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The Balvenie 17 Year Old Madeira Cask with  Padron 4000 Maduro Cigar and Chuao Parchita Bonbon

This month's selection is one of The Balvenie's latest 17 year old limited editions that debuted in the United States last fall. Malt Master David Stewart presents us with a brilliant spirit that is finished in Madeira wine barrels after aging in traditional American oak whiskey casks. 

Madeira is a fortified wine and truly an oddity.  It comes from a tropical island which sits  between PortugMadeiraal and the West African coasts.  The volcanic soil and humid temperatures of this island present quite a challenge to grape growing that the sugar level of the resultant fruit is typically low.  There are four major varietals ranging from doce (sweet) to seco (dry) and the maturing process is most unique in that the wine is exposed to heat and oxygen during the aging process.  The resulting evaporation concentrates the wine to varying degrees and accounts for its trademark caramelized flavor. This process called "estafugem" also accounts for Madeira's flavor stability.  It is one of the longest lasting wines and it is not uncommon to see 100 year old bottles in stores that specialize in rare wines.

david stewartThe Balvenie was founded in 1892 and is still owned by William Grant & Sons.  It is one of the few family owned distilleries left in Scotland and is located in a fertile glen in Dufftown, beneath the shadow of the famous Balvenie Castle.  Balvenie still grows its own barley and controls its own malting.  An onsite cooperage ensures the quality of their casks, but the true guardian of the portfolio is their Malt Master David Stewart.  At 47 years in service, he is an undisputed master and has received many industry accolades.  The most recent awards are Whisky Magazine's 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award and the Independent Spirits Challenge 2009 Distiller of the Year won for an unprecendented 4th time in a row.

Balvenie 17 madeiraMr. Stewart chose "Madeira Cask" for this 6th in his recent series of 17 year old limited editions.  The Madeira influence is very faint on the nose, which is more spicy and complex.  Notes of vanilla and honey come forward with hints of oak present.  The flavor palate follows the nose.  This full and rounded malt has an initial vanilla sweetness with raisiny fruit notes and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.  Oak is present but not overt and the Madeira arrives towards the finish, but much less than anticipated.  The harmony of flavors is just exquisite and improves with each taste.   

parchitaTo tease the fruit flavors of The Balvenie out a little more, we have paired the Madeira cask with Chuao's Parchita bonbon.  The depth of flavor in the dark chocolate complements the honey vanilla of the malt, and the tartness of the passion fruit center draws out the raisin note in the whisky.  Dark chocolate is also a better foil for the matching maduro cigar that completes this tri-fecta.  


LOGOS WITH HAMMER 2 tpWhile The Balvenie 17 Year Old Madeira Cask is a fairly new release (2009), we turned to an "old" classic line of cigars to find the distinct flavor and excellent quality that would make this pairing successful.

Padrón Cigars began in 1964 in Miami, though Jose Padrón's family was growing tobacco in Cuba as early as the 1850's.  After the nationalization of Cuba's tobacco industry left Mr. Padrón with few other choices, he emigrated to the US with the straightforward concept of re-creating the taste and quality of cigars made from the Pinar del Rio region of Cuba where he grew up.

Having grown up in the industry, Mr. Padrón knew that quality, not quantity, is of prime importance in the manufacture of cigars. As one of the few family run businesses in the industry, Padrón's quality control is legendary. Similar to Balvenie's control over their single malts, Padrón is completely integrated from top to bottom, in all aspects of the manufacture of cigars. The family operates their own tobacco plantations and directs all processes from harvest to fermentation, curing, rolling and packaging. As a result, Padrón cigars are well known in the marketplace for excellent quality and great flavor.

The original line of cigars produced by Padrón, that is still in production, is called the Padrón Series or Classic Series. This line has evolved since the early days to incorporate a range of fifteen medium to full bodied, long filler cigars ranging from Panetelas to the large Magnum.  All tobacco used in this line is sun-grown and aged for a minimum of two-and-a-half years. We selected the vitola 4000 for this particular pairing. The Padrón 4000 was added in the year 2000 in response to customer requests for larger ring gauge cigars. And although the Nicaraguan blend is the same in each cigar of this line, the different sizes and shapes impart differences in the flavor and character of each cigar.

padron 4000 horizThe Padrón 4000, like all cigars in the classic line, is available in a Natural and a Maduro wrapper. Again, we selected the Maduro for the particular flavors we were looking for. Both cigars are very tasty, and just as a warning, they are a larger vitola, weighing in at 6-1/2" and a 54 ring gauge, but we felt this matchup required more than just a quick smoke to enjoy the complexities of both malt and cigar. 

After lighting up the Padrón 4000 Maduro we noticed the intial flavors of earthy pepper were fleeting, and the cigar moved quickly into its primary flavors of a woody base with notes of cocoa, coffee and raisins. This flavor profile carries through the middle of the cigar, and it is this combination with the malt that is most enjoyable. The darker flavors of cocoa and coffee really offset the honey sweetness of The Balvenie and that raisin, or dried fruit, note really connects the two. The finish on The Balvenie is moderate enough to not overpower the Padrón, and similarly the cigar is in the medium-full range balancing the malt.  Spice notes are similar between the two and also help to complement the other.  Even as the cigar transitions into stronger, earthier flavors near the final third, the balance between malt and cigar remained enjoyable.

As stated earlier, plan to spend a little more time with this pairing if you are a cigar lover. The larger Padrón 4000 Maduro is well worth the time investment in complexity, smoothness, flavor and quality.  The Balvenie 17 Year Old Madeira cask also offers a lot of flavor complexity worth exploring.  So find a comfy chair, gather your bottle, cigar and chocolates around you and lose yourself on that tropical island known as Madeira for a couple of hours. Send us a postcard when you get back!

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