Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Bulleit Bourbon Single Barrel and a Smoke

Bulleit Bourbon is one of those staples that has a mostly permanent space on my shelves. The standard 90 proof bottle is great for sipping neat or in cocktails, and it can be easily found, in Virginia at least, for around $35. A while back, VA ABC had a limited release drop on a Saturday morning of single barrel bourbons and ryes from various distilleries. I found this Bulleit Bourbon Single Barrel on the store shelf the day after the drop. In talking to the store clerk I learned that Virginia received several hundred bottles to distribute, rather than the typical a few dozen bottles for the entire state.

The bourbon checks in at 104 proof. The release was promoted as being picked for, not by, VA ABC. The plentiful stock would indicate the release was not all bottled from the same single barrel, however there are no batch or barrel numbers listed on the label. The aroma is much like the standard expression, giving off classic bourbon notes of caramel and oak. The flavor presents vanilla, maple, caramel, all with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. The long lingering finish of spice and sweetness was quite agreeable. I was immediately impressed with the richness of the flavors. It reminded me of the standard Bulleit bourbon but brighter and with a ramped up flavor profile.

To confirm my thoughts, I poured tasters of the regular Bulleit and also of the 10 year version. These are all bourbons I find very enjoyable. In side by side tastings, they all share very similar flavor profiles, with small, but noticeable, differences. The 91.2 proof 10 year old exhibited the most muted flavors of the three. There was a bit more oak aspect, but overall the bourbon seemed milder and lingered on the palate for less time. The standard and single barrel expressions were remarkably similar in flavors present, but the single barrel is much brighter and enhanced. The finish also remained around longer. Twice the flavor at (nearly) twice the price, and worth it in my opinion. None of this lessened my opinion of the other Bulleit bourbons. 

I chose a cigar with which I was wholly unfamiliar to smoke with the Bulleit Single Barrel. The Tobacco Tactical Dead Conqueror Alexander the Great Maduro was a selection in the June My Cigar Pack shipment. The cigar is a collaboration between Tobacco Tactical and My Cigar Pack, and may have been a one time release. Information on the cigar is limited. The 6 x 52 Toro features a very dark chocolate San Andrés wrapper and Domican binder and fillers. There is also a Corojo wrapper version.

The Dead Conqueror is medium bodied with notes of espresso, dark chocolate, and nuts. There is some spiciness to the smoke but the whole flavor profile is quite balanced, although somewhat muted. I guess this one goes to further disprove the false adage that the darker a cigar the more bitter and full flavored it will be. The same misconception is also frequently repeated regarding beer. I had expected the cigar to be more intensely flavored, and was somewhat surprised that it turned out to be more reserved. 

I was extremely pleased with the Bulleit Single Barrel purchase. In fact, while writing these notes I saw that my local ABC still has stock. Though tempted to pick up another, I think I'll now seek out other Bulleit single barrel picks during my travels. I had lower expectations for the Dead Conqueror smoke, but was pleasantly surprised to enjoy it so much. I do have one other, along with a couple in the Corojo version. Whether they will become available in the future is in question.


Monday, October 2, 2023

Italy: Tuscano Cigars

During our two week visit to southern Italy, I kept a casual eye out for cigar shops. I had brought along a few cigars to smoke, but not enough to last the trip. I also hoped to find a few Cuban cigars I was interested in trying. Although tobacco stores were ubiquitous wherever we went, actual retailers of fine cigars were rare. 

Throughout the country, the Tabaccheria, or “tabacchi," were ubiquitous and found every few blocks at a minumum. In these typically stall-like stores, a variety of tobacco products are sold. Rolling and pipe tobacco, "e-cigarettes," and standard cigarettes are very popular. There are selections of Italian cigars, most of which I am unfamiliar with. The most common were the ones from Tuscano, a name I had heard in the past at least. I frequently saw men walking through the towns with these rustic sticks in hand.

Toscanos are "charoot" type cigars made in Tuscany. Think Clint Eastwood in the old "spaghetti westerns" and you'll know the cigar. They are rough rolled, consisting of a wrapper, that doubles as the binder, and filler leaves. The tobaccos used are fermented Kentucky tobaccos grown in Italy. The slender cigars are wider in the middle and taper toward the ends. Traditionally they are cut in half and smoked, although after my first one, I skipped that step and smoked them "whole." The cigars are dry and do not require humidification. They are packaged 5 to a box.

The first one I tried was Toscano Classico. The approximately 6 x 38 stick has the strong aroma of a smokey campfire. I expected a harsh experience, but it was more of a medium bodied smoke and easy to smoke. The flavor was reminiscent of smoky BBQ and semi-sweet chocolate. My initial Toscano pairing was with an Aperal Spritz, a classic Italian afternoon aperitif, and some Amaretti di Loreto almond cookies. The combo made for an enjoyable afternoon after a morning of sightseeing. The cigar left behind a persistent smoked wood flavor in the mouth.

I also picked up a box of Tuscano Antico when I had some time to kill one afternoon in Rome. I smoked it in the plaza just outside of the Vatican while waiting for our group to assemble. (Smoking is prohibited within the Vatican City State.) These were described as having stronger pepper notes. The one I smoked was less sweet than the Classico and I found it somewhat bitter. 

Having smoked the cigar supply I had packed, and failing to find a place to restock by the end of our trip, I stuck with Tuscanos the last few days of the trip. I had a fun "Italian" pairing on one of the last evenings, consisting of a Tuscano Classica and Birra Moretti Italian-brewed beer. The cool beer was very refreshing on a hot and humid Rome evening. 

During our last day in Italy I found the Fincato La Casa del Habano in Rome selling both Cuban and other cigars, although with an extremely sparse inventory. Alas being the end of the trip I had no time to pick any up to smoke.


Friday, September 29, 2023

Five O'Clock Friday: Choices

It was probably a Friday.

Enjoy your weekend. We will not judge you.


Veritas Three Blends and Horse Soldier Reserve Bourbon

I was looking for a high proof, full flavored bourbon to enjoy with a cigar after a long day of driving recently. A bottle of Horse Soldier Bourbon seemed the perfect choice. 

Horse Soldier Reserve is the distillery's barrel strength expression. The nose is strong with dark caramel, sweet maple, along with hints of vanilla and fruit. Even as the glass sat next to me on the table I could smell the bourbon goodness wafting up, the aromatics enhanced by the 124 proof. The flavor profile carries charred wood, dark fruit, molasses, and some cinnamon. I get a late fruit note in the finish. There is a bit of lingering heat that remains in balance. I should really pour this one more often, especially with a robust cigar. I posted more information about Horse Soldier bourbon in a previous post.

The cigar for the evening was the Veritas Three Blends. I was given one of these a couple years ago and enjoyed it. It's been a smoke I've been wanting to go back to. I found the Three Blends, as well as a couple others from Veritas, at the cigar lounge recently.

The cigar has a partial box pressed shape. The foot end of the Three Blends is box pressed, and the cigar transitions to a standard round shape towards the cap. The 6 x 54 cigar also grabs your attention due to the tri-colored wrapper. It is made of Sun Grown Ecuadorian Habano, Habano Maduro, and Connecticut leaves. The binder is Mexican San Andrés and the filler is a mix of tobaccos from Jalapa, Ometepe, Condega and Esteli. The roll is a little rough around the edges but the cigar is well filled and burned flawlessly. Given the unique shape and the complex wrapper, it must be a challenging cigar to create.

Three Blends is a full flavored cigar producing strong pepper right out of the gate. As the smoke progresses, the flavor mix adds espresso, wood, and nuts. The pepper remains but the other flavors claim equal billing. There's some vanilla sweetness that shows itself in time. I found this to be a flavorful and enjoyable smoke.

The robust flavors of both the bourbon and the cigar to played well together. The generous flavor array offered by the tobaccos were not overwhelmed one bit by the strong bourbon. It's a pairing I look forward to repeating.


Thursday, September 28, 2023

St. Wenceslaus, Patron Saint of Brewers

Originally posted September 28, 2012.

Today is the feast day of St. Wenceslaus, who is regarded as a patron Saint of Czech brewers.
St. Wenceslaus, duke of Bohemia, was born about the year 907 at Prague, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). His father was killed in battle when he was young, leaving the kingdom to be ruled by his pagan mother. Wenceslaus was educated by his grandmother, Ludmilla, also a saint. She taught him to be a Christian and to be a good king. She was killed by pagan nobles before she saw him king, but she left him with a deep committment to the Christian faith. 
Throughout his life he preserved his virginity unblemished. As duke he was a father to his subjects, generous toward orphans, widows, and the poor. On his own shoulders he frequently carried wood to the houses of the needy. He often attended the funerals of the poor, ransomed captives, and visited those suffering in prison. He was filled with a deep reverence toward the clergy; with his own hands he sowed the wheat for making altar breads and pressed the grapes for the wine used in the Mass. During winter he would visit the churches barefoot through snow and ice, frequently leaving behind bloody footprints. 
Wenceslaus was eighteen years old when he succeeded his father to the throne. Without regard for the opposition, he worked in close cooperation with the Church to convert his pagan country. He ended the persecution of Christians, built churches and brought back exiled priests. As king he gave an example of a devout life and of great Christian charity, with his people calling him "Good King" of Bohemia. 
His brother Boleslaus, however, turned to paganism. One day he invited Wenceslaus to his house for a banquet. The next morning, on September 28, 929, as Wenceslaus was on the way to Mass, Boleslaus struck him down at the door of the church. Before he died, Wenceslaus forgave his brother and asked God's mercy for his soul. Although he was killed for political reasons, he is listed as a martyr since the dispute arose over his faith. This king, martyred at the age of twenty-two, is the national hero and patron of the Czech Republic. He is the first Slav to be canonized.
According to, the Saint's protection of local hops earned him much regard.
Because Bohemian hops were so valued, Wenceslas ordered the death penalty for anyone caught exporting the cuttings and obviously endeared himself to the local hop growers and brewers. He became the patron saint of Bohemia and Czechoslovakia and his crown became the symbol of nationalism for the Czechs. By extension he became a patron saint of Czech brewers.
King Wenceslaus is the inspiration for the Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslas.

So let's raise a glass of fine beer to the Good King, Saint Wenceslaus.


Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Italy: A Cigar and a Eucharistic Procession

We recently returned from a two week pilgrimage in Italy. Visiting historical and religious sites in Naples, San Giovanni Rotundo, Lanciano, Assisi, Rome, among others was a wonderful and joyful experience. Besides the beautiful churches and amazing history, we also enjoyed great food and drink, and even had time for cigars on occasion. 

Once such smoking occasion was in San Giovanni Rotundo, the home town of Saint Padre Pio. When we stepped outside after dinner I noticed the hotel's outdoor dining area had "Vietato fumare" signs posted -- some of the rare no smoking posters we saw during the entire trip. Our bus driver happened by and we asked him where we could smoke. He looked at us like we were crazy and waved his arms around, stating, "Outside." That was the situation almost everywhere. If an outdoor dinner area didn't have ashtrays on the tables, they'd generally bring you one if asked. 

We opted to stroll and smoke. We had visited San Giovanni Rotundo fourteen years ago, and although the town had grown and expanded exponentially, we still recalled our way around the old original section.

As walked by the Basilica where the Saint had lived, we heard the distinctive sound of a thurible being swung coming from inside the church. We realized a Eucharist Procession was taking place and the people were exiting the building onto the plaza in front. We stopped our stroll and knelt in adoration until the procession reentered the church. Coincidentally, during our first visit to San Giovanni Rotundo 14 years ago, we happened upon a huge procession as well during a festival. 

Although we had enjoyed cigars after some dinners earlier in the trip, I happened to joke to the priest friend with us that this could be the inaugural smoke of our informal Saint Pope Pius X smoking group. We took it as Divine Providence that the procession began as we arrived with our cigars in front the basilica. 

There would be many cigars and other adventures during our trip. Some of those will be the subject of later Musings.


Monday, September 25, 2023

Foundation El Güegüense with an Octoberfest Märzen

Sometimes you just want a big cigar and a beer. The El Güegüense Toro Huaco from Foundation Cigars is a hefty 6 x 56 cigar that fills the bill. It's a great candidate to enjoy on a warm afternoon of sipping beers. The Nicaraguan puro has a Corojo 99 wrapper and binder, and the binder is a blend of Corojo 99 and Criollo 98 tobaccos. A chocolate brown wrapper is somewhat bumpy with the rough inner leaves seemingly trying to escape. Despite a rough appearance, the oily wrapper held everything together and the cigar performed without issue. This is a medium bodied cigar. A blend of cocoa, espresso, sweet chocolate, nuts, accented with along mild pepper spice combined for a complex and flavorful smoke. 

I look forward each fall to the Ocktoberfest beers that many breweries release, even if they do show up in the summer. In especially enjoy the Märzen style beers over the more grain forward "fest beer" versions. Bell's Brewing Octoberfest is one that's generally easy to find.

The beer pours a coppery orange color with a thick and persistent white foamy head. The aroma of caramel and malt great the nose. A malt forward flavor profile is balanced with biscuit and caramel sweetness. It worked quit well with the chocolate and espresso notes in the cigar.

The umlaut accented names in this pairing may have been a coincidence, but in a sense, it was a sign of a pairing made to happen. 


Friday, September 22, 2023