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Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXVIII)

12 Dec 2018

In the 28th edition of our Random Thoughts from the Humidor series, I talk cocktails, calvados, and the FDA.

The Islay Daiquiri

Here’s a winter cocktail that may sound strange but is actually quite enjoyable. When you think of daiquiris, you think of tropical islands. Not peaty Islay whiskey. Yet, recently, I’ve found myself enjoying this Islay twist on a classic drink. The smoky, salty scotch is magical with the citrus, similar to a margarita made with a smoky mezcal. Simply swap in 10 year Ardbeg or Laphroaig for rum in your favorite daiquiri recipe.

No progress at the FDA?

By pressing the pause button on the Obama FDA’s cigar regulations, new leadership at the FDA was welcomed by many in the handmade cigar industry. Nearly two years later, it is time to look at the new regime’s policy. This article argues recent FDA moves signal a dangerous future for adults who choose to smoke cigars: “[T]hese moves may pave the way for even more radical regulations that would, in essence, make it illegal to sell the combustible tobacco products favored by cigarette and cigar smokers throughout the United States.” What is clear is that Scott Gottlieb’s reign at the FDA may have different priorities from the Obama Administration, but different isn’t necessarily significantly better.

Is Calvados the Next Big Thing?

I’ve been exploring calvados lately. I’m liking what I’m tasting. The apple (and sometimes pear) brandy from Normandy combines some of the best elements of cognac, wine, and whiskey. Terroir matters, oak barrel aging is important, and both large and small producers develop their own distinct styles. Give it a try. If you have any favorites, let us know.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: A 2018 Holiday Whiskey Gift Guide

29 Nov 2018

Haven’t finished your Christmas gift list? StogieGuys.com is here to help with some bourbon, rye, and single malt gift suggestions. Plus, an accessory any whiskey drinker would appreciate.

Lots of people like whiskey, but with so many choices and lots of hype it’s hard to decide what makes the best gift. Prices are going up and whiskeys that were once easy to find are now impossible to find (at least at retail). Fact is, it’s not just ultra-limited whiskeys like Pappy Van Winkle that cannot be found without paying an exorbitant price. Even such staple bourbons as Elmer T. Lee, Weller 12, and Blanton’s are becoming hard to find.

With that in mind, here are suggestions focused on whiskey you can actually find and buy. For each category, we’ve got a suggestion that is value-priced ($20 to $30), something a bit nicer and more expensive ($35 to $60), and a whiskey that, while not too difficult to find, is, for one reason or another, rare or limited.

Bourbon

Value: Buffalo Trace — A standard offering from the maker of Pappy, Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, and many more highly sought-after bourbons. It’s delivers a lot of flavor for around $25 that’s excellent neat but not so expensive that you’d cringe if you use it in a cocktail.

Superior: Four Roses Single Barrel or Booker’s Barrel Proof — Two different offerings depending on the recipient. Four Roses Single Barrel ($45) is a rich, spicy offering. Booker’s ($60) is a powerful, full-flavored, barrel-proof offering.

Rare: Rhetoric 25 — The sixth and final edition of the Rhetoric annual release, which started out with the 20-year-old edition and concludes with this year’s 25-year-old release. It shows off the increasing effects of time spent in a bourbon barrel. Intense and perhaps even overly woody for some, this bourbon will be hard to find when it hits retailer shelves later this month at $150.

Rye

Value: Bulleit — Good neat or in cocktails, and made with a mashbill of 95% rye that gives it a distinctive flavor. Supremely affordable ($22), but a rye that can be appreciated by all. (Look for the gift pack with a canvas Lewis bag for crushing ice for your julep.)

Superior: Sazerac — This six-year-old rye is a classic that would be appreciated as a gift by any rye fan who isn’t a snob. It’s got classic floral and spice flavors, all for just $36.

Rare: Angel’s Envy — The rum barrel finish of this rye gives it an exotic, sweet finish. Think rye crossed with Sauternes or oloroso sherry. At $75 to $90, it is a special occasion whiskey, and a generous gift.

Scotch

Value: Monkey Shoulder — Not blended whisky (which uses grain whisky), but a smooth, fruity blend of three single malts. It’s $25 to $30, but it offers the quality of a single malt at half the price.

Superior: Talisker Storm or Glendronach 12 — Talkisker Storm ($50) is smoky and peaty with balance and sweetness. For the peat-adverse drinker, Glendronach 12 ($60) is about as intensely sherried in style as a single malt gets.

Rare: Game of Thrones Limited Edition Single Malts — A new collection of eight single malts from a variety of distilleries features something for every Game of Thrones fan. Just don’t wait too long; they were just released. You’re paying a small premium for the branding, but details suggest they are reasonably priced, at least while you can find them. (We tried the nine-year-old Lagavulin “House of Lannister,” and it was excellent.)

Accessories

Glencairn Whisky Glasses — Any whiskey drinker will appreciate the gold standard in whisky glassware. It is designed to bring out the best in bourbon, rye, and single malt (and also works well with brandy or rum). Even if your recipient already has a few of these, more is always better. A good collection will let them taste side-by-side, or host a tasting with friends.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Papa’s Pilar Bourbon Barrel Finished Dark Rum

8 Nov 2018

Scotch whiskey has long utilized barrel maturation in casks formerly used to age bourbon, sherry, and other types of wine to add complexity and additional flavors to the finished spirit. More recently, other whiskies have gotten in on the cask finishing game, especially bourbon. Consider Angel’s Envy, Belle Meade, 1792, and Issac Bowman, all of which are finished in port barrel casks after a period of traditional aging in new charred barrels.

But whiskey isn’t the only spirit to leverage cask finishes. Rum has been getting into the game, too, including (but hardly limited to) various Foursquare and Papa’s Pilar offerings.

Today we’re trying a new limited offering from Papa’s Pilar Rum. (The brand is named after the boat owned by noted rum enthusiast Ernest Hemingway.) Papa’s Pilar Dark is an 86-proof combination of “solera blended” rums (sourced from Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America) aged up to 24 years and finished in Spanish sherry casks.

The new limited Papa’s Pilar Bourbon Barrel Finished Dark Rum amps that up with an additional round of finishing in bourbon barrels. Bottled at 95-proof, the $45 rum began arriving in select states in October with 2,000 cases made.

The deep mahogany, reddish-brown rum features a fascinatingly unique nose with vanilla bean, custard, nutmeg, figs, and Dr. Pepper. On the palate, the bourbon influence is evident, with oak, honey, candied almonds, and dry sherry. The finish is long with wood tannins and spice cake.

Distinct is the word that most comes to mind when sipping this rum neat. It’s a testament to the art that is blending and barrel management, resulting in a rum that might not be a regular sipper, but certainly is enjoyable as a unique change of pace.

Pair it with a medium-bodied, balanced cigar like the Arturo Fuente King T Rosado Sun Grown, Bolivar Royal Corona, Illusione Epernay, or Paul Garmirian Reserva Exclusiva.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Foursquare 2004 Single Blended Rum & Foursquare Premise Single Blended Rum

10 Oct 2018

I’m both excited and annoyed about the prospect of rum becoming the new bourbon. In recent years, bourbon shortages have driven up prices, as demand has shot up for high end, well-aged, limited-release bourbon.

The plus side of that scenario is more good rum on the market. The downside, of course, is higher prices and standout releases becoming increasingly tough to find. For example, I’ve already heard Foursquare referred to as the “Pappy of Rum,” which isn’t good for rum drinkers considering the price and exclusivity of Pappy.

That said, it isn’t hard to see why Foursquare is so highly regarded. The Barbados-based distillery uses traditional distilling methods, innovative cask usage, and an unadulterated (without added sugar) style.

The Foursquare 2004 Single Blended Rum and Foursquare Premise Single Blended Rum each show off what makes Foursquare a standout for many rum lovers. Prices vary for each, if you can find them (the 2004 will be particularly hard to find), but expect to pay $60-90 for each.

Foursquare 2004 Single Blended Rum
This artisanal pot and twin column-distilled rum has been aged for 11 years in ex-bourbon casks and is bottled at full strength (59% ABV)
Nose: Bourbon-y with vanilla, oak, dried fruit, and a hint of ginger
Palate: Great intensity with nutmeg spice, chocolate, vanilla, and tropical fruit, though surprisingly lacking in heat given the high proof
Finish: Long with banana, nutmeg, and oaky vanilla

Foursquare Premise Single Blended Rum
Distilled in pot and twin column stills, this ten-year-old bourbon was aged three years in ex-bourbon casks before being transferred to ex-sherry casks and bottled at 46% ABV
Nose: Dried fruit, orange peel, and maple
Palate: Sophisticated and balanced with honey, red wine, red apple, marmalade, and pralines
Finish: Long and rich with sherry, vanilla, citrus, and wood spice

These are two great rums, each elegant in their own way, and both perfect pairings for a fine cigar. Personally, I prefer the intensity of the higher-proof 2004, but Foursquare Premise is also one of the best ten or so rums I’ve ever enjoyed.

Pair each with a good cigar and you’ll be in for a treat. Foursquare 2004 can stand up to the strongest full-bodied cigar like the Bolivar Royal CoronaDrew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Velvet Rat, or Litto Gomez Diez Small Batch. Foursquare Premise pairs excellently with a balanced, medium-bodied cigar like the Paul Garmirian Reserva Exclusiva, Tatuaje Black, Warped Futuro, or Davidoff Colorado Claro.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Foursquare Principia and Velier 2009 Last Ward Mount Gay Rums

22 Aug 2018

France is known for its wonderful food and wine, and it has both in droves. When I visit France, one of the things I look forward to is, perhaps unexpectedly, finding some excellent rum that would be nearly impossible to find here in the U.S. Today, I review two rums I picked up on a recent visit.

Though France is geographically far from most rum-producing countries, the historic ties between France and its former colonies makes possible a certain a level of access. The result is, if you know where to look, a lot of good rum.

I’ve sung the praises of Foursquare before, and in many ways Foursquare Principia is a follow-up to the highly acclaimed Foursquare Triptych. Principia was distilled in 2008, then spent three years in ex-bourbon casks before being transferred to ex-sherry casks for six years until it was bottled, at barrel-proof, in late 2017.

Principia was bottled and distributed by Velier, which also bottles and distributes The Last Ward 2009, a limited offering featuring some of the final casks distilled at the Mount Gay Distillery under longtime owner Frank Ward. The triple-distilled rum has been aged nine years and is presented at cask-strength.

Foursquare Principia – $130 (62% ABV)
Nose: Oak, candied fruit, and roast almonds
Palate: Salt, pepper, integrated fruits, dates, figs, toffee, and caramel
Finish: Long with stoned fruit, port, and charred oak

Velier 2009 Last Ward Mount Gay – $110 (59% ABV)
Nose: Fresh tropical fruit of pineapple with mango, plus burnt brown sugar
Palate: An initial burst of alcohol heat, followed by apricot, oranges, pineapple, clove, and wood resin
Finish: Funky, almost rubber band-ish, notes with fruit and wood

Both rums are excellent. Despite their significant proofs, they are best enjoyed neat, or with just a few drops of water. The bright tropical flavors featured in Last Ward are like a momentary Caribbean jaunt. Meanwhile, the Sherry cask aging of Principia give it the heft and complexity of a single malt scotch. Both are quite limited with just 5,400 bottles of Principia and 18 barrels worth (after the angel’s share removed 64%) of Last Ward.

Both pair well with a fine cigar. Principia’s wood and sherry heft stands up to a full-bodied cigar like a RoMa Craft CroMagnon, Mi Querida, or Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970. Last Ward’s tropical notes go well with the subtle spice of a Cameroon-wrapper like the La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet, Partagas Ramon y Ramon, or Arturo Fuente Don Carlos.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond 6 Year Bourbon & David Nicholson Reserve Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

1 Aug 2018

The soaring popularity of bourbon has resulted in high-end bourbon getting more and more expensive. Today, we’re ignoring the premium-priced whiskey and looking for some value bourbon options, both 100-proof Kentucky straight bourbons.

Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond 6 Year Bourbon is sold only in Kentucky for the value price of around $13 a bottle. Made by Heaven Hill (who makes Elijah Craig and Evan Williams), it uses a mashbill of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. It’s a standout because, while there are many bottom-shelf bourbons in the same price range, none carry an age statement of six years (meaning all the whiskey in the bottle has been aged at least six years).

David Nicholson Reserve Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey is also bottled at 100-proof, although it doesn’t carry an age statement. The brand was owned by the Van Winkle family until it was sold to Missouri-based Luxco in 2000. David Nicolson’s 1843 brand utilizes a wheated mashbill (as is the standard for Van Winkle bourbons), but the $30 Nicholson Reserve features a more traditional mashbill with rye along with corn and malted barley.

Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6 Year Bourbon
Color: Light amber.
Nose: Vanilla, brown sugar, burnt corn, citrus.
Palate: Butterscotch, spice, wood.
Finish: Long with cinnamon and burnt sugar.
Verdict: Just a solid, if unexceptional, classic bourbon. Good enough to sip neat, but perfectly priced and proofed for cocktails or other mixed drinks.

David Nicholson Reserve Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
Color: Orange copper.
Nose: Candied apple, spice, and leather.
Palate: Plenty of spice and vanilla with apple and red fruit.
Finish: Intense but short finish with fruit and spice.
Verdict: Though not for everyone, this is a unique and largely enjoyable sipping bourbon. There’s a short sweetness that is enjoyable and can work in the right cocktail.

In terms of price-to-value ratio, Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6 Year Bourbon is hard to beat, which is why it is a bourbon I try (despite being sold only in Kentucky) to keep on hand when I can. David Nicholson Reserve is more expensive, but also more unique. It’s worth a try, despite falling into a more competitive price range that includes such excellent bourbons as Eagle Rare 10 Year, Elijah Craig, and others.

These are both versatile bourbons that pair with excellent cigars. Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6 Year Bourbon pairs well with most balanced cigars, while the spiciness of David Nicholson Reserve is more apt towards a medium- to full-bodied cigar, like El Güegüense, Litto Gomez Diez Small Batch, Muestra de Saka, or Warped Futuro.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Wild Turkey Longbranch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

11 Jul 2018

Let me state upfront I’m inherently skeptical of celebrity-endorsed products. When you feel the need to pay an actor or athlete to sell your cigar or whiskey, this suggests you’re worried the product wouldn’t sell on its own merits.

With that in mind, I had my reservations when I heard about Wild Turkey’s Longbranch Bourbon, a collaboration between Wild Turkey’s “creative director,” the Texan and actor Matthew McConaughey, and longtime bourbon man Eddie Russell. The straight Kentucky bourbon melds Kentucky tradition with a Texas twist: the aged bourbon is filtered through Texas mesquite charcoal.

Yet, further details about the bourbon made me think it may not be the usual, easily-dismissed celebrity product. First off, it’s made by Wild Turkey, which, as far as the major bourbon distillers go, tends to make solid bourbons for the price. Second, it’s got an age statement: eight years, which happens to be the age at which much now-revered Wild Turkey bourbon was bottled. Finally, although the Texas mesquite angle is a new twist, charcoal filtration is an accepted and historic method for bourbon making, as evidenced by Jack Daniels.

That Wild Turkey didn’t price Longbranch excessively also made me rethink my initial skepticism. Around $35 for an eight-year, age-stated Kentucky bourbon is, like it or not, a reasonable price in today’s overheated bourbon market.

The 86-proof Kentucky straight bourbon pours a golden amber color. The nose features vanilla sweetness and cereal grains.

On the palate, Longbranch has ripe apples, toasted oak, and vanilla flavors. The finish is long on the palate with more vanilla and a hint of smokiness that shows off the Texas mesquite influence.

If you have about $40 to pay for a bourbon, I’d prefer Russell’s Reserve 10 Year bourbon to Longbranch, but that doesn’t mean Longbranch isn’t a new and interesting bourbon well worth checking out. It’s flavorful (especially considering its relatively low proof).

It’s an excellent bourbon to pair with a fine cigar. Medium- to full-bodied cigars like the Illusione Holy Lance, Litto Gomez Diez Small Batch, Montecristo Petit Edmundo, or Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Sobremesa will work best.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys