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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

Cigar Spirits: Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Barrel Strength Rye & Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye

20 Jun 2018

Today we look at two new Kentucky ryes, both bottled at barrel proof. Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Barrel Strength Rye was introduced year, and Knob Creek’s new barrel-strength rye offering has just arrived in stores in the past month. Both retail for about $70.

Michter’s Toasted Barrel Strength Rye is the brand’s standard US-1 rye with a couple twists: After the regular maturation period, it is re-barreled in a custom barrel made with wood that’s air-cured for 24 months then toasted for additional aging. Toasted barrels, if you are wondering, are more gently fired than charred barrels. (Charred barrels give whiskey more dark coloring and naturally filter out some of the harshness of unaged spirits, but that isn’t necessary when, as is the case here, the whiskey has already extensively aged in charred barrels.)

Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye is a limited release (the bottle says “Limited Release 2018,” so perhaps it will become an annual offering) of Knob Creek’s rye aged for nine years and bottled at barrel-proof. It’s a step up in proof from the regular release, which is 100-proof, and in age (the regular release doesn’t carry an age statement but is believed to be in the five- to six-year-old range). The barrels were selected from Beam’s warehouse A, its oldest and most storied barrel rickhouse.

Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Barrel Strength Rye (111.4-proof)
Color: Dark walnut brown.
Nose: Allspice, toasted coconut, cedar, and ethanol heat.
Palate: Lots of sweetness with spice (think a cinnamon roll with Red Hots on top), burnt caramel, and candied dates.
Finish: Silky vanilla and pepper that lingers on the palate as the heat fades away.

Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye (119.6-proof)
Color: Deep amber.
Nose: Burnt sugar, oak, leather, and orange peel.
Palate: Caramel and buttered toast with hints of cherry and baking spices.
Finish: Long and sweet with caramel and wood spice.

Both are hearty, full-flavored ryes that pair well with full-bodied cigars. Think Nicaraguan-dominant blends like the Muestra de Saka Nacatamale, Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu, Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Velvet Rat, Joya de Nicaragua Antaño, or Davidoff Nicaragua Box Pressed.

It’s a testament to the popularity of rye that even at $70 both of these feel fairly priced. (Frankly, when I first heard of the Knob Creek Rye, I expected a price in the triple digits.) Knob Creek is more classic and I presonaly prefer it slightly, but Michter’s is more unique and also enjoyable. Both are not for everyone, but I’m glad I bought a bottle of each, and I’d probably pick up another bottle of the Knob Creek.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

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