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Cigar Spirits: Make Your Own Barrel-Aged Cocktails

2 Apr 2015

“Cocktail culture” is in full swing (so says any number of newspaper articles). For the most part, though, I don’t get into cocktails in our Cigar Spirits articles. I feel if booze is worth drinking, it’s usually worth drinking unadulterated. That said, one aspect of the recent cocktail boom I’m fully behind is aging cocktails in whiskey barrels.


So when Top Shelf Barrels offered me a barrel to do my own cocktail aging, I figured it was worth checking out. Because I don’t have much space for a large barrel, I went with the one liter barrel (which Top Shelf Barrels engraved for me with a Stogie Guys logo).

The company sells essence flavorings and has a few recipes for exotic cocktails, but I was more interested in the effects of barrel aging on classic cocktails. I quickly narrowed my options down to the old fashioned or the Manhattan.

I decided on a Manhattan for my first barrel-aged cocktail experiment and went with a simple recipe: three parts Knob Creek Rye and one part Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth (my preferred vermouth). I’ll sometimes add the tiniest shake of Angostura bitters to my Manhattans, but I figured it would be easier to add bitters later, especially since all Angostura takes is a quick rinse of the glass.

To judge the impact of barrel aging, I made one liter of Manhattan, poured 800 ml. into the 1 liter barrel, and then poured the rest into an extra bottle so I could taste test it side-by-side. One thing to remember about the process is the barrel may leak a little (this isn’t unusual). My barrel had the tiniest bit of seepage, which didn’t result in any puddles.

After two weeks, my experiment was just right as the bright flavors were mellowed out by the wood. By the third week, the wood had overwhelmed the flavors, so be careful not to age your cocktail too long. At that point, I emptied out the barrel and poured what was left into an empty bottle so I could enjoy it, even though it had peaked a week earlier.

I have to say, I was surprised by how quickly the wood impacted the Manhattan, especially since the barrel-aged cocktails I’ve had in bars were usually aged for 45-60 days. But in retrospect, this shouldn’t have been that surprising. The mini barrel has a lot of surface area for such a small amount of liquid.

Ultimately, I’m deeming my experiment a success. I made a delicious barrel-aged Manhattan, and I’m looking forward to trying more experiments with my barrel. If you want to take your cocktails to the next level consider checking one out.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Lot No. 40 Canadian Rye Whiskey (2012 Release)

24 Mar 2015

Canadian whiskey has never been something I’ve spent much time seeking out. With a reputation for mild flavors, often the result of blending rye whiskey with largely flavorless grain whiskey, I’ve found it’s a bit lacking in the distinctive character I identify with with my favorite scotch and American whiskey.

Lot-40-canadian-ryeFortunately, Canadian whiskey makers have started to see the potential for selling more expressive offerings, many of which are in the same class as good Kentucky or Indiana straight rye. Three stealth Canadian ryes (they don’t play up their Canadian roots) are WhistlePig, Masterson’s, and Jefferson’s, each of which are 10 years old. Each sports a 100% rye mashbill. This is achieved by using the same unmalted rye that goes into all straight American rye, along with a percentage of malted rye, which is necessary for the distillation process.

The 86-proof Lot 40 is similarly a 100% rye (90% unmalted, 10% malted), although it doesn’t obscure the fact that this is Canadian rye. The brand was originally launched in the late 1990s but disappeared for a while until it was reintroduced a few years ago.

For a time it was hard to find in the U.S., but in the past year it has become more widely available. I was able to find a bottle at a Virginia state liquor store for just under $50.

The spirit features a bronze color and a lively nose with fresh bread, banana, anise, and maple. On the palate it has a syrupy intensity with oak, baking spices, fruit cake, and a little floral spice. The finish is subtle with more bread and muted fruit notes. The result is a complex, sophisticated Canadian rye that calls for a similarly complex, yet balanced, cigar. I’d recommend the following: Davidoff Colorado Claro, Illusione Epernay, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet.

I realize, for many bourbon drinkers, a Canadian whiskey is something your grandfather drinks or you mix with cola, not a spirit to be enjoyed neat. But this is a fine whiskey that rye fans should certainly pick up and try.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Booker’s Bourbon Batch 2015-1 ‘Big Man, Small Batch’ Limited Edition

17 Mar 2015

Considering its wide availability, bold barrel-proof flavors, and consistent quality, I’ve always felt Booker’s Bourbon was a bit underrated. Now, for better or worse, I think the marketing department at Jim Beam has finally caught on. (Beam makes Booker’s along with the rest of the Small Batch Collection: Knob Creek, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden.)

bookers-bigman-smallbatchLast month Beam announced a “new collection” of limited edition Booker’s releases, the first of which would be called “Big Man, Small Batch,” which pays homage to the late Booker Noe, one of the biggest personalities in the bourbon business. For those looking for this or future limited edition releases, the packaging features a different, larger batch label with an illustration, and the box is stained a darker brown, whereas regular releases (including Roundtable releases) will continue in the lighter, natural wood boxes.

Unlike last year’s 25th Anniversary, the age statement of this first limited edition is within the normal 6-8 years for Booker’s. Specifically, “Big Man, Small Batch” (Batch No. 2015-01) is 7 years, 2 months, and 16 days old. It’s bottled at 128.7-proof (64.35% ABV). At least in Virginia state liquor stores, it sells for the same price as regular release Booker’s: $59.

As you’d expect, it’s a full-bodied bourbon in the Booker’s tradition with a bold nose of caramel and vanilla. On the palate there’s more vanilla, peanut butter, and salted caramel. Only on the finish does the high-proof heat come through, along with vanilla and oak.

To test out Big Man Small Batch, I tasted it side by side with two other Booker’s bottles: a 6-year-old batch No. C06-K-8 bottled at 130.4-proof, and batch No. 2014-6, a Roundtable Batch aged 7 years, 2 months, and 14 days, and bottled at 127.7-proof. (Roundtable Batches, selected with the input of various bourbon writers, don’t have any special packaging and can only be identified by the batch number.)

The six-year-old has a bit more sharpness and resinous wood. The Roundtable Batch is more refined and closer to the Big Man, Small Batch in profile, which makes sense given the very similar age statement and proof, but it doesn’t have the toffee-like richness of this first limited release.

So as long as Booker’s sells this and future limited edition Booker’s at the same price as the regular batches, it’s easy to recommend to those who enjoy full-bodied, high-proof bourbons. I, for one, am looking forward to future Booker’s releases from this line, and filings last year for label approvals suggest there may be many coming.

As for cigars, all Booker’s releases call for the same thing: a full-bodied smoke. The RoMaCraft CromagnonArturo Fuente Opus X, EO 601 Serie “Blue”, and La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero all fit the bill.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 Year Straight Rye Whiskey

10 Mar 2015

Read through the articles in the A-Z Guide to Rye and you’ll notice lots of references to Indiana rye (LDI/MPGI/Seagram’s are just a few of the  operation’s names). As complete a list as I know of companies that sell their ryes is available here, but some of the best-known include Bulleit, Templeton, George Dickel, Angel’s Envy, Willett, and High West (though the latter two also have other sources for their rye).

sa-old-scout-ryeWhile some of the companies that sell MPGI products obscure the source, MPG Ingredients, as the former Seagram’s distillery is now known, is very upfront about what it offers. Aside from its 95% rye mashbill, it has recently added two additional rye recipes with lesser rye contents.

The biggest reason MPGI’s rye is so ubiquitous is, at a time when rye is hot, MPGI actually has a significant amount of aged stock to sell. In my opinion, a second and nearly as important reason is that the 95% rye is quite drinkable at a relatively young age, with much of it presumably bottled at between two and five years of age.

This makes the Smooth Ambler’s Old Scout offering a little different. The 99-proof rye features a 7-year age statement, which sets it apart from other widely available Indiana ryes.

The result is a copper-tinted whiskey with citrus, candied fruit, and light oak. The palate has good wood spice, but also deep bourbon-esque sweetness and floral notes. The finish has some pickle brine and orange peel.

Pair it with a medium-bodied cigar like an Arturo Fuente King T Rosado Sun Grown, Bolivar Royal Corona (Cuban), Tatuaje Black, or RoMa Craft Intemperance.

At $40 a bottle, Old Scout Rye is a nice value with enough complexity to be enjoyed neat, but it also makes a nice Manhattan. It’s not as brash as Bulleit (one of my favorite value ryes) but the age gives it more woodiness and depth of flavor.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: High West Son of Bourye

26 Feb 2015

When you mix straight bourbon whiskey with straight rye whiskey, what do you get? When High West Whiskey out of Park City, Utah, wanted to sell its concoction, they called it “Bourye,” a portmanteau of bourbon and rye.

high-west-bouryeA quick note on terms for American whiskey: Bourye has no legal meaning. Federal regulations have strict definitions about what certain terms mean, so although a combination of straight bourbon whiskeys can still be straight bourbon (and multiple straight ryes still can be called straight rye), a combination of straight rye and straight bourbon cannot be called straight whiskey, even if it is (as High West calls says on the bottle) “a blend of straight whiskies.”

The original Bourye, first released in 2009, combined 10-year-old bourbon, 12-year rye, and 16-year rye (a tweaked Bourye was just released in the past few months). Son of Bourye, as you might expect, is a younger version.

In Son of Bourye, High West takes a five-year-old bourbon (at least five years, the label says), and mingles it with a five-year rye whiskey (the percentage of each isn’t disclosed). Both spirits are sourced from the Lawrenceburg, Indiana, distillery that provides spirits for many whiskey companies that bottle bourbon, and especially rye, that they don’t distill themselves.

Son of Bourye is bottled at 92-proof. It isn’t easy to find, but is not impossible to locate above retail, which is usually between $45 and $50.

The nose is pleasant, although not particularly distinctive with caramel and hints of pine and citrus. On the palate, some of the interplay between the rye and bourbon comes out with honey, oak, and mint spice. Floral notes, clove, and cinnamon also hit the palate. The finish lingers nicely with dried fruit and wood spice.

There are enough subtleties in Son of Bourye that a full-bodied smoke would overpower it. Instead, try a mild or medium cigar like Cabaiguan, Illusione Epernay, or a Cuban Montecristo.

Ultimately, there is a lot to like about Son of Bourye. The blend of straight bourbon and straight rye is a fairly new category of spirits which has emerged as whiskey companies look to provide a new, unique product to a booming market. When compared to other bourbon/rye combinations (like Jefferson’s Chef’s Collaboration, Wild Turkey Forgiven, and the original Bourye) High West’s Son of Bourye measures up quite favorably in terms of the value it provides.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Beam Signature Craft Soft Red Wheat Harvest Collection 11 Year Bourbon

19 Feb 2015

The Red Wheat Harvest Collection (or maybe it’s Signature Craft Harvest Collection Red Wheat… it’s not entirely clear) is part of the rapidly expanding Jim Beam Signature Craft line. The name is a mouthful, but it’s actually quite descriptive of the many ways this limited offering differs from your standard-issue Jim Beam.

beam-red-wheat-harvestWhat’s most notable about Red Wheat is the mashbill which, unlike every other Beam bourbon to date, uses wheat instead of rye, along with corn and malt barley. And the 11-year age statement makes it considerably older than every other current Beam offering except its recent 12 Year Signature Craft.

The bronze-colored spirit features a nose full of vanilla, damp oak, and a hint of dried fruit. On the palate there’s a lush creaminess, cookie batter, vanilla, and a hint of red apple. The finish is long with some clove and wood spice.

It’s a got hints of that distinctive Beam yeasty funk, but there’s a lot more going on than just that. There is a soft, delicate edge that adds to the complexity and enjoyability.

It also makes the Red Wheat a versatile bourbon for cigar pairing. All but the strongest cigars would make for an excellent pairing, from a mild Connecticut-wrapped cigar to a medium-full Nicaraguan blend.

It deserves to be tasted neat, as too much water or ice could tame the 90-proof spirit. Really there’s not much to complain about, except maybe the price.

Certainly, $45 for a 375 ml. bottle is very steep. But then when you consider that the only other wheated bourbons with similar age statements (Van Winkle Lot B and Weller 12 Year) are becoming exceedingly difficult to find at retail, the cost isn’t so ridiculous. My recommendation: See if you can try some at a bar before going in on an entire bottle.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Warm Up with These Hot Winter Beverages

17 Feb 2015


If you are, like me, in the ever-increasing part of the country where the temperatures have taken a dive, then maybe you’re looking for a fun way to warm up. And what better way than a warm drink that also packs a little boozy kick? Here are my five favorites:

Hot Toddy — A classic that can be made with scotch whisky (save the single malt, use a blend), bourbon, or even brandy. It’s simple to make. Just add sugar, lemon, and cloves to boiling water and your spirit. (Feel free to swap in honey or cinnamon, or even look for a recipe that uses ginger ale.)

Stonewall Jackson — A simple classic consisting of hot cider and bourbon (but rye, Tennessee whiskey, or even spiced rum fill in nicely). Want to kick this up notch? Add some mulling spices to turn it into mulled cider. Just don’t boil the booze out.

Hot Buttered Rum — Perhaps my favorite of the bunch, hot buttered rum is a little more complicated to make than the above drinks, but you’ll find that it’s really not too difficult. If you want, you can make a batch of the batter ahead of time (it will last in the freezer) or just make it as you go directly into a mug.

Mexican Hot Chocolate — While there are lots of recipes out there, “normal” Mexican hot chocolate is spicy and intense with unsweetened chocolate, cinnamon, and chiles. Adding some tequila kicks it up a notch. While I use something similar to this recipe, I might also add a splash of Cointreau.

Spiked Coffee — There are plenty of variations of the basic coffee (milk and sugar optional) with booze. Coffee or chocolate liqueurs are particularly popular options, although there’s nothing wrong with simply adding whiskey, rum, or brandy. Want a recommendation I picked up traveling in Mexico? Add goat milk caramel (you can buy it from Amazon) to coffee and Kahlua.

-Patrick S

photo credit: AccuWeather