Benromach 10 y/o

Maker: Benromach, Forres, Moray, Scotland, UK (Gordon & McPhail)20160310_190411-1.jpg

Region: Speyside (Northwest)

ABV: 43%

Michigan State Minimum: $63

Appearance: Medium copper with medium legs.

Nose: Big malt, new leather, alcohol. As it sits, the leather settles into an old oak aroma.

Palate: Full bodied and medium sweet. Toffee, brown butter, dried red chili.

Finish: Warm and a little chewy.

Parting words: Given the expense of decent single malts, I’m always on the lookout for miniature bottles of SMS for blogging purposes. I picked the one the I used for this review at Vine & Table in Carmel, Indiana (I think).

I like Benromach labels and liked most of G & P’s private bottlings I’ve had, so I was looking forward to opening this bottle. When I first opened it, I wasn’t impressed. It seemed unbalanced and sulphury, especially in the nose. As it sat (or as my palate adjusted itself) I came to enjoy it quite a bit. It’s simple, but the toffee flavor is really hitting the spot for me. Benromach 10 is a simple, affordable dram suitable for after-dinner sipping with friends. Recommended.

New and interesting on the Michigan State Liquor List: January 31, 2016

Barsol_Mosto Verde_2014-07-10_0I love doing tasting notes, but I thought it might be fun and valuable to you, dear reader, to offer a new service. My thought was to list new and interesting items being added to the Michigan state liquor list and offer a few comments of an informational nature on some of them. This is the trial run of such a feature. Please let me know if it is informative or entertaining or both in the comments!

For those who may not know, Michigan, like sixteen other states, is what is called a “control state”. This means that the state government is directly involved with the sale of liquor in some way. This often includes the sale of beer and wine, although not in the case of Michigan. One of the weird quirks of the 21st amendment to the US constitution is that while it repealed national prohibition, it also gave sweeping powers to the states to regulate alcoholic beverages in whatever way they saw fit. Many states like Pennsylvania, Utah, North Carolina and Vermont operate state-owned liquor stores as a result. Others, like Michigan and West Virginia, merely act as the sole wholesaler in the state. Most are somewhere between the two extremes.

As a wholesaler, the state maintains a list of all the spirits available for purchase from itself. This list contains information on the licensed distributor the spirit is available from (these are all private companies), the alcohol content, size of the bottle in ml, how many bottles are in a case, the price the state pays for them, the price to bars, restaurants and retailers and, most importantly to consumers, a minimum price the spirit must be sold for at the retail level (always with a built-in profit for the retailer). Retailers are free to hike prices up as high as they like above the minimum, but many advertise state minimum prices which keeps the prices on most low and middle shelf spirits at or close to the minimum. The price list is readily available on the internet, so it’s easy for costumers to shop around for the best prices, too.

The price book is issued by the state a few times each year with supplemental lists (now called new items lists) published in between price books listing items to be added to or deleted from the price book. Lists of price changes for items are issued as well (I plan to make note of significant price changes in future posts like this). All of them come with a date on which the spirits in question are available for ordering from the state through to distributor. Each price book is issued in PDF and Excel forms. New items lists are only available in PDF.

The January 31, 2016 new items list is here. The LARA website with links to lists in the recent past is here. Caps retained out of laziness but with full names given where the state has abbreviated them. Proof (Michigan lists everything in terms of US proof which= 2 x %ABV), bottle size in ml and retail price are given for each one. I have added notes at the end of each if I think it necessary. Some items are not actually new, but fell off the list for some reason and have been added back or are new bottle sizes for items already on the list. Sometimes an item will be added and removed at the same time. I think this is a way to make corrections, but it’s still puzzling. Bureaucracy works in mysterious ways.

Corn Whiskey

HATFIELD & MCCOY: DRINK OF THE DEVIL 90 proof, 750 ml, $26.20. Made in Gilbert, WV from alleged McCoy family moonshine recipe.

Bourbon

BUFFALO TRACE BOURBON 90, 1000, 34.99. Now available in 1 liter bottles if that kind of thing turns you on.

REBEL YELL REBEL RESERVE 90.6, 50, 1.49. I really thought Rebel Reserve was dead, but I guess not.

YELLOWSTONE SELECT 93, 750, $44.99. Yellowstone, a hallowed old bourbon brand formerly made at the Glenmore distillery in Louisville, has just been rebooted by Luxco. It will be produced at Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, Kentucky eventually, but for now it’s sourced whiskey.

Other American whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)

THE GIFTED HORSE 115, 750, $49.96. The latest from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel project, this is 17 y/o UD era Bernheim bourbon blended with 4 y/o MGPI bourbon and 4 y/o MGPI corn whiskey.

Single Malt Scotch

BUNNAHABHAIN-8 YR 86, 750, $20.78. This young Bunna is on here as a correction so I’m not sure how new it actually is, but it does sound interesting.

GLENMORANGIE MILSEAN 92, 750, $99.99. This year’s entry into the private edition range. Finished in re-toasted wine casks. “Milsean” is a Gaelic word meaning “candy” but is also the name of a well-known horse.

SPEYMALT FROM MACALLAN 1998 86, 750, $64.99. From Gordon & MacPhail’s series of vintage Speyside single malt bottlings. This vintage is listed as discontinued on the G & M website, though, so it’s a bit of a head scratcher here.

Irish Whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)

THE POGUES 80, 750, $33.99 If there’s any band one would trust to pick their own whiskey, it’s The Pogues. From West Cork Distillery. West Cork’s standard blend and 10 y/o single malt are also available in MI, though I don’t remember ever seeing them on a shelf.

THE QUIET MAN TRADITIONAL IRISH, 80, 750, $32.99

THE QUIET MAN-8 YR SINGLE MALT 80, 750, $49.96 Named for the founder’s father and definitely not the cheesy 1952 John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara romance of the same name, The Quiet Man is hitting the US now. It’s a joint project between Ireland’s Niche Drinks (St. Brendan’s Irish Cream) and Luxco (Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks). Word on the street is that these were distilled at Cooley, according to blog friend Bourbon & Banter.

POWERS SIGNATURE RELEASE 92, 750, $44.99 This has been out for a while, but has just now come back to the state. It’s a single pot still release. Curiously, the standard Gold Label Powers has dropped off the list leaving this and the 12 y/o John’s Lane release as the only Powers offerings in the state. Powers is not a big seller in these parts so I’m sure there’s still plenty of Gold Label out there and it will probably come back onto the list at some point.

Brandy (foreign)

BARSOL PISCO SUPREME MOSTO VERDE 82, 750, $42.96 Not a lot of Pisco available in Michigan, so it’s always nice to get another one. Mosto verde (green must) Pisco is distilled from partially fermented must, as opposed to other styles that use fully fermented wine. This results in lower ABV and more grape character. Three other styles of Pisco are available from Barsol in Michigan. Imported by Anchor Distilling.

Gin

JOURNEYMAN BILBERRY BLACK HEARTS BARREL AGED 90, 750, $39.87

Rum

JOURNEYMAN ROAD’S END 114, 750, $54.99. Two barrel-aged non-whiskey spirits from West Michigan’s Journeyman distillery are listed as new, but they’ve both been around a while. Let’s hope this means wider distribution beyond the distillery and Binny’s for both of them.

Tequila/Mezcal

BLUE NECTAR ANEJO FOUNDER’S BL 80.0, 750, $59.99 Founded by a Southfield, MI businessman with the help of former Bacardi master blender Guillermo Garcia-Lay, Blue Nectar is distilled at the Amatitán distillery, which also makes Don Azul.

MAESTRO DOBEL HUMITO 88, 750, $53.99. New smoked silver Tequila from Dobel.

Liqueurs

TEMPUS FUGIT FERNET DEL FRATE ANGELICO 88, 750, $64.99. Imported Fernet bittersTempus Fugit Fernet del Frate Angelico Bottle Shot_2015-02-24_0 from Northern California Absinthe specialists Tempus Fugit (associated with Anchor Distilling). Distilled at the Matter-Luginbühl distillery in Kallnach, Switzerland from an old Italian recipe. Erroneously listed under foreign brandy. TF’s Gran Classico bitters are also available in Michigan.

CELTIC HONEY 60, 750, $19.65. Irish whiskey based liqueur made with Irish honey and Irish botanicals from Castle Brands (Gosling’s, Jefferson’s, Knappogue).

TIJUANA SWEET HEAT 70, 750, $14.96. Tequila based, agave syrup sweetened abomination from Sazerac, the people who brought you Fireball. The concept is the same. Shoot it while shouting “woo!” Also available in 1 liter and 50 ml bottles for your alcohol poisoning pleasure. Erroneously listed under Tequila.

Vodka, etc

LONG ROAD DISTILLERY WENDY PEPPERCORN 101, 750, $34.99. Pink peppercorn flavored vodka from the Grand Rapids based microdistiller. Good for Bloody Marys, probably.

OLE SMOKY MOONSHINE BLUE FLAME 128, 750, $19.99. Ole Smoky’s attempt at a “serious” “moonshine”. Formerly only sold at their distillery in Gatlinburg and their outlet in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Listed under miscellaneous whiskey.

EVERCLEAR ALCOHOL PL 151, 50, $1.49. Even though Everclear has an ABV% that makes it impossible to take on an airplane, you can now pretend you’re drinking yourself to death on one with these nifty, affordable 50 ml bottles. Also great for watching youth sports, long church services or Philadelphia 76ers games.

Images from Anchor Distilling website media section here: http://www.anchordistilling.com/media/

Craigellachie 13

Maker: Craigellachie (Aberlour), Craigellachie, Moray, Scotland, UK (Bacardi)wpid-2015-10-30-20.16.53.jpg.jpeg

Region: Speyside (BenRinnes cluster)

Notes: Not chill filtered. The Last Great Malts series.

ABV: 46%

Michigan State Minimum: $55

Appearance: Dark straw with clingy evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Leather, apricot jam, alcohol, lavender, dried date.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Ripe red peaches, oak, butterscotch, ground coriander seed.

Finish: Sweet malt, oak, then a light burn.

Parting words: Craigellachie named for a bluff overlooking the River Spey and there is a Craigellachie bridge (built in the early 19th century) and a Hotel Craigellachie that is often recommended as a good place to stay while exploring the Speyside area. The distillery itself has a remarkably boring history which I will not recount. It’s currently owned by Bacardi’s Dewars & Sons division and forms the heart of Dewar’s blends. It has been only rarely seen in independent or distillery bottlings over the years, but that may be changing with its two entries in Dewar’s The Last Great Malts series.

Craigellachie’s neighbors are more famous than it, like Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Aberlour. Unlike most of those, this is not a light and flowery malt. It’s got heft to it, like Balvenie and Mortlach. It’s often described as sulphury and waxy but I have trouble detecting either one here, though I have trouble detecting them anywhere, frankly. The heft and alleged sulphur come from the large stills (allowing for reflux), use of cast iron worm tubs to cool the spirit, and the relative dearth of copper in the worms, so I’m told.

Unlike Balvenie and Mortlach, there is no beef here. This is all thick custard, fruit and oak. Ex-bourbon casks take the lead here, but there may be a few sherry butts in the mix as well. If so, they are used judiciously. This is an exquisitely balanced, but flavorful and well-craft whisky. It pairs great with homemade shortbread too.

Considering all the garbage that is out there at twice the price, Craigellachie 13 is a steal. Considering how good this is has made me loose even more respect for Bacardi/Dewar’s. How can your blend taste so bad when your malt is so good? I don’t know, but I do know that Craigellachie 13 is great. Highly recommended.

Monkey Shoulder

Maker: Wm. Grant & Sons, Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland, UKwpid-2015-08-28-20.57.35.jpg.jpeg

Style: Blended Single Malt Scotch (Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Kininvie)

Age: NAS

ABV: 43%

Michigan state minimum: $33

Appearance: Medium copper with a lot of necklacing and legs.

Nose: Sweet malt, vanilla, sage, alcohol, old oak, serrano peppers.

Palate: Medium bodied and semi-sweet. Vanilla buttercream, strawberry, butterscotch, sweet cinnamon.

Finish: Dry and long lasting. Crème brûlée, alcohol, oak.

Parting words: The success of blended malts like Sheep Dip and especially Compass Box’s offerings led older, older companies to take notice. Monkey Shoulder, released in the UK in 2005 was Wm. Grant & Son’s response, and it’s a dammned good one. A blended malt (formerly known as a vatted or pure malt) is a blend of all single malts. This is different from a standard blended Scotch because it contains no grain whisky, only malts.

The family resemblance to Grant’s blended whisky (the last Scotch I reviewed) is evident, but it’s much more complex, as one might expect. Like Grant’s, this is a very tasty whisky at a good price. For a top notch blended malt, it’s impossible to beat. Grant’s marketing folks keep pushing it as a mixer but it’s so good neat that I couldn’t bring myself to mix it with anything.

Monkey Shoulder is highly recommended.

Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 15 y/o

Maker: Mortlach, Dufftown, Moray, Scotland, UK (Diageo)

Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland, UK

Region: Speyside- Dufftown

ABV: 43%

Price: $75 (Binny’s)

Appearance: Dark gold

Nose: Sweet malt, wildflowers, oak, caramel.

Palate: Thick mouthfeel. Brown butter, wildflower honey, beef bullion, alcohol.

Finish: alcohol, butterscotch, vanilla cream, toasted oak.

Parting words: Mortlach was one of the malts that made me reconsider my dislike of Speysiders. This bottling is an excellent example of why I fell in love with this distillery. Meatiness is a house characteristic of Mortlach and it’s in evidence in this bottling. It’s not heavy-handed, though. There’s plenty of sweetness and oak to round it off nicely. It’s complex without being busy. The price is high (for me) but not completely out of whack for a high-quality single malt and cheaper than the new distillery bottlings are going for. If you like the heavier Speyside style and see one of these pick it up. G & M’s 15 y/o Mortlach is recommended.

Glenfarclas 12 y/o

Maker: Glenfarclas, Ballindalloch, Scotland, UK (J & G Grant)Glenfarcas 12

Region: Speyside, although the label describes it as “Highland”

Michigan State Minimum: $52

Appearance: Light gold (natural color) with long thin legs.

Nose: Sherry, barley bread, dried flowers, crème brûlée.

Palate: Medium bodied and desserty. Butterscotch, French lavender, oak, mace (the spice not the chemical weapon).

Finish: Fairly hot but sweet. Lingers on the lips for a short time.

Parting Words: Glenfarclas is one of the few truely independent malt distilleries left in Scotland. The Grant family (not to be confused with many other Grants making Scotch whisky) has owned Glenfarclas since the nineteenth century and they have continued to do things their own old fashioned way. They refer to their whisky as Highland on the label although most would refer to them as Speyside these days given their proximity to the Spey river. Their labels are simple, their bottles are butch and their range of malts is based primarily on age. In the U.S. a 10, 12, 17, 21, 25, 40 and a 105 proof cask strength NAS version. Also available (but very expensive) are the Family Cask series of vintage bottlings.

The 12 y/o Glenfarclas is a very good whisky.The packaging and marketing may be spartan, but the whisky is not. The distinctive earthy aromas of the older expressions are muted in the 12 , but are still there faintly in the sherry and oak. The result is a classic sherried Speyside profile of the heavier sort, like Balvenie or Mortlach. It’s an excellent after dinner sipper well suited to books and back porches. I don’t smoke cigars, but I have been told that it goes well with them as well.

$52 is a steal for a mature, quality single malt from anywhere these days. Nothing not to like about Glenfarclas 12. It is recommended.

Glen Grant 16 y/o

Maker: Grent Grant, Rothes, Moray, Scotland, UK (Campari)

Region: Speyside- Rothes

ABV: 43%

Michigan State Minimum: $80

Appearance: Dark straw. Coats the inside of the glass with thick, gentle legs.Glen Grant 16

Nose: Green apple, sherry, caramel pear, lemon thyme. Water brings it together and brings out some light spice like sweet cinnamon and ginger and a firm but unobtrusive oak structure.

On the palate: Medium bodied and a little hot. Custard, butterscotch candy, caramel.

Finish: Hot but rich and sweet. Lingers for a long time.

Parting words: I don’t like sherry. I have tried to like it but I have never been able to develop a taste for it despite my heavily British genetic makeup.

My dislike of sherry has kept me away from Speyside single malts because of their traditionally heavy use of sherry casks and the resulting sherry flavors. I’m starting to rethink my aversion to Speysiders, though. This is a powerful, flavorful and well-balanced single malt. It is now my favorite Speyside single malt. It’s everything anybody could want in a Speyside malt. At $80 it’s not cheap but one could to worse for more. As frugal as I can be with whisky, I have never regretted buying Glen Grant 16. Highly recommended.

The Glenrothes 1998

Maker: Glenrothes, Rothes, Moray, Scotland, UK. (Berry Bros. & Rudd)Glenrothes 1998

Region: Speyside- Rothes

Age: 14 y/o

ABV: 43%

Michigan State Minimum: $80

Appearance: Dark copper (possibly colored), with long persistent legs.

Nose: Sherry, oak, honey, alcohol, butterscotch, golden raisins. Water brings vanilla to the party.

On the palate: Full bodied and creamy. Crème brulee, more sherry and wood, toffee. Water brings out some curry spices and vanilla.

Finish: Warm and a little spicy. Butter cream, old oak, cinnamon.

Parting words: Glenrothes 1998 vintage is typically Speyside. The sherry wood notes are Gladys Knight and the bourbon cask ones are the Pips. It has heft that some of Glenrothes’ neighbors lack but still has sophistication and brightness they are known for. Wood is very present on the nose, palate and finish but it never drags the whisky down, it beefs it up. As you can tell from the notes, I think this works best as an after dinner dram.

I purchased this bottle of Glenrothes 1998 for a Burns Night celebration (for a much lower price than the current state minimum) and all of the guests who tried it, loved it. It’s probably worth noting that most of them were bourbon drinkers. At $80, it’s more expensive than I am usually eager to shell out but all in all a fair price for a malt of this quality. Glenrothes 1998 is recommended.

Signatory Vintage: Mortlach 1992

Maker: Mortlach, Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland (Owned by Diageo, Bottled by Signatory)

Region: Highland- Speyside (Dufftown)

Age: 17 y/o (distilled 3/6/92, bottled 8/5/09)

ABV: 43%

Appearance: Light gold (natural color). Thick, heavy legs.

Nose: Oak, alcohol, a bit of citrus.

On the palate: a surprising hit of heat, otherwise mild and creamy, with a lot of body. This is a heavyweight Speysider. A touch of honey is also present and it dovetails nicely with the bitter notes from the wood.

Finish: Heat at first, then after the burn, the oak comes in very pleasant but still assertive way. Very nice finish. It’s a delicate balance of burn, wood, honeyed sweetness, and maybe the faintest hint of smoke.

Parting words: Another excellent bottling from Signatory. While it’s certainly good in the nose and on the palate, it’s unremarkable except for its weight. The finish alone is worth the price of admission. Simply beautiful.

Review: Abelour A’bunadh

Batch: 29
Maker: Abelour, Abelour, Banffshire, Scotland (Pernod-Ricard)
Region: Highland- Speyside
Age: NAS
ABV: 59.9%

Appearance: Auburn. Matches the wax on the bottle neck. Artificial coloring or just the sherry cask? At any rate, not very much in the way of legs, although there is a thin “necklace” around the inside of my Glencairn.

Nose: rich, creamy sherry, caramel, marzipan, spice, flowers, with an undertone of burning car tire.

On the palate: Nice heavy mouthfeel, burn, evaporates after a second on the tongue, a bit of a chewy rubbery taste. With a healthy dollop of water, it is much more pleasant. The rubbery taste is still there, but it is slowly transforming itself into a sweet, floral note on top of the caramel, marzipan, sherry and toffee.

Finish: Burn, caramel, chocolate –covered toffee bars, long and hot. With water, it is shorter and thinner but still very, very nice.

Parting Words: Abelour is said to be one of the most heavily “sherried” single malts on the market. A’bunadh is supposedly a recreation of an old whisky discovered during a remodel of the distillery. The more I think about that story, the less I like it, but the more I think about this whisky, the more I do like it. It is very much a dessert Scotch, as should be obvious by the nose. I’m not sure if I’ll be buying it again soon, but it was fun getting to know this whisky. I’m sure I’ll explore more from Abelour in the future, but for now, I’ll just have pleasant memories of sharing it with friends. If you like sherried Scotches, this comes recommended. If not, it’s worth finding a friend with a bottle, for the experience if for no other reason.