Cigar Pairing: 1993 Punch Churchill & Woodford Reserve Bourbon

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The weather is absolutely perfect here in New York, with a surprisingly warm 73-degree temperature and gentle breeze coming in from the south. Knowing I won’t have many more days like this I figure its the perfect day to sit outside on my back patio, light up an excellent cigar and pair it with an equally remarkable bourbon.

I reached into my humidor and immediately went for my prized possession — a flawlessly preserved 1993 Cuban Punch Churchill. Now that it was chosen, I had to decide on which bourbon to pair it with. Not knowing the exact strength profile of the cigar, I decided it would be best to choose a middle of the road bourbon that wasn’t incredibly strong or forceful, but still had plenty of character — Woodford Reserve immediately came to mind. It has a wonderful upfront taste with a short and pronounced finish that I thought wouldn’t overpower the cigar. Once I poured myself a taster’s glass worth of the amber goodness and headed outside to begin.

In my opinion, Cuban cigars are not what they used to be. Over the past 20 years, poor soil management, deteriorating quality control and general apathy has led to a dramatic decline in quality and consistency — consequently buying a Cuban cigar today is a hit or miss affair. However, the cigar I was about to smoke was from a different time, when quality and consistency were still high and Cubans were the gold standard in taste. Since I never had this cigar before, I decided it would be best if I smoked it a bit to truly taste it before even attempting to pair it with the bourbon.

After toasting the foot of the cigar and lighting it, I let it settle for a minute or two until the head cooled down to its normal burning temperature. Once the cigar settled down, I took my first few draws. The smoke was rich, but not overpowering, with well-defined, upfront flavors of black pepper, leather and earth. Underneath those flavors lay the very distinctive metallic-like quality prevalent in most Cuban cigars.

The flavors blended together quite well and produced an incredibly balanced profile. This Punch is a very complex cigar, and the mix of flavors constantly evolves as you smoke it. At one moment, the leather is more pronounced; the next moment it would be another flavor at the forefront. The finish is light and pleasant, with lingering spice and metallic tastes in the mouth and nose. Overall, I would score this as a legendary smoke. I’ve had a few cigars that are better, but this is certainly one of the best I have ever experienced, and achieves legendary status easily.

Fortunately, my pairing instincts were correct, and the experience truly got out of hand when I introduced the Woodford Reserve. Both the cigar and the bourbon benefitted from each other, and the synergy between the two truly hit my sensory sweet spot. The bourbon blunted a bit of the metallic taste of the cigar and enhanced the smoke’s spicy character, while the cigar’s leather and earth notes played quite well with the Woodford’s caramel and spice notes. After a puff and a small sip, I would sit for at least three minutes, taking the whole experience in before even contemplating another.

This is one of the best pairings I have ever had, and the experience left me relaxed and fully satisfied. The only thing that would have made it better would be having a prime porterhouse beforehand. It’s very rare to experience a pairing such as this, and I certainly savored every minute of it. I only wonder what would have happened if I upped the bourbon game and tried the cigar with Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old. Alas, I’ll never know.

While Woodford Reserve is easy to find, getting your hands on a 1990s Punch is quite difficult, if not impossible to procure. I’m lucky that I have a very (very) rich hedge fund manager as a client and he is well stocked with classic Cubans — that’s where I got this incredible smoke. That being said, below are some cigars that are much easier to find that pair well with Woodford Reserve:

Partagas Black Label
Tatuaje Brown Label
Nica Rustica by Drew Estate
Don Pepin Garcia Blue Label
Old Henry by Holt’s
Diesel Unlimited Maduro

 

Chris Pervelis, best known to most of you as Internal Bleeding guitarist and composer, also writes for a number of underground metal publications.

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La Gloria Cubana – Churchill Maduro

La Gloria Cubana Churchill Maduro

This medium strength cigar begins with a leathery flavor with undertones of vinegar. For the Churchill size, especially in a Maduro wrapper, I recommend making as broad of a cut as you can and then using a tamper to push in stray tobacco and expand the airflow by disrupting the tightly layered leaf. This opens up a massive wave of rich smoke from the oily and aged leaves, which burn through an initial bitter flavor toward a nutty, buttery and satisfying deep tobacco flavor.

La Gloria Cubana came of age during the 1990s cigar boom as people reached beyond the traditional market leaders for new, intense flavors. Originally blended by Ernesto Perez Carrillo in the tradition of his family back in Cuban, these well-rolled cigars with high-quality leaf have now become standards at most cigar shops to the point that novelty seekers (hipsters and others) will avoid them. These cigars begin life as blended tobaccos from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, layered and bound with a binder of the same and then wrapped in an outer shell of broadleaf Maduro color leaf from Connecticut.

The result preserves the contents for breathing necessary to age and percolate those sugars to the surface, but also avoids adulterating the flavor. At medium strength, the cigar burns from hints of leather into a nutty middle and then ends in a leathery, strong smoke that bears down on the smoker with copious nicotine. Like a Wagnerian opera, the Maduro Churchill cigars work up to a crescendo and then become avenging Valkyries intent on the kill. For the fifty-nine minutes of your life that this cigar will occupy, much of the world will recede and thoughts will become clearer. Ash falls in full clumps and your sense of time evaporates, leading to a disappointment when the nub finally cashes and the cigar remains a pleasant memory.

Quality rating: 4/5
Purchase rating: 5/5

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Pipe smokers are the rebels of the 2010s

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Take your TARDIS back to the hazy 1960s. A buttoned-up Dale Carnegie America has encountered the new rebels: like the beatniks, but simplified, the hippies shock society by systematically violating its standards. They smoke marijuana, have promiscuous sex, listen to loud protest music, and live in squalor, much like the Bohemians of the 1900s that the beatniks were imitating.

Now spin the dial forward to 2015. Television lauds the hippies, who are now old and grey and telling us how we should think. Rock music is used in every commercial, played in every grocery store, and government agrees with the protest lyrics — as do the large, buttoned-up corporations. Promiscuous sex is the norm and marijuana is legal in many states and tolerated with a wink and a nod in others. How do you rebel against the rebellion?

One way is to smoke a pipe, which violates the taboo of our current social pretense of “health” and moral “goodness”:

Interestingly enough, a side-effect has arisen as marijuana becomes more prominent at Stanford. As support for it rises, that for tobacco seems to be waning and a prejudice rapidly forming against it. Recently the Faculty Senate postponed voting on an all-campus smoking ban (tobacco only, recall), that would in essence push all forms of tobacco smoke to the other side of Campus Drive. The only spaces allowed for smoking would be designated outdoor areas and, interestingly enough, faculty/staff residential areas. Slight hypocrisy aside, the ban was designed to be a preventative measure against any sort of respiratory problems resulting from potential second-hand smoke.

The radicals are now in charge and have become old and boring. Anyone singing their song is just bleating. But they have their taboos, too. They fear tobacco and alcohol, masculinity and strong warlike music such as heavy metal. If you think humanity should have a future, you owe it to yourself and the rest of us to rebel against this new generation of buttoned-up nannies and their attempts to control us.

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On the mentality of “men against time”

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Yes, pipe smoking is old-fashioned. It’s an indulgence from a by-gone age. And that is precisely what draws me to it. Smoking a pipe is a statement of taste, a rejection of the joyless and mass-produced engineering of addiction that is the cigarette. It’s an enjoyment of the slower, the more refined, the ritual as opposed to the habit. It’s single malt instead of cheap vodka. It’s quality versus quantity. It’s mindful appreciation instead of a quick fix.

And that is why I like it. – fearsclave

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Brouwerij Affligem – Affligem Dubbel (2015)

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What sort of beer would you want at a metal gig? Strong, savage perhaps, but flavorful. What about a metal gig with keyboards? There you might have Affligem Dubbel, a tasty and strong double-fermented beer with a fruity and spicy undertone that is less extreme than found in most Belgian ales. It pours in a thick medium brown stream with minimal head, and immediately presents the scents of a rich beer. In flavor, it is mostly a darker sensation with mostly a malt flavor, some bitterness from spices (coriander in a blend unique to this variety of beer) and as it spreads and warms on the tongue, a fruity flavor like apple and pear baked together with a citrus topping. Alcohol flavor melds smoothly with the beer and is hardly detectable, melding into a strong caramelized flavor with a pleasant aftertaste of molasses. If you want a comparison to more familiar beers, consider this a richer and denser German-style version of Newcastle Brown Ale as made by Belgium corporations… err, Trappist monks (the first hipsters to popularize the beard). At 6.8% alcohol, this beast provides enough of a dose in a single 750ml serving to satisfy the metalhead who still wants to remember the show. Affligem Dubbel succeeds at making a beer for daily enjoyment, which is a process of understanding how flavors meld to make a satisfying beer experience, and its wide availability suggests it is geared for a market other than the foodie-style novelty crowd. It does not yet rise to the level of an iconic taste like many of the best-loved beers, but presents a solid middle ground which incorporates the Belgian style without going over the top. While many of the nu-Belgian style coriander-and-citrus beers are outright disgusting, this one is worth the time and fighting through the burly men with long bears and tattoos who are buying IPAs at the beer counter.

Quality rating: 4/5
Purchase rating: 3/5

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Margaritaville Brewing Co. – Landshark Lager (2015)

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When a friend and I hit the local liquor shack and saw these hanging out, I was skeptical because of the hip name. Marketing and quality tend to work in inverse proportion to one another. Then again, a new brand has to fight hard in this over-populated beer market especially with all of these idiots buying hipster IPAs.

As we walked in the door, I finally connected “Margaritaville” with that guy who made the funny music. Not really a fan of country, or of entertainment, I felt my spirits sink. This was probably just a commercial con and we bought into it (for $4.99 for four sixteen-ounce beers, roughly the price of half a Starbucks latte downtown). “Ah, what the hell,” I said. “How bad can it be?”

The surprising answer: not bad at all. This is a well-designed product and as part of that, Margaritaville Brewing Co. has included quality beer. The name is cool; the logo is cool; I hate cool because it means an avalanche of tools who buy stupid stuff and drive the good stuff off the market, or into niches where it is hard to get and far more expensive. But the beer is good. The short review is that it is like a sweet, natural-tasting and high alcohol (4.7% ABV) version of Corona, with the kind of harvest time sweetness that 1664 has. This is a beer for drinkers and not people who like lite beers and lite cigarettes. You can actually put yourself into giggles and drooling with Landshark Lager, which immediately makes me appreciate it more as a beer designed to beat back the idiot beers from the beach scene or wherever people drink Corona, probably the same place they smoke Marlboro Lights and eat fat-free Ranch Dressing, both of which are proof the Communists won back in ’54 and they just never told us.

This is a thin beer with no alcohol taste, but like the best of the pale lagers it captures the yeasty and bready flavor of beer, just gently and hidden behind sweetness. I am not the world’s biggest sweet beer fan, or sweet things fan, since those belong in childhood with candy and people saying things like “it will all be all right” (obvious mental cotton for cuck beta bottoms). You can pour one of these and enjoy a beer that reminds you it is a beer, not just a wine cooler with suds, and the increased alcohol makes it fit in with the powerhouses of any well-stocked pub. Beer has been knocking up the ABV to compete with wine, which is now the preferred tipple of the average yuppie wannabe and so has hit the optimum price points, probably because some idiot in Congress regulated it less in exchange for hookers ‘n’ blow from a lobbyist. Either way, this beer is refreshingly free of hipster marketing that tries to be cute and artisanal (pronounced “artist anal”) even if it has mainstream branding and appeal. Especially at this introductory price point, it’s worth considering for casual drinking.

Quality rating: 4/5
Purchase rating: 3/5

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Cornell and Diehl – Engine #99

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If you like strong English blends like Dunhill Nightcap, the full English offering plus Burley and strong Nicotine named Engine #99 from Cornell & Diehl should appeal to you as well. Where your standard English pipe tobacco comprises Virginia, Latakia and Oriental/Turkish strains, the Americanized English will add Burley and/or Perique as happens here. The result blends many textures into an identifiable form, much like a shag carpet turns all colors into a motion blur of difference.

In the case of Engine #99, the magic arises from the ability to restrain the incense-like Latakia with the more vinegar bittersweet Oriental tobaccos, then add some sweet and peppery Perique to thrust that forward, all while cruising on the base power of a mix of Burley and Virginia tobaccos. Like most blenders, Cornell & Diehl specialize in making many tobaccos out of a few ingredients, and they blend Engine #99 from the components of two other tobaccos, Red Odessa and Pirate Kake. This creates a tobacco of greater strength than most English tobaccos, but also more internal balance than the worst of them, similar to Dunhill Nightcap even if the ingredients differ with the omission of Burley in the the latter. As a result Engine #99 offers a velveteen full flavor with the Latakia and Orientals but smooths it out with the Burley and lets the Virginia, both sweet and powerful, do its work behind the scenes. This creates a tobacco suitable for all-day smoking if necessary but generally so intense in flavor and strength that it serves best as a coda to an event, if even the day itself.

Like most Cornell & Diehl blends, this recipe shows multiple stages of blending and treating the tobacco to not just marry it but ensure no jagged edges, even if part of the appeal of this tobacco is its over-the-top intensity. The components do not war with one another as they do with poorly conceived English knockoffs but instead harmonize with their differences balancing one another. Engine #99 does not take the English tobacco style anywhere it was not already going, but expands one of its paths to make the English flavor even more powerful. For this reason, it has cultivated an audience of English-lovers who nonetheless want more fire in their smoke and less of the sweet piquant nothing that many English tobaccos, under the influence of popular opinion, have become.

Quality rating:

4/5

Purchase rating:

5/5

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Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Double Jack Double India Pale Ale

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My whole life has consisted of failure to appreciate the true depth of human stupidity. Most people are stupid, and they are both pretentious and unaware how transparent they are. Many of them spend time telling me “how it is” when they are so off-base that the disconnect from reality is onerous. But I digress: hipsters captured the beer industry and are posing at having knowledge while making bad beers.

Double Jack is one such bad beer. Monkey see, monkey do: hipsters realized that bitter beers with citrusy flavors were a signal our bloated and over-rated press corps was using to recognize quality, so they started making beers like Double Jack which signal all the right stuff but, because they are assembled of signals, have no internal structure or consistency and end up with the flavor of random junk. This beer immediately hits you with a strong grapefruit sensation, under which you will note a thin beer of anonymous flavor. The bitterness remains present, probably delivering rave reviews from idiots, but unlike a good beer, where all of the flavors work together toward some direction, it remains separate here. That may be a metaphor for this beer.

It is as if someone went through the reviews on Beer Advocate and highlighted all the key descriptive terms, then added those as features to an otherwise generic beer. None of the mild integration of yeast is here that you might find in a good beer, nor is there any overall flavor. Instead, there is bitterness, a yeasty backlash, a watery beer taste, then a slightly soapy beer flavor, and finally, the realization that this brew is surging with sugar and acid which means your post-party tacos are going to be a digestive challenge. It is not terrible like a mainstream American beer, but awful like lost potential: with someone who had a working brain, this could have been a great beer with these ingredients. Instead it is overpriced hype for hipsters to pass their time before smoking American Spirits among the ruins of their civilization. At 9.4% alcohol by volume, it at least allows a person to get decently tipsy on a bottle, but that does not make up for the wasted opportunity to not have drunk this beer, and to have purchased another one instead.

Quality rating:

1/5

Purchase rating:

0/5

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4noggins – Jesse’s Own (2015)

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Pipe smokers can be divided into several camps. Some favor the over-the-counter (OTC) blends like Prince Albert, others like full aromatics with interesting flavors, and some others prefer the naturals which use minimal or no flavoring. All tobacco is cultivated from a relatively bland-tasting plant into something with discernible flavor, and in the process blenders use “casing” to give the tobacco background and moisture, and may add a “top flavouring” that is either like a second casing, or what we know of as the defining trait of aromatics, a syrup of sugar, flavorings and humectants that renders the taste of the original tobacco moot.

Jesse’s Own seems designed to lead smokers away from aromatics toward the more interesting but less “safe” world of natural blends. With aromatics, if you want your tobacco to taste like watermelon, it is possible as it is with soft drinks or the scent of air fresheners. With naturals, you will taste the tobacco with possible complementary flavors that do not obscure the original tobacco. It takes time and experience to want to taste tobacco in closer to its natural state, as the range of flavors decreases as does their vividity. Like a fine steak or wine, this requires a sensitive exploration of different flavors within a single taste, rather than obscuring them with a uniform sweetened sensation. Like aromatics, Jesse’s Own is sweet and spicy in flavor, and mild in nicotine and smoke. It brings out the variety of flavors in naturals, built on a base of Maryland and Virginia tobaccos with Oriental, Latakia and Perique added as condiments.

The result is a gentle smoke which first presents its Latakia component, giving way to the reedy vinegar taste of the Orientals, then blooming into the spicy fruit texture and taste of the Perique backed by a broad warm harmony of Virginia and Maryland tobaccos, which are very similar and both fairly sweet. No matter the pipe experience of the user, this tobacco blend will be easy to light and enjoy for an all-day smoke. Its light nicotine content guarantees that no one will get a rumbly tummy from too much of the Dark Lady, and its sweet flavor provides a perfect framing to the spicy — like General Joe’s Chicken at a Chinese restaurant — which puzzles and delights the tongue. Hardcore naturals smokers can enjoy this as well for its lack of sugary flavor replacements. Its unusual mixture providing what one commentator called an “American English” style tobacco, Jesse’s Own seems aimed at the middle ground currently occupied by Dunhill (BB1938, Early Morning Pipe, Standard Mixture Mild) and other all-day English blends. While Jesse’s Own may not be intensive enough for the grizzled naturals smoker, it provides an excellent transition for the new pipe smoker and a flavorful, gentle smoke for the rest of us.

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Unibroue – La Fin Du Monde (2015)

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This Belgian ale from Quebec has found itself a permanent place in American stores for two obvious reasons: first, most American beer is horrible because it is both utilitarian and junk food, sugar water soda with beer flavoring. Second, most imported beers have also made themselves terrible, and none quite as bad as the Belgian witbier which increasingly resembles a bilious corriander-beer soda.

Witness, for example, Shiner White Wing. Only a marketing genius could take cheap beer from central Texas and sell it at import prices, and that same twisted intelligence has been applied here to make a “Belgian ale” that tastes like the overflavored teas that women buy in malls. The main reason people like this beer is because it is sweet, bridging the gap between beer and soda yet another innovative way. But in the wake of the success of Belgian ales in America, numerous contenders have popped up. And yet here is La Fin Du Monde which has been pumping out this particular ale since the 1990s at least, and has kept both quality and price consistent. In other words, these people are not marketing geniuses, but they may be a greater form of intelligence: people who realize that if they make a good product consistently they will have an industry from now until the end of time, unless they screw it up. So they watch against screwing up, including the form of greedy screw-up that is marketing genius. Smart, those Québécois.

La Fin Du Monde smells and drinks like a German medium lager but has the light corriander flavor and muted sweetness of a Belgian ale. It retains its yeast, so is cloudy if the bottle has been moved much within the last few hours, but pours in a light golden color with a good foamy head and delicious yeasty smell. It is also worth noting that at 9% alcohol by volume and a heavy amount of carbonation, this fizzy beer will take no prisoners among your brain cells. Drinking one of these babies is like pounding down four of your favorite “import” beer (usually concentrated syrup/ferment imported from Europe, and made into beer American-style here for double the profits) bottles and then doing a couple jumping jacks. Luckily its flavor serves an excellent balance, with the hay-like notes of a good ale surging in behind the slightly bitter forward taste of the Belgian-style corriander-induced sensation, followed by overtones of light fruit — it has been compared to citrus or peach — with a strong yeasty goodness in the background. Thus this beer walks a fine line. It will not please the newly minted Belgian ale fanatics who only buy beers with fancy packaging and pretentious names, but it will rumble the tummy of anyone who appreciates a good beer with a flavor of its own.

****/*****

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