Review: Traverse City Finishing Series Whiskeys – Port, Sherry, and Cab Franc Barrel Finish

Michigan’s Traverse City recently dropped a trio of new whiskeys, all made from its own distillate and each finished in a different type of wine cask. The focus on all three is decidedly on the finishing cask: These don’t even indicate the type of whiskey they’re made from on the front of the bottle; you’ll have to check the fine print on the reverse for the details.

Or, you know, you can just read our three reviews, which follow below.

Traverse City Bourbon Port Barrel Finish – Five year old straight bourbon whiskey, finished for an additional nine months in 300 liter Ruby Port wine barrels. Bright and sweet on the nose, and rather laden with fruit. A maple syrup quality quickly emerges with just a few minutes in glass. Dense and raisiny on the palate, the whiskey has no shortage of Port influence to share, evoking notes of cherries and prunes as it develops. Vanilla and more of that maple only add to the sweetness, ultimately dominating the experience and making for a bit of an overload at times. Cherries jubilee, perhaps? A whiskey tailor-made for dessert — or a decadent cocktail — with just enough of the underlying corn and grain to remind you what they started with. 100 proof.

Traverse City Rye Cabernet Franc Barrel Finish – A curious concoction of 100% rye whiskey, five years old, finished for an additional nine months in cabernet franc barrels from a northern Michigan winery. Very much a rye, with a boldly herbal, grassy nose and attack. Unlike the Port Barrel bottling, this whiskey keeps its finishing in check. Husky and dusky on first blush, the rye is tempered eventually by a restrained, cherry-driven character, along with some touches of toasted marshmallow, though that all quickly disappears. Sustained notes of dry grass endure, the finish evoking elements of gunpowder and pencil lead. The exact opposite of the Port Barrel offering, here the finish creates just the slightest accent on top of the base spirit. I’d suggest using this as you would any cocktailing rye. 97.5 proof.

Traverse City Bourbon Sherry Barrel Finish – High-rye bourbon, again 5 years old, finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels for 9 months. That’s a bold move, and as with the Port Barrel Finish, the finishing barrel takes the reins throughout in this bottling. PX sherry doesn’t mess around, and all the rye in the world can’t keep the sherry from dominating this whiskey. Some smoldering, rye-driven herbal aromas, almost smoky at times, are complemented by the sherry’s classic, oxidized wine qualities — perhaps like a sage smudging performed in a wine cellar. Heavier citrus and old wine notes permeate the rather sharp, enduring finish. Bourbon and sherry aren’t always perfect companions, but they manage to work well enough together here. 95 proof.

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