Pairing Cigars & Alcohol – Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Cigars and alcohol. Two luxury products that go hand in hand, and sometimes even meet on business level. Aging tobacco in whisky, rum, or cognac barrels is a practice several brands do to achieve extra flavour to the wrapper for certain lines. The famous bourbon brand Maker’s Mark has their own cigar, sold in tubes with the signature wax coating. Drew Estate works with Pappy van Winkle and used to make Kahlua cigars. Mombacho used to have the Diplomatico series. General Cigars works with Sazerac, which resulted in Fireball cigars, Weller by Cohiba and collaborations with Buffalo Trace. And there is the Diesel Whisky Row, a collaboration with Rabbit Hole Distilleries. Fratello Cigars also sells craft beer. Most famous are probably the Cuban collaboration between Martell Cognac and Cohiba. Dominique London, the European retailer with more than 20 shops in the UK, Belgium, Switzerland and the Canary Islands takes it one step further. They bought a distillery in Wales and produce whisky, gin, rum, vodka and liquors.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker was a grocer that started blending whisky in his shop for his customers. After his death, his son Alexander took over the business and with much success. Johnnie Walker is now the most sold blended Scotch in the world. Most of those sales are contributed by the entry level, the red label. Now I don’t want to be a snob, but the red label is awful and should be considered as an aftershave instead of a beverage in my humble opinion. The black and double black are very popular amongst Dominican cigar manufacturers as I can tell from experience, but the most expensive and most raved about Johnnie Walker is the blue label. Someone gave me this bottle for my birthday and I use it for this article.

The Blue Label is made to recreate the character and taste from the early Johnnie Walker blends. Since it’s an expensive blended whisky, probably the most expensive blended whisky on the market, each bottle comes in its own box and with a certificate of authenticity. The blend itself is made only from the best of the best whiskies. Only one barrel out of every ten thousand barrels is good enough to be used in the Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Each bottle is numbered, my bottle has number BB8 21394 and has an ABV of 40%, which is 80 proof for our American visitors.

Neat

In a Glencairn glass you are hit with a good dose of ethanol. The aroma is flavourful with berries but also oak, cedar, spices and citrus. The taste is liquid toffee with a smoky aftertaste. The toffee is supported with some fresh green grassy flavour and a bit of chocolate. Subtle and sophisticated, this is a great scotch and I now understand why this is a classic whisky. I would pair this with a stronger cigar with finesse. Not a straight up powerhouse but a stronger cigar that is also subtle and complex. The Arturo Fuente Añejo series or the Joya de Nicaragua Cinco Decadas for example. Or a Cohiba Maduro if you’re into Cuban cigars.

In a highball glass the nose is less exciting. The ethanol is hardly noticeable but the other aromas have lost much of their strength too. Sweetness from berries mixed with some wood, mostly oak and a hint of citrus. That’s it. The main flavour is still toffee but it feels a bit watered down compared to the Glencairn glass. And no, it’s not because of ice as I drink it neat, not on the rocks. Dark chocolate is more pronounced than in the Glencairn and that makes me want to pair this with a nice maduro cigar. Undercrown maduro for example, and then in a bigger format such as toro.

Old Fashioned

The oils of the orange peel overpower any other possible aroma, but that is the case with most whisky old-fashioned cocktails. Only in very peated and smoky whisky old fashioneds you can smell some of the spirit but this isn’t one of those types of scotch. The orange is also very noticeable in the flavour, with sweetness from both the sugar and some summer fruit. Do I taste some strawberry-like sweetness? The grassy green flavour that’s noticeable in the non-mixed Blue Label is completely gone. The angostura bitters give this cocktail a slight bitterness in the back of the throat but it’s pleasant.  There is a complexity that I often miss when I order an old fashioned in a bar and they use a more generic, lesser quality whisky. On one hand it’s a bit of a shame to use such a good scotch for an old fashioned, on the other hand, it does make a spectacular old fashioned. And one that will go well with a lot of cigars. A sweet and creamy Connecticut Shade cigar, a cigar with a nutty Corojo wrapper, a spicy Cameroon wrapper or even a dark, sweet Connecticut Broadleaf would work well. Especially if that Connecticut Broadleaf has chocolate notes that can enhance the dark chocolate complexity and bitterness in this cocktail.

And now for the Old-Fashioned recipe:

1 sugar cube
3 dashes of bitters

2 oz or 60 ml of whisky
orange peel
Put the sugar cube in a highball glass, add the dashes of bitters and a splash of water. Muddle the sugar cube. Add ice and the whisky. Stir for 10 seconds, then add an orange peel.

Gold Rush

The nose is a lot of lemon, lime those lemon ball candies by Napoleon. I just hope that the cocktail isn’t as tard as the candy. There is a hint of oak from the Johnnie Walker Blue Label though. This cocktail is all lemon, there is some of the characteristics of the whisky, but covered in a whole lot of lemon. Too lemon forward to be a good pairing with a cigar though. And honestly, this is a waste of a wonderful scotch. This cocktail might be very refreshing, but I will never make it with an expensive whisky again nor try to pair it with a cigar.

And now for the Gold Rush recipe:

2 ounces or 60ml of Johnnie Walker Blue Label
¾ ounce or 22½ml of Honey Syrup

¾ ounce or 22½ml of Lemon Juice, freshly squeezed
garnish: lemon twist
Add the whisky, lemon juice and syrup in a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a highball glass over a big rock of fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Inspector X

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