Archive | Spirits RSS feed for this section

Cigar Spirits: Old Bardstown and Old Bardstown Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon

30 Nov 2016

old-bardstown

One of the best attributes about bourbon—as opposed to, say, single malt scotch—has always been the value it can provide. Good bourbon doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg. Although, as its popularity has grown, there are those who would gladly charge you an arm and a leg for good (or not-so-good) bourbon.

Old Bardstown (90-proof) and Old Bardstown Bottled-in-Bond (100-proof), which cost $18 and $22 respectively, certainly have the potential to provide good value. While the Old Bardstown brand has been around for years in various forms, the bottles I’m sampling are relatively new varieties that are actually distilled at Willett’s distillery.

Willett has bottled many fine bourbons for years (including Willett Family Estate, Old Bardstown, Noah’s Mill, Johnny Drum, Rowan’s Creek, and others). But the distillery stopped distilling whiskey in the early 1980s and didn’t resume until January 2012. Prior to very recently, all of Willett’s bourbons were bought from other distilleries, even if they were aged and bottled at Willett.

The new bottles clearly state they are “distilled and bottled at the Willett distillery.” Given that Willett didn’t fire up its still until January 2012, we know both are barely over four years old (if it was less than four years, it would have to be disclosed). Beyond some Family Estate Rye and bourbon sold mostly through Willett’s gift shop, these are the first bottles to be sold from that Willett distillate. Currently, these bourbons are only for sale in the state of Kentucky. As production ramps up, though, I’d expect them to become available more widely.

The Old Bardstown Bourbon is a dark color for a relatively young bourbon and features a nose with maple sugar and damp cardboard. On the palate, the whiskey shows wood, toasted cereal grain, and malty sweetness. The finish is light with wood spice and eucalyptus.

Old Bardstown Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon features a nose of ethanol, mint, and rock sugar candy. On the palate is burnt corn, rubber, tea, and some bitter green wood. The finish shows even more tea and rubber along with some burnt sugar.

I was shocked to discover I greatly preferred the 90-proof version to the bottled-in-bond 100-proof version, but I can only speculate that the lower proof smooths over some of the rough edges that come from only four years in the barrel. In either format, Old Bardstown shows the promise of the new Willett distillate, especially after it spends a few more years aging. Right now, try it neat, but know that the price means you won’t feel guilty using it in a cocktail.

As for cigars, I’d recommend a full-bodied, earthy smoke to offset some of the unbalanced aspects of Old Bardstown. Specifically, smoke the Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Velvet Rat, El Güegüense Robusto, Montecristo Sublime Edición Limitada 2008 (Cuban), Tatuaje Black, or Warped Futuro Selección Suprema.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon (2016)

26 Oct 2016

Some of the most sought-after bourbons come out this time of year, including Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Parker’s Heritage, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, and Four Roses Small Batch Barrel Strength. Since 2012, you can add the Angel’s Envy Cask Strength to that list.

angels-envy-cs-2016Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (AECS) has a suggested retail price of $179 and, unlike some of the aforementioned limited releases, you actually have a decent chance of finding AECS at that price, or something close to it. (Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year, in contrast, theoretically retails for $150, but the going market price is over $1,000.)

The 2016 Angel’s Envy release is 124.6-proof, or 62.3% ABV, slightly lower than last year’s release which was 127.9-proof. Just 8,000 bottles are being produced this year, up from 7,500 in 2015.

The bourbon pours a copper color and features an intense but inviting nose with ginger, pear, black pepper, sugar cookies, and some pure alcohol heat. On the plate, there is a full-bodied combination of figs, butterscotch, red apples, oak, and the notable influence of the port barrels in which this bourbon is finished. The finish is long and spicy with wood and port.

This is an intense, almost overpowering bourbon when sipped neat, but just the smallest amount of water smooths the rough edges and opens up a cacophony of more subtle flavors. Last year, after trying the sample I received from Angel’s Envy, I went out and purchased a full bottle (the bottle in the picture). Although the price is high, this tasty cask-strength bourbon has me considering doing so again.

Pair this bourbon with a bold, spicy smoke. Here are a few suggestions: Arturo Fuente Opus X, Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu, Paul Garmirian 25th Anniversary, and Joya de Nicaragua Antaño.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Cigar Spirits: Eagle Rare 10 Year Bourbon Single Barrel Select (Saints & Sinners Barrel No. 1)

12 Oct 2016

eagle-rare-sns-barrel-pick

Whiskey and cigars are a natural pairing, but the connection isn’t usually explicit. Two exceptions include the Cigar Malt Reserve by Dalmore and this barrel selection from Saints & Sinners, the private cigar club for Tatuaje fans.

Saints & Sinners launched in 2011, when I first joined. For $150 each year, members get a cigar kit with 15 smokes (frequently with rare or exclusive picks), access to a private online forum, and plenty of swag (usually cigar accessories, a shirt, and more). Registration for new members opens in early June with only a limited number of spots available.

Occasionally, members also get the opportunity to purchase other items, such as Tatuaje owner Pete Johnson’s private label Tatouage Bordeaux wine. More recently, the club offered a single barrel selection of Eagle Rare 10 Year bourbon, available in 375 ml. bottles that sold for $19.99.

The selection came about after a trip to the Buffalo Trace distillery in June. As I’ve observed before, barrel picks are often particularly excellent bourbons, assuming the person doing the picking has a decent palate. If nothing else, they are getting to try a half dozen or so barrels from which they pick the one they like the best.

Eagle Rare 10 has long been a staple on my bourbon shelf, especially with it available for around $30 for a 750 ml. bottle. For many years,including when I first discovered it, it was distilled at the Old Prentice distillery, which is now Four Roses’ distillery. The brand was purchased by the Sazerac Company in 1989 and for the better part of a decade the bourbon sold as Eagle Rare has been distilled at Buffalo Trace.

Standard Eagle Rare is a classic with heavy wood, lots of vanilla sweetness, and just a bit spice. The Saints & Sinners pick features all of that, but with a particularly aromatic nose featuring mint and caramel, and a palate that has maple, wood, and toffee. The finish is classic Eagle Rare with charred oak spice and vanilla.

You really can’t go wrong pairing any cigar with this tasty, well-priced bourbon. That said, I have to recommend a Tatuaje cigar given that this is a Saints & Sinners Club selection. Personally,I’d turn to the Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu or La Riqueza Cabinet with this bourbon, though there wouldn’t be any bad pairings from the Tatuaje offerings.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Compass Box Hedonism Quindecimus

14 Sep 2016

cb-hedonism-quindecimus

If you know anything about scotch grain whiskey, you probably know the lack of grain whiskey is what makes single malts so sought-after.

Put another way: Grain whiskey is the less flavorful filler that is blended with single malt to make blended whiskies like Dewar’s, Bells, Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark, and Chivas Regal, which make up 90 percent of all scotch whiskey sold.

For the most part, that characterization is correct, as most grain whiskey is aged only a few years and then blended with single malt to make blended whiskey. And yet, what if instead grain whiskey was left to age properly, perhaps even for decades? How would it taste?

The answer is found in Compass Box’s Hedonism Quindecimus, which is certainly one of the most unique whiskeys I’ve ever tasted. To celebrate the company’s 15th anniverary, they created a blend of grain whiskies, all of which are at least 20 years old.

The Compass Box website can no longer legally disclose the components of this blend due to some ridiculous rules. But, fortunately, we know what makes up this unique blend:

  • 17.6% North British 20-year-old from first-fill American standard barrels
  • 36.6% Port Dundas 25-year-old from rejuvenated hogsheads
  • 8.4% Dumbarton 28-year-old from American standard barrels
  • 19.4% Port Dundas 20-year-old from first-fill American standard barrels
  • 18% 32-year-old Loch Lomond mystery blended grain from American standard barrels

The resulting whiskey is bottled at 92-proof, with just 5,689 bottles made. Expect to pay $125 to $180, if you can find it.

The nose is quite light with hay, honey, shortbread, and floral notes. On the palate, the immense depth and complexity reveals itself with lemon cake, creaminess, tea, custard, light oak, and citrus. It’s the kind of flavor you want to let linger as long as possible. The finish is clean and elegant with more creaminess, cake batter, and light spice.

Considering the price, this isn’t a whisky for everyone. But I don’t think it was ever meant to be for most people. It’s an extraordinary experiment in what a grain whiskey can be in the right hands. Single malt fans should jump at the opportunity to try a glass if they find it on the menu.

The complex flavors go well with a cigar, but it takes a milder smoke to not overwhelm the Hedonism Quindecimus. Try an Ashton Classic, Davidoff Grand Cru, Illusione Epernay, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Laphroaig Lore

24 Aug 2016

I generally reach for bourbon or rum in the summer months, while reserving single malt for when the weather cools down. Something about the smokey style of Islay Malts especially, like Laphroaig, are perfect for a chilly evening in the fall or winter.

Laphroaig LoreBut I didn’t want to wait to try the new Lore. Introduced earlier this year, Lore fills the vacancy in the Laphroaig lineup left by the 18-year-old expression, which was discontinued last year. A bottle retails for a hefty $125.

Lore doesn’t carry an age statement but mixes older and newer whisky, described on the Laphroaig website as “a marriage of classical Laphroaig styles and many ages of Laphroaig; some as old as vintage 1993. The marriage draws from the peaty power of Laphroaig with the smoothness of double matured stock finished in European oak hogsheads.”

The result is a totally new Laphroaig from what you might be used to, but one I found extremely enjoyable. The classic smoke and peat provide the background of the whisky but there is whole lot more going on here.

The nose features smoke and seaweed along with pear and shortbread. The palate layers sherried notes of fruit and fudge over brine, spice, and maltiness. The finish is both rich and clean with peat, honey, sugar cookies, and oak.

I understand those who are frustrated by the trend towards NAS (non age statement) whiskies on both sides of the Atlantic. That said, Lore is an example of how a whisky not locked into an age statement can provide plenty of depth and complexity by blending old and new whisky.

Somewhat by chance, I smoked a Cameroon-wrapped cigar while sampling Lore, and I can’t recommend the combination enough, as the light spice of the Cameroon wrapper goes perfectly with the rich peat. Specifically, try La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet, Arturo Fuente Don Carlos, or Drew Estate Nirvana.

Patrick S

photo credit: Laphroaig

Cigar Spirits: Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition Bourbon

22 Jun 2016

Knob Creek 2001

Best I can recall, Knob Creek was my first good bourbon. Which is to say, the first bourbon that wouldn’t qualify as bottom-shelf or rail. Many years later, Knob Creek is still a favorite of mine, with its combination of full flavor, nine years of age, and a price that, if you shop around, can be below $30.

Part of the Small Batch Bourbon Collection produced by parent company Jim Beam, along with Booker’s, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden, Knob Creek (which also comes in rye and barrel-proof varieties) is the oldest bourbon of the collection at nine years. Lately, though, Beam has been leaning on its stocks of well-aged whiskeys, along with the demand from bourbon drinkers, to produce some limited edition older offerings.

Two years ago, Beam released Booker’s 25th Anniversary, which was a ten year, three month version of the uncut, barrel-proof Booker’s that debuted to rave reviews. More recently, as part of the Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve program (where stores can pick their own barrels), some older barrels have become available. And now the national release of the 14-year-old Knob Creek 2001 ($130) follows.

According to the company, Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition Bourbon commemorates the year the responsibility of stewarding Knob Creek was passed from Booker Noe to his son Fred Noe, who succeeded Booker as master distiller. Made from barrels that Booker laid down in 2001, it was finished by Fred as a tribute to his father, who passed in 2004.

Three batches of the bourbon were released last year in limited quantities (my home state of Virginia got only 150), each with its own distinctive profile. I was able to pick up a bottle of Batch Two.

Knob Creek 2001 pours a deep copper color and features a lively nose full of roast nuts and caramel (think peanut brittle). On the palate, the time in the barrel begins to show, with concentrated oak, woody spice, burnt brown sugar, and pie crust. The finish shows even more depth with oak and caramel combining with dark fruit and more spice.

Knob Creek 2001 isn’t as exceptional as Booker’s 25, even before you factor in the slightly higher price ($130 vs. $100), which is as much a factor of the demand for high-end, well-aged bourbon as anything. Still, it is a tasty bourbon, and a significant step above the regular Knob Creek offering, even if it lacks the value factor that the everyday offering provides.

All that full flavor calls for a full-bodied cigar. I’d recommend the Bolivar Royal Corona (Cuban), El GüegüensePaul Garmirian 25th Anniversary Connoisseur, or Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Cruzan Estate Diamond Dark Rum

20 Jun 2016

Cruzan Estate

For more than a few years, Cruzan Single Barrel has been a staple in my liquor cabinet for its quality, consistency, and great value. For about $30, it delivers a complex, well-rounded flavor of honey, oak, fruit, caramel, and butterscotch. It’s good enough to sip neat, yet affordable enough to prevent you from feeling guilty for including it in a cocktail.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the St. Croix-based distiller, Cruzan originally began producing rum from pot stills eight generations ago and today uses a continuous column distillation process. The name of company (pronounced kru-shun) comes from the island—inhabitants are called “Crucians”—which has a rich and varied history.

St. Croix has been controlled by seven different nations since Christopher Columbus first landed on its beautiful shores in 1493 (Spain, England, Holland, France, Malta, Denmark, and now America). It thrived due to sugar output, which made it a naturally fitting locale for rum production. (Cane is no longer grown on St. Croix; today, Cruzan’s business is supported by molasses imports.)

Cruzan was the first major rum producer to introduce flavored rums. Now, Cruzan’s portfolio spans a multitude of rum styles, including dark, light, spiced, and even a licorice-forward cocktail spirit called Black Strap. But the company’s three flagship rums make up its Distiller’s Collection: Estate Diamond Light, the aforementioned Single Barrel, and Estate Diamond Dark.

The latter retails for about $20 per 750 ml. bottle and is 40% alcohol by volume (80-proof). It is a blend of rums between the ages of five and twelve years that are aged in oak barrels. Cruzan calls it ideal for “slow sips or as a mixer in one-to-one cocktails,” and describes the flavor as “rich notes of oak and vanilla.”

Estate Diamond Dark Rum pours with a light, golden color and a crisp, gentle nose of honey and tropical fruits. On the palate, I find loads of banana with hints of orange, wood, cinnamon spice, vanilla, coffee, and pecan. The overall effect is approachable and bright, though the finish can be surprisingly long with a fair amount of heat and spice.

As for cigar pairings, I’d recommend staying away from full-bodied flavor-bombs and/or dark maduros. Instead, aim for medium-bodied smokes with natural wrappers to avoid overpowering the rum’s subtle flavors that make it so enjoyable. A cigar like the Señorial Corona Gorda No. 5 fits the bill nicely.

One reason I tend to prefer rum and bourbon to scotch is the simple fact that you don’t need to shell out top dollar to have a great rum or bourbon experience. The Cruzan Estate Diamond Dark Rum is a perfect example. This is a great way to spend $20 and worthy of an easy recommendation. Enjoy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys