Archive | Spirits RSS feed for this section

Cigar Spirits: Knob Creek 25th Anniversary and Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades Straight Kentucky Bourbons

21 Jun 2017

These days most new bourbons seem to fit into one of two general categories: young bourbons lacking an age statement with a marketing emphasis on boutique craftsmanship, and well-aged bourbons that are highly limited and expensive. Today I try two new limited edition bourbons distinctly in the latter category.

Knob Creek 25th Anniversary celebrates a quarter century since the introduction of Knob Creek, one of the first premium “small batch” bourbons (before that was such a crowded category). Made by Jim Beam, it is a single-barrel offering bottled at cask-strength (120- to 125-proof) and aged 12 to 13 years.

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades is the second Master’s Keep release, a follow-up to a seven-year-old bourbon released in 2015. Decades is a blend of 10- and 20-year-old bourbon.

Tasting Notes

Knob Creek 25th Anniversary ($125)
122-proof (61% ABV), barreled 2/25/2004
Color: Dark mahogany
Nose: Roast corn, vanilla, and cedar
Palate: Praline, cherries, and toasted oak
Finish: Very long with vanilla, allspice, and wood

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades ($150)
104-proof, mix of 10-year-old and 20-year-old bourbon
Color: Deep copper
Nose: Spice cake, raisins, and oak
Palate: Resin, ginger, allspice, and toffee
Finish: Medium in length with clove and malted cereal

Both bourbons are surprisingly similar, with lots of woodsy spice yet enough sweetness to avoid being called over-oaked. Each is very enjoyable neat, as neither has too much heat (particularly impressive for the 122-proof Knob Creek).

Both feature a combination of finesse and full flavor that pairs well with almost any cigar. For the Knob Creek 25th Anniversary, I’d particularly suggest a rich Broadleaf cigar like the Mi Querida or Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial. For the Wild Turkey Decades, try a balanced yet full-flavored cigar like the Davidoff Nicaragua or RoMaCraft Aquitaine.

The price of each bourbon is the biggest downside, especially considering the excellent bourbons each company makes at far lower prices (Rare Breed and Russell’s Reserve from Wild Turkey, and the regular Knob Creek Single Barrel or Booker’s from Beam). These are bourbons I’d suggest you try first at a bar before splurging for a bottle. Still, for fans of Wild Turkey and Knob Creek, respectively, Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades and Knob Creek 25th Anniversary keep the character of their younger brethren while showing off the depth of flavor that extra aging and expert barrel selection can achieve.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Old Ripy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

31 May 2017

While Old Ripy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey may have been recently released, it’s actually an old name in the bourbon industry. According to parent company Campari (also the maker of Wild Turkey), Old Ripy was created by Irish immigrant James Ripy in 1868 in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and continued to be made there until 1950.

The Ripy family distillery, which was for a while called the Ripy Bros. Distillery, would become the favorite source for Austin Nichols, owner of Wild Turkey, who eventually bought the distillery in 1971. Wild Turkey remains the owner of the distillery today, which is where the new Old Ripy iteration is distilled.

Old Ripy is one of two released bourbons that are part of Campari’s Whiskey Barons collection. Also released earlier this year is Bond & Lillard, a reference to William F. Bond and his brother-in-law, Christopher C. Lillard, who formed a bourbon partnership in 1869.

Both Whiskey Barons offerings come in 375 ml. bottles, each with a suggested price of $50. The price is high, but I do appreciate the smaller bottles for limited release products; the strategy allows more bottles to be available and makes makes buying a whole bottle before you’ve tried one more palatable.

Old Ripy is 104-proof (52% alcohol by volume) and “a combination of 8-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon with 12-year-old and younger whiskies.” It’s a weird way to describe the blend ages, though perhaps an effort to differentiate from Wild Turkey Rare Breed, which is a combination of 6, 8, and 12-year-old bourbon.

It pours a medium amber color and features a nose with intense oak, vanilla, and spice. On the palate, it shows a complex combination of soft cinnamon spice, chewy roasted nut, ripe bananas, caramel, and leather. The finish is oaky and fruity with toasted biscuits.

This is a very nice bourbon, with well-integrated tannic flavors and plenty of oak and spice. My only hesitancy in heartily recommending it is the price. Still, Wild Turkey fans (of which I consider myself one) who enjoy Rare Breed and Russel’s Reserve ought to try Old Ripy, whether in a bar or from your bottle shop.

The bourbon’s oakiness pairs well with a full-bodied cigar. Connecticut Broadleaf-wrapped cigars like Umbagog or Henry Clay fit the bill. So do Nicaraguan puros like Flor de las Antillas and Illusione.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Breckenridge Bourbon

22 May 2017

I’ll admit it. When I saw the tagline for Breckenridge Distillery—“the world’s highest distillery”—I first thought of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. Only seconds later did I realize the slogan was instead a nod to Breckenridge’s elevation of 9,600 feet above sea level. Such a clever play on words.

Credit for this double-meaning is probably due to Bryan Nolt, the young man who is founder and CEO of Breckenridge Distillery. “In 2007, I had the arguably really bad idea of starting a distillery in Breckenridge, Colorado,” Nolt writes on his company’s website. “Cashing out my life savings, kids’ college fund, and eventually selling my house to cover monthly payroll and taxes, we bootstrapped our way through the early years loving every minute of it.”

Today, Nolt says, it would be fair to call his distillery successful. In part, this is due to the “unique features of the Breckenridge water we use for proofing and blending every bottle of our spirits.” The Breckenridge product catalog includes a gin, several vodkas, a spiced rum, a bitter, a whiskey distilled from malt mash, and a blend of straight bourbon whiskeys simply called Breckenridge Bourbon.

I recently bought a bottle of the latter for about $40 here in Chicago (750 ml. bottle, 86-proof). “We mash, ferment, and distill a lot of bourbon in-house,” reads the Breckenridge website. “Our blend of straight bourbon whiskeys also consists of barrels selected from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana chosen for their unique qualities, heritage, and ability to marry in our blend, always made from a high-rye mash bill.”

That mash bill is 56% corn, 38% rye, and 6% malted barley. It is fermented in an open-top fermenter and twice-distilled in a copper-pot still. It is then set to barrel-age at 120-proof (no one knows for sure how long, but most seem to think only for two or three years; if true, the bourbon should have an age statement, which it does not). After aging, it is diluted with melted snow from the Rocky Mountains.

In the glass, Breckenridge Bourbon sports a dark copper color with a nose of brown sugar, candied pecan, green raisin, and banana. The flavor is nicely balanced and complex with a bready texture and abundant warm spice. The taste includes vanilla, buttered corn, honey, caramel, oak, and cinnamon. The finish is incredibly long-lasting with a pronounced spice and a numbing heat.

That numbing heat, to me, is the signature characteristic of this spirit, and a highly enjoyable sensation. It is significantly reduced if you add more than a drop of water, or if you serve the bourbon on the rocks. Therefore, I suggest you first try Breckenridge Bourbon neat (or, at the very most, add just a drop of room-temperature water).

Is this a young bourbon? Yes. Does it carry an age statement? No. That said, I think $40 is a very fair price since it delivers such a unique, satisfying, harmonious experience. I highly doubt you will be disappointed if you pick up a bottle. When you do, pair it with a medium-bodied smoke that brings its own complexity to the table. For starters, I would suggest the Gaaja Maduro Torpedo or the El Güegüense Churchill.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Cinco de Mayo Cigar Pairings with Corralejo Tequila

3 May 2017

Want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo this Friday but not into slamming tequila shots and drowning yourself in light Mexican beer? We’re here to help.

Armed with three bottles of Corralejo Tequila (Silver, Reposado, and Añejo), we’ve selected three drink and cigar pairings with cigars featuring the increasingly popular Mexican San Andrés wrapper.

Corralejo, made in the Guanajuato state of Mexico, is one of just a handful of companies granted the right to produce tequila outside the spirit’s best known home in Jalisco. Made with 100% blue weber agave, the company uses unique production techniques—employing the Charentais method (commonly associated with cognac distillation) for second distillation—which takes place in an Alembic copper pot still imported from Tomelloso, Spain. Even if you’re not familiar with Corralejo brand by name, you may recognize the colorful red, white, and blue bottles.

Corralejo Silver Maragarita & Undercrown Corona ¡Viva! by Drew Estate

First off, I’m a big believer that sour mix in margaritas is only useful to cover up harsh, bad tequila. So please skip it. Instead, go with this simple recipe that uses only fresh squeezed lime juice, quality tequila (in this case, Corralejo Silver), Cointreau or Grand Marnier, and ice. If that’s too tart for you, a splash of simple syrup can be added, but nothing more. Serve it on the rocks or up strained into a cocktail glass. Personally, I skip the salt.

If such stories are to be believed, the Undercrown blend was created by the rollers responsible for making Drew Estate’s popular Liga Privada No. 9. Made with a Mexican San Andrés wrapper along with a Connecticut-grown stalk-cut Habano binder and Nicaraguan and Brazilian filler tobaccos, the cigar produces roasted coffee, sweet cream, and nutty flavors along with copious amounts of highly aromatic smoke that stands up well to a well-made margarita.

Corralejo Reposado El Diablo & Casa Turrent Serie 1901 Robusto

If you’re not the margarita type, El Diablo is a simple yet tasty tequila cocktail. Just shake 1.5 oz. Corralejo Reposado tequila, .5 oz. crème de cassis (I used a small batch Cassis made by the Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery in Virginia), and .5 oz. fresh lime juice, then strain into an ice-filled highball or Collins glass. Add 2–3 oz. of ginger beer (I had some Goslings on hand) and garnish with a lime wedge.

The Turrent family is the most prominent when it comes to Mexican cigar tobaccos. (Over the years, there have been a number of Turrent-branded cigars, and they also make the well-known Te-Amo line.) Their 1901 blend uses three types of Mexican tobacco, including a San Andrés maduro wrapper, along with Nicaraguan tobaccos. The cigar’s dry richness, woody spice, and meatiness contrast nicely with the sweetness of the El Diablo cocktail.

Corralejo Anejo Tequila Neat & La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor

Though better known for margaritas or shots, fine tequila is best enjoyed neat or maybe with a single ice cube. Corralejo Añejo is no exception. Pale straw in color, the tequila features aromas of fresh agave, lemon, and vanilla. The body has light oak, buttered corn, pear, and a little pepper spice. The finish is clean. All in a bright, crisp, very smooth tequila that, at about $40, stacks up favorably to many higher-priced tequilas.

La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor is one of my favorite San Andrés cigars. It has a dark, oily wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. The most prominent flavors are coffee and roasted earth, and there is also a nice bit of complexity with dry bittersweet chocolate and a hint of nuttiness. Medium-bodied and well-balanced, it neither overpowers nor is overpowered by the subtle, smooth flavors of straight Corralejo Añejo.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: The GlenDronach 15 Revival Single Malt Scotch Whisky

8 Mar 2017

glndronach15 - 1

When it comes to single malt, I like the extremes the various whisky regions of Scotland offer, from the highly peated, bandaid-iodine-smoke flavors  of Islay to the rich, fruity, sherry-focused Highland or Speyside whiskies. In the latter category, one of my favorites right now is GlenDronach 15.

GlenDronach is a distillery that has flown a bit under the radar, although that is changing. The fact that the distillery was recently purchased by American liquor giant Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester) will probably raise its profile in the States even more.

GlenDronach is known for its exclusive use of sherry cask-aged single malt in the 12-year and older varieties, though, more recently, a peated variety and a bourbon and sherry cask 8-year GlenDronach have been added to the line. Now for some bad news: The 15-year (known as “Revival”) has been temporary discontinued. It is scheduled to return in 2018 after bottling was put on hiatus in 2015.

Despite that, you should try to find it now; it’s still out there, though much harder to find now than it was a year or two ago. The reason? The distillery stopped production from 1996 until 2002, meaning the contents of the 15-year bottle are probably more like 18-20 years old. (Read this article for a more detailed explanation.)

The Revival pours a rich mahogany color and is 46% alcohol by volume. The nose is classically sherried with dried fruits along with candied nuts and malt. On the plate is more of the same: a rich (but not syrupy), balanced combination of figs, raisins, toffee, orange marmalade, and clove. The finish lingers with ginger, light citrus, and oak.

GlenDronach frequently gets compared to the Macallan Sherry Oak line, and the comparison is appropriate. Both are unapologetically sherry-forward for those who like that style, and GlenDronach’s advantage is the value it provides; The GlenDronach 15 is comparable in age to Macallan 18, which costs over twice as much ($200).

Last year, in our guide for Father’s Day gifts, I wrote, “any single malt fan would appreciate Glendronach 15 which, although it has been discontinued, can still be found and is the closest thing to Macallan 18 available for under $100.” The recommendation still stands, if you can find it, and my hope is when it returns in 2018 neither the price nor flavor profile change.

As for cigars, GlenDronach 15 is as versatile as it gets. It’s perfect after dinner with a mild, classic white label Davidoff, or with a full-bodied Nicaraguan puro. 

I purchased a few bottles of GlenDronach 15 when I found out it was being temporarily discontinued. It earns my full recommendation, especially for fans of sherried scotch. Pick up a bottle if you can find one. I doubt you’ll regret it.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Four Tips for Better Whiskey Drinking

22 Feb 2017

whiskey

Last week, my colleague dispensed with some myths about cigars. This week, I’m taking a torch to some whiskey myths and offering my best advice for enjoying whiskey.

Vanishing Value Whiskeys

Only a few years ago, I would easily say that, when it comes to value, bourbon and rye were a far better bargain than single malt scotch. I hate to say it, but that’s no longer the case. With rising prices and vanishing age statements prompted by high demand, American whiskey is no longer full of great value. Single malt has started to catch up to demand, at least at the entry level, but bourbon is a few years behind. Yes, you can still get a very decent, drinkable bottle for around $20, but if truly great value is what you seek, you are better off trying aged rum.

Proper Glassware

Want to improve your whiskey drinking experience? There are lots of silly gadgets out there. Whiskey stones, for example, don’t work all that well; I’m convinced people like them because they look cool. However, one whiskey accessory well worth the investment is a proper glass. There are quite a few specially-made glasses, and anything relatively small in size with a shape that concentrates aromas on the nose will work. My favorite, and the standard, is the Glencairn.

Ice, Cocktails… Whatever

There are some circles where adding anything more than a drop of pure spring water is sacrilege. On one hand, I mostly drink whiskey this way, and I do think you will get the truest sense of the spirit (the good and bad) by tasting neat. Still, never forget fine spirits are meant to be enjoyed, not merely sampled. So don’t be wasteful (for example, mixing Pappy Van Winkle with Coke). However, feel free to mix up a fine cocktail with a special whiskey or a few ice cubes if that’s how you’ll enjoy it the most. The type of people who hate on folks for enjoying their Booker’s with plenty of ice are they same folks who have a cabinet full of expensive bottles they collect and never drink.

Don’t Chase Unicorns

Speaking of Pappy, don’t go crazy searching for rare whiskey. The days are over when you could walk into an out-of-the-way liquor store and potentially find a bottle of Pappy or another rare, sought-after bourbon at or below retail price. Compared to what you can get for $50, I don’t see how you can justify spending five, ten, or twenty times that based on drinking experience alone, and I’ve opened more than a few bottles that are regularly bought and sold for that much. When it comes to finding the rare bourbons, you can spend hours and hundreds of dollars hoping and searching with no guarantee. If you really want to try them, though, your best bet is to find a well-stocked bar and just buy an ounce or two (albeit at the inflated prices) so you can say you’ve tried them, then go back to your bottle of Blanton’s.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Old Bardstown and Old Bardstown Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon

30 Nov 2016

old-bardstown

One of the best attributes about bourbon—as opposed to, say, single malt scotch—has always been the value it can provide. Good bourbon doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg. Although, as its popularity has grown, there are those who would gladly charge you an arm and a leg for good (or not-so-good) bourbon.

Old Bardstown (90-proof) and Old Bardstown Bottled-in-Bond (100-proof), which cost $18 and $22 respectively, certainly have the potential to provide good value. While the Old Bardstown brand has been around for years in various forms, the bottles I’m sampling are relatively new varieties that are actually distilled at Willett’s distillery.

Willett has bottled many fine bourbons for years (including Willett Family Estate, Old Bardstown, Noah’s Mill, Johnny Drum, Rowan’s Creek, and others). But the distillery stopped distilling whiskey in the early 1980s and didn’t resume until January 2012. Prior to very recently, all of Willett’s bourbons were bought from other distilleries, even if they were aged and bottled at Willett.

The new bottles clearly state they are “distilled and bottled at the Willett distillery.” Given that Willett didn’t fire up its still until January 2012, we know both are barely over four years old (if it was less than four years, it would have to be disclosed). Beyond some Family Estate Rye and bourbon sold mostly through Willett’s gift shop, these are the first bottles to be sold from that Willett distillate. Currently, these bourbons are only for sale in the state of Kentucky. As production ramps up, though, I’d expect them to become available more widely.

The Old Bardstown Bourbon is a dark color for a relatively young bourbon and features a nose with maple sugar and damp cardboard. On the palate, the whiskey shows wood, toasted cereal grain, and malty sweetness. The finish is light with wood spice and eucalyptus.

Old Bardstown Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon features a nose of ethanol, mint, and rock sugar candy. On the palate is burnt corn, rubber, tea, and some bitter green wood. The finish shows even more tea and rubber along with some burnt sugar.

I was shocked to discover I greatly preferred the 90-proof version to the bottled-in-bond 100-proof version, but I can only speculate that the lower proof smooths over some of the rough edges that come from only four years in the barrel. In either format, Old Bardstown shows the promise of the new Willett distillate, especially after it spends a few more years aging. Right now, try it neat, but know that the price means you won’t feel guilty using it in a cocktail.

As for cigars, I’d recommend a full-bodied, earthy smoke to offset some of the unbalanced aspects of Old Bardstown. Specifically, smoke the Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Velvet Rat, El Güegüense Robusto, Montecristo Sublime Edición Limitada 2008 (Cuban), Tatuaje Black, or Warped Futuro Selección Suprema.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys