Scotch whisky

Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225

To commemorate their 225th anniversary, Hunters and Frankau (“Hunters”) chose to give the maestros at Habanos S.A. the task to produce a very special cigar to be made exclusively for the UK market. The Hunters’ committee sifted through their archives and chose Ramón Allones as the brand of honour. As one of the oldest brands (first registered in 1845), and accredited to be the first to utilise colour lithography, Ramón Allones is particularly well favoured by experienced passionados for their strength but also tannic and spicy flavours with great complexity and balance. The association between the brand and Hunters goes as far back as 1911 when it was first bought by them outright and held until 1927. Nonetheless, the UK rights of the brand remained with them for decades until the Cuban revolution.

Another area of interest was the instruction for the cigar to not only be based on the currently in vogue gordito vitola de galera, but for it to have a cabeza tumbada or “dropped head”. This was characteristic of the forms produced during Hunters’ control of the brand around a century ago. My curiosity was piqued by the fact that not only were the 50,000 cigars all rolled by just three top grade torcedores, but that their production was as early as February to May 2013. They were then shipped to the UK and aged in secret in a specially contained warehouse for two years before being unveiled at their 225th anniversary party in June this year.

With such a unique cigar and plenty of flavour expected to delight the palate, I did not take the decision of the digestif pairing lightly. One special whisky from Kilchoman (“Kil-ho-man”) which, in 2005 was the first Islay distillery to be constructed in 125 years, came immediately to mind. The gold medal-awarded Loch Gorm 2015 limited release was not only exclusively matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks as before, but for this release, they were also matured for a period in the smaller hogshead casks (being under half the capacity of a standard sherry butt of 500 litres). This would increase the ratio of surface area to whisky, intensifying the whisky contact with the sherry elements; giving not only richer colour, but more importantly, a deeper intensity, richness and sweeter finish to marry well with the earthiness and spice Ramón Allones is known for.

Having sifted laboriously through a full box of 25 to purchase one of the Aniversario 225, it wasn’t the best start, particularly with lack of uniformity in the colour of the relatively lighter shade of the capa and most of them too tightly rolled for my liking. Finally having made my choice, the wrapper of the cigar for degustation was colorado in colour and smooth to the touch. However, as aforementioned, the capa had uneven hues and was not as alluring as I like to see, with a couple of green spots visible on closer inspection.

Thankfully there were no issues with the pre-light draw, which was close to perfect. The two years of warehouse ageing clearly had an effect as no trace of bitterness expected of such a youthful habano was detectable. Instead, notes of straw and light earthiness delighted the palate. Bountiful smoke provided notes of earthiness and spice from the start. The Kilchoman Loch Gorm with its ex-Oloroso sherry hogshead ageing afforded the perfect balance of gentle smoke, peat and a soothingly long, sweet finish to refresh the palate. What’s more, at 46% it was the right strength to enjoy neat, unadulterated by extraneous meddling.

Subtle smoked tea and woody elements were later exhibited and towards the final part, elements of black pepper became more pronounced on the retrohale. The strength gradually increased and the earthiness developed in the second third, with a subtle, thin layer of burnt caramel and toasted flavours on the top notes. The spice on the retrohale intensified into white pepper notes.

The final third was a delight as the nutty creaminess of the smoke increased and there was still none of the bitterness detected from such a youthful cigar. Hints of anise and cocoa make their way through the tannic earthiness and spice on the retrohale to finish off what was a remarkably good-tasting cigar for its age. But then again, one may never discount the part the Kilchoman Loch Gorm had to play!

Tasting notes and details:

Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225 Edición Regional Gran Bretaña 2015

Factory NameGordito (with cabeza tumbada)

Size50 x 5.5”  (19.84 x 140)mm

Box code and dateMUR  MAY13

Wrappercolorado (but slightly patchy) in colour and smooth to the touch.

Draw – very good (after searching most of a box of 25). Pre-light notes without any bitterness but with lovely notes of straw and light earthiness.

First third – plenty of smoke with earthiness and spice from the start. Subtle smoked tea/woody elements and towards the end, black pepper becomes pronounced on the retrohale.

Second third – the earthiness increases with traces of burnt caramel on the top notes while white pepper tingles on the retrohale.

Last third – nutty creaminess develops in the smoke, still without any of the expected harshness. Hints of anise and cocoa meander through the elements of spice.

PairingKilchoman Loch Gorm (46%). This single malt Islay vatted from fresh (first-fill) Oloroso sherry butts and hogsheads has a delightfully soft, yet spicy and rich nose with gentle smoke, dark cacao nibs and some fruitiness. The palate provided soft fresh fruits with peat smoke enveloping the palate to give a long and rich, sweet finish and lingering smoke with great balance. A superb whisky in its own right.

Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225 001 Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225 003 Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225 004 Ramón Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225 005

© 2015, Harmic Davidkhanian. All rights reserved.

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Bolívar Super Corona Edición Limitada 2014

Simón Bolívar was one of the great historic figures of the 19th Century who liberated much of South America from Spanish rule and it is only fitting that this eponymous brand created in 1902 is comparatively intense in its strength. With eight regular production cigars in the current brand portfolio (half of which are tubos), experienced habano passionados of the stronger blends would surely be gleeful of another powerful Bolívar edición limitada (EL) after the great success of the petit belicosos released in 2009.

The Hermosos No. 3 vitola de galera was last seen as the Partagás Serie C No. 3 (EL 2012) and has proven to be an interesting deviation from the nascent arrival of the very heavy ring gauge cigars in Habanos. Having smoked regional Bolívar puros of 54 cepo, the intensity at the end of the last third of this type of vitola (sublimes), have certainly been testing at times. The Hermosos No. 3 should provide an interesting balance between intensity of flavour and strength of tobacco at the end of the tasting of this Bolívar.

Having put off opening the lengthily named Bruichladdich Cuvée 382 La Berenice MG41 (L’Age D’Or) for several months, the Bolívar Super Corona EL 2014 proved just the excuse to experience the allure of a 21 year-old whisky with a saccharined ex-Sauternes wine cask finish to what is typically a distinctly Islay dram with its customary smoke and peatiness.

The comparatively rougher texture of the colorado-maduro capa of the Super Corona to the other ELs 2014 that I reviewed (Cohiba Robusto Supremos and Partagás Selección Privada), may have initially advocated some discrimination of tobacco selection to its detriment. Apart from a couple of noticeable veins, the slightly firmer but good draw delighted the palate with pre-light notes of the inimitable Bolívar earthiness and toasted flavours I was looking forward to.

The first few draws were flavourful, with hefty earthy notes of straw, moist wood and a hint of dried fruits in the relatively bountiful smoke. Initially, the strength was unexpectedly mild, being medium-bodied and retrohaling gave access to delicate cedary spice notes. However, by the end of the first third, the strength and spices increased noticeably, above all on the retrohale.

The gradual progression in strength continued into the second third, as it advanced to being medium-full bodied. Some toasted flavours and bitter cocoa notes appeared alongside the ever-present earthiness, but with the slightest touch of raisins on the finish. With three drops of still mineral water, the aroma and the sweetness of the unpeated whisky opened up to give a longer finish which married well with the earthiness and spice of the cigar.

In the final third, the youth of the cigar became more pronounced as the flavours muted somewhat, with the exception of some leather and anise. The finish of the cigar became longer and earthier but was still enjoyable, only thanks to my previous experience proving utile in my fortitude to withstand the waves of strength at the very end.

Tasting notes and details:

Bolívar Super Corona Edición Limitada 2014

Factory NameHermosos No. 3

Size48 x 5.5” (19.45 x 140)mm

Box code and dateEML JUL14

Wrapper – unmistakably oily sheen and colorado-maduro. A little rougher in texture than the other ediciónes limitadas 2014 but still a great looking cigar.

Draw – slightly compact, but still good. Pre-light notes are full of spice, and musty-earthy mushroom qualities.

First third – chunky earthy notes of straw, moist wood and a hint of dried fruits.

Second third – toasted flavours and bitter cocoa appear alongside the ever-present earthiness, this time with the slightest sweet touch of raisins on the finish.

Last third – some leather and anise notes but the increasing strength intensifies greatly.

PairingBruichladdich Cuvée 382 La Berenice MG41 (L’Age D’Or) 21 Years Old (46%). With a rich and fruity nose of baked pears, this was surely to be a smooth whisky. With time, the whisky opened up to reveal more of the vanilla, honeyed dark fruits and toasted oak but was not markedly sweet; keeping true to its Islay roots. The finish became longer and warmer and some of the oiliness lingered further to prolong the finish. The whisky certainly stood up to and interacted well with the latterly full-bodied cigar, but in my opinion, it is one to enjoy in its own right over a décontracté, long whisky tasting session.

Bolívar Super Corona Edición Limitada 2014 with Bruichladdich Cuvée 382 002 Bolívar Super Corona Edición Limitada 2014 with Bruichladdich Cuvée 382 003 Bolívar Super Corona Edición Limitada 2014 with Bruichladdich Cuvée 382 004 Bolívar Super Corona Edición Limitada 2014 with Bruichladdich Cuvée 382 005

© 2015, Harmic Davidkhanian. All rights reserved.

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Glenfiddich Cask Collection and Distillery Tour

My first trip to Scotland may have been organised at the last minute, but the experiences of the distillery visits during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival with my dear friends Elie, Antoine and Jonathan only emboldened my passion for whisky – particularly the inimitable patriarch that is Scotch.

Glenfiddich (translated as “in the valley of the deer” in Scottish Gaelic, hence the stag iconography in its branding), was the one I most enjoyed from beginning to end. Located in the town of Dufftown (pronounced “Duffton” with a soft ‘t’), the vast site is impressive on its own, incorporating a coppersmiths to maintain the stills and a dedicated cooperage to repair the barrels and casks, which were both added in the 1950s.

The most striking element of all though, is the fact that the distillery is one of very few to remain in the same family hands of the founder. I am sure that William Grant, who saw the first spirit to run off the stills on Christmas Day in 1887, would be immensely proud to know his descendants have earned Glenfiddich the highest accolades of most awarded and best-selling single malt whisky in the world.

The welcome centre itself has a wonderfully illustrated poster to whet the appetite for knowledge of the distillery, and our guide in his tartan kilt certainly was the real deal brimming with enthusiasm and knowledge. Thankfully neither the expected weather, nor the prohibition of photography inside the warehouses dampened spirits (excuse the pun). The Solera Vat process unique to Glenfiddich and introduced in 1998, was the focus of our tour in “Warehouse 8”. This marrying method which was modified from the original process most commonly found in sherry and port production, is used for their 15 Year Old to ensure continuity in the taste and intensity of the blend.

Whisky that has been aged for a minimum of 15 years (in the casks from the date of distillation) in American ex-bourbon oak, Spanish ex-Olorosso sherry oak and finally ‘finished’ for 3-6 months in new American oak casks; are half-emptied into the enormous 35,000 litre Solera Vat sequentially at intervals to mix and settle in such a way that the vat itself is always half full of whisky. The ratio of the vatted malt is roughly 70% ex-bourbon, 20% ex-Olorosso sherry, and 10% new American oak and the oldest whisky in the mix is said to be 30 years old, which would certainly help to mellow out its feistier, younger brethren.

Once the interval for mellowing the whisky has passed, half the whisky is finally transferred from the Solera Vat to large 500 litre Portuguese oak tuns to further marry and compound all the greatness of the different casks into the single malt for at least 3 months. Thereafter, it is chill filtered and diluted to 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) with the natural spring water Glenfiddich uses in all its production, from the nearby Robbie Dhu.

In late 2013, three smaller vats were added to Warehouse 8 to be used for then new travel retail exclusive Cask Collection which comprises of Glenfiddich Select Cask, Glenfiddich Reserve Cask and Glenfiddich Vintage Cask whiskies. These were the drams we had the pleasure of tasting at the end of the tour and they were certainly different to the usual expressions I had previously come across, particularly for the fact that they are NAS (non-age statement) Glenfiddich whiskies. The characteristics of each of the three whiskies are a result of maturation in a variety of oak casks followed by a finish for at least 2 months in the new vats and they are bottled only when Glenfiddich’s Malt Master, Brian Kinsman is satisfied with them.

With a relatively short walk over to the welcoming oak interior of the warm and homely tastings suite, we got down to business:

Glenfiddich Select Cask

Glenfiddich Select Cask

The first of the three whiskies was matured in aged American bourbon, European oak and Californian red wine casks, then finished for at least 2 months in the Select Cask Solera Vat.

Nose: Floral notes apparent from the beginning. Some mild apple can be detected among summer fruits.

Palate: Very smooth, barley sweetness and flavours like the zestful pear character of Glenfiddich 12 Year Old with a touch more of oak spice.

Finish: Crisp and refreshing.

The balance of this whisky is very good and would probably be the one to convert non-whisky drinkers. A little more zing on the finish than the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old.

Glenfiddich Reserve Cask

Glenfiddich Reserve Cask

It was immediately apparent from the noticeably redder colour of the second whisky that it was clearly matured in distinctive Spanish sherry casks before being finished for a minimum of 2 months in the Reserve Cask Solera Vat.

Nose: A stronger aroma is present than the first whisky. Plenty of mandarin orange as well as oak spice.

Palate: The sweetness is greater than the Select Cask but the Spanish oak spice gives added complexity. With time, citrus flavours, chocolate raisin and cinnamon engage the palate.

Finish: Long, sweet and slightly drying with time.

Very smooth, exhibiting sweeter and spicier notes. Being a sherry cask fan, this was a little weak for my cask strength palate but still enjoyable.

Glenfiddich Vintage Cask

Glenfiddich Vintage Cask

Like most whisky until the onset of the 20th Century, the barley used for the fermentation process was dried by combusting local peat rather than heating by gas as is the case today, thereby adding smokiness to the flavour of the end product. The Glenfiddich Vintage Cask was born with this heritage in mind.

Peated barley was used specifically and only for the production of this whisky. It was then matured in American Bourbon and European oak casks, to then be finished for no less than 2 months in the Vintage Cask Solera Vat.

Nose: The distinctive salinity and smoke is evident from the start. Some dark roasted cocoa beans and a hint of spice later appear.

Palate: Vanilla sweetness bursts onto the palate and then peat and smoke crash by the wave on the palate. The sweetness and smoke interact like a tango on the tongue as citrus, crème brûlée and a touch of wooden spice appear as it develops in the glass.

Finish: Creamy sweetness and oak spice goes long into the dry smoky finish.

This whisky is a unique and complex iteration of Glenfiddich whose flavours certainly live up to being akin to the old taste of peated Glenfiddich from many decades ago. However, even as an Islay fan, the smoke does not seem to quite work for me, as you cannot help but feel it is too overpowering over the other flavours.

Another first for me at Glenfiddich and probably the most enjoyable moment of the trip I had, was to fill my own unique bottle straight from a single cask. As it was a first fill Sherry, cask strength whisky at 57.8% ABV and chosen to be made available only for visitors during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival this year, it was a sagacious, yet sybaritic purchase. Having tasted a sample before getting my hands on the finished article, I knew from the profoundly deep ruby colour that it would live up to the “Sherry bomb” epithet our guide bestowed on it during the tour. Please watch this space for my first single malt, single cask tasting of this unique malt which will be coming soon!

Glenfiddich Visitors Centre Interior Glenfiddich Visitors Centre Heritage Poster Glenfiddich Site Casks

Glenfiddich Solera Vat

© 2015, Harmic Davidkhanian. All rights reserved.

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Padrón Family Reserve 50 Years Maduro

As readers of my website will have noted from the Lexicon page and previous posts, my favourite cigars are Habanos and for the great reason that the soil, climate, centuries in the making of skill in manufacture and finally taste, are unrivalled. Nonetheless, there are “New World” cigars that are also world-class in their tobacco, manufacture and taste – predominantly those from Nicaragua, in my opinion. With that in mind, I chose to feature my first non-Cuban cigar from a brand that stands above the rest in their consistency, quality and great taste – Padrón.

The story of Padrón is one of humble beginnings a few years after the Cuban revolution in Miami, Florida where many Cuban exiles and cigar producers reside to this day. In 1964, the founder José Padron began with only one torcedor selling cigars at several US cents each, and a few years later, only with modification to the design and marketing, started to enjoy success. In the last ten years that the American publication Cigar Aficionado has been featuring their annual “Top 25 Cigars” article, the brand has never been out of the top ten best cigars and made number one on an unprecedented three occasions.

The Family Reserve brand is their premium line and features cigars produced for particular milestones and their 50th anniversary would certainly be the one I intended to feature. Its commercial and personal significance, with José’s son, Jorge now at the helm with his father’s eagle eye and taste buds still partaking in the blending decisions, made it the right choice. Since the Padrón Family Reserve 50 Years is not yet available in the UK, I had great luck as my great friend Jonathan was visiting family in Miami this month and was very kind to procure a couple of these beauties for my delectation.

My experience of having tasted the previous iterations of the “natural” and “maduro” versions of the earlier released Family Reserves led me to choose the maduro for the extra richness that their near-oscuro gloriously oily wrappers hold. With plenty of flavour from the start, I could tell it would be a strong cigar despite 10 years of ageing to the rare tobaccos prior to being rolled. Around an inch into the tasting, the characteristically earthy notes of the Padrón Family Reserve series really enveloped the palate and some white pepper notes tingled on the retrohale.

The second third stabilised to bring dark cocoa, clove spice and even a subtle black cherry sweetness on the finish. The vast smoke continued to provide plenty of flavour, burning perfectly with a razor thin line and there was no mistaking its full-bodied blend. The final third strengthened further with espresso notes joining the earthy and leathery long finish yet kept perfect balance. The cigar is certainly befitting for the 50th anniversary of the company and as with Habanos, these will surely age further only to become even better.

Glenfarclas has been a relatively recent revelation to me, and their typically full-bodied and sherry cask finished single malts would instinctively be the right choice for this full-strength cigar. During my last sojourn to Paris (to visit Septième Largeur), I made best use of my time and visited La Maison du Whisky. Here I found a very welcoming and modern boutique with an enviable collection of the golden nectar. I stumbled upon the Glenfarclas 17 Years Old which, with a quick check online, was stated as: “bottled in limited quantities primarily for the North American, Japanese and Travel Retail markets”. Oddly enough, a British online retailer had it priced at £100, but the Parisian price tag of 69€ (£51) only confirmed my intent to purchase my first bottle of Glenfarclas at that opportune moment.

With the right cigar to pair it with and after months of waiting, I finally allowed myself to crack open the bottle. The notes of sherried fruit and the slightest hint of peat smoke were a delight for the nose and the beautifully full-bodied and long sherry finish was refreshingly cleansing for the palate. The Glenfarclas 17 Years Old married well with the cigar since its flavours were enhanced rather than silenced by the well-bodied sherry cask finished single malt which on a later tasting, was confirmed to be a delight to savour on its own.

Tasting notes and details:

Padrón Family Reserve 50 Years Maduro

Size54 x 5.0”  (21.43 x 127)mm

Cigar serial number – 156714

Wrapper – gloriously evenly dark maduro wrapper and box-pressed with Padrón’s characteristically short cap. Lovely oiliness yet no veins or blemishes visible.

Draw – very good, but maybe too good. Will need to take care not to overheat the tobacco. Pre-light notes of some sweetness of cocoa and a cedared earthiness prevalent from cold draw.

First third – voluminous smoke from the beginning, presenting plenty of earthy coffee notes. Some stronger than expected white pepper spice notes tingle on the retrohale.

Second third – with the strength calmed and stabilised, further flavours of dark cocoa, black cherry sweetness and clove spice appear on the nose.

Last third – the strength increases, with some dark espresso notes joining the earthy and leathery flavours on the long finish.

PairingGlenfarclas Aged 17 years (43%).

Nose – sherried fruit with the slightest hint of peat smoke.

Palate – full-bodied, yet balanced with sherry notes developing slowly.

Finish – long lasting smooth finish with hint of spice and oak.

Padron 50 Maduro - 02 Padron 50 Maduro - 03 Padron 50 Maduro - 04 Padron 50 Maduro - 05 Glenfarclas 17 yrs Obverse Label Glenfarclas 17 yrs Reverse Label

© 2015, Harmic Davidkhanian. All rights reserved.

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Cohiba Robusto Supremos Edición Limitada 2014

Luxury cigars and Cohiba are as synonymous as luxury cars and Rolls Royce in the minds of most cigar smokers, not just connoisseurs. As a brand, Cohiba understandably has its detractors for its premium price, but when you are enveloped in the voluminous smoke with complexity, balance and richness of flavours of one, you will thereafter understand why.

The Cohiba Robusto Supremos Edición Limitada 2014 is undoubtedly the most anticipated cigar of 2014, and having had the pleasure of sampling one, I can state the quality lives up to the hype. With a ring gauge of 58 (in 64ths of an inch), it is the thickest cigar ever made by the Cuban masters of totally handmade cigars and for good reason.

The robusto (at a comparatively meagre 50 ring gauge), has been a moderately recent vitola (length, thickness and shape) preference in the world of cigars, with its widespread commercial introduction and zenith in the 1980s and 1990s respectively. The added girth not only improves the draw of a cigar, but after a 52 gauge, allows far more premium long-filler tobacco to be expertly placed by the torcedor for the smoker to savour. The master blenders thus need to take extra care and attention with the blend of tobaccos to make sure the balance sits right with the added complexity.

Having sampled the Robusto Supremos with cask strength Blue Label (The Casks Edition travel retail exclusive) whisky, it was a perfect marriage of sweetness of the maduro wrapper, dark cocoa bean and spice to the succulent and taste bud tantalising Blue Label with its hint of peat more prevalent with the higher alcohol by volume of 55.8%. The hour and ten minutes of smoking pleasure hardly required any attention of relighting or rectifying any erratic burning of the flawless gloriously oily wrapper. In conclusion, this cigar is entirely befitting of not only its Cohiba cigar band, but also its special designation as an Edición Limitada. It will only improve with time and will surely one day be considered one of the chef-d’oeuvre of all Habanos.

Tasting notes and details:

Cohiba Robusto Supremos Edición Limitada 2014

Factory NameMagnificos (totally new vitola)

Size58 x 5.0”  (23.02 x 127)mm

Box code and datePMS  SEP14

Wrapper – beautiful maduro (as all Edición Limitadas have been since 2007) glistening and oily.

Draw – perfect, as it should be for 58 ring gauge.

First third – first few puffs are full of flavour. Cocoa and some spice but mellowing out.

Second third – very easy to draw thus bellows of creamy smoke. Some white pepper experienced on the long finish. Darker cocoa is present on the retrohale.

Last third – richer but balance incredibly still held for such a young cigar. Spicier elements are more prevalent and even with just an inch left, this great cigar is still smoking well. Solely for fear of burning my fingers must I conclude my degustation of a supremely delicious robusto befitting the appellation.

PairingJohnnie Walker Blue Label – The Casks Edition (travel retail exclusive) Scotch whisky – 55.8%. Great interaction between the two. Highly recommended pairing.

CRS2014-01 CRS2014-02 CRS2014-04 CRS2014-05 CRS2014-06 CRS2014-07 CRS2014-08 CRS2014-09 CRS2014-10 CRS2014-11 CRS2014-12 CRS2014-13 CRS2014-14 CRS2014-15 CRS2014-16

© 2015, Harmic Davidkhanian. All rights reserved.

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