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Cigar Spirits: Nikka From The Barrel

17 Jul 2019

Bubble. Boom. Whatever you want to call it, whiskey has been on the upswing for years. And, recently, Japanese whiskey in particular has been a victim of the realities of supply and demand.

Some combination of branding, style, distribution, and long-overdue recognition has catapulted Japanese whiskey from an oddity to a sought-after luxury in recent years. That culminated last year when Nikka From the Barrel was designated 2018 Whiskey of the Year by Whiskey Advocate.

The 51.4% ABV spirit demonstrates many of the mysteries and anomalies of Japanese whiskey. The blended whiskey is produced by Nikka Whisky Distilling, but few details are available beyond that.

While all Japanese whiskey meets the legal definition of whiskey (distilled malt or grain aged in oak barrels), the fact is there are few requirements beyond some step in the process taking place in Japan. Japanese whiskey can be single malt, grain whiskey, or a blend, and it can even be aged or distilled in Japan or elsewhere. (Yes, that Japanese whiskey you are drinking may have started in Canada, Ireland, or Scotland.)

In short, it’s the wild west (or perhaps wild far east) of whiskey. The reputation of what’s in the bottle is far more dependent on the label than the region or Japanese designation. With supplies of Japanese-distilled whiskey dwindling, there is every reason for consumers to be skeptical of that new Japanese whiskey you come across.

However, Nikka From The Barrel doesn’t suffer any lack of reputation or pedigree, as detailed in Whiskey Advocate‘s write-up: “In 1985, Nikka Whisky Distilling Company’s blending team, led by Shigeo Sato, designed this whisky using both malt and grain whiskies produced at Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo Distilleries. When taking into account the full array of casks—bourbon barrels, sherry butts, refill hogsheads, and more—over 100 different constituent whiskies are enlisted.”

The result is an amber whiskey with a rich nose full of sherry and bourbon-y vanilla with hints of hints of seaweed and sulphur. On the palate you’ll find a balanced, complex combination of flavors with ginger, stonefruit, oak, tobacco, and red fruit. The finish is clean and balanced with lingering ginger and light wood spice.

It is without a doubt an enjoyable whiskey, and the price ($80) isn’t unwarranted given the hype of Japanese whiskey (though, at that price, there are quite a few scotch single malts I’d prefer). With this bottle being increasingly hard to find, you certainly shouldn’t be eager to pay more than that suggested retail price.

Pair it with a medium-bodied or even mild cigar if you want to appreciate all the nuanced flavors that Nikka From The Barrel can reveal. Some suggestions include: Aging Room Bin No. 1 B Minor, Cabaiguan, Cohiba Siglo, Illusione Epernay, Paul Garmirian Gourmet, and Warped Futuro.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Flor Dominicana Old Virginia Tobacco Company Exclusive

14 Jul 2019

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.”

I consider myself lucky to live near multiple excellent cigars shops that carry plenty of store exclusivew and other hard-to-find limited cigars. This La Flor Dominicana was made exclusively for one of those (the northern Virginia-based chain Old Virginia Tobacco Co.), and has an undisclosed blend with a dark brown wrapper and a lightly box-pressed shape. The cigar features flavors of roast nuts, cedar, coffee, and a spice that builds towards the final third. Balanced, well-constructed, and medium- to full-bodied, it’s easy to recommend.

Patrick S

photo credit: N/A

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXX)

10 Jul 2019

In our thirtieth “Random Thoughts from the Humidor” article, we look at protecting cigars, “CigarCon,” and how to upgrade your Negroni:

Marco Rubio: Congress Must Act to Save America’s Cigar Industry

A must-read op-ed from Florida Senator Marco Rubio:

I support current laws which prohibit minors from smoking, but tobacco is a legal product and it’s wrong for Beltway bureaucrats to snuff out small manufacturers and retailers of premium cigars. Any person who has seen machine-made cigarillos, or fat cigarettes, behind the cash register at their neighborhood gas station knows these products are vastly different than a hand-rolled premium cigar. And yet, unlike premium cigar makers, the large corporations that mass produce cigarillos have the financial means to comply with the FDA regulations so they will continue to be sold in mass quantities.

This overregulation is also unnecessary as it is already illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. Even the FDA’s own research proves that underage tobacco users are not smoking premium cigars. Premium cigar smokers account for just 0.7 percent of all adult tobacco users and the median age of a person’s first regular use is 24.5 years old.

So what can we do to stop this overreach?

That was the subject of a Small Business Committee field hearing I held in Ybor City this April. We heard directly from the premium cigar industry and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, which makes sure federal regulations do not unnecessarily hurt small businesses. The Office of Advocacy wrote to the FDA expressing concern about the rule’s economic impact on the premium cigar industry, but the FDA ignored these concerns.

If the FDA fails to recognize that the practical effect of its rule will put America’s premium cigar industry out of business, Congress must act to save this iconic industry. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2019, which would exempt the premium cigar industry from the FDA’s misguided rule.

Read the rest.

CigarCon Is On

At the Premium Cigar Association (PCA) Trade Show last week (formerly known as the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, or IPCPR) the widely anticipated CigarCon was formally announced. The event will, for the first time, officially open the convention to the average cigar consumer.

The move is being billed as a way to raise more money to fund the lobbying that PCA and CRA do to protect premium cigars from government regulations: “Rocky Patel was brought on stage to sell the event and explained that the legal bills as part of FDA regulations for ‘this year’ have totaled $3.6 million, a burden largely shouldered by the IPCPR and a group of manufacturers that are part of Cigar Rights America (CRA).”

Needless to say it raises a ton of questions, including: How much money can the event really raise for PCA? Will manufacturers be expected to provide cigars to attendees? Will attendees be willing to pay big bucks if they don’t get free samples from manufacturers? Do large retailers (and others like Cigar Aficionado, which puts on the Big Smoke event each year) see this event as competition for their own multi-cigarmaker events?

A Negroni Upgrade

One of my go-to cocktails for years (and one of the few I make with any regularity at home) is the Negroni. The drink warrants its own New York Times trend piece, so apparently I’m not alone. The classic Negroni is equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. What I’ve especially come to appreciate recently, however, is how those ingredients can be tweaked slightly with outstanding results.

Vermouth matters (my preference is Dolin, especially for the price, though you can never go wrong with Carpano Antica). You can also substitute Campari for another bitter (Luxardo Bitter Bianco and Aperol are each outstanding in completely different ways). Finally, don’t get locked into gin as the base liquor. I’m a big fan of swapping it our for rum, in what has been called the “Kingston Negroni.” Currently, my favorite Negroni is funky Smith and Cross Jamaican rum, Luxardo Bitter Bianco, and Dolin vermouth. But I’m always experimenting.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Quick Smoke: Plasencia 146 Cosecha La Vega

7 Jul 2019

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.”

It’s almost a surprise it took the Plasencia family this long to start making cigars under their own name (though the 2012 Don Sixto was named after the family patriarch). The Plasencias have been making excellent cigars for other brands for many years now. Cosecha features a flawless medium-brown Honduran wrapper, Nicaraguan binder, and filler from both countries. The well-constructed robusto gordo (5.25 x 52) is medium-bodied with spice cake flavors of brown sugar, cinnamon, clove, and oak.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Rabbit Hole PX Sherry Cask Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey

3 Jul 2019

Cigars and bourbon are an excellent pairing, so collaborations between cigar makers and bourbon distillers are only natural. The A.J. Fernandez-made Diesel Whiskey Row did just that last year, aging binder tobaccos in used bourbon barrels that formerly held Rabbit Hole bourbon.

After the debut Whiskey Row was a hit, a follow-up was inevitable. That came last month with the introduction Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask, which features a Brazilian Arapiraca binder leaf aged in barrels that were originally used for sherry and later to finish bourbon. (I reviewed the Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask last month.)

That bourbon–Rabbit Hole’s PX Sherry Cask Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey–is also Rabbit Hole’s most premium offering ($80 per bottle). Using sourced wheated bourbon (Rabbit Hole’s Louisville distillery only opened last year) with a mashbill of 68% corn, 18% wheat, and 14% malted barley, it is aged five years before going into sherry casks previously used to make super sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry for decades.

The amber-colored bourbon has a nose with vanilla, dried fruit, and subtle cherry notes. On the palate, sherry melds with classic bourbon flavors, with caramel, dates, dried cherries, wine, sharp oak, and musty barrels. The finish is dry with just the slightest hint of more red fruit.

It’s an enjoyable bourbon, best enjoyed neat, that pairs well with a full-bodied, rich cigar like the Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask. Other suggested cigar pairings include the Drew Estate Liga Privada, Muestra de Saka Nacatamale, and Paul Garmirian 25th Anniversary.

I should admit I’m a fan of sherried single malts and have also found myself enjoying what other few sherry-finished bourbons I’ve tried: Belle Meade Sherry Cask Bourbon and Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Revival. (I’m looking forward to trying the new Angel’s Envy Sherry Cask, though the $200 price tag is a bit daunting.)

With that background, perhaps unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the Rabbit Hole PX Sherry Cask Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey for it’s rich, fruit-filled flavors. If you like sherried whiskeys, it’s worth seeking out a bottle. Otherwise, try some at a bar before going all-in on a bottle. This was the first Rabbit Hole product I’ve tried and it certainly makes me want to try their other offerings.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: 7-20-4 Robusto

30 Jun 2019

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.”

I’ve long enjoyed the original 7-20-4 line. It’s flavorful, well-made, and affordably priced. The Robusto is no exception. With its Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper, Costa Rican binder, and filler from Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, and Columbia, it features leather, wood, and clove flavors with white and green pepper notes. While I slightly prefer the smaller ring gauge versions of this blend (the Lancero and eponymous corona, particularly), with flawless construction and medium- to full-bodied flavors, the Robusto is still easy to recommend.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: IPCPR Trade Show at a Crossroads

26 Jun 2019

Next week the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show takes place in Las Vegas. It will, without a doubt, be the largest gathering in the handmade cigar industry this year, as it is every year.

Still, there are more questions about the annual convention (and the organization behind it) than ever. And planned changes only serve to heighten those questions.

New Name, New Look

When we first covered the annual cigar trade show, the organization behind it was just changing its name from the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America (RTDA) to IPCPR. The idea was sold as necessary to emphasize that handmade cigars and pipes are different products from cigarettes, which is the most common tobacco product.

This year, IPCPR will again be getting a new name. (You can try to keep these things under wraps, but when you file for a trademark it will become public record.) According to reports, IPCPR will be rebranding as the Premium Cigar Association (PCA).

Why, you ask? Well, on the most basic level, the new name better reflects what the IPCPR is. Plus, for the small number of pipe smokers (and those who supply them), they already strongly associate pipe tobacco and accessories with premium cigar retailers, so there is little incentive to feature pipes in the name (at the expense of having a longer, more complicated name).

I suspect one of the under-appreciated reasons for the change is the opportunity for a new logo. As Seinfeld fans may note, the “cigar store Indian” (the logo of the IPCPR, but apparently being dropped in favor of a leaf for the PCA) is not appreciated by all. In today’s hyper-politically correct environment, eliminating that controversy makes a lot of sense for a group that seeks influence in Congress and in state legislatures.

Still a Selling Show?

The primary reason for the existence of the IPCPR Trade Show has always been for retailers to place cigar orders with manufacturers. Frequently, this comes in the form of new cigars introduced exclusively at the show, and special deals offered to those retailers by manufacturers at the show.

Prior to modern communication (the internet, email, text messages, cell phones, etc…), if you wanted the latest cigars and the best deals there was no substitute for face-to-face meetings at the annual gathering. There are now many on both sides (retailers and manufacturers) questioning the value face-to-face transactions given the costs.

In addition to the availability of other methods of conducting business, the value proposition of the trade show gets further thrown off as manufacturers get nickel-and-dimed all over the trade show floor. Want to hang a sign over your booth? Or have reliable internet? Or food service? Or large displays shipped to the venue? Expect to pay tens thousands of dollars, if not more. Plus, cigar manufacturers that give out samples are, under Nevada state law, supposed to get a license even to give out samples to retailers and other IPCPR members.

Further, from the retailer side, there is an increasing sense that the “trade show specials” are available even if you don’t actually attend in person. Also (as my inbox can attest to), the announcements of new cigars are no longer held until the show starts. Manufacturers seeking attention for their new brands are likely to announce those offerings days, weeks, or even months before the show. And that information is increasingly easy to find publicly with the proliferation of online media.

A Consumer Day at the Industry-Only Trade Show?

For years, the cigar trade show has been billed as an industry-only event, not for consumers. When we first attended, media members were permitted to attend but only with the IPCPR’s permission. Later, media members were required to be members to attend.

Now reports are that IPCPR (soon to be PCA) is considering a Consumer Day for 2020. The concept, so far as the limited details reveal, is that there would be a day where consumers would be welcomed onto the floor. It would be a sharp contrast from past years when IPCPR was apparently cracking down on retailers who were inviting (and, in some instances, selling passes to) customers.

Presumably, this would be a revenue-making day for IPCPR, with cigar smokers paying to attend, much like they do other cigar events. At such events attendees usually get samples from each manufacturer booth, though it’s hardly clear that would happen and some manufacturers have already indicated they aren’t fans of the plan.

Many years ago, such an idea was floated but quickly shut down. One factor in this is the persistent rumors of IPCPR merging with Cigar Rights of America (which is a consumer lobbying group).

If PCA can create “CigarCon” (the presumed working title of the Consumer Day) it could be used to create pressure on CRA to embrace that merger, as it would get PCA the contact information for many of those likely to be CRA’s most engaged members.

Suffice to say, if a cigar event around the cigar trade show actually includes the main owner/principles of each brand, that would be a significant draw for many cigar smokers. But manufacturers are most interested in attending consumer events because they are attached to the largest retailers with whom they do a lot of business; they view attending as a favor to their largest accounts.

Would retailers and manufacturers embrace such an event when they already run thousands of dollars of costs to attend the cigar trade show? Could IPCPR still be a retailer-oriented organization with such an event? Those important questions still need to be worked out.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys