Author

Greybeard

Browsing

** This article was previously published in the Whiskey Network newsletter as a four-part series by Greybeard** 

Exploration of Scotch Whisky

It is hard to turn around in today’s society and not have heard something about Scotch. You will see it in the movies, television shows, and all over the media and internet. Scotch’s vast history dates back to the 15th century, with the earliest known distillery in Scotland operating in 1494. This article, however, will not be about the history of Scotch, but instead will be a walk through the different regions in Scotland and the Scotches made there.

Before we get into the regions of Scotland, there are five classifications or types of Scotch that we will want to understand. Also, it would be good to briefly cover the regulations of how a Scotch is to be distilled.

Scotch Classifications

Single Malt

Single Malts are one of the most common types of Scotches known. The scotch can be classified as a single malt when made at a single distillery, in a pot still, and using only water and malt.

Single Grain

Single Grain will follow the exact requirements as a single malt, except other cereal grains can be added to the mash bill.

Blended Malt (or Blended Single Malt)

Blended Malts will be a blend of two or more Single Malts from two or more distilleries.

Blended Grain (or Blended Single Grain)

Blended Grain will be a blend of two or more Single Grains from two or more distilleries.

Blended Scotch

Blended Scotch, which constitutes approximately 90% of the whisky produced in Scotland, will contain both malt and grain whisky.

Regulations

The regulations which define what a Scotch are:

  • Bottled at no less than 40% ABV
  • Contains no additives other than water and caramel coloring
  • Distilled in Scotland from water and malted barley
  • Distilled at no more than 94.8% ABV
  • Fermented at that distillery by adding only yeast to create the enzymes needed for fermentation
  • Aged for a minimum of three years in oak casks

Regions

There are five regions of Scotland where the 134 plus distilleries reside: The Highlands, The Lowlands, Speyside, Islay, and Campbletown.

The Highlands

The Highlands is the largest of the five regions and is home to 30 distilleries. Scotch coming from The Highlands can be described as fruity, sweet, spicy, and malty. Some of the well-known distilleries in this region are Aberfeldy, Dalmore, Glenmorangie, and Glendronach.

The Lowlands

The Lowlands cover much of the central and southern portions of Scotland. The single malts from The Lowlands are often described as sweet with floral notes. Here you will find distilleries such as Bladnoch, Glenkinchi, and Auchentoshan.

Speyside

Speyside was part of The Highlands until becoming a region of its own in 2014. It is located in northeastern Scotland, surrounding the River Spey. Well-known distilleries such as Aberlour, Balvenie, The Macallan, and The Glenlivet call Speyside home and can be described as sweet, caramel, fruity, and fragrantly floral.

Campbletown

Once home to over 30 distilleries, Campbletown has recently started rebuilding its reputation for producing quality scotches by rebuilding Glen Scotia. The whiskies from this region can be described as fruity, peaty, sweet, and smoky.

Islay

Thanks to the television show “Parks and Recreation,” Lagavulin has become one of the more recognized Scotches from this region. Islay is also home to other distilleries such as Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain, and Laphroaig. Scotches from Islay are also well known for distinctive notes such as peaty, smoky, medicinal, and robust.

As you can see, the variety of expressions for Scotch is as wide as other whiskies of the world. In the coming articles, we will look at Scotches from Islay, Speyside, and The Highland regions, along with possible cigar pairings for each region.

So, hop aboard as we journey through the world of Scotch.

 

The Highlands a Legacy in Scotch

Whenever we think of Scotch, we generally think of The Highlands as where most Scotch is made; this, while partially true, is likely due to movies and characters such as James Bond and the Scotches represented. Before 2014 around 70 of the 134 distilleries in Scotland were located in The Highlands. Since the Speyside region’s formation, there are now about 40 distilleries in The Highlands, with The Dalmore, Glenmorangie, and Glendronach being the most recognized of them. Scotch from The Highlands has made its name known for big robust flavors, whereas other regions such as Lowlands are known for lighter, more subtle flavors due to greater access to barley.

The variety of flavors in scotch from The Highlands is about as vast as the region itself. While most of the area will share notes such as cereal grains and fruit, the Northern part tends to the sweeter side of the cereal grains, whereas the Eastern and Southern regions tend to be drier with bolder fruity notes. The Western area of Highland is known for an even different take on their whiskies, where they lean more towards the full-bodied, pungent, smoky notes reminiscent of those found in Islay.

The Dalmore Distillery

Located on the northern shore of Cromarty Firth, an inlet of the North Sea, you will find Dalmore Distillery.  Legend has it that the Dalmore distillery dates back to the 13th century. However, it was founded in the 19th century in 1839. Getting their water from the Alness River, Dalmore has a rich history of Single Malts, distilled in flat top stills and then double cask aged. The casks will always be an American White Oak Bourbon cask and then a Sherry cask from Gonzales Byass, one of Spain’s most well-known Sherry Winery.

Dalmore 15

The Dalmore 15 was my first experience with their Scotches.  After having tried this expression, I was hooked. With aromas of stone fruit, vanilla, and smoke and rich oils, black cherry, and vanilla on the palate, this Scotch is one that every whisky connoisseur will want to add to their collection.

Pairing

Pairing a cigar with a Scotch can be a challenge. With such complexity in profile and the variety of notes, you will want to find a bold cigar to stand with the drink but not overpower it. For Scotch from the Highlands, I would recommend looking for a cigar that leans more towards the fruit and floral notes with bolder notes of oils and subtle spice.  Cigars with Ecuadorian or Brazilian wrappers would be an excellent pairing for any Scotch from The Highlands.

Dalmore
Dalmore

 

Into the Spey

The River Spey, the second longest and fastest flowing river in Scotland, cuts through the region and provides water for many distilleries. It is also where the name of the region Speyside gets its name. It wasn’t until 2014 that Speyside became an official whisky-producing region in Scotland, whereas before then, it was part of The Highlands.

Speyside is home to 40-plus distilleries with the sub-region of Dufftown, home of Balvenie and Glenfiddich, producing upwards of 40 million liters of Scotch annually. Speyside is also home to well-known distilleries such as Aberlour, Macallan, Glenlivet, and Tomintoul.  It is estimated that 50 percent of the whisky produced in Scotland comes from this region.

Besides the amount of whisky produced in Scotland and the number of jobs the distilleries produce for the region, Speyside has a significant tourist attraction, bringing in almost two million visitors each year, accounting for over £60m in 2017.

Aberlour 12 Single Malt Double Cask Matured

Founded in the 1800s by James Fleming, Aberlour has a long history of making Single Malts. Located along the banks of the River Spey, Aberlour releases a range of single malts of various ages, including the 12-year aged in a Sherry cask and an American Oak cask, before coming together to form the final product.

The 12-year has a lovely rich amber color which it pulls from the American Oak, also giving it rounded fruity notes with hints of vanilla on the nose. The palate for this 12-year brings forth the darker fruity notes, that of black cherries with subtle hints of cocoa and spice. The buttery texture fits perfectly with the long sweet, spicy finish leaving you wanting another dram as soon as your pour is finished.

Pairings

I recommend pairing it with a Brazilian, Honduran, or Dominican wrapper cigar for this particular Scotch.  Look for one that will present more earthy notes and notes of stone fruit, such as peaches or apricots. This will balance out the sweet spice in the whisky while allowing the floral and fruity notes to become more prominent.

 

 

Aberlour
Aberlour

 

 

Islay of Smoke

One of many islands surrounding the mainland of Scotland, and while not the biggest, it is one of the region’s most well-known and probably incorrectly pronounced islands. As a matter of fact, over the years, I have heard pronunciations such as “Is-Lay” and “I-Slay,” whereas the correct pronunciation would be “Eye-Lay.”

Rich in both Gaelic and Norse history, what Islay is known for in current times is its rich history of Uisce Beatha, literally, Water of Life, which is the name for Whisky in Scotland. Home to nine distilleries such as Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig, the whisky from this island is well known for being smokey and peaty.

Many will describe the Scotch from Islay as smokey and directly equate that with being peaty. At the same time, the process of drying the malt in its preparation for the distillation process does relate the two. They both are distinctly unique.

The process that many of the distilleries on the Isle of Islay use to dry the malt consists of burning peat where the smoke will dry the malted barley. For centuries this took place on a wooden floor where the distillers would spread the malted barely out on the floor and burn the peat underneath the bed where the smoke would rise through the cracks and dry the malted barley to prepare it for the fermentation process. The smoke would infuse with the barley giving it smokey notes, and then, depending on the amount of peat used, would determine how peaty the whisky would be.  Master distillers would then use different combinations of peat and time smoked to achieve that flavor profile they were looking for. Some Islay Scotches, such as Lagavulin and Laphroaig, is very smokey, whereas their peat content is low compared to Ardbeg and Bunnahabhain. Because of the medicinal notes commonly acquainted with peaty Scotches, the Islay Scotches have some unique profiles and the most significant amount of acclimation required to enjoy fully. However, once you are acclimated to their special notes, the Scotches from Islay are some of the best.

Kilchoman

 

Built in 2005, Kilchoman is the first distillery to be built in over 100 years and is the only 100% Islay distillery, meaning that from farm to bottle, they are a single farm, single malt scotch.  Growing their barley and peat, every part of the process of bottling a Single Malt from Kilchoman comes from Islay.

Kilchoman presents four primary expressions of their Scotch with two limited editions, each offering a unique profile and barreled in both bourbon and sherry casks for a minimum of 3 years, making it a very young Scotch.

Kilchoman 2016 Cask Strength

The Cask Strength version of Kilchoman was first introduced in 2014 and then again in 2016. Coming in at 56.9% ABV or 114 proof, it is aged for six years in ex-bourbon Casks. The color is that of golden yellow honey and presents notes of peat, honey, and apples with hints of spice, vanilla, and oak on the nose. The palate continues with the notes from the nose, adding gamey notes reminiscent of beef jerky and finishing long with peat lingering on at the back of the throat.

Pairing

Because of Kilchomans’ young age and unique profile, I recommend pairing their expressions with a medium bold cigar from the Dominican Republic to pull out the floral notes of both the Scotch and the cigar.

 

Aberlour
Aberlour

Disclaimer:  Do your research on the effects of smoking on your health and consult with your doctor if necessary.

The pleasure of cigar smoking has been around for centuries, with the first depiction of a cigar dating back to the tenth century. With the adventures of Columbus in the fifteenth century, cigars made their way to Europe, thus bringing the tradition of smoking cigars to the rest of the world.

While tobacco has been linked to health risks such as cancer dating back to the 17th century, it wasn’t until the 1920’s that the first medical report linked smoking tobacco to lung cancer, and not until the 1950s and 60’s that it was confirmed that tobacco was considered to be a cause of a range of serious diseases. As you are doing your research, you will find in both the conclusion of the reports and the data sets that cigars are considered the same as cigarettes. You can determine this in statements such as the following excerpt from “Cigars: Health Effects and Trends Monograph 9,” published in Feb 1998 and last updated in Dec 2020.

The smoke from both cigars and cigarettes is formed largely from the incomplete combustion of tobacco, and therefore it comes as no surprise that cigar smoke is composed of the same toxic and carcinogenic constituents found in cigarette smoke.

Nowhere in this publication does it discuss the differences between cigars and cigarettes and how they are made. No mention of how cigars are 100% natural with no additional chemicals added as opposed to cigarettes. You will also notice that when looking at the data sets of this report and many other reports that the cigar smokers used in the studies, the majority are dual smokers, meaning they smoke cigars along with cigarettes or e-cigarettes. This problem is that conclusions are made regarding cigars with what can be considered skewed data.

So how do Cigars differ from Cigarettes? Well, as stated above, Cigarettes have additional chemicals added to them to increase the ease of flow of smoke into the lungs and to increase the addictiveness of cigars. It is common knowledge that cigarettes are highly addictive, as is common knowledge that the amount of nicotine in a cigar is vastly more significant than that of a cigarette. What is not as common is the awareness that cigars are 100% natural, as stated above, but also that nicotine isn’t as addictive of a chemical as we are led to believe.  But do your research; I myself have been smoking cigars since the spring of 1992 and have, at some points in my journey through cigars, smoked as many as 7 to 10 cigars a day. Never in my life have I felt the need to smoke one and that I would go “crazy” if I didn’t. I had felt that regularly when I went without coffee and had no caffeine. This, albeit a rather un-scientific conclusion, leads me to believe that nicotine may not be as addictive as caffeine is.

Now onto the title of this article, “Why I’m not a smoker, but I Smoke.”  Yes, I do smoke cigars, and I enjoy them daily; as stated above, I don’t feel the need to smoke one as brought on by addiction and have been able to step away from cigars for an extended period of time as I did in October of 2020 when I came down with COVID-19.

The reason I enjoy smoking cigars is multifold. I enjoy the flavors of a cigar and how well they pair with a nice wine, dinner, or after-dinner drink such as a cocktail or whiskey.  I appreciate how smoking a cigar forces you to slow down, which offers the opportunity to enjoy life or reflect on an upcoming day. I enjoy how cigars have a community built around them, and when sitting down with others, there is something that, regardless of our background, we have in common that we can share.  I like to call cigars the great equalizer.

Please understand that I used to smoke cigarettes, and in my journey through life, I’ve never met a person who smoked cigarettes and felt what I described above. In fact, most I have talked to describe smoking cigarettes as a “disgusting habit” and would love not to feel tethered to cigarettes. I’m not saying this is the case with all cigarette smokers, but I would venture to guess it is a majority of them. Cigarettes have been portrayed by society and advertising as a disgusting habit that kills, and studies have shown that the latter is true. In fact, most cigarette smokers feel a need to take a break, smoke their cigarette, describing it as getting their “nicotine feel,” and then return to what they were doing.

As you can see, there is a vast difference between cigarettes and cigars. The difference extends beyond just how they are made and the chemical content but also how they are viewed by those who partake in them. While I enjoy my cigar, smoking one will never take priority over sitting down to dinner, spending time with someone, or other meaningful engagement. Smoking a cigar can be a part of that; however, if the person or group I am with doesn’t enjoy a cigar, my cigar will wait.

In conclusion, I’m not a smoker, but I do smoke cigars. I smoke cigars for all the reasons above. So, if you meet someone who smokes cigars, please consider what you have read here, do your research, and make your conclusions accordingly.

One of the joys of writing reviews on cigars, whiskeys, and the pairings between them is that you will often have the opportunity to try a new cigar or whiskey and pair them that you may not otherwise have. That is the case with Don V by Oscar Valladares.

Cigar:

The Don V is a collaboration between Oscar and Vick Shah, who owns the Norwood Royal Cigar lounge in Chicago. The Vitola I had the opportunity to smoke was a Toro, Maduro in shade, and a Honduran Puro. One thing that stuck out to me throughout the smoke was that it was consistent in its earth, leather, and gamey notes with very subtle transitions of cocoa between the first and second third and coffee between the second and final third.

Whiskey:

Makers Mark Private Select starts as a Makers Mark 46 bourbon, but then the selection begins from a choice of any combination of five different staves to finish the bourbon. The particular expression for this pairing came in at 108.5 proof and was aged between 5 and 7 years. The nose presented caramel and black cherries, while the palate brought buttercream oils with black cherries and cocoa.

Pairing:

You are looking for a marriage of the flavors with any pairings between a cigar and a drink. This marriage will either present through a complementary pairing where similar notes complement each other and enhance those flavors. Contrast pairings are another form of pairing that differs from complementary, where flavors will contrast and balance each other. The final style, which presents a nice marriage between the flavors, will be a balanced pairing, where neither cigar nor drink will impact each other and offer just a pleasant rounded experience.

Through each third of the cigar, drawing from the cigar first and then the drink, I noticed subtle changes where the buttercream oils were toned down, allowing the vanilla and cherry notes to become slightly more prominent. This, however, was not the case when taking a sip from the drink and then the draw from the cigar. In this direction, there was no significant impact or change to the notes from the cigar.

In this pairing, we had a contrast and balance style of pairing. I found the cigar and the whiskey quite enjoyable on their own; however, because of the different styles presented in the pairing, I would give this pairing a 3 out of 5 stars. It was enjoyable. However, the cigar deserves a drink with a little more boldness to it to stand up to the cigar itself.

Jack Daniel’s announces the release of their brand new Bonded Series which will include the two new permanent expressions of Jack Daniel’s Bonded Tennessee Whiskey and Jack Daniel’s Triple Mash Blended Straight Whiskey. Both expressions are Bottled-in-Bond which follows the stipulations laid out in the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897, a bonded whiskey must be distilled at a single distiller in a single season, aged in a government bonded rickhouse for at least four years, and bottled at 100 proof.

The Jack Daniel Distillery has been making exceptional American whiskey to the highest standards for generations, before and after the Bottled in Bond Act, dating back to the days of Mr. Jack himself,” said Chris Fletcher, Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller. “Jack Daniel’s Bonded and Triple Mash are a nod to our heritage with a touch of innovation and craftsmanship. These whiskeys are another opportunity for both our friends and new drinkers to explore and discover everything Jack Daniel’s has to offer.”

Read more here

FDA Announces Proposed Flavored Cigar Product Standards Rule

If you’ve been following the news and proposed legislation around cigars and especially “flavored” cigars lately then you’re quite aware that the FDA has had a target on this classification. It started with vaping and menthol cigarettes and the proposed legislation has also included flavored or infused cigars.  Below is an excerpt from the article published on the PCA website.

Today, the Food & Drug Administration and the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) announced their “Tobacco Product Standard for Characterizing Flavors in Cigars” proposed rule, which would prohibit characterizing flavoring in all cigars.

On March 10th the Premium Cigar Association (PCA) was the first stakeholder group to meet with the Office of Management & Budget, Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs, and Food & Drug Administration to raise concerns about this pending rule, ask for clarification on the specifics, and make recommendations about further research on international implications and impact on small businesses. PCA asserts that the agency still has left many questioned unanswered specifically on:

  • characterizing flavor descriptors
  • total small business impact
  • foreign impact in cigar producing countries
  • impact on minority owned small businesses

“The FDA failed to do their homework in this rule and the document is filled with cherry-picked data that mirrors spoon fed talking points from anti-tobacco groups. The proposed rule is a mess that is ripe with potential challenges and reflective of an agency that is unable to prioritize its resources appropriately.” said Greg Zimmerman president of the PCA.

For the full article you can find it here.

Cigars for Warriors and The Nubber have been recognized by Cigar Aficionado. Here at Leaf n Grain Society we are proud to have worked and partnered with W.D. Wade of The Nubber on a couple of projects and are proud supporters of Cigars for Warriors.  Head on over to Cigar Aficionado to read more about their recognition and then when you are done reading about them. Stop by each of their pages check out what they do and have to offer.

Cigar Aficionado – Cigars for Warriors Celebrates 10 Years

Cigars for Warriors

The Nubber