Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Happy Repeal Day

On December 5, 1933 the nightmare of Prohibition finally came to an end. Utah became the 36th state to formally ratified the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution. The 18th Amendment which had unsuccessfully attempted to ban alcohol in the United State was officially repealed.

Unfortunately, the Prohibitionists are still out there. Freedoms once lost, are rarely restored. So responsibly enjoy an alcoholic beverage today and celebrate the gift of personal choice.


Monday, December 4, 2023

A Warm Evening Respite

We spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Orlando to take in the ESPN Events Invitational college basketball tournament. It was a different sort of vacation for us, but thoroughly enjoyable. Thanksgiving dinner consisted of court side hotdogs and shelf Scotch. I didn't get in a lot of whiskey shopping, but did pick up a few bottles that are unavailable or hard to find in Virginia. It's been a busy week since our return, with inhospitable outdoor weather, but the weekend brought a bit of a respite, and the chance to open a new bottle.

After an early dinner, with the temps hovering a low 60°, I grabbed the St. Augustine Port Finished Bourbon, along with a CAO America cigar.

The bourbon was one I picked up on a whim. I was intrigued by the port finish, and wanted a "souvenir" from the local area. (It was that or a gator head.) I also like the old school bottle style. I've found these finished bourbons generally pair quite well with cigars. St. Augustine Distillery sources port wine barrels from the local San Sebastian Winery to finish their straight bourbon. The barrels then go back to the winery to finish more port wine. Yeah, technically it's a "port-style fortified wine" but no need to be pedantic.

Bottled at 102 proof, the bourbon is an attractive ruby color. The aroma brings notes of dark fruit, caramel. In the appearance, aroma, and flavor profiles, the port influence is unmistakable. The flavor is bold and rich. Dark cherries, fig, and raisons come to mind. There's also a creamy caramel sweetness underlying the fruit. The finish is long, as black pepper comes to the foreground and lingers. I found it a rather enjoyable drink.

The CAO America is a cigar I've not smoked before, and only recently picked up a few to try. This Potomac vitola is a 5 x 56 Robusto. The red, white, and blue label color scheme sits on a barber pole wrapper of Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro with a thin strip of Connecticut Shade tobacco creating the barber pole effect. The wrapper covers a Brazilian binder, which in turn hides fillers from Dominican Republic, Italy, Nicaragua, and the USA.

The cigar is medium bodied with notes of leather, nuts, milk chocolate, and cedar. The flavors are consistent throughout the smoke. The smoke production was rich with an even burn. I enjoy cigars that put out copious smoke without requiring touchups. The plentiful smoke brings lots of flavor to the palate. The ash was solid and the cigar finished with just three, long ash sections left in the ashtray, and no flakes on my lap.

The cigar and finished bourbon paired well together.  I enjoyed about a 45 minute smoke before reaching the warm nub. Retiring inside, the St. Augustine Port Finished Bourbon merited another pour for both Colleen and I to enjoy as a late night libation.


Friday, December 1, 2023

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Cappuccino and Wise Man Maduro Lancero

It was a chilly but sunny afternoon when I decided to carry my mid-day treat cappuccino out to the deck to enjoy with a cigar. The fall colors were enchanting and the thinning leaf cover let some sun shine through. 

The Foundation Wise Man Maduro Lancero is a 7 1/2 x 40 well-packed cigar. The Mexican San Andrés wrapper glistened in the sun. Along with the Nicaraguan binder and fillers, it made for a medium bodied, robust smoke. Notes of espresso, chocolate, and black pepper are predominant. As I've remarked in the past, the lancero shape seems to enhance and concentrate the cigar's flavors when compared with other vitolas of the same blend. I expected the cigar to give me about a one hour smoke. The burn was slow and flawless and after about an hour only half the stick had been consumed. I was enjoying a book while smoking so may have smoked a little slower than usual, but the cigar burn never wavered nor needed touching up.

I was tempted to step inside to prepare another cappuccino but the sun was getting lower in the trees. While it was still another 45 minutes or so until sunset, the temperature was dropping. Still bearable but the remaining sun was providing little in the way of warmth. I smoked for another 30 minutes before putting the cigar down with about a quarter left.

The rich expresso notes of the Foundation Wise Man Maduro Lancero complimented the creamy sweetness of the cappuccino well. I was not thrilled with giving up the smoke so early, but it had served its purpose and provided nearly two hours of pleasure.


Monday, November 27, 2023

Late Night With Basil Hayden Toast and Oliva Serie V

This was the pairing on a rare late night smoke recently. We're typically an "early to bed, early to rise" household. While perusing my whiskey shelf I spied the Basil Hayden Toast bottle sitting in the bottom corner. Its placement was reflective of how long it's been on hand -- the prime spots tend to hold more recent acquisitions. 

Basil Hayden Toast also gets overlooked most weekends due to its low proof, just 80 proof. This time I gravitated to it for that very reason. The aroma is very light, almost nonexistent. With concentration I get hints of caramel and oak. The flavor profile is also mild, but pleasant. Toffee and caramel predominate. There are cinnamon spice and brown sugar notes arriving in the finish, which lingers for a short while.

I went with an old standby for the accompanying cigar. Oliva Serie V is a smoke that I generally have on hand in several vitolas. It works well with both coffee and bourbon. It stands up to higher proof whiskeys, and at the same time doesn't overwhelm the milder ones either. The 6 x 56 Torpedo has an attractive Ecuadorian Habano wrapper with Nicaraguan tobaccos making up the binder and filler. Clipping the sharply pointed cap reveals a firm but open draw. The cigar gives flavors of coffee, creamy chocolate, nuts, and cedar. It's robust but medium bodied. 

The late night pairing was a fine end to the evening. The cigar gave nearly two hours of pleasure. The easy sipping bourbon provided the perfect nightcap. 


Friday, November 24, 2023

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Remembering Blessed Miguel Pro

This was originally posted November 23, 2013, and shared nearly annually on this date. Given the growing anti-religious furor infecting our country, and world, it's worth remembering the heroes of persecution of recent memory.

November 23 is the Feast Day of Blessed Miguel Pro. Born on January 13, 1891, in Guadalupe, Mexico, Miguel Pro was ordained a Jesuit priest in Belgium in 1925. He returned to his home country in 1926, in the midst of that country's Cristeros War. After being falsely accused of an attempted bombing, Father Pro was executed by government forces without trial

Blessed Miguel Pro's final request was to be allowed to pray to his heavenly Father.

After which he refused a blindfold and faced the firing squad bravely, proclaiming ¡Viva Cristo Rey!

Father Pro's executioners initially failed at their task, and the deed was finished at point blank range.

I am saddened, but hardly surprised, at the ignorance of the American public regarding the persecution of Catholics, and of the Cristero War that took place in Mexico in 1926 through 1929. Some 250,000 people lost their lives in a persecution that was supported by the government of the United States with both funds and air support. Given the ever-growing intolerance towards Christians, especially Catholics, in the United States, we would do well to remember.

Christ the King, by the intercession of Blessed Miguel Pro, I beg you to answer my prayers. Give me the grace and the strength necessary to follow your heroic example and to live my Catholic faith in spite of all temptations and adversities. Amen.

Images from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Happy Thanksgiving

It just wouldn't feel like Thanksgiving if the holiday didn't kick off with this. It never gets old.

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 20, 2023

Quiet Solitude - Drinking and Smoking

Like many, the majority of my time enjoying cigars and adult beverages occurs either alone or sitting with my wife. Even when I am outside smoking "alone," Colleen is home and we frequently still chat. I've been accused of being an introvert, and that's probably accurate. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy good conversation and company. Cigar smoking especially lends itself well to quiet reflection. 

Recently when Colleen was out with friends for the evening I decided to venture over to the local brewery to enjoy a good beer and sit in the cigar lounge. When I arrived on the clear warm(ish) evening, I was surprised to see the parking lot mostly empty. I filled my mug with a tasty Red Ale and headed over to the cigar shop and selected a Black Works Studio Hyena to light up.

I noticed the lounge had added more seating and looked ready for a crowd. I've been there when the seats were filled and folks were standing around. This time it was empty. I figured it was still early for a Friday for many folks. So I enjoyed the solitude and watched folks trickle in and out of the brewery. 

The Hyena is a 5 1/2 x 46 Corona Gorda. It boasts a Cameroon Maduro wrapper and Ecuadorian binder, with Nicaraguan and Dominican filler tobaccos. Bold flavors of espresso, dark chocolate, and black pepper treat the palate. The malty, sweet caramel red ale offered contrasting flavors that still created an exceptional pairing.

The smoke and beer lasted about 45 minutes. It seemed no one was venturing out this evening. I debated a second round, but considered my home turf. If I di say so myself, there's an amazing selection of cigars and whiskey on hand, along with music to enjoy. That option won out. What followed was a couple more hours of pleasurable solitude.


Friday, November 17, 2023

Five O'Clock Friday: Coffee or Whiskey

It's a problem easily solved with Irish Coffee.

Have a great weekend.


Thursday, November 16, 2023

A Chilly Night Smoke and Sip

Anyone who reads these Musings for any length of time, knows I am no fan of cold weather. It takes me a few weeks to accept and adapt to the season change. After a celebratory dinner recently I was in need of some "digestive" time. And it was cold outside. 

For the evening's chilly repast I grabbed a warm bourbon and a robust smoke -- Horse Soldier Reserve and Black Label Trading Company Viaticum Lancero.

The Horse Soldier Reserve is the distillery's Barrel Strength expression. This is one I enjoy often with a robust cigar. The bourbon is bottled at 124 proof. The nose has dark caramel, sweet maple, along with hint of vanilla and fruit. When sipping I get charred wood, dark fruit, molasses, and a cinnamon like spice. In the finish an interesting fruit note comes up, reminiscent of dark cherries and plums. The 124 proof imparts some heat to mouthfeel, but it is very balanced by the flavor notes, and not overwhelming in the least. Summarize all that to say it's right on target for my flavor preferences.

Black Label Trading Company makes a bunch of full bodied, flavorful smokes. The Viaticum line is a variation of their Last Rites series, with the same tobaccos put together in a  modified blend. It features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a Honduran binder from Honduras and fillers of Nicaraguan and Honduran tobaccos.  This lancero is an attractive 6 3/5 x 40 stick. The tobaccos create a robust blend of creamy chocolate, coffee, and cedar. It's full bodied but very balanced. The Viaticum makes a worthy companion to the hefty bourbon flavors.

Sitting under the infrared table lamp, and in front of the portable propane heater, the hour spent with the smoke and drink was quite bearable. I might just survive these cold months.


Monday, November 13, 2023

New Riff Single Barrel (Again) and Viva La Vida Cigars

I've been looking forward to smoking the Artesano del Tobacco Viva La Vida cigar since it arrived in the October Luxury Cigar Club monthly shipment. I've smoked this cigar line produced at the AJ Fernando factory in the past. Both the lancero and toro vitolas have made appearances in these Musings. This time it was the 5 x 54 robusto that I was enjoying. The attractive maduro Nicaraguan Habano Oscuro 2000 wrapper, Nicaraguan Corojo 99 binder, and the Nicaraguan Criollo 98 filler combine to make a flavorful smoke. This is full-bodied smoke with notes of leather, black coffee, pepper and a moderate cinnamon spice. The robusto was no less delectable than the others I've tried.

As the accompaniment for the evening, I poured some New Riff Single Barrel. The New Riff is a high rye bourbon with the expected rye-influenced kick. This particular batch is bottled at a robust 110.3 proof. The spice of the rye is prominent in the nose, along with cinnamon, brown sugar and sweet fruit notes. The proof is noticeable in the mouth giving a nice heat, one that stands up well to the full bodied cigar. The rye spiciness makes itself known more as the liquid rests on the tongue. The spiciness is balanced by some vanilla and cream sweetness. I was very pleasantly surprised by enjoyment of the pairing. This despite a memory of this one being a little more harsh previously. That harsher profile remembered was the reason I chose it for the pairing.

I went back and looked my previous remarks on the New Riff, which pretty well confirmed my memory. Then I noted that the previous tasting had been accompanied by a less than stellar cigar. It so happens that the same cigar has since disappointed on multiple occasions. Maybe that had some effect on my perceptions. This outing, I found the bourbon to be a most agreeable drink.

It's often said that the enjoyment of a particular bourbon, or a cigar, is influenced in no small part by one's mood or the accompanying food or cigar or drink, as the case may be. The more I explore bourbon and cigar pairings, and revisit some of the individual players, the more I experience that. I certainly found this to be true with the New Riff Single Barrel. I look forward to enjoying it again, with yet another cigar.


Friday, November 10, 2023

Five O'Clock Friday: It's Soup Weather

It will warm you on the inside too.

Have a great weekend.


Thursday, November 9, 2023

Lunch Hour Range Visit

It's that time of the year when the daytime temperatures can vary by 25° or more from one day to the next. I took advantage of one of the higher end of the spectrum on a recent afternoon to scoot over to the range for some brief trigger time. I only took 100 rounds of ammo with me, a choice I quickly regretted.

During some recent home purging activities, a full box of cardboard USPSA targets was discovered in the basement. I've been out of the IDPA version for some time so this was a fortuitous find. Grabbing one of my metal target bases completed the target supply needs. Using the stand-alone target setup turned out to be a good choice as the breeze at the range would have played havoc with the usual target hung from a rope.

As switch from the usual routine, I skipped the OWB range holster and stuck with my IWB holster for the SIG P320 Compact. Current events illustrate that these are good times to stay fresh on the EDC weapons. 

I spent most of the time simply drawing from under a t-shirt and shooting the target set at 15 yards. Shooting various head/body combinations ate through the 100 rounds pretty quickly. Nonetheless, it was an extremely relaxing time amongst the fall colors in the trees. Not a bad way to spend a "lunch hour."


Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Another Cool Evening Smoke

After a long week of activities that did not include a chance to relax with a cigar, I was looking forward to the start of the weekend. I'd been eyeing the CAO Flathead V660 cigars resting in my humidor for a couple months, waiting for the opportunity to enjoy one. The large stick offers nearly a two hour smoke, and though I wasn't sure I'd want to be outside that long, I opted to light one anyway. 

I selected the Michter's Small Batch US*1 Bourbon to go along with the smoke. The Michter's is a 91.4 proof bourbon that provides plenty of flavor return for the lower proof and reasonable price point. There's a pleasing aroma of raisons, cherries, and vanilla. The taste has dark fruit, vanilla, oak, and pepper.  The finish is short with some lingering spice. 

As the name suggests, the Flathead V660 is a 6 x 60 box-pressed stick with an extremely flattened cap at the end. I always use a punch to cut the cap when smoking the Flathead. The large size and flattened shape gives an awkward feel in the hand. A Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper covers an Ecuadorian Connecticut binder and Nicaraguan fillers. The smoke has a rich, semi-sweet chocolate and espresso flavor profile. As I find with many large ring gauge cigars, the draw is wide open, even when using a small punch. This limits smoke production somewhat, but the stick maintained an even burn.

The portable propane heater took the edge off the cool temperature, and I did enjoy the entire two hour smoke. The Michter's and the Flathead providing an enjoyable pairing to wind down the week.

The evenings are cool and the dark comes early but the whiskey is "warm" and the smoke refreshing, so it's still a win.


Monday, November 6, 2023

Halloween Chocolates

The evenings when we walked the neighborhood with our son and friends on Halloween are but memories now. I admit I don't always look forward to jumping up and down to answer the door repeatedly, but most years we participate, remembering the thrill it was for the boy. As a celebration-relevant treat, I poured myself some Maker's Mark Hint O' Chocolate II to enjoy with, of course, the occasional candy bar.

The Hint O' Chocolate is a Virginia ABC pick from 2022. The Private Selection is part of the Maker'sWood Finishing Series that was selected by, or for, VA ABC. Bottled at 107.9 proof, there are fruit and oak aromas to start. Those notes continue to the taste, with the addition of sweet cream to the mix. The "chocolate" comes in late. It's a soft mild chocolate tone that fades pretty quickly. I admit when I first tasted it upon purchase, I was not overly impressed. However, perhaps with better timing, I found it a quite enjoyable sip, if a mild one. 

Unfortunately, I'll have plenty of candy to pair with this and other bourbons for a while. We had NO trick or treaters come to the door this year. We live on a cul-de-sac with just a few homes and the kids these days only seem go to the houses on the main street, and only the ones that bring the candy to them at the end of the driveways. Their loss, my gain.


Friday, November 3, 2023

Five O'Clock Friday: Time Changes

Thus begins the darkness. Don't forget to set your clocks back.

Time to add some extra lighting on the deck.


Redemption Rum Cask Rye and HVC 10th Anniversary

I called this a “second chance” pairing. Both the Redemption Rum Cask Finish (Batch 003) and the HVC 10th Anniversary cigar I had first tried a few months ago. They were both found disappointing during those initial trials.

Having enjoyed the standard Redemption Rye in the past, I picked up the Rum Cask Finish bottle on a whim this summer. It was a minimal investment, and I've been exploring various "finished" whiskeys of late. The aroma gives off basic rye notes of spice and sweet fruit and caramel. Even at a low 94 proof, I get some alcohol tingle in the nose. The flavor profile is rather uninspiring with initial alcohol sharpness, merging into cinnamon and a sweet mix of brown sugar and molasses. There's a "young" harshness marking the flavor profile. Only in the finish do I detect a note of the rum influence.

I had first smoked the HVC 10th Anniversary last July. At the time I noted repeated burn issues, both uneven burns and difficulty keeping at the burn actually going. I was hoping a few months in the humidor would help. The  6 1/2 x 50 Toro is a Nicaraguan puro with a Nicaragua Jalapa Corojo ‘99 wrapper, Nicaraguan binder, and Nicaraguan Corojo ‘99, Corojo 2012, and Criollo ‘98 fillers. 

Upon lighting I get a vanilla blend of earth, nuts, leather, and a bit of cedar. The smoke feels "heavy" and leaves some dryness behind. For a while the burn seems to go along fine. The stick is very light and loosely packed, with some very soft spots near the middle. Eventually the smoke production slows and I am forced to relight. Cleaning off the ash I notice an off-center hollow space in the roll. Relighting seems to take and the burn continues. Despite my initial relief through the first half, the situation stays the same for the rest of the smoke and I am frequently touching up the diminishing burn. That does nothing for the flavor, or my relaxation. I eventually gave up on the cigar with a couple inches left.


Well, these things happen I suppose. I knew going in the selections would both need to redeem themselves. While the flavors of neither were bad per se, they both left a lot to be desired. Perhaps if one or the other had proven exceptional, it would have boosted the other. I still have most of the bottle left, and a few of the cigars on hand. I'll probably give both yet another go at some point. Although not at the same time.


Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Afternoon Cappuccino and a Cigar

Sometimes you just need a diversion from gazing at spreadsheets and answering email. On a warm afternoon that could mean heading outside for a coffee and cigar. In the mood for something sweet and and a little decadent, I made a quick cappuccino. 

The accompanying smoke was a Southern Draw Rose of Sharon Desert Rose Londsdale. This limited edition of the Desert Rose is a 6 x 44 lonsdale that features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, a Nicaraguan habano leaf binder, and filler consisting of Honduran Corojo 99 and Dominican Ciloto Cubano tobaccos. The wrapper is said to be a bolder version of Ecuadorian Connecticut used in the original Rose of Sharon. I enjoy Southern Draw cigars frequently, but have actually not had the Rose of Sharon so I will accept that untested. What I do know, is this cigar is more robust than I typically expect from Connecticut wrapper, and that's a good thing. The cigar kicked off with a peppery spice, before the addition of creamy bread and earth. Start to finish I found it a flavorful companion to the creamy espresso drink.

It wasn't too long before my "diversion" was interrupted by an urgent request for some data from my the salt mine. Thankful for wifi, I was able to continue the afternoon smoke while working on my laptop. 


Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Weekend Pistol Shooting

After a few months of missing out, I was happy to have the opportunity to shoot an IDPA match with friends last weekend. It was an especially pleasant morning as the October temps rose into the mid-80's over the weekend. I decided to shoot my Compact Sig P320 instead of the Full Size model I'd used most of the year. That gun had not been out since the Spring, and gets carried more in the winter, so it was time.

The match organizers had six interesting stages prepared for us. The first stage we shot was a "Standards" stage with two shooting boxes. The directions were to start with six rounds loaded in the gun. We had to fire one shot at each of six targets, before moving to the opposite box and reengaging the targets with six more rounds. It was a good way to warm up, though I did manage to have one hit on the center non-threat. The same edge of the same target was tagged by about 6 other people on our squad, so it seems it a well-placed challenge!

Next up was a more typical field course stage starting with a couple of close targets. After that we maneuvered around the walls engaging targets as they became visible. The short field courses, still with lots of movement are always enjoyable.

Then we had the stage called "Also a Standard," consisting of just four targets. One of those targets was paced off at about 24 yards. Starting with our hands touching the wall, we first engaged a target across the bay to our left, before turning our attention to the one barely visible "way down there." Then there were two more targets, both partially blocked by non-threats. One was directly to our right behind the wall, the other we backed uprange to shoot around the other end of the wall. I was extra pleased to shoot this one only -1; that one low shot being on the far target.

That fun stage was followed by another fun field course. That one had us seated at the start with our firearms and loading devices on a table a few yards distant. It presented a good mix of target engagements.

The next stage presented the challenge of head shot only targets. There was an array of four targets to the front, along with lone targets to the right and left of the start position. In a nod to the upcoming Halloween festivities, we started the course of fire with our hands resting on a "bloody" bandage, presumably a wounded companion. Nature provided an additional challenge -- the sunlight showing brightly through the pasted holes on the left target, made it nearly impossible to distinguish between your hits and ones from previous shooters. I managed to shoot just two down for the course.

For the last stage we hiked up to a distant bay where there was a large arrangement of walls set up. The layout was used at the previous weekend's USPSA match, and is modified and reused often. We didn't make use of the entire setup. The course included a mix of close and long distant targets. The final position required engaging targets from low cover while kneeling. On top of shooting a little too fast on the long targets and racking up points down, I shot the last two targets out of order and earned a PE. Not the best way to wrap up the match, but the stage was enjoyable nonetheless.

I actually felt pretty good about my shooting overall. For all intents and purposes, I was accurate enough, but my legs don't move as fast or my eyes focus as quickly as they once did. The weather certainly was a treat, with the unseasonably warm temperatures. The social aspect is always great at the matches. And I got to shoot? What's not to like?


Monday, October 30, 2023

Oliva Serie V Lancero and Four Roses Small Batch

This Four Roses Small Batch Select Bourbon has been on my shelf since February 2020, with only a few pours taken. It had floated to the back row and simply been overlooked. Sadly, I hardly remembered much about it so I grabbed the bottle recently to enjoy on a warmish evening. 

Small Batch Select is a regular production release, consisting of a blend of six of Four Roses' ten mash bills. It is bottled at 104 proof. The aroma has a touch of alcohol, but sweet, dark fruit and oak predominate. On the palate the spice notes kick things off. That initial kick is joined by dark fruit, and vanilla sweetness. It's flavorful and well-balanced. The finish lingers with spice and candied fruit notes and the mouthfeel is creamy and clean. 

I paired the flavorful bourbon with an Oliva Serie V Lancero. I've been enjoying more lanceros of late. I find the slender sticks typically have flavor profiles similar to their counterparts in different vitolas. However, those flavors are often intensified or concentrated somewhat. Be that from the higher wrapper-to-filler ratio, or the focused smoke coming out of the cigar could be debatable. They do take a more skilled roller to create and I find they are generally well-constructed and perform well. 

The 7 x 38 stick has a Habano Sun Grown wrapper with Nicaraguan tobaccos for the binder and fillers, including Jalapa Valley Ligero. The usual Serie V flavors of cocoa, coffee, roasted nuts, and cedar are present, all seemingly slightly enhanced in the elegant cigar.

This pairing was especially pleasurable. The Four Rose Small Batch Select bottle likely won't be ignored in the coming weeks. Fortunately it seems to be readily available  in my area. 


Friday, October 27, 2023

Five O'Clock Friday: Weekend Diet Tip

Stay healthy my friends.

Enjoy the weekend.


BLTC Bishops Blend Novemdiales And A Cocktail

Though the weather's turning cool, we managed a "cocktail hour" on the porch one afternoon this week. Granted, the portable heaters were needed but it was still quite pleasant. After short discussion, we settled on the Old Fashioned as our libation as choice. 

I chose a Black Label Trading Company Bishops Blend Novemdiales in Robusto to enjoy on this afternoon. The annual Bishops Blend releases are one of my favorite smokes, and the 2023 version was especially intriguing. A Pennsylvania broadleaf wrapper, Ecuadorian habano binder, and a complex filler of tobaccos from Nicaragua, Pennsylvania, and a Connecticut broadleaf promised a flavorful smoke. The prior years' releases used an Ecuadorian maduro wrapper. I've been sitting on the cigars for about three weeks and could resist no longer.

Trivia: Novemdiales is the term for the nine days of mourning following the death of the Pope. 

The Novemdiales Robusto is a 5 x 50 torpedo with a sharply pointed cap and a closed foot. The roll was densely packed. As expected this is a full bodied smoke. The flavor profile is rich with dark fruit, bitter espresso, with cedar and pepper spices. Despite the short humidor time, the stick burned well. At about the last third, the draw closed a bit. I used my PerfecDraw tool to open it up and all was well once again.

I enjoyed the Bishops Blend Novemdiales immensely. I still have a few sticks from the 2020 and 2021 releases that I'll eventually smoke. I should probably not hold them too long as that might mute the bold profiles. Only 900 boxes of the three 2023 vitolas were released, so I should probably grab a few more of those while I can.


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Saturday Evening With Little Book Chapter 6 Whiskey

Lately I've been turning to whiskeys on my shelves that I haven't opened in a while. Often first impressions don't do a whiskey justice. One's mood, the foods recently eaten, the weather, many factors influence the enjoyment. The same is true with cigars, although I am admittedly more apt to stick with my initial judgments when I don't enjoy a specific cigar. Maybe the higher of the beverages allows for more second chances.

This weekend I grabbed the decorative box containing Freddie Noe's Little Book Chapter 6 "To The Finish" for another try. I had opened the bottle a year ago when I picked it up during one of VA ABC's over-hyped "allocated drops." At the time I was admittedly questioning the price I had paid for the bottle. This time was different, and I was moved to refill my glass more than once before the evening was done.

The Little Book series is an annual release from Freddie Noe, the son of Jim Beam master distiller, Fred Noe. The blended whiskeys are a testament to Freddie Noe's talent, and a nod to the family's heritage. Chapter 6 "To The Finish" contains four different, four year old malt whiskeys and a five year straight bourbon.

The whiskey is bottled at 117.45 proof. The aroma brings images of "someone's baking in the kitchen" with scents of brown sugar, caramel, and spices. The sip is warming, with oak, walnuts, cinnamon, and a mild pleasing smokiness. The finish lingers as it coats the tongue with an oily viscousness. 

I selected a Lampert Oscuru Torpedo to smoke with the whiskey. This was a selection that was included in the July Luxury Cigar Club Core membership and is an otherwise unreleased variation of the Lampert Cigars Oro lineup. It's a hefty 6 x 52 torpedo. The specific tobaccos were not listed. This is an impressive looking cigar, very well rolled with a sharply pointed cap. The dark wrapper was smooth and glistened under the lights of my deck. In fact, it was so oily and smooth that it actually slipped out of my hand about mid-smoke. Impressively the ash mostly held and the burn was unaffected by the fall.

The flavors of the cigar complimented the whiskey well. Dark chocolate, espresso, roasted nuts, and some pepper all made themselves known. Medium to full bodied, the profile was not overwhelmed by the flavorful high proof drink. I tend to start with a skeptical mindset when a cigar of the month club throws in  unreleased or newly found stock, especially from lesser-known (to me) brands. I need not have worried with this one. I've yet to be disappointed by anything shipped by Luxury Cigar Club.

I had to adjust my heater to be nearer to me and at a higher setting by the time the smoke was finished, but the evening remained pleasurable. The flavorful whiskey and cigar took away much notice of the cool evening air and breeze. 


Monday, October 23, 2023

Friday Nightcap

Left to my own devices Friday evening while Colleen visited with friends, I made a short visit to a local brewery, then capped the evening with a late night cigar and bourbon at home. Some Penelope Four Grain Straight Bourbon and a United Cigars Firecracker, all paired with a bit of truffle chocolate filled the bill.

The United Firecracker is an annual release, typically around the 4th of July each year. This stick was part of the July Luxury Cigar Club shipment but arrived after the holiday. Of course I didn't expect to keep it around until next year! The 3 1/2 x 50 cigar has an Ecuadorian wrapper, Nicuarguan binder, and a Nicaraguan and Dominican blend as filler. The cap features a long twisted tobacco "fuse" that lays along the side of the cigar before cutting. The smoke starts off with sweet crackers and brown sugar notes, spiced with cinnamon. The flavor strength kicks up in the second half of the cigar, with the addition of cedar and earth. 

I've had the Penelope Bourbon previously. At that time I found the 80 proof bourbon to be lightly flavored but enjoyable. Vanilla, oak, and butterscotch combined for a mild flavor profile. This time, I felt a bit let down by the profile. Perhaps the medium to full bodied cigar overwhelmed it. Or even the chocolate perhaps.

Despite the less-than-ideal pairing, the late evening on the deck was a pleasant way to wind down after a long week.


Saturday, October 21, 2023

The Approaching Season of Cold Weather Smoking

It's no secret I am not a fan of cold weather. Deep down, I think it's mostly the early sunsets that affects the mood the most. Smoking on the deck in the dark AND cold can dampen the spirit. Fall is not bad, but it portends the coming of winter. 

This time of year I am slow to adapt to the changes. However, once I settle in with the drink and smoke, it's generally not so bad. I'll turn on the flood lights, crank up the propane heaters (and sometimes supplement with electric heat lamps) and it's pleasant enough. Shorter smokes will soon become the norm.

Earlier this week on a cool evening I gathered my resolve and I ventured out with some Woodford Reserve Double Oak Bourbon and a Fratello DMV Maduro Selection Delaware.

The Woodford bourbon is always an easy choice. It's got that "classic" bourbon flavor and pairs well with a cigar. With smooth, sweet oak notes, mild fruit and vanilla, and a mild bourbon heat, it can go down too easily if one is not mindful.

The Fratello DMV Maduro Selection had been hiding in my humidor since late 2020 when the limited release debuted. The series consisted of four varieties, labeled Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and DC. Released as a limited run of 600 12-count sampler boxes, it was a followup to the original Fratello DMV series released in 2018. Each of the 6 x 50 sticks has the same binder and filler tobaccos, but a different wrapper. No specific blend details were made available. Most of my box is long gone now, but I still have a few individuals on hand.

The slightly aged stick burned exceptionally well. I recall some consistent burn issues when I initially smoked them right after their release. The oily maduro wrapper shined in the glow of the porch lights. The cigar was medium, venturing into full flavored, with roasted nut, espresso, and cedar notes. There were interesting and pleasant charred meat and tobacco flavors persisting on the palate.

Despite the coolness, and I did need to crank up the level on the heater near the end, the time on the deck with a cigar and bourbon was quite pleasant after all.


Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Old Elk Double Wheat Whiskey Pairing

Old Elk is a label I've only recently paid much attention to. My initial foray into the brand was the Old Elk Cigar Cut. That delicious libation led to reading more about the brand, which led to a few more of their expressions being added to my "wish list." Many of those were readily available in Virginia, but I hadn't gotten around to picking any up. Then I saw on the VA ABC website that several were listed as "closeout items" and marked 50% off. With that event in play, I could delay no longer. I went to my local store and picked up bottles of Double Wheat Whiskey and Cognac Cask Finish Bourbon. I noted that the Cigar Cut was among those discounted, but alas I was too late to grab that one.

I elected to open the Double Wheat right away. The whiskey was paired with a Tatuaje The Drac Redux 2 that had been hiding in my humidor for over a year. Adding to the pleasure of the evening on the deck was the newly released Joe Bonamassa album I had added to my collection. (Okay, technically it's a digital download, but still an "album.")

The Old Elk Double Wheat is a blend of the brand's Wheat Whiskey and their Wheated Bourbon releases. The final product checks in at 107.1 proof. The aroma is robust with sweet dough and cinnamon. My initial thought was "dessert," as a fresh baked cinnamon bun came to mind. Sipping added caramel and a bit of warmth to the mix. As the "double wheat" appellation hints, the sweetness of wheat is the dominant flavor. Rest assured, it's not cloying or overpowering. I would have paid the full $100 MSRP for this one, and getting is for half that was an exceptional bargain. I am fighting the temptation to go back and pick up a backup bottle before they are gone.

The awkwardly named Tatuaje The Drag Redux 2 is a hefty 6 3/4 x 52 Torpedo. It features an oily Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, with Nicaraguan binder and fillers. The well-aged stick gave off flavors of caramel, vanilla, peat, and some white pepper. The sweeter undertones were a pleasing compliment to the sweet whiskey. 

A chatted with the store manager about the Old Elk "clearance sale." She stated that the Old Elks were simply not selling, though not all are marked down. I'm guessing there's some hesitancy from enthusiasts about a Fort Collins, CO producer and the MGP-sourced ingredients. If that's the case, those folks are missing out.

Non-producing distillers often get a bad rap from bourbon fans snobs. However, there are some truly good products being produced. Talented blenders can pick specific mash bills and ages to start with, and then blend and age delicious beverages. Old Elk, along with Barrel Bourbon are two such examples I've enjoyed recently.


Monday, October 16, 2023

Italy: Pocket Espresso

One of the fun memories from our trip to Italy fourteen years ago was that of the Pocket Espresso. At just about every restaurant rest stop along the autostrada we found these wonderful "pick-me-ups." Shaped like a little ketchup pack from a fast food place, the packet contains a shot of espresso. Poke in the tiny attached straw and suck in a shot of tasty and refreshing espresso. We anxiously looked forward to enjoying them again during our recent trip.

We were a couple days in to the trip when we saw some by the checkout during a stop. The current versions, now called Pocket Coffee, are rich in chocolate flavoring. I don't recall the chocolate addition previously. They are different but still good. 

We mentioned to our guide the apparent rarity of the treats. She told us they are now a "seasonal" item, with summer and winter editions. The summer version was currently being dropped from stock in preparation for the arrival of the winter one. While the summer version is espresso with chocolate added, the winter edition is a chocolate candy with espresso inside. The winter edition is even sold on Amazon now.

We enjoyed the Pocket Espresso frequently, especially on long bus rides. The few were brought home and were welcome during those initial recovery days after the trip.

As good as the instant treats are, it's hard to beat an actual, freshly made Italian espresso. Especially when paired with a delicious pastry.


Friday, October 13, 2023

Five O'Clock Friday: Weekends Are For Recovery

It's finally Friday. 

Time to mend the ills of the work week.


Still Reliving Italy - Aperitivo, Drinks, and Cigars

It's been about a month since we returned from Italy. As often happens after we travel, we try to relive the moments for a while afterwards. Espresso, antipasti, negronis, aperol spritz, they've all been repeated the last couple of weeks. 

On what will probably be one of the last Sunday afternoon outdoor cocktail sessions recently, Colleen prepared the antipasto platter while I put together a couple Aperol Spritz drinks. The temperature on the deck was cool, and after a bit we did move over to the screened porch and set out the heaters on low.

Of course, I lit a cigar. This time the Southern Draw Jacobs Ladder Brimstone in a Lonsdale vitola.

Southern Draw Jacob's Ladder Brimstone is a full bodied blend with a USA Broadleaf wrapper and binder. The strength is kicked up by a triple ligero filler blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos. This Lonsdale vitola is a 6 x 44 stick. Lonsdales are close to Lanceros, but slightly shorter and thicker.

The smoke is a robust blend of dark chocolate, roasted coffee, dark fruit, along with a pepper spiciness. The burn was perfect throughout with copious smoke output. I've only had my cigars in the humidor a few weeks yet it was certainly ready to smoke.

The bitterness of the Aperol Spritz at first seems like it may not work with cigars, but I've been pleasantly surprised with the pairings I've tried. I found this one to be especially enjoyable. I look forward to smoking more of the Southern Draw Jacob's Ladder Brimstone soon. 


Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Season's First Fire, With Wine and a Cigar

The advent of cool weather is not something I look forward to. However it does provide the opportunity to sit around a nice fire in the backyard pit. The first fire of the season kicked off just before dusk this past weekend.

Mixing things up a bit, we took out a bottle of wine to enjoy around the fire. I grabbed a My Father El Centurion H-2K-CT to go along with that beverage. The box-pressed cigar has Cuban-seed Connecticut  tobacco as the wrapper, and Nicaraguan binder and filler leaves. The creamy smoke has notes of vanilla, nuts, caramel, roasted coffee, dark fruit note, with a very mild cedar spice.

The Australian Malbec was a good match for the El Centurion. A bit of tannin, combined with dark fruit notes paired well with the flavors of the cigar. 

The warm fire, the cigar, the wine, and the company all made for an extremely enjoyable evening. And some homemade chocolate cookies made an appearance as well. A fitting start to the fall.


Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Italy: Negronis and Cigars

Bourbon was not a beverage we saw much during our stay in Italy, though in truth I was not expecting it either. Obviously we drank a lot of wine with our meals. When I went looking for a cocktail to enjoy with an evening cigar, the Negroni was a commonly available option. At our hotel in Assisi, the Negroni was the 7 Euro "special" available each evening, so an obvious choice. During the afternoons, the clerk on duty had mixology knowledge limited to Aperol Spritz, hence that beverage during a previous smoking break.

The Negroni is a classic Italian cocktail, that is very simple to make. It consists of equal parts gin, vermouth rosso, and Campari, stirred over ice and garnished with an orange slice typically.  As a side note, cocktails are about the only time one sees ice in drinks in Italy.

Despite being considered an apéritif, we usually enjoyed the negronis after dinner. (Especially at the hotel in Assisi where there was no one with the knowledge to prepare the drink until after 7:00PM.) One evening pairing was with a Rocky Patel The Edge 20th Anniversary Robusto. The cigar features a 10 year aged Ecuador Sumatra wrapper, a Honduran Broadleaf binder, with filler tobaccos from Honduras and Panama. The 5 1/2 x 50 Robusto is is a medium bodied smoke with rich notes of espresso, dark chocolate, and nuts.

Later in the trip, another evening and another Negroni, this time with the Plasencia Reserva Original Toro. The richly flavored 6 x 50 Toro has notes of espresso, cedar, pepper, and dark cherry, with some sweet bread in the background.

Did I mention I enjoyed a lot of Negronis in Ireland? Here's another pairing, this time properly consumed before dinner. This one was served in a water glass, with both an orange slice and a lemon peel. It was paired with the last of my cigars brought from home, a Crowned Heads Le Carême in the Canonazo (5 7/8 x 52) vitola. The Le Carême is one of my favorite smokes. This 5 7/8 x 52 box pressed stick has a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, a Sumatra binder, and Nicaraguan fillers. Though is has a creamy, sweet chocolate and nutty flavor profile it made another enjoyable pairing. (From this point on, smoking would be be limited to Italian Toscanos.

The Negroni is a more bitter cocktail than the sweeter profile of my usual straight bourbon, or Old Fashioned cocktail choices. However, all the cigar pairings were enjoyable. It was Italy after all.

And then...
When a friend who was also on the Italy trip came by for dinner recently, we decided to recreate the memory with more Negroni and cigars!