Traverse City Bourbon Review [In Depth]

Traverse City Bourbon

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Traverse City Bourbon Details

Distillery: Traverse City

Type & Region: Bourbon, USA

Alcohol: 43%

Composition: Not disclosed, but at least 51% corn

Aged: 3 years

Color: 1.1/2.0 on the color scale (burnished)

Price: $35-40

From the company website:

“Our original recipe with a bold nose and hints of caramel and vanilla. Gold Medal award from Moti’s favorite.”

Traverse City Bourbon overview

Traverse City Whiskey is making a name for themselves with quite a range of homemade and sourced bourbons and ryes. They seem to be sitting on a decent size stockpile of MGP barrels too, and that alone is a goldmine. In fact, the first Traverse City Whiskey bourbon I ever reviewed was a 12 Year old MGP sourced single barrel bourbon that was aged in Indiana then Michigan (very cool and excellent), and released in 2020.

But for this review, I have Traverse City Bourbon, their 3 year old homemade bourbon that can be considered the entry point into their whiskeys, and what they are working on for the future.

For some background, Traverse City Whiskey is located in well… Traverse City, Michigan, way north in the state and more north than some parts of Canada. So we’re talking about very cold falls and winters, cool springs, and generally mild summers, making it different from Kentucky’s climate.

I unfortunately didn’t visit when I was working towards my MBA at the University of Michigan (GO BLUE!), but I hope to visit some day to further acquaint myself with what they do. Oh, and Traverse City is still a 4 hour drive from Ann Arbor, so it’s not close. I’ll just fly there for a visit.

Let’s find out more about what Traverse City Whiskey has in the works in is Traverse City Bourbon review.

Thanks to Fred C. for this generous gift

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Traverse City Bourbon smell

My first sniff has gentle peppery and earthy honey, rosemary, caraway seed, vanilla, dry cracker, orange and apple peel, apricot, roasted oak, and cinnamon. It’s sweet up front but quickly becomes more earthy.
I can’t help but think that this smells young due to the peppery and cracker-y scents, but then again it is 3 years old and I suspect that very little of it is older.

Swirling kicks up a little more of the sweet grain, honey, sweet corn, vanilla, roasted oak, orange, apricot, rosemary thyme, cinnamon, and a little smoke. It deftly balances the sweet honey, grain, fruit, and oak fairly well so nothing smells off or out of place, and the heat is controlled.

Don’t get me wrong, Traverse City Whiskey Bourbon is not spectacular by any means because it doesn’t have much richness, but it’s also far from bad or unpleasant.

Traverse City Bourbon taste and aftertaste

Honey, caraway seed, dry orange peel, vanilla, apricot, roasted oak, licorice, cinnamon, and nutmeg lead off the flavors. So, it starts sweet but the earthiness kicks in quickly followed by the fruit and slight herbalness. It’s also a little drying with that earthy cracker, and also has some graininess that makes it taste young.
With “chewing” I taste earthy honey, vanilla, caraway seed, roasted oak, roasted grains, apple and orange coated in cinnamon and clove, licorice, and a little coffee ground. Nothing is particularly dense or stands-out, but it still has a bit of everything to be enjoyable.
While the flavors are more earthy-forward, the roasted grains and earthines are not overpowering, so that’s a huge plus for young craft bourbon because those youthful flavors can easily take over.

Just like the flavors, Traverse City Whiskey Bourbon’s finish is sweet and earthy with honey, orange, vanilla, rosemary, caraway seed, oak, and licorice. There’s a longer-lasting earthy rosemary and caraway seed, but it’s not bitter or unpleasant.

The second time the finish is an evenly balanced mix of honey, caraway seed, roasted oak, licorice, clove, red apple. It’s not bad at all, and with young bourbon, I’m often weary of it being overly oaky and earthy. Thankfully it’s not a problem here.
So overall, Traverse City Bourbon has a decent mix of sweet, earthy, fruity, oaky, and spicy flavors that hint at future greatness, but the youth holds it back for now.

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Traverse City Bourbon Rating

Mid Shelf

Traverse City Whiskey’s Bourbon is a decent young craft bourbon, but this particular bottle doesn’t make me think “wow Traverse City Whiskey is killing it”…yet. My tone is weird, but the fact that it’s young yet still smells and tastes balanced is a huge positive…seriously.

It’s all too easy for the dry, bitter, and earthy oak and malty grain to take over and dampen the experience because the sweetness, fruitiness, and general complexity / depth haven’t caught up yet. In this case, the sweet honey and vanilla, and fruity apple, orange, and apricot still have some room to shine.

Honestly, it’s tough to accurately and definitively review craft whiskey because they are usually a work in progress, an intermediate step to a more stable age and blend in the future. It’s not like the mega distilleries who have a 50-100+ year head start, so they can more intentionally blend bourbons across various ages for a specific profile. As a result, the bourbons they offer are more or less a set / finalized product so we can be more definitive in our reviews. 

Sure there are some changes in blends over time, but by and far Buffalo Trace today is probably going to be about the same as Buffalo Trace in 3 years. I would not be surprised if this Traverse City Bourbon is very different in 3 years given that their stocks will have further aged, and they can modify the blend, or just change it entirely to be older.

Even so, I still have to rate Traverse City Whiskey’s Bourbon based on how it compares to other whiskeys regardless of distillery, age, or price. But, my tone can still capture the more nuanced background of how and why it was made that way because this is not a final product, but a means to one and more.

Drinking this Traverse City Bourbon and understanding the context behind it, I firmly believe that the future is promising. And while some have expressed disdain for the word “promise”, that’s really what this is. It’s an introduction to what Traverse City Whiskey can do now and a promise for new, older, and better bourbon to come. Craft distilleries are still relatively young and they’ll need more time to truly hit their stride.

Alex author

Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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