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Cigar Spirits: Bulleit Barrel Strength Bourbon

4 May 2016

Bulleit-Barrel-Strength

I’ve long held the opinion that the standard Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit Rye are great everyday spirits for the price, which can be as low as $19. Bulleit’s 10 Year Bourbon offering is a tasty one, too, especially if you can find it for around $35. (In my home state of Virginia it’s closer to $50; in nearby Maryland I can find it for as low as $33 on sale, which makes it a real steal.)

Recently, Bulleit added a barrel-strength offering to its portfolio. The exact strength varies by batch from between 118- and 125-proof. The sample I received from Bulleit weighs in at 119.2-proof (59.6% ABV). Currently, it is being sold in Kentucky only (MSRP is $50 for a 750 ml. bottle and $30 for the 375 ml. bottle). It wouldn’t surprise me if this rolls out nationally, though, especially given its largely favorable response.

While the bourbon is bottled at the famous Stitzel Weller Distillery in Louisville, that isn’t where it was distilled. For many years, Four Roses distilled Bulleit bourbon on contract. That arrangement ceased over a year ago. Bulleit is currently building a new distillery, which is set to open before the end of the year. Still, while it isn’t disclosed (and reports are that Bulleit’s parent company has purchased distillate bourbon from other distilleries), in all likelihood this is from the stocks distilled at Four Roses.

The deep amber bourbon features a robust nose with sweet wood, pie crust, and just a hint of heat generated by the high proof. On the palate, Bulleit Barrel Proof features oak, cedar spice, cherry, butterscotch, and some barrel char. The finish includes caramel and vanilla with more spice and char.

Bulleit Barrel Strength doesn’t carry an age statement (except for being labeled as a straight Kentucky bourbon, which means it is at least four years old). That said, Bulleit is owned by liquor giant Diageo, which means it has the financial backing to patiently age barrels without the pressure to bottle too early. It shows. This is a very nice addition to the line and one that fans of barrel-proof bourbons will want to seek out.

The spirit pairs naturally with a full-bodied cigar. Suggested pairings include Liga Privada Dirty RatLa Flor Dominicana Limitado VArturo Fuente Opus X, and Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu. Hopefully not a Kentucky-only release for too long, Bulleit Barrel Strength delivers a rich blast of sweetness, wood, and spice that you’d expect from a properly-aged barrel-proof bourbon.

Patrick S

photo credit: Bulleit

Quick Smoke: La Flor Dominicana La Nox

24 Apr 2016

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.”

La-Nox

This 2015 release from La Flor Dominicana features a Brazilian wrapper, Mexican binder, and Dominican fillers. Nox means “night” in Latin, and with a dark wrapper and deep flavors the moniker is fitting. The Toro (6.5 x 50) produces burnt hickory, licorice, and roast nut notes. Some sweetness kicks in towards the final third. La Nox begins full-bodied, though it mellows slightly to a more medium profile. Rich flavors and excellent construction make this easy to recommend.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: Three Under-the-Radar Attacks on Cigars

20 Apr 2016

facebookbanned

If you read StogieGuys.com regularly, you’re aware of the danger the seemingly imminent FDA regulation of cigars poses. While we’re proud to have covered this issue in more depth and longer than any other media outlet, the FDA is hardly the only threat cigars face.

Taxes and smoking bans are two other prominent attacks on cigar rights, but even adding those doesn’t encompass the full scale of the multi-front attack on cigar freedom. To that end, here are three under-the-radar attacks on the freedom to smoke cigars.

Limitations on Shipping Cigars

Last year, FedEx announced they would no longer be allowing cigars to be shipped as of the beginning of 2016.  The company cited the “complex regulatory environment” as part of the reason for its decision to cease shipments. Although consumers are unlikely to notice the change since FedEx had been used mostly by manufacturers and distributors to ship cigars to retailers, the change is part of a larger trend that is cutting off legal business from using the necessary tools of commerce.

The same “regulatory environment” that led FedEx to stop shipments is likely to spread with UPS being the next likely target. FedEx faced a massive lawsuit from the state of New York for shipping untaxed cigarettes into the state, even though the company has no way of knowing the contents of the millions of packages it transports every day. UPS is currently facing a similar lawsuit. We’ve heard UPS has attempted to refuse to open accounts with new cigar businesses. While so far these are isolated incidents, if the shipment of cigars were left solely to the hands of the United States Postal Service, it would drive up the cost of business, not to mention leave legal cigar shipments entirely in the hands of a federal bureaucracy influenced more by the whims of politics than the motivation to satisfy customer’s needs.

Restricting Cigar Business Access to Banking and Credit Services

Starting in 2013, the Department of Justice began an initiative called Operation Choke Point with the goal of cutting off financial services to “high-risk businesses” for fraud. But critics have said Choke Point has been used to target many legal businesses deemed undesirable by the current administration, which includes tobacco retailers.

Multiple cigar retailers have already been dropped by their credit card processors or banks, according to the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR). And a Department of Justice list, since taken down from its website, lists “tobacco sales” as one of the targeted businesses. Running a business without access to reputable banking and credit card services is impossible in today’s environment. Already, cigar retailers have had longstanding relationships severed, the effect of which is a hidden tax that drives up the cost of transactions involving completely legal cigar purchases.

Crackdown on Cigar Groups on Social Media

On Monday, multiple cigar groups on Facebook were shut down. The move was the result of sweeping action by Facebook that shuttered numerous private groups involving cigars, beer, whiskey, and other alcohol. Facebook is a private company and can allow or ban whatever it wants. But it isn’t a stretch to suspect something more is behind the move, especially considering there are any number of ugly and hateful things posted by users on the social media giant’s platform.

In many of those cigar and booze groups, sales and trades were taking place. Facebook’s terms of service note that activity involving tobacco and alcohol must be age-restricted and specific users are responsible for following all applicable laws. Even though surely many transactions were initiated in these groups that weren’t in full compliance with the law, the response wasn’t to ban specific users but to eliminate entire groups with thousands of users. Federal law generally protects internet companies from being held responsible for the postings of its users (otherwise Facebook, Twitter, or even any blog with a large number of comments could be sued out of existence). But likely either in anticipation of, or in direct response to, threats that it would be held responsible by authorities for any such activities, Facebook simply eliminated targeted groups.

Patrick S

photo credit: YouTube.com

Cigar Spirits: Old Forester Signature 100

6 Apr 2016

old-forester-100

With bourbon demand high, there are plenty of excellent bourbons to be found if you’re willing to pay a high price. But there are also plenty of fine bourbons available for around $20, if you know where to look.

Today I want to introduce you to one of my favorite hidden gems: Old Forester Signature 100. Before I tell you why I think this is such an underrated bourbon, lets review the history of Old Forester.

Prior to 1870, when George Garvin Brown introduced Old Forester in bottles, bourbon was sold in barrels, and if you wanted whiskey you went to a bar or store that sold it and filled up your own container. Today, the Old Forester brand is owned by Brown-Forman, whose biggest brand is Jack Daniels. It is made at the company’s distillery in Shively, Kentucky. The same distillery supplies barrels for Brown-Forman’s premium brand, Woodford Reserve.

If you are ever near Lexington, I can’t recommend enough visiting the Woodford Reserve distillery in nearby Versailles. Surrounded by scenic Kentucky horse country, the distillery formerly known as the Oscar Pepper Distillery is the platonic ideal of a bourbon distillery. But much of the bourbon that goes into Woodford Reserve is distilled at the more industrial Shively facility alongside barrels that will become Old Forester.

Since both bourbons are made with the same mashbill (72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley) there is a temptation to suggest that Woodford Reserve and Old Forester are the same bourbon, just marketed differently and sold for a different price. While that may be an overstatement, they certainly share a family resemblance, which makes Old Forester ($18 for one-liter bottle) and Old Forester Signature 100 ($22 for a 750 ml. bottle) candidates for good value.

The standard 86-proof version is easy to find on a lower shelf at most liquor stores. It makes for a great mixing bourbon (it’s particularly tasty in a mint julep) and a decent sipping one. It may take a little effort to find (some markets seem to have plenty while others don’t have it at all), but the 100-proof Old Forester Signature is a step above and worth the extra effort and slightly higher price.

The nose of the deep copper-colored bourbon is sweet with cherry and caramel. The palate features rich fruit, brown sugar, baking spices, and butterscotch. The finish shows the first major woodiness, along with more ripe fruit, spice, and caramel. It’s a hearty 100-proof, but still quite smooth.

This easy drinking bourbon pairs nicely with almost any well-made cigar. I’d particularly suggest a well-balanced, medium-bodied smoke like Arturo Fuente King T Rosado Sun Grown, Davidoff Colorado Claro Short Perfecto, Las Cumbres Tabaco Señorial, or Tesa Vintage Especial.

Ultimately, although there are other bourbons more complex and sophisticated than Old Forester Signature 100, that doesn’t diminish the fact that Old Forester Signature is delightful neat and cheap enough you won’t hesitate to use it in a well-constructed cocktail. That makes it a staple in my bar and an under-rated bourbon.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Tatuaje La Vérité Churchill 2009

3 Apr 2016

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.”

tat-verite-2009

Still the most recent La Vérité release (a new one is expected this year), the second single vintage project from Tatuaje was widely thought to be a step up from the original 2008 release. The classic-looking double corona burned flawlessly, drew properly, and produced ample smoke. The flavors, however, seem to be less complex and interesting than I remembered with light earth, cocoa, hay, and a slightly metallic taste. I look forward to trying the next edition of what Pete Johnson once called his “most serious project to date,” but I doubt I’ll go out of my way to acquire any more of this vintage, which was originally offered five years ago.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Could Cuban Cigars Save the Non-Cuban Cigar Industry from the FDA?

30 Mar 2016

Obama Castro press conference, Havana

In April 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took the first major step towards invoking its authority to regulate premium cigars. At the time, it seemed likely that by the end of 2014—if not certainly in 2015—the FDA would finalize its rule subjecting cigars to FDA regulation, including a pre-approval process for cigars introduced after 2007 that would cost cigar makers up to a projected $400,000 per new cigar brought to market.

The comment period for the proposed regulation closed in August 2008 after nearly 55,000 submitted comments, with over half of them from cigar smokers concerned about the impact of the new regulations. Since then, the rule-making process has slowed considerably.

It took over a year after the close of the comment period for the FDA to submit a proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which finally took place last fall. Normally, the OMB review process is completed in 90 days, but nearly six months later there has been no further action. Now, rumors suggest the process is frozen. So why the delay?

The most likely answer may be Cuba.

After seemingly ignoring Cuban-American relations for most of his presidency, President Obama has taken significant steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba in the final years of his final term, culminating with the historic visit to Cuba earlier this month. With Cuban cigars being one of Cuba’s most notable and economically important exports, one can reasonably infer that thawing diplomatic relations may be throwing a wrench into FDA efforts to regulate cigars.

Consider the impact of the proposed regulations on Cuban cigars. The FDA has taken the position that, because of the text of the law that authorizes the agency to regulate cigars, it cannot exempt cigars introduced to the U.S. market after February 15, 2007. (We covered this in significant detail last year.)

For non-Cuban cigars, the impact would be huge. For Cuban cigars, none of which can be legally sold or marketed in the U.S. as long as the embargo remains law, the impact would be total.

As you should know by now, the FDA had two options in its proposal for regulating cigars. Option one would treat all cigars the same. Option two would create an exemption for premium cigars that meet certain criteria, including being composed mostly with long-filler tobacco, not being flavored, and having a suggested retail price of at least $10. (One estimate projected that 85% of cigars fall under the arbitrary $10 point.)

One open question about the FDA rules under either option is how cigars introduced after the 2007 cutoff, but already on the market when the rule goes into effect, would be treated—especially those introduced before the FDA took any action towards regulating cigars, or even before the bill authorizing the regulation was signed into law in 2009. Immediately pulling those cigars off the market would be extremely disruptive, not to mention impractical and grossly unfair. Therefore, a grace period where the cigars could remain on the market pending an application for FDA approval seems likely. Of course, non-Cuban cigars, like Cuban cigars, that are not currently on the market wouldn’t be helped by such an accommodation, and options for specifically exempting one country’s imports but not another would not be justified by the legislation (and also could violate international trade commitments, not to mention basic fairness).

For Cuban cigars, the majority of which would probably meet the premium definition, especially with likely price hikes due to increased demand should they become legal in the U.S., option two would allow Cuba’s most famous product to be sold almost immediately if and when the embargo ends. Option one, on the other hand, would keep Cuban cigars off the world’s largest cigar market until they undergo the pre-approval process. Considering that the FDA has taken years to rule on a small percentage of the pending tobacco products already waiting for FDA approval, that wait could be almost indefinite when they go to the back of the line after thousands of non-Cuban cigars.

Unfortunately, indications are the FDA has resisted option two (a purported leaked copy of the rule the FDA transmitted to OMB didn’t include a premium cigar exemption). Further rumors suggest the White House and OMB favored an exemption for premium cigars while FDA opposed one, which has contributed to the likely delay at OMB.

All of which brings about more questions than answers. But  now there’s certainly a compelling case that changing relations between Washington and Havana, and the potential impact on Cuban cigars, could be a significant reason for the delay in implementing a final rule regulating cigars.

If true, then possibly only the president’s unilateral desire to re-establish trade with Cuba is stopping the U.S. government from devastating American cigar retailers, non-Cuban cigar companies, and the tens of thousands of people in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and elsewhere that depend on making cigars for the American market. What does it say that the only thing that might save non-Cuban cigars is the desire to not harm the Cuban government-owned cigar industry?

In many ways, the question is as troubling as the answer. But given the destructive impact of FDA regulation on cigars, any reason for delay or possible reprieve would be most welcome.

Patrick S

photo credits: IIP Photo Archive

Quick Smoke: Warped Futuro Selección 109

27 Mar 2016

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief take on a single cigar.

futuro-109

After the Warped Futuro Selección Suprema earned our first top rating of 2016, I decided to check out the other vitola from the release, the slightly larger Selección 109 (6 x 52). The cigar, which carries an MSRP of $9.75, features a head that is rounded at the top but with a little more taper above the band than a traditional parejo. Once lit, it produces a full-bodied combination of powdery sawdust, earth, paper, and savory, salty notes. The 109 is slightly fuller-bodied and maybe a touch less complex than its smaller brethren, but both are easy to recommend.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys