The Big Smoke 2019

The Big Smoke 2018A few months back Tianhuai Dai, a frequent guest of the show, and I made our way to Las Vegas. There, we attended the annual Big Smoke put on by Cigar Aficionado every November. It was a blast; three days jam-packed with excitement and fun at the nation’s largest retail cigar show. It was two nights and three days of living and breathing our favorite vices, including some of the best fine spirits and wines on the market. Maybe this time next year we’ll have a visit to the IPCPR with more awesome stories and cigars. Check out the video and see some of the faces, the places, and the cigars we enjoyed at the show. Will you join us this year at the Big Smoke?

Mash Bill Breakdown – Lifeblood of Bourbon

Let’s clear the air: the difference between bourbon, scotch, and rye isn’t just about where they’re made. Though Kentucky is famous for bourbon and Scotland is king of scotch, the biggest difference lies in the mash bill and what the distiller does once it’s out of the vat.

The Yogi Berra Rule: How To Hold Your Cigar

In the world of cigar enthusiasts, the “Yogi Berra rule” teaches us all how to hold a cigar, and provides the best reason to remove the cigar band.

Bourbon Delivery: Mail-Order Wonder

Have you ever wished your favorite bourbon could be delivered right to your door? What could be better than the UPS driver arriving with your latest bourbon delivery from Kentucky, fresh from the distillery? According to the Herald-Dispatch, the distillers of Kentucky may soon be able to do just that with a new piece of legislation pending in the Kentucky House.

One of the best parts of my recent trip to Bardstown, Kentucky was the shopping. Being able to buy some of the bottles that are hard to find back home in Chicago was outstanding. The big distilleries chose not to compete with local stores, however, and marked up the bottles significantly. The allure of getting a bottle right from the source was worth the expense, though, and made a great keepsake. We drove back home with a dozen bottles that served as souvenirs or treats for special occasions.

The Breakdown on Bourbon Delivery

If Kentucky joins the other states that allow shipping of liquor to other states, you soon could enjoy the same. On Monday you could want to have a nice bottle of Old Weller, and by Friday it could be in hand. This disruption to the distribution model of liquor could also allow small distilleries to compete. Some, like the Abraham Lincoln Straight Bourbon by Boundary Oak Distillery, are not available from Chicago retailers. As a small, family-owned company, they would now have access to the national market overnight. Bourbon lovers get bourbon delivery and distilleries get new customers; it’s winning all around!

Up next is the debate in the Kentucky House over the original bill. Then, a discussion can start over adding the provisions for interstate bourbon shipments. Hopefully, someday soon, we’ll have access to all of Kentucky’s wonderful spirits! And then the wide-range of products offered from the state can be available everywhere.

Abraham Lincoln Bourbon

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Whether you’re a bourbon or cigar novice or an expert in either, our podcast is here to help you learn more about your passion and where to go next. Follow along with us as we explore the intricacies and nuances of our shared loves.

Published bi-weekly, the crew gets together to discuss spirits, smokes, and more in a group setting. Join our group of friends and drink or smoke along with us!

Cigar Vitola: What You Need To Know

Most people don’t know why cigars come in different shapes and sizes. Even then, they don’t recognize the shape of a cigar on sight. These different varieties, also known as vitolas, are an expression of the master roller’s vision for the final product. A cigar vitola can change the flavor, the burn profile, and even the time to smoke a cigar. This, just through minor tweaks to the shape and length of the cigar. With so many cigar vitola options out there, it can be difficult for beginners to choose the best cigar. I hope to give you some pointers to follow to help you make an informed purchase.

The fact is, cigar shapes can vary with the manufacturer, the brand, and even the series of a cigar. Hell, sometimes there are several cigar vitolas with the same blend. In a big brand, like Davidoff, some of their cigars can come in many different cigar vitola options. At a high level, cigars describe their size in two ways: length and ring gauge. The length of the cigar is usually given in the form of inches. Ring gauge, however, is the diameter of the cigar broken into the 64ths of an inch. Typically, brands do not follow the ‘one sizes fits all’ rule; people choose products based on their experience and preferences.

What do you need to know about cigar shapes

Although the size and shape of the cigar matter a lot, we’ve spoken before in the podcast on how the blend of tobaccos is more of an influence on the strength of flavor. That’s not to say the cigar vitola is unimportant; if anything, it’s a close second in overall impact, but it still holds sway. Chris discussed, in episode one, how the thinner the cigar, the hotter the burn. It’s simple physics: the same air pressure forced through a narrower tube will increase the amount of oxygen pulled over the tobacco and cause the flame to burn hotter. A 70-ring-gauge will pull almost half the amount of oxygen over the tobacco as a 35-ring-gauge cigar; that LaFlor Dominicana Digger will burn colder than the pencil-thin Lancero.

There is also the matter of the wrapper-to-filler ratio in a cigar, and how that influences flavor. In that same episode, we discussed how most of the flavor of a cigar comes from the wrapper; now imagine a cigar where the wrapper is 30% of the tobacco versus a cigar where it is 5% of the tobacco? You can see where having a very thin cigar might impart a vastly different flavor profile to the smoker than a thick cigar because of the lack of filler.

Where Does Cigar Vitola Factor In?

As more and more people begin to smoke cigars, we see the market has a wide range of cigar shapes. Despite the wide variety, the two most dominant shapes remain the Pajero and the Figurado. In the cigar lexicon, a Pajero has straight sides with an open foot and a closed head, which the smoker must cut before lighting up the cigar. They can be round or box-pressed, but usually take the classic form of a cigar: a cylinder, rectangle, or other traditional shape elongated in a tube. The Figurado cigars are not always or exactly a cylinder, usually made with a tapered head, tapered foot, or both!

Varieties of Pajero Cigars

Pajero cigars represent the most common type of cigar shapes that can have a slightly domed or exactly flat head. There are two common types of Pajero cigars: box pressed and Culebra. Below we have highlighted a few essential details about both of them:

Box Pressed Cigars

These cigars have a square shape; around the world, people love their shape and style. They are believed to have a money-saving design for the manufacturer, distributor, retailer, and buyer. Instead of putting them inside a box with the rounded bodies leaving air space between cigars, the box-shaped cigars are crammed and pressed into a geometric shape that cuts air from around the sticks. These cigars gain a square shape due to the applied pressure after or during rolling, and they ensure longer burning time with more consistent flavor.

A stack of box pressed cigars.
A Partagas Culebra with ribbon and label.

Culebra Cigars

Another exotic and classic form of Pajero cigars is Culebra, a very distinctive and unique cigar vitola. The cigar roller braids three different panatela Pajero cigars together after rolling. A well-rolled Culebra is a mark of a master cigar roller, however, as it is challenging to pull off the braid. As the tobacco is under pressure, the braid can tear or destroy the individual cigars in unskilled hands. Once braided, the cigars are traditionally tied together with ribbon at the head and the foot. Sometimes, rollers will also put a label around the full width of the Culebra in the traditional spot near the head.

Varieties of Figurado Cigars

There is a wide range of Figurado cigars, and each one of them finished with a unique shape. Some of the most popular ones are Perfecto, Piramide, Belicoso, and Torpedo. I’ve included a few essential details about all these categories below to help your hunt for cigars:

A bundle of torpedo cigars rolled together

Torpedo Cigars

This term is mostly used to define all types of Figurado cigars; however, they too have a specific shape that makes them stand out in the market. Generally, they are identified from their tapered and sloping head that curves to a point. Because of the curve, they have a tighter draw that pulls less air through the shaft and makes the cigar burn more coolly. This shape can bring a consistent flavor and taste through the entire length of the cigar.

Belicoso Cigars

Many buyers confuse them with Torpedoes, but these cigars have a sharper shape at the head that makes them appear the same as a bullet. Where the torpedo looks like the ones dropped from airplanes or shot from submarines, the Belicoso resembles a bomb or a bullet shape. While the name brings images of fighting and war, by definition, some manufacturers will mislabel a Parejo as a Belicoso because of the short taper.

A lit Belicoso cigar by Joya De Nicaragua
A single Piramide cigar by Macanudo

Piramide Cigars

As the name implies, it is Spanish for Pyramid; and as the structures of old, there is typically a taper from the foot to the head, which ends in a sharp point. Unlike the Torpedo which tapers just the length of the head, a Piramide will usually narrow along the full length of the cigar. Some will start with a broader gauge, like 55-60, at the foot and close to 40-45 by the head. Like others, sometimes manufacturers will label a Piramide as a Torpedo, so be careful when comparing cigars.

Perfecto Cigars

Perfecto cigars are generally observed to have two tapered, usually closed ends. Where the other Figurados will taper at the head, the Perfecto also tapers at the foot to either a closed point or a very narrow-width opening of 10-15 gauge. While a Perfecto may be perfectly symmetrical, there will be a clear head and a clear foot usually delineated by the position of the label. Others, such as the sub-vitola of Salomon, can have a Piramide head and a Belicoso foot.

A Davidoff Perfecto

While this is not an exhaustive list by any means, you can hopefully navigate the wide variety of cigars available online and in stores after reviewing these definitions. There can be hundreds of different variants in length, width, and end caps, but keep in mind that often the choice of a cigar vitola is a deeply personal preference. Find what you like, try out a lot of different shapes and sizes, and learn what you enjoy. While I have occasions where I crave the length and depth of a LaFlor Dominicana Double Ligero Digger at 8.5″ x 60 with a Pajero cap, there are others when I want a good Plasencia Alma Fuerte Sixto II box pressed at 6″ x 60 or an Opus X Belicoso XXX 4 5/8″ x 49.

As always, enjoy your smoke and live your best life. ¡Salud!

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Small Batch Bourbon, A Perspective

In recent years, a lot happened in the small batch bourbon industry. New distilleries sprouted up, new brands launched, and the demand for Bourbon products has exploded across the United States. However, that increase in demand is not the only reason for such a Bourbon Renaissance. No, one name may have brought a lot of brands to light: MGP.

While some brands will make their liquor all in-house, from distillation to aging to bottling, some opt out of the distillation. Building a still is an expensive endeavor, one that can be fraught with difficulties and start-up costs often beyond the means of new distillers. Enter MGP, an Indiana wholesale distiller that produces the distillate for over fifty different brands around the world. Able to produce the base distillate for a new distillery, they also have warehouses to age their product for sale to brands. This service can cut 8-10 years off the time needed to launch a new brand and give them time to age their future product while still earning income.

Birth of the Renaissance: Small Batch Defined

As this Renaissance has mushroomed, these small brands can market their small batch bourbon because the term is wholly unregulated. Where there were 100 distilleries in the US a mere ten years ago, today there are over 1,400. These new businesses turn to someone like MGP to build their brand while waiting for the needed years to age their product. That can put a major crimp on the term small batch bourbon because you can hardly call it “small batch” if the largest wholesale distiller makes it, can you?

Despite the inherent logical fallacy in calling them small batch bourbon, the law doesn’t cover criteria for the term. Companies like Bulleit, High West, or Templeton can buy from MGP and call them small batch because of their own internal rules. Then again, so can the major players like Beam and Jack Daniels, just by following their internal guidelines for the definition of small batch bourbon.

Some of those definitions are as follows:

Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon

Knob Creek Small BatchIn 1992, Knob Creek launched their small batch bourbon without much fanfare. At that time, high-priced bourbon was not very common in the market, and brand loyalty often won with gimmicks. In the following years, America witnessed a phenomenal increase in the availability of small batch bourbon. The consumers also started to spend much more money buying bourbon.

Knob Creek still maintains its identity as a favorite small batch whiskey in the US market. They offer four different varieties of whiskey – Straight Rye Whiskey, Smoked Maple Bourbon Whiskey, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and Single Barrel Reserve. The Kentucky Straight Bourbon is sweet and bold whereas the Single Barrel Reserve is unblended bourbon.

In 2017, Knob Creek released their 25th Anniversary Bourbon which was the first unfiltered, single barrel bourbon they released. The product retailed for $130 a bottle, with 300 barrels that originated 300 different bourbon versions.

Four Roses Single Barrel and Small Batch Bourbon

Four Roses ages their Bourbon Whiskey for not less than eight years. They make use of new white-oak casks which are charred for the aging of bourbon. The Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon from Four Roses consists of 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley. By their definition, because there is one single barrel for the bottle, it is small batch by nature.

Four Roses Small Batch BottleThey also market a small batch product that contains four of their ten available mash bills: OBSK, OESK, OBSO, and OESO. While each batch can vary by design, the master distiller has stated the average is 250 barrels per batch. Unlike their single barrel, the age is generally no younger than six years and no older than eight years, bringing an average somewhere in the six-and-a-half year range.

Where many of the other brands on the list have rickhouses of several stories, the distinction they carry is their one-story warehouses. Mixed with their lighter burn on their barrels (between a #3 and a #4), they offer some of the smoothest and most flavorful batches.

Buffalo Trace and E.H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch Bourbon

EH Taylor Small Batch BottleThe Buffalo Trace Distillery is on the banks of the Kentucky River in Frankfort, Kentucky. They have produced bourbon whiskey for more than two centuries from that site. Today, the Buffalo Trace Distillery makes over a dozen different brands of bourbon and whiskey, including their ever-popular E.H. Taylor, Jr. brand. Named for the father of the bourbon industry, Colonel E.H. Taylor, the brand is in honor of his powerful legacy. Among the varieties of bourbon produced under the brand, the small batch is also bottled-in-bond like we discussed in a previous post.

One distinction for their brand is that the E.H. Taylor bottles are all made from a bourbon barrel aged in Warehouse C, a building built by Colonel Taylor himself in 1881. While they do not mention how many barrels go into a small batch, we assume there are less than one hundred per batch because of the limited number of barrels available to make the blend. Beyond the unknown number of barrels, the bottled-in-bond designation also means the final product has water added to lower the ABV before the bottling process.

Willett Pot Still Reserve

Willett Pot Still Reserve​Probably their most popular small batch bourbon, the Pot Still Reserve from Willett Distillery initially was an expression of other distiller’s whiskey. Until they began distilling in-house again in 2012, Willett purchased distillate from other companies and aged the barrels in-house. Starting in 2014, the Pot Still Reserve changed from a single-barrel to a small batch product, incorporating some in-house distillate. As barrels reach the minimum four year age, more and more in-house distillate will begin to join the batch as they bottle.

Because of the transition from single-barrel to small batch, it brought a new perspective to the product that was missing before the change. However, Willett’s batches are quite small, so keep in mind that no two batches will taste the same. They state they use at most twelve barrels per batch, meaning there can be wild differences between runs.

A Wide World of Single-Barrel Bourbons

There are many more single-barrel and small batch bourbons out there on the market to review; we’d never get them all in just one post. Just keep the basic rule in mind when approaching a small batch bourbon: there are no rules about naming conventions. Small batch can mean 12 barrels, like Willett, or it can mean 250, like Four Roses. By comparison to the industrial-scale distilleries, 250 is a tiny batch; but within the non-industrial producers, there can be a wild fluctuation between definitions. Please be careful, and always enjoy your bourbon responsibly!

Subscribe To Stogies & Mash

Whether you’re a bourbon or cigar novice or an expert in either, our podcast is here to help you learn more about your passion and where to go next. Follow along with us as we explore the intricacies and nuances of our shared loves.

Published bi-weekly, the crew gets together to discuss spirits, smokes, and more in a group setting. Join our group of friends and drink or smoke along with us!

Bottled-in-Bond Part 1 – Taxes and Death

In Episode 1 we talked a little bit about the bottled-in-bond designation and its history. Born of the snake oil and bathtub distillate in the 19th century, the program was a collaboration. It brought together private distillers and the US Department of the Treasury in the late-1800s to solve this crisis.

The Dark Ages of Bottling

Prior to 1897, you would be hard pressed to find liquor in your town that was unadulterated. That was the nature of the beast, and it made consumers leery of their liquor. Less upright distillers might buy grain spirits and cut them with additives. Things like boneblack, tobacco, and even iodine were added for color and flavor. You never knew what you were drinking, and that was the point: it was cheap and fast. Much like the bootleggers of Prohibition, the booze you got wasn’t always the booze you bought. Well-known distillers would produce their product and deliver to distributors who then cut, weakened, or mixed the high-quality whiskey with things like iodine or tobacco mixed with water to match the original color.

On top of the problems with quality and brand protection the distillers faced, the government found that many of those same unscrupulous distillers hid barrels, changed counts, or falsified age statements to avoid paying the required taxes on their product. The unsavory side of American whiskey withheld millions in today’s dollars of taxes from the federal government. Since everyone knows the Treasury always gets its pound of flesh, it brought interesting bedfellows.

Fed up with the stricter enforcement and oversight for their legitimate businesses, the leaders of the distilling world came up with a solution. Early leaders, like Colonel EH Taylor of Old Taylor fame, worked with the Treasury. Together they formed a plan on how to solve both of their problems: a national law to tax and verify. Only two things in life are inevitable: Death and Taxes. They sought to ensure your Bourbon doesn’t kill you, and that your supplier paid their taxes.

A Way Forward

Through this cooperation came the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, a pivotal piece of legislation. First, it adopted a defined characteristic standard: all distillate must be from one season (January to June or July to December), it must be made by only one distiller, and it must be made at one distillery. Second, it provided a tax incentive for the distiller which limited their overhead. This was a delayed tax payment until after the whiskey was finished aging. To-date, taxes were paid every year while aging, which required significant up-front capital to launch new product. Third, the product must be bottled at precisely 100 proof, or 50% alcohol by volume, to ensure consistent product between brands. Finally, it required the aging take place in a federally-bonded warehouse under the supervision of the Treasury Department.

After all of this, the barrels were opened under government supervision and bottled with special tamper-proof paper seals that outlined their bonded status. Any attempt to open the bottle and change the contents would break or tear the seal, rendering the bottle suspect. As one of our nation’s first consumer protection laws, the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 ensured that every bottle you purchased of a particular spirit were, in fact, the spirit it claimed to be, without contamination, additives, or unsavory changes.

The Aftermath

What the act did not do was guarantee the quality of the spirit or the skill of the distiller. It also denied mixed or blended whiskeys a distinguished bond, which soured the public on those blends. In the end, it became the earmark of top-shelf liquors and the way consumers identified good whiskey. Every American producer clamored to display their bonded offerings, shilling it as the best and the greatest available.

Does the Bottled-in-Bond designation have a place in modern society? Do our new food and drug laws cover the very reason the program was created? In theory, they prevent the addition of harmful or unknown additives, flavorants, and colorants. What we need to decide is if they actually stop these adulterations or if the Bottled-in-Bond program is still needed today.

Next time we’ll dive deeper into the Bottled-in-Bond programs that exist today and discuss some of the various distillers that keep this tradition alive. And there will be a Bottled-in-Bond episode that comes up soon so you can learn even more. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter below to learn when both are launched!

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Bourbon and Cigars – Welcome

I get it: bourbon can be a pretty daunting thing to ponder and explore. There’s the sunk cost of the bottles, the high per-pour prices at bars and restaurants, and the “snob tax” of people overthinking their drinks. Cigars are even worse a minefield: the wide variety of brands, the confusing names, styles, and packaging; and let’s not forget the embargo. There are 163 million results in Google for “bourbon,” so it makes you wonder: where can I start? That’s what we’re here to do, to give you the tools you need to explore our two favorite vices together: bourbon and cigars.

Stogies and Mash is a bourbon and cigar blog and podcast for beginners. We teach you where to start with your exploration, first bottles to try or cigars to smoke, and where to source them. Through the progressive growth of our articles, you’ll move from a newbie to an anorak in no time. Within a year, we’ll have you drinking an iron dram with the best of them!

Both Bourbon and Cigars

Sometimes we’ll throw in things about other spirits or wine, but our core goal is to teach you everything we know about bourbon and cigars. In the end, we hope to leave you an expert all on your own. Expect weekly tips, pointers, and histories of both spirits and cigars, along with bi-weekly episodes of our podcast.

The Podcast

The show is a roundtable of our hosts and our guests trying and exploring the very core of bourbon and cigar experiences. Sometimes some current events or politics might slip in, but it’s really just friends enjoying our favorite pastimes. Join us while you listen in and learn something along the way.

Welcome to the world of bourbon and cigars, and the beginning of a life-long passion. I’ve never met someone who’s half-interested in either vice, only those who love them dearly. Together, we’ll get you on board and ready to explore a brave new world on your own. All aboard!

Subscribe To Stogies & Mash

Whether you’re a bourbon or cigar novice or an expert in either, our podcast is here to help you learn more about your passion and where to go next. Follow along with us as we explore the intricacies and nuances of our shared loves.

Published bi-weekly, the crew gets together to discuss spirits, smokes, and more in a group setting. Join our group of friends and drink or smoke along with us!