Cigar Spirits: Smooth Ambler Big Level, St. Augustine Port Barrel & Rebel Yell 10 Year Bourbons

17 Dec 2018

In this edition of Cigar Spirits I’m looking at three wheated bourbons from three different states: West Virginia, Florida and Kentucky.

All bourbons must be made with a mashbill that’s a majority corn, but what sets a wheated bourbon apart is that wheat (and not rye) is the secondary grain.  Generally, with age, wheated bourbons (which includes highly sought-after bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle and WL Weller) are considered sweeter and less spicy than their more numerous rye counterparts.

Smooth Ambler Big Level Wheated Bourbon

Smooth Ambler has bottled well-received bourbon and ryes sourced from other distilleries for years under their Old Scout line. Big Level is their first bourbon produced at their West Virginia distillery.

Specs: Aged at least five years, bottled at 100 proof and made from a mashbill that is 71% Corn, 21% Wheat, 8% Malted Barley. (Batch 21 – Price $55)

Nose: Charred oak, menthol and a touch of alcohol heat

Palate: Caramel, cinnamon spice, malted milk, cherries, burnt corn

Finish: Pepper, green oak,

Verdict: Youthful and unique. Tasty now, but still with an edge that could be smoothed out with more barrel time.

Cigar pairing: Best smoked with a spicy Dominican like the Fuente Opus X or La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero.

St Augustine Distillery Florida Port Finished Bourbon

Not that long ago you could count the number of whiskey distilleries in the United States in the dozens; now that figure is well over 1,000. St. Augustine Distillery is one of the many new craft distilleries. Unlike many new operations, St. Augustine isn’t sourcing whiskey from elsewhere, instead producing an in-house Florida-made bourbon.

Specs: This special edition 102 proof “malted bourbon” is sold only at the gift shop. It’s made by taking St. Augustine’s Florida Double Cask Bourbon (distilled from corn, wheat, malted barley and aged first in half-size 25 gallon barrels, then full-size 53 gallon barrels) then aged further in barrels that have used to make port at the nearby San Sebastian winery. (Price $40 for 375ml)

Nose: Clove, fruitcake, honey and oak

Palate: Leather, cereal grains, cherries

Finish: Tannins, oak, white pepper, grains

Verdict: There is a lot going on with this bourbon, including a delicious nose. It’s a gutsy product from a craft distiller, though you’d be unable to miss the youthfulness which creates a slightly harsh edge. I’d be really interested to try St. Augustine bourbon with four or even six years in the barrel.

Cigar pairing: Spicy Honduran cigars like the Camacho Corojo, H. Upmann Yargüera or CLE.

Rebel Yell Single Barrel 10 Year Kentucky Bourbon

The storied Rebel Yell brand has been around for decades, as a line known for wheated bourbons. The brand started at the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery home of bourbons like Weller, Van Winkle, and Old Fitzgerald. The brand is owned by owned by Missouri-based Luxco, but reportedly the bourbon is now produced on contract at Heaven Hill, with the 10 year Single Barrel variety being the top offering in the line.

Specs: 100 proof single barrel Kentucky wheated bourbon. Barrel # 5083223 – distilled in September 2006. (Price $65)

Nose: Vanilla, caramel, dried fruit, orange peel.

Palate: Roast pecans, shortbread, oak, burnt sugar and cinnamon.

Finish: Lingering vanilla, wood spice and pie crust.

Verdict: A rich, surprisingly spicy  bourbon with a long finish. Unlike the other bourbons in this tasting, this is a integrated finished product, not just a promising work in progress.

Cigar pairing: Balanced, medium-bodied Connecticut-wrapped cigars like the Illusione Rothchildes CTCabaiguan or Drew Estate Herrera Esteli.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Crowned Heads Headley Grange Drumstick

16 Dec 2018

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

When Crowned Heads released the original limited edition Drumstick lancero (7.5 x 38) in 2013, it quickly became a highly sought-after, much-praised cigar. The re-release last year didn’t seem to garner the same response, despite reportedly being the same as the original with only a smaller production level and the addition of a black foot ribbon. It’s a medium-strength smoke with a smooth Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. There’s pepper, though it’s not overwhelming, and some sweetness mixed with nuts and floral notes. All in all, a fine cigar for about $10.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Cohiba Siglo VI (Cuban)

14 Dec 2018

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Siglo VI

The core Cohiba line, also known as Línea Clásica, launched in 1982 with three vitolas: Panetela, Corona Especial, and Lancero. Exquisito, Espléndido, and Robusto were introduced in 1989. The much-lauded Siglo line—which ranges in format from the small Siglo I (4 x 42) to the large Siglo VI (6 x 52)—didn’t come around until later. Aside from Behike, the Cohiba Siglo VI is one of the most sought-after Cubans. If you can get your hands on one, you’ll find a well-balanced profile of honey, white pepper, earth, and cream—but you’ll also find a cigar that turns papery and sour from time to time. In my view, this makes the Siglo VI really difficult to recommend, especially for the tremendous price the cigar often commands.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXVIII)

12 Dec 2018

In the 28th edition of our Random Thoughts from the Humidor series, I talk cocktails, calvados, and the FDA.

The Islay Daiquiri

Here’s a winter cocktail that may sound strange but is actually quite enjoyable. When you think of daiquiris, you think of tropical islands. Not peaty Islay whiskey. Yet, recently, I’ve found myself enjoying this Islay twist on a classic drink. The smoky, salty scotch is magical with the citrus, similar to a margarita made with a smoky mezcal. Simply swap in 10 year Ardbeg or Laphroaig for rum in your favorite daiquiri recipe.

No progress at the FDA?

By pressing the pause button on the Obama FDA’s cigar regulations, new leadership at the FDA was welcomed by many in the handmade cigar industry. Nearly two years later, it is time to look at the new regime’s policy. This article argues recent FDA moves signal a dangerous future for adults who choose to smoke cigars: “[T]hese moves may pave the way for even more radical regulations that would, in essence, make it illegal to sell the combustible tobacco products favored by cigarette and cigar smokers throughout the United States.” What is clear is that Scott Gottlieb’s reign at the FDA may have different priorities from the Obama Administration, but different isn’t necessarily significantly better.

Is Calvados the Next Big Thing?

I’ve been exploring calvados lately. I’m liking what I’m tasting. The apple (and sometimes pear) brandy from Normandy combines some of the best elements of cognac, wine, and whiskey. Terroir matters, oak barrel aging is important, and both large and small producers develop their own distinct styles. Give it a try. If you have any favorites, let us know.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Cigars and the Common Cold

10 Dec 2018

[Editor’s Note: The following commentary first appeared at on April 7, 2010. Since the author is currently suffering from a head cold, and since he’s not feeling well enough to smoke, he thought today would be a good day to revisit the topic. Conveniently, re-posting an old article would also get him out of having to write anything new for the day. He figures if you’ve been publishing for overa decade, you deserve a little break now and then. By the way, take note of two specific cigars that get mentioned below; in the author’s eyes, at least, they really date this article.]

Some call it a sinus infection. Others call it the common cold. The medical community recognizes it as a “viral upper respiratory tract infection.” No matter what the name, the symptoms are usually the same: runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, mild fatigue, and possibly a fever. And, like the summertime blues, there ain’t no cure.

The average adult experiences two to four colds per year. I got my first (and hopefully last) case of the 2010 cold this weekend. In typical fashion, it came overnight with a scratchy throat, stuffed up my nose for a few days, and left just as quickly as it arrived. No big deal, but enough to cause me to cancel a few weekend activities.

One activity I cut back on while sick is cigar smoking. I’m not really concerned that cigars will prolong the cold’s duration (although doctors say smokers tend to have longer colds—but then again, doctors say a lot of things). I just find cigar smoking a lot less enjoyable when my throat is sore or my nose is clogged.

I’d never attempt to review a cigar when my nose—the best cigar tasting instrument I have—is out of whack. Recently, though, I conducted an experiment. I fired up a Rocky Patel Vintage ’90 Toro to see if I could identify the flavors I normally associate with this cigar (cocoa, spicy wood, etc.). I couldn’t.

Not even close. I could have been smoking pretty much anything and it would have tasted like chalky, billowy air. As expected, this was a reminder of the huge role our sense of smell plays in cigar tasting and how important it is to routinely smoke through the nose.

Aside from being an impediment to appreciating premium tobacco, my cold also reminded me that I’m far from addicted to tobacco. I went a solid five days without smoking (and I’ve gone much longer under different circumstances, like when I was training for a marathon). Never once did I experience cravings, headaches, nausea, anxiety, or other symptoms common to those trying to quit cigarettes. Sure, I missed not being able to thoroughly enjoy a cigar. But it wasn’t an epic battle to lay off the leaf for awhile.

Now I’m feeling much better. I took my nose for a test drive with a 601 Red and everything seems to be back to normal. Health permitting, I’m looking forward to catching up on some new reviews and Quick Smokes in the weeks to come.

The next time I get a cold, I’ll probably get lots of sleep, drink lots of fluids, and avoid cigars—at least expensive ones. I suggest you do the same.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Quick Smoke: Camacho American Barrel Aged Robusto

9 Dec 2018

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Broadleaf wrapper, bourbon barrels, and Honduran corojo. What’s not to like? In 2015, Camacho added the American Barrel Aged line as part of its new Camacho’s Master Built Series. The blend employs an American-grown Broadleaf wrapper, binder, and filler, with Camacho’s go-to Honduran Corojo. The $11 Robusto (5 x 50) is bold and full-flavored with charred wood, leather, black coffee, and spice. It is well-constructed, but dry notes highlight a lack of balance and slight harshness.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: JFR Lunatic Habano Short Titan

7 Dec 2018

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Just a few puffs into this cigar, I almost put it down. That’s a step I rarely take, but the Lunatic was so rough and harsh it was hard to imagine working my way farther down its fat frame. Fortunately, I didn’t give up. And the cigar, one of a budget line introduced several years ago by Aganorsa, did improve. Slightly. Also on the positive side, it performed well, though as is typical of big ring gauge cigars, several lighter touch-ups were necessary. Overall, though, I found the Lunatic to be an unsatisfying cigar with little to recommend it.

Verdict = Sell.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys