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Cigar Spirits: Belle Meade Special Cask Finish Series Bourbon

6 Jun 2018

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery has plenty of history. In the 1800s, the Nashville distillery was one of the nation’s top whiskey producers, selling two million bottles annually.

Like many distilleries, it didn’t survive prohibition, and was shuttered in 1909 when Tennessee adopted prohibition at a state level. In 2006, Nelson family descendants visited the grounds and decided to relaunch the operation, eventually installing whiskey stills in 2014.

Like many smaller distilleries, while they wait for their whiskey stock to grow, Nelson’s Green Brier is relying on sourced whiskey. In this case, they turned to MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, to supply their Belle Meade bourbon line, all using a “high rye” mashbill.

Rather than just bottling sourced whiskey, the company sought to produce a more unique product with their limited Belle Meade Cask Finish Series which, as the name suggests, finishes aged bourbon in casks previously used for other spirits.

The Sherry Cask version employs nine-year-old bourbon aged in 20-year-old oloroso sherry casks. The Cognac and Madeira both use a blend of six- to nine-year-old bourbon in twelve-year-old Champagne XO cognac and Malmsey Madeira casks, respectively. The tasting notes on each are as follows:

Belle Meade Cognac Cask Bourbon
Nose: Burnt toffee, orange peel, cedar
Palate: Wood tanins, ripe berries, cigar box
Finish: Sugared pears with cedar and cinnamon spice

Belle Meade Madeira Cask Bourbon
Nose: Pear, oak, vanilla
Palate: Candied apples, honey, sugar cookies
Finish: Mint, oak, cherries

Belle Meade Sherry Cask Bourbon
Nose: Rich dried fruit, malt, caramel
Palate: Tobacco, spice box, fruit cake, grilled pineapple
Finish: Long with sherried walnuts and burnt caramel

The intensity of Sherry Cask was the standout, but then I’m a fan of sherry bomb single malts. All three are quite nice, with the Madeira being the most subtle and the Cognac bringing a nice balance of rich flavors, even if both sometimes, to their detriment, show their more youthful bourbon components.

In many ways, the Belle Meade Cask Finish Series represents both the opportunity and drawbacks of the current bourbon resurgence (some would call it a bubble). Quality sourced bourbon is expensive, but it also drives innovation, which is almost certainly why Belle Meade decided to differentiate their sourced bourbon with these unique cask finishes.

Bottles of each range from $70 to $80, but the best way to sample the range is to pick up a three-pack of half-size 375 ml. bottles. Usually, the three-bottle set sells for around $100, but maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find them on sale (as I did for $50). At full price, it’s harder to justify buying without trying them first, but at half that it’s good bourbon to keep on your shelf.

The Madeira and Cognac benefit from a more medium-bodied balanced cigar. The richness of the Belle Meade sherry cask will stand up to more full-bodied cigar.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Michel Couvreur Overaged Malt Whisky

2 May 2018

What exactly is Michel Couvreur Overaged Malt Whisky? I’ll let the front label of this enigmatic offering explain: “Distilled in Scotland. Vatted from various over twelve-year-old whiskies traditionally ennobled with sherry oak casks and bottled in our French Burgundian caves.”

Michel Couvreur, who passed away in 2013, produced and sold wine for many years before falling for single malt scotch. He then began buying unaged single malt from various Scottish distilleries and shipping it to his cellars in Burgundy, France, for extended aging in mostly sherry casks before being blended together.

The Overaged Malt Whisky is the Michel Couvreur offering you’re most likely to encounter in the United States. The whisky is aged at least twelve years, though some accounts suggest it is “vatted from 54 whiskies aged 12 to 27.” Because it is hard to find, prices may vary significantly (I found a deal at $50 plus shipping, but $70 or more seems more the norm).

To get at the whisky you’ll have to bust through a traditional wine cork (it’s a product of Burgundy after all) that is sealed with wax. Apparently, the best method is to leave the wax alone and just go at it with a corkscrew. Once open, you’ll find a nose that combines dried flowers, light smoke, damp red wine barrels, and fruit cake.

On the palate, the sherried notes (candied almonds, oloroso, figs) dominate, but with the added complexity of pears, berries, and smoked pork combined with the slightest whiff of peat and musty notes imparted from the wine cellars where the whisky is aged. The finish is lush and long with more red fruit, musty earth and just a bit of unique funk that’s hard to describe.

Supposedly, the folks at Michel Couvreur drive to Jerez to pick out fresh sherry casks from well-known sherry producer Equipos Navazos. At a time when Scottish distilleries are finding it tougher and tougher to find good sherry casks, Courvreur’s small-scale access gives it an advantage that comes through in its whisky.

To me, it outshines most of the twelve year sherried single malt whiskies (including Macallan). So if that’s your style of single malt, don’t be afraid to try Michel Couvreur Overaged Malt Whisky.

It’s a true after-dinner drink, perfect with a well-balanced cigar. A good, balanced Cuban like the Cohiba Siglo VI is an ideal pairing. For a non-Cuban cigar, try the Cabaiguan Robusto Extra, Davidoff Colorado Claro, or Paul Garmirian 25th Anniversary.

Patrick Sphoto credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Copper & Kings American Brandy

25 Apr 2018

The demand for whiskey, and specifically bourbon and rye, has been booming, with special attention paid to the craft distillers whose ranks have been increasing in recent years. This has lead to plenty of prognostications about which spirit will be the next bourbon/rye.

Along the way, I’ve heard predictions that mezcal, rum, gin, and brandy will be the next big thing. If there’s a case for brandy, and American brandy in particular, then exhibit one is Copper & Kings.

Established in 2015, Louisville, Kentucky-based Copper and Kings’ signature product is brandy, though they also make gin. At least from a business prospective, Copper & Kings’ investors were vindicated in their decision to start a craft brandy distillery in the heart of bourbon country when beer and spirits giant Constellation bought a share of the company earlier this year.

That helped widen the availability of Copper & Kings’ offerings, including to my home state of Virginia, where all liquor is sold through state-run stores. I bought a bottle of Copper & Kings American Brandy at one such store for $36.

This spirit uses sourced American brandy (some of which is later redistilled by Copper & Kings) blended solera-style with no flavor or colorings added. The non-chill filtered brandy is aged in a combination of mostly used Kentucky bourbon barrels along with a small percentage of new American oak barrels.

The 90-proof brandy features a lively nose with pear, floral notes, and raspberry jam along with some alcohol heat. On the palate, the bourbon barrels show their influence with dry oak, tart fruits, honeysuckle, cereal grains, and some tropical notes. The finish features more dry notes along with pear skins and cocoa.

It’s plenty drinkable neat or with a small bit of ice or a drop of water, though it really shines in a cocktail. I thought the flavors were ideal for the sidecar I enjoyed.

So, is brandy the next big movement in craft distilling? I’m not sure. But it is a worthwhile excursion for the bourbon or rye drinker. And a fine pairing with a mild- to medium-bodies Connecticut Shade-wrapped cigar like the CabaiguanAshton ClassicDavidoff Grand Cru, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Talisker Storm Single Malt

11 Apr 2018

In recent years, single malt distilleries have introduced a number of new scotches that lack a statement of age, commonly called No Age Statement (NAS) whiskey. It’s easy to dismiss these new introductions as attempts to grab extra dollars from consumers and sell younger whiskey at premium prices.

In many cases, this reaction is accurate. Single malt distilleries don’t have enough properly aged whiskey, so they release NAS whiskey while discontinuing, or raising the prices of, their offerings with age statements.

But there are some genuinely interesting NAS offerings. For my tastes, Talisker Storm is one of them. The distillery on the Isle of Skye introduced Talisker Storm to its line of offerings in 2013. According to reports, Storm is a mixture of single malt between 3 and 25 years old.

The result is a single malt that shows off the light peat and smokiness of the Talisker 10, but with additional intense sweetness. The nose features light smoke and brine along with honey and floral notes.

On the palate, the complexity shines through with classic Talisker smoke and light peat combined with oak, sticky butterscotch, pineapple, and rum cake. The finish features more intense smokiness mixed with honey and pepper.

Talisker Storm is priced similarly to Talisker 10 ($50-60), but it is the better, more interesting (if less classic) single malt.

For those getting into scotch, I’ve often recommended Taliskler 10 as the gateway (as in, if you like it, try these next) to the more singularly peated Islays like Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 10, and Lagavulin 16. That would make Talisker Storm a slightly different gateway towards some of my favorite Islays (which feature significant sweetness on top of the classic peat) like Ardbeg Uigeadail, Laphroaig Loreor Cairdeas, and Lagavulin Distillers Edition. (In many ways, Talisker Storm reminds me of a slightly less rich, but more affordable and not limited, Talisker Distillers Edition.)

Pair Talisker Storm with a medium- or full-bodied Broadleaf-wrapped cigar like the Liga Privada No. 9 or Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection Havana Cazadores.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: The GlenDronach 18 Allardice

4 Apr 2018

About this time last year I was singing the praises of GlenDronach 15 Revival, “a rich (but not syrupy), balanced combination of figs, raisins, toffee, orange marmalade, and clove.”

Sadly, GlenDronach 15 has been discontinued (or at least put on hiatus). Now the line jumps from the 12 year to the 18 year, and in price from around $60 for the former to $110 or more for the latter.

GlenDronach named its 18 year single malt after John Allardice, founder of the distillery in 1826. Allardice inherited the land where the distillery was built, and named it after the Glendronac Burn, which supplied water for the operation.

GlenDronach is known for its exclusive use of sherry cask-aged single malt in the 12 year and older varieties (more recently, a peated variety, a dual bourbon, and a sherry cask 8 year GlenDronach have been added to the line). Two years ago, the distillery was acquired by American spirits giant Brown-Forman (owner of Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, and other brands). You might hope this would lead to wider distribution within the U.S. but, so far, anything beyond GlenDronach 12 is still difficult to find.

The 18 year Allardice is matured exclusively in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks and bottled at 46% ABV. It is not chill-filtered and is naturally colored (without the caramel coloring that some scotch whiskies use). The nose is rich with dried fruit, fudge, and caramel.

On the palate, Allardice is subtle, complex, and rich. Dates, prunes, figs, and especially raisins bring classic sherry notes, which combine with orange peel, roast hazelnuts, and pound cake. The finish is long but soft, with fruit cake and caramel.

Price aside, I slightly prefer the 15 year GlenDronach to the 18. But both are excellent, sherry-forward, sophisticated single malts. I’ve touted GlenDronach 18 as similar to Macallan 18 Sherry Oak at half the price; while the cost of both keeps creeping up, this is still true.

This is a single malt that needs a well-balanced cigar pairing, or else you will miss the subtitles. Think a mild- or medium-bodied cigar like the Davidoff Grand Cru, Illusione EpernayPaul Garmirian Gourmet, or Cuban Cohiba Siglo.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Stolen Smoked Rum

12 Mar 2018

One of the more interesting, unique rums on the market is Smoked Rum from Stolen Spirits, “the world’s first smoked rum.” It is “the result of an artisanal approach fueled by the desire to reinvent the rum category.” It also doesn’t taste like any other rum you’ve had.

An 84-proof (42% alcohol by volume) 750 ml. bottle sells for about $30. Since Stolen Smoked Rum is basically in a category of its own, I figure it’s best to hear the background straight from the horse’s mouth:

“We start with a column-distilled rum from Trinidad, made from locally sourced sugar cane and molasses. The rum is then aged for up to two years in used American oak whiskey barrels. Capturing the essence of a fresh brewed cup of joe, we infuse the rum using re-fractionated Colombian Arabica coffee, wholly distilled from same-day roasted beans. The warm, roasted flavor is complemented by the creamy sweetness and velvety texture of premium Madagascan vanilla beans and Moroccan fenugreek. The rum is rounded off with notes of American hardwood, acquired through a smoking process called pyrolysis—the burning of hardwood in the absence of oxygen.”

The result is a deep copper-colored spirit with an attention-grabbing nose of charred firewood, molasses, barbecue sauce, milk chocolate, butterscotch, and candied pecans.

Once sipped neat, a smoky mesquite flavor is instantly recognizable and pretty damn dominant. When they say “smoked,” they mean it; this rum has all the subtlety of a massive bonfire. Some of the background notes remind me of barbeque chips, caramel corn, coffee, vanilla, oak, and char.

The finish is medium in length, warm, and sharply focused on the tip of the tongue. The most pronounced notes include cayenne heat, coffee, and molasses.

I would agree with those who have claimed Stolen Smoked Rum tastes more like a smoky coffee liqueur than a rum. And in that regard it’s likely a divisive, love-it-or-hate-it spirit. For me, it’s more appetizing and better-balanced when mixed with Diet Coke—as opposed to enjoying it neat. Fortunately, the affordable price point doesn’t preclude mixing.

Whatever the serving style, conventional wisdom would suggest pairing this spirit with a full-bodied smoke. But I’m going to suggest the opposite approach. In my experience, you’re better off going with a creamy, milder cigar to help offset the heavy-handed flavors of smoke, barbecue, and coffee. I had good experiences with Undercrown Shade, Pinar del Rio 1878 Cubano Especial Capa Natural, and Artisan’s Selection.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Isaac Bowman Bourbon Finished in Port Barrels

21 Feb 2018

In November. the A. Smith Bowman Distillery announced a new addition to its Bowman series of bourbon whiskey: Issac Bowman, a straight bourbon whiskey finished port barrels. The Virginia distillery traces its roots to before prohibition, and relocated from Fairfax County (now a suburb of Washington) to Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Today, it is owned by Sazerac, which owns Kentucky’s famous Buffalo Trace Distillery, home to some of the biggest names in bourbon today: Pappy Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, Weller, Eagle Rare, and Blanton’s. Although details are limited, it is believed that most of the Bowman bourbons were distilled at the Buffalo Trace distillery, shipped to Bowman for additional distillation, then aged in Virginia.

The Bowman line is named after the Bowman brothers, who fought in the Revolutionary War: Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon, John Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon, and Abraham Bowman Limited Edition Bourbons. There’s also a George Bowman Revolutionary Rum, named after their father. While youngest brother Isaac had been left out, the popularity of multiple Abraham Bowman limited edition bourbons finished in port barrels inspired the new permanent addition to the line.

While the Abraham Bowman Port Finish bourbons which were aged for over 12 years, the new Issaac Bowman line is reportedly aged for about half as long. The bourbon is copper in color with short legs.

The 92-proof bourbon features a sharp nose of cherry, vanilla, and wine tannin. On the palate, I find a combination of toasted grains, fresh cut oak, cherry cola, and caramel. The finish has roasted flavors and notes of red wine aged in french oak.

Those flavors pair well with an Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped cigar. Some favorites include: Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu, Sobermesa, Illusione Garagiste, and My Father.

One benefit of living in Virginia is the state-run liquor stores carry Bowman bourbons that would otherwise be harder to find. The new Issaac Bowman port-finished ($40) was released first to Virginia, but is expected to roll out to other states soon.

I slightly prefer Angel’s Envy Bourbon ($50) to Isaac Bowman, but fans of Angel’s Envy should try this bourbon, too. Both prominently display the flavors imparted by finishing the bourbon in port barrels, though Angel’s Envy is more balanced while Isaac Bowman is more forward and brash. Neither is as excellent as the limited release Abraham Bowman Port Finish (pictured right) but, of course, that sold out years ago and is nearly impossible to find.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys