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Cigar Spirits: Smooth Ambler Big Level, St. Augustine Port Barrel, and 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, including highly sought-after bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle and W.L. 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 the 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, and 8% malted Barley. Batch 21. Price = $55.

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

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

Finish: Pepper and 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, it’s 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 were used to make port at the nearby San Sebastian winery. Price = $40 for 375 ml.

Nose: Clove, fruitcake, honey, and oak.

Palate: Leather, cereal grains, and cherries.

Finish: Tannins, oak, white pepper, and 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 and is known for wheated bourbon. The brand started at the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery, home of bourbon like Weller, Van Winkle, and Old Fitzgerald. The brand is 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, and orange peel.

Palate: Roasted 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 an 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

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