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Cigar Spirits: Glenfarclas 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

8 Nov 2017

Glenfarclas is an independent distillery, owned by the same family for 150 years. That’s a rarity in this era of corporate-dominated liquor brands.

The Speyside distillery features a range of aged single malts, from 10 years all the way up to 25 years old. They also make a cask strength version, the Glenfarclas 105, and a more exclusive Family Cask Range of vintage single malts.

Previously, I’ve praised the Glenfarclas 17, which sells for around $100 a bottle. Today I’m sipping a younger, more affordable offering: the 12 Year, which sells regularly for $50. (I recently picked up a bottle on sale for just $36.)

Glenfarclas 12 Year (43% ABV) is light amber in color, and the nose features classic sherried notes (dried fruit and brown sugar) along with pear and eucalyptus.

On the palate, it’s bright, fresh, and complex with melon, marmalade, pound cake, and honey, combined with resinous oak and clove spice. The finish brings out more sherry influence, with praline, classic oloroso, and candied fruits.

No one is going to mistake the Glenfarclas 12 Year for its 17 Year sibling. It lacks the richness and depth of flavor. But the 12 Year does feature a nice combination of enjoyable flavors, approach-ability, and value. Find it for under $40 (like I did) and it’s a real steal.

Pair it with a mild- to medium-bodied cigar, so as to not overwhelm the single malt.

I’d particularly recommend the Davidoff Grand Cru, Illusione Epernay, Tatuaje Black, or Ashton Classic.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: The Macallan Cask Strength and Aberlour A’Bunadh Single Malt Scotch Whiskies

25 Oct 2017

One of the best things about single malt scotch is the variety in choice. Unlike straight bourbon or rye, the legal definition of single malt lends itself to starkly contrasting styles.

Sing malt can be peated or un-peated; aged in first fill, refill barrels, or a combination of each; and can use different barrel types (sherry, bourbon, port, etc.) for all or some of the aging. In addition, region, water source, and age can help make each whisky distinctive.

Personally, I tend towards the extremes of single malt styles. On one end are heavily peated styles (Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin). On the other are sherry bombs (The Macallan and GlenDronach).

Within the heavily sherried style is the sub-category of cask strength whiskies. Today I look at two such single malts:

The Macallan Cask Strength

Macallan is the quintessential sherried single malt, and the Cask Strength offering shows off its mastery of the style. This particular bottle is 59% ABV and is a remarkably dark crimson color.

The nose features rich dried fruit, dates, and toffee. The flavors are intense with more dried fruit (raisins, dates, maraschino cherries), ginger, pralines, nutmeg, graphite, and chocolate. The finish lingers with oranges, more red fruit, baking spices, and brown sugar.

Macallan’s Cask Strength is a hedonistically rich single malt. Despite the high proof, it is easily enjoyed neat, though you should also try it with a drop or two of water.

Now for the bad news. While it once could be found for $99, this whiskey was discontinued a few years ago and has become nearly impossible to find. Macallan introduced a Classic Cut Limited Edition this year that uses a similar label and is high proof and aged in “oak casks seasoned with Oloroso sherry,” but reviews suggest it isn’t as intensely sherried as the discontinued Cask Strength.

Aberlour A’Bunadh

Aberlour uses sherry cask aged whisky in combination with bourbon casks in most of its offerings, but A’Bunadh (Scottish Gaelic for “of the origin”) is exclusively sherried whisky bottled at cask strength, in a style the distillery says it made a century ago. Each batch (I’ve tried multiple batches, but today I’m tasting Batch 58) is a blend of whiskies aged in first filled sherry casks of various ages.

Bottled at 61.1% ABV, Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch 58 is a light mahogany color. The nose features black cherry, apricot, and coffee grounds. The palate has some tannic notes with walnut, cinnamon, orange zest, nougat, and brown sugar. The finish is long with butterscotch, baking spices, and oak.

Unlike Macallan Cask Strength, Aberlour A’Bunadh isn’t difficult to find. And while prices can vary wildly, you can usually find it for around $80. It lacks the sherried intensity of the bold Macallan, but it is still a tasty, rich, lush, dram that’s brown sugar- and fruit-forward.

Cask strength sherried single malt pushes the style to its limit in a way that can be divisive. If you like sherry-forward whisky at a more traditional proof, you owe it to yourself to try Aberlour A’Bunadh and, if you can find it, Macallan Cask Strength. Other whiskies in the style include Highland Dark Origins, Glenlivet Oloroso Nadurra, and GlenDronach Cask Strength. For me, they represent the perfect after-dinner scotch whisky, cutting through a heavy meal and pairing perfectly with a medium- to full-bodied cigar.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon Limited Edition 2017

13 Sep 2017

Although only introduced in 2010 (a baby compared to bourbons that have been on the market for decades), Angel’s Envy has quickly established itself as a premium bourbon. Available for around $50, with a sweetness imparted from port-barrel finishing, it is a solid bourbon that is well-suited to those who are starting to explore the variety and quality of bourbon in the $30 to $50 range. (It also makes an excellent gifting bourbon given it’s attractive bottle.)

Since 2012, Angel’s Envy has also offered a limited edition Cask Strength annual release. Like the regular offering, Cask Strength is aged traditionally in new charred oak casks then placed in port barrels for finishing to impart extra flavors.

Unlike the standard variety, the Cask Strength isn’t proofed down, meaning each year the proof is different. The 2017 version is 124.5-proof (62.25% ABV), which is hearty though slightly lower than recent editions.

The bourbon is a deep copper color. The nose is an eye-opening combination of leather, black tea, charred oak, and dried cherries. The palate features more charred barrel, dried herbs, spiced almonds, and hints of orange peel, banana, and clove.

Over the years, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength has become increasingly spicy and more wood dominant. Whether that’s the result of more barrel time or something else entirely is impossible to say since the age isn’t disclosed. But if wood is your style then the 2017 version will hit the spot. Personally, in terms of bourbon I actually have a chance to find at retail prices, this is one of the best every year.

Speaking of price, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength 2017 sells for $199. It’s a lot by some measures, and hardly the best value in bourbon, but it isn’t outrageous. In fact, at a time when many limited edition bourbons sell on the gray market for many multiples of their suggested retail price, it is the rare limited release bourbon that neither lingers on shelves nor is frequently resold for more than retail price. I suppose that’s the market’s way of saying it is priced appropriately.

For cigar pairings, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength 2017’s spice and wood necessitate a full-flavored smoke. I’d go with a full-bodied Nicaraguan cigar like the Curivari Buenaventura, Tatuaje Broadleaf Collection, or Illusione Garagiste.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Laphroaig Cairdeas Quarter Cask 2017

28 Aug 2017

Depending on my mood, I find few spirits pair as well with a fine cigar as scotch—especially those scotch whiskeys from Islay that are characterized by a hearty dose of smoky peat. For me, along with bourbon and rye, scotch is a mainstay cigar companion in the colder months (whereas I typically turn to rum in the summer heat).

There’s certainly nothing wrong with scotch in the summer, though, especially when there’s a new release to try that stirs my interest. Case in point: the new Cairdeas Quarter Cask from Laphroaig. Cairdeas (“friendship” in Gaelic) is, according to Laphroaig, a response to market demand for “a cask-strength version of the popular Laphroaig Quarter Cask expression, which offers an irresistible doubling of flavor, due to the double maturation in two American oak barrels.”

The strategy behind the 2017 Cairdeas Quarter Cask includes blending different ages (at least five years old) of Laphroaig in “first-fill bourbon casks” before undergoing a second round of maturation in smaller quarter casks. After another six months, these casks are then bottled at cask-strength without the addition of any coloring agents. The result is a 114.4-proof (57.2% alcohol by volume) spirit that sells for $80 per bottle.

As you can see from the photo above, I received a miniature bottle sample from Laphroaig to make this review possible (a gesture that is much appreciated but, as always, has zero impact on my assessment of the product). In contrast, the photo to the right shows the 2017 Cairdeas Quarter Cask bottle and its decorative sleeve (this photo is courtesy of Laphroaig). Notably, in the promotional photo, the whiskey has a darker, reddish hue, whereas my sample poured a crisp, bright golden color.

The Laphroaig reputation is one of power and peat. This is due to Laphroaig being “one of only a few distilleries that still uses traditional malting floors and dries and infuses its own malt with the thick blue smoke from old peat-fired kilns.” So you would expect a cask-strength Laphroaig to bring a bold, powerful, peaty, smoky nose to the table. And that’s exactly what you get. Even with the addition of a little water to open it up, the nose on this whiskey is absolutely huge with brine, fresh peat, black pepper, minerals, and vanilla.

On the palate, Cairdeas Quarter Cask arrives relatively gently, then slowly builds in strength as the finish lingers. Flavors include peat, ginger spice, smoke, oak, molasses, and white pepper. The intensity of the finish reaches its zenith with a spicy, warm, tingly, crisp sensation that concentrates on the tip of the tongue.

I am a fan of Laphroaig 18 (48% alcohol by volume) and decided to taste some side-by-side with Cairdeas Quarter Cask. Frankly, Cairdeas Quarter Cask renders 18—a hearty, spicy, peat-forward whiskey by any stanard—relatively harmless and approachable.

In my book, the 2017 Laphroaig Cairdeas Quarter Cask is an intense expression that offers solid value for the dollar (it should, after all; quarter casking is, effectively, a strategy to get whiskey in the bottle quicker since the smaller barrels provide a higher ratio of wood surface to liquid volume, thereby requiring less of a distillery’s most precious asset: time). When you try this whiskey, I think you’ll agree that it begs to be enjoyed with a fine cigar. And when you select your stick, I suggest you look for something bold that won’t get drowned out by this spirit’s incredible, powerful flavors. I found the Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection Havana Cazadores, for example, does the trick.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys / Laphroaig

Cigar Spirits: Foursquare Triptych and 2004 Single Blended Rums

9 Aug 2017

When it comes to variety of styles, rum gives whiskey a run for its money. Dark rum, aged rum, spiced rum, overproof rum, flavored rum… Besides being distilled from sugarcane or sugarcane derivatives, there are few rules when it comes to rum.

The downside is many rums, even higher-end rums, take advantage of the lax rules to add sugar or caramel color. This creates a sweetness many identify with premium rum. Such rums may be enjoyable to sip, but they’re hardly the only style of premium rum.

Foursquare Distillery’s Richard Seale is on a mission to clear up some of the confusion inherent in the category and give rum drinkers a better way to determine what exactly they are sipping. He’s even proposed new sub-categories of rum to achieve it.

Meanwhile, Seale makes some excellent rums, all free of any additives; he only employs rum and barrel time. He’s also not shy about revealing the details of exactly what’s in the rum and what types of barrels were used to make it. While some premium rums obfuscate about how long they were aged or how much sugar has been added, his approach is a breath of fresh air.

Today I look at two rums I recently picked up from the Barbados Foursquare Distillery. Both are barrel-proof and, while not impossible to find, will take some searching to locate.

Foursquare 2004 Single Blended Rum (Exceptional Cask Selection, Mark III)

As the label makes clear, this rum was distilled in 2004 in both pot and column stills then aged in used bourbon barrels for eleven years before being bottled at a hearty 59% alcohol by volume. Foursquare also makes a port cask- and zinfandel cask-finished version of the 2004 vintage rum. So, if you buy it, be sure to differentiate between them. Expect to pay between $60 and $80 for this bottle.

The nose of this amber-hued rum is surprisingly restrained with wood, vanilla, and molasses notes. On the palate, it’s a bold combination of tropical fruit, cocoa, leather, candied almonds, and butterscotch. The finish shows off more vanilla and fruit along with some barrel char.

Foursquare Triptych Single Blended Rum

Foursquare’s Triptych blends 2004 rum aged in used bourbon casks (presumably the same as in the 2004 Exceptional Cask) with 2005 distilled rum aged in ex-Madeira casks and 2007 rum aged in virgin oak. The use of virgin oak is unusual for rum, and the combination, once blended, is bottled without dilution at 56% alcohol by volume. Expect to pay $120 or more for this rum, which is limited to just 5,400 total bottles.

The result is a deep copper-colored rum with a lively nose of vanilla, wood spice, and just a bit of sulfur. On the palate, it features powdered cocoa, roasted cashew, bananas foster, leather, and molasses. The finish lingers with charred oak and more molasses.

Each is an excellent rum and a testimony to how flavorful, complex, and smooth rum can be without any added sugars. Also remarkable is how sippable they are neat despite the high proof. The prices aren’t cheap, especially the Triptych, but if you enjoy rum neat these are must-tries.

Good rum always pairs nicely with cigars, and these are no exception. The high proof and full flavor lend themselves to an earthy, full-bodied cigar like the Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu, Sobremesa, or Intemperance BA.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Knob Creek 25th Anniversary and Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades Straight Kentucky Bourbons

21 Jun 2017

These days most new bourbons seem to fit into one of two general categories: young bourbons lacking an age statement with a marketing emphasis on boutique craftsmanship, and well-aged bourbons that are highly limited and expensive. Today I try two new limited edition bourbons distinctly in the latter category.

Knob Creek 25th Anniversary celebrates a quarter century since the introduction of Knob Creek, one of the first premium “small batch” bourbons (before that was such a crowded category). Made by Jim Beam, it is a single-barrel offering bottled at cask-strength (120- to 125-proof) and aged 12 to 13 years.

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades is the second Master’s Keep release, a follow-up to a seven-year-old bourbon released in 2015. Decades is a blend of 10- and 20-year-old bourbon.

Tasting Notes

Knob Creek 25th Anniversary ($125)
122-proof (61% ABV), barreled 2/25/2004
Color: Dark mahogany
Nose: Roast corn, vanilla, and cedar
Palate: Praline, cherries, and toasted oak
Finish: Very long with vanilla, allspice, and wood

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades ($150)
104-proof, mix of 10-year-old and 20-year-old bourbon
Color: Deep copper
Nose: Spice cake, raisins, and oak
Palate: Resin, ginger, allspice, and toffee
Finish: Medium in length with clove and malted cereal

Both bourbons are surprisingly similar, with lots of woodsy spice yet enough sweetness to avoid being called over-oaked. Each is very enjoyable neat, as neither has too much heat (particularly impressive for the 122-proof Knob Creek).

Both feature a combination of finesse and full flavor that pairs well with almost any cigar. For the Knob Creek 25th Anniversary, I’d particularly suggest a rich Broadleaf cigar like the Mi Querida or Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial. For the Wild Turkey Decades, try a balanced yet full-flavored cigar like the Davidoff Nicaragua or RoMaCraft Aquitaine.

The price of each bourbon is the biggest downside, especially considering the excellent bourbons each company makes at far lower prices (Rare Breed and Russell’s Reserve from Wild Turkey, and the regular Knob Creek Single Barrel or Booker’s from Beam). These are bourbons I’d suggest you try first at a bar before splurging for a bottle. Still, for fans of Wild Turkey and Knob Creek, respectively, Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades and Knob Creek 25th Anniversary keep the character of their younger brethren while showing off the depth of flavor that extra aging and expert barrel selection can achieve.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Old Ripy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

31 May 2017

While Old Ripy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey may have been recently released, it’s actually an old name in the bourbon industry. According to parent company Campari (also the maker of Wild Turkey), Old Ripy was created by Irish immigrant James Ripy in 1868 in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and continued to be made there until 1950.

The Ripy family distillery, which was for a while called the Ripy Bros. Distillery, would become the favorite source for Austin Nichols, owner of Wild Turkey, who eventually bought the distillery in 1971. Wild Turkey remains the owner of the distillery today, which is where the new Old Ripy iteration is distilled.

Old Ripy is one of two released bourbons that are part of Campari’s Whiskey Barons collection. Also released earlier this year is Bond & Lillard, a reference to William F. Bond and his brother-in-law, Christopher C. Lillard, who formed a bourbon partnership in 1869.

Both Whiskey Barons offerings come in 375 ml. bottles, each with a suggested price of $50. The price is high, but I do appreciate the smaller bottles for limited release products; the strategy allows more bottles to be available and makes makes buying a whole bottle before you’ve tried one more palatable.

Old Ripy is 104-proof (52% alcohol by volume) and “a combination of 8-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon with 12-year-old and younger whiskies.” It’s a weird way to describe the blend ages, though perhaps an effort to differentiate from Wild Turkey Rare Breed, which is a combination of 6, 8, and 12-year-old bourbon.

It pours a medium amber color and features a nose with intense oak, vanilla, and spice. On the palate, it shows a complex combination of soft cinnamon spice, chewy roasted nut, ripe bananas, caramel, and leather. The finish is oaky and fruity with toasted biscuits.

This is a very nice bourbon, with well-integrated tannic flavors and plenty of oak and spice. My only hesitancy in heartily recommending it is the price. Still, Wild Turkey fans (of which I consider myself one) who enjoy Rare Breed and Russel’s Reserve ought to try Old Ripy, whether in a bar or from your bottle shop.

The bourbon’s oakiness pairs well with a full-bodied cigar. Connecticut Broadleaf-wrapped cigars like Umbagog or Henry Clay fit the bill. So do Nicaraguan puros like Flor de las Antillas and Illusione.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys