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Blended Scotch and Cigars

They introduced Scotch to the world. They make single-malt production economically feasible. They're the product of a delicate and venerable art form. Yet blends are the forgotten Scotch, left in the shadows of the single-malt insurgence. Jack Bettridge, Cigar Aficionado's senior features editor, recently visited the great blenders of Scotland and discovered that their quaff is worth a closer look. The story appears in the October 2001 issue of the magazine. Get a preview by reading the results of the Scotch and cigar pairing, below.

A panel of three Cigar Aficionado senior editors tasted eight blended Scotch whiskies, pairing them all with a Don Tomas Cuban Selection Corona Gorda cigars and a Cohiba Esplendido cigars.

CHIVAS REGAL 12-YEAR-OLD - 80 proof - core malt: Strathisla - The Speyside malts inform the honeyed freshness and ethereal quality of this elegant blend. There are tart fruits (lemon and green apple) on the nose and palate and hints of hard candy in the finish, which also includes a bit of sting. Opens up nicely with ice. When paired with the Don Tomas, there seemed to be a disturbance in the force that makes the Scotch great. The cigar, nevertheless, became oilier. The Cohiba was much more the equal partner. It took on more leather and gave a stronger, smoother, more honeyed body to the whisky.

CHIVAS REGAL 18-YEAR-OLD - 80 proof - core malts: Strathisla, The Glenlivet, Glen Keith and Longmorn - The older brother to the standard Chivas does exactly what a superpremium expression should do, bringing all the inspirations into finer focus. All the charms of Speyside are here. The floral nose is beguiling. The fruit and honey spin together lusciously. The taste is succulence itself. Fruit, herbs, spice, maple - all pitch into a candy quality that begs you to sip it neat, but rewards you with a long subtle peatiness when water is added. The Don Tomas gave little to the whisky and took on a reediness itself. The Cohiba and the Chivas, on the other hand, sang to each other. Sweetness and leather, mixed with cashews, passed back so easily between cigar and Scotch, it was hard to tell which partner brought what to the party.

CUTTY SARK - 80 proof - cores malts: The Glenrothes, The Glengoyne and Tamdhu - Created to appeal to light-whisky lovers, it achieves its aim from color to finish. A light floral nose with a hint of sour wine is soon overwhelmed by a smoky, peaty palate that tastes of chewy bread dough with almost no sweetness. The pronounced experience is a brilliant clarity with just a touch of oiliness on the finish. The Scotch seemed to sweeten up the Don Tomas, while offering up more of its own smoke in the trade. The Cohiba, however, easily outran the whisky, which became quite reedy next to the fuller-bodied cigar.

DEWAR'S SPECIAL RESERVE - 86 proof - core malt: Aberfeldy - Dewar's introduction of a 12-year-old, brings the brand into a fuller-bodied realm than its standard White Label, America's largest-selling Scotch. A flowery but delicate nose on the 12-year-old belies the rich peatiness that develops on the middle palate. The addition of ice opens up the honey and maple syrup flavors associated with its lighter-bodied younger brother and tempers its earthy flavor. The whisky harmonizes quite well with the Don Tomas, as the cigar furthers the honey character and has its rough edges rounded by the Scotch. With the Cohiba, an almost perfect match ensues, the whisky becoming more full bodied and the cigar taking on leather notes.

THE FAMOUS GROUSE - 80 proof - core malts: The Glenrothes and Tamdhu - Scotland's most popular blend came by its name as a device for marketing to nineteenth-century hunters. The whisky certainly smacks of the toasty, grainy flavors that will warm you during a cold day of stalking birds. A bread dough nose is followed by notes of ginger and light melon on the palate. Delicate and pleasant, it has a rum finish that whispers of peat and goes on and on. With the Don Tomas, it proved a lackadaisical match. The cigar took on wheatiness, but returned the favor with salt. The Grouse did much better with the Cohiba. The Scotch took on an even longer finish and the cigar got sweeter and more perfume-like.

THE FAMOUS GROUSE GOLD RESERVE - 80 proof - core malts: Bunnahabhain, The Glenrothes, Highland Park and Tamdhu - The 12-year-old version of the Grouse announces itself with additional complexity and a stronger role for the malts. The nose is honeyed and carries through to the palate, the rum quotient more pronounced and the savory flavors more discernible as burnt nuts and French bread. An ice cube opens it up nicely. The Don Tomas took on a pleasant sweetness with the pairing, and its finish was elongated. With the Cohiba, the cigar's oiliness showed to best effect and it became nutty as well.

JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL - 80 proof - core malts: Cardhu, Caol Ila, Royal Lochnagar, Mortlach - While Blue Label states no age, many of its constituents are positively patriarchal, which is reflected in the high price tag. The limited bottling goes straight for the nose with salt and peat that speak of its Islay pedigree. On the tongue, the whisky develops fruit and sweet honey notes that stay in balance with an insistent woodiness at the core. A gummy finish may be cleaned up by the addition of water. The Don Tomas proved an unfortunate match. The greatness of the Scotch showcased the cigar's shortcomings and a peatiness came out on the whisky. With the introduction of the Cohiba cigars, however, the blend reveals its myriad intricacies. The Scotch gives the cigar leather and chocolate qualities that had laid dormant, although there is the briefest moment of saccharine.

JOHNNIE WALKER GOLD LABEL - 80 proof - core malts: Cardhu, Talisker, Royal Lochnagar - This 18-year-old falters in emulating the complexity and smoothness of the Blue Label, but makes up for it with a rich chewy, toasty, nutty character that the Blue lacks. Nor is the Gold Label as relentlessly peaty and smoky. The finish betrays a bit of a bite, but none of the soap or gum of the Blue Label. The pairing with the Don Tomas proved so-so. While the blend tried to pull the Don Tomas through sheer gumption, the cigar just didn't have the energy. With the Cohiba, the Gold imparted a toasted nuttiness to the cigar.

Thursday, August 23, 2001

Blended Scotch and Cigars