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

Drew Estate

Cigar Insider: Ernest Gocaj of General Cigar

23 Oct 2017

For anyone interested in cigars and tobacco, CAO’s Fuma Em Corda is a fascinating release. The sight of its Arapiraca ligero filler leaves fermenting in thick ropes resembling coiled anacondas is unlike any other.

I was, of course, curious about the cigar, the tobacco, and the process, so I reached out to Ernest Gocaj, General Cigar’s director of tobacco procurement who’s deeply involved in the company’s adoption of many exotic strains from around the world.

Gocaj said he came upon the special tobacco used in the Fuma Em Corda in Alagoas, a small Brazilian state on the eastern coast. The rope fermentation process is used only in Alagoas and only for ligero leaves—those at the top of the tobacco plant often characterized by spice and strength.

Tobacco farmers in Alagoas use more conventional methods of fermenting the lower leaves to allow moisture and ammonia to dissipate.

“The tobacco from Alagoas is Arapiraca, a native seed that’s only grown there,” Gocaj said in an email. “For CAO Fuma Em Corda, we use only ligero leaves which are harvested and sun-cured, and we use this tobacco as filler.”

“Once the tobacco turns brown, the natives make it into a rope and twist it regularly to expel the juices of the tobacco. At this time, ammonia is released and the flavor is softened. In other words, the harshness is removed from the leaf. Everything is done in sunlight. The tobacco becomes very pure and refined through this method.”

Gocaj has been with General Cigar for about 20 years after earning a degree in agriculture in his native Albania and moving to the U.S. He has worked at the company’s Connecticut farming operation and has been instrumental in developing General’s vast tobacco library.

For CAO’s Amazon Basin series, the blends include tobaccos from numerous countries in addition to Brazil. Fuma Em Corda, the second in a planned trilogy, features a Cameroon binder and a Honduran wrapper. It is a limited release with a Robusto (5 x 50, $8.99) for brick-and-mortar retailers and a Toro (6 x 58, $10.49) for online sales.

I’ve smoked several of the Robustos, and they definitely stand out. From the rich, leathery pre-light aroma to the spicy, cedar start, the cigar makes a statement. Along the way, I also encountered chocolate, coffee, and some nuttiness. Strength is medium, with a good burn and strong smoke production.

“Curing under the sun and rope fermentation in an open environment has many advantages,” Gocaj wrote. “The result is tobacco with subtle flavors that blends well with other tobaccos. These methods produce a tobacco that is very pleasant to smoke.”

Like a lot of cigars containing unusual tobaccos or using different production methods—fire-cured tobacco is one example that comes to mind—the smoking experience is distinctive. Some will find it to their liking. Others won’t. I doubt many will be neutral.

For me, Fuma Em Corda is a cigar I’d reach for when I want something different, not on a steady basis. That’s not a knock. I’ve enjoyed those I’ve smoked and would certainly recommend any experienced cigar smoker give it a try.

George E

photo credit: General CigarStogie Guys

Quick Smoke: MBombay Corojo Oscuro Gordo

22 Oct 2017

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

This MBombay creation was launched about three years ago and sports a beautiful, dark, oily Ecuadorian wrapper. The Gordo (6 x 60) is one of five vitolas in the Corojo Oscuro line. It retails for about $10. In addition to admirable construction properties, it has a dense, rich profile that’s medium- to full-bodied with hints of dark chocolate, espresso, cereals, dry wood, cayenne spice, and salted sunflower seeds. The finish is smooth and the texture is bready. I’m not a fan of this size in almost any blend, but the Gordo is balanced and interesting enough to keep my attention for the duration of the long, satisfying smoke.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Hammer + Sickle Hermitage No. 1 Robusto

21 Oct 2017

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

The first thing that stands out about this box-pressed Robusto is the wonderfully sweet aroma from its Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. The smoke, though, doesn’t begin that way, but rather with a somewhat charred, meaty taste. That gives way fairly quickly to a woody sweetness with a little pepper in the background, all of which changes throughout the smoke. According to Hammer + Sickle, the blend was redone a few years after the Hermitage’s introduction. It now features a Honduran Criollo binder and filler from Germany, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. They combine to create a well-balanced, medium-strength smoke I highly recommend. With an MSRP around $9, it’s well worth picking up.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Hammer + Sickle

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Puro Sabor Details Announced, Anti-Tobacco Groups Blocked from FDA Lawsuit, and More

20 Oct 2017

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post our sampling of cigar news and other items of interest from the week. Below is our latest, which is the 552nd in the series.

1) The seventh annual Puro Sabor Cigar Festival will be held January 22-27, according to an announcement released on Monday. The festival “is organized by the Nicaraguan Tobacco Chamber to celebrate the international recognition of the tobacco grown and cigars manufactured in Nicaragua. It also provides participants with an opportunity to learn more about the host country.” The event will begin in Granada (pictured above) and, on the third day, move to Estelí. In addition to “the chance to savor choice cigars on the farms and in the factories where they are produced,” attendees will also be entertained by gala dinners, cultural events, and panel discussions of interest to those who want to learn more about cigar production in Nicaragua.” For more information, visit NicaraguanCigarFestival.com.

2) Six anti-tobacco groups cannot intervene in the lawsuit brought by the Cigar Association of America, International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association, and Cigar Rights America against the FDA. In a 22-page order, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta found the groups “have not carried their burden to establish organizational standing or associational standing and, therefore, cannot intervene…” The six groups—the American Lung Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, and Truth Initiative Foundation—had argued “they would be forced to spend money and resources on educating the public about the harms of smoking if cigar and pipe tobacco companies aren’t required by law to issue warnings,” according to Courthouse News Service. But Judge Mehta didn’t find this to be “a legally sufficient injury-in-fact if plaintiffs were to prevail in this litigation.”

3) Cuban tobacco farmers are planning to increase planting for the coming harvest to more than 29,000 hectares, up from 28,570 in the previous season, according to the Cuban News Agency. (A hectare is nearly 2.5 acres.) The Tobacco Business Group of Cuba announced the deal this month with the island’s 18,680 producers. A Tabacuba official said that despite the increase, the worldwide demand for Cuban cigars continues to outstrip supply.

4) The FDA has announced it is pushing back compliance deadlines for tobacco regulation rules due to the hurricanes that have impacted many areas. According to the statement on the FDA’s website, ingredient listing and health document submission requirements will be pushed back six months for areas affected by natural disasters. Those areas include the Dominican Republic and numerous counties in Florida (where many cigar makers are based).

5) Inside the Industry: Gurkha is now shipping the re-release of Master Select, a line that debuted in 2001. That original five-vitola line was made by the Olivas family. “We went back to Fidel Olivas where we discovered he still had the original recipe, allowing us to re-release this immensely popular cigar,” reads a Gurkha press release. Master Select features a Habano wrapper around a Honduran binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The five sizes will retail in the $7.50-$11.50 range. Along with the Toraño family, the Fidel Olivas family owned the factories that made Toraño cigars; in 2009, these two factories—the Estelí-based Latin Cigars Nicaragua and the Danlí-based Latin Cigars Honduras—were acquired by Scandinavian Tobacco Group.

6) From the Archives: It’s amazing to see how much things can change in just a few years. Take this write-up from 2011 of Elijah Craig 18 Year. At the time, we praised the $43 bourbon for its flavors. Today, it is still excellent, but it carries a suggested retail price of $130 (a 200+% increase!), and frequently sells for even more.

7) Deal of the Week: Here are 100 deals, including cigars from Ashton, Oliva, CAO, My Father, Tatuaje, Rocky Patel, Padrón, Drew Estate, and more. Free shipping is included on any purchase. If you really want to stock up, add promo code “GBP20D” at checkout to knock $20 off an order of $150 or more.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Puro Sabor

Cigar Review: El Galan Dona Nieves Negra Macha

18 Oct 2017

Cuban cigarmaker Felix Mesa created El Galan Cigars in 2010 and makes the half dozen El Galan blends in his factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. In an interview last year, he explained why he left Cuba and started his own cigar company:

“I am Cuban, 41 years old, son and grandson of the third generation of a humble peasant family from the former province of Las Villas, today called Spiritus Santis in the Cabaiguan town where I was born and grew up in a field called the Purial, which is a tobacco region in Cuba. I left Cuba with a dream which could not realize there for the reasons that many know; there you can’t do registration marks, much less sell tobacco and to be able to pay tribute to a family who deserved it as many others to achieve experiences and wisdom in this beautiful tobacco industry.”

El Galan’s Dona Nieves cigar is named after Mesa’s grandmother, who worked in Cuban tobacco fields until she was 86 years old (and clearly remains a strong influence on Mesa). Even the three vitolas—including the box-pressed Negra Macha (5.5 x 54)—are all nicknames for Mesa’s grandma.

The cigar uses an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It isn’t easy to find, but you can locate it online for around $6.

The cigar features intense pre-light aromas, including barnyard with light fruit. It is densely packed with a light box press and a light brown, slightly splotchy wrapper.

Once lit, the Dona Nieves produces a complex array of flavors that include burnt toast, shortbread, cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper, and cafe-au-lait. It’s full-flavored and medium-bodied. Construction is excellent with a sturdy ash despite a slightly wobbly burn line.

If I’m being honest, I picked up these cigars on a complete whim just because a Nicaraguan-heavy, Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped cigar made by a Cuban sounds a lot like some of the other cigars I’ve liked over the years (e.g., early Don Pepin and A.J. Fernandez).

I’m glad I did. This is a flavorful, complex, well-made, balanced smoke at a very fair price. If you’re looking for something new to try, check out El Galan Dona Nieves Negra Macha (since you probably haven’t smoked it yet). It was a pleasant surprise for me and earns four and a half stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Tatuaje Black Petit Lancero

16 Oct 2017

In 2010, a Minneapolis-area cigar shop called Tobacco Grove introduced a store-exclusive Tatuaje Black in a Petit Lancero (6 x 38) format. Only 200 boxes of 25 were made for a total production run of 5,000. They sold out almost instantly.

Later, Pete Johnson turned the vitola into a regular release. The only difference between the two cigars—aside from the production numbers, of course—is the Tobacco Grove Petit Lancero had a pigtail cap and a closed foot.

For those unfamiliar with Tatuaje Black, the line was launched in 2007 in a Corona Gorda size that came in ceramic jars. Known as Johnson’s personal blend, some consider this cigar to be one of the best ever made.

But all cigars change over time due to uncontrollable variables. And Don José “Pepin” Garcia-made cigars, including Tatuaje Black, have also changed slightly due to the lawsuit and falling out between Pepin and his former partner Eduardo Fernandez, owner of Aganorsa S.A. and partner in El Rey de Los Habanos. (Blends had to be tweaked when access to Aganorsa tobacco stopped.)

That hasn’t stopped Tatuaje, or Pepin (who makes Tatuaje for Johnson), from putting out excellent cigars. Nor has it prevented the Tatuaje Black from being reissued and expanded. Of all the different Tatuaje formats over the years, though, the Petit Lancero is one of the best.

This wonderful cigar is a mottled, slightly reddish Nicaraguan puro that’s not without its fair share of veins. It is moderately spongy in firmness. The wrinkled, textured wrapper leaf is incredibly oily; it’s almost velvety. The cold draw is smooth. At the foot, pre-light notes include cocoa and molasses.

At the outset, the spice-forward flavor is medium-bodied with well-balanced notes of oak, cinnamon, chocolate, and white pepper. The texture is thick and leathery. After half an inch, the spice recedes a notch to make way for a little sweet cream. The retrohale is occasionally characterized by a flourish of roasted nuts.

At the midway point, the Petit Lancero calms considerably in terms of both body and spice. Then, in the final third, there is a reprise of strength and spice, along with peanut, dark chocolate, and dry cedar. All the while, the construction is excellent. Expect a straight burn line, easy draw, solid white ash, and good smoke production.

It’s hardly a surprise to me that I really like this Tatuaje Black. I love the size—it’s enough to be satisfying without overstaying its welcome, and the narrow ring gauge helps to concentrate the flavors—plus most Johnson/Pepin creations tend to resonate well on my palate (I’m not the only one). This classic-tasting, medium-bodied cigar scores very well due to its ample complexity and harmonious balance. I rate it four and a half stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys