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!


Monday, October 9, 2023

Tailgate Cigars

It was a beautiful fall Saturday, perfect for tailgating before a college football game. While the games are generally exciting, I look forward to the tailgate beforehand, mostly because it means time spent enjoying a cigar. While at home, I generally prefer bourbon as the accompanying beverage, but beer is always suitable for the pre-football festivities. For this occasion I had the Fightin' Hokies Lager from Hardywood Park Craft Brewing in the cooler. For my smoke I selected the Tobacco Tactical Dead Conqueror Alexander the Great Corojo. This was a selection in the June My Cigar Pack shipment, and a cigar I was unfamiliar with. The 6 x 54 Toro features a very dark chocolate Corojo wrapper with Dominican binder and fillers. I reviewed the Maduro version previously.

Like many large ring gauge cigars, the draw was open and airy. It took a while to get the cigar really going  before I started getting a good smoke production going. After 15 or 20 minutes, I was still double and triple puffing to get a good amount of smoke on the draw. Despite the moderately increased smoke production, I was getting more disappointed with each passing minute. I found the cigar to be quite devoid of flavor. "Sucking on a wooden toothpick" was the descriptor that came to mind. Reviewing my comments regarding the Maduro version, I noted muted but present flavors with that version, and it was an enjoyable smoke. Dominican tobaccos are generally mild, though still flavorful but this one I found exceptionally uninteresting. I took a break and I decided to eat my sandwich and set the cigar down with about one half smoked.

After the main eating was done, though snacking was ongoing, I decided to abandon the Dead Conqueror and light up a cigar I knew to be very flavorful.

The Olmec is a newer release from Foundation Cigars that I've smoked previously. This is a 5 x 50 Robusto with a dark San Andrés maduro wrapper covering binder and aged fillers from Nicaragua. Now we were getting somewhere - espresso, charred meat, molasses, and dark chocolate notes are all detected. This one I enjoyed thoroughly and smoked it down until there was nothing left to hold on to. 

Despite the slow start, the afternoon of enjoying good food, drink, and smoke was a blast. The day only got better as our team went on to victory in the late night game.


Sunday, October 8, 2023

Saturday Cigar and Cappuccino

It's been a while since I found time on a Saturday afternoon to sit and well, sit. That's not really a complaint as most of our Saturdays of late have been taken up by travel and other fun activities. But that doesn't mean I don't miss the "down times" as well. I've been giving our little espresso maker quite the workout since we returned from our Italy trip. (Still, nothing beats an espresso in its native land.) This time I got a little more decadent and prepared a cappuccino to enjoy.

The selected smoke for the afternoon repast was the Crowned Heads Four Kicks Capa Especial Lancero LE 2022. (That's a mouthful.) The 7 1/4 x 38 stick sports an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, with binder and fillers of Nicaraguan tobaccos. There's a tiny pigtail twist on the cap. It was part of a lancero collection recently purchased from Luxury Cigar Club.

The flavors start out with a pleasant sweet note with a smattering of black pepper. As the smoke progresses, the spiciness builds and bitter chocolate and cedar enters the picture. Throughout much of the smoke, the flavor profile was in the medium range, held in check by the creamy cappuccino. Towards the end of the stick, a strong bitterness entered the picture, as well as copious amounts of oily tar around the cap. Perhaps I had been smoking it too hard, but I put it down with about two inches left. Up until that point the Four Kicks Lancero was a very enjoyable smoke.

Fall weather has come upon us, and although the thermometer claimed a temperature around 70°, the cloud cover and breeze made it a little chilly. I broke out the propane heater and set it on low the take the edge off. Sadly, I suspect cooler smoking time is soon to be the norm.

Some good jazz playing from the speaker added to the pleasant afternoon break. It was as they say, a good time.


Friday, October 6, 2023

Five O'Clock Friday: Reasons to Drink

As seen on a building in Rome

The Italians get it.


Sixteen Years of Blogging

Today marks 16 years of writing this blog. The collection of ramblings began as "Musings Over a Pint" on October 6, 2007. As I sorted out the "identity" of the Musings, the title eventually changed to "Musings Over a Barrel." I stated in that first post, "I have no idea what this will turn in to" and still today the topics continue morph with my interests and the times.

Heck, I'm not even sure anyone reads this stuff, except me. And I re-read it frequently. As with looking through a photo album, it's fun to reminisce. Writing the blog gives me an excuse to seek out new cigars and bourbons to try. (Yeah, that's it.) I also find writing the posts to be relaxing, most are written with my morning coffee. Which might explain the typos.

To those of you who may check in here on occasion, thanks for stopping by. Tell your friends. ;-) 

I might as well plug my related Instagram posts as well.


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.