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.

 

 

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Floodwall Apple Brandy

Maker: Copper & Kings, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

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Age: 4 y/o

Cooperage: Bourbon & sherry casks

ABV: 50%

Michigan state minimum: $46.75

Appearance: Medium dark copper.

Nose: Alcohol, new leather, white chocolate.

Palate: Full-bodied and sweet. Sweet sherry, old oak, toffee.

Finish: Rubber, oak, alcohol

Parting words: Copper & Kings is one of the few microdistillers that is taking brandy seriously. In fact, they do more than take it seriously, it’s the heart of their business. They have six brandies on Michigan shelves, including an unaged apple brandy and the aged Floodwall.

Floodwall has a lot of things going for it. It’s 100 proof, a rarity for brandy (although Laird’s does make a bonded apple brandy), is under $50 (a rarity for aged craft spirits), mixes well and tastes a little like an old Calvados.

That last item is also its greatest weakness, though. My favorite apple brandies are ones that are mature but still retain some apple character to balance out the cask characteristics. Old Calvados is usually all cask and Floodwall is too. In Floodwall’s case, the cause is not age, but heavy handed use of sherry cask. There are some interesting things in the nose and on the front end of the palate but it all quickly turns one dimensional. If you like big sherry finishes, you’ll probably like Floodwall, but I wasn’t very keen on it. Floodwall is not 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.

Free Run Cellars XO

Maker: Free Run Cellars, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA (Round Barn)

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Grape: Vidal Blanc.

Age: 8 y/o

ABV: 50%

Price: I forgot.

Note: At time of purchase, I received a complimentary tour, tasting, lunch, and discount on purchases. See my visit to Round Barn cellars here.

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Golden raisins, alcohol, oak, Juicy Fruit gum.

Palate: Light bodied and mild. Banana pudding with vanilla wafers.

Finish: Also mild. Alcohol, oak, fruit punch.

Parting words: Free Run was founded by Matt and Christian Moersch, sons of Round Barn founder (and former Tabor Hill winemaker) Rick Moersch. The name is a play on the “free run” juice of the initial grape crush and the brothers being given “free run” of the cellar by their father. Free Run began by specializing in estate, single vineyard wines, but has since branched out. Free Run’s “Epicurean” tasting room in Berrien Springs is more than the traditional “belly up to the bar” set up. It offers a culinary experience for groups (with paired wines of course) but it’s only open seasonally. Free Run’s Union Pier tasting room is more conventional.

At any rate, the label describes this brandy as “Cognac style” which it sort of is, though it would fall on the fruity and mild end of the Cognac spectrum, in spite of the high ABV. While I don’t like it as much as I liked the Free Run grappa (review here), it is an easy-drinking, even refreshing sipper that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend were it more readily available. I’m not sure if it’s made anymore, but if it isn’t I hope it gets put into production again but in bigger bottles and with wider distribuition. Free Run Cellars XO Brandy is recommended.

Brixx Gin

Maker: New Holland Distillery, Holland, Michigan, USA20171205_161207.jpg

Style: Dry gin finished in red wine barrels.

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $30

Appearance: Pinkish orange, like a light rosé.

Nose: Pomegranate seeds, chocolate orange, alcohol, leather.

Palate: Full bodied. Chili spiced wine.

Finish: Lemonheads, pine cleaner.

Mixed: Added a fruity note to most of the classic cocktails I tried, but does ok with tonic too. Not great in a dry martini, though.

Parting words: I had several questions about the gin and I sent the fine folks at New Holland a message with those questions a few months ago and they never responded, as usual. As a result, I have no idea what variety of wine the barrels held or if they were sourced from a Michigan winery or somewhere else. It would be cool if they were from Michigan, though.

This will probably be the last New Holland spirit I review because I’m sick of reviewing their stuff and not having my existance acknowledged even in the most basic ways. That said, Brixx is pretty good and the price isn’t awful for a barrel finished craft gin. Brixx is recommended.

 

Minor Case Rye

Maker: Limestone Branch, Lebanon, Kentucky, USA

Distiller: MGP, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA20170811_180024

Style: Low rye rye whiskey finished in sherry casks.

Age: 2 y/o

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $50

Thanks to Eric for the sample!

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Alcohol, black tea, cayenne, cut grass.

Palate: Ghost pepper, caramel, sugared dates.

Finish: Peppermint, serrano chili.

Parting words: There are a lot of micro-distilled products around with weird names. Minor Case Rye get its weird name honestly, though. Minor Case Beam was a Kentucky distiller active in the early twentieth century and first cousin to Jim Beam of Jim Beam fame. M.C. Beam as he was better known was partner and later sole owner of the T. J. Pottinger distillery in Gethsemane Station, Kentucky, near the famous Trappist monastery that was once home to writer and theologian Thomas Merton. M.C.’s son Guy was grandfather to Stephen and Paul Beam, the owners of Limestone Branch.

I try not to read a lot of reviews of products I’m planning on reviewing in the near future so I did my best to stay away from the gobs of reviews of Minor Case Rye that have come out recently. I tasted it semi-blind, not knowing the age, proof, or that it was finished although I suspect I knew that at one point. When I (re)learned that it was sherry-finished, I was surprised. I thought it had an interesting array of aromas, some of which are outside the usual stable of rye whiskey descriptors. The sherry influence didn’t come through at first. Nothing in the way of raisins or rancio flavors , only a rounded fruitiness providing structure for chilies and herbs. Once I knew to look for it, I found it, but I would not have guessed it.

I was also surprised by its age, two years old. This explains the capsacin flavors, but again, I would not have guessed that it was that young. The sherry finish is used deftly to mask the harsh flavors of young whiskey while still more or less incognito. That’s an impressive feat. I can say without reservation that Minor Case Rye is the best two year old rye whiskey I’ve had, finished or not.

The $50 price tag is what really gives me pause. My inner cheapskate strongly resists paying that much for a whiskey so young, but I gotta say it tastes like a $50 whiskey. That said, I do hope it gets older. Minor Case Rye is recommended.

 

A Visit to Castle & Key: A Photo Essay, pt 2

Last week, I posted part 1 of my photos of the Castle & Key distillery, FKA The Old Taylor Distillery. The photos were of the World’s Longest Rickhouse and some other buildings on the site that were not yet restored. This week, the photos will be of the distillery itself (and associated buildings), the springhouse and the the dam.

For further reading on this building and Castle & Key check out what friend-of-the-blog Chuck Cowdery has had to say about Old Taylor/Castle & Key here, and posts on Old Taylor’s sister distillery, Old Crow here and here.

Other friend-of-the-blog Fred Minnick takes better pictures than I do. He’s been to OT/C&K several times. Here’s his visits from 2015,  and 2013, just before the current owners purchased the property.

Also check out the Lipmans’ piece about Old Taylor and Old Crow from 1999 (with a 2015 update).

Without further ado…

 

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The iconic springhouse. 
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Columns holding up the springhouse roof. All of the springhouse is original, except for that roof, which has been replaced.
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The iconic view of the iconic key hole shaped springhouse. The pool is ten feet deep. The water looks murky but is perfectly clear when drawn out. Minimal filtration is needed for use. The water is high in calcium and magnesium. The benches now placed around the pool were found inside it!
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The top of the key with the new roof visable. The springhouse is popular for wedding, prom and other photos.
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The well house between the springhouse and the dam on Glenn’s Creek.

I took a short video of the dam and the well house too.

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Entering the boiler building.
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New skylight in boiler building, to eventually become a visitor’s center. The roof was repaired with materials recovered from other buildings on the campus.
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Where the boilers was.
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The front entrance to the distillery building, aka the castle.
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The tower by the main gate, for defensive purposes, obviously.
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The front door.
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Original hardwood floor inside the entrance.
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Fermentation room. White corn is used for the bourbon.
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Heating coils inside the fermenter.
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The still column behind our guide. They’re distilling a lot already about 20 barrels worth a day. They have capacity to go up to 60 a day. They’re doing a lot of contract distilling too. According to our guide, 70% of their output is contract, 30% for themselves. He said it was “no secrets” contract distilling, at least on their end.
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The pot still, thumper, doubler, whatever it’s called. The second part of the still. Their bourbon enters the barrel at 107 proof, rye at 118 proof. I should have mentioned it earlier but they will be using barrels from the Speyside Cooperage in Jackson, Ohio. They swear by them. Laser cut, never leak, apparently. They use numbers 3 and 4 char.
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Distillery building on the right, on the left is the building that was the lab, now serves as an office (upstairs) for Master Distiller Marianne Barnes and a bride’s room (downstairs).
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Walkways from the distillery building to the old lab.
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Second floor walkway to old lab, with Old Taylor stone.
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Same stone as above, from a different angle. Construction began on the distillery building in 1887 and it took twelve years or so to complete, according to our guide. That stone is visible from the road, but before the restoration, it was overgown with vines. I have a picture of this somewhere, but I haven’t been able to track it down.
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Panoramic photo of the beautifully sunken garden behi
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View from the garden looking back at the castle and the old lab.
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Opposite view with Warehouse E on the left.
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The fish pond at the center of the garden.
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Closer view of the pond. When the sunkern garden was being restored, the pond was called “the snakepit”. It was meant literally.
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View of the old office building across McCracken Pike. The roof has collapsed entirely. Eventually, Castle & Key hopes to restore this building too. Hope you enjoyed the photos! Peace.

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.

 

Ask SKU Anything

SKU of SKU’s Recent Eats recently had a fun post in which he answered any questions from any readers of his who wanted to ask. I thought this might be a fun thing to do for my blog too. On the other hand, I have fewer readers than he does, and when I’ve tried things like that in the past the response has been almost nonexistent. So to avoid embarrassment, I’m going to answer the questions that SKU’s readers asked him.

As I was writing this, I learned that SKU is unfortunately ending his long running blog, so I figured what better way to pay tribute to him than to rip him off? After all, I’ve been doing that for a very long time.

So without further ado,

Years ago, you wrote an article for one of the whiskey magazines titled “Craft Whiskey Sucks.” Now, many years later, would you write the same thing? Do you still think it mostly sucks? 

I didn’t write that article, SKU did, but I will answer the question. Yes, they still suck, almost all of them. The best ones have reached the level of “not bad” but they’re still almost entirely awful, overpriced garbage. Ones that have reached “not bad” include Union Horse Reunion Rye, most of Journeyman’s output, Grand Traverse Distillery’s bourbon and ryes and a handful of others whose names escape me right now.

Sku – at what point does a whisky that you own become too expensive that you don’t open the bottle? For instance, I have a 2012 FR Small Batch that I’m told now sells for over $700 – that seems a ludicrous amount to spend on a bottle, and I wouldn’t spend that amount on it and I’m happy I got it at retail back then. But now I find that decision to open is harder and harder, and I might not ever.

I understand the desire to cash out while one can, but the only whiskey I own that comes close to that is Four Roses 2009 Mariage (what I still think is the best bourbon ever made), but I will eventually open and drink it. It might be twenty or thirty years from now, but I am drinking it.

Do Armagnac houses/domaines have recognizable profiles? For example are there specific differences in notes between Chateau de Gaube and Domaine de Busquet that you could expect to find despite the vintage?

Sure, why not.

How many spirits bottles do you tend to have in your personal collection at any given time (more or less)? of that group, what percentage consists of whiskey v. brandy v. other spirits at this point? do you have any favorite spirits categories other than whiskey or brandy (e.g. mezcal or Jamaican rum)?

-JCR 

I don’t know. I’m guessing between 50-100. That’s a big range, I know. The total number is smaller than most people I know who have been in the hobby for as long as I have. I’m not really a hoarder when it comes to spirits. I like to always have certain things on hand and I like variety, but I’m not the guy buying a case of every BTAC every year for fifteen years or whatever.

I like every spirit, pretty much. Most (by a long shot) of my collection is bourbon but I have a growing stash of brandy and always make sure I have multiple bottles of rye, Canadian whisky, Tequila/Mezcal, rum, and Single Malt on hand.

  1. in your opinion are micro-distillers pricing their bourbons too high?
  2. is the bourbon renaissance a bubble? 2a. if it is a bubble how bad will the pop be
  3. are “tech” whiskies like cleveland viable? that is, in the long run, can a “whisky” that’s aged for an hour really compete on price/quality with a bourbon that’s aged for 10 years? in fact, i have seen cleveland priced higher than eagle rare and laughed all the way home.
    regards,
    -dan

1. Yes. 2. No, but there is a bubble on the high end being driven by the secondary market. 2a. I could see a 20-50% drop in price for top shelf tater bait. 3. No. No, that will never happen. If the bubble bursts these operations will be among the first to go under. They’re all examples of the idiocy of the cult of #innovation in late capitalism. “Tastes like shit” becomes “Disruption!” Need to make a better whiskey? No, we just need to “educate” consumers that they should believe our marketing and not their own lying tastebuds. The angels don’t like being cheated.

Simple: 100 duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?

WTF

How does it feel to be the dean of American whiskey bloggers? How much longer do you think you’ll keep going? Do you think blogging about whiskey is still relevant?

I’m not going to lie, it feels really good. I’ll keep posting until they pull the laptop out of my cold dead hands. Whiskey Blogging is only relevant when Dave Driscoll does it.

  1. What is the next big thing in spirits and why is it Armagnac?
  2. Do you believe that dusty bourbon/rye has a familiar profile that you don’t find in today’s products, i.e. “dusty notes”? If so, do you believe that’s due to bottle conditioning or some other factor(s)?
  3. Given the current boom and scarcity of anything allocated or limited edition, are there bottles you regret passing on years ago that you wish you would have bought more of? -signde 

1. Rum is the next big thing in spirits and it always will be. Rum’s problem is also part of what makes it interesting. It isn’t a distinctive product of any one country. Despite what our libertarian friends often say (assuming libertarians have friends for the moment), good state regulation can be beneficial to a spirit. It ensures consistent quality and structures an industry in such a way that makes it easy for enthusiasts to explore and understand. The French wine and brandy regulations are good examples of this as are bourbon and Scotch regulations in the US and UK respectively. No regulatory regime is perfect, but those are mostly good. Example of bad or mediocre regulation are Canadian Whisky, which is governed by a patchwork of regulations on the provincial and national levels and American wine, which has at once too many and not enough appellations, among other problems. Ironically the Canadian VQA system is better than the American system for wine and much better than the Canadian system for whisky!

Rum’s diversity makes it hard to explore. The rewards are great for those with the patience to do so, but it requires time and focus that few people have. There are dozens of countries regulating the manufacture of Rum. Some are good and some are bad, but they’re all different. There’s little consistency from country to country or label to label, even with things as seemingly straightforward as age statements. It’s hard for a newbie to know what she or he is getting when grabbing an unfamiliar brand from the shelf.

Can this be overcome? Maybe. One way to address these problems would be for all the rum producing countries (or at least the big ones) to come together with reps from the countries that are big markets for rum (US, EU, etc) in some kind of rum summit and come to an agreement on consistent labeling and marketing of rum worldwide. In the meantime, writers like Fred Minnick and Josh Miller are doing a great job of educating consumers to help us get over the many obstacles to rum connoisseurship. So will rum ever arrive? I don’t know but I hope so!

I think brandy might be the next thing after rum or at least concurrent with it. Cognac is already ubiquitous and well positioned for a boom as are lower shelf American brandies like Christian Brothers or E & J. Where the biggest expansion may come is in Armagnac and craft American brandy. Too many craft distillers in the US are trying to ride the bourbon and rye wave right now just to stay afloat instead of looking to the future. Brandy is going to be a part of that future. Instead of seeing a crowded market and saying “me too!” distillers in places like Michigan, New York and Southern Ontario should be seizing the opportunities presented by the abundance of fruit in their areas and distilling brandy now so that when the brandy wave hits they will be ready with aged product. As it is, producers in Indiana and Kentucky are getting the better of the Northern fruit belt distillers, often with northern fruit! Brandy should be a part of the distilling identity of Northeastern North America.

Now what was I saying?

2. I do believe that bottle conditioning is a part of it, but never forget that most of these “dusties” were glut era whiskey that was much older than what the label said and older than what is being bottled today.

3. I once had the opportunity to buy half a case of Russell’s Reserve 101 for $35 a bottle. It seemed expensive to me at the time, so I just got two bottles. That was a mistake. I also feel like I had opportunities to stock up on Weller 12 and Pappy 15 that I should have taken but didn’t because, hey that’s really expensive and there’s always next year!

Why “Sku”?

SKU likes to pretend that his initials are S-K-U but he was actually nicknamed SKU after something that happened that happened when he was a toddler. His parents were shopping at a Target store when he wandered off and they couldn’t find him. They searched the store until they heard a squeaky voiced teen stocktaker shout out, “What’s the SKU for THIS?!” They ran over to the aisle, and there was baby SKU sitting on a shelf. Everyone laughed and laughed.

We often talk about the downsides of the bourbon boom? From your perspective, what are some of the positive aspects?

The positive aspecst are more knowledgeable consumers, Four Roses available stateside (I’ve been in it long enough to remember when it wasn’t!), more single barrel selections, more barrel proof iterations, less gas money spent traveling to Kentucky to buy my favorite bottles because Michigan carries almost everything I want, improvements and expansions at the Kentucky distilleries, the possibility of new, good medium sized distilleries coming online, Stitzel-Weller reopening to visitors, the restoration of the Old Taylor Castle, the list goes on. As annoying as things like dropped age statements and the secondary market are, this is a pretty good time to be a bourbon drinker, on the whole.

Does MAO still make you swoon? -Jealous in Jersey

More of a Trotsky guy myself.

 

SKU’s Recent Eats was one of the first independent bourbon blogs by an enthusiast who wasn’t also a whiskey writer or some guy pretending to be a journalist (we all know who I’m talking about). He’s always been a pretty laid back, honest and forthright guy whose work was a big inspiration to me. Cheers Steve!