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Cigar Spirits: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (2014)

23 Oct 2014

This is a fun time of the year for bourbon enthusiasts, with many excellent limited releases heading to stores. If you’re lucky enough, you may find a bottle of the annually released Pappy Van Winkle, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Four Roses Small Batch Cask Strength, or Parker’s Heritage.angels-envy-cask-strength-sq

angels-envy-cask-strengthIn recent years, you could add Angel’s Envy Cask Strength bourbon to that list of highly sought-after but hard-to-find limited offerings released in the fall. Angel’s Envy port-finished bourbon and rum cask-finished rye (a personal favorite of mine) are now offered year-round. Like the widely distributed Angel’s Envy bourbon, the limited Cask Strength offering is finished in port barrels after extended aging in standard new charred oak barrels.

The 2014 Cask Strength is a hearty 119.3-proof, and only 6,500 bottles (an increase over previous years) are being released. The suggested retail price is $169—for better or worse a fair price given the huge demand for such limited-release bourbons in the increasingly hot bourbon market.

The Angel’s Envy Cask Strength pours a deep copper color. The nose features a tightly wound combination of cherries, toffee, and vanilla. It’s barely a speed-bump compared to what’s to come.

On the palate, the full force of this bourbon comes to bear. Thick clove, dried fruit, charred oak, and butterscotch. The finish lingers with much of the same, plus a hint of ginger spice. It drinks very well neat, but a splash of spring water opens it up.

Angel’s Envy has quickly filled a niche in the American whiskey scene as a brand without a distillery (though they have started work on a Louisville distillery). Simply reselling whiskey made elsewhere is a tough business when you’re competing against the companies that make it themselves, but by adding the twist of unique barrel aging, Angel’s Envy has quickly become an established and respected addition.

Deep, intense bourbons like this one are made for cigars. And rich, full cigars are the way to go. Connecticut Broadleaf-wrapped cigars like the Drew Estate Liga Privada No. 9 or Tatuaje Reserva fit the bill.

The price, understandably, will make some people hesitant to pick up the Angel’s Envy Cask Stength release—especially considering you can buy three or four excellent bottles for the same price. But this is a special, limited, and unique offering. Pass up the opportunity to buy one at your own peril.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Glenfarclas 105

9 Oct 2014

When it comes to spirit pairings, I’m an unabashed fan of bourbon and rye. No matter the season, fine American whiskey works.Glenfarclas-105-sq

Glenfarclas-105As for other spirits, I’m more seasonal in my preferences. The tropical-influenced rum is ideal for the warmer months, but when it gets a little cooler I’m inclined towards scotch whiskey.

Something about the smokey, warming qualities of a single malt hits the spot. And yet, all that time with American whiskey has left me finding most of the 80- or 90-proof scotch lacking in intensity.

Fortunately, a few scotches have a higher proof. And lately, cask-strength scotches have become some of my favorites. (Unlike American whiskey, where cask-strength can mean 130-proof or higher, cask-strength single malt tends to be in the 110-120 range.) Glenfarclas 105 is one of those cask-strength single malts, weighing in at a hearty 120-proof (60% ABV). Its Highland distillery is one of the few truly independent distilleries left in Scotland, and also one of the few that produces a cask-strength scotch that is readily available in the U.S.

Glenfarclas ($80-90) has a deep golden color. The nose is an inviting combination of toffee with pear and cherry fruit.

On the palate, Glenfarclas really shines. It’s multi-layered on the palate with more pear, lots of sherry, and a slight smokiness. It has a nice, full-bodied creaminess, and a finish that fades off nicely with oak and subtle smoke.

The 105 is very even-keeled for 120-proof. It has plenty of intensity without being over the top. The richness of sherry with a champagne-like balance.

Drink it with a medium- to full-bodied cigar. Think a Cabaiguan, Davidoff Colorado Claro, Intemperance, or Tatuaje Black.

I’m sure cask-strength single malt isn’t for everyone. But if, like me, you like higher proof bourbons and ryes, but still find the smokiness of scotch up your alley, give the Glenfarclas 105 a try.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: StogieGuys.com A-Z Guide to Rye Whiskey (Part 2)

1 Oct 2014

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Following up on our popular A-Z Guide to Bourbon (read part one and part two) we thought a similar guide was due for rye. Like bourbon, American rye has undergone a renaissance lately. A combination of the rise of cocktail culture and the renewed interest in fine whiskies means there is more, better rye available now than there has been in a long time.

To that end, here’s the Cliffs Notes version of our coverage of rye. In addition to a link to the full write-up, I’ve included my take on the defining characteristics of each whiskey. (Part one was yesterday and the conclusion is today.) And, of course, each article has a few recommended cigar pairings:

Michter’s US1 Straight Rye – Made at an undisclosed Kentucky distillery, Michter’s features a basic but pleasant combination of oak, pepper, and cedar with a minty finish.

Redemption Rye – A young 92-proof Indiana rye, it’s a good value with a vibrant nose of apple and honey.

Rittenhouse 100 Rye – A tasty bonded rye at a can’t-miss price ($20-25). Fudge and marshmallow flavors along with more classic rye flavors.

Riverboat Rye – Another Indiana-distilled rye, Riverboat is odd in that it’s 80-proof and unfiltered. The low proof mutes the flavors but you can’t knock the price.

Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Small Batch Rye – Dark copper-colored rye with lots of intensity at 90-proof. This 6-year rye from Wild Turkey is an underrated gem.

Sazerac Rye – “Baby Saz” (as it’s called to distinguish it from the very tough-to-find Sazerac 18) is a rich, floral rye that’s an excellent value at $25.

WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey – This 10-year, 100-proof rye comes from Canada via Vermont. Its 100% rye mashbill and bourbon barrel finish give it a smooth, sweet edge with good complexity and balance.

Wild Turkey 81 Rye – Buttery, drinkable, and affordable. Solid straight or as a mixer.

Willett Family Estate Small Batch Rye – Unlike the Willett Single Barrel, this 2-year-old, 108-proof rye is distilled at the Willett Distillery in Kentucky. Current two-year-old versions are good, but when these stocks get more age they’ll be special.

Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye (Four Year) – A single, barrel-proof, four-year-old version of the Indiana rye that’s loaded with butterscotch sweetness and baking spices.

Keep an eye out for even more additions in our Cigar Spirits articles. And, in the meantime, check out our general guide to pairing spirits with a cigar.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: StogieGuys.com A-Z Guide to Rye Whiskey (Part 1)

30 Sep 2014

a-z-rye-guide

Following our popular A-Z Guide to Bourbon (read part one and part two) we thought a similar guide was due for rye. Like bourbon, American rye has undergone a renaissance lately. A combination of the rise of cocktail culture and the renewed interest in fine whiskies means there is more, better rye available now than there has been in a long time.

To that end, here’s the Cliffs Notes version of our coverage of rye. In addition to a link to the full write-up, I’ve included my take on the defining characteristics of each whiskey. (Part one is today; come back tomorrow for part two.) And, of course, each article has a few recommended cigar pairings:

Angel’s Envy Finished Rye – Unlike any other rye around, Angel’s Envy took Indiana-distilled rye and finished it in rum barrels, which provides a tropical edge with pineapple, citrus, and graham cracker. Dangerously drinkable.

Bulleit Rye – Bulleit represents a bold, flavorful variety of the Indiana distillate at the right price ($25). Highly recommended combination of crisp apple, pepper, wood, rock sugar, and toffee flavors with a nice sweetness on the finish.

E.H. Taylor Jr. Rye – A relatively new bonded rye from Buffalo Trace/Sazerac, it features a rye-heavy mashbill with cloying flavors and a tasty combination of sweetness and spice.

George Dickel Rye – Long known for its Tennessee Whiskey, Dickel added this rye not long ago. It takes the ubiquitous Indiana rye but adds a twist in charcoal filtering. The result is an easy-sipping rye at an excellent $25 price point.

High West Double Rye! – An innovative blend of two ryes, one two years old and the other 16 years. The result is a feisty-ness upfront with surprising complexity underneath.

Hooker’s House Rye – Another finished rye, this one uses California Zinfandel barrels to produce subtle cherry notes along with mint, spice, and vanilla.

Jefferson’s Straight Rye – One of a trio of Canada-sourced 10-year ryes, it’s a tasty combination of floral notes, sweetness, and spice. A solid value but unfortunately production has been discontinued.

Knob Creek Rye – A powerful rye from Beam that shares many of the qualities that make Knob Creek Bourbon so popular: powerful yet smooth flavors with plenty of wood, sweetness, and spice.

Masterson’s Rye – Like Jefferson’s and WhistlePig, Masterson’s sourced some excellent rye from Canada. It has a drier element than the others but it also features some tremendous complexity.

Tomorrow you can see part two. And keep an eye out for more additions in our Cigar Spirits articles. Also, in the meantime, check out our general guide to pairing spirits with a cigar.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Rum

29 Sep 2014

Just like bourbon is my go-to cigar pairing in the colder months, rum is typically my libation of preference in the summer. Summer may be over, but this weekend had outstanding weather here in Chicago, and I used the sunshine as an opportunity to enjoy one of my favorite rums.

Ron Zacapa 23Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 is made in Guatemala, where it is blended from rum made from first-crush sugar cane juice—as opposed to molasses—and aged in oak barrels previously used for bourbon, sherries, and Pedro Ximénez wines. It employs the solera method, a system used regularly for fortified wine such as port and sherry.

Under the solera system, barrels of the oldest rum are regularly mixed with newer rum but never bottled completely. The result is a spirit with a mix of 6- to 23-year-old rum.

According to the back of the bottle, the solera process is “guided and repeated under the critical eye of the Master Blender until reaching the maturity and complexity of aromas and flavors that shape this unique premium rum.” Also key to the development of this rum is the high altitude (2,300 meters) at which it is aged in Guatemala. The low temperature and low levels of oxygen reportedly enable easier, more thorough blending.

Bottles of Centenario (750 ml., 80-proof) sell for around $50 apiece. The rum pours a dark mahogany with some reddish hues, and the nose is characterized by notes of vanilla, dried apricot, and dark chocolate. The texture is highly viscous, leaving long legs when swirled in the glass.

Served neat—which, I believe, is the only way to taste this rum—the rich, smooth flavors hit the palate with sweetness, banana, almond, oak, and cinnamon. The finish is long and balanced as it slowly transitions from intensity to subtle heat.

For quite some time, I’ve considered Zaya, Plantation, El Dorado 15, and Zacapa Centenario to be my favorite rums. Among the four, these days I’d give the slight edge to Zacapa, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. Centenario is just so damn velvety and nicely balanced. And it’s dangerously easy to sip neat.

As far as cigars go, my suggestion is to pair Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 with a medium- to full-bodied cigar that doesn’t pack a lot of sweetness. Think dark, peppery spice. The Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Dirty Rat, for example, is an excellent complement. But I’m sure you’ll think of many other outstanding pairings.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Zafra Master Reserve 21 Year Rum

18 Sep 2014

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I’ll admit, rums that start with the letter “Z” tend to be my favorites. Zaya 12 and Zacapa 23 (not to mention Zacapa XO) are go-to rums for me, both with a smoothness and depth of flavor that can only be achieved through time in the barrel.

So I didn’t hesitate to pick up Zafra Master Reserve, a Panamanian rum aged 21 years in bourbon barrels. Apparently the same company that originally brought Zacapa to the U.S. market is the same outfit behind Zafra, which sells for around $40.

Zafra is a dark copper color, not surprising given its age. The nose could almost be mistaken for a bourbon, with corn sweetness, lots of oak, and orange peel.

The palate is surprisingly dry with lots of cedar and spice along with cognac and dried fruit. Underneath are more traditional rum flavors of vanilla, molasses, and oak. The long finish features more spice and oak.

It’s like a cross between a rum and a bourbon, and that’s a good combination for me. Don’t expect an overly sweet vanilla-forward rum. Zafra is more restrained and subtle than fellow “Z” rums Zacapa and Zaya.

That goes for cigar pairings, too. Instead of full-bodied smokes you’ll want something more balanced. Think Fuente Hemingway Short Story or Cabaiguan Robusto Extra.

As far as Zafra goes, it’s worlds apart from Zaya or Zacapa, but excellent in its own way, albeit more balanced and subdued. And on top of that it’s excellent for the price (I picked mine up for $37). Zafra 21 may not be the first thing I’d recommend for rum beginners, but real rum aficionados should definitely seek it out.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye (Four Year)

9 Sep 2014

I’m wrapping up our series of rye write-ups with a pair of Willett Family Estate Ryes. The pair may seem similar, but they have some very important differences that are symbolic of the American whiskey industry. (In addition to its ryes, Willett has a history of aging and bottling excellent bourbon, including Noah’s Mill, Pure Kentucky, and Johnny Drum.)willett-family-estate-sb-rye-sq

willett-family-estate-sb-ryeThe Willett Family Estate Small Batch Rye is the first Willett Rye distilled at Willett, and currently it’s bottled after two years in the barrel because that’s roughly how long it has been since Willett first got their still running. The rye is reportedly a blend of the different rye recipes being produced at Willett. And while it’s still young, it shows extraordinary promise. (You can differentiate it from other Willett products because it has a foil top, not wax, and states it is distilled at Willett.)

Meanwhile, Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye is a sourced single-barrel whiskey. The younger batches, like the four year I’m writing about (from barrel number 116), are sourced from the MGPI distillery in Indiana, which is also the source of rye bottled by Redemption, Angel’s Envy, Templeton, Bulleit, Dickel, Old Scout, and others. You can tell this one from the Small Batch because of the green wax seal and the fact the back the 110-proof bottle states, “distilled in Indiana.” (Some whiskey companies aren’t so honest about the source of their bourbon or rye, so the clarity is appreciated.)

The $40-45 rye shares many similarities to the other Indiana-sourced rye (which has a mashbill with 95% rye), but the high proof and Willett barrel selection up the intensity. The orange-hued rye features an inviting nose of nougat, clove, butterscotch, and orange.

On the palate, the Willett Single Barrel has remarkable sweetness for a rye, leading with buttered popcorn and butterscotch along with secondary flavors of pine, baking spice, and marmalade. The finish is where it shows a little heat along with spice.

This rye is remarkable in that it is simultaneously intense and concentrated, yet smooth neat. It can stand up to a strong, full-bodied cigar: either a dark, earthy smoke like the Añoranza, or a bold and spicy one like the Fuente Opus X.

The natural question to ask is which young Willett Rye is better? Despite different sources, they aren’t that unlike. I predict that by the time the Willett-distilled rye is four years old it will be better, but right now if you only have money for one, buy the four-year-old Indiana product. Willett has a well-deserved reputation for excellent barrel picks, and this young, lively, flavorful, well-rounded rye is a must-try for rye fans.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys