is a perfectly reasonable price given the quality and proof. I really like this, and I can’t wait to try more Woodinville selections. Woodinville Private Select, Holiday Market selection (barrel 4884) is highly recommended.

Eastern Kille Bottled In Bond

Maker: Eastern Kille, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Style: standard recipe, pot distilled straight bourbon.

Age: Not disclosed but at least 4 y/o by law.

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Purchased for $48 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Sawdust, anise, over-roasted almonds.

Palate: Full-bodied and mild. Caramel, barrel char, dark chocolate, dash of amaretto.

Finish: Hot and woodsy.

Mixed: Performed pretty well in Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, with Coke, and with Cherry Coke.

Parting words: To me, the moment when a new bourbon distillery comes of age is when it can release a bottled in bond bourbon. So I was very excited to try this from Michigan’s own Eastern Kille. It feels like they’ve arrived.

But where have they arrived? I’m split. The nose and finish have that sharp sawdust note that I used to associate with small barrel bourbon, but I’m not so sure that’s where it’s from anymore (mashing maybe?). I don’t fine that aspect very pleasant, and it occasionally interfered with mixers. The palate is silky and chocolatey and very good, though, so I don’t know where to land.

Water turns the sawdust down but it also turns down the chocolate and char. So I think I’m going to give Eastern Kille’s BiB a recommendation, with a few drops of water or with strong mixers (boulevardier, Manhattan with good vermouth, or Cherry Coke!). There are some really nice things going in this bourbon, and I hope they continue refining it until it’s highly recommended!

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!

Thistle Finch Small Batch, Batch 09

Maker: Thistle Finch, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA

Style: Wheated (!) Straight Rye Whiskey

Age: 2 y/o

Bottle date: November 13, 2019.

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Purchased for $47 (PLCB Monroeville-Northern Pike)

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Sawdust, cut grass.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Allspice, hay.

Finish: Grass, dark chocolate, burn.

Parting words: I knew nothing about Thistle Finch before I saw this bottle on the shelf at the PLCB store I stopped at while coming home from a family vacation in Somerset Pennsylvania last summer. I’ve heard Pennsylvanians complain about the PLCB stores for years but I had never experienced one until then. Folks, it’s all true. They’re terrible. I went to that store to pick up some Dad’s Hat Rye and I had a list of Pennsylvanian wines I wanted to look for. They had none of those wines, and I was only able to find Dad’s Hat after wandering around the store for twenty minutes. It was in a special “made in Pennsylvania” section next to Pumpkin vodka, and several bottles of sickly sweet plonk. Bad selection, bad prices, poorly organized, it was awful. Like a LCBO store but much worse.

I picked up this bottle of Thistle Finch Rye from the bourbon section where it was lurking for some reason. I mostly picked it up because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find Dad’s Hat, but since they didn’t have any of the wine I was looking for I went ahead and bought Thistle Finch too. I’m glad I did. It has a lot of typical young rye flavors but has a roundedness that was nice, maybe due to the wheat in the recipe, highly unusual for American ryes.

It’s ok neat, but it really shines in cocktails, where it works well in drinks that might usually call for higher proof rye, on account of its aromatic nature. It did very well in a Manhattan, with ginger ale and orange bitters, and in a couple of cocktails I have named the Sterling Hayden (2 oz rye & 1/2 oz Aquavit), and a Skink (2 oz rye & 1/2 oz green Chartreuse). Both of the latter play up the rye’s herbaceousness.

I know next to nothing about the Thistle Finch folks, but this is a solid rye, that should only be getting better in later batches, if they let some rest, like they say they will. The distillery is located next to a brewery in an old tobacco warehouse in Lancaster. It’s one of these bar/distillery operations, and a pretty successful one by all appearances.

$47 isn’t cheap, but think of it as an investment in the future. Thistle Finch Small Batch Straight Rye Whiskey is recommended.

Wyoming Whiskey Private Stock, Red Wagon selection

Maker: Wyoming Whiskey, Kirby, Wyoming, USA.

Style: Wheat recipe bourbon.

Age: 5 y/o (according to paragraph on back label)

Proof: 107.72 (53.86% ABV)

Selected for Red Wagon stores, Troy & Rochester, Michigan, USA.

Barrel #4743

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Oak, alcohol, custard.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Caramel, brown sugar, candy cake decorations, then burn. With water: Even sweeter with more oak, but with less burn, obviously.

Finish: Clean and hot. With water: blondies, oak.

Mixed: Outstanding in classic cocktails, Kentucky mule, and even with cola or ginger ale.

Parting words: During the first wave of micro-distillers there were a lot of distilleries making bourbon who were trying to find shortcuts to get product on the market as soon as possible. They resorted to gimmicks like weird grains, small barrels, magical cave water, historical fiction, overpowering finishes, ill-conceived technologies (eg TerrePure®) and flat-out lies to try to ride the bourbon wave to profitability. I grew very tired of these cheesy “craft” distilleries very quickly.

There were a few micro-distilleries that seemed to be committed to doing things the “right” way, though. They used full-sized barrels, planned on aging the whiskey properly, used unique but not gimmicky recipes, and, most importantly, they hired people who knew that they were doing. It was clear from the beginning that Wyoming Whiskey is in that second category, so I made a mental note to watch for their bourbon on shelves. A few months ago, I was perusing Red Wagon’s Rochester location and to my delight I saw a Wyoming Whiskey selection in an in-store display! I grabbed it and brought it home.

I have to admit that I was disappointed at first sip. There was a strong wood varnish note that was very off-putting neat, so I laid off the bottle for a while after that. The next time I poured from it I used it in a Manhattan and it was great. Next I tried an Old Fashioned and it was even better. By the time I tried it neat again, it had blossomed into a beautiful, classic, but still distinctive, wheater. Now I can’t wait to try some more selections and I’m fantasizing about possible future releases with ages in the double digits.

Anyway, I like this bourbon a lot, obviously. I’m less of a fan of the price, but factoring in the high proof, wheat recipe, age and the usual micro-mark-up, I think $60 is a fair, though more than that might be pushing it. Wyoming Whiskey Private Stock, Red Wagon selection is recommended.

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.

Wilderness Trail Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Bottled in Bond

Maker: Wilderness Trail, Danville, Kentucky, USA20191025_165431.jpg

Style: Single barrel, sweet mash, wheated, bonded bourbon

Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)

Proof: 100 (50% ABV)

Barrel #15A23, Bottle 147/269

Price: $50 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Spicy. Cayenne, caramel, new oak, wintergreen.

Palate: Fruit punch, cherry, caramel, burn. Water brings out more wood and sweetness, but makes it less complex.

Finish: Hot but fruity with peppermint. Water shifts the finish away from peppermint and towards wintergreen.

Mixed: Excells in every cocktail I tried it in. I did not try it in cola or ginger ale because it’s $50.

Pating words: Wilderness Trail began operations in 2013 and has distinguished itself as one of the distilleries doing things the right way by distilling their whiskeys themselves, aging in standard 53 gallon barrels and letting them sit in those barrels for at least four years. WT’s stated goal is to get their regular releases up to 6-8 years old. That’s right in my bourbon sweet spot, so I’m really looking forward to that.

As for the bourbon itself, WTBiB doesn’t fit the profile of a standard wheater. There’s more fruit, mint and spice than I expected. If I had to compare it to another wheater, it would be Larceny or Rebel Yell, but I don’t think Wilderness Trail could be mistaken for either of those. It has a unique, but still bourbon-y profile.

I do wish it was closer to Larceny in price. Hopefully the price will come down as their stocks go up. Factoring in its unique character, unusual Sweet Mash process, and the standard micro-distillery inflation, Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond is recommended.