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Cigar Spirits: George Dickel Bottled in Bond 13 Year Old Whisky

30 Jan 2020

Introduced in the last year, George Dickel Bottled in Bond caught my attention for having an attribute few new bourbon offerings have: the possibility of being an excellent value. As the popularity of bourbon has spiked, so have prices.

Some of the best values from five years ago have either dropped their aged statements (so they can include younger whiskey), raised prices, become highly allocated and impossible to find, or have been discontinued. All of which is a long run-up to saying a new 13-year-old bourbon for under $40 is not the type of thing you see every day. (Side note: Tennessee whiskey produced by both Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel meets the legal definition of straight bourbon even if you won’t find the word on the bottle; the key addition to the process that sets Tennessee whiskey apart is the Lincoln County Process, where the spirit is filtered through charcoal.)

Bottled-in-bond whiskey means the spirit must fit a few qualities. It must all be distilled at the same distillery during the same season (January-June or July-December), must be aged in a federally bonded warehouse for four years, and must be bottled at 100-proof or higher.

Distilled at George Dickel’s Cascade Hollow Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee, this mahogany-colored, 13-year-old bottled-in-bond whiskey was distilled in the fall of 2005 with a mash bill of 84% corn, 10% rye, and 6% malted barley. It was bottled in the spring of 2019 at 50% ABV (100-proof).

The nose is full of peanuts and roast corn. On the palate there’s powdered chocolate, dried corn, candied citrus, and vanilla. The finish has ginger and clove with a lingering, velvety mouthfeel.

This is, without a doubt, an an excellent bourbon that probably could have been sold for more. But I think long-term it’s a good strategy for George Dickel, which is always in the shadow of its Tennessee neighbor Jack Daniel’s. Reminding consumers of their quality with an eye-catching value only serves to make people more likely to check out their other offerings (which are themselves solid and underrated) in the future.

Despite being 100-proof, it’s not overly strong, even when tasted neat. Pair it with a medium-bodied cigar like the Bolivar Royal Corona, Tatuaje Black, or Davidoff Colorado Claro.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: El Galan Campestre Habano Toro

16 Jan 2020

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 first wrote up this cigar when it was just a bundle smoke made by Felix Mesa of the largely unknown El Galan Cigars. Today, Mesa is the man tasked with heading up Fuente’s new Nicaraguan operations. The Toro sports a Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It costs around $30 for a bundle of 20. The specimen I’m smoking is a sample with nearly two years of age. Despite a foot that initially frayed when lit, construction is largely solid, including an ash that’s surprisingly solid for a bundle smoke. Flavors are medium-bodied with balanced notes of coffee, wood, and earth. I’m not sure age has improved this cigar, but it hasn’t made it any worse, either.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Curivari Buenaventura BV 500

11 Jan 2020

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’ve long touted Curivari Buenaventura as an excellent cigar for the value. The Nicaraguan puro’s understated, classic appearance fits the sub-$5 price tag, but don’t mistake that as an accurate proxy for quality. Excellent construction aids  the delivery of a balanced combination of medium-bodied flavors: cocoa, espresso, cedar, oak, and earth. This reasonably priced gem is a little hard to find but well worth seeking out.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Tip: Pairing New Years Champagne with a Fine Cigar

30 Dec 2019

A decade ago, I offered some tips on pairing cigars with champagne. With New Years Eve a day away, here’s an update (including a decade worth of additional experience).

Pairing brown liquor with cigars is the more obvious choice, but champagne (or other sparkling wines) can go surprisingly well with a smoke. Not to mention the celebratory nature of the bubbly. To enhance your champagne and cigar enjoyment, here are a few basic tips:

Save the top-dollar champagne.

Champagne can be fantastic, but unless you have unlimited funds, the vintage Dom Pérignon should be held back if you’re smoking a cigar. You pay a price for the champagne name (meaning it’s from the Champagne region of France). There are plenty of good champagne-style sparkling wines that can be had for a reasonable cost. Spending $50 or $100 on brand-name French bubbly will probably be a waste (considering you’re going to lose some of the complexities due to your cigar). Very pleasant Spanish cava, in particular, can be had for a fraction of the price.

Stick with mild cigars.

Champagne doesn’t have the heft of rum, whiskey, or even beer or coffee. The best champagnes are the most subtle, so the same subtlety is needed in the cigar you pair with your sparkling wine. Stick with mild cigars that have balance. Too often Connecticut-wrapped cigars feature bitterness, so look for those with age and balance. Extra-aged Cubans can be a great pairing, and a special mention is deserved for the Illusione Epernay, which is named after the Champagne region and was blended with a champagne pairing in mind.

Age your cigars and your champagne.

Smoking a cigar with champagne calls for a cigar that is smooth, mild, complex, and subtle, all of which can be the result of aging a cigar. Some cigars just lose their flavor with age, so be careful. But others are enhanced by months or years aging properly in a humidor. Some of the same things happen to aged champagne which, while not for everyone, loses some of its bubbly crispness but adds creaminess and depth along the lines of a well-aged white burgundy. Usually you pay extra for vintage champagne. But if you can get some of those same qualities by just putting aside a good champagne and waiting, don’t be afraid to give it a try. (Not long ago I had some non-vintage Champagne Tattinger with a decade of age, and the result was very impressive.)

Cheers!

Patrick S

photo credit: Wikipedia

Quick Smoke: E.P. Carrillo New Wave Brillantes

15 Dec 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.”

Perhaps overlooked in favor of some of the E.P. Carrillo brand’s more recent and buzz-worthy offerings, New Wave Connecticut is (unsurprisingly, given its name) a modern take on the classic Connecticut-wrapped cigar. More medium-boded than mild, and with an Ecuadorian-grown, Connecticut-seed wrapper rather than one grown in the Connecticut River Valley, it is in many ways an updated take on the classic, best-selling formula. Roasted nuts, cream, graham, and mild spice round out this balanced smoke. With a price around $5, it’s a real value in addition to being a well-constructed, enjoyable cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Mi Querida Short Gordo Grande

8 Dec 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.”

Following Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust’s 2015 debut cigar, Sobermesa, was a flurry of new releases for the 2016 IPCPR Trade Show, including Mi Querida. Mi Querida was particularly anticipated as it reunited Dunbarton owner Steve Saka with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper (he famously employed Broadleaf to create Drew Estate’s landmark Liga Privada line). This squat gordo (4.75 x 56) features medium- to full-bodied flavors with notes of coffee, chocolate, light spice, cedar, cinnamon, and black pepper. Excellent combustion and a sub-$10 price makes this an easy cigar to recommend.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Tip: How to Travel with Cigars on a Plane

3 Dec 2019

travel-cigar

Whether you’re taking a week-long vacation to a beach paradise or just flying off for a few days in a distant city for work, you’ll probably want to take some cigars.

Depending on where you are going, you may not have easy access to a cigar shop. Or you may not have access to reasonably priced cigars (taxes can be very high in certain states and countries). Or you may only have access to Cubans, and you may not be sure of their authenticity.

Even if you think you’ll pick up some cigars on your trip, bringing some cigars along with the tools necessary to enjoy them is probably a good idea. So here are some tips to make your air travel with cigars smoother:

Protect Your Cigars

Plane travel can be a traumatic experience for cigars, between the pressurized air and the fact that your bag is probably going to be forcibly jammed in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. (Don’t check your cigars, as the cargo hold of the plane can have some pretty extreme temperature changes that can do serious damage.) The natural solution is a hard plastic cigar case like those made by Xikar or Cigar Caddy. Each comes in anywhere from a five to fifteen-count, or sometimes more.

If you don’t have a case, or if you can’t fit all the cigars you want to bring in the case you have, a sealed Ziplock bag will do fine. But you’ll want to put the bag in a hard tube or box to make sure they don’t get crushed. If you are traveling for more than few days, throw a small Boveda pack in with your cigars to help stabilize and maintain proper humidity.

Bring a Lighter, Avoid Confiscation

Torch lighters are great, but the TSA will take them from your carry-on or checked luggage. Trust me on this. I’ve accidentally left them in my bag and had them confiscated. But you can bring a soft flame lighter in your carry-on. You can also bring a single box of matches, so I like to stuff one box of wooden matches to the brim as a backup.

My go-to soft flame lighter is the Djeep, which is dependable and has decent capacity. It’s also cheap, so if some ornery TSA agent on a power-trip takes it you won’t be too upset. If you really want a torch lighter, you might consider a Soto Pocket Torch, which can convert a regular cheap lighter into a torch. But bring the lighter in your carry-on and leave the Soto in your checked bag to make sure it isn’t confiscated if the TSA agent figures out what it is. Also, for all lighters and matches, know that other countries might have different rules (Nicaragua, of all places, is known for taking all lighters when you depart from Managua). So no matter what you bring, make sure it is something that, if push comes to shove, you won’t feel too bad about leaving behind.

Check or Carry On a Cutter

Bringing most cutters on a plane shouldn’t be a problem (according to the TSA, blades smaller than four inches are good to carry on), but you never know how the rules are going to be enforced. So fancy cutters, if you must bring them, should go in checked luggage.

Travel is the perfect time to bring along that cheap cutter you got as a throw-in. And remember, if all else fails you can always cut your cigar with your fingernail; just don’t use your teeth.

Be Weary of Fake Cubans

Traveling overseas is great as you have access to cigars from that island south of Miami, but don’t assume you’ll easily be able to find legitimate Cuban cigars. For years, Americans have been buying and smoking Cubans overseas, even though technically this violated the Cuban Embargo. Now, with restrictions being eased, it is perfectly legal for an American to smoke a Cuban cigar while abroad. (Bringing Cubans into the U.S. is still illegal, expect for a small quantity directly from Cuba.)

Fake Cuban cigars are everywhere, especially at vacation spots visited frequently by Americans. The best way to ensure you are buying authentic Cubans is to shop at an official Casa del Habano. Beyond that, here are two easy tips to avoid the most obvious fakes: (1) If the price is too good to be true it is certainly fake, as prices are fixed and nobody’s relative or friend is getting them at a discount straight from the factory; and (2) There has never been any Cuban cigar made with a glass or plastic top box. (I still see pictures of glass top Cohiba boxes in cigar groups on Facebook, only for a dozen or more people to tell the poster the unfortunate news that they were swindled. Repeat after me: All Cuban cigars in a glass top box are fake.)

Carry on Some Booze

Unless you are heading to a country that doesn’t allow alcohol, there is nothing wrong with putting a bottle or three in your checked bag (though you may have to pay taxes on them). But what is often overlooked is that you can actually carry on booze in small amounts.

When carrying on, alcohol is subject to the same rules as other liquids, meaning no container more than 3.4 ounces and all liquids must fit in a one-quart sized bag. Mini bottles (usually 50 ml.) are well under that limit, and you can fit five or six in one Ziplock. If you are planning on cracking these open on the plane, know that most airlines have a rule against alcohol not served by the flight attendants. Practically speaking, though, if you are discrete about it you probably won’t get caught.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys