Tasted!: A Pair of Michigan Whiskeys

I have had sitting on my desk for some time now a pair of whiskeys – and a sample of a rather expensive rum, but more about that later in the week – which I have been nipping at now and again, but never getting around to reviewing. As much as this might seem typical of my tendency towards procrastination, in this particular instance, my biding of time has a point.

Because when I first tasted the New Holland Artisan Spirits Zeppelin Blend and Brewers’ Whiskey, my initial impression of each was that it was young and hot with alcohol. Which is, in fact, true, since the former spends a minimum of only three years in full-sized, American oak barrels and the latter a mere six months in comparatively tiny, 5-gallon barrels, also crafted from American white oak, and both are bottled at 90 proof.

Recognizing, however, that not every whiskey is meant to be sipped neat, and that a certain amount of fire is often welcomed at certain times, such as late in the evening after a particularly arduous day, I felt it important to understand better these spirits before committing them to review. Hence, the “nipping.”

Neither whiskey, it should be first noted, is a corn-based bourbon. Rather, they are distilled from 100% barley malt, much as is Scottish single malt. The heavily charred new American oak in which they mature, of course, marks a significant departure from Scottish standards.

The Zeppelin displays the greatest degree of family resemblance to the Scots, I find, with the charred notes edging towards a perceived peatiness in the nose – although admittedly not quite getting there – and an overall spicy dryness of aroma giving it a slight Hibernian feel. The Brewers’ Whiskey, on the other hand, lands more in the bold and boisterous American camp, with notes of barbecued fruit, especially banana, joining cooked vanilla pods and charred wood on the nose.

Sampled straight, both whiskeys do indeed taste youthful and intense, which in the case of the Zeppelin is not necessarily a bad thing. (I find the Brewers’ a little too aggressive undiluted.) Loads of round flavours from caramelized pear to rich vanilla and spice-soaked toffee tame the booziness and make this a quite passable nightcap, albeit one I wouldn’t want to pour in too large a portion.

With a drop of water or even – gasp! – an ice cube, however, these spirits, especially the Brewers’ Whiskey, really come into their own. The caramel and toffee notes remain in the Zeppelin, but tempered to a level that they may be enjoyed even when the soothing effect of potency is not something craved, while the fruity-spicy boldness of the Brewers’ is allowed to open up and blossom, turning a sharp hit of spirits into a rich and flavoursome whiskey that wouldn’t be out of place alongside a Sunday roast or rare sirloin.

I have visited New Holland and sampled several of their spirits, both commercial and experimental, and wholeheartedly approve of their direction, so I freely admit that perhaps my opinion is a bit clouded by this appreciation. But my perception of these whiskeys is that, while they are perfectly good now, they are not destinations in and of themselves, but rather portents, and positive ones, for the future of this distillery.

2 Replies to “Tasted!: A Pair of Michigan Whiskeys”

  1. They look really cool, and sound great. An American whisky I really want to get my teeth into comes from Rogue Brewery! (check it out on there website) This of course is not the first example of a brewery making a whisky, but I don’t think it will be the last. (Gouden Carolus have a super supper too.)

  2. I tried both of these as well and think you’re right on the money, Stephen. In my case, the sweet and bold flavor of the Brewers’ Whiskey won my heart. It made me feel like a cowboy drinking something so young and unbridled in its flavor.

    These two samples have turned me on to the promise of artisinal distilling in the U.S. I think New Holland is part of the next great movement in American drinking, following in the footsteps of craft beer, with a lot of the same folks carrying the water. I can’t wait to see how this unfolds.

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