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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

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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

Cigar Spirits: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon (2016)

26 Oct 2016

Some of the most sought-after bourbons come out this time of year, including Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Parker’s Heritage, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, and Four Roses Small Batch Barrel Strength. Since 2012, you can add the Angel’s Envy Cask Strength to that list.

angels-envy-cs-2016Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (AECS) has a suggested retail price of $179 and, unlike some of the aforementioned limited releases, you actually have a decent chance of finding AECS at that price, or something close to it. (Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year, in contrast, theoretically retails for $150, but the going market price is over $1,000.)

The 2016 Angel’s Envy release is 124.6-proof, or 62.3% ABV, slightly lower than last year’s release which was 127.9-proof. Just 8,000 bottles are being produced this year, up from 7,500 in 2015.

The bourbon pours a copper color and features an intense but inviting nose with ginger, pear, black pepper, sugar cookies, and some pure alcohol heat. On the plate, there is a full-bodied combination of figs, butterscotch, red apples, oak, and the notable influence of the port barrels in which this bourbon is finished. The finish is long and spicy with wood and port.

This is an intense, almost overpowering bourbon when sipped neat, but just the smallest amount of water smooths the rough edges and opens up a cacophony of more subtle flavors. Last year, after trying the sample I received from Angel’s Envy, I went out and purchased a full bottle (the bottle in the picture). Although the price is high, this tasty cask-strength bourbon has me considering doing so again.

Pair this bourbon with a bold, spicy smoke. Here are a few suggestions: Arturo Fuente Opus X, Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu, Paul Garmirian 25th Anniversary, and Joya de Nicaragua Antaño.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Cigar Spirits: Eagle Rare 10 Year Bourbon Single Barrel Select (Saints & Sinners Barrel No. 1)

12 Oct 2016

eagle-rare-sns-barrel-pick

Whiskey and cigars are a natural pairing, but the connection isn’t usually explicit. Two exceptions include the Cigar Malt Reserve by Dalmore and this barrel selection from Saints & Sinners, the private cigar club for Tatuaje fans.

Saints & Sinners launched in 2011, when I first joined. For $150 each year, members get a cigar kit with 15 smokes (frequently with rare or exclusive picks), access to a private online forum, and plenty of swag (usually cigar accessories, a shirt, and more). Registration for new members opens in early June with only a limited number of spots available.

Occasionally, members also get the opportunity to purchase other items, such as Tatuaje owner Pete Johnson’s private label Tatouage Bordeaux wine. More recently, the club offered a single barrel selection of Eagle Rare 10 Year bourbon, available in 375 ml. bottles that sold for $19.99.

The selection came about after a trip to the Buffalo Trace distillery in June. As I’ve observed before, barrel picks are often particularly excellent bourbons, assuming the person doing the picking has a decent palate. If nothing else, they are getting to try a half dozen or so barrels from which they pick the one they like the best.

Eagle Rare 10 has long been a staple on my bourbon shelf, especially with it available for around $30 for a 750 ml. bottle. For many years,including when I first discovered it, it was distilled at the Old Prentice distillery, which is now Four Roses’ distillery. The brand was purchased by the Sazerac Company in 1989 and for the better part of a decade the bourbon sold as Eagle Rare has been distilled at Buffalo Trace.

Standard Eagle Rare is a classic with heavy wood, lots of vanilla sweetness, and just a bit spice. The Saints & Sinners pick features all of that, but with a particularly aromatic nose featuring mint and caramel, and a palate that has maple, wood, and toffee. The finish is classic Eagle Rare with charred oak spice and vanilla.

You really can’t go wrong pairing any cigar with this tasty, well-priced bourbon. That said, I have to recommend a Tatuaje cigar given that this is a Saints & Sinners Club selection. Personally,I’d turn to the Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu or La Riqueza Cabinet with this bourbon, though there wouldn’t be any bad pairings from the Tatuaje offerings.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Compass Box Hedonism Quindecimus

14 Sep 2016

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If you know anything about scotch grain whiskey, you probably know the lack of grain whiskey is what makes single malts so sought-after.

Put another way: Grain whiskey is the less flavorful filler that is blended with single malt to make blended whiskies like Dewar’s, Bells, Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark, and Chivas Regal, which make up 90 percent of all scotch whiskey sold.

For the most part, that characterization is correct, as most grain whiskey is aged only a few years and then blended with single malt to make blended whiskey. And yet, what if instead grain whiskey was left to age properly, perhaps even for decades? How would it taste?

The answer is found in Compass Box’s Hedonism Quindecimus, which is certainly one of the most unique whiskeys I’ve ever tasted. To celebrate the company’s 15th anniverary, they created a blend of grain whiskies, all of which are at least 20 years old.

The Compass Box website can no longer legally disclose the components of this blend due to some ridiculous rules. But, fortunately, we know what makes up this unique blend:

  • 17.6% North British 20-year-old from first-fill American standard barrels
  • 36.6% Port Dundas 25-year-old from rejuvenated hogsheads
  • 8.4% Dumbarton 28-year-old from American standard barrels
  • 19.4% Port Dundas 20-year-old from first-fill American standard barrels
  • 18% 32-year-old Loch Lomond mystery blended grain from American standard barrels

The resulting whiskey is bottled at 92-proof, with just 5,689 bottles made. Expect to pay $125 to $180, if you can find it.

The nose is quite light with hay, honey, shortbread, and floral notes. On the palate, the immense depth and complexity reveals itself with lemon cake, creaminess, tea, custard, light oak, and citrus. It’s the kind of flavor you want to let linger as long as possible. The finish is clean and elegant with more creaminess, cake batter, and light spice.

Considering the price, this isn’t a whisky for everyone. But I don’t think it was ever meant to be for most people. It’s an extraordinary experiment in what a grain whiskey can be in the right hands. Single malt fans should jump at the opportunity to try a glass if they find it on the menu.

The complex flavors go well with a cigar, but it takes a milder smoke to not overwhelm the Hedonism Quindecimus. Try an Ashton Classic, Davidoff Grand Cru, Illusione Epernay, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Laphroaig Lore

24 Aug 2016

I generally reach for bourbon or rum in the summer months, while reserving single malt for when the weather cools down. Something about the smokey style of Islay Malts especially, like Laphroaig, are perfect for a chilly evening in the fall or winter.

Laphroaig LoreBut I didn’t want to wait to try the new Lore. Introduced earlier this year, Lore fills the vacancy in the Laphroaig lineup left by the 18-year-old expression, which was discontinued last year. A bottle retails for a hefty $125.

Lore doesn’t carry an age statement but mixes older and newer whisky, described on the Laphroaig website as “a marriage of classical Laphroaig styles and many ages of Laphroaig; some as old as vintage 1993. The marriage draws from the peaty power of Laphroaig with the smoothness of double matured stock finished in European oak hogsheads.”

The result is a totally new Laphroaig from what you might be used to, but one I found extremely enjoyable. The classic smoke and peat provide the background of the whisky but there is whole lot more going on here.

The nose features smoke and seaweed along with pear and shortbread. The palate layers sherried notes of fruit and fudge over brine, spice, and maltiness. The finish is both rich and clean with peat, honey, sugar cookies, and oak.

I understand those who are frustrated by the trend towards NAS (non age statement) whiskies on both sides of the Atlantic. That said, Lore is an example of how a whisky not locked into an age statement can provide plenty of depth and complexity by blending old and new whisky.

Somewhat by chance, I smoked a Cameroon-wrapped cigar while sampling Lore, and I can’t recommend the combination enough, as the light spice of the Cameroon wrapper goes perfectly with the rich peat. Specifically, try La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet, Arturo Fuente Don Carlos, or Drew Estate Nirvana.

Patrick S

photo credit: Laphroaig