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Cigar Spirits: Four Roses Barrel Strength Private Selection Bourbon

20 Nov 2014

This isn’t a normal Spirits write-up. Four Roses Barrel Strength Private Selection isn’t just one bourbon, but a barrel selection program. More details in a minute. But instead of burying the lead, it’ll come right out with it: If you want some really good bourbon you can actually find at a reasonable price, seek out Four Roses Private Barrel Selections.

four-roses-private-barrel-selection-csThe more you get into bourbon, the more you find hype. There are lots of good bourbons (and ryes) out there, but many of the limited offerings are increasingly hard to find. Pappy, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (Stagg, William Larue Weller, Sazerac 18, Eagle Rare 17, even Handy), rare Willett offerings, A.H. Hirsch… they are all outstanding. They’re also hard to find, and usually wildly expensive (hundreds of dollars or more).

Even American whiskey bottles that weren’t all that hard to find a year or two ago (Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Weller 12, Weller Antique 107, even Elmer T. Lee) are now becoming difficult to find. That makes a limited and tasty, yet readily available, bourbon a real gem.

Four Roses makes bourbon differently from most other distilleries. While most bourbons use one single recipe (mashbill and yeast combination), Four Roses mixes 10 recipes into its standard Yellow Label bourbon. (The small batch has four of those bourbons in an undisclosed ratio.) This unique approach gives Four Roses a far wider library of aging bourbon barrels than most places.

And thankfully, Four Roses makes those barrels available for its Private Barrel program. Here’s how it works: A retailer, distributor, or even a bar can select a single barrel from ten or so samples they recieve from Four Roses. They might specify the recipe they want, but ultimately they choose the bourbon that is bottled (usually between 9 and 12 years) as their private selection through tasting. That means every Private Barrel Selection was at least selected as the best of a handful of barrels. So if you find a retailer who really knows their stuff, you’ll likely end up with a pretty tasty selection.

I’ve had a half-dozen of these in recent years, selected by stores in Kentucky, Texas, California, and D.C. and each has been excellent. Each recipe has different characteristics, and each barrel is unique. I’ve yet to find a dud. At $50-70 per bottle, it’s a solid value, especially given the ever-increasing prices of rare bourbon.

Each is bottled at barrel-proof without being diluted, which usually means 110-proof or often higher. Each unique barrel has its own character, so suggesting a cigar pairing is difficult, but you’ll definitely want a flavorful, full-bodied cigar.

As for which bottles to pick up, I have two suggestions. First, take a look at the description of each of the ten recipes Four Roses makes and decide which ones sound the best. Second, find a retailer who knows their bourbon and can pick a good barrel. Do that and you’ll end up with some of the best bourbon you can find.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Curivari Buenaventura BV 560

16 Nov 2014

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Want a recommendation for a good cigar for under $5? The Curivari Buenaventura BV 560 (if you shop around you can get a box of 10 for under $50) fits the bill. With a simple band and a matte wrapper, the Nicaraguan puro doesn’t look fancy. But don’t let that fool you. The medium-bodied, box-pressed smoke features the two things I most want in a cigar: balance and complexity. The multi-level flavors include milk chocolate, coffee, bread, and cedar. Combine that with solid construction and you get a very solid buy.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: E.P. Carrillo La Historia Doña Elena

13 Nov 2014


The 5th Year Anniversary Limitada wasn’t the only new cigar from E.P. Carrillo (EPC) recently. The company also released La Historia, its first box-pressed cigar.

While details are murky so far, and while these things have a way of changing, it has been suggested this line will be the first in a new series of EPC of releases called “The Generations” series. The names of La Historia also pay tribute to multiple generations, with the sizes being named after Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s father, wife, and son, respectively: El Senador, Doña Elena, and E-III.

I sampled the Doña Elena (6.1 x 50), smoking four cigars from the ornate box pictured above. La Historia uses a Mexican Maduro wrapper around an Ecuadorian Sumatra binder. According to the EPC website it has only Nicaraguan fillers. However, nearly every retail website (such sites generally get their info directly from the company) lists fillers as coming from both Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

The cigar comes in a very elegant, ornate presentation. It’s a far cry from the original EPC packaging and it looks very sharp, although the large box isn’t exactly an efficient use of your humidor space for just 10 cigars.

Pre-draw, there’s a very unique plastic-like flavor. I thought at first it was from the plastic tray at the bottom of the box, but even the two cigars I set aside for a month had the same element. It’s not something that bothers me, or is even unpleasant, but it’s definitely different.

Once lit, you can clearly taste the Mexican wrapper. The cigar produces thick, dense smoke that’s packed with a mix of chalk, milk chocolate, almond, and roasted flavors. The medium- to full-bodied smoke really coats the palate. Construction is flawless.

La Historia Doña Elena is a complete 180 from the EPC 5th Anniversary cigar, but good in its own way. All things being equal, I’ve never been a big fan of Mexican wrappers, and this cigar is dominated by it’s wrapper. Yet it’s still easy to appreciate the roasty flavors, voluminous smoke production, and excellent construction. That earns the E.P. Carrillo La Historia Doña Elena a rating of four stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Kilkerran Work In Progress 6 Sherry Matured

11 Nov 2014

Once called the “Whiskey Capital of the World,” the number of whiskey distilleries in Campbeltown has dwindled from its peak of over 30. Today there are only three: Springbank, Glen Scotia, and Glengyle, the latter of which is where Kilkerran is distilled.kilkerran-wop6-sherry-sq

kilkerran-wop6-sherryIn fact, it has been suggested that Campbeltown (one of four major scotch whiskey regions along with Highlands, Lowland, and Islay) will be folded into the larger Highland region because of the small number of remaining Campbeltown distilleries. That dearth of Campbeltown distilleries is probably why I’m drinking Kilkerran today.

Glengyle, which calls its whiskey Kilkerran to distinguish it from Glengyle vatted whiskey (which is owned by another distillery), hadn’t produced whiskey since the 1920s until it resumed production in 2004 with the assistance of Springbank Distillery staff (whose owners are associated with Glengyle). Springbank is almost certainly motivated by the threat to the Campbeltown designation for its support of the relaunch of the Glengyle Distillery.

A regular-production Kilkerran Single Malt is due in 2016, but a few “Work in Progress” single malts have been released starting in 2009. That makes the Work in Progress 6, released earlier this year, a 10-year scotch aged exclusively, as the name suggests, in sherry casks. (A bourbon cask Work in Progress is also available.)

On the nose, Kilkerran is forward with its creamy sherry-ness, which is joined by a hint of pear. The palate features more rich sherry that hits the front and middle of the palate. Oak is apparent, too, as are dried fruits. The finish is more of the same with dates and sherry coating the roof of the mouth.

The 94-proof Kilkerran may be a “Work in Progress” in name, but it’s every bit a finished, well-rounded whiskey. It pairs perfectly with a fine Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped cigar like a My Father or CAO Concert, or if you want to go the Cuban route try a Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill.

Fans of sherry-forward single malt shouldn’t hesitate to pick up the Kilkerran Work In Progress 6 Sherry Matured, which retails for around $65. But even if you decide to pass on this limited offering (or you can’t find one of the limited bottles) definitely be on the lookout for the regular release when it comes out in 2016. I know that if they say this is only the work in progress, I can’t wait to pick up the finished product.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: CAO Concert Amp

9 Nov 2014

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

I’ll admit it: I don’t get why the CAO Concert didn’t catch on. Launched two years ago, we hardly hear about the line anymore, and CAO seems to have largely stopped promoting it. Maybe it’s the non-traditional packaging (guitar pick band, speaker amp box) that caused people to miss the well-made, traditional cigar that Concert is.  The corona-sized Amp (5.5 x 46) demonstrates classic Ecuadorian Habano flavors. Think medium- to full-bodied cedar, coffee, bread, and a hint of pepper spice. If you like Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped cigars like the Emilio AF2 or My Father, check out the Concert Amp. It offers similar flavors at a price that might be below $4 if you pick it up by the box.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Palina Black Label Robusto

6 Nov 2014

La Palina has accomplished a lot in the four and a half years since the brand was launched, or technically re-launched. (The original La Palina was introduced in 1896, and later developed by the vision of William S. Paley, who went on to found CBS.)

La-Palina-Black-RobI attended the La Palina launch event in 2010 when the company introduced its first cigar, made at Graycliff in the Bahamas. If you had told me then where this brand would be now, I would have been both impressed and surprised.La-Palina-Black-Rob-sq

Since 2010, La Palina has introduced a steady stream of new cigars, with nearly two per year. The latest offering is La Palina Black, the second La Palina cigar (after the Classic) to be made at Abe Flores’ Pinar del Rio factory in the Dominican Republic.

The line comes in four sizes—Gordo (6 x 60), Toro (6 x 50), Robusto (5 x 52), and Petit Lancero (6 x 40)—with prices ranging from $9 to $11.50 per cigar. La Palina has always had a classic look, but the black accents in the primary band combined with the black and gold secondary label make this an especially sharp presentation.

For this review, I smoked two Robustos provided as samples by La Palina. Each features a deep brown Brazilian Bahiano wrapper. Underneath are dual binders from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua around filler tobaccos from the same two countries.

The cigar has notable dried fruit flavors on the pre-light draw. Once lit, I found medium-full bodied roasted flavors of coffee, leather, and oak. There’s a slight hint of licorice too, and perhaps an echo of sweetness.

As it progresses, a chalky element adds into the mix, but mostly the flavors are consistent from start to finish. The aroma is very pleasant with dense oak and pepper. Construction is flawless, including a light gray ash that holds for an inch and a half before falling off.

This latest La Palina has many of the qualities that make the brand unlikely to disappoint. It’s well-made and features pleasant flavors, even if it doesn’t have much of a wow factor. That earns the La Palina Black Robusto a rating of four stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill (Cuban)

2 Nov 2014

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.ryj-wide-churchill-sq

I recently revisited this Cuban Romeo y Julieta dubbed the Wide Churchill. The name is a bit strange. Short Wide Churchill would be more accurate (since it’s not just wider than a Churchill), though also more awkward. Name aside, the cigar is attractive and well-constructed, which is certainly welcome considering that Cubans have a deserved reputation for inconsistent construction. The Flavors are classic Habano: medium-bodied and balanced with roasted notes, lots of cedar, and coffee. It remains one of the better Cuban cigars I’ve had recently.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys