Ballentine’s 12 y/o

Maker: Ballentine’s, Dumbarton, Dumbartonshire, Scotland, USA (Pernod-Ricard)wp-1470744396154.jpg

Age: 12 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $30

Appearance: Shiny caramel, thick, widely spread legs

Nose: Wood varnish, honey, vanilla buttercream, old oak.

Palate: Medium bodied and light in flavor. Butterscotch, salted caramel.

Finish: Werther’s Original candy, alcohol, grape soda, puff of smoke.

Parting words: This review was supposed to be a head to head with Ballentine’s Finest, the entry level NAS blend, but I lost my notes to that. As a friend said to me on Twitter, “Jesus saves and so should you.” True words, but MS should also make it so that autosaved versions of one document doesn’t pop up when you open a different document and give you the opportunity to delete the autosaved versions of the one document.

Anyhoo, not much was lost because there isn’t too much going on with Ballentine’s Finest. It’s inoffensive, but $25 should buy you more than that (though the mid-century style bottle is pretty cool). For $5 more, you can buy the 12 y/o Ballentine’s which is better. This is a Speyside-centered blend with sweet malt and sherry as the leading aromas with some oak and smoke thrown in to round it out. It’s mildly interesting and priced in the same neighborhood as its competition like Dewar’s. That whole neighborhood is overpriced, though. Get yourself a 1.75 liter bottle of Grant’s instead. Ballentine’s 12 y/o is mildly recommended.

Wiser’s 18 years old

Maker: Corby, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (Pernod-Ricard)wpid-2015-08-14-16.31.40.jpg.jpeg

Style: Blended Canadian whisky

Age: 18 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $75

Appearance: Shiny orange.

Nose: Potpourri, vanilla, orange sherbet, alcohol.

Palate: Medium sweet. Rock candy, tarragon, vanilla, sarsaparilla.

Finish: Sweet and spicy with a little bit of heat. Thyme, anise, butterscotch, bubblegum.

Parting words: Wiser’s 18 sits atop Corby’s Wiser’s line, which includes the flagship Wiser’s Deluxe, Wiser’s Rye, and Wiser’s Legacy, a mong others. Canadian whisky ages very well (the Canadian climate makes for slower aging than in Kentucky) and so I had high hopes for this.

It is a good whisky. Unlike some other Canadians at double digits, like the 12 y/o Canadian Club or the 21 y/o Collingswood, Wiser’s 18 still has some teeth at its advanced age. There’s plenty of rye spice and vanilla and even some alcohol bite on the palate, even though it’s only 40% ABV. It also comes in an elegant rectangular bottle that looks very sharp on a home bar.

Long time readers may sense a big “but” coming, and here it is: $75 is much too expensive for this. It’s much better than the all-nose Collingswood 21, the only other venerable age-stated Canadian available in Michigan, but even that bottle of disappointment is $15 cheaper. The real kicker is that Wiser’s Legacy is superior in every way. It’s 45% ABV, was $45 the last time it appeared in Michigan, and is all rye whiskey, unlike this blend.

Wiser’s 18 y/o is good, but not good enough to justify being the second most expensive Canadian whisky on the Michigan list. It is mildly recommended.

Seagram’s Extra Dry Gin

Distiller: MGPI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA (Brand owned by Pernod-Ricard)wpid-2015-04-30-16.40.34.jpg.jpeg

Style: Dry American gin.

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $10

Note: 1.75 ml bottle pictured ($22)

Appearance: Clear with a very faint tinge of color.

Nose: Neutral spirit, juniper, citrus peel.

Palate: Milder than the nose would lead on to believe. Neutral spirits and a faint earthiness.

Finish: Burn and crushed juniper berries.

Mixed: Perfectly acceptable in the standard applications, especially in a Tom Collins or with tonic. Even makes a decent martini or negroni. Gets lost in orange juice.

Parting Words: Seagram’s the gin is the best selling American-made gin in the world. Seagram’s the company no longer exists. It was sold off for parts in the late 1990s in order to raise money for Edgar Bronfman’s adventures in the entertainment industry. That began a long, strange trip for the distillery (actually distilleries) in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. It’s now owned by agribusiness company Midwest Grain Products and is best known as the supplier of rye and bourbon whiskey for an endless parade of “micro-distillers” who are just selling it until their own product is ready, they swear. MGPI contains an entirely separate distillery for the manufacture of gin and vodka, though, and that’s where Seagram’s Gin (now owned by French giant Pernod-Ricard) continues to be made.

In days of yore, Seagram’s Gin was “rested” in oak barrels to take the edge off the spirit and give it a saffron tinge. The process was changed sometime before September 2013, , according to a source-friend of mine. The yellowish tinge (now barely there) is created by running the spirit through a juniper slurry under pressure. Barrel resting is a thing of the past. Just going by memory, it doesn’t seem to have altered the taste much. If anything, it’s a little less harsh than I remember.

At any rate, this is a perfectly serviceable well-gin. It’s barely palatable neat, but it does just fine for casual cocktails. Seagram’s is a fine gin for your Wednesday night G & T or your third martini on Saturday night. Recommended.

That said, I hate the bottle redesign. The cross-hatching thing is dopey. #BringBackTheBumpyBottle

Beefeater 24

Maker: Beefeater, Lambeth, Greater London, England, UK (Pernod-Ricard)wpid-20140731_173501-1.jpg

Style: London dry gin.

ABV: 45%

Michigan State Minimum: $24

Appearance: Clear with a pearl necklace.

Nose: Juniper, citrus peel, grapefruit, hint of black tea.

Palate: Thick mouthfeel, but light flavor. Some bitter orange but mostly alcohol burn and sweetness.

Finish: Sweet and spicy with angelica, horehound and sugar.

Mixed: The best way to describe the way it mixes is “crisp”. Makes a nice crisp G & T and Tom Collins which is good. The 24 dry martini and Negroni were also crisp which is fine if you like that quality in those drinks, but I prefer mine with more spice.

Parting words: Beefeater 24 is a step up from the standard Beefeater at six dollars more and, curiously, 2% lower ABV. I didn’t get a chance to taste them side by side like I wanted but based on memory, it’s an improvement.

Besides the lower proof, the difference seems to be in the botanicals. Bitter orange, grapefruit and tea are singled out on the label and their presence is certainly evident in the glass. My knock on the standard Beefeater has always been that it’s dull. 24 narrowly avoids that fault through the added earthy depth of the tea. There’s also some gibberish on the label about 24 being made from a handmade cut from the “heart of the run”. I’m not sure how one makes a “cut” by hand in this instance. Karate chops, maybe?

At any rate, 24 is a step up from the snooze-fest that is the standard Beefeater. $24 isn’t all that expensive in the grand scheme of things and the bottle is really pretty for what that’s worth. Beefeater 24 is recommended.

Lot No. 40, 2012 Release

Maker: Corby, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (Pernod-Ricard)Lot No. 40

Style: Canadian Rye

Age: NAS

ABV: 43%

Price: $60 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Auburn, with long thick legs.

Nose: Wintergreen, cotton candy, pine, leather.

Palate: Light mouthfeel, but spicy and hot. Butterscotch, oak, clove, curry powder, cayenne.

Finish: Hard candy, more evergreen and potpourri then heat. A little oak and tobacco rounds it off.

Parting words: This whisky is a reboot of a reboot, sort of. The original lot no. 40 was the farm plot of early Canadian and distiller Joshua Booth on the northeastern shore of Lake Ontario. His descendant Michael D. Booth created Lot No. 40 the whisky as a tribute to his ancestor as a part of Corby’s ill-fated Canadian Whisky Guild line in the 1990s. It was revived in 2012 and that’s the edition currently on store shelves.

If there’s a knock on Canadian whisky as a category, it’s that it’s dull. The overwhelming majority of them are blends built to provide lots of  “smoothness” for little money. As more flavorful styles of whisky like bourbon, rye and single malt Scotch have become more popular, Canadian distillers have begun to release bolder and even unblended whiskies to chase consumers who are tired of bland spirits.

Lot No. 40 is one of the greatest examples of these bolder offerings. It packs a wallop of flavor to rival ea bourbon or single malt Scotch. A lot of that is down to the 100% rye (10% malted and 90% unmalted)

recipe. Many Canadian distilleries make a whisky like this but it almost always gets blended away to add flavor to bland grain whisky in cheap blends. I’m very glad this made it into a bottle as is, and I can’t wait for the next edition.

The price is high for a Canadian whisky but it’s worth every penny. It may actually be cheaper in Canada, so make a run for the border if you can sometime soon. Lot No. 40 is highly recommended.

Redbreast 12 y/o, Cask Strength

Maker: Irish Distillers, Midleton, County Cork, Ireland (Pernod-Ricard)Redbreast 12 CS

Style: Single Pot Still (distilled in a pot still using malted and unmalted barley)

ABV: 59.9%

Notes: Unchillfiltered.

Michigan State Minimum: $65

Appearance: Dark copper (color probably added) with long, thick legs.

Nose: Rich and powerful. Caramel, butterscotch, old fashioned bourbon, leather, alcohol. Water opens it up a little and dials down the alcohol burn.

On the palate: Full bodied and sweet. Vanilla nougat, homemade caramels, chocolate covered toffee bars and bourbon with a big hit of alcohol on the tail end. Again, a splash of water tones down the burn but here it also obliterates the chocolate notes.

Finish: Classic Irish finish. Sweet cereal with a little bit of rubber and a lot of tingle all around the mouth as it fades slowly. Water opens it up and brings the cereal notes to the fore.

Parting words: Irish Distillers is the largest producer of whiskey in Ireland, producing two of the biggest brands of Irish whiskey worldwide, Jameson’s and Power’s. Redbreast is their high-end line of Single Pot Still (as opposed to blended) whiskey. The other expressions are the the standard Redbreast 12 y/o which I reviewed back in 2011, the 15 y/o and the new 21 y/o.

I loved the standard 12 y/o. This is even better, and at just $5 more it’s a fantastic bargain. The one off note I detected was the rubbery note, but it only shows up in the finish and dissipates quickly. Rubber or not, Cask Strength Redbreast is a truly great whiskey. It is exquisitely balanced but powerful and full of Irish character. It’s the best Irish whiskey I’ve ever had and one of my favorite spirits of any type. Redbreast Cask Strength is highly recommended.

Plymouth Gin

Maker: Black Friars, Plymouth, Devon, England, UK (Pernod-Ricard)Plymouth Gin

Style: Plymouth Gin

ABV: 41.2%

Michigan State Minimum: $35

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Juniper, angelica, iris, coriander, citrus zest.

On the palate: Sweet and delicately spicy. Juniper, root spices, Clementine.

Finish: Spicy and fairly hot. A little bit of sweetness lingers on the lips for quite a while.

Mixed: Gets a little lost in a Tom Collins, but good in a G & T with quality tonic. Makes a wonderful dry martini well-chilled going easy on the vermouth.

Parting words: Plymouth is both a style of gin and brand of gin in addition to being a city (or two). The name is protected under EU regulations. In days gone by there were more than just one gin distiller in Plymouth, but there has only been Plymouth in Plymouth for quite a while now.

Stylistically, it’s between a London Dry and an Old Tom. It has the spice and juniper of a Dry but the delicate body of an Old Tom. It is fantastic in martinis and similar cocktails, adding elegantly balanced flavors and the right amount of body.

It’s a little too expensive to be an everyday, go-to type gin (except for those with bigger budgets) but it’s perfect for sophisticated classic cocktails. It also comes in a navy strength version at 57% ABV for just $5 more. Plymouth Gin is recommended.