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Quick Smoke: Fratello Oro Robusto

30 Dec 2018

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.”

Added to Omar Frias’ Fratello line in 2016, the Oro blend is produced at La Aurora in the Dominican Republic. It features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, Cameroon binder, and filler from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The Robusto produces medium-bodied flavors with notes of roasted cashew, pepper, cream, and cedar. Connecticut cigars can sometimes be so mild they are bland, but that isn’t the case at all with the Fratello Oro.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Arturo Fuente Opus X Perfection X

23 Dec 2018

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.”opus-x-perfection-x-sq

opus-x-perfection-x

It wasn’t long ago that paying $10 for a cigar was very unusual. Now a significant number of cigars command double-digit prices, and there’s no doubt that Opus X is part of the reason why. The Dominican puro, also a rarity when Opus was first introduced, is known as a strong, complex smoke, and this vitola (6.25 x 48) is no exception. It’s dominated by woody spice with plenty of pepper on the finish. Construction is flawless, something you’d expect from a cigar that costs $14 to $20. Opus X may not be as unique of an offering as it once was, but it is still a very good one.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Smooth Ambler Big Level, St. Augustine Port Barrel, and Rebel Yell 10 Year Bourbons

17 Dec 2018

In this edition of Cigar Spirits, I’m looking at three wheated bourbons from three different states: West Virginia, Florida, and Kentucky.

All bourbons must be made with a mashbill that’s a majority corn, but what sets a wheated bourbon apart is that wheat (and not rye) is the secondary grain. Generally, with age, wheated bourbons, including highly sought-after bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle and W.L. Weller, are considered sweeter and less spicy than their more numerous rye counterparts.

Smooth Ambler Big Level Wheated Bourbon

Smooth Ambler has bottled well-received bourbon and ryes sourced from other distilleries for years under their Old Scout line. Big Level is the first bourbon produced at their West Virginia distillery.

Specs: Aged at least five years, bottled at 100-proof, and made from a mashbill that is 71% corn, 21% wheat, and 8% malted Barley. Batch 21. Price = $55.

Nose: Charred oak, menthol, and a touch of alcohol heat.

Palate: Caramel, cinnamon spice, malted milk, cherries, and burnt corn.

Finish: Pepper and green oak.

Verdict: Youthful and unique. Tasty now, but still with an edge that could be smoothed out with more barrel time.

Cigar pairing: Best smoked with a spicy Dominican like the Fuente Opus X or La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero.

St. Augustine Distillery Florida Port Finished Bourbon

Not that long ago, you could count the number of whiskey distilleries in the United States in the dozens; now that figure is well over 1,000. St. Augustine Distillery is one of the many new craft distilleries. Unlike many new operations, St. Augustine isn’t sourcing whiskey from elsewhere. Instead, it’s producing an in-house Florida-made bourbon.

Specs: This special edition 102-proof “malted bourbon” is sold only at the gift shop. It’s made by taking St. Augustine’s Florida Double Cask Bourbon (distilled from corn, wheat, malted barley, and aged first in half-size 25-gallon barrels, then full-size 53-gallon barrels) then aged further in barrels that were used to make port at the nearby San Sebastian winery. Price = $40 for 375 ml.

Nose: Clove, fruitcake, honey, and oak.

Palate: Leather, cereal grains, and cherries.

Finish: Tannins, oak, white pepper, and grains.

Verdict: There is a lot going on with this bourbon, including a delicious nose. It’s a gutsy product from a craft distiller, though you’d be unable to miss the youthfulness, which creates a slightly harsh edge. I’d be really interested to try St. Augustine bourbon with four or even six years in the barrel.

Cigar pairing: Spicy Honduran cigars like the Camacho Corojo, H. Upmann Yargüera, or CLE.

Rebel Yell Single Barrel 10 Year Kentucky Bourbon

The storied Rebel Yell brand has been around for decades and is known for wheated bourbon. The brand started at the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery, home of bourbon like Weller, Van Winkle, and Old Fitzgerald. The brand is owned by Missouri-based Luxco, but reportedly the bourbon is now produced on contract at Heaven Hill, with the 10 year Single Barrel variety being the top offering in the line.

Specs: 100-proof single barrel Kentucky wheated bourbon. Barrel #5083223; distilled in September 2006. Price = $65.

Nose: Vanilla, caramel, dried fruit, and orange peel.

Palate: Roasted pecans, shortbread, oak, burnt sugar, and cinnamon.

Finish: Lingering vanilla, wood spice, and pie crust.

Verdict: A rich, surprisingly spicy bourbon with a long finish. Unlike the other bourbons in this tasting, this is an integrated finished product, not just a promising work in progress.

Cigar pairing: Balanced, medium-bodied, Connecticut-wrapped cigars like the Illusione Rothchildes CTCabaiguan, or Drew Estate Herrera Esteli.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXVIII)

12 Dec 2018

In the 28th edition of our Random Thoughts from the Humidor series, I talk cocktails, calvados, and the FDA.

The Islay Daiquiri

Here’s a winter cocktail that may sound strange but is actually quite enjoyable. When you think of daiquiris, you think of tropical islands. Not peaty Islay whiskey. Yet, recently, I’ve found myself enjoying this Islay twist on a classic drink. The smoky, salty scotch is magical with the citrus, similar to a margarita made with a smoky mezcal. Simply swap in 10 year Ardbeg or Laphroaig for rum in your favorite daiquiri recipe.

No progress at the FDA?

By pressing the pause button on the Obama FDA’s cigar regulations, new leadership at the FDA was welcomed by many in the handmade cigar industry. Nearly two years later, it is time to look at the new regime’s policy. This article argues recent FDA moves signal a dangerous future for adults who choose to smoke cigars: “[T]hese moves may pave the way for even more radical regulations that would, in essence, make it illegal to sell the combustible tobacco products favored by cigarette and cigar smokers throughout the United States.” What is clear is that Scott Gottlieb’s reign at the FDA may have different priorities from the Obama Administration, but different isn’t necessarily significantly better.

Is Calvados the Next Big Thing?

I’ve been exploring calvados lately. I’m liking what I’m tasting. The apple (and sometimes pear) brandy from Normandy combines some of the best elements of cognac, wine, and whiskey. Terroir matters, oak barrel aging is important, and both large and small producers develop their own distinct styles. Give it a try. If you have any favorites, let us know.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Camacho American Barrel Aged Robusto

9 Dec 2018

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.”

Broadleaf wrapper, bourbon barrels, and Honduran corojo. What’s not to like? In 2015, Camacho added the American Barrel Aged line as part of its new Camacho’s Master Built Series. The blend employs an American-grown Broadleaf wrapper, binder, and filler, with Camacho’s go-to Honduran Corojo. The $11 Robusto (5 x 50) is bold and full-flavored with charred wood, leather, black coffee, and spice. It is well-constructed, but dry notes highlight a lack of balance and slight harshness.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Laranja Reserva Corona Gorda

2 Dec 2018

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.”

laranja

Espinosa introduced the Laranja line in 2014 and it quickly garnered favorable reviews. The cigar has an orange-brown Brazilian wrapper (hence “laranja,” which is Portuguese for orange) around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. I’m smoking the Corona Gorda size (5.6 x 46), which sells for about $10. It features dry spice, wood, paper, slight sweetness, and a hint of citrus. It’s medium-bodied and well-balanced with excellent construction. It’s the best offering yet from Espinosa and certainly worth seeking out.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: A 2018 Holiday Whiskey Gift Guide

29 Nov 2018

Haven’t finished your Christmas gift list? StogieGuys.com is here to help with some bourbon, rye, and single malt gift suggestions. Plus, an accessory any whiskey drinker would appreciate.

Lots of people like whiskey, but with so many choices and lots of hype it’s hard to decide what makes the best gift. Prices are going up and whiskeys that were once easy to find are now impossible to find (at least at retail). Fact is, it’s not just ultra-limited whiskeys like Pappy Van Winkle that cannot be found without paying an exorbitant price. Even such staple bourbons as Elmer T. Lee, Weller 12, and Blanton’s are becoming hard to find.

With that in mind, here are suggestions focused on whiskey you can actually find and buy. For each category, we’ve got a suggestion that is value-priced ($20 to $30), something a bit nicer and more expensive ($35 to $60), and a whiskey that, while not too difficult to find, is, for one reason or another, rare or limited.

Bourbon

Value: Buffalo Trace — A standard offering from the maker of Pappy, Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, and many more highly sought-after bourbons. It’s delivers a lot of flavor for around $25 that’s excellent neat but not so expensive that you’d cringe if you use it in a cocktail.

Superior: Four Roses Single Barrel or Booker’s Barrel Proof — Two different offerings depending on the recipient. Four Roses Single Barrel ($45) is a rich, spicy offering. Booker’s ($60) is a powerful, full-flavored, barrel-proof offering.

Rare: Rhetoric 25 — The sixth and final edition of the Rhetoric annual release, which started out with the 20-year-old edition and concludes with this year’s 25-year-old release. It shows off the increasing effects of time spent in a bourbon barrel. Intense and perhaps even overly woody for some, this bourbon will be hard to find when it hits retailer shelves later this month at $150.

Rye

Value: Bulleit — Good neat or in cocktails, and made with a mashbill of 95% rye that gives it a distinctive flavor. Supremely affordable ($22), but a rye that can be appreciated by all. (Look for the gift pack with a canvas Lewis bag for crushing ice for your julep.)

Superior: Sazerac — This six-year-old rye is a classic that would be appreciated as a gift by any rye fan who isn’t a snob. It’s got classic floral and spice flavors, all for just $36.

Rare: Angel’s Envy — The rum barrel finish of this rye gives it an exotic, sweet finish. Think rye crossed with Sauternes or oloroso sherry. At $75 to $90, it is a special occasion whiskey, and a generous gift.

Scotch

Value: Monkey Shoulder — Not blended whisky (which uses grain whisky), but a smooth, fruity blend of three single malts. It’s $25 to $30, but it offers the quality of a single malt at half the price.

Superior: Talisker Storm or Glendronach 12 — Talkisker Storm ($50) is smoky and peaty with balance and sweetness. For the peat-adverse drinker, Glendronach 12 ($60) is about as intensely sherried in style as a single malt gets.

Rare: Game of Thrones Limited Edition Single Malts — A new collection of eight single malts from a variety of distilleries features something for every Game of Thrones fan. Just don’t wait too long; they were just released. You’re paying a small premium for the branding, but details suggest they are reasonably priced, at least while you can find them. (We tried the nine-year-old Lagavulin “House of Lannister,” and it was excellent.)

Accessories

Glencairn Whisky Glasses — Any whiskey drinker will appreciate the gold standard in whisky glassware. It is designed to bring out the best in bourbon, rye, and single malt (and also works well with brandy or rum). Even if your recipient already has a few of these, more is always better. A good collection will let them taste side-by-side, or host a tasting with friends.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys