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Cigar Spirits: Oban Bay Reserve The Night’s Watch Single Malt Whisky

23 Oct 2019

Pop culture and whiskey have become a natural pairing. Just look at the list of celebrities who have lent their name to recently: Bob Dylan, Drake, Conor McGregor, Metallica, Matthew McConaughey, and even Nick Offerman. Likewise, television shows and movies are hardly immune to whisky crossovers; for example, Lost in Translation (Suntory Japanese Whisky), Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Old Forester Statesman), and Walking Dead (Spirits of the Apocalypse).

Yet no pop culture brand seems to have cashed in on the Hollywood/Whiskey connection more than Game of Thrones. As it entered its eighth and (frankly underwhelming) final season, the HBO series partnered with spirits giant Diageo for an extended line of scotch whiskies. And partner they did.

Three Johnnie Walker blended scotch whiskeys were introduced (White Walker, followed more recently by two others). Most notable, though, is the line of exclusive single malt whiskies, each from a different distillery under the Diageo umbrella. Eight whiskies from eight distilleries represent seven of the major houses from the series, plus the Night’s Watch. (Another Game of Thrones single malt, a 15-year-old from Mortlach, is on its way too.)

Today I’m tasting the Oban Bay Reserve: The Night’s Watch, which seems to be one of the harder to find offerings in the line. Made at the Highland distillery Oban, it is 43% ABV, NAS (no age statement), and sells for $63 per bottle. This makes it more expensive than the NAS Oban Little Bay offering, but less expensive than the popular 14 Year Old Oban.

The single malt pours a dark golden color with a nose boasting orange peel, malt, melon, light smoke, caramel, and solvent. On the palate, it has orange zest, waxy honey, red fruits, sea salt, and oak. The finish is medium in length with clove, oak, and powdered milk flavors.

Oban is known for blending the dry, smoky, peat-influenced style of Islay with the lighter, sweeter malts of the Highlands. While this spirit is no exception, I’d prefer a little more of the Islay influence. Apparently, because it’s hard to find, some stores are selling this for over $100 a bottle. But at that price you are far better off buying the 14 Year Old, which sells for around $70. At its normal MSRP of $63, The Night’s Watch is a reasonable value, considering you are paying for some Game of Thrones marketing. But I wouldn’t rush out to grab another bottle.

It pairs well with a fuller-bodied Dominican cigar. Particularly recommended are the Paul Garmirian Symphony 20th, Arturo Fuente Opus X, and La Aurora 107.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Tips: Five Cold-Weather Drinks to Pair with Cigars

16 Oct 2019

Monday was Columbus Day, which means summer is in the rear-view mirror. With autumn’s arrival, temperatures will be dropping. And if you’re smoking cigars outdoors, you may be looking for a drink pairing that works with the season. Here are five suggestions:

Single Malt Scotch — It is exceedingly rare that I drink scotch when the temperature is warm, but this time of year I find myself pouring scotch to pair with a cigar more often. Depending on your taste, peaty scotch or sherried single malt whiskey both have unexplained warming qualities. Some of my favorites (Laphroaig PX Cask, Ardbeg Uigeadail) are actually both sherried and peated.

Hot Toddy — A classic that can be made with scotch (save the single malt, use a blend), bourbon, brandy, or even mezcal. It’s simple to make. Just add sugar, lemon, and cloves to boiling water and your spirit. Hot toddies pair well with Connecticut-wrapped, milder cigars.

Stonewall Jackson — An American classic consisting of hot cider and bourbon (but rye, Tennessee whiskey, or even spiced rum fill in nicely). As I’ve written before, it’s a late fall drink that pairs with stronger cigars, like the 601 Green or Fausto.

Hot Buttered Rum — Serially underrated (especially by those who have never tried it but think butter in a drink is just weird), hot buttered rum is a little more complicated to make than other hot cocktails. After you make it a few times, though, you’ll find it’s really not too difficult. Drink yours with a medium-bodied Honduran or Nicaraguan cigar, or anytime you are outdoors and it is snowing.

Coffee — Still a classic, coffee (in its many forms) is a perfect pairing for cigars. Coffee in the morning with a mild cigar is a great pairing, same for a Cuban coffee in the afternoon or evening. If you don’t want caffeine late at night give decaf a try. (My bias against decaf stopped me from drinking it for years, but lately I’ve found some excellent decaf roasts from a local coffee shop.)

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: George Dickel Bottled in Bond 13 Year Old Whisky

2 Oct 2019

Introduced earlier this year, George Dickel Bottled in Bond caught my attention for having an attribute few new bourbon offerings have: the possibility of being an excellent value. As the popularity of bourbon has spiked, so have prices.

Some of the best values from five years ago have either dropped their aged statements (so they can include younger whiskey), raised prices, become highly allocated and impossible to find, or have been discontinued. All of which is a long run-up to saying a new 13-year-old bourbon for under $40 is not the type of thing you see every day. (Side note: Tennessee whiskey produced by both Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel meets the legal definition of straight bourbon even if you won’t find the word on the bottle. The key addition to the process that sets Tennessee whiskey apart is the Lincoln County Process, where the spirit is filtered through charcoal.)

Bottled in bond whiskey means the spirit must fit a few qualities. It must all be distilled at the same distillery during the same season (January-June or July-December). must be aged in a federally bonded warehouse for four years, and must be bottled at 100-proof or higher.

Distilled at George Dickel’s Cascade Hollow Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee, this mahogany-colored 13-year-old bottled in bond whiskey was distilled in the fall of 2005 with a mash bill of 84% corn, 10% rye, and 6% malted barley. It was bottled in the spring of 2019 at 50% ABV (100-proof).

The nose is full of peanuts and roast corn. On the palate there’s powdered chocolate, dried corn, candied citrus, and vanilla. The finish has ginger and clove with a lingering, velvety mouthfeel.

This is without a doubt an an excellent bourbon, that probably could have been sold for more. But I think long-term it’s a good strategy for George Dickel, which is always in the shadow of its Tennessee neighbor Jack Daniel’s. Reminding consumers of their quality with an eye-catching value only serves to make people more likely to check out their other offerings (which are themselves solid and underrated) in the future.

Despite being 100-proof, it’s not overly strong, even when tasted neat. Pair it with a medium-bodied cigar like the Bolivar Royal Corona, Tatuaje Black, or Davidoff Colorado Claro.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Rhum Barbancourt Estate Reserve

11 Sep 2019

The best aspect of rum might be the variety of styles. Broadly speaking, the three major styles are English, French, and Spanish (associated with the countries that make up the former colonies each country).

Haitian distillery Rhum Barbancourt is proof of this colonial influence. Haiti may be on the same island as the Dominican Republic, but the techniques they use to make rhum (note the “h” as used in French) are closer to the distilleries of Martinique and the Guadeloupe Islands.

As opposed to the English and Spanish styles, which rely on molasses, Rhum Agricole is made by distilling fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice. At Barbancourt, it is distilled in a pot still to 90% ABV (considerably higher than most agricole) before being brought down in proof prior to aging in multiple sizes of barrels.

Barbancourt produces a range of rums with the 15-year-old Estate Reserve being the oldest. Unlike some producers which use suspicious age statements, every drop of spirit in the bottle (which sells for around $50) is reportedly aged at least 15 years.

The 43% ABV rhum pours a deep walnut brown color, which unfortunately is obscured by the black frosted bottle. The nose features cinnamon bread, fresh cut lumber, and butterscotch.

On the palate, Barbancourt reveals a delicate combination of oak tannin, brown sugar, butterscotch, tea, and cherries. The finish is long with wood, leather, orange peel, and the slightest hint of pepper spice.

Between the rhum’s age or Barbancourt’s distillation technique, it lacks the some of the characteristics traditionally associated with agricole, like grassy or floral notes. Still, it’s highly enjoyable, even though though it is far from quintessential French agricole style. In fact, in many ways it is more similar to a Bajan rum like Doorly’s than a fellow Argicole, like Rhum JM.

It’s a rhum to be enjoyed neat, with or without a cigar. I’d lean away from full-bodied cigars that might overpower the delicate notes of this complex spirit. Recommended pairings include: Cabaiguan, Cohiba Siglo, Davidoff Colorado Claro, and Illusione Epernay.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Probitas Rum

21 Aug 2019

Collaborations between cigar makers are a common way to get consumer attention. If you are a fan of one of the collaborators, you might be turned onto the second brand. If you already like both, the joint effort becomes a must-try new cigar.

Such collaborations aren’t as common in the spirits industry. But that’s the case with Probitas, which is a blend of rums from Foursquare in Barbados and Hampden in Jamaica, blended together by Richard Seale of Foursquare.

The white rum (which sells for around $35 a bottle) sells under the name “Veritas” outside the U.S., presumably due to trademark issues. It is an unusual combination of “coffey column” still rum (from Foursquare) and “double retort pot still” (from Hampden). The resulting blend is 47% ABV.

For a white rum it has a notably yellowish tint, likely because Probitas (and Seale) make a point of unadulterated (and, thus, not over-filtered) rum. The nose features lemon custard, booze, and bananas.

Tasted neat, it shows off tropical notes of pineapple and banana, a pleasant creaminess, and rich molasses with oak. The short finish tingles the tongue with light cedar and caramel.

It’s enjoyable neat, which I’ll admit is unusual for a white rum. But it really shines in cocktails. It’s perfect in a daiquiri (two parts Probitas, one part simple syrup, and one part fresh lime juice) and has just the right amount of funkiness for a Kingston Negroni (equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth, and rum).

Foursquare and Hampden happen to be two of my favorite rum distilleries, so it’s hardly a surprise that I enjoy Probitas. Foursquare is known for not adding sugar to its rums, while Hampden is known for traditional Jamaican funk. Both elements are apparent in this premium-priced white rum.

If you want to treat yourself to a white rum that really shines, Probitas is well worth trying. If you’re drinking it neat, pair it with a balanced, mild cigar like the Cabaiguan, Davidoff Grand Cru, Illusione Epernay, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet. It you’re using it to upgrade your rum cocktail, pair it with any fine cigar you like.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Rhum J.M. V.S.O.P.

31 Jul 2019

Rum is available in a wide variety of styles. The lack of strict rules (like those of bourbon, rye, single malt, etc…) make rum a Wild West, for both better and worse. Pure Bahamian rums, funky Jamaican rums, sugar-added dark rums, distilled in pot stills or column stills or both, spiced rums, aged in the tropics or Europe… they’re all rum, as long as they are distilled from one form or another of sugar.

Rhum agricole is the style associated with French Caribbean islands. It is distilled from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, rather than the more frequently used molasses. Rhum J.M. is made in Martinique, and the V.S.O.P. offering is “created by aging rhum 3 years in re-charred bourbon barrels and finishing the rhum an additional year in lightly toasted new American oak barrels and finally reduced to 43% ABV with pure volcanic spring water from Habitation Bellevue.”

The $50 bottle (750 ml.) features a spirit that is light amber in color with a nose of fresh popcorn, red berries, and baking spices. Flavors include butterscotch, fresh sugar cane, custard, rubber, and banana.

It has a notably velvety mouthfeel and excellent balance. The finish is long and rich with nougat and candied apple sweetness.

I suppose you could use it in cocktail (I’m sure it would be excellent in a daiquiri) but, honestly, that would be a waste of a spirit that is best enjoyed neat. It’s a fine example of aged rhum agricole, worth seeking out (it can be a little tricky to find) for all fans of aged rum, especially for those looking to go beyond the molasses-derived offerings that usually make up the higher end of most run bars’ offerings.

Pair it with a balanced medium-bodied cigar. Suggested pairings include Cabaiguan, Davidoff Colorado Claro, El Güegüense, and the Cuban Romeo y Julieta Short Churchill.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Nikka From The Barrel

17 Jul 2019

Bubble. Boom. Whatever you want to call it, whiskey has been on the upswing for years. And, recently, Japanese whiskey in particular has been a victim of the realities of supply and demand.

Some combination of branding, style, distribution, and long-overdue recognition has catapulted Japanese whiskey from an oddity to a sought-after luxury in recent years. That culminated last year when Nikka From the Barrel was designated 2018 Whiskey of the Year by Whiskey Advocate.

The 51.4% ABV spirit demonstrates many of the mysteries and anomalies of Japanese whiskey. The blended whiskey is produced by Nikka Whisky Distilling, but few details are available beyond that.

While all Japanese whiskey meets the legal definition of whiskey (distilled malt or grain aged in oak barrels), the fact is there are few requirements beyond some step in the process taking place in Japan. Japanese whiskey can be single malt, grain whiskey, or a blend, and it can even be aged or distilled in Japan or elsewhere. (Yes, that Japanese whiskey you are drinking may have started in Canada, Ireland, or Scotland.)

In short, it’s the wild west (or perhaps wild far east) of whiskey. The reputation of what’s in the bottle is far more dependent on the label than the region or Japanese designation. With supplies of Japanese-distilled whiskey dwindling, there is every reason for consumers to be skeptical of that new Japanese whiskey you come across.

However, Nikka From The Barrel doesn’t suffer any lack of reputation or pedigree, as detailed in Whiskey Advocate‘s write-up: “In 1985, Nikka Whisky Distilling Company’s blending team, led by Shigeo Sato, designed this whisky using both malt and grain whiskies produced at Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo Distilleries. When taking into account the full array of casks—bourbon barrels, sherry butts, refill hogsheads, and more—over 100 different constituent whiskies are enlisted.”

The result is an amber whiskey with a rich nose full of sherry and bourbon-y vanilla with hints of hints of seaweed and sulphur. On the palate you’ll find a balanced, complex combination of flavors with ginger, stonefruit, oak, tobacco, and red fruit. The finish is clean and balanced with lingering ginger and light wood spice.

It is without a doubt an enjoyable whiskey, and the price ($80) isn’t unwarranted given the hype of Japanese whiskey (though, at that price, there are quite a few scotch single malts I’d prefer). With this bottle being increasingly hard to find, you certainly shouldn’t be eager to pay more than that suggested retail price.

Pair it with a medium-bodied or even mild cigar if you want to appreciate all the nuanced flavors that Nikka From The Barrel can reveal. Some suggestions include: Aging Room Bin No. 1 B Minor, Cabaiguan, Cohiba Siglo, Illusione Epernay, Paul Garmirian Gourmet, and Warped Futuro.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys