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Cigar Spirits: Probitas Rum

21 Aug 2019

Collaborations between cigar makers are a common way to get consumer attention. If you are a fan of one of the collaborators, you might be turned onto the second brand. If you already like both, the joint effort becomes a must-try new cigar.

Such collaborations aren’t as common in the spirits industry. But that’s the case with Probitas, which is a blend of rums from Foursquare in Barbados and Hampden in Jamaica, blended together by Richard Seale of Foursquare.

The white rum (which sells for around $35 a bottle) sells under the name “Veritas” outside the U.S., presumably due to trademark issues. It is an unusual combination of “coffey column” still rum (from Foursquare) and “double retort pot still” (from Hampden). The resulting blend is 47% ABV.

For a white rum it has a notably yellowish tint, likely because Probitas (and Seale) make a point of unadulterated (and, thus, not over-filtered) rum. The nose features lemon custard, booze, and bananas.

Tasted neat, it shows off tropical notes of pineapple and banana, a pleasant creaminess, and rich molasses with oak. The short finish tingles the tongue with light cedar and caramel.

It’s enjoyable neat, which I’ll admit is unusual for a white rum. But it really shines in cocktails. It’s perfect in a daiquiri (two parts Probitas, one part simple syrup, and one part fresh lime juice) and has just the right amount of funkiness for a Kingston Negroni (equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth, and rum).

Foursquare and Hampden happen to be two of my favorite rum distilleries, so it’s hardly a surprise that I enjoy Probitas. Foursquare is known for not adding sugar to its rums, while Hampden is known for traditional Jamaican funk. Both elements are apparent in this premium-priced white rum.

If you want to treat yourself to a white rum that really shines, Probitas is well worth trying. If you’re drinking it neat, pair it with a balanced, mild cigar like the Cabaiguan, Davidoff Grand Cru, Illusione Epernay, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet. It you’re using it to upgrade your rum cocktail, pair it with any fine cigar you like.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Nikka From The Barrel

17 Jul 2019

Bubble. Boom. Whatever you want to call it, whiskey has been on the upswing for years. And, recently, Japanese whiskey in particular has been a victim of the realities of supply and demand.

Some combination of branding, style, distribution, and long-overdue recognition has catapulted Japanese whiskey from an oddity to a sought-after luxury in recent years. That culminated last year when Nikka From the Barrel was designated 2018 Whiskey of the Year by Whiskey Advocate.

The 51.4% ABV spirit demonstrates many of the mysteries and anomalies of Japanese whiskey. The blended whiskey is produced by Nikka Whisky Distilling, but few details are available beyond that.

While all Japanese whiskey meets the legal definition of whiskey (distilled malt or grain aged in oak barrels), the fact is there are few requirements beyond some step in the process taking place in Japan. Japanese whiskey can be single malt, grain whiskey, or a blend, and it can even be aged or distilled in Japan or elsewhere. (Yes, that Japanese whiskey you are drinking may have started in Canada, Ireland, or Scotland.)

In short, it’s the wild west (or perhaps wild far east) of whiskey. The reputation of what’s in the bottle is far more dependent on the label than the region or Japanese designation. With supplies of Japanese-distilled whiskey dwindling, there is every reason for consumers to be skeptical of that new Japanese whiskey you come across.

However, Nikka From The Barrel doesn’t suffer any lack of reputation or pedigree, as detailed in Whiskey Advocate‘s write-up: “In 1985, Nikka Whisky Distilling Company’s blending team, led by Shigeo Sato, designed this whisky using both malt and grain whiskies produced at Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo Distilleries. When taking into account the full array of casks—bourbon barrels, sherry butts, refill hogsheads, and more—over 100 different constituent whiskies are enlisted.”

The result is an amber whiskey with a rich nose full of sherry and bourbon-y vanilla with hints of hints of seaweed and sulphur. On the palate you’ll find a balanced, complex combination of flavors with ginger, stonefruit, oak, tobacco, and red fruit. The finish is clean and balanced with lingering ginger and light wood spice.

It is without a doubt an enjoyable whiskey, and the price ($80) isn’t unwarranted given the hype of Japanese whiskey (though, at that price, there are quite a few scotch single malts I’d prefer). With this bottle being increasingly hard to find, you certainly shouldn’t be eager to pay more than that suggested retail price.

Pair it with a medium-bodied or even mild cigar if you want to appreciate all the nuanced flavors that Nikka From The Barrel can reveal. Some suggestions include: Aging Room Bin No. 1 B Minor, Cabaiguan, Cohiba Siglo, Illusione Epernay, Paul Garmirian Gourmet, and Warped Futuro.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Rabbit Hole PX Sherry Cask Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey

3 Jul 2019

Cigars and bourbon are an excellent pairing, so collaborations between cigar makers and bourbon distillers are only natural. The A.J. Fernandez-made Diesel Whiskey Row did just that last year, aging binder tobaccos in used bourbon barrels that formerly held Rabbit Hole bourbon.

After the debut Whiskey Row was a hit, a follow-up was inevitable. That came last month with the introduction Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask, which features a Brazilian Arapiraca binder leaf aged in barrels that were originally used for sherry and later to finish bourbon. (I reviewed the Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask last month.)

That bourbon–Rabbit Hole’s PX Sherry Cask Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey–is also Rabbit Hole’s most premium offering ($80 per bottle). Using sourced wheated bourbon (Rabbit Hole’s Louisville distillery only opened last year) with a mashbill of 68% corn, 18% wheat, and 14% malted barley, it is aged five years before going into sherry casks previously used to make super sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry for decades.

The amber-colored bourbon has a nose with vanilla, dried fruit, and subtle cherry notes. On the palate, sherry melds with classic bourbon flavors, with caramel, dates, dried cherries, wine, sharp oak, and musty barrels. The finish is dry with just the slightest hint of more red fruit.

It’s an enjoyable bourbon, best enjoyed neat, that pairs well with a full-bodied, rich cigar like the Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask. Other suggested cigar pairings include the Drew Estate Liga Privada, Muestra de Saka Nacatamale, and Paul Garmirian 25th Anniversary.

I should admit I’m a fan of sherried single malts and have also found myself enjoying what other few sherry-finished bourbons I’ve tried: Belle Meade Sherry Cask Bourbon and Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Revival. (I’m looking forward to trying the new Angel’s Envy Sherry Cask, though the $200 price tag is a bit daunting.)

With that background, perhaps unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the Rabbit Hole PX Sherry Cask Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey for it’s rich, fruit-filled flavors. If you like sherried whiskeys, it’s worth seeking out a bottle. Otherwise, try some at a bar before going all-in on a bottle. This was the first Rabbit Hole product I’ve tried and it certainly makes me want to try their other offerings.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: The Real McCoy 12 Year and Doorly’s 12 Year Rum

30 May 2019

Today we’re looking at two 12-year-old Bajan rums that, on their face, are quite similar. Doorly’s 12 Year and The Real McCoy 12 Year are both distilled at the Foursquare Distillery in Barbados and aged for a dozen years.

Foursquare has produced some classic rums, both high-end limited offerings and more widely available rums. The brand is known for its straightforward style that rejects additives and embraces honesty with its consumers, including when it comes to age statements (e.g., the rum in these bottles has been aged a minimum of 12 years, whereas many other rums market the age of the oldest distillate in the bottle).

So given that they are both produced at Foursquare, what exactly is the difference between Doorly’s and The Real McCoy (beside the price; the Doorly’s costs under $30, The Real McCoy costs around $50)?

Well, for one thing, Doorly’s discloses on its label that it is made at Foursquare, along with the fact that Doorly’s rum has been made on Barbados since 1908. Meanwhile, The Real McCoy traces its name back to prohibition, but the brand isn’t nearly that old, and the distillery name is nowhere to be found (even though The Real McCoy is distilled in Barbados and widely linked with Foursquare). They are undoubtedly similar rums, but each features its own twist.

Doorly’s 12 features notes of ginger, lighter oak, ripe fruit, and green banana. The finish is long but not overly sweet, with more dried fruit notes (apricots and dates).

The Real McCoy 12 is woodier with heavier spice, figs, vanilla, cigar box, and orange peel. It has a long and woody finish with a silky mouthfeel.

Both are fantastically flavorful (but not overly sweet) rums that are in the classic Bajan style. I have a slight preference for The Real McCoy, but factoring price into consideration I suppose they are equally impressive, especially as a pairing with a cigar.

The full flavors of The Real McCoy call for a medium- to full-bodied cigar, while Doorly’s balance suggests something more mild- to medium-bodied. Either way, both are exceptional rums to sip neat, paired with a cigar or otherwise.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Four Roses Small Batch Select

13 May 2019

We’re in a golden age of bourbon, with more choices than ever before (including many craft distilleries coming online). But most bourbon still comes from a handful of companies and distilleries. Big operations like Jim Beam (Clermont, Boston, Maker’s Mark), Sazerac (Buffalo Trace and Barton’s), Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, Brown Forman (Shively and Woodfor Reserve), and Four Roses still produce over 90 percent of bourbon sold.

Compared to the others, Four Roses has always had a rather limited lineup of regular offerings: the entry-level Yellow Label, along with Small Batch and Single Barrel. Beyond those, the only Four Roses you would find are annual limited edition releases and private barrel selections released as one-offs. (The other Four Roses distillate you’d regularly encounter is Bulleit bourbon, which was for many years contract-distilled for its owner by Four Roses.)

All that makes a new Four Roses regular offering a particularly noteworthy and anticipated event. Predictably, that new offering, Small Batch Select, is Four Roses’ most expensive to date (Yellow Label costs around $20 per bottle, Small Batch around $35, and Single Barrel around $45; Small Batch Select costs $55-60).

One of the unique aspects of Four Roses is that it produces eight different bourbon “recipes” with two different yeast strains and four unique mashbills (all of which are employed in the Yellow Label offering). Small Batch uses four recipes, but the new Small Batch Select uses six (two of which are used in both). The mingling of six- and seven-year-old bourbons is then bottled without chill filtration at 104 proof.

The deep copper-colored bourbon features an inviting nose with vanilla, toffee, black cherries, orange peel, and mint. On the palate flavors include burnt caramel, light floral notes, boiled peanuts, candied fruit, bubble gum, and black pepper spice. The finish is rich and long, with cinnamon, salted caramel, and light oak.

It’s a delicious bourbon, one of the best new non-limited offerings put out in the last year. Hopefully they’ve made enough. Small Batch Select was recently introduced in Kentucky, New York, California, Texas, and Georgia, though reportedly the rest of the country will be getting some soon.

With complex, full flavors, you’ll want to pair this bourbon with a similarly rich, integrated cigar. Here are a few cigars that fit the bill: La Flor Dominicana Limitado, Paul Garmirian 25th Anniversary, Ramón Allones Specially Selected, and Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Wild Turkey 101 Straight Kentucky Rye

10 Apr 2019

A few years ago, I wrote about Wild Turkey’s 81 and Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Rye. At the time, I noted that “Wild Turkey also sells a 101-proof rye, but it’s limited in quantity, available only in certain states, and reportedly only comes in one-liter bottles.” Today we look at that offering.

The good news is, anecdotally at least, 101 Rye seems to be getting easier to find than it was only a few years ago when Wild Turkey announced it was limiting 101 Rye to certain states and only one-liter bottles. One of the changes in the shift to only one-liter bottles was an increased price, with bottles selling for around $40 each.

Wild Turkey uses a mashbill that just barely qualifies as rye (which needs to use a majority of rye) with 51% rye, 37% corn, and 12% malted barley. While this is a classic rye recipe, it is at odds with the high rye trend that has become increasingly popular, especially with the 95% rye recipe made by MGP Ingredients used by Bulleit, George Dickel, Angel’s Envy, Templeton, High West, Whistle Pig, and others.

Wild Turkey 101 is a deep copper color that features a nose of fudge, oak, vanilla, and red hot candies. The palate has honeysuckle, roast corn, light oak l, and clove spices. The finish is where you notice the high 101-proof, with a hint of bubble gum sweetness, menthol, cinnamon, and more oak tannins.

Wild Turkey 101’s one-liter bottle is designed to appeal to bartenders looking for rye for use in cocktails, and the rye surely is great in rye cocktails like the Manhattan, Sazerac, or Old Fashioned. However, don’t underestimate this rye neat (or, if you’re sensitive to high-proof whiskey, with a splash of water) as it is a lively, classic, complex rye, similar in many ways to Sazerac Rye, which costs about the same.

Pair it with a spicy cigar of any origin, with suggested pairings including El Güegüense, Illusione Original Documents, La Flor Dominicana Air Bender, or CAO Consigliere.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Ardbeg Drum Committee Release (2019)

20 Mar 2019

As whisky grows in popularity, limited edition whisky releases grow even faster. You’d be hard-pressed to go a week or two without multiple new bourbons, ryes, or single malts being announced.

Increasingly, I don’t bother trying to track down these limited releases. The price and/or rarity makes it not worth it, with only a few exceptions: either because they are reliably good for the money, or because something about the offering is particularly interesting.

The latter is the case for Ardbeg Drum Committee Release. Each year, Ardbeg puts out two variations of their annual releases that is a unique twist on Ardbeg’s peat-forward style. (The Committee Release is a higher ABV offering that is more limited, while a standard issue release is priced slightly lower and bottled at a more traditional ABV, usually around 90%.)

Given my appreciation for Ardbeg’s Uigeadail (a high-proof release that shows off the results of Ardbeg’s peat in sherry casks), I was particularly interested in Drum, which for the first time put Ardbeg Single Malt into American rum casks (reportedly rum casks from the Guyana distillery where El Dorado is made).

This year’s Ardbeg Committee Release ($120) weighs in at 52% ABV. Exact aging details aren’t disclosed except that the whisky is aged in ex-bourbon casks for a period before secondary aging in rum casks. The resulting sprit is pale in color and slightly murky in appearance.

The nose is a hint of what’s to come with light smoke, brown banana peel, and red hot candies. The palate is a classic Ardbeg peaty profile (gritty smoke and petrol) with added lavender, anise, pear, and hints of pineapple. The finish is long and complex with pine smoke, cinnamon, lemon, and leather.

It’s a complex offering that shows off a subtle complexity from the rum barrel finish. Frankly, while I enjoyed it, I was hoping the rum element would be a little more prominent, but that is more because of my affinity towards single malts that combine peat and sweet (more traditionally from sherry casks).

For fans of the entire Ardbeg line, this (or the forthcoming $100 non-Committee Drum release) is an offering worth seeking out. For those just dabbling in Ardbeg’s offerings, I’d recommend trying Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, which are both more complex and more affordable ($70-80).

Like most peaty single malts, a mild cigar will get lost next to Drum, so stick with something more flavorful. I particularly enjoyed the My Father and Paul Garmirian 25th Anniversary paired with the Ardbeg Drum Committee Release.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys