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Cigar Spirits: Knob Creek 25th Anniversary and Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades Straight Kentucky Bourbons

21 Jun 2017

These days most new bourbons seem to fit into one of two general categories: young bourbons lacking an age statement with a marketing emphasis on boutique craftsmanship, and well-aged bourbons that are highly limited and expensive. Today I try two new limited edition bourbons distinctly in the latter category.

Knob Creek 25th Anniversary celebrates a quarter century since the introduction of Knob Creek, one of the first premium “small batch” bourbons (before that was such a crowded category). Made by Jim Beam, it is a single-barrel offering bottled at cask-strength (120- to 125-proof) and aged 12 to 13 years.

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades is the second Master’s Keep release, a follow-up to a seven-year-old bourbon released in 2015. Decades is a blend of 10- and 20-year-old bourbon.

Tasting Notes

Knob Creek 25th Anniversary ($125)
122-proof (61% ABV), barreled 2/25/2004
Color: Dark mahogany
Nose: Roast corn, vanilla, and cedar
Palate: Praline, cherries, and toasted oak
Finish: Very long with vanilla, allspice, and wood

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades ($150)
104-proof, mix of 10-year-old and 20-year-old bourbon
Color: Deep copper
Nose: Spice cake, raisins, and oak
Palate: Resin, ginger, allspice, and toffee
Finish: Medium in length with clove and malted cereal

Both bourbons are surprisingly similar, with lots of woodsy spice yet enough sweetness to avoid being called over-oaked. Each is very enjoyable neat, as neither has too much heat (particularly impressive for the 122-proof Knob Creek).

Both feature a combination of finesse and full flavor that pairs well with almost any cigar. For the Knob Creek 25th Anniversary, I’d particularly suggest a rich Broadleaf cigar like the Mi Querida or Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial. For the Wild Turkey Decades, try a balanced yet full-flavored cigar like the Davidoff Nicaragua or RoMaCraft Aquitaine.

The price of each bourbon is the biggest downside, especially considering the excellent bourbons each company makes at far lower prices (Rare Breed and Russell’s Reserve from Wild Turkey, and the regular Knob Creek Single Barrel or Booker’s from Beam). These are bourbons I’d suggest you try first at a bar before splurging for a bottle. Still, for fans of Wild Turkey and Knob Creek, respectively, Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades and Knob Creek 25th Anniversary keep the character of their younger brethren while showing off the depth of flavor that extra aging and expert barrel selection can achieve.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Lost & Found El Suavesito

18 Jun 2017

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.”

Lost & Found Cigars, formerly known as Impromptu, is a testament to the difference marketing can make, since someone else couldn’t sell the cigars in a previous form. The company releases small batches of well-aged cigars that were “lost” then “found” in the aging rooms of various factories, under a catchy, off-beat name with corresponding art. One of two recent releases, El Suavesito ($7.50) is a 2010 vintage corona gorda made with Dominican Piloto Cubano, Criollo ’98, and Nicaraguan Habano tobaccos. The firmly-constructed cigar features a greenish-brown wrapper and an uneven burn. Flavors are dominated by cedary spice, though there are also musty notes and black pepper. Some Lost & Found smokes have impressed me quite a bit, but El Suavasito isn’t one of them.

Verdict = Sell.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: My Father The Judge

11 Jun 2017

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.”

A successful cigar line almost always spurs line extensions. The positive reception to the Garcia family’s My Father line has meant many new variations over the years. The Judge tweaks the blend by using a dark brown Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper around dual Nicaraguan Corojo and Criollo binders and filler the Garcia’s farms in Nicaragua. Available in two sizes, I smoked the longer one (6 x 56), as opposed to the shorter version (5 x 60). It has lots of coffee notes along with roast nuts, earth, leather, and pepper spice, with just a little bit of creaminess. It’s a medium- to full-bodied smoke, and even though it isn’t my favorite My Father blend, it is still a very good smoke.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Buying Cigars for Weddings or Other Big Groups

7 Jun 2017

If you’re a regular reader, there’s a good chance you’re the go-to cigar guy (or gal) with some of your friends or family. As someone who has written about cigars for over a decade, I certainly find myself in that that situation, which is why I recently provided cigars for a family wedding attended by 200 people. (It was at least the fifth wedding for which I’ve provided this service in nearly as many years.)

The experience got me thinking about some good rules for buying cigars for big groups,  be the occasion a large bachelor party, a wedding, or something even bigger. Next time you get the call to provide cigars for such a group, here are five things to consider:

Don’t Underestimate Numbers

Celebrations are when the very occasional cigar smokers smoke their occasional cigars. So make sure you have enough cigars for everyone who may want to have one. There’s nothing worse than running out of cigars at a festive occasion. If you’re unsure how many to buy, buy an extra, affordable box you’ll be happy to smoke by yourself if you don’t need to open it and put it aside just in case.

Figure Out a Reasonable Budget

If you are buying two boxes or more, costs can add up quickly. It isn’t hard to spend $200 or more on a box of 20 or 25 cigars. Buying cigars that cost an arm and a leg will probably be wasted on most people, so think about a price point where you get something you are proud to share but is also reasonably priced.

Know Your Crowd

Continuing on the point above, remember that, statistically, it’s unlikely many (or even any) of your guests smoke cigars frequently. Even fewer spend lots of time reading about them. Frankly, lots of cigars will probably be lit then abandoned half-smoked (or worse). So don’t buy anything you will be sad getting wasted. I find, if you shop around, you can get a fine box of 20 or 25 cigars in the $80 to $125 range.

It’s Not About You

Many readers tend to smoke boutique, more obscure cigars.  But that doesn’t make these smokes ideal for a gathering of highly infrequent cigar smokers who will likely take comfort in a mainstream brand they recognize. So give them something they’ll have heard of. Introduce them to your favorite boutique brand when its a smaller, more personal experience.

Make the Choices Easy

Infrequent cigars smokers tend to believe the darker the wrapper the stronger the cigar. This may be totally incorrect but, unless you are giving a speech explaining the choices or handing out every cigar yourself, you are better off making these biases true when providing cigars for a group. Buy a mild, Connecticut shade-wrapped cigar for the smokers who want a mild smoke, and make the maduro offering the most full-bodied. Again, it’s not about you, it’s about making the experience enjoyable for everyone, which means mostly people who may only smoke a handful of cigars a year.

Patrick S

photo credit: Voodoangel (flickr)

Quick Smoke: Davidoff Colorado Claro Anniversario No. 3

4 Jun 2017

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.”


It’s been some time since I last had a Davidoff Colorado Claro; far too long, judging from my enjoyable experience with his toro-sized vitola. The cigar, which is a regular release with somewhat limited availability, features an oily, reddish-brown Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper around Dominican binder and filler tobaccos. The supremely balanced profile showcases charred oak, moss, bread, and graphite flavors. With excellent construction and a medium-bodied taste, it is highly recommended, even if the $25 price tag means it may only be an occasional luxury. It reminds me of a cross between the Paul Garmirian 25th Anniversary blend and the Avo Limited Edition 2008 “Tesoro,” which both happen to be excellent cigars also made at Davidoff’s Dominican factories.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Old Ripy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

31 May 2017

While Old Ripy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey may have been recently released, it’s actually an old name in the bourbon industry. According to parent company Campari (also the maker of Wild Turkey), Old Ripy was created by Irish immigrant James Ripy in 1868 in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and continued to be made there until 1950.

The Ripy family distillery, which was for a while called the Ripy Bros. Distillery, would become the favorite source for Austin Nichols, owner of Wild Turkey, who eventually bought the distillery in 1971. Wild Turkey remains the owner of the distillery today, which is where the new Old Ripy iteration is distilled.

Old Ripy is one of two released bourbons that are part of Campari’s Whiskey Barons collection. Also released earlier this year is Bond & Lillard, a reference to William F. Bond and his brother-in-law, Christopher C. Lillard, who formed a bourbon partnership in 1869.

Both Whiskey Barons offerings come in 375 ml. bottles, each with a suggested price of $50. The price is high, but I do appreciate the smaller bottles for limited release products; the strategy allows more bottles to be available and makes makes buying a whole bottle before you’ve tried one more palatable.

Old Ripy is 104-proof (52% alcohol by volume) and “a combination of 8-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon with 12-year-old and younger whiskies.” It’s a weird way to describe the blend ages, though perhaps an effort to differentiate from Wild Turkey Rare Breed, which is a combination of 6, 8, and 12-year-old bourbon.

It pours a medium amber color and features a nose with intense oak, vanilla, and spice. On the palate, it shows a complex combination of soft cinnamon spice, chewy roasted nut, ripe bananas, caramel, and leather. The finish is oaky and fruity with toasted biscuits.

This is a very nice bourbon, with well-integrated tannic flavors and plenty of oak and spice. My only hesitancy in heartily recommending it is the price. Still, Wild Turkey fans (of which I consider myself one) who enjoy Rare Breed and Russel’s Reserve ought to try Old Ripy, whether in a bar or from your bottle shop.

The bourbon’s oakiness pairs well with a full-bodied cigar. Connecticut Broadleaf-wrapped cigars like Umbagog or Henry Clay fit the bill. So do Nicaraguan puros like Flor de las Antillas and Illusione.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Illusione Singulare Phantom (Regular Production)

24 May 2017

In the flurry of new cigars announced around last year’s IPCPR Trade Show, Illusione’s announcement of the return of the Singulare Phantom was one I personally was most eager to try. The original 2010 Singulare Phantom remains one of my favorite cigars of all time, a cigar I’ve enjoyed many boxes of over the years. (My original review awarded the cigar four and a half stogies, but I suspect with more age it would have earned five out of five.)

For the re-release, which is a now a regular offering, almost everything is the same as as the original. The size (6 x 50), blend (Nicaraguan puro), packaging (boxes of 15), and price ($12 per cigar) all remain the same.

The only major change is the original was made at the Raíces Cubanas factory in Honduras, where all Illusione cigars were made at the time, while the 2016 release is made at the TABSA factory in Nicaragua, where newer Illusione production has moved. Visually, it’s a well-made cigar with a light brown rosado wrapper free of any large veins and just a bit of sheen.

Once lit, I find a medium-bodied smoke with flavors ranging from Walker’s shortbread biscuits, café au lait, cedar, and roasted cashews. There are also hints of graphite and white pepper.

Construction was excellent across each of the five samples I smoked. Variation from start to finish is limited to bursts of spice and graphite that jump forward almost randomly.

The new Illusione Phantom is a complex and balanced smoke, though not as exquisitely balanced as the original. The original release Singulare Phantom got better and better with age; perhaps the re-release will too, as the flavors integrate even better with age.

When I reviewed the original cigar I noted that the $12 dollar price tag was quite reasonable. The fact that, six years later, the price hasn’t gone up at all is a welcome surprise. Flavorful, complex, and well-made, the Illusione Singulare Phantom 2.0 earns a rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys