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Cigar Spirits: High West Son of Bourye

26 Feb 2015

When you mix straight bourbon whiskey with straight rye whiskey, what do you get? When High West Whiskey out of Park City, Utah, wanted to sell its concoction, they called it “Bourye,” a portmanteau of bourbon and rye.

high-west-bouryeA quick note on terms for American whiskey: Bourye has no legal meaning. Federal regulations have strict definitions about what certain terms mean, so although a combination of straight bourbon whiskeys can still be straight bourbon (and multiple straight ryes still can be called straight rye), a combination of straight rye and straight bourbon cannot be called straight whiskey, even if it is (as High West calls says on the bottle) “a blend of straight whiskies.”

The original Bourye, first released in 2009, combined 10-year-old bourbon, 12-year rye, and 16-year rye (a tweaked Bourye was just released in the past few months). Son of Bourye, as you might expect, is a younger version.

In Son of Bourye, High West takes a five-year-old bourbon (at least five years, the label says), and mingles it with a five-year rye whiskey (the percentage of each isn’t disclosed). Both spirits are sourced from the Lawrenceburg, Indiana, distillery that provides spirits for many whiskey companies that bottle bourbon, and especially rye, that they don’t distill themselves.

Son of Bourye is bottled at 92-proof. It isn’t easy to find, but is not impossible to locate above retail, which is usually between $45 and $50.

The nose is pleasant, although not particularly distinctive with caramel and hints of pine and citrus. On the palate, some of the interplay between the rye and bourbon comes out with honey, oak, and mint spice. Floral notes, clove, and cinnamon also hit the palate. The finish lingers nicely with dried fruit and wood spice.

There are enough subtleties in Son of Bourye that a full-bodied smoke would overpower it. Instead, try a mild or medium cigar like Cabaiguan, Illusione Epernay, or a Cuban Montecristo.

Ultimately, there is a lot to like about Son of Bourye. The blend of straight bourbon and straight rye is a fairly new category of spirits which has emerged as whiskey companies look to provide a new, unique product to a booming market. When compared to other bourbon/rye combinations (like Jefferson’s Chef’s Collaboration, Wild Turkey Forgiven, and the original Bourye) High West’s Son of Bourye measures up quite favorably in terms of the value it provides.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Beam Signature Craft Soft Red Wheat Harvest Collection 11 Year Bourbon

19 Feb 2015

The Red Wheat Harvest Collection (or maybe it’s Signature Craft Harvest Collection Red Wheat… it’s not entirely clear) is part of the rapidly expanding Jim Beam Signature Craft line. The name is a mouthful, but it’s actually quite descriptive of the many ways this limited offering differs from your standard-issue Jim Beam.

beam-red-wheat-harvestWhat’s most notable about Red Wheat is the mashbill which, unlike every other Beam bourbon to date, uses wheat instead of rye, along with corn and malt barley. And the 11-year age statement makes it considerably older than every other current Beam offering except its recent 12 Year Signature Craft.

The bronze-colored spirit features a nose full of vanilla, damp oak, and a hint of dried fruit. On the palate there’s a lush creaminess, cookie batter, vanilla, and a hint of red apple. The finish is long with some clove and wood spice.

It’s a got hints of that distinctive Beam yeasty funk, but there’s a lot more going on than just that. There is a soft, delicate edge that adds to the complexity and enjoyability.

It also makes the Red Wheat a versatile bourbon for cigar pairing. All but the strongest cigars would make for an excellent pairing, from a mild Connecticut-wrapped cigar to a medium-full Nicaraguan blend.

It deserves to be tasted neat, as too much water or ice could tame the 90-proof spirit. Really there’s not much to complain about, except maybe the price.

Certainly, $45 for a 375 ml. bottle is very steep. But then when you consider that the only other wheated bourbons with similar age statements (Van Winkle Lot B and Weller 12 Year) are becoming exceedingly difficult to find at retail, the cost isn’t so ridiculous. My recommendation: See if you can try some at a bar before going in on an entire bottle.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Warm Up with These Hot Winter Beverages

17 Feb 2015

temp-cold

If you are, like me, in the ever-increasing part of the country where the temperatures have taken a dive, then maybe you’re looking for a fun way to warm up. And what better way than a warm drink that also packs a little boozy kick? Here are my five favorites:

Hot Toddy — A classic that can be made with scotch whisky (save the single malt, use a blend), bourbon, or even brandy. It’s simple to make. Just add sugar, lemon, and cloves to boiling water and your spirit. (Feel free to swap in honey or cinnamon, or even look for a recipe that uses ginger ale.)

Stonewall Jackson — A simple classic consisting of hot cider and bourbon (but rye, Tennessee whiskey, or even spiced rum fill in nicely). Want to kick this up notch? Add some mulling spices to turn it into mulled cider. Just don’t boil the booze out.

Hot Buttered Rum — Perhaps my favorite of the bunch, hot buttered rum is a little more complicated to make than the above drinks, but you’ll find that it’s really not too difficult. If you want, you can make a batch of the batter ahead of time (it will last in the freezer) or just make it as you go directly into a mug.

Mexican Hot Chocolate — While there are lots of recipes out there, “normal” Mexican hot chocolate is spicy and intense with unsweetened chocolate, cinnamon, and chiles. Adding some tequila kicks it up a notch. While I use something similar to this recipe, I might also add a splash of Cointreau.

Spiked Coffee — There are plenty of variations of the basic coffee (milk and sugar optional) with booze. Coffee or chocolate liqueurs are particularly popular options, although there’s nothing wrong with simply adding whiskey, rum, or brandy. Want a recommendation I picked up traveling in Mexico? Add goat milk caramel (you can buy it from Amazon) to coffee and Kahlua.

-Patrick S

photo credit: AccuWeather

Cigar Spirits: Willett XCF (Exploratory Cask Finish) Rye

12 Feb 2015

To say American whiskey is growing in popularity is an understatement. Over-production and glut of prior decades has been replaced with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for good bourbon and rye (and even quite a bit of well-marketed mediocre whiskey).

willett-xcfBut there’s a catch: One of the key ingredients to good rye or bourbon is age in the barrel, and with the bourbon boom there are limited sources of well-aged whiskey. Even if you can find some aged product (or more likely procured some a few years ago when it was a little easier to come by) what you are buying is likely from the same source as what is already being sold in a different bottle with a different label.

Case in point is the Indiana distillery that uses the same 95% rye recipe to supply straight rye for Redemption, Angel’s Envy, Templeton, Bulleit, Dickel, Old Scout, High West, and others. To that list you can add Willett, although the company did start distilling its own bourbon and rye recently (but so far only a two-year rye has been deemed ready for the market).

So how does a company differentiate itself in this increasingly crowded market? Picking and identifying exceptional barrels is one way Willett built its reputation. Another way is with unique barrel finishes, which is what Willett is trying with it’s Exploratory Cask Finish (XCF).

These days one of my favorite rye whiskeys is the unique and bold Angel’s Envy Rye, finished in rum casks. It’s an interesting twist on the classic rye flavors, with sweetness and tropical spice layered over the distinctive Indiana rye flavors.

That’s why I was eager to try Willett’s XCF version 1.0, which starts with an 8-year-old Indiana rye that’s finished in casks used to make Grand Marnier, although (presumably for trademark reasons) it simply refers to as orange curacao.

The result is a deep gold color rye that has been cut down to 103.4-proof. The distinctive nose features orange peel, pickle brine, and floral spice.

The influence of the orange curacao continues on the palate with plenty of sour orange and clove. The finish is long with plenty of spice that lingers on the roof of the mouth

It’s an interesting combination that starts off intensely unique, even a bit bracing, but very quickly becomes deliciously familiar. It pairs perfectly with a woody, full-bodied Nicaraguan cigar like the RoMaCraft Aquitaine Mode 5 or La Antiguadad.

The only thing that would make me hesitate to recommend the Willett XCF is the price, which runs around $150, if you can find it. (I only procured a bottle because a friend happened to be near the distillery on the day it was released for sale.) That’s pretty steep, even in this overheated market. But if you enjoy Angel’s Envy Rye and want to taste an even more extreme example of cask finishing then XCF is well worth trying.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Hudson Maple Cask Rye Whiskey

28 Jan 2015

hudson-maple-cask-rye

I’ve written before about aging whiskey in small barrels and the theories behind it. Some say it’s a shortcut to make a young whiskey taste like fine, well-aged whiskey, while others say it only makes lousy whiskey. As I’ve stated before, my feeling is the practice mostly produces a different kind of whiskey, very different but not necessarily lesser.

Tuthilltown Distillery, which makes the Hudson line, is certainly a believer in the mini-barrel aging method, as all their products are stored in 3-10 gallon barrels for “less than four years,” though they don’t disclose how much less. (I wrote about their Baby Bourbon and Four Grain Bourbon years ago.) Interestingly, the increasingly common practice of labeling young whiskey “less than four years old” will no longer fly under new federal labeling guidelines, meaning that an actual affirmative age statement will soon be necessary.

For this “limited edition” rye (word is it will become an annual release), Tuthilltown took its Hudson Manhattan Rye and finished it in casks that had previously been used to age maple syrup. The result is a 92-proof finished rye that sells for around $55 for a 375 ml. bottle (half the size of a traditional bottle).

Whether it’s the maple or the mini casks, the Hudson Maple Rye features an inviting rich copper color. The nose definitely has a added hint of maple on top of oak and wood spice.

But on the palate the youth shows. The woodiness is an astringent oak flavor that overwhelms more inviting notes of maple, maltiness, pear, and cocoa. The finish shows more young oak and maple.

I think a Mexican-wrapped cigar is ideal for this rye, as it has a similar quality of full flavor with a slightly harsh edge. The Illusione *R* Rothchildes is an excellent choice, especially with its value price.

Ultimately, it’s hard to recommend Hudson Maple Cask Rye to all but the most committed collector, mostly because the price and the harshness due to its youth. Still, one thing I really appreciate about this whiskey is the natural way Hudson handled adding a maple flavor, at a time when more sketchy, artificial methods of flavoring are becoming increasingly common.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

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