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Cigar Spirits: Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet 22 Year Old Bourbon

20 Jan 2015

Bourbon is getting increasingly popular, especially well-aged bourbon. The problem is, you can’t just whip up a batch of well-aged bourbon. It takes time. Literally decades.

Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet BourbonAnd yet many of the most sought-after bourbons are those of the extra-aged variety: Pappy Van Winkle 20 and 23, George T. Stagg, Eagle Rare 17, William Larue Weller, and Elijah Craig 20-22. While the suggested pricing of these bottles varies, unless you get lucky you can expect to pay hundreds of dollars for each of these limited offerings.

With that as the background, whiskey giant Diageo (they own Bulleit and George Dickel, plus numerous well-known scotch brands) introduced its Orphan Barrel line of 20+ year old whiskeys that were acquired, one might speculate, from its purchases of Shenley and the closed Stizel-Weller distillery. The first three released Orphan Barrel bourbons were Old Blowhard (26 years old), Barterhouse 20, and Rhetoric 20. (For the record, my favorite of the three is Rhetoric.)

There are lots of details and debate about the Orphan Barrel series bourbons, but one detail that caught my eye about Lost Prophet is that it was distilled at the George T. Stagg Distillery (now renamed Buffalo Trace). According to Whiskey Advocate, it was distilled with the same “high rye” mashbill as Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee, two favorite bourbons of mine.

Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet 22 Year Old Bourbon is a deep copper color that shows the age of the 90.1-proof Kentucky bourbon. The nose is rich with baking spices, wood, and hints of caramel, though you wouldn’t necessarily assume it’s an extra aged bourbon.

On the palate it really flexes its maturity. There’s intense oak, clove spice, vanilla, and leather. It’s got the woodiness that demonstrates its years, but isn’t as cloying as the previous Orphan bourbons.The spicy finish fades quickly on the roof of your mouth, but lingers on the back of the tongue.

The bourbon’s traditional proof and finesse mean you don’t want an overly bold cigar. I recently reviewed the Illusione Fume d’Amour, and it’s just he kind of cigar you’d want with Lost Prophet: flavorful yet not full-bodied.

Judging a $120 bottle of bourbon can be tough, especially when there are so many fine bourbons available, many for around $30. Still, Lost Prophet has a lot going for it as an excellent representation of why people seek out extra-aged bourbon. It just came out so there’s actually a chance of finding it on shelves right now. If this sounds good to you, move quickly.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Jim Beam Signature Craft Quarter Cask Finished Bourbon

6 Jan 2015

Small barrels can be a bit controversial when it comes to American whiskey. Some say small barrels are the key to making young whiskey taste like old whiskey, while others say it just makes lousy whiskey.

Beam-SC-Quarter-Cask-FinishedMy feeling on the matter is a little more nuanced. Small barrels don’t necessarily make lousy bourbon, just a different style. But small barrels certainly aren’t a substitute for extended traditional barrel aging. With that in mind, I was looking forward to trying this new 86-proof release from Jim Beam. (I wrote about the regular offering to the Signature Craft series, the 12 Year Bourbon, here.)

Although Beam’s new limited release Quarter Cask Finished Bourbon ($40) has finished in the name, it isn’t used the way you’d come to expect, like the way Angel’s Envy is bourbon finished with a period of aging in port barrels. Rather, Beam’s Quarter Cask is a blend of traditional barrel bourbon and bourbon aged in smaller barrels.

Here’s how Beam explains it in a press release: “[It] starts with premium Jim Beam Bourbon aged at least five years and is finished with a variety of fine quarter cask bourbons, and all aged at least four years in smaller barrels. By building on a base of mature liquid and finishing it with quarter cask aged liquid, the inspired distillers at Jim Beam were able to craft just the right balance of rich vanillas of a mature bourbon profile and the extra oak notes of the quarter cask bourbon.”

The deep gold bourbon features a nose with vanilla and candied orange. On the palate it has that classic Beam yeasty funk, vanilla, and sweet corn, but with the added depth of roasted nuts, oats, woodiness.

There’s a lot a vanilla sweetness here (no surprise since it’s a defining characteristic of Beam bourbons from standard White Label to Booker’s 25th Anniversary), but it also is nicely balanced between sweetness, grain, and dry wood. The finish is surprisingly long with a woodiness that lingers on the roof of your mouth.

The profile pairs well with a medium-bodied cigar with a little woodiness. I found that the E.P. Carrillo 5th Anniversary Limitada is an excellent accompaniment.

While Jim Beam Signature Craft Quarter Cask Finished Bourbon won’t blow you away, it’s a nice bourbon and an excellent reminder that Beam is about a lot more than its ubiquitous White Label rail bourbon. This expression is plenty drinkable neat and does nothing to deter me from wanting to try future Signature Craft offerings.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey

16 Dec 2014

For the dozens and dozens of fine bourbons, ryes, and single malt scotches I’ve tried, I could count on my fingers the number Irish whiskeys I’ve sampled. Fact is, variety is tough to find when it comes to Irish whiskey, even at liquor shops that have an excellent selection of other whiskeys. These days you’ll often find more Japanese whiskey on the shelves.

Teeling Small Batch 750ml WhiskeyStill, there’s a lot to Irish whiskey beyond Jameson (not that there’s anything wrong with Jameson). And Teeling seems intent on proving that. Which is why I took Teeling’s marketing company up on an offer to try a bottle, which is relatively new to the U.S. market.

While Teeling is a new whiskey, the Teeling name is anything but. Walter Teeling founded a distillery in Dublin in 1782. More recently, John Teeling bought a potato alcohol plant in 1987 and converted it into the acclaimed Cooley Distillery, which he subsequently sold to Jim Beam in 2011. John’s son Jack Teeling got back into the business soon after the sale with plans for a Dublin distillery with former Cooley whiskey man Alex Chasko as master distiller. In the meantime, the whiskey currently being bottled for Teeling is sourced from the Cooley Distillery, which supplies 16,000 barrels that were reportedly added to the $95 million purchase price.

Once the barrels are in their hands, Chasko and Teeling put their own stamp on the product with a rum barrel finish, which is almost certainly a first for Irish whiskey even though rum barrel finishes are commonplace elsewhere. Teeling Small Batch ($40) is then bottled without chill filtration at a 92-proof, a nice bump from the fairly standard 80-proof in Ireland. (Other Teeling offerings are made but currently none are available in the U.S.)

The dark bottle hides a light, straw-colored whiskey. The nose features lemon, honey, and malty sweetness. On the palate, I find dried fruit, malt, and a prominent woodiness, plus tropical citrus and spice likely influenced by the rum casks. The medium-length finish has a tinge of spice along with smooth wood and caramel.

Teeling will probably catch most people off-guard, and it will certainly surprise you if your idea of Irish Whiskey is Jameson shots. It has loads of sweetness, good balance, and plenty of complexity for a blended Irish whiskey.

To pair Teeling with a cigar, turn to a milder smoke. A balanced Connecticut-wrapped cigar like the Cabaiguan Robusto ExtraDavidoff Colorado Claro Short Perfecto, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet hits the spot without overwhelming your drink, which should be enjoyed neat.

Irish whiskey is on the rise. In 2000, there were three Irish distilleries. Now there are nearly a dozen. The whiskey they produce is more varied and more interesting than ever, and the rum cask-finished Teeling Small Batch is no exception to that Irish whiskey renaissance.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon Whisky

2 Dec 2014

Maker’s Mark has been making good bourbon since 1954, but to say the company rarely comes out with a new offering is an understatement. In fact, the only time Maker’s ever expanded its standard U.S. offerings was the Maker’s Mark 46 in 2010 (if you don’t include their brief announcement in 2013 to reduce proof from 90 to 84, which was soon retracted after consumers rebelled).makers-mark-cask-strength-sq

makers-mark-cask-strengthPerhaps it was seeing this outrage that made Maker’s Mark decide to introduce a new cask-strength offering. A more cynical drinker would suggest lowering the proof was a brilliant marketing ploy designed to stoke demand and pave the road for a premium-priced, limited, cask-strength edition.

Whatever the reason, Maker’s began selling the cask-strength bourbon in its distillery gift shop earlier this year for $45 per 375 ml. bottle, which is half the standard size. The cask-strength bottles are now being distributed more widely, and I recently bought one at a shop in New York City for $40.

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is bottled at 113.2-proof, which while hardly lightweight isn’t actually all that high for a cask-strength offering (my bourbon shelf currently has at a half-dozen open bottles that are at least 120-proof). Recall that Maker’s Mark is that it is a wheated bourbon, as in wheat, not rye, is the secondary grain, which generally means a sweeter profile. While wheated bourbons are a minority, they make up many well-known bourbons including Pappy, Weller, Larceny, and Old Fitzgerald.

The cask-strength Maker’s Mark offering has deep caramel color. The nose is more muted than you might expect from a cask-strength offering, but it still has quite a bit of honey, cherry, and clove notes. It really shows its colors on the palate. There you start to get the intensity of this whisky (as Maker’s spells it). It features a lush combination of vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon. There are some roasted nut notes, and a hint of dried fruit. The finish is long with loads of spice and thick caramel.

Maker’s Mark has something of a reputation as a beginner’s bourbon, but this cask-strength offering blows that reputation away. It’s the perfect pairing for a maduro cigar, wither a Broadleaf-wrapped smoke like the Liga Priavada or a Mexican-wrapped cigar like La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor or Dante.

While the price is high ($80 when extrapolated out for a 750 ml. bottle) the Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is still a tasty new addition to the ever-expanding bourbon landscape. I’d recommend it to two types of bourbon drinkers in particular: First, fans of cask-strength bourbon will want to pick this one up; second, if you’re a fan of Maker’s Mark (and Maker’s 46) and looking to expand your bourbon horizons, this cask-strength offering is the perfect vehicle for doing so.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Four Roses Barrel Strength Private Selection Bourbon

20 Nov 2014

This isn’t a normal Spirits write-up. Four Roses Barrel Strength Private Selection isn’t just one bourbon, but a barrel selection program. More details in a minute. But instead of burying the lead, it’ll come right out with it: If you want some really good bourbon you can actually find at a reasonable price, seek out Four Roses Private Barrel Selections.

four-roses-private-barrel-selection-csThe more you get into bourbon, the more you find hype. There are lots of good bourbons (and ryes) out there, but many of the limited offerings are increasingly hard to find. Pappy, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (Stagg, William Larue Weller, Sazerac 18, Eagle Rare 17, even Handy), rare Willett offerings, A.H. Hirsch… they are all outstanding. They’re also hard to find, and usually wildly expensive (hundreds of dollars or more).

Even American whiskey bottles that weren’t all that hard to find a year or two ago (Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Weller 12, Weller Antique 107, even Elmer T. Lee) are now becoming difficult to find. That makes a limited and tasty, yet readily available, bourbon a real gem.

Four Roses makes bourbon differently from most other distilleries. While most bourbons use one single recipe (mashbill and yeast combination), Four Roses mixes 10 recipes into its standard Yellow Label bourbon. (The small batch has four of those bourbons in an undisclosed ratio.) This unique approach gives Four Roses a far wider library of aging bourbon barrels than most places.

And thankfully, Four Roses makes those barrels available for its Private Barrel program. Here’s how it works: A retailer, distributor, or even a bar can select a single barrel from ten or so samples they recieve from Four Roses. They might specify the recipe they want, but ultimately they choose the bourbon that is bottled (usually between 9 and 12 years) as their private selection through tasting. That means every Private Barrel Selection was at least selected as the best of a handful of barrels. So if you find a retailer who really knows their stuff, you’ll likely end up with a pretty tasty selection.

I’ve had a half-dozen of these in recent years, selected by stores in Kentucky, Texas, California, and D.C. and each has been excellent. Each recipe has different characteristics, and each barrel is unique. I’ve yet to find a dud. At $50-70 per bottle, it’s a solid value, especially given the ever-increasing prices of rare bourbon.

Each is bottled at barrel-proof without being diluted, which usually means 110-proof or often higher. Each unique barrel has its own character, so suggesting a cigar pairing is difficult, but you’ll definitely want a flavorful, full-bodied cigar.

As for which bottles to pick up, I have two suggestions. First, take a look at the description of each of the ten recipes Four Roses makes and decide which ones sound the best. Second, find a retailer who knows their bourbon and can pick a good barrel. Do that and you’ll end up with some of the best bourbon you can find.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Kilkerran Work In Progress 6 Sherry Matured

11 Nov 2014

Once called the “Whiskey Capital of the World,” the number of whiskey distilleries in Campbeltown has dwindled from its peak of over 30. Today there are only three: Springbank, Glen Scotia, and Glengyle, the latter of which is where Kilkerran is distilled.kilkerran-wop6-sherry-sq

kilkerran-wop6-sherryIn fact, it has been suggested that Campbeltown (one of four major scotch whiskey regions along with Highlands, Lowland, and Islay) will be folded into the larger Highland region because of the small number of remaining Campbeltown distilleries. That dearth of Campbeltown distilleries is probably why I’m drinking Kilkerran today.

Glengyle, which calls its whiskey Kilkerran to distinguish it from Glengyle vatted whiskey (which is owned by another distillery), hadn’t produced whiskey since the 1920s until it resumed production in 2004 with the assistance of Springbank Distillery staff (whose owners are associated with Glengyle). Springbank is almost certainly motivated by the threat to the Campbeltown designation for its support of the relaunch of the Glengyle Distillery.

A regular-production Kilkerran Single Malt is due in 2016, but a few “Work in Progress” single malts have been released starting in 2009. That makes the Work in Progress 6, released earlier this year, a 10-year scotch aged exclusively, as the name suggests, in sherry casks. (A bourbon cask Work in Progress is also available.)

On the nose, Kilkerran is forward with its creamy sherry-ness, which is joined by a hint of pear. The palate features more rich sherry that hits the front and middle of the palate. Oak is apparent, too, as are dried fruits. The finish is more of the same with dates and sherry coating the roof of the mouth.

The 94-proof Kilkerran may be a “Work in Progress” in name, but it’s every bit a finished, well-rounded whiskey. It pairs perfectly with a fine Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped cigar like a My Father or CAO Concert, or if you want to go the Cuban route try a Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill.

Fans of sherry-forward single malt shouldn’t hesitate to pick up the Kilkerran Work In Progress 6 Sherry Matured, which retails for around $65. But even if you decide to pass on this limited offering (or you can’t find one of the limited bottles) definitely be on the lookout for the regular release when it comes out in 2016. I know that if they say this is only the work in progress, I can’t wait to pick up the finished product.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Templeton Rye

30 Oct 2014

Here’s a late addition to my two-part A-Z Guide to Rye Whiskey: Templeton Rye. Templeton, like many ryes on the market, is distilled at the the Indiana distillery formerly known as LDI, now known as MGPI (it’s also their stock ticker). templeton-rye-sq

templeton-ryeBut as we’ve explored in our series on rye, just because the rye has the same source doesn’t mean it tastes the same. Templeton, bottled in Templeton, Iowa, at 80-proof, sells for around $40 a bottle.

Templeton was one of the first to tap into the LDI rye, and for a while it was a bit of a mystery where the rye was made. A marketing story about being made from the recipe that was preferred by Al Capone got the brand in a bit of hot water, but it has since taken steps to clarify that, while inspired by an Iowa-made whiskey enjoyed by Al Capone, the current product is distilled in Indiana.

Controversy aside, what’s most important is how the whiskey tastes. And this one tastes good.

The color is a light caramel and the nose is an inviting combination of sweetness, tropical fruit, and spice. Think bananas foster with lots and lots of cinnamon.

On the palate, Templeton has a lush mouthfeel. It features toffee, wintergreen, dates, and a little oak. The finish is clean with a minty element.

It definitely shares the basic profile of most LDI ryes, but each takes on its own character. For Templeton, I was somewhat surprised at the intensity it keeps, despite being bottled at only 80-proof, the lowest proof a straight rye can legally be.

The combination of sweetness and spice screams out for a Cameroon-wrapped cigar. My three favorites right now in that category are the Fuente Hemingway, La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet, and the Nirvana by Drew Estate.

With so many excellent ryes out there, including so many from the same distillery source, it’s hard to recommend one over the other. All of them are tasty, and each has its own distinct character. Templeton, while a few bucks more than some of the others, is worth checking out. Rye fans will each have their own preferences, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend picking up a bottle of Templeton to decide for yourself.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys