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Cigar Spirits: Plantation Barbados Grande Reserve 5 Rum

5 Oct 2015

Plantation Grande Reserve 5

Our Spirits articles always conclude by listing a few cigars we think would pair well with the spirit in question. is, after all, a cigar-focused website.

But I can’t recall ever seeing recommended cigar pairings on the website of the spirit itself. That is until I came across Plantation Barbados Grande Reserve 5 from France-based Cognac Ferrand. Here’s what you’ll find on the Plantation website: “For cigars amateurs (sic), Plantation Grande Reserve 5 years goes very well with the Ashton Cabinet Selection No. 7, a cigar made with a light Connecticut shade wrapper that has a light, woody flavor and plenty of cream. It seeks out the vanilla in the rum.”

While having a recommended cigar pairing on its website is unique and somewhat helpful, that isn’t what drew me to Plantation Barbados Grande Reserve 5 in the first place. Rather, I was intrigued by the rum’s reputation as a low-cost sipping spirit that packs a ton of value and flavor into an inexpensive bottle. I paid just over $20 for a 750 ml. bottle (compared with Plantation’s flagship rum, XO 20th Anniversary, which is $45).

By way of quick background, Cognac Ferrand is primarily a producer of cognac. For years, it sold its prized cognac casks to rum producers in the Caribbean who would use the containers to age their spirits. “During these exchanges, [company founder Alexandre] Gabriel had the opportunity to discover some very old batches of rum with extraordinary richness and a diversity of aroma and flavor,” reads the Cognac Ferrand website. “Available in tiny quantities, the rums were intended either for the personal consumption of the distillery’s cellar master or used to give style to industrial rum blends. Quite naturally, Cognac Ferrand decided to bottle these special rums as a series of vintages.”

Each vintage is named for its locale of origin: Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Trinidad, and St. Lucia. The 80-proof Grande Reserve 5 is a blend of rums from Barbados that’s aged for five years in bourbon casks in the Caribbean then refined in old French oak casks at Château de Bonbonnet in France. It is presented in a stout bottle covered in a decorative netting made from palm fibers.

In the bottle and glass the rum has a light, honey-colored tint with good clarity. The nose is easy on alcohol and heavy on fruit with hints of banana, coconut, papaya, and tangerine. Butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel are also present. Once sipped, the balanced, well-rounded flavor coats the palate with banana, toffee, orange, vanilla, and nuts. The finish has a prolonged, somewhat earthy spice.

Is this one of the finest rums in the world? No. But it might be one of the best values. The taste, presentation, and complexity are far superior than what the price and young age suggest. That means you can use Plantation Barbados Grande Reserve 5 in cocktails guilt-free, and you can also sip it neat. I prefer the latter.

As for cigar pairings, take Plantation’s advice and stick with mild- to medium-bodied smokes wrapped in Connecticut shade or Ecuadorian wrappers. Anything bolder will only overpower the spirit. I’ve found the Herrera Estelí Toro Especial works well.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: The Balvenie Triple Cask 16 Year Single Malt Whisky

22 Sep 2015

Last week I found myself in Belgium on duty for (more on that in the coming days). When my return flight was delayed, I had time to visit the duty free shop. Despite some claims that it’s the biggest scam in retail you can get some good whiskey deals there, including a number of “travel retail exclusive” offerings.

balvenie-triple-cask-16These days scotch whiskey producers are creating lots of whiskies just for travel retail, many of which don’t carry an age statement. Balvenie, however, decided to introduce a range of three single malt whiskies it calls “triple cask.”

According to the Speyside distillery, “The three expressions in The Balvenie Triple Cask series have been matured in three kinds of wood—‘traditional refill casks’ to mature and mellow the spirit, but not dominate its flavour; ‘first-fill ex-bourbon barrels,’ which add vanilla and coconut to the flavour; and ‘first-fill Oloroso sherry butts,’ which typically impart rich dried fruits and spice to the spirit.” It comes in 12, 16, and 25 year expressions. I selected the 16 year, which cost 72 Euros ($81).

Bottled at 80-proof, the color is a dark straw. The nose is pleasant although light with a little oak, honey, and apple.

On the palate, Balvenie Triple Cask is a bit thin. There are cereal grains, honey, vanilla, and slightly bitter oak. There’s also a surprising amount of raw alcohol that makes the whiskey taste far younger than 16 years old. The finish is light and sweet with honey and pear.

For a cigar pairing, you’re going to want to choose a mild smoke so as not to overwhelm the soft and mild flavors of the Balvenie Triple Cask 16. I’d go with something like an Ashton Classic, Illusione Epernay, Paul Garmirian Gourmet, or Fuente Chateau Fuente.

I’ll admit I was quite disappointed with this single malt. Balvenie’s style tends to be very light and smooth, which can be excellent, complex, and delicate, but this was smooth to the point of being a bit dull, plus it had a rough grain edge that is uncharacteristic for a 16 year old whisky. I’d much prefer the standard Balvenie Doublewood, 12 Year Single Barrel, or Caribbean Cask 14 Year to this, especially at the price.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: 2014 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition

10 Sep 2015

Four Roses Small Batch LE 2014

Limited release cigars are a mainstay, and occasionally you’ll see a cigar that has people rushing to buy one before it sells out. But when it comes to bourbon, there are an increasing number of bottles for which people will stand in line for hours just for a chance to buy certain high-demand bottles.

For whatever reason, fall has become the season when the most sought-after bourbons are released. Pappy Van Winkle and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection are the most prized additions, but increasingly in demand are annual releases under the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Parker’s Heritage, and Four Roses Small Batch Barrel Proof lines.

In advance of the upcoming release of the 2015 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition, today I’m tasting the 2014 iteration. Four Roses distillery is unique in that they distill from 10 different bourbon recipes using a combination of two mashbills and five yeast strains, and the 2014 Small Batch LE uses four of those recipes ranging from 9 to 13 years.

The barrel-proof bourbon is bottled at 111.8-proof and is copper in color. The nose is lush with fruit, caramel, and just the slightest hint of mint and wood spice. On the plate the complexity comes through with creamy notes, melon, dried fruit, and medium amounts of oak sweetness and spearmint. The finish lingers with soft oak, vanilla, and pear.

For many great bourbons, what makes them great is barrel management and selection. The Four Roses Small Batch LE puts the distiller’s blending acumen to the test. With a rich combination of fruit, spice, and creaminess, the 2014 Small Batch shows off the skill of longtime Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge, who is about to retire.

When pairing with a cigar, the Four Roses Small Batch LE 2014 benefits from a cigar that doesn’t overwhelm its complexities. I’d recommend mild- or medium-bodied smokes that feature good creaminess like the Davidoff Grand Cru, Illusione Singulare LE 2014, Padrón Serie 1926, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet.

I’ve touted Four Roses Private Barrel Strength bourbons as a good value in bourbon, and so it shouldn’t be any surprise that when a master distiller gets to pick his favorites and blend them together the outcome is delicious. At $90-100 (if you can find it) the 2014 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition is a delicious bourbon and it only makes me look forward to the soon-to-be-released 2015 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition even more.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Bourbon

3 Sep 2015


Like the cigar industry, the whiskey industry isn’t one to let an anniversary go unnoticed. And also like the cigar industry, a limited-edition, super-premium product is usually the result.

Wild Turkey released this bourbon last year to celebrate Master Distiller Jimmy Russell’s 60 years with the company. Russell is one those larger-than-life characters that bourbon seems to produce, and Jimmy’s son and co-Master Distiller Eddie Russell (who has been with Wild Turkey for over half of those 60 years) selected the barrels that made up this tribute to his father.

The Diamond Anniversary Bourbon is a blend of bourbons ranging from 13 to 16 years old. It is bottled at 91-proof and sells for the around $125 dollars.

The copper-colored bourbon has a fantastic nose with notes of pecan pie, vanilla, baking spices, and burnt brown sugar. The palate is rich with buttered pie crust, leather, spice box, wood, and dried fruit. It’s simultaneously rich and flavorful but also surprisingly light and balanced. The finish is relatively short and clean, with a light wood that lingers.

While Wild Turkey has a bit of a rough and aggressive reputation, Diamond Anniversary is an entirely more nuanced type of bird, and the more I sipped it the more I appreciated it. Yes, the price is steep, and I wish they could have offered this in the more traditional 101-proof format, but there is still a lot to like.

As for cigar pairings, the Wild Turkey Diamond is extremely versatile. I enjoyed it with both a full-bodied Drew Estate Liga Privada No. 9 and a more mild- to medium-bodied Illusione Epernay, so basically any good cigar will feel right at home with this celebratory bourbon.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Old Ezra 101 7 Year Straight Kentucky Bourbon

25 Aug 2015

Want evidence of a bourbon boom? Look no further than network television. Both Fox and NBC have recently begun development of two dramas based on the industry.

old-ezra-101-7-year-bourbonIf you wanted to make the case for a bourbon bubble, this would be it. Bourbon is hot, there’s no doubt about it, but there are still some hidden gems. While the premium end of the market gets more expensive there are still some excellent values out there if you know where to look.

Old Ezra 101 7 Year fits that bill nicely. It’s available for $20, or even a few bucks less. It weighs in at a solid 101-proof and, unlike many value-oriented bourbons, it carries an age statement, which means all the bourbon in the bottle is at least seven years old.

The golden-hued bourbon features a straightforward nose with vanilla, bananas, and spice. On the palate is a pleasant combination of vanilla, rich oak, and rye spice. Think banana bread and wood spice. It’s surprisingly smooth for the proof, perhaps due to the charcoal filtering (like the process that Jack Daniels undergoes). The finish is pretty nondescript, but for just a Jackson I’m not going to complain.

The bottle isn’t dissimilar to Jack Daniels and I don’t think that’s an accident (Jack Daniels is, of course, the best-selling American whiskey). But it would be a mistake to write off Old Ezra 101 as a Jack Daniels knockoff, as it offers a richer, woodier flavor.

Pair it with any woody cigar and I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed. Here are some recommendations: Aging Room F55 Quattro, Arturo Fuente King T, Coronado by La Flor, El Cedro, and La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet.

Unfortunately, Old Ezra 101 7 Year can be a bit difficult to find because the distribution seems to be limited (not because of excess demand). Still, bourbon fans in general, especially those on a budget, should definitely seek out this tasty bourbon value.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: 1792 Sweet Wheat Straight Kentucky Bourbon

13 Aug 2015

1972 Sweet Wheat

1792 Sweet Wheat Bourbon is a new offering from the Barton Distillery, which is better known for Very Old Barton and 1792 Small Batch Ridgemont Reserve. (1792 is the year Kentucky gained statehood.)

My favorite bourbon writer Chuck Cowdery explained the details and differences between the original 1792 expression and the new Sweet Wheat:

The flagship expression of 1792 was launched in 2003. It is a rye-recipe bourbon with a higher-than-normal barley malt content, although the exact percentage has never been disclosed. It also features a yeast strain not used for any other brands. The product was created by Barton Master Distiller Bill Friel not long before he retired….

Now the Barton 1792 Distillery is set to release its first 1792 line extension, called 1792 Sweet Wheat. It was distilled in 2007 so, like the flagship, it is eight years old. ‘Using wheat instead of rye gives the taste profile a softer and more delicate flavor,’ said Ken Pierce, director of distillation and quality assurance. ‘The soft flavor is balanced by rich oak tannins extracted by the bourbon while aging in the charred oak barrels.’

In case you’re wondering, bourbon made with wheat as a secondary grain instead of rye has always been a minority of all bourbon made, but it includes some very popular ones, not the least of which is Pappy Van Winkle. While rye is characterized by spice, wheated bourbons (which also include Maker’s Mark, Old Fitzgerald/Larceny, and the Weller family of bourbons) are known for a softer, sweeter edge.

Sweet Wheat pours a light bronze color. It features a muted nose with honey, wood, and red fruit. On the palate, Sweet Wheat is as advertised. It’s soft and lush, with a little resin, oak, cherries, and apples. The finish is much of the same with apples and caramel.

1792 Sweat Wheat Bourbon is 91.2-proof and retails for $33 a bottle. Though expect to spend bit more (I found one for $38) if you can find them at all (my local store sold out in two days) as the first release is fairly limited.

Pair it with a balanced, mild or medium cigar. A few recommendations: Illusione Epernay, Paul Garmirian Gourmet Vintage 1991, Arturo Fuente King T Rosado Sun Grown, and Ashton Classic.

I wouldn’t necessarily suggest spending a lot of time or money finding the new 1792 Sweet Wheat, but it is a good bourbon for the price. If you like Old Weller Antique, Larceny, or Maker’s Mark, it iscertainly worth trying.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bottled in Bond 10 Year Bourbon

6 Aug 2015


Despite whatever bourbon shortage there may or may not be, there are plenty of good bourbons available these days. Not only that, but there are plenty of excellent bourbons available for $30 or less. (In fact, there are quite a few very good bourbons on the shelf for under $20.)

That approachable price for good quality is what differentiates bourbon from Scotch whisky. To that list of good, affordable bourbon you can add Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond Single Barrel 10 Year Bourbon.

Even before tasting it, this bourbon (made by Heaven Hill, which also makes Evan Williams and Elijah Craig) checks off three of the characteristics many bourbon fans find desirable: single barrel, well-aged (10 Years), and a decent proof (100-proof). In fact, it is the only 10 year Bottled in Bond bourbon on the market.

The Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel has gone through multiple iterations over the years, and the latest version (pictured) puts all the key features up front.  The bourbon is a light copper color. The nose is straight forward although inviting with vanilla, wood, and butterscotch.

On the palate, McKenna 10 is surprisingly soft for its 100-proof. Most prominent is butterscotch, wood, and apple brandy, although clove, cinnamon, and rye spice are also apparent. The finish is smooth and sweet with vanilla and fruit.

Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel is a versatile bourbon for pairing with a cigar, but I think an ideal cigar pairing is mild or medium-bodied. A couple examples would be Illusione Epernay, Davidoff Grand Cru, Paul Garmirian Gourmet, or the Tatuaje Black.

Ultimately, Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel doesn’t quite break into my best bourbons under $30 list, but it is clearly a tasty, widely available bourbon that costs only $25-30. I don’t think any regular bourbon drinker would be disappointed with picking up a bottle.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys