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If Kentucky wasn’t the birthplace of bourbon, Traverse City, Michigan might have been based solely on the state’s weather. Located further north than probably the majority of people reading this, whiskey and cold weather go hand in hand. With Kentucky limestone water and four season weather often cited as positives for aging whiskey there, Michigan is surrounded by four fresh water Great Lakes, and while July averages 80 degrees, the state’s 20 degree average winters provide an even more drastic contrast to Kentucky’s hot summers. It’s why the company dubs their product the “Whiskey of the North.”

Traverse City Whiskey Co. was founded by Traverse City native Chris Fredrickson, and his partners, Jared Rapp and Moti Goldring. Fredrickson discovered his great-grandfather had been granted whiskey distilling patents in the 1920s. This planted the idea to take advantage of this unique opportunity and continue what his grandfather started. The first few years the company sourced their bourbon until their whiskey was up and running. Now that it is, the company surprisingly has a wide range of products.

Their bourbon’s label states that it’s aged “three years or more,” but now officially clocks in at four years and is bottled at 86 proof. They also have a barrel proof version and our bottle lands at 112.84 proof. They have a rye appropriately titled North Coast Rye, which is a blend of 100% American rye, and a 95% rye and 5% malted barley straight rye whiskey. I wasn’t expecting the next two bottles in their lineup. The first is a cherry infused whiskey that uses 10 pounds of Michigan grown Montmorency sour cherries in each barrel for two weeks. Michigan is known for their cherries as it’s often called the “Cherry Capital of the World.” The other is a Port finished whiskey that takes their three year old whiskey and finishes it in a Port wine barrel for an additional year.

It’s quite a lineup from the young distillery. Tasting notes for each product are provided below.

Straight Bourbon XXX Whiskey

: Straight Bourbon
Distillery: Traverse City Whiskey Co.
Age: 4 Years
Proof: 86
Mashbill: 71% Corn, 25% Rye, 4% Barley
MSRP: $33

Nose: Corn, grain, orange, lemon, cedar
Palate: Lemon, mild cherry, grass, on the sweet side
Finish:  Vanilla, hint of oak

Overall: It didn’t grab me at first sip, but its sweet and citrusy notes won me over by the end. It tastes young, but isn’t overpowered by any amount of graininess or ethanol bite. At four years old it’s surprisingly easy drinking, and in the absence on heavy oak notes, orange and lemon notes have a chance to stand out nicely.

Straight Bourbon XXX Whiskey Barrel Proof

: Straight Bourbon
Distillery: Traverse City Whiskey Co.
Age: 4 Years
Proof: 112.84
Mashbill: 71% Corn, 25% Rye, 4% Barley
MSRP: $75

Nose: Butterscotch, caramel, grain, faint hints of lemon and orange
Palate: Caramel, toffee, charred oak
Finish: Caramel, vanilla

Overall: Big and robust. Its boldness mutes some of the 86 proof’s citrus notes, but replaces them with a wall of flavor. This wall makes it hard to pick out one flavor easily, as the flavors mingle together into a cohesive front. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing at all, and a welcome aspect as it’s rather smooth and drinkable for a higher proof bourbon.

North Coast Rye

: Rye
Distillery: Traverse City Whiskey Co.
Age: 3 Years
Proof: 90
Mashbill: Blend of 100% Rye and 95% Rye, 5% Barley
MSRP: $40

Nose: Straw, rye grain, lemon, apricot, fresh cut wood
Palate: Grain, rye bread, honey
Finish: Caramel

Overall: It’s on the light side overall, both in flavor and mouthfeel despite a small bite on the backend. The flavors are adequate, but clearly need more time to develop in the barrel. This is reinforced by the notable lack of oak in the taste which accounts for the overall lightness of this whiskey. Easy drinking, but in need of more complexity.

Traverse City American Cherry Edition

: Straight Bourbon Infused with Cherries
Distillery: Traverse City Whiskey Co.
Age: Undisclosed (Presumably their own distillate infused with cherries for 2 weeks)
Proof: 70
Mashbill: 71% Corn, 25% Rye, 4% Barley
MSRP: $30

Nose: Cherries on cherries on cherries
Palate: Montmorency cherries
Finish: Montmorency cherries

Overall: Clearly this isn’t for everyone. The Montmorency cherries are strong and this is very sweet. Despite what some might think, it does take skill to infuse a whiskey. If you’ve ever tried to infuse your own whiskey or think simply dumping a jar of Montmorency cherries in a whiskey will produce the same results, you’ll probably end up with something drastically different. The key is to add more flavor to the whiskey than a barrel finish typically would, while still retaining the characteristics of the base whiskey. Montmorency cherries have to be a devilish infusing agent as they are quite powerful in flavor. Traditional whiskey drinkers will probably not enjoy this as there is no escaping the strong Montmorency cherry taste. For infused spirit lovers drinkers (I think that might be a thing), there is some fun here. For everyone else, it can be a suprising detour from the ordinary.

Port Barrel Finish

: Straight Bourbon Finished in Port Wine Barrels
Distillery: Traverse City Whiskey Co.
Age: 3 Years + 1 Year of Finishing
Proof: 86
Mashbill: 71% Corn, 25% Rye, 4% Barley
MSRP: $40

Nose: Corn, grain, Port, dark raspberries, brandy soaked cherries
Palate: Grain, raisin, dark fruit
Finish: Grape, oak, ethanol

Overall: I was surprised when I read that this was finished for an additional year in Port barrels. Many major Kentucky distilleries don’t finish that long, so I was extra curious how this was going to taste. While a bit more well-rounded than their standard XXX Bourbon, the Port influence is on the tame side. I’m not sure if this has something to do with the age of the whiskey, or Michigan’s cold winters, but I expected bigger flavor from the Port barrels. Maybe my expectations got the best of me? It’s a nice alternative to their standard bourbon, but not as drastic a change as I thought it would be in its current iteration.

Samples of these Traverse City Whiskeys were provided at no cost courtesy of Traverse City Whiskey Co. We thank them for the samples and for allowing us to review them with no strings attached.

Written By: Eric Hasman

December 27, 2018
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Tasting Traverse City Whiskey Co.
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