Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Rough week here in the “D,” losing Max Scherzer to the Washington Nationals.  It’s bad enough they fleeced us on the Doug Fister deal a year ago, now they are just getting greedy.  I’m especially sad to see him go, because aside from being a Cy Young Award pitcher, he was a fellow Mizzou guy.  Oh well, sounds like the perfect excuse to go and drink the troubles away.

And there are increasingly more and more places to partake of the finer things (namely whiskey) as the “bourbon boom” continues.  Here in Detroit, we have become home to several start-up distilleries.  In the next couple weeks, I’ll discuss them – and their corresponding tasting rooms – at greater length.  This week, I ventured to one of the hipper new distilleries – the Detroit City Distillery.

The Detroit City Distillery opened last year in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market.  Only the second licensed distillery to open in Detroit in 80 years (the first was Two James, which we will discuss soon), it was the brain child of a group of close friends with a passion for booze and urban revitalization.

They began by distilling their own vodka and whiskey, as well as preparing for gin, which will be out ‘soon.’ But what about bourbon?

Bourbon is one of the trickier offerings for any start-up distillery.  There are laws and rules regulation how bourbon has to be prepared, aged and bottled.  I won’t break them all down here (a good explanation can be found here), but the hardest one is the aging.  For a bourbon to be called “straight bourbon,” it has to have spent at least two years in the barrel.  If it’s younger than four years, it must have an age statement on the bottle.  So to make bourbon, a new distillery has to sink the money into storage, and barrels, grains and equipment and…wait.

There are, of course, ways around this.  The most popular way is to “source” bourbon, buying from another (often mass quantity produced) distiller and bottle/label it with the new brand name.  Many of the newer distilleries in Michigan are doing this, and Detroit City Distillery is too – sort of.

For their Two-Faced Bourbon, DCD is taking a five year old sourced bourbon and blending it with their own very young (6 month old) house made bourbon, in a 51%-49% mix – hence the name “Two Faced.”  Since their bourbon is locally sourced (including corn from St. Clair County here in Michigan), it is truly reflective of their own recipe (which is high in rye), but has some of the age of an older bourbon.

DCD is very open about this process, unlike other distilleries that are sourcing and a little less forthcoming about it.  And stopping into their speakeasy style tasting room in Eastern Market, one needs only look at their artisan cocktail list to see they are trying to do something both retro and inventive, with a great deal of respect paid to the craftsmanship.

The entrance to the Detroit City Distillery
The entrance to the Detroit City Distillery

With my good friend Eric Oliver joining me, we sat down at the bar to try the bourbon, as well as a few other drinks.  The long bar is impressive – it is made of reclaimed wood from another Detroit building – and the soft lighting and exposed beams set a nice ambiance.  Glasses were poured, toasts were made, bourbon was consumed.




Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon

Dan’s take:

Right from the nose, this dog has some bite.  While only 94 proof, the first scent was hot, almost like a high-proof rye would be.  Given a minute, the heat started to part and opened to an unsurprising corn and spice.  There were hints of almond and a touch of toffee, but the prevailing smell was corn.

The taste was softer than I expected.  Fiery on the front, the bourbon has those high-rye pepper notes, with a touch of cinnamon and allspice, but the younger corn seemed to temper it well.  Nutmeg and a slight bitter – almost coffee – were present.  It had a thin mouth feel, almost watery, but that works to it’s advantage – thicker would cause the spice to linger too long.  There was a soft sweetness as well, part corn and part caramel.

The finish was hot but not lingering.  There was a pepper to the finish, and it was the first time I detected a touch of oak. Most of all, there was that ever-present corn, soft and subtle.

The recipe for Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon seems good – it was not overly simple, and blended nicely with the older sourced bourbon.  As a sipping whiskey, it could use more aging to add complexity and depth.  As a main ingredient in some of the totally unique cocktails they are preparing at their tasting room, it works very very nicely.

Detroit City Distillery Two-Faced Bourbon is not yet available at distributors, but will be soon.  The price point – like most micro-distillers – is still on the higher side ($50 for 750mL), but there is something to be said for buying local now, isn’t there.

And the Tasting Room is well worth a visit!

Dan’s Rating: 7.5


A Visit to Grand Traverse Distillery!

A Visit to Grand Traverse Distillery!

It’s been a little quiet around here at Baseball and Bourbon, although not for a lack of activity.  In the last month, I’ve taken a few short trips, and have a few more coming up.  A visit to Maryland and Washington DC last month allowed me to both hunt down some bourbons and ryes that I hadn’t been able to find in Michigan, and take in a ballgame at Nationals Park in DC. Next week, I’ve been lucky enough to (thanks to my sister and mother) procure tickets to the Pappy For Your Pappy event at Buffalo Trace for the second year.  Lot’s of exciting things to write about! But more immediately, my wife and I spent last weekend in Northern Michigan for the wedding of our friends Brandon and Julie.  In between the fudge on Mackinac Island and some para-sailing, we had a chance to visit the Grand Traverse Distillery in Traverse City!

Dan in front of barrels of Grand Traverse Whiskey
Dan in front of barrels of Grand Traverse Whiskey

I’ve sampled the wares of the Grand Traverse Distillery several times, including making their bourbon my Bourbon of the Week in August of 2013.  I’m also fond of their Cherry Flavored Whiskey as a fun mixer.  So when we decided to visit Traverse City, Michigan as part of our trip, a stop in seemed in order.

The tasting room at the Grand Traverse Distillery
The tasting room at the Grand Traverse Distillery

The first thing that will surprise you on visit is that the Distillery has a less than picturesque location.  That is to say it’s in the middle of an industrial park on the outskirts of Traverse City, in a less-than-glamorous warehouse looking building.  I was afraid I had taken us to the wrong location, but upon walking in, knew that I had been correct.  Through the front doors is a lobby/gift shop/tasting room, with a bartender on call to mix a cocktail, give you distillery information and ring up your purchase or tour.  My wife and I each had a cocktail (mine whiskey, hers gin), and we awaited the start of our tour! Now, one thing of note right away is that Grand Traverse DOES actually produce their own bourbon (as opposed to sourcing it).  There are very few distillers in Michigan who can say that (if any?), so as you step into the modest size warehouse their still is all the more impressive. Not only is the Grand Traverse Distillery distilling their own spirits, they use almost exclusively locally sourced grains to do it – their corn, wheat, rye, and obviously cherries, are all locally sourced, The entire area is small enough to take it all in visually in a few minutes, but the step by step walk-through tour is much more in depth.  Our guide showed us where the grains are delivered, the fermenting process, and their copper still, where they make a variety of different products (whiskey, vodka, gin, and hope to introduce a rum soon).

Grand Traverse fermenters
Grand Traverse fermenters
...then, on to the copper still!
…then, on to the copper still!
There is goodness cooking in there!
There is goodness cooking in there!

When explaining their bourbon, it was pointed out that all of their barrels use a number 4 char, and, the average barrel age is about 3 years (although there are some they are holding on to for later release).  The barrels are all stored in the warehouse, which is only moderately temperature controlled (some heat in winter), but they do not rotate or move barrels between sealing and opening.

Grand Traverse Bourbon barrel, charred at a #4
Grand Traverse Bourbon barrel, charred at a #4
Barreled up
Barreled up

After a 45 minute tour including a question and answer, we retreated back to the tasting room to sample some of the Grand Traverse spirits.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Ole George Rye, and while I still find the Grand Traverse Bourbon a bit rough and tumble, it is still a good quality.  It is a higher rye content than I like in my bourbon, but for those who like spicier notes, it’s a solid choice. They are opening a new tasting room in downtown Traverse City, to match ones they have in other cities around Michigan.  The tour was very enjoyable, and well worth the time and money.  Good job Grand Traverse Distillery – keep doing it well!

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey

Some days, you can’t wait to get home and pour a nice glass of bourbon to celebrate a job well done. Other days, it’s a nice relaxing way to end a hard days work. But sometimes, sometimes you need that drink, to help you remember that the working day is over and to remind your self that your toils are not for naught.

Now, dear reader, I hope that most of your days fall into the first category, with a few in the second. But when those third kind of days arise, that may well be why God gave us bourbon in the first place.

Now Monday and Tuesday weren’t so bad, not really. Just the kind of days where little fires sprung up all day, and there never seems to be enough water to put them all out. Luckily for me, at days end I was in luck: I had brought a new bottle of bourbon into work to ask our staff photographer (and my good friend) Mike Tesh to take a picture of it for this website. Seeing as how it was days end, after all, I certainly saw no harm in sharing some of this new drink.

I’m also lucky to work at a place with a few like minded individuals. So without further ado, I also grabbed fellow bourbon enthusiast Josh McAllister and Katie Gleason to join us.  Today’s bourbon of choice came to us from the New Holland Artisan Collection, a collection of which I have tried several different brandings already. Just a few weeks back I spoke to the fun of their Beer Barrel Bourbon, and I’m hoping to get a review posted in the next couple of weeks about one of my favorite whiskeys made by them, the Zeppelin Bend.

Today we tried the smaller batch Brewers Whiskey they have named Black River Bourbon.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey. Photo by Mike Tesh
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: New Holland Artisan Spirits Black River Bourbon Brewers Whiskey. Photo by Mike Tesh

The Black River bourbon bottle states it was pot distilled and aged in new American oak, as all bourbon should be. From what I have read, it is my understanding that they barrel this whiskey in smaller barrels to accelerate the aging process. I may have my doubts about the successfulness of aging a bourbon more quickly by changing the barrel size. That said, we all poured a small glass, and went to work, albeit in a more utilitarian setting then I am accustomed to.

Josh, myself and Katie try a little bourbon
Josh, myself and Katie try a little bourbon

Our take: if you have read this blog before, you know I have a pretty simple way of judging and rating Bourbons by my palate. First, I try all Bourbons straight. No ice, no mixing, just straight from the bottle to the glass. If a bourbon is impressive in a glass by itself, then it needs no mixing. My favorite Bourbons are all ones that could be had in a glass, neat.

It needs proves to be harsh, or unimpressive, then I will add in a few chips of ice. There are certainly wonderful Bourbons that really don’t become themselves until there is a little ice added. Woodford Reserve, for instance, never tastes right to me without a few rocks in the glass. Woodford may not be my favorite bourbon, but it is certainly a good bourbon and a very nice pour.

If those two methods haven’t given me enough to impress, I will try a bourbon in a mixed drink. A Manhattan, a whiskey sour, etc. Personally I rarely like mixed drinks, so that really is a last method of finding something I like about any particular bourbon. Again, there are fine Bourbons that go well in Manhattans that I wouldn’t necessarily drink straight or on the rocks. But if I had to mix you too enjoy you, you aren’t going to rate very high with me.

Unfortunately, the Black River Bourbon falls somewhere between that second and third category. It’s nose was relatively unimpressive.  There was the strong scent of corn, with an undercurrent of oak. I could pick out raisins, and some earthy tones, but mostly it was the corn and wood.

The taste could only be described as young. The mouth feel was very thin, and as Josh had pointed out to me quickly, there was an emptiness of body. The predominant taste was that of Oakwood. There was a subtle hint of cigar box, some light nuttiness and a general burnt sugar that never grew into something greater, like molasses for brown sugar, but rather, stayed with a slight singed taste.

The finish was mellow, and again the wood returned. There was nothing disagreeable, or unpleasant about this bourbon. Just unremarkable. As we drank our second set, we all agreed: there wasn’t much to say negative about this bourbon, there just wasn’t anything that positive to say either.

Not all efforts are winners. Buffalo trace, four instance, takes big risks with their Single Oak Project, and their experimental bourbon line. If this is an effort that New Holland is using to refine their process, the good news is they’ve made a quality bourbon. It just isn’t anything special. Not yet anyway.

As for us, well, as Josh and I joked, the worst day drinking bourbon at work beats the best day not!”

Dan’s Rating: 6.9

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Traverse City Whiskey Company American Cherry Edition Bourbon

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Traverse City Whiskey Company American Cherry Edition Bourbon

Today I start the two week countdown: two weeks from tomorrow I will be traveling to Louisville Kentucky to take part in the Bourbon Classic. The Classic is a newer event where distillers, enthusiasts, master chefs, distilleries and fans will gather in Louisville to learn about, taste and truly revel in the spirit we enjoy so much.  This will be my first time at the Classic, a Christmas gift courtesy of my wonderful wife Jen, and I am counting down the minutes.

In The meantime, life goes on. And today it went on with an unexpected snowfall, and a painfully slow commute home from work. Such a day almost requires a glass of fine bourbon at the end of it to calm one’s nerves. Luckily for me, I had several new ones to choose from, so this evening I sampled one of he newer offerings from the Traverse City Whiskey Co., a Cherry infused Bourbon they refer to as their “American Cherry Edition!”

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Traverse City Whiskey Company American Cherry Edition Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Traverse City Whiskey Company American Cherry Edition Bourbon

For those familiar with it, the Traverse City Whiskey Co. has been making small batch Michigan-based bourbon for a a while now. I say making, but in actuality they, as a newer distillery, have been purchasing their bourbon from a Midwest distributor who has created it to the taste profile they requested. This can get tricky, as we discussed in the past. Sometimes that means that smaller distilleries are basically slapping a label on a second rate product, and selling it under a “local” banner.

Now, if you read this blog regularly you know there are two particular things that can get my goat when talking about bourbon. I really hate when I believe a second rate offering hits the market at a premium price simply to be part of the current bourbon craze, and I have a personal vendetta against Bourbons that have been tarnished with too much finishing, flavor adding, or just shenanigans that confuse a flavor profile. So it would be a fair assumption that I would not be fond of a bourbon whiskey, from a newer outsourced brand, that has been infused with cherries. But that assumption would be wrong.

At least tonight. Maybe it was a refreshing drink after a long day. Maybe it was my home state pride. Likely, it was both with a strong dose of the mere fact I love cherries. But I actually enjoyed this, even more then I would have guessed.

My take:

The bottle I purchased was hand labeled Batch 001. Now I don’t know if that means it came from their first batch ever, as the product was just introduced in the fall, or the first batch of this year. But it was number one all the same. The nose was exactly what you would expect from a cherry infused bourbon. The scent of cherries, so integral a part of Traverse City tradition, was certainly the most noticeable element. There was also a strong scent of burned sugar, so common in younger Bourbons. After the glass sat a while, you could pick out notes of vanilla giving way to a baking spice elements. Cherries, vanilla and baking spices…made me hungry for a slice of pie to go with it.

The taste was more bourbon than cherry, and I’d say, for the market they seek, it’s a well measured mix. I could still get strong vanilla tastes, and although it was a rye, the spiciness was very low and tempered. That was probably due in no small part to the cherries, which blended well. There was a nice oakiness to it as well. It’s a thin mouth feel, and goes down easy with very little burn at the finish. I like a mellowed finish myself, so those looking for that finishing warmth may be disappointed, but then again, if you’re looking to get your ass kicked, you probably aren’t drinking cherry infused bourbon.

The price point for this juice is not bad – I picked it up for $25 and it seems about right. I would be more likely to mix it in an Old Fashioned or Manhattan where the cherry flavor would be a better touch.

According to their website, the Traverse City Whiskey Co. is currently working to set it self up as a fully in house bourbon distillery. They are going so far as to plant the crops that they will use in the process. Personally, I encourage this kind of growth. There is something special about a distillery that grows, distills and markets its own unique beverages. I look forward to seeing how the TCWC grows.

I feel strange about giving a rating to a bourbon that is so different then the others I typically try. But I will do it anyway.

Dan’s rating: 8.3 as a mixer bourbon; 7.5 as a sipper