Perfect Pairings #2 – Spirits Editor Pairing Review

Photo courtesy Bacardi Ltd

Forget any past tasting you had of Royal Brackla 12 and 16.

Change your mind about Aberfeldy 12, 16 and 21.

It’s all about context!

Here stands two magical cigars. But the mix of smoke and whisky creates diverse palate effects. So, be prepared for SURPRISE!!

Let’s cut to the chase. With the Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua Maestro, the Royal Brackla 12 brings out the best in both dram and stick in great harmony. Aberfeldy 16 comes close to the same rapport, but with more nuance.

When smoking the Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Nicaragua, these two also rise to the top. My view, in this case, gives a slight nod to the Aberfeldy 16 because of the second cigar’s spice.

Here’s a preview of a night you’ll recall. This standard of excellence is what we all assume from I hope your flavor trip will be as rewarding as mine.

Cigar: Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua Maestro – The cold draw has nice espresso flavors, almost toasted! A smooth wrapper and soft blend make it sensual. You don’t even have to smoke to enjoy it.

Note: All bottles are 40% ABV

Royal Brackla 12 – When we light up the Cigar of the Year, we expect our whisky pairs to transport us to a new level, and it does! Wow! What a surprise! The RB 12 is that outcome and more! Past samplings of this spirit showed that it was largely a good malt. It had a dusty, rocky dryness that was short lived followed by fleeting Kraft Caramel. Then it finished with a light black pepper. My first thought: Best drink this neat before dinner. Well… so much for the past.  Tonight, there’s a balance between cigar and scotch; rare for such a low ABV. The RB’s hint of back palate smoke equaled the gentle spice of the AR. The stony grist of the whisky dissolved into the sweet earth of the stick. Lost in thought, I turned my head and found I emptied the glass! Lucky for me, I had more in reserve!

Royal Brackla 16 – The AR’s smooth complexity tried hard to change the powerhouse, uni-directional RB16. It was almost the classic Bugs Bunny / Daffy Duck skit: “Duck Season!” “No! Rabbit Season!” After a strained effort, the whisky’s light fade gave way to the elegance of the smoke. The result was best for those who love distinct tastes and exult in a mouth battle.

Aberfeldy 12 – As the AR approached the end of its first third, some nuttiness emerged. I hoped the AF 12 would combine its normal honeycomb taste with the cigar. Nope. These two decided that peaceful co-existence was the way to go. You’ll find a gateway malt here. If blended scotch is your basic tipple, the AF12 is a new road for you. Why not pair it with a good smoke? Just don’t expect either to change.

Aberfeldy 16 – The red-headed step-child of the product line, the 16-year has real elan. There’s a bunch of flavors that come through without the pure honey tone of the 12-year. With so much going on with the whisky, you might think you could overlook the smoke. Not a chance! Surprise again! Here’s a case where all the grace of the cigar and the whisky’s kaleidoscope of tastes combine for a rare experience. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Revel in all your senses and trust them to impress. Now THAT’s what I’m talking about!

Aberfeldy 21 – A more erudite version of the AF12, the same honeyed nature emerges with less power and more finesse. Yet, like the twelve-year, the cigar is a separate journey. But why fight the flavors? Just enjoy each of them apart. Any notion of a fight dissolves into the knowledge that you’ve got two fine samples in your hands.

Mark’s Preference: #1 Aberfeldy 16, #2 Royal Brackla 12, #3 Royal Brackla 16, #4 Aberfeldy 21, #5 Aberfeldy 12. 

Cigar: Romeo y Juilieta Reserva Real Nicaragua – The cold draw has a lot of pepper and spice with some nutmeg, maybe even some cardamom. Here’s another beauty of the highest quality. But prepare yourself for a smoke of strength.

Royal Brackla 12 – Given my first experience with the AR, I had no preconceived notions with a cigar of such different character! Again, SURPRISE! The initial sweet flavor then the spicy trace of the RB 12’s finish were perfect counterpoints to the pepper of the RJ, each tempered in their ardor. One plus one now equals three. This is a big winner!

Royal Brackla 16 – The RB 16 is a sipping whisky that stands on its own. But when it meets the strength of this stogie, it’s a battle for dominance with each vying for control of your senses. If you crave a battle royale in your mouth, here’s your UFC cage match!

Aberfeldy 12 – By now the RJ, in the second third, is mellowing out. Yet the honeyed one-dimensional AF 12 overpowered the cigar! Weird! I expected the RJ to put up a fight. Yet it surrendered to the dram! All that remained was the slight tinge of pepper that showed you what lurked in the end.  Interesting: the milder AR produced a more cohesive result. 

Aberfeldy 16 – Ok, I didn’t know what to expect from my favorite in the AR sequence. The same complex nose of the glass jolted me and brought out hidden smooth and warm traits of the RJ. Not outdone, the cigar countered by tempering the chameleon flavors of the AF 16. What a delight! Enjoy this classic sensation where each aspect inspires the other.

Aberfeldy 21 – I wasn’t expecting much here. The AF21 is too smooth, too aged. It’s a great dessert whisky, but it’s gonna get clobbered, right? WRONG! Like the AF12, the reverse happened. The spirit overwhelmed the cigar. The honeyed sensation beat down the pepper, but the 21-year, unlike its younger sibling, let the stick’s heat return at the finish.

Mark’s Preference: #1 Royal Brackla 12, #2 Aberfeldy 16, #3 Aberfeldy 21, #4 Aberfeldy 12, #5 Royal Brackla 16. 

Summary: I enjoyed an evening of surprises. I didn’t expect the Royal Brackla 12 to impress as much as it did (in both cases!) despite major differences in the cigars. That a whisky can overpower a strong smolder is also new to me. I expect the inverse. The ending surprise was how good the Aberfeldy 16 was with different smokes. Perhaps what makes it such a flavor changeling creates a true savored adventure.

There are some wonderful take-aways here: You could like a whisky and a cigar by themselves, but, perhaps, not together. On the other hand, you could discover that a fine smoke might not pair well with your preferred drink! Last, the age of a spirit does not translate to a superb smoking experience. Remember the setting. First choose the cigar flavor profile you want. Then lay out some samples from your own bar and dive in! Don’t limit yourself to Scotch! You’re bound to find true love, as’s own Kelvin Batista learned with Rum. 

What’s your view? Leave a comment and tell us! – Mark