1888: the year that Don Andrés Brugal Montaner introduced his first dark rum to market – and the also the name of Brugal’s most enthralling rum (yes, you see where this review is going). Brugal 1888 has long been a favorite of mine, so it’s about time I finally sit down to write an organized review. This rum carries all of the hallmarks of Brugal rum (signature dryness), but is given added complexity and texture after being aged 6 – 8 years in ex-Bourbon American oak casks, followed by first-fill Spanish Oloroso casks for a total aging of 8 – 12 years.
My first taste of Brugal 1888 was actually at one of our events at the Carnegie Club in 2014. I was blown away. And I remain so.
Name: Brugal 1888 (Ron Gran Reserva Familiar)
Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
Age: 8 – 12 years
Aged in: Ex-Bourbon White American Oak, Spanish Oloroso Sherry
I don’t think I can name another spirit, perhaps with the exception of Aberlour A’bunadh, where the influence of the sherry cask finish is so pronounced. This rum is stunning, in appearance and in flavor. The bottle, with an angled look more fitting a crystal decanter, only adds to this spirit’s sense of luxury.
The nose has a heavy texture, full of fruit, dates, molasses, and a bit of the sherry cask finish. Intense, pungent, sweet – in a phrase, ready to kick ass.
The mouth feel is heavy and intense. This sipper comes in smooth, turns up the flavor, and then the sipper enjoys a nice, long, sweet finish. What I find so unique, striking, and lovely about this rum is it’s ability to present a sip that is full bodied, complex, palate-saturating, yet still dry compared to many other rums which can bring great flavor but at the cost of the sipper feeling like he’s drinking cough syrup.
Long, smooth, and satisfying, leaving notes of charred wood, honeyed bread, and spices.
Rum sippers: finish up your current drink and make your way to the liquor store.
Whiskey sippers: put your drink down now and pick up a bottle. You will be glad you did.
A while back I was fortunate enough to score a bottle of Dave Phinney’s “Slaughterhouse” Whiskey. Dave Phinney as you may or may not know is the famed vintner who created “The Prisoner” an Über California wine blend. He then sold the company and now makes acclaimed wines from virtually all the major wine producing countries in the world under his Orin Swift label. Last year he decided to turn his taste for wine into sourced whiskeys. Straight Edge was Dave’s first leap into the whiskey world and his skill in crafting wine doesn’t miss a beat when putting together these whiskeys. Straight Edge is hard to come by and I was lucky to grab a bottle for this review.
Straight Edge much like all of Phinney’s creations catches the eye with creative labeling. Straight Edge as the name implies sports an old style straight edge razor. The red background in the lettering matches the color of the whiskey itself. In the bottle the whiskey has an attractive almost sherry color to it. Straight Edge is a blend of 5, 7 and 8 year old Bourbon from Kentucky and Tennessee. It’s finished at Phinney’s facility in Napa Valley using Mercury Head Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. Mercury Head is Orin Swift’s high end expensive Cabernet. I have a bottle of the ’01 Mercury Head and you can see in the picture below the Whiskey and the wine it was barrel finished in.
Here is my review:
Spirit details: Proof 84
Description: Sherry color in bottle, straight razor on label.
Nose: The nose screams vanilla and wood.
Palate: Upfront lots of vanilla, butterscotch and toasty oak. Midway spice with orange and honey that coats the mouth.
Finish: Real toasty on the finish with vanilla, caramel and a wonderful touch of rye that rounds out the profile.
Conclusion: An extremely well balanced whiskey. While I don’t feel the body was as “weighty” as the Slaughterhouse this whiskey was more nuanced in it’s primary flavors. I attribute this to the aging in Cabernet barrels rather than Bordeaux barrels with Slaughterhouse. Orin Swift Cellars has diversified their profile with both American Whiskeys. Straight Edge delivers sharp flavors of vanilla, oak and spice which is what a quality American Whiskey is all about. If you can find a bottle I would grab it as I wish I had more myself. Below is a link to my review of Slaughterhouse if you’d like to compared the two. Enjoy!
Last month I had the pleasure of taking a day trip to Nassau Bahamas. My one and only plan was to visit the Graycliff Hotel to learn about their cigar making process, techniques and the quality that’s synonymous with the Graycliff brand. Graycliff Hotel was purchased by the Garzaroli family in 1973 and is the premier five star hotel and restaurant on the island as well as housing the largest wine cellar in the Caribbean. The historic mansion and its property boasts a welcoming reception area, opening air dining and Himalayan salt pool, all of which cater to the cigar enthusiast.
Upon entering the hotel you can smell the sweet aroma of a cigar in the lounge. With antique leather chairs, showcases of spirits, paintings and a piano you quickly envision a sense of calm and quiet reflection that guests enjoy puffing away on any given day. Within a few minutes I was greeted by a lovely woman who guided us to the Graycliff Cigar Factory. I could have easily wiled away the afternoon enjoying cigars and spirits right there however I needed to visit the factory where they make the cigars I’ve enjoyed for the past sixteen years.
As I made my way through the old stone walkway palm trees adorned the property along with statues and an elegant pool that truly gave you a sense of the sophisticated history of the hotel. Just before I approached the factory I was taken back by the largest Cigar Divan I have ever seen. The Divan had a large ceiling with fans, lounge chairs, couches, wrought iron tables and a free standing humidor. This is the perfect respite to grab a cigar from the factory and sit with a smoke enjoying the scenery. I’m sure it was no coincidence that the divan is right by the entrance to the cigar factory.
The steps that lead to the Graycliff Cigar Factory:
Upon entering the factory there is a lounge and bar offering espresso and spirits. Alongside is a cabinet humidor containing six lines of the Graycliff portfolio. The represented cigars where: Graycliff Originale, Graycliff Professionale, Graycliff Emerald, Graycliff Crystal and Graycliff Espresso. I was met by Adam Collins the General Manager for Graycliff. Adam is a very personable individual who greeted me warmly. As I shook hands I was given a Graycliff Professionale PG and lit it up immediately. The sweet and earthy flavors of the Professionale made it the perfect first smoke of the day. As I entered the epicenter of the factory which is their boutique rolling room I observed several rollers meticulously rolling vitolas for various Graycliff lines. Graycliff prides itself on perfectly rolled cigars and seeing firsthand you appreciate the dedication to the craft. Adam oversees the day to day operations as well as maintains the quality control and works on blends. In speaking with Adam you can see the passion in his eyes and the excitement he gets from working on a blend and speaking about the factory.
One particular roller that caught my eye was a gentleman rolling what appeared to be a free-form cigar or a cigar without a mold. This is extremely difficult to do as keeping a cigar’s measurements and consistency takes a keen eye and skilled hand. The individual in question was Master Roller Miguel A. Lavadie Duconger who is one of the last free form cigar rollers in the world. As it turns out he was rolling the John Howard Graysmith line which is the ONLY commercial line of cigars dedicated to the free hand cigar rolling style. Miquel makes the cigar using the “Entubado” method which takes the individual filler leaves and rolls them into scroll-like tubes placing them next to each other in the bunch. This method although more time consuming creates more airflow and a better draw and burn making it a more satisfying cigar of very high quality. Watching Mr. Lavadie Duconger work was observing a master at his craft. I’ve visited cigar factories before, seen rollers at their respective tables and even watched rollers attempt free hand cigars but NOTHING like the quality and consistently I saw at the Graycliff Cigar Factory.
Master Roller Miguel A. Lavadie Duconger rolling “Free Form”
The John Howard Graysmith which Miguel is responsible for has two vitolas: “Cannon” a 60 x 7 Parejo and “Buccaneer” a 60 x 7 Piramide. Both cigars have uncut or “shag” feet. The JHG line pays homage to the original way cigars were rolled as well as a nod to the famous pirate John Howard Graysmith whose exploits were legendary and who built the Graycliff Mansion.
John Howard Graysmith Buccanner and Cannon Cigars:
As impressive as the rolling room was Adam took me to the aging room where cigars are stored, bundled and readied for future shipping. Adam oversees fermentation and processing which is a testament to his hands on style of management and adherence to complete quality control. Returning to the rolling room I was able to light up a Graycliff Espresso Pirate which is my personal favorite of the line. The Espresso pirate yielded rich notes of mocha, leather and a bit of spice. The cigar was wonderfully balanced in the medium to full bodied range.
As I toured with Adam he took me down a hallway which I would call the “Cigar Education Wing”. Part tobacco education part museum this area sports framed cigar posters such as tobacco leaf classifications in which primings of each leaf are listed, cultivation methods, manufacturing, and the history of cigar making. Walking the hall and reading the informative descriptions gives a cigar enthusiast quite a lesson on how a cigar goes from the field to your hand. This is the first of its kind I’ve seen and shows how the company wants their consumers to understand the process as well as enjoy their cigars.
Cigar Education wing:
It was at this point I met up Paolo Garzaroli president of Graycliff Cigar Company. I’ve met Paolo on several occasions and I can say he has a true passion for quality, tremendous vison and is a gentleman who believes in family and building relationships with people. Paolo directed me to the display cases that showed cigar memorabilia such as presses, molds and cutters. On the adjacent wall there were photos of celebrities enjoying Graycliff cigars and even such luminaries as Nelson Mandela. The impact Graycliff has had on the industry and consumers is demonstrative in these photographs.
Showcase of cigar memorabilia:
Celebrites and Heads of State enjoying Graycliff Cigars:
Much to my dismay I had to leave all too early as I had a ship to return to. Visiting Graycliff was a priority as well as the highlight of my trip. I thanked Adam and Paolo profusely for the cigars, tour and hospitality. If you visit the Bahamas you NEED to visit Graycliff or do one better and stay on the property. You will be educated, satiated, and puffing away in paradise. I will return as a guest and spend more time at Graycliff which I now call the “Cigar Oasis”.
The other evening I picked up some Slaughter House American Whiskey for a choice tasting. For those that may not know Slaughter House is a creation from wine Rock Star Dave Phinney of Orion Swift Cellars fame. This is the man who created “The Prisoner” red blend in 2000 which catapulted his company into legendary status. He went on to form Orion Swift Cellars and sold “The Prisoner” to what is now known as The Prisoner Wine Company. For years Orin Swift has been making sourced wine blends that have garnered high scores and critical acclaim. His combination of high quality sourced grapes, meticulous vinification practices and creative labels have made him one of the more sought after and well respected California wine producers.
Recently Dave made his foray into Whiskey making in which Phinney continues his attention to quality and innovative label design with this recent release. Upon acquiring high level whiskey the spirit spends nine years in American oak and is then finished in Orion Swift Papillion wine barrels. Papillion is a high end Bordeaux blend created by Orion Swift. When bottled a touch of pure water from a natural spring in Phinney ‘s Alexander Valley property is added to enhance its aromatics. The combination of aging, finishing and filtration creates a harmonious whiskey. Here is my review:
Spirit details: Proof 88
Description: The Slaughter House label dons a butchers meat cleaver with a white backdrop invoking a murderous intention with an old school slasher/movie feel. This seems appropriate for this whiskey as it cuts right through your senses.
Nose: Intense vanilla and baking spice that hits you immediately.
Palate: Honey, marmalade, and vanilla swath the forefront while spice and candied fruit coat the palate. A bit of heat touches the tongue with honey and vanilla rounding it out. An intensely focused spirit yielding just the right amount of spice and sweetness for an American Whiskey.
Finish: Vanilla, spice, butterscotch and toast produce a finish that lingers on.
Conclusion: This is everything you would expect from an American Whiskey. Dave Phinney manages to capture the spice, vanilla and toasty qualities from the American oak while giving the whiskey a weighty mouthfeel from its Bordeaux barrel finishing. While I didn’t feel like I was being hacked with a cleaver, Slaughter HouseWhiskey oozes with flavors that are a cut above the rest. A solid effort from this wine producer and worth a bottle purchase.
I picked up this bottle of Akashi White Oak at my local liquor store for the simple fact that it is produced in Japan and, well, we all know the Japanese whisky craze going on right now. So at $35/bottle, I thought, why not?
Akashi White Oak whisky is crafted using barley imported from Scotland and pure underground water from the Eigashima Distillery. From there, it is finished in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, which is immediately apparent on the nose and the palate.
Here’s the review.
Slightly aggressive, the scent of this scotch is tantalizing, with orange peel, oak, vanilla, and a touch of spice.
Akashi White Oak really engages the taste buds with a lot of complexity to a level that is tough to find in a value whisky. This whisky shows its age a bit aggressiveness about halfway through the taste journey, but the finish is malty and long.
Akashi White Oak really is a wonderful whisky to have on hand – great aroma, wonderful flavors, etc. The heat, however, definitely disrupts the experience, which is why I can’t justify a grade higher than B+ (good).