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Cigar Spirits: The Macallan Cask Strength and Aberlour A’Bunadh Single Malt Scotch Whiskies

25 Oct 2017

One of the best things about single malt scotch is the variety in choice. Unlike straight bourbon or rye, the legal definition of single malt lends itself to starkly contrasting styles.

Sing malt can be peated or un-peated; aged in first fill, refill barrels, or a combination of each; and can use different barrel types (sherry, bourbon, port, etc.) for all or some of the aging. In addition, region, water source, and age can help make each whisky distinctive.

Personally, I tend towards the extremes of single malt styles. On one end are heavily peated styles (Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin). On the other are sherry bombs (The Macallan and GlenDronach).

Within the heavily sherried style is the sub-category of cask strength whiskies. Today I look at two such single malts:

The Macallan Cask Strength

Macallan is the quintessential sherried single malt, and the Cask Strength offering shows off its mastery of the style. This particular bottle is 59% ABV and is a remarkably dark crimson color.

The nose features rich dried fruit, dates, and toffee. The flavors are intense with more dried fruit (raisins, dates, maraschino cherries), ginger, pralines, nutmeg, graphite, and chocolate. The finish lingers with oranges, more red fruit, baking spices, and brown sugar.

Macallan’s Cask Strength is a hedonistically rich single malt. Despite the high proof, it is easily enjoyed neat, though you should also try it with a drop or two of water.

Now for the bad news. While it once could be found for $99, this whiskey was discontinued a few years ago and has become nearly impossible to find. Macallan introduced a Classic Cut Limited Edition this year that uses a similar label and is high proof and aged in “oak casks seasoned with Oloroso sherry,” but reviews suggest it isn’t as intensely sherried as the discontinued Cask Strength.

Aberlour A’Bunadh

Aberlour uses sherry cask aged whisky in combination with bourbon casks in most of its offerings, but A’Bunadh (Scottish Gaelic for “of the origin”) is exclusively sherried whisky bottled at cask strength, in a style the distillery says it made a century ago. Each batch (I’ve tried multiple batches, but today I’m tasting Batch 58) is a blend of whiskies aged in first filled sherry casks of various ages.

Bottled at 61.1% ABV, Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch 58 is a light mahogany color. The nose features black cherry, apricot, and coffee grounds. The palate has some tannic notes with walnut, cinnamon, orange zest, nougat, and brown sugar. The finish is long with butterscotch, baking spices, and oak.

Unlike Macallan Cask Strength, Aberlour A’Bunadh isn’t difficult to find. And while prices can vary wildly, you can usually find it for around $80. It lacks the sherried intensity of the bold Macallan, but it is still a tasty, rich, lush, dram that’s brown sugar- and fruit-forward.

Cask strength sherried single malt pushes the style to its limit in a way that can be divisive. If you like sherry-forward whisky at a more traditional proof, you owe it to yourself to try Aberlour A’Bunadh and, if you can find it, Macallan Cask Strength. Other whiskies in the style include Highland Dark Origins, Glenlivet Oloroso Nadurra, and GlenDronach Cask Strength. For me, they represent the perfect after-dinner scotch whisky, cutting through a heavy meal and pairing perfectly with a medium- to full-bodied cigar.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: El Galan Dona Nieves Negra Macha

18 Oct 2017

Cuban cigarmaker Felix Mesa created El Galan Cigars in 2010 and makes the half dozen El Galan blends in his factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. In an interview last year, he explained why he left Cuba and started his own cigar company:

“I am Cuban, 41 years old, son and grandson of the third generation of a humble peasant family from the former province of Las Villas, today called Spiritus Santis in the Cabaiguan town where I was born and grew up in a field called the Purial, which is a tobacco region in Cuba. I left Cuba with a dream which could not realize there for the reasons that many know; there you can’t do registration marks, much less sell tobacco and to be able to pay tribute to a family who deserved it as many others to achieve experiences and wisdom in this beautiful tobacco industry.”

El Galan’s Dona Nieves cigar is named after Mesa’s grandmother, who worked in Cuban tobacco fields until she was 86 years old (and clearly remains a strong influence on Mesa). Even the three vitolas—including the box-pressed Negra Macha (5.5 x 54)—are all nicknames for Mesa’s grandma.

The cigar uses an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It isn’t easy to find, but you can locate it online for around $6.

The cigar features intense pre-light aromas, including barnyard with light fruit. It is densely packed with a light box press and a light brown, slightly splotchy wrapper.

Once lit, the Dona Nieves produces a complex array of flavors that include burnt toast, shortbread, cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper, and cafe-au-lait. It’s full-flavored and medium-bodied. Construction is excellent with a sturdy ash despite a slightly wobbly burn line.

If I’m being honest, I picked up these cigars on a complete whim just because a Nicaraguan-heavy, Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped cigar made by a Cuban sounds a lot like some of the other cigars I’ve liked over the years (e.g., early Don Pepin and A.J. Fernandez).

I’m glad I did. This is a flavorful, complex, well-made, balanced smoke at a very fair price. If you’re looking for something new to try, check out El Galan Dona Nieves Negra Macha (since you probably haven’t smoked it yet). It was a pleasant surprise for me and earns four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: El Rey del Mundo Maduro Robusto

15 Oct 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.”

El Rey del Mundo is a famous Cuban brand with an often overlooked non-Cuban counterpart. This non-Cuban version was made at the Villazon factory in Honduras for many years, but apparently is now made at STG/General Cigar’s Danlí factory. Made with a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper and Honduran binder and filler, the five-inch Robusto has a thick ring gauge of 54. The cigar features black coffee, roasted nuts, sour bread, and cedar. Not overly complex but well-constructed, it’s a good value at around $6.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Camacho 1962 (Pre-Embargo)

8 Oct 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.”

Especially before the Cuban embargo was loosened, Cuban tobacco in a cigar that could be legally sold in the United States was a good way to get consumers to pay attention, even if some weren’t all that good. Camacho came into a supply of pre-embargo Cuban tobacco that reportedly originated with DWG Cigar Company of Ohio (which later became the Wendy’s fast food chain). The since-discontinued cigar uses a Corojo wrapper, Honduran binder, and filler from Honduras, Nicaragua and Cuba (though the percentage of over half century-old Cuban tobacco isn’t disclosed). Price varies greatly, but originally these cigars sold for $20 each (now half that is the norm). Flavors in the medium-bodied toro include salt, pepper, hay, and tea. Construction was excellent, even if the flavors were somewhat uninspired.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Hoyo La Amistad Silver Robusto

4 Oct 2017

Cuban-born cigar maker A.J. Fernandez is nothing if not prolific. In addition to making his own cigar lines, he has collaborated with numerous brands big and small including Rocky Patel, Foundation Cigar Company, Aging Room, La Palina, and Altadis (Montecristo, H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta, and Gispert).

Fernandez burst onto the scene with cigars made for catalog and online giant Cigars International, including Man O’War and Diesel. More recently, he’s been creating cigars for General Cigar, which is owned by the same parent company as Cigars International. In 2016, he made Time Flies under the Foundry brand and Hoyo La Amistad.

At this year’s IPCPR Trade Show, General Cigar followed up Hoyo La Amistad with Hoyo La Amistad Silver. (The original features bands with gold trim while the Silver line has, as you’d expect, silver trim.) Both cigars sport an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. The Silver has filler tobacco from Estelí and Condega (while the original uses tobacco from Condega, Estelí, Jalapa, and Ometepe).

Made at Tabacalera Fernandez S.A. in Estelí, Nicaragua, Hoyo La Amistad Silver boasts delicious pre-light aromas with classic dark chocolate and rich earth wafting from the cigar as soon as it is removed from its cellophane. The dark, nearly oscuro wrapper surrounds a firmly constructed cigar that produces a sturdy light gray ash, even burn, and flawless draw.

The three Robustos (5 x 50) I smoked for this review all had a flavor profile characterized by dry chocolate, oak, pepper, and black coffee. Flavors are medium- to full-bodied with minimal variation, except an occasional slight bitterness.

More than once, I was reminded of San Cristobal made by My Father Cigars. That’s a high compliment, as it’s a cigar I enjoy quite a bit and is priced a bit higher than the Hoyo, which has a suggested retail price of $7-8 per cigar.

All around, despite the infrequent bitterness, this is an excellent, well-made cigar that will appeal to fans of classic Nicaraguan flavors. That earns the Hoyo La Amistad Silver Robusto a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Paul Garmirian Gourmet No. 2 ’95

27 Sep 2017

Despite D.C., Maryland, and Virginia all having nearly comprehensive smoking bans, the DMV—as it’s sometimes called—is really a pretty good place for cigar smokers. There are a handful of good cigar bars, a dozen good cigar shops, and, if you know where to look, a good number of restaurants with non-indoor spaces where you can light up.

One of the frequently overlooked cigar shops in the area is McLean PG Boutique, which doubles as the headquarters for Paul Garmirian Cigars. If you are looking for a non-PG Cigar, the offerings are limited and a somewhat eclectic. Two-thirds of the shop’s humidor is dedicated to PG, which I happen to be a fan of.

Of those cigars, the boutique not only carries a full variety of sizes of all the PG blends, but also many vintage offerings, especially of the original Gourmet blend. Gourmet features a Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut wrapper around Dominican binder and filler tobaccos. Frankly, I doubt you’ll find a better selection of 20-year-old cigars in the country, especially considering most are priced under $20. (If you want to buy some, try calling their store because they very rarely pop up elsewhere.)

On a recent visit, they had just put out a box of the No. 2 size which had been rolled in 1995. The non-vintage version of the vitola (4.75 x 48) sells for $11 each; for only a few dollars more, though, you can smoke one with 22 years of age. It’s an easy decision.

Pre-light, after sliding the cigar out of its slightly yellowed cellophane, the Gourmet No. 2 exhibits notes of old tobacco, leather, and hay. Once lit, it starts out with a burst of spice and some wet cedar, paper, and white pepper.

As it progresses, it settles into a more traditional combination of hay, bread, honey, and a hint of fresh cut grass. The finish of the medium-bodied smoke has more cedar and black coffee.

The wrapper is slightly wrinkled, a sign of its age, but the construction is flawless. Particularly notable is the solid dark gray ash, which only needs to be ashed twice for the entire cigar.

For a cigar with over two decades of age, it has more intense flavors than I might have expected. Fortunately, that intensity does not negatively impact the balanced flavors. I’ve been fortunate to smoke a 1992 version of this cigar and, although I enjoyed that cigar (and a 1991 PG) slightly more, the PG Gourmet Series No 2 Vintage 1995 is a highly enjoyable experience. That earns it a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Montecristo Churchill Añejado (Cuban)

20 Sep 2017

You have to hand it to the Cuban government. For a communist regime ostensibly dedicated to the tradition of Marxism-Leninism, they sure let their state-run cigar company embrace capitalism and profit maximization.

The Añejados line, introduced in 2015, is a profit-seeking solution to the common complaint that Cuban cigars are frequently under-aged. Rather than address the issue across the board by better aging tobacco before cigars are rolled, Habanos created the limited Añejados line to feature cigars aged at least five years after they are rolled, then priced accordingly.

This Montecristo Churchill was the second variety introduced in the line (after a Romeo y Julieta Pirámide) in 2015. I bought two while in France last month where they cost around $22 U.S. apiece.

Both of my Montecristo Churchill Añejados exhibited good construction. Wrapped in a medium brown wrapper with a little shine, the Churchill (7 x 47) is firm to the touch. As it progresses, the draw gets a bit on the tight side, although it’s not overly problematic. The ash is notably sturdy, with one cigar holding for a full two inches before I decided not to tempt fate any further.

Pre-light, flavors are graham cracker and sawdust. Once lit, the profile starts with musty bread with cinnamon notes, soon followed by a cacophony of flavors both good and bad.

Most prevalent is a traditional combination of cedar and oak with leather and coffee notes. There are also Davidoff-esque mushroom notes and a metallic finish that hits the tip of the tongue. It’s a complex and sometimes discordant flavor profile.

Needles to say, there’s a lot going on throughout the two-hour smoke. Perhaps some of this is the result of over-humidification (Paris cigar shops tend to keep their humidity levels too high), but two months in my humidor didn’t result in much change.

Instead of aging tobacco more in bales prior to rolling, the Añejado series is aged for at least five years in cedar bins after rolling. I suspect that strategy benefits the cigar’s construction, though I wish more of the aging would take place prior to rolling where it could be better targeted to the specific type of tobacco.

Price is a serious drawback to this cigar, which doesn’t taste under-aged but does feature an unusual mixture of flavors. That combination earns the Montecristo Churchill Añejado a rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys