Maker: Wilderness Trail, Danville, Kentucky, USA
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.
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: Peerless, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Style: Sweet Mash standard recipe (?) bourbon
Age: 4 y/o
Proof: 109.8 (54.9% ABV)
Price: $70 (IIRC)
Big thanks to Mike Matsumoto for letting me borrow his bottle!
Appearance: Medium copper.
Nose: Oak, leather, walnuts, pine resin, serrano pepper.
Palate: Dry, more pine resin, horehound, alcohol.
Finish: Oak, salted caramel, hot sauce.
Parting words: Peerless is a micro-distillery that has revived an old Henderson, Kentucky (west of Owensboro) bourbon brand. Founders Corky Taylor and his son Carson are descendents of the Kraver family who originally owned that brand and distillery. The orignal distillery shut down during World War I, never to reopen. When Corky and Carson decided to revive the brand, they acquired the name and the old DSP number (50) and an old building in Louisville to put their new distillery in.
The story is similar to many others and one might expect Peerless to be putting out sharp, small barrel whiskey or weird gin or “craft vodka” or whatnot. They’re not doing that. They’re doing it the right way. Their rye was released in 2017 and was delicious. Their first release of bourbon was earlier this month, July 2019. My pal Mike was on the guest list for the intial bourbon release and he graciously allowed me to borrow his bottle and take samples for blogging purposes.
I’m very glad he did. This is easily one of the best micro-distilled bourbon’s I’ve ever had. The down side to doing it the right way is that the product ends up being expensive. The rye has a Michigan state minimum price of $118 (it is barrel proof, though) and this bourbon is $70 at the distillery, which is less, but still high for a four year old, even at barrel strength. It is mature beyond its years, though, and if I had an opportunity to buy a full bottle myself, I probably would. The price alone is what keeps it out of highly recommended territory for me. As it is, Peerless Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is recommended.
Maker: Motor City Gas, Royal Oak, Michigan
Style: Peated bourbon (made with peated malt)
Age: NAS (dumped March 31, 2018)
Proof: 105.8 (53.4% ABV)
Purchased for: I forget (at distillery)
Note: bottle is boring, so no picture, at least for now.
Appearance: Dark copper, almost chestnut.
Nose: Freshly refinished hardwood floor, cherry jam.
Palate: Black walnut, a little peat, some smoke, brown sugar.
Finish: More peat and smoke, oak, a little bite.
Mixed: Very good in strong cocktails like Manhattans or Boulevardiers.
Parting words: This is the second of two bottles I got at Motor City Gas a few months ago. I was very impressed with it at the distillery. It seemed smokier and peatier (?) there too, probably because I tasted it after their rum-finished bourbon. It was still enjoyable at home, though. The peat blends seamlessly into its young, woody character to the point where it’s nearly impossible to disentangle the two. It doesn’t drink like 105.8 proof, either, which is dangerous. It’s at its best in cocktails, though, where it can stand up to just about any mixer, even amaro and black vermouth.
The price is high (even though I can remember what it was), but it’s barrel proof and the best peated bourbon I’ve had, although there aren’t very many to be had. Available only at the distillery on the outskirts of downtown Royal Oak, Michigan. Midnight Oil is recommended.
Maker: Tommyrotter Distillery, Buffalo, New York, USA
Distilleries: Undisclosed distilleries in Indiana and Tennessee (hmm, which ones could they be?)
Style: Wine-barrel finished American whiskey. A mix of two Indiana bourbons and one Tennessee whiskey aged in new and used oak barrels and then the wine barrel, hence Triple Barrel.
Proof: 90 (45% ABV)
Notes: No coloring or chill filtration added. Sample provided by Tommyrotter Distillery.
Price: $35 (Premier Group).
Appearance: Bright copper.
Nose: Complex. Young toasted oak, tarragon, bubblegum.
Palate: Medium and fruity. Mixed berry jam, French oak, burn.
Finish: Sweet. Corn syrup, raspberry, cocoa powder.
Parting words: Tommyrotter was founded in 2015 by Bobby Finan and Sean Insalaco in Buffalo New York. They currently produce three regular products, vodka, gin, and this Triple Barrel Whiskey plus a line of limited releases (including a bourbon barrel gin to be reviewed in the near future).
Triple Barrel Whiskey is composed of three whiskeys. Two Indiana bourbons (one high-corn, one high-wheat) and one Tennessee whiskey. The high-corn is around 18 months old, the wheater is about 5 years old and the Tennessee 7 y/o. The bourbons are aged in new charred white oak, and the Tennessee Whiskey is aged in used charred oak barrels. They are mixed together and then finished in French red wine barrels. As Bobby Finan told me, Triple Barrel doesn’t count as a blend of straight whiskeys because of the youth of the high-corn bourbon. That could change in the future though.
The result is a delicious, easy-drinking whiskey. It’s young, but the rough edges are smoothed out by judicious use of cooperage. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough in the sample to do any mixing, but I suspect Triple Barrel would do very well in Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. I’m very glad Bobby reached out to me. Triple Barrel is recommended.
Distiller: Charbay, Ukiah, Mendocino Co, California, USA (Karakasevic family)
Note: Samples provided by Charbay Distillery.
83: Folle Branche (100%)
89: Pinot Noir (74%), Sauvignon Blanc (26%)
Place of origin
83: Mendocino Co, California, USA
89: California, USA
83: 27 y/o (distilled 1983, released 2010)
89: 24 y/o (distilled 1989, released 2013)
83: Medium copper.
89: Light copper
83: Leather, Parmesan cheese, cola, lavender, ghost pepper.
89: Leather, woodruff, dried flowers, vanilla custard.
83: Dry and light bodied. Butterscotch, tarragon, oregano, old oak.
89: Mild. Dried flowers, lemon meringue, oak, crushed coriander seed.
83: Cola, burn, raisins.
89: Leather, Meyer lemon, burn.
Parting words: The Charbay Distillery is one of the oldest micro-distilleries in the US. It’s best known product is its distinctive line of whiskeys distilled from drinkable ( as opposed to distiller’s) beer sourced from local brewers with hops also usually added after distillation. As one might expect, they’re pretty weird. They are also very expensive, even by micro-distiller standards. The flagship expressions are the 6 y/o Charbay Releases I-V (brewed from a pilsner with hops also added after distillation). Release III sells for $375 per 750 ml bottle at K&L Wine Merchants in Southern California, with IV listed at $500 and V for $650 (the latter two are listed as out of stock). There is also the R5 made from Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA (1 y/o, $75) and Whiskey S made from Bear Republic’s Big Bear Stout (2 y/o, $90). They also produce a line of infused vodkas.
I’ve had a couple of the Releases and I didn’t care for them. Long time readers will know that I’m not a fan of funky hops or young, expensive whiskey, so that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. On November 9, 2018 I saw some folks on Twitter talking about Charbay whiskey and I rattled off a snarky tweet in response: “Charbay is gross, there I said it.” It got a little interaction but I didn’t really think about it much afterwards.
Then on January 13, 2019 I got a response from the distillery asking if I was interested in trying any of their other products since I obviously didn’t like the whiskey. After some back and forth on the tl and in the dms, Jenni of Charbay kindly sent me samples of their two brandies, the Nos. 83 and 89.
No. 83, coincidentally distilled in 1983, was the first thing to ever come out of Charbay’s still. It was distilled twice and aged in Limousin oak for 27 years. It seems to fall into the quirky house style, but I’ll admit that I haven’t had enough 27 y/o brandies to truly make a fair comparison. It’s the most Cognac-like of the two, which should come as no surprise since it’s made from Folle Blanche grapes, one of the historic grape varieties of Cognac. Wood is prominent, but there’s enough herbs and spices to keep No. 83 from being one-dimensional.
No. 89 is a different animal altogether. It was distilled in 1989 from two popular wine grapes, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Noir brandies are rare but not completely unknown, with fellow Ukiah distiller Germain-Robin producing a celebrated one. Sauvignon Blanc is more rare, but is still not completely unheard of as a source material for brandy. There’s slightly more fruit in 83 than in 89, but there’s still not a lot. What is there is a citric acidity that cuts through the oak to make for an enjoyable special occasion sipper.
I’m not going to do the thing I typically do in the final paragraph of a review and evaluate these on price. These are both special, one of a kind brandies and their prices reflect that. Both are outside of my price-range for any spirits, although I could see myself paying $240 for something exceptional if my wife got a big bonus or promotion or when we become empty-nesters. Nos. 83 and 89 are important pieces of micro-distilling history. If you get a chance to taste them, jump on it! You’ll never taste anything like them again.
One pairing suggestion: If you do pay full price for these bottles or over $50 for a pour in a bar, maybe make a matching donation to your favorite charity or local DSA chapter.
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.
As I write this, the US federal government has been partially shut down for about twenty days, due to an impasse over President Trump’s desire to build a wall on the southern border.
One of the agencies affected by the shutdown is the Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), the division of the Department of the Treasury charged with regulating and taxing alcohol, tobacco and firearms. The TTB was created in 2003 when the old bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was split in two. The law enforcement functions of the agency were moved to the Department of Justice and retained the ATF name. The tax and regulation functions stayed within Treasury and were re-christened the TTB.
If you’re interested in my personal take on the politics of the shutdown check my Twitter feed and likes. You should be able to piece together my politics from those.
More interesting than my dumb opinions is how the federal shutdown, particularly the closure of the TTB, is affecting beverage producers in Michigan and elsewhere. So I reached out to some friends of the blog to ask how the shutdown has impacted their business. Here’s what they said:
At this point our biggest concern (besides the unraveling of our civil society) is getting new labels approved by the feds. I’m glad that we don’t have too many new wines that we need to get to market soon.
-Sean O’Keefe, Winemaker, Mari Vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan
I just found out about [the shutdown] yesterday (January 8, 2019). Government shut down, tax collecting part of the TTB not shut down so I still have to do my 5120.17 annual report. So if it does affect me, I am unaware of how.
Only real effect (so far) has been the slow-doon (sorry) of federal label approvals, which I believe is considered a non-essential governmental service. Obviously, if the shutdown continues indefinitely, you will not see the emergence of scores of new wine, beer and spirits labels. (This may in fact be the only real blessing of the shutdown.)
-Randall Grahm, president & winemaker, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, California
Obviously not this one, but from the shutdown that happened while we were getting licensed I can say that the timeline for approval was extended 25%+ *after* things started back up. From memory it was the same for existing companies getting label approval. So even if the shutdown ends tonight I’d expect it would be the end of the month at least before everything was back to normal.
-Corey Bowers, formerly of Tualatin Valley Distillery, Hillsboro, Oregon (via Twitter).
The government shut down actually impacts us quite a bit. Unlike most other distilleries we release new products very often. Since we opened in March of 2015 we have released over 50 whiskies. Most of these required government approval on their labels before we can sell them. When the government shuts down so does review of our new labels. We actually have several labels currently out for review that we’ll need to wait for the shut down to end before we can release those products. We are also in the process of designing our second distillery expansion that will include additional barrel storage and a new still that will increase our production capacity. Depending on how long the shut down goes this could delay our plans as government approvals are required before we can start construction and order our still.
-Rich Lockwood, owner, Motor City Gas Distillery, Royal Oak, Michigan
We are fortunate we had our pending approvals finished before the shut down, but I am certainly feeling it for the people in queue. The TTB always slows over the holidays, so if the shutdown ends soon, the catch up for them may be eased. But…if it continues for any length of time, there will be a mess. I know I’ve had product on allocation in the past and waiting on formula and process approvals to have to wait again on labels, a lesson in patience when things are normal so I’m guessing there are producers, let’s say politely, tearing their hair out!