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09/2012 Romancing the Stone PDF Print E-mail

Glenmorangie's Artien paired with an Casa Miranda Chapter One cigar and Chuao's Framboise Bonbon


Perhaps it is not just its opulent taste, but as much the romance of rebellion that enticed maverick Master Distiller Dr. Bill Lumsden to experiment with extra maturing Glenmorangie whisky in Sassicaia barriques?  The storybook tale of this wine's origin is just as intoxicating as its palate. 


bolgheriThe legend of Sassicaia begins in the 1940's in Italy, where Chianti had unfortunately at the time become synonymous with the adjectives plentiful and cheap.  Having sampled many sumptuous wines in travels throughout Europe, Artisan vintner Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, set out to create a noble red for his own vineyard.  To do this he broke all the established rules of Italian winemaking of that era. The Marquis planted low yield Bordeaux varietals in Bolgheri.  This is a coastal area of pebble filled alluvial soil, that was believed to be the worst possible terroir in Tuscany.  Going rogue on Chianti tradition, he aged his vintage in smaller French oak barriques and left his wine to mature for two years, when most local wines barely made it to next harvest.  It was such a departure from norm that area villagers did not embrace this heavier more intense new red. The Marquis however persisted, making this spirit for his own consumption and cellar, continually refining his techniques and formulas along the way.


Sassicaia was finally released to the public 25 years later to prove that sometimes patience leds to perfection.  Sassicaia (meaning stony ground) is a magical blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc that has won high acclaim from connoisseurs world-wide to become one of the most collectible wines of Italy.  It is the most famous label of a group of exceptional regional producers named "Super Tuscans".  Sassicaia is also the first and only Italian wine to be awarded its own DOC (quality) certification.  Quite a tribute to the della Rocchetta family and vineyard.


glenmo-artein-bottleArtein's name, not so coincidentally the Gaelic word for Stone, is both a tribute to this iconic Super Tuscan and a nod to the role of limestone in the distillation of Glenmorangie whiskies.  Their unique water source, the Tarlogie Springs, runs through layers of limestone that act to filter out impurities and deposit minerals that are favorable to the distilling process and contribute those complex wonderfully fruity aromas and flavors. Artein is a combination of two thirds select 15 year old whisky with one third 21 year old Glemorangie stock.  All are aged in American white oak ex-bourbon casks before individually spending an additional period of extra maturation in those great Sassicaia barriques.


Take a moment to enjoy the gorgeous rosy golden hue before nosing, as this is a most beautiful spirit to behold.  Artein's aromatics suggest ripe apricots and berries soaked in champagne with a tinge of sweetness added...a faint candy bouquet of bubble gum and strawberry red vines.  All is swirled around with garden fresh mint.


The palate is more substantial than the nose, exploding with flavors of cranberries and raspberries dipped in orange clover honey.  The cabernet influence is beauifully subtle, not dominant.  More like a rich fruit jamminess coating the tongue with a cognac-like depth of flavor versus

thin winey notes.  Pepper and spice add to the complexity with everything mellowing out to a soft sweet woody finish.  Artein is smooth and elegant (not fruit-loops sweet),  and so dangerously drinkable that the label should come with a warning:  "Contents tend to disappear quickly upon opening"! (Click picture to purchase)


framboise-pairingChuao Chocolatier's Framboise bonbon blends perfectly with the Artein, letting the whisky be the star, but holding its own in this ensemble cast.  It lends just the right ripe berry richness with its raspberry pate filling, without being too syrupy sweet.  The quality of the dark chocolate coating is so luxurious that it richly languishes on the tongue. Overall Framboise has just enough fruit flavor without being boringly redundant to the spirit (Click picture to purchase)


Our cigar selection for this pairing comes from the good old USA.  Nestor and Mariana Miranda, originally from Holguin, Cuba, founded Miami Cigar & Company in 1989. While Nestor was producing and distributing cigars with Miami Cigar since it's inception, it wasn't until 2009 that he began releasing cigars bearing his own name. His initial release, the Nestor Miranda Collection achieved high ratings from the cigar community. In 2011, the Casa Miranda line was released. Nestor has collaborated in the past with Don Pepin Garcia to produce cigars, but for the Casa Miranda line he brought in Willy Herrera of ETB Cigars, and manufacture would take place at the El Titan de Bronze factory in Miami. While these is not a limited edition, the use of Level 9 rollers and the smaller production capabilities of the factory probably means these cigars will be in short supply.


casa-m-chapter-1-stick-horThe Casa Miranda Chapter One is a very elegant cigar, with a winemakers style to graphics on the box and label. The wrapper itself is a fabulous toothy, rustic appearance. A perfect triple cap adorns this moderately dense stick. Ecuadorian Habano tobacco wraps this cigar, and is sweet and spicy both in scent and in flavor. Nicaraguan binders and fillers give this cigar a medium strength, but the flavor is surprisingly woody. The Chapter One does begin with a sweet spiciness and a peppery top note, but gradually fades. Woody base flavors then take over, accented by a citrus-berry note. As the cigar transitions to the second third, a clear cocoa powder sweetness emerges before ending in woody, nutty, coffee flavors. Once paired with the Artein, the berry-citrus note really becomes pronounced for a very interesting combination. Pepper, spice and wood notes also complement the whisky well, making for an elegant and lively pairing. (Click picture to purchase cigar.)




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04/2012 Pairing Dream PDF Print E-mail

The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve paired with an Illusione mk ~ultra~ cigar and Chuao's Java Bonbon


Being a stogie fan is not requisite to the enjoyment of the latest reincarnation of The Dalmore's cigar malt series, but it does promise to more than double your pleasure, double your fun. This latest release should more than satisfy the many fans clamoring for its return, as well as those who enjoy a darn good sherried dram when they taste one.  That's why we chose The Dalmore's Cigar Malt Reserve to feature this month with an Illusione mk ~ultra~ cigar and Chuao Chocolatier's Java bonbon.


Who better to design a great whisky companion than avid cigar smoker Richard Paterson?  He's certainly one to appreciate a tight ash and small veined wrapper when he smokes one.  This expression proves he knows how to pair them too.  Widely available in the U.S. this spring, the new Cigar Malt Reserve has many of the signature Dalmore traits but comes away stronger, richer and spicier than their stogie accompaniments of the past.  It does indeed pair well with a fine smoke and we have jumped on the bandwagon to provide our own cigar recommendation.


rpatWhen you meet Richard Paterson, he will literally bowl you over with his personality and passion.  While his blog does come with a warning of severe consequences if you "drink whisky too quickly or hold your tasting glass the wrong way", he is nothing but a gentleman and indefatigable champion of the industry.  In 1970, this third generation Master Blender was the youngest in Scotland at 26 to make the grade.  He began his career at Whyte & Mackay and has remained part of their family ever since.  His role as Master Blender has expanded beyond their doors to a responsibility for over a hundred spirits for Jim Beam World-Wide.   In light of this major role, it is exceptional that he still finds time for many public appearances.  This scotch evangelist and celebrity has been honored many times, with the most unique recognition being hailed as a manga hero in the Japaneses comic book Oishimbo #70, which is all about whisky.  If you would like to read more about the career of Richard Paterson, click here for his book "Goodness Nose - The Passionate Revelations of a Scotch Whisky Master Blender."


dalmore300x400The Cigar Malt Reserve is made up of malts between 10 and 14 years old that have matured in Oloroso Matusalem Sherry butts and American Oak (ex-Bourbon) casks in a proportion of 70% to 30% respectively. After aggressively swirling my glass while carefully holding it by the bottom stem, I raise it up to my nose for its first "Hello" and detect an aroma that is definitely citrusy with a sweetness born more of caramelized almonds than honey.  Cinammon spices emerge with subsequent nosing, along with a subtle toasty and earthy, but not necessarily peaty note in the background, all finished with the slightest freshness of mint.


On the palate, a taste of gingerbread cookies dipped in sherry (like oreos dipped in milk) works to delight the tastebuds before the full cornucopia of fruit flavors comes forward.  Orange peel and cherries swirl around with tropical fruits such as pineapple and kiwi.  All seemed to be coated in the most luxurious dark chocolate before a final licorice spiciness brings it to a finish.  This malt is not as sweet as one would expect but has a rather earnest earthiness even given the stubbornness of fruit flavors. Sherry adds a depth without dominance.  This whisky is creamy and complex with a rather short and delicate finish.  (Click here or picture to purchase)


java-100The Cigar Malt Reserve turned out to also be a chocolate pairing dream.  This was not a total surprise as the prevalence of fruit flavors lends itself to many of the Chuao Chocolatier bonbons.  What wasn't expected was how exquisitely the Java bonbon worked when there were no significant notes of coffee in this whisky expression.  Somehow this creamy coffee butter cream has just the right richness and toastiness to balance out the fruit.  Its rich dark chocolate coating provided just an echo of flavor in this superb pairing.  (Click here or picture to purchase)


The Parchita bonbon from Chuao Chocolatier provides another delicious mate.  Its filling of passion fruit caramel mimics the tropical fruit flavors prevalent in the Cigar Malt Reserve.  It is sophisticated and not cloyingly sweet. Another confection - the Dark Grignottine's caramelized orange peel flirts mightily with the sherry overtones of this whisky giving a whole other flavor perspective with this selection. 


Was fortunate enough to enjoy the original Dalmore Cigar Malt, prior to its retirement in 2007, with a fine Cuban Montecristo during a wonderful trip to Scotland. Maybe it was the nostalgia of sipping and puffing on the beautiful woodland patio of the Craigellachie Hotel, that left me wanting to receate that experience ever since. Once the new Cigar Malt release had finally hit U.S. west coast stores, it took no arm twisting to embrace the task of matching to this rich new elixir of the series.  A little research found that Master Blender Paterson and other cigar smokers, had already successfully matched several brands to this new whisky.  It might be fun to try these - namely the Partagas No2, Alec Bradley Prensado, Davidoff Grand Cru Series No. 3 and the Henry Clay Breva Conserva, to experience what each of these individual cigars brings to the pairing.


For a bit of a departure we paired the Illusione mk ~ultra~ with the new Cigar Malt Reserve. If you have never tried the Illusione line, you will find it has an interesting flavor profile that is very unique. Originally intended to recreate a blend of cigars that were made in Nicaragua before the mkultra-horizSandanista take-over, Illusione cigars use first generation Corojo and Criollo seed tobaccos. This tobacco blend gives a nutmeg sweet spiciness to the cigars, making them distinctively different. These cigars are in the medium strength range, making them good candidates for pairing with Highland and Speyside whiskies, and the Illusione ~mk~ series would also be a good candidate for pairing with the Cigar Malt Reserve. But Dion Giolito at Illusione has been releasing limited editions of a bolder blend, called the Illusione mk ~ultra~ which we are featuring here. (click picture to purchase online)


The mk ~ultra~ uses a darker corojo wrapper and adds a bit more ligero to the blend for extra strength. The flavors achieved with this blend range further into the dark, bitter chocolate, black cherry and leather notes, with a bit of earthy cinnamon spices to tingle the sinuses.  Licorice and anise notes have also been detected in the cigar, which our feature dram also exhibits on its finish.  While moderate to full in strength, the cigar acts like a catalyst to tease out the fuller flavors of the whisky, yet not overpower the scotch. The sweetness of this spirit also helps to soften some of the bitter notes in the cigar. If you do enjoy a stronger cigar, don't be afraid of pairing it with The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve and experimenting a little.  It has a depth of character that will certainly have us revisiting it again and again, enjoying each new match with this classic malt whisky.



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03/2012 Redbreast Toast on St. Patrick's Day PDF Print E-mail

Redbreast 15 year old Whiskey paired with a La Aroma de Cuba cigar and Chuao's Gran Cacao Bonbon


With St. Patrick's day around the corner on the 17th, it seemed fitting to indulge in a wonderful Irish Whiskey for our March Featured Pairing.  The Redbreast 12 year old has always been a favorite, so we decided to give the newer limited edition 15 year old expression a try.  We have it paired with a La Aroma de Cuba cigar and Chuao Gran Cacao bonbon just in time for this year's "Celebration of the Green".


The Redbreast 15 year old is a pot still whiskey that seems closer than many Irish whiskies in the overall robustness and complexity to the single malts of Scotland.  It begs the question: " What is the difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky?"  Other than the obvious way they are spelled, and their countries of origin, the most significant differentiator seems to be an Irish preference, with some exception, for un-peated spirits.  This is ironic given the same peaty topography of both nations.


The Googled internet body of knowledge insists that the use of both unmalted and malted barley, triple distillation process compared to a common two times for scotch, and the absence of peat kilns are what makes Irish whiskies distinguishable by a lighter weight, less complexity and sweeter palate.  This seems to imply an almost "scotch-lite" character that is way off base when it comes to Redbreast. Since the web has yet to grow tastebuds, it's only fair to try it for yourself.  I dare say that a blind test of Redbreast alongside any number of unpeated single malts from Scotland would challenge even an expert taster to determine which is the Irish dram.  By the way, because of the partial use of unmalted barley, Redbreast cannot technically be called a single malt even though barley is its only grain.  It is often describe as unblended instead.  It is also interesting that in one of his books on world whiskies, dear departed expert Michael Jackson attributes linseed oil as a defining aroma and flavor note due to the unmalted barley ingredient.  But I digress.


mighty-beastWhat is more interesting than the technical differences in their distillation processes, is the fact that history has been much kinder to the scotch industry. In it's heyday Ireland had 28 distilleries, yet today only three principal producers, plus a few smaller independents have managed to survive. One of them stands in the historic brewing and distilling center of the country, less than 15 miles from the city of Cork.  Midleton is a versatile facility where 12 spirits are produced, resulting in some 20 products.  It is home to Redbreast, the Jameson range, Midleton Very Rare, Powers and Green Spot, just to name a few.  Resident on its site is "The Mighty Beast", the world's largest copper pot still which has sat in place since 1825. Midleton is operated by Irish Distillers, a subsidiary of  Pernod Richards.  Last year Pernod Richards announced that it would be doubling capacity due to growing world demand for Irish whiskies.  This may be a signal that its time has come again.  Perhaps a prayer and a toast with Redbreast to St. Patrick on his day will help move this along.



Redbreast is triple distilled and is the only pot still Irish whiskey distributed in the US.  The 15 year old is a limited edition replica of an expression that Irish Distillers originally made expressly for famous French retailer La Maison Du Whisky and commemorates their 50th anniversary.  It is matured in Oloroso Sherry and American ex-Bourbon barrels.


The nose is lush and fragrant with a combination of honey, vanilla, pineapple and newly mown grass.  You will detect that unique linseed aroma, as if it had been rubbed deep into saddle leather.  The body is creamy and slightly oily, with a sweet resinous note reminescent of grapefruit drizzled with honey.  This quickly turns somewhat oaky and very spicy.  A distinct caramel toffee note in the middle disappears into vanilla custard that has been topped with cognac soaked blackberries, then sprinkled with bittersweet chocolate shavings.  Deliciously warming at 46% alcohol by volume, this dram is much beefier than its 12 year old sibling, but none less charming. (Click picture to purchase)



Gran-Cacao-200The Gran Cacao bonbon from Chuao Chocolatier makes for an elegant pairing with the Redbreast 15 year old.  The initial sweetness of the rich ganache filing tempers some of the resinous of this spirit, yet almost instantly the bittersweetness of the rich dark chocolate shell draws it back out again in a wonderfully complementary way.  The luxuriousness of the 73% cocoa adds a silkiness to the mouth feel, that enhances the overall pleasure.  The addition of Gran Cacao adds a level of decadence to the pairing without being distracting to the whiskey. (Click picture to purchase) 


After tasting the Redbreast 15 for the first time, we knew right away that the cigar had to be medium bodied but full of sweet flavors. Maduro flavors would have been too heavy, and habano wrappers too spicy. It turns out that the La Aroma de Cuba Edicion Especial was the right blend for this whiskey. Created for Ashton Cigars by Don Pepin Garcia, the Edicion Especial uses a Cuban-seed Ecuadorian sun grown wrapper and Nicaraguan filler and binder, but was blended to be milder.


ladc-ee-stick5-hzThe first thing you will notice about this cigar is the beautiful reddish-brown wrapper with a slight oily sheen. It is adorned with an artful and old-school gilt band. Construction is excellent, though the stick is springy to the touch. Some of these cigars exhibit minor burn issues, but they are easily corrected.  Classic La Aroma de Cuba cigars use a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper, and are fuller and more spicy and peppery. The Edicion Especiale doesn't bring the pepper. Instead, savory earth and sweet coffee are present, turning into caramel and creamy flavors toward the end. Dark chocolate and cocoa appear alongside cinnamon, cedar and cream flavors in the final third. If that combination doesn't get your attention, wait until you try it with the Redbreast. (Click picture to purchase.)


Alone, the caramel toffee note in the Redbreast is only fleetingly apparent as the resin and fruit notes overwhelm it. But together with the Edicion Especial, the caramel toffee seems to float on the finish, and lengthens into a stronger, lengthier flavor note.  As the cigar deepens into the darker chocolate flavors, similar notes also become more apparent in the whiskey. Neither malt nor leaf overwhelm each other, and the pairing is very luxurious and relaxing.  For those who prefer cigars in the medium to mild range, this matchup is perfect.



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02/2012 Not Just Any Old Port in the Storm PDF Print E-mail

Amrut's Portonova paired with a La Flor Dominicana Chisel Maduro cigar and Chuao's Framboise Bonbon


Indian distillery Amrut continues to enchant the world whiskey community with its new releases and Portonova is no exception. The name Portonova is a delicious double entendre with its nod to a historic port city in India and Amrut's extra maturation of this new expression in select slim Port pipes from Portugal.  Finally available in the U. S., but selling out fast, we were delighted to snag a bottle for our February Featured Pairing with the La Flor Dominicana Chisel Maduro cigar and Chuao Chocolatier's Framboise bonbon.


vascodgFrom a story point of view, Portonova weaves an interesting yarn that reflects India's strong historic links to Portugal.  That union started with the discovery of a sea route to India by adventurer Vasco da Gama.  This eventually lead to the rapid spread of Portuguese colonies across the nation in the 16th through early 18th centuries.  Among its most eastern territories in India, was the port city of Porto Novo in the state of Tamil Nadu (now known as Parangipettai).  Porto Novo flourished as an important sea trade center.  It is therefore fitting that Amrut's namesake new whiskey would be extra-matured for a year in Port pipes, as Port is a Portuguese wine that was "fortified"to help it withstand many long journeys by sea.  



 Amrut uses barley from the Punjab region and distills its malt whiskey in a modern facility in Bangalore, India. Portonova is an un-peated malt, initially matured in new American Oak ex-Bourbon barrels then transferred into selected Port Pipes for one year. It was then put back into ex-Bourbon casks to mature for an additional period of time before bottling. This limited edition expression is ruby-rich in color, powerful and vibrant with aromas of wine soaked berries, honeyed figs and sweet pipe tobacco.  It delivers a truly one of a kind palate to which there is no comparison.  On first sip, this aggressive dram fires a rapid succession of flavor notes.  A ripe raspberry and red currant jamminess is intermingled with dark chocolate, cardamom and chili spices that hang on to the front and sides of your tongue.  The somewhat astringent early nip mellows out to a full bodied and mouth coating oakiness that mimics something akin to a pleasant fruity tobacco.  The Port influence is surprisingly subtle, but its tannins contribute to the long and drying finish which sweetens every so slightly at the end.  This is an astounding dram that is warming and intriguing albeit very difficult to describe . (Click on picture to purchase)


framboise-pngPortonova has a very puzzling characteristic in that it doesn't yield to whatever it is paired with but tenaciously holds its own flavor ground. With this in mind, we tried to mimic the flavors as closely as possible and found that Framboise was just the ticket.  The rich raspberry pate of the filling with its layer of fudge and sensuous dark chocolate coating truly make it the best mate for this dram.   (Click on picture to purchase)  


Port wines and Tawny Ports are easily a great match for a fine cigar, which is why we were so excited to see the release of this port-finished whiskey. A good port wine typically is full-bodied, fruity and rich, with soft peppery tannins, light acidity and typically a dry finish. Tawny ports are wines made from red grapes that are aged in wooden barrels. This exposes the wine to oxidation and evaporation, much like aging whiskies in oak casks. The exposure to oxygen imparts a nutty flavor to the wine, softens the tannins and produces a smoother, more viscous wine that is golden-brown in color. As you can see from the tasting notes of the Portonova, there is much carryover of these characteristics into the whiskey.


LFD-dbllig-chisel-maduro-hoOur cigar pairing was selected for its full body and rich, complex taste with flavor notes that would match distinct flavors in the whiskey. While the La Flor Dominicana Chisel Maduro might be too strong to match with a Tawny Port, its strength is perfect for a whiskey that is bottled at 62.1% alcohol by volume. Available in both Natural and Maduro wrappers, we chose the Maduro to gain access to those fantastic chocolatey, coffee flavors. This cigar is from the Double Ligero family and uses Dominican Republic ligero for its binder and filler, wrapped with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. All of that spells strength, and it truly is a strong cigar. Of the more than 13 vitolas, we selected the Chisel due to it's unique shape and the way the smoke is spread across the palate. (We also couldn't imagine getting through a Churchill size cigar of that strength without passing out.)

(Click on picture to purchase)


The Chisel Maduro begins with rich dark chocolate and coffee flavors that mingle well with the Portonova. Spice, cedar, licorice and black pepper flavors also make their appearance throughout the cigar, highlighting oak and chili pepper in the whiskey. The thick, mouth coating smoke helps to subdue the long, dry finish of the whiskey and interestingly heightens the sweetness as well. We were really interested to note how the coffee and tobacco flavors were very distinct in the Portonova, more so with the cigar than without. Putting these two together with the Framboise bonbon was a real treat, as the dark chocolate smoothed everything out and cut the strength of both cigar and whiskey.


The Portonova is a surprising and exciting expression that must be experienced. And if you like a good, strong cigar, then the La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Chisel Maduro is an excellent choice as well. Together ... fabulous.


Post-note -

5497275508_5a7ffea850_bThe interesting image on the cover page is of fishing boats anchored in a town called Parangipettai (Portonovo) on the east coast of India. This region of India was under Portuguese control from the 16th to the 18th century, and as you may know "Port"  is a Portuguese fortified wine. Amrut's use of the name Portonova thus has several layers of meaning, showing an interesting juxtaposition of historical elements behind the creation of this whiskey.


The image/photograph is the work of Jaggy from Chennai, India. His insightful images of India are mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful. You can see more of his work on flickr here at this link:


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01/2012 All Grown Up PDF Print E-mail

Oban 18 Year Old paired with a Padron 1926 Serie Natural 

cigar and Chuao's Miel Bonbon


It began as a U.S. Only limited release. But now that the Oban 18 year old has proved to be a market success, Diageo will be setting aside 300 barrels a year for an annual release.  This was no casual commitment, as Oban (one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland) runs only two stills - six days a week.   We're glad to see the 18 year old is here to stay.  Adding four extra years of maturation to this "Classic Malt" has resulted in an expression that has exquisite flavor balance and harmony.  Its as if the 16 year old is all grown up and has become all the tastier for it.  New Years celebrations are about saluting the old while ringing in the new.  With this sentiment fresh in mind, we thought the 18 year old was an excellent "new/old" choice for our January feature.  To be fully enjoyed, we recommend it be paired with the Padron 1926 Serie Natural cigar and Chuao Chocolatier's Miel bonbon.


Oban has been labeled "the meeting place between land and sea".  It is tucked away in a sheltered harbor in the oban-harborWestern Highlands, in a cove favored by a relatively mild and temperate climate.  Original founders John and Hugh Stevenson, literally built a town around the distillery which originally was a brewery containing small lantern shaped pot stills.  Whisky distilling began there in 1794 remaining in the stewardship of several generations of Stevensons until 1869.  Twenty years later, a subsequent owner J. Walter Higgins, rebuilt the distillery taking care to replicate these famously small stills with their worm condensers/worm tubs (now exceedingly rare).  Higgins was determined to preserve the unique taste and character of the Oban spirit.  In the 1900s the distillery went through several "mothball" periods until full production was regained in 1972.  It is currently owned by spirits behemoth Diageo who it seems takes as much care not to tamper with tradition. 


oban_18_120Like its younger sibling, the 18 year old has that characteristic Oban balance of honey, fruit, seaweed and faint peat smoke.  But with age comes a noticeable richness and depth.  The aroma hints of rum glazed ripe bananas accompanied by the sweetness of Frangelico while the scent of juniper berries adds a certain zip.  On the palate, this dram sings a complex harmony.  Notes of spiced rum and stewed autumn fruits and raisins are accented by a bit of vanilla.  This gives way to a delicious spiciness while in the background is an elusive saltiness that adds nicely to the overall character.  Coastal and peat influences are present but so well integrated that they add more to this spirit's dimension, than being recognizable as distinct flavor notes.  The long finish of this dram turns from sweet, to dry and spicy with notes of aniseed that are quite promounced. All the while lingering tannins hang on to your tongue.  Oban's exquisite blending of flavors is accompanied by a luxuriously yet tangy mouth feel.    (Click on picture to purchase)


mielWhile Oban was fun to match with many different confections, it was Chuao Chocolatier's Miel Bonbon that caught our tastebud's attention.  Miel added to the taste composition in a very unexpected way.  The almond hazelnut praline filling absolutely pulls out a peaty nuttiness in the dram that was all but hidden with the tight integration of flavors in Oban.  It proved to be just the right playmate to this wonderful spirit.   (Click on picture to purchase)  



At this time of year when the holidays roll around, cigar lovers often look for a "special occasion" cigar to enjoy after that gigantic holiday meal, or to ring in the New Year with.  One brand that consistently shows up on the list is Padron. Since 1964, the Padron family has concentrated on creating the finest, handmade, complex cigars by focusing on every detail of the process, and by limiting their range of cigars to only four series. With all the Padron Series consistently ranking in the 88+ range, it is hard to choose which one to pick. Many cigar smokers prefer either the Padron 1964 Anniversary Series or the Padron 1926 Series. After all the 1964 Series "A" achieved a rating of 95 by Cigar Aficionado, while the Serie 1926 No. 9 was rated #1 Cigar of the Year for 2007 and achieved a 97 rating in February of 2008 by the same magazine. There is a reason these cigars achieved the ratings they did, and that is for the impeccable quality and enjoyable smoking experience that they represent.


padron1926Nat-horizFor this pairing, we selected the Padron Serie 1926 No. 9 because of it's additional strength and complexity. All Padron cigars are Nicaraguan puros, but the Serie 1926 uses tobacco that has been aged for five years. A box-press is used in memory of the Cuban cigars that Jose O. Padron used to smoke. Construction quality is tightly controlled by the family, ensuring that each cigar is impeccable in rolling, finishing and cut. (Click on picture to purchase)


The overall impression of this cigar is high class, as are most Padron cigars.  A large gold, white and maroon band contributes to this appearance, and each cigar is numbered to prevent counterfeiting. A perfect draw is apparent after the cut, and flavors of coffee, chocolate and tobacco are tasted on the cold draw. After lighting, the initial flavors are chocolate and leather with some spice and cedar on the finish. Espresso and dark chocolate flavors develop more in the second third with more spice, and a light sweet fruity note (black cherry?) comes and goes. At the end, the spice dominates the full strength flavor, while occasional chocolate, coffee, wood still make an appearance. The Serie 1926 is a complex smoke with beautiful balance, and a finish that goes on forever.


Paired with the Oban, we noted how the cigar flavors of coffee and chocolate were sweetened up by the vanilla and malt flavors in the whisky. But it was the fruity note in the cigar that created the most interesting match with the Oban, as it seemed to intensify the darker fruit side of the whisky. The complexity of both cigar and whisky make for one special pairing and would be perfect, together or individually, for any special occasion.



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11/2011 Islay Icon Goes Genteel PDF Print E-mail

Laphroaig Triple Wood paired with a San Lotano Habano cigar and Chuao's Le Citron Bonbon


This Islay Icon known for its aggressively smoky profile has been tinkering with "the recipe" to produce a new complex and captivating expression.  Triple Wood is finally widely available in the U.S. following its 2009 "Travel Retail" debut.  This month we have paired this Laphroaig expression with a San Lotano Habano cigar and Chuao's Black & White Bonbon. 



Islay (pronounced Eye-la) in Autumn is more heavily populated by wild geese than human residents.  This Scottish isle is a showcase for 130 miles of spectacular coastline, abundant wildlife, ten working distilleries and an unspoiled landscape that is dotted with ruins and relics of a bygone era.  These all conspire to create a wonderous sense to its visitors of both serenity and seclusion. 


laphroaig_distilleryWhile the farmland is rich, the weather is harsh, suggesting the need for a heartier whisky to warm one's body and soul.  Nothing reflects "Islay Terroir" better than the single malts produced at the Laphroaig distillery.

Waters from the much fought over Kilbride stream, wind their way to its stills infused with a wonderfully peaty sediment. The water stamps its

influences on this whisky as much as the lichens prevalent in the Islay peat, lend their distinct medicinal note to its taste.  But it is truly the

heavily peated barley that gives this spirit its distinction and readily recognizable house style.  It was "The Peat Monster", long before it was fashionable.  Laphroaig has been in operation since the very early 1800s when founders Alexander and Donald Johnstons shared their coveted  "home brew" with local residents.  Today it has a documented following of over 474,000 Friends of Laphroaig world wide. 


triplewood-smallFor those who may be intimidated by it's signature smoky profile, Triple Wood offers a more genteel alternative.  The name refers to three types of maturation that John Campbell, Laphroaig's Distillery Manager, uses in the creation of this new expression.  Maturation begins with first fill Makers Mark ex-bourbon barrels.  When deemed suitable, stocks of 5 to 13 year old spirits are then transferred to quarter casks for 9 months to develop its creamy, oily characteristic that makes whisky drinking so pleasurable.  This also gives an extra boost to the ex-bourbon and wood flavors, as the ratio of surface to liquid is much greater in the smaller, quarter cask.  The resulting nectar is then transferred to first fill Sherry Butts for 9 months, finally resting in refill Sherry Butts for an additional 24 months.  Triple Wood is surprisingly gentle on the nose. It leads with a faint sherry sweetness, ripe bananas, then camphor, ending with a tame smoky tail.  The palate is much more complex than the nose.  It also begins with a sherry fruitiness likened to liquid caramelized orange peel topped off with berry jam.  Next a mix of vanilla and nutty cereal notes

graze your tastebuds followed with a pleasant medicinal note that is almost herbal (like bergamot leaves).  Alongside all the fruit is an earthy peaty note, a licorice spiciness and just a hint of salty brine.  There are almost too many flavor notes to describe, which makes the overall effect well balanced yet captivating.  The finish is dry, with a light peatiness and spiciness that hangs luxuriously on the tongue.  (click on picture to purchase)


meyerlmojito-150With so many flavor notes, Triple Wood acts like a proverbial chameleon when it comes to pairing with other foods.  From caramel to nutty to fruit fillings, each Chuao bonbon brought out a different side of its flavor personality.  But you must try Le Citron with this dram.  The Meyer Lemon caramel center just oozes with a citrusy freshness, while the the silkiness of its rich milk chocolate coating lends just the right amount of sweetness to this match.   (Click on picture to purchase)  


Searching for a cigar to match the multi-layered Triple Wood, we came across the San Lotano Habano by A.J. Fernandez. Pre-released in 2009, this cigar is just recently available to many cigar stores here on the West Coast. According to their website, "The San Lotano Habano by AJ Fernandez is specially blended for the full-bodied cigar fan. By using only premier fillers fermented to perfection, the Habano is strong yet perfectly balanced with a rich and robust flavor leading to a long and memorable finish. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Habano blend is its rare Cuban seed and ligero wrapper grown only in Brazil by the Fuego family. Containing extremely limited Cuban seed only offered to two factories in Central America, including Tabacalera Fernandez, the Habano is truly an exceptional experience."


sanlotanohabano-horizWrapped in a gorgeous, oily, rustic looking Brazilian habano wrapper, this cigar has all the flavors and transitions that a cigar lover looks for in a good smoke. Initially the San Lotano starts with pepper and spice, but right away flavors of caramel and chocolate appear to sweeten the flavor. Behind all that is a base flavor of nuts and cream, making this cigar very smooth and slightly sweet.  At mid-cigar, the cream sweetens and cedar and spice appear in the finish.  As the final third is reached, coffee and caramel flavors dominate with a long lasting spicey finish. (Click on picture to purchase)


With all that going on in the whisky, this cigar match perfectly picks out several and highlights them well. Caramel, vanilla, and spice are easily identified in both cigar and malt, and the creamy smoke serves to soften any heat from the whisky. A great complex cigar for an equally complex whisky.



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10/2011 An Enduring Spirit PDF Print E-mail

Longmorn 16 Year Old paired with Rocky Patel 50 Cigar and Chuao's Melao Bonbon


pagodaIn the midst of all the whisky world's hype and hyperbole, sometimes you just want to escape back into the tried and true palate of a bourbon matured scotch.  You know, that longing to sip something that brings back the nostalgia of your Father's liquor cabinet of a simpler time.  This month we decided to do just that with a single malt that is quite underexposed, yet has proven to be a most enduring spirit.


Longmorn is one of those whiskies with a surprisingly low profile for the quality of its scotch.  A hidden jewel in the portfolio of Pernod Richard, it is easily overshadowed in the marketplace by the more famous Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet brands.  Little known, but a real Speyside stalwart, Longmorn has long been favored by blenders, coveted by independent bottlers and sought after by loyal enthusiasts.  It is one of the few distilleries that has never ceased a day of production since it origins of 1894.


Unfortunately its founder, John Duff never benefitted from its success.  Determined and talented, Duff served as manager of Glendronach before starting his first distillery Glenlossie, nearly two decades prior to the opening of Longmorn.  This pioneering entrepreneur was also involved in two failed attempts to open distilleries in South Africa and the United States, before returning to Scotland and Longmorn. Three years later he opened another new distillery, BenRiach, right next door.  With all his personal capital tied up in buildings, whisky and other related investments, Duff's businesses were hard hit when one of his biggest purchasers went bankrupt.  Highly invested but cash poor, he was forced to cede control of the Longmorn distillery.  By 1909 he had declared personal bankruptcy.  Fortunately, Duff's demise did not impact Longmorn, which continued to thrive under the stewardship of each new owner.  It still flourishes after 117 years.


longmorn16-boxLongmorn 16 year old expression created quite a stir in 2008 when it replaced the long beloved 15 year old "house standard".  In our opinion, subsequent bottlings of the 16 year old have improved and are best appreciated on their own merits, of which in our opinion there are many.  Your nose is greeted with the scent of freshly mown grass, mixed with typical Speyside fruity esthers, dried sweet flowers and subtle spice. On the palate it is creamy, tongue coating and warming.  It has a rather elegant smoothness and uncharacteristic fullness of flavor for such a lightly peated malt.  Subtle yet intricate layers reveal an early maltiness, along with honey, fruits, delicate vanilla, oak and spices.  Yet it was the underlying bourbon cask affected caramel notes that caught our attention.  The finish is long with plum and dark cherry jam giving way to a developing citrus zestiness.  This tailors off to a subtle cedar wood and light oak tail.


melao-100pngWhile many of the Chuao bonbons were compatible with this multi-layered Speyside exemplar, it was the Melao bonbon that provided the most interesting pairing.  The sensual oozy filing of this confection is a perfect complement to the creamy, slightly oily mouth feel of the Longmorn spirit.  Add to that, the saltiness of the caramel filling and you have an almost savory dimension to this flavor pairing.  Melao also accentuates the lovely butterscotch notes of this dram which are too fleeting without this gooey, tasty reminder that they are there.      (Click on picture to purchase) 


Rocky Patel is in full stride with the release of several new cigars at the industry show this year, and is developing more premium cigar lines than ever before. He also turned 50 this year, so in honor of his birthday, this October he is releasing a cigar named The Fifty. This ultra-premium cigar is the culmination of fours years of blending research, and is being produced in a limited run of 2,000 boxes of each of three vitolas at his new factory in Esteli, Nicaragua.


rp-50-stick-horizWhile Rocky is keeping the binder and filler blend a secret, the cigar features an Ecuadorian Habano Oscuro wrapper hand selected from the seventh priming (or row of leaves) of the tobacco plant. This location near the top of the tobacco plant receives more sunlight, the leaves are fewer and smaller than lower leaves, and since they are picked later in the harvest, the leaves also receive more nutrients. Typically this section of the plant is known as ligero, and is used in filler to slow the burn rate and to achieve strong, complex flavors. Using the seventh priming for wrappers must take special care to ensure that the correct balance of flavor and strength are achieved. The fact that Rocky has chosen this wrapper for his "birthday" cigar, means they have discovered something really special here with this tobacco. (Click the picture to purchase)


Befitting an ultra-premium cigar, the Fifty is very elegant, box pressed and well constructed. Visually, the orange, silver and gold double band is striking and contrasts beautifully with the wrapper. Aromas of earth and spice exude from the dark, smooth and oily Habano wrapper.


From start to finish this cigar delivers flavor, you will not want to put this down.  Initially the Fifty produces flavors of dark espresso, earthy chocolate and a pepperiness similar to curry and chili peppers. As the pepper mellows out mid-cigar, several other flavors come to the forefront. Notes of cedar, oak and nuts flavor the creamy smoke throughout the middle third. Near the end, the spice and chocolate notes combine with a citrus flavor to produce an unusual chocolate-orange flavor. As the cigar winds down, the finish seems to lengthen producing an almost minty spice.


It is those flavor transitions and combinations that make the pairing with the Longmorn simply incredible. Both cigar and malt are elegant on their own, together the combination is superb.  The layering of fruit, vanilla and spice from the whisky, over the top of the chocolate and pepper creates multiple waves of sweetness that change in depth and character. Spice notes in the Longmorn become more pronounced and complex with the chili/curry note added by the cigar. The creamy smoke serves to soften the long finish of the malt, and there are common cedar and oak notes that pair up nicely. Once the cigar hits the end stage, the chocolate orange flavor really becomes divine.


The Rocky Patel Fifty is a limited release and will be in many Top 10 Lists this year. It is sure to become popular once word gets out, so don't miss your chance to enjoy this combination before it is gone.



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09/2011 Campbeltown Legacy PDF Print E-mail

Springbank 14 Year Old Amontillado Cask paired with an Alec Bradley Prensado Cigar and Chuao's Dark Grignottine Bonbon


c-townThe story of Springbank is a tale of Campbeltown's whisky tradition and one family's determination to keep distilling alive on this small and remote finger of land on the west coast of Scotland.  Situated in rich farmland with a natural harbor, Campbeltown sits on the southern tip of a misty protrusion called the Kintyre peninsula.  At one time, Campbeltown had the highest per capita income in the United Kingdom. Through the 1700's and 1800's it reigned as "The Whisky Capital" with 22 active distilleries literally outnumbering churches in this tiny township.


While it is still recognized as an official Scotch Region, Campbeltown is now considered a mere outpost of distilling.  Market conditions in the early 1900's, conspired to bring about its ruin. Ironically, that early success caused serious depletion of local coal resources, driving up production costs just as recession and Prohibition began to dramatically reduce demand.  Blenders who once favored Campbeltown's powerful and oily style begin turning to lighter spirits, hastening the downward spiral of demand. Distillers who turned to alternative Canadian markets were forced to deeply discount their brands.  In turn they often sacrificed quality, eventually causing many to collapse. While 17 facilities remained active in 1920, by mid-century only Springbank and Glen Scotia had survived.


Campbeltown's distilling history and that of the Mitchell family's are indelibly intertwined.  Archibald Mitchell, a maltster who migrated from the lowlands, operated popular but illegal stills in the late 1700's.  It was his childred that pursued the first legal license when sons Archibald and Hugh started Rieclachan distillery in 1825.  Springbank was founded three years later by John and William. But following a personal dispute, William left to join his brothers at Rieclachan, while John formed a new company with his sons and continued to operate Springbank.  Various Mitchell family enterprises continued to enrich Campbeltown over the next 40 years. John bought Toberanright from cousin Alexander Wylie, daughter Mary built Drumore Distillery in 1834 and William founded Glengyle in 1872.  By 1935 only Springbank had prevailed.


Springbank to this day is still independently owned and operated under the J & A Mitchell Co. name, by lineal descendants of Archibald Mitchell.  It uniquely processes three different brands, using three distinct distilling methods with the same equipment at the Springbank site.  This distillery is one of the last in Scotland to have its own malting floor.  Springbank not only has prevailed but it thrives. In addition to its expansion by adding the peaty double distilled Longrow and light, triple distilled Hazelburn to its portfolio, the company took on restoration of its Glengyle facility in 2004.  Glengyle is the first distillery to open in Campbeltown in over 125 years.  For its tenancity, and uncompromising quality, Springbank was recognized as Whisky Magazine's Icon of Distilling in 2010.  While we absolutely love their core expressions, we were keen to try one of the four new sherry matured expressions (Fino, Amontillado, Manzanilla & Oloroso).  We picked the Amontillado cask for this tasting. 


springbank-14yo-amont-120We can tell you that the Springbank 14 year old Amontillado expression compares to no other single malt we've tasted!!  Having been matured and not just finished in Amontillado casks, it tastes more of sherry than scotch. Nothing like the sea briney, and refreshing Springbank  house style. The aroma is a profusion of almond extract, pineapple, tangerines, furniture polish and faint cinnamon spice. At cask strength, this 14 year old is truly powerful on the palate.  At first sip it is bracing, astringent and certainly not for the timid. The Amontillado influences pack a punch of bitter almonds, caramelized orange peel and peppery spice on the tongue.  There is a very slight and momentary saltiness along with a tang that never leaves the tastebuds.  Hints of pecan pie emerge and the finish has a peculiar acidity that finally gives way to an interesting woodiness on the finish.  This is a daringly unique flavor profile and bold departure from Springbank's more familiar flavor range.  (Click on bottle to purchase)


dark-grignottine-lighter-pnYou won't find a more perfect partner than Chuao's Dark Grignottine bonbon.  The caramelized orange peel mimics the citrusy undertones, while the slivers of roasted almonds and pistachios provide just the right nutty complement.  The slight bitterness of its rich dark chocolate coating stands up well to the robustness of the scotch, and lends just a bit of sweetness to take the edge off this spirit.  (Click on picture to purchase) 


We are not fibbing when we tell you this was a difficult whisky to match to. It's flavor profile is very different and the astringency on the palate is very tough to overcome. You would think that almonds, pecans, pepper and spice are flavors found in cigars as well, but they don't combine in this whisky the way one would expect.


So first off we tackled the astringency. Whiskies that are a higher alcohol content and/or possess an astringent nature usually benefit from a cigar that produces a heavy, creamy, mouth-coating smoke. Next, because the nuttiness in this whisky is somewhat bitter, and a woody character also tends to be a bit harsh, we needed a cigar that would sweeten things up. Taking a lesson from how the chocolate bonbon affected the whisky, we looked for a cigar with darker chocolate, caramel or coffee flavors. These flavors tend to offset the bitterness and not get lost or overpowered. Finally, while the pepper and spice are present in the Springbank, they are an interesting counterpoint and not too heavy. Thinking more is better, we also looked for a cigar with that pepper and spice component, but not so strong as to push over the top.  Now we had a formula for our cigar match. We needed a cigar with creamy, heavy smoke; primary flavors of chocolate, coffee, or caramel and accent notes of pepper and spice.


Wouldn't you know - the first cigar on our list in the Cocoa Java section was the best match - The Alec Bradley Prensado! Are we good or what! . . . . .  Actually, this was not the first one we tried though, as that would have been too easy. And while we didn't try all 35 cigars in that grouping, we did test at least half a dozen against the Springbank and the Prensado was the best.


For this pairing, the larger vitolas worked better as they tended to be smoother and creamier. Pick the Gran Toro or the Double T for this one, they are pretty good with this whisky and you get the added benefit of longer smoking times.


What we found in this pairing that made it interesting, was how the cigar affected the tasting experience. That smooth and creamy smoke really overcame the initial burn and astringency and allowed the palate to focus more on the flavors. The chocolate and coffee notes in the cigar did their job of sweetening the nutty / woody flavors, and softening the bitterness. And the pepper and spice varied enough throughout the smoke to add just enough boost here and there to punctuate the core flavors.


The Alec Bradley Prensado has been a standard cigar in our rotation for many reasons.  We like it's darker, fuller flavors and it's complexity. It also matches up well with peaty single malts, so it can pull double duty. It is box pressed and wrapped in a beautiful Corojo 2006 wrapper, so it's also a great stick to behold. The Double T is probably one of the fattest cigars out there with a ring gauge of 62, and the Gran Toro is right behind at 54, so if you want to impress your friends - unwrap one of these and pour an extra large dram of Springbank Amontillado. Then sit back and enjoy an unusually interesting pairing for the next couple of hours, from one of the last remaining Campbeltown distilleries.



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