Sunday, May 6, 2012

New Holland Artisan Spirits - Zeppelin Blend

This blog has been quiescent for a while, as I have not done much tasting, or bought any new beverages in a while. But it's time to write some new entries! I bought a few new whiskies from Stadium Market in Ann Arbor, and I want to write about them. I was sorely tempted by the Ardbeg Alligator, and asked after some bourbons, but decided to try something else entirely -- recently introduced American whiskies in small bottles

The first is made by New Holland Brewing Company in New Holland, Michigan, as part of their Artisan Spirits lineup - their Zeppelin Blend. This is a "straight malt" whisky made from barley and aged in new charred oak barrels, and bottled at 45% ABV in a half-bottle size (375 ml).

In the glass the color is a dark apple juice, with long legs and a somewhat thick, oily texture with long legs. Undiluted it is somewhat medicinal on the nose, and a little bit hot on the tongue. The flavors are primarily the new oak notes of vanilla and cloves, with some cocoa, spearmint, and a little orange peel and nutmeg. The finish is a little bit yeasty, sour and sawdust-y, making the whole thing a slightly unusual combination of sweet, oily, creamy, and dry. There is no age statement, but presumably it is pretty young whisky, impatiently aged in smaller barrels for more wood influence, which does smooth it a bit, but the complexity is a little bit lacking.

This artisanal whisky seems to me to lie somewhere between a very complex, expensive sipping Scotch, and a basic whisky suitable only for mixing. The nose is simply not complex enough to make it "slumping-in-your-chair" stuff where you might spend hours identifying all the subtleties, but it is far better than something like the ordinary Jack Daniels or Jim Beam (and even better than the great value Jim Beam Black). I am tempted to try making it into a very fine Stinger or Julep, but it's hard to feel good about mixing a whisky that cost around $40 for a half-bottle. Watering it slightly tames a little bit of the excess "hotness," although be careful not to go overboard. With the spearmint notes, it already tastes a little bit like a mint julep.

I really want to encourage small distilleries -- we need more of them! And so at the same time I must be honest and I can't recommend it without reservations. It only gets a B+. Although good, it is not a great value per ounce (you can get twice as much Arran 10 for the same price, and Sazerac Rye costs about the same per ounce). So until the producers either improve the flavor and compete with serious sipping whisky, or decrease the price and market it as a super-premium mixing whisky, I'm not sure the Zeppelin Blend will really be able to find its target market.