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Cigar Spirits: Tariquet Armagnac XO & Millesime 1993

24 Nov 2015


I’ll admit to being far less familiar with brandy as I am whiskey. And yet, when dabbling in brandy, I find myself drawn to Armagnac, as opposed to its better known sibling, Cognac.

Both are made by distilling wine from each region (Cognac from the area surrounding the French town of Cognac, and Armagnac from the Armagnac region in Gascony, which is in the southwest France) and then aging it in oak barrels, often for extended periods of time. But there are key differences between the two that give each its own character.

Cognac tends to be more corporate with a few big name producers, while Armagnac has smaller, family-controlled producers. Traditionally, cognac is distilled twice in pot stills, while Armagnac is distilled only once in a column still. Armagnac fans will tell you the single distillation leaves the spirit with more complexity and character.

Today, I’m exploring two expressions from Tariquet, a well-known Armagnac producer from the Bas-Armagnac subregion (one of three Armagnac geographical classifications). The company relies mostly on a combination of Ugni-blanc (60%) and Baco (40%) grapes, two of the ten grape varietals permitted for Armagnac production.

Tariquet XO Bas-Armagnac ($60)

Aged for 12-15 years (longer than the required 6+ years for the XO designation), Tariquet’s XO (80-proof) expression is light copper in color with a nose that features oak, almonds, and toasted coconut. There are full flavors on the palate with wood, fruit cake, and chocolate followed by a warm spicy finish.

Tariquet Millesime 1993 Bas-Armagnac ($90)

Distilled in 1993 and bottled in 2010, this vintage offering (90.4-proof) features a golden straw color and a nose that is bright with candied orange, honey, and nougat notes. On the palate there is vanilla, soft oak, pie crust, and citrus. The finish on this refined but powerful Armagnac is long and rich with dates and butterscotch.

Both are enjoyable in their own way. The extra age of the 1993 manifests itself as sophisticated, complex, and elegant. The XO is grittier with more wood and spice, but both are worth the extra cost versus the VSOP Tariquet, which is the only expression I was familiar with before this article.

These spirits also make for natural pairings with a fine cigar. The XO calls for woodier, spicier smokes like the Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey or a Dominican Fuente Opus X. For the Vintage 1993, I’d suggest balanced, nuanced cigars like the Cohiba Behike or Nicaraguan Illusione Epernay.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon (2015)

17 Nov 2015


First introduced in 2012, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength is a limited annual release bourbon from the Louisville Distilling Company. Like the regular release bourbon from Angel’s Envy, the annual Cask Strength release is a Kentucky bourbon that spends additional time aging in port barrels.

This year has been an exciting one for Angel’s Envy and Louisville Distilling, which saw the company get purchased by Bacardi. (Needless to say, now Angel’s Envy won’t have any trouble finding rum casks to use for the cask-finished Angel’s Envy Rye.)

This year’s Cask Strength release consists of 7,500 bottles (a slight increase from last year) which will be released in about a dozen states this month where it will carry a suggested price of around $170. While the exact age isn’t disclosed, press materials state the bourbon was aged “up to seven years” in new charred white oak bourbon barrels before beginning the port barrel finishing process.

The 2015 edition is the strongest Cask Strength release to date, weighing in at a hearty 127.9-proof (63.95% alcohol by volume). It is deep golden in color and the nose features caramel and plum notes, along with some heat to remind you of the proof.

On the palate, the bourbon shows a delicious combination of red fruits, vanilla, pound cake, and oak. A splash of water reveals even more flavors, including clove, butterscotch, and hints of mint. The finish has more caramel and berries that linger on the roof of your mouth.

While I never got to try the highly-regarded 2012 and 2013 Cask Strength Angel’s Envy expressions, I can say I think the 2015 surpasses last year’s edition. A splash of water opens it up nicely and really allows the subtleties to shine past the considerable alcohol strength.

With or without a splash of water, this is a bold bourbon that needs a full-bodied cigar pairing. Here are a few suggestions that should hit the mark: Liga Privada Dirty RatLa Flor Dominicana Limitado VArturo Fuente Opus X, and Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Bulleit Bourbon

29 Oct 2015


Can’t find Pappy Van Winkle anywhere? Here’s a bourbon that you’ll find on the shelf of virtually every decent liquor store, as well as some less-than-decent shops, in America.

Bulleit Bourbon is in that nice sweet spot in the market, a step or two up from the bottom shelf. Prices vary from state to state, but you’ll likely pay between $20 to $30 for the 90-proof straight Kentucky bourbon.

Owned by liquor giant Diageo, the high rye bourbon (the mashbill is just under 40% rye grain) was distilled for many years at Four Roses distillery. Because of growing demand for its own whiskeys, Four Roses recently stopped supplying Bulleit. Who exactly is making bourbon for Bulleit now is sort of a mystery.

What’s in the bottles on shelves right now probably is still from Four Roses (at least in part) and probably aged at the famed Stitzel Weller distillery. Soon enough, Bulleit’s $115 million new distillery will be up and running and the mini-mystery of where the bourbon is made will go away.

The nose on Bulleit has lots of sweet corn, light caramel, and oak with just the slightest floral aroma. It pours a light copper color and comes in its distinctive old style apothecary bottle.

On the palate, Bulleit features light char, caramel, buttered corn bread, and honey. The finish shows off the rye spice and wood that lingers on the roof of your mouth.

There’s no question in my mind that Bulleit Bourbon is a steal at $20 and it hangs well with the best bourbons under $30. You wouldn’t hesitate to use it in a cocktail, but its perfectly pleasant neat, which is how I prefer it.

For a cigar pairing, Bulleit calls for a medium-bodied cigar with a little spice. I’d particularly recommend the Tatuaje Black, Aging Room F55, La Flor Dominicana, or My Father.

For all the hype of limited edition bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (which are both outstanding), Bulleit is a reminder of what I like best about bourbon. You can still find excellent bourbons for a reasonable price and Bulleit just another example.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

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