Archive | Spirits RSS feed for this section

Cigar Spirits: Stolen Smoked Rum

12 Mar 2018

One of the more interesting, unique rums on the market is Smoked Rum from Stolen Spirits, “the world’s first smoked rum.” It is “the result of an artisanal approach fueled by the desire to reinvent the rum category.” It also doesn’t taste like any other rum you’ve had.

An 84-proof (42% alcohol by volume) 750 ml. bottle sells for about $30. Since Stolen Smoked Rum is basically in a category of its own, I figure it’s best to hear the background straight from the horse’s mouth:

“We start with a column-distilled rum from Trinidad, made from locally sourced sugar cane and molasses. The rum is then aged for up to two years in used American oak whiskey barrels. Capturing the essence of a fresh brewed cup of joe, we infuse the rum using re-fractionated Colombian Arabica coffee, wholly distilled from same-day roasted beans. The warm, roasted flavor is complemented by the creamy sweetness and velvety texture of premium Madagascan vanilla beans and Moroccan fenugreek. The rum is rounded off with notes of American hardwood, acquired through a smoking process called pyrolysis—the burning of hardwood in the absence of oxygen.”

The result is a deep copper-colored spirit with an attention-grabbing nose of charred firewood, molasses, barbecue sauce, milk chocolate, butterscotch, and candied pecans.

Once sipped neat, a smoky mesquite flavor is instantly recognizable and pretty damn dominant. When they say “smoked,” they mean it; this rum has all the subtlety of a massive bonfire. Some of the background notes remind me of barbeque chips, caramel corn, coffee, vanilla, oak, and char.

The finish is medium in length, warm, and sharply focused on the tip of the tongue. The most pronounced notes include cayenne heat, coffee, and molasses.

I would agree with those who have claimed Stolen Smoked Rum tastes more like a smoky coffee liqueur than a rum. And in that regard it’s likely a divisive, love-it-or-hate-it spirit. For me, it’s more appetizing and better-balanced when mixed with Diet Coke—as opposed to enjoying it neat. Fortunately, the affordable price point doesn’t preclude mixing.

Whatever the serving style, conventional wisdom would suggest pairing this spirit with a full-bodied smoke. But I’m going to suggest the opposite approach. In my experience, you’re better off going with a creamy, milder cigar to help offset the heavy-handed flavors of smoke, barbecue, and coffee. I had good experiences with Undercrown Shade, Pinar del Rio 1878 Cubano Especial Capa Natural, and Artisan’s Selection.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Isaac Bowman Bourbon Finished in Port Barrels

21 Feb 2018

In November. the A. Smith Bowman Distillery announced a new addition to its Bowman series of bourbon whiskey: Issac Bowman, a straight bourbon whiskey finished port barrels. The Virginia distillery traces its roots to before prohibition, and relocated from Fairfax County (now a suburb of Washington) to Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Today, it is owned by Sazerac, which owns Kentucky’s famous Buffalo Trace Distillery, home to some of the biggest names in bourbon today: Pappy Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, Weller, Eagle Rare, and Blanton’s. Although details are limited, it is believed that most of the Bowman bourbons were distilled at the Buffalo Trace distillery, shipped to Bowman for additional distillation, then aged in Virginia.

The Bowman line is named after the Bowman brothers, who fought in the Revolutionary War: Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon, John Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon, and Abraham Bowman Limited Edition Bourbons. There’s also a George Bowman Revolutionary Rum, named after their father. While youngest brother Isaac had been left out, the popularity of multiple Abraham Bowman limited edition bourbons finished in port barrels inspired the new permanent addition to the line.

While the Abraham Bowman Port Finish bourbons which were aged for over 12 years, the new Issaac Bowman line is reportedly aged for about half as long. The bourbon is copper in color with short legs.

The 92-proof bourbon features a sharp nose of cherry, vanilla, and wine tannin. On the palate, I find a combination of toasted grains, fresh cut oak, cherry cola, and caramel. The finish has roasted flavors and notes of red wine aged in french oak.

Those flavors pair well with an Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped cigar. Some favorites include: Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu, Sobermesa, Illusione Garagiste, and My Father.

One benefit of living in Virginia is the state-run liquor stores carry Bowman bourbons that would otherwise be harder to find. The new Issaac Bowman port-finished ($40) was released first to Virginia, but is expected to roll out to other states soon.

I slightly prefer Angel’s Envy Bourbon ($50) to Isaac Bowman, but fans of Angel’s Envy should try this bourbon, too. Both prominently display the flavors imparted by finishing the bourbon in port barrels, though Angel’s Envy is more balanced while Isaac Bowman is more forward and brash. Neither is as excellent as the limited release Abraham Bowman Port Finish (pictured right) but, of course, that sold out years ago and is nearly impossible to find.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2017)

31 Jan 2018

The Michter’s whiskey brand was created in the 1950s by Lou Forman (the name is derived from his sons, MICHael and peTER). At that time, it was associated with the distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, which ultimately closed in the late 1980s. (Some of the last whiskey distilled there ended up as the historic A.H. Hirsch bourbon.)

Later, the Michter’s brand was resurrected in the late 1990s, with whiskey made in Kentucky. I first wrote about Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon in 2009. Today, I look at the 2017 release. This limited and tough-to-find bourbon is released each fall, along with a 10-year rye and, depending on the year, 20- or 25-year bourbon.

Ostensibly, it’s the same bourbon; in reality, much has changed. Earlier, Michter’s 10 Year bourbons were known for being excellent picks, including from the stock of Stitzel Weller wheated bourbon that also was the source of earlier Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.

While Michter’s has started operating its own distillery, to date all Michter’s 10 Year has been sourced elsewhere. Although the source has never been revealed, it certainly isn’t Stizel Weller anymore. Brown-Forman (Old Forester), Heaven Hill, and Barton’s have all been speculated to be the source(s).

Michter’s 10 is bottled at 94.4-proof. The 2017 version retails for around $120, though don’t be surprised to find it selling for even more.

The spirit is chestnut brown in color. The nose is an inviting combination of toffee, buttered popcorn, and toasted oak. It has a creamy, velvety texture that features a combination of vanilla, oak, subtle baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg), and brown sugar notes.

More than anything, the 2017 release of Michter’s 10 Year is smooth. The finish is long with soft wood spices and burnt brown sugar notes.

It’s a very tasty bourbon with one significant drawback: a $120+ price tag. Personally, I find it hard to justify this cost when I can easily buy three bottles of very good bourbons—like Eagle Rare 10 Year or Henry McKenna Single Barrel (10 year)—for less, though that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate this, smooth, flavorful, well-executed bourbon.

To fully appreciate Michter’s, you’ll want to pair it with a mild- or medium-bodied cigar that’s well-balanced. Specifically, I’d recommend Cabaiguan, Davidoff Grand Cru, Paul Garmirian Gourmet, or Tesa Vintage Especial.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Ardbeg An Oa Single Malt Scotch Whisky

3 Jan 2018

Once you start exploring Islay single malt scotch whisky, it won’t take too long to find Ardbeg. The classic, non-chill filtered single malt is among Islay’s peatiest, smokiest offerings.

Ardbeg only has a few lines in its core range, which makes it notable when one is added, as the An Oa was last summer. An Oa (pronounced “an oh”) is made by blending Ardbeg aged in different cask types—Pedro Ximinez sherry, virgin oak, and bourbon—and then combining them in a special vatting container.

Ardbeg An Oa (46.6% ABV) pours a gold straw color and the nose features citrus peel, pine, candle wax, and tar. The palate is a whirlwind tour of flavors including raw heat, black pepper, clove, brine, honeysuckle, and ginger. The finish is rather short with graphite, hickory, and light iodine.

At around $60, An Oa costs just a few dollars more than the standard Ardbeg 10 Year ($50) and bit less than Uigeadail and Corryvreckan (both around $80). At a time when new single malts are increasingly expensive, An Oa is fairly priced, even as a NAS (non-age statement) whiskey that clearly uses some younger whisky.

In both price and style, An Oa fits nicely in the lineup. It lacks the intensity and complexity of the Uigeadail or Corryvreckan and, while not as stylistically pure as Ardbeg 10, it is less aggressive and more approachable, making it an excellent whisky for those exploring Islay.

There’s more than enough feistiness in An Oa to stand up to a full-bodied cigar. I’d lean towards pairing it with something spicy like an Arturo Fuente Opus X, My FatherEl Galan Dona Nieves, or Cuban Bolivar.

It’s been a very cold winter. If you’re looking for a warming drink (that isn’t actually hot) Ardbeg An Oa fits the bill. And, although it is better neat, it also does well in a hot toddy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

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