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 has 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. They were kind enough to sponsor Cigar Inspector with samples so we can write about pairings.
Stalla Dhu Saorsa Single Cask
Stalla Dhu is an independent bottler. They purchase barrels from famous distilleries and bottle them. The first- and second-generation members of the family carefully select whiskies that show promise and then age them in their own casks before bottling. Often the name of the original distillery is mentioned but not always. And in this case, all that Stalla Dhu revealed was that it’s made at a distillery in the highlands and that it was bottled in 2018. There is no distillation date, nor which distillery it comes from. But it’s from a Sherry butt cask with the number Z09/900083. I happen to love sherry cask whiskies, so this is one I am looking forward too even though the ABV is 50% and that’s slightly higher than what I prefer.
Recently was at a whisky tasting where I was shocked by the difference in glass. In Glencairn glass the whisky was like liquid chocolate, in a highball glass, the same whisky was almost undrinkable, flat and not palatable. So, I am trying this whisky in both glasses, neat and diluted with some water or ice, then as an old fashioned, and as a whisky smash to see what to pair the whisky with.
The Stalla Dhu Saorsa has a beautiful golden colour. The spirit is thick and oily. I love Sherry Cask so this is one I’m looking forward to. The aroma is sweet, with hints of honey and caramel, but also with almond notes. It almost smells creamy. The whisky is smooth and creamy with nuts, a bit of pepper, vanilla and dried fruits. It is a very flavourful drink, very gentle with layers of flavours, complex yet delicate. This calls for a sophisticated cigar, something with a little sweetness, a little spice and nuttiness. Something with a Corojo wrapper, a Cameroon wrapper or a stronger blend with a Connecticut Shade wrapper. I am thinking about a Fuente Hemingway Natural, something from Aganorsa Leaf, or a Sobremesa Brûlée.
As I said, a different type of glassware can make a huge difference. In this case, that is clear in the aroma. The aroma is more mellow, yet with the same characteristics Sweet, honey and caramel with hints of almonds but there is also a bit if apple on the nose. In this glass there is a bit more bite in the drink. Its less smooth, but still full of sweetness, hazelnut, almond, pepper and fruit. There is less vanilla. It’s got a bit more power and that’s why I would skip anything with a Connecticut Shade wrapper or any other mild cigar. Something with a little more body, yet with complexity. For this I would pick a La Ley from DH Boutique Cigars or a Fuente Opus X. In the Cuban realm I think Ramon Allones of Quay d’ Orsay will be a nice match.
The aroma is made up of sweet honey and almonds with a hint of orange. The cocktail is slightly bitter, like a very light Negroni. But unlike a Negroni, I like this. It is spicy with some orange and sweetness from the whisky and the sugar. Because it’s spicy and stronger it has more bite than drinking it neat. I don’t know if this is an improvement as I really liked this whisky neat. It needs something strong to stand up to this Old Fashioned, preferably something earthy. For Cubans the Montecristo #2 is an obvious choice, while for non-Cubans I wouldn’t mind pairing this with a great Honduran cigar, something made by Christian Eiroa for example, or a Kafie 1901 Sumatra when Kafie 1901 was still made in Honduras (I haven’t tried the new Dominican version yet, so I can’t comment on the new blends).
and now for the Old-Fashioned recipe:
1 sugar cube
3 dashes of bitters
2 oz or 60 ml of Saorsa Single Cask
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.
The Mint Julep is a cocktail best known for being the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby. There this refresher is composed of bourbon, sugar, mint and crushed but there are many variations and in this case I chose to make a Stalla Dhu Saorsa Mint Julep. The Mint Julep gained prominence in the southern United States during the 18th century, and it first appeared in print in 1803 in John Davis’ book “Travels of Four and a Half Years in the United States of America.” He wrote that the Mint Julep is a “dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.” An ice-cold whiskey drink is certainly one way to start your day. Since its creation, the Mint Julep has remained popular, but the julep itself is actually a category of drinks featuring a spirit served over crushed ice. So, it comes in more varieties than only bourbon and mint, and it’s likely that the first juleps were made with cognac or even peach brandy.
Since this is a drink that has to be served cold, I went for a copper mug, a so called Mule mug. But it can work in an old fashioned rocks glass too. The aroma of the cocktail is mild, the temperature of the drink mutes the aroma of honey and mint. I was expecting a very watered down cocktail because the huge amount of crushed ice but the whisky flavour is surprisingly strong. It’s spicy with a hint of citrus and a cool mint aftertaste. It is refreshing yet not as a summer cocktail. This isn’t a winter cocktail either. When the ice starts to dilute the cocktail the sherry cask characteristics start to shine. That’s also the moment where the mint gets stronger and more pronounced. I would pair this with a medium to full bodied cigar. Something with a woody or earthy profile. Something with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper for example. Something from RoMa Craft, Tatuaje, or Perdomo when you look in Nicaragua. The Dominican Flores y Rodriguez CRV would also be a nice pairing, and if you look at Cuba, then I’d say Cohiba or a Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill.
And now for the Mint Julep Recipe:
¼ ounce or 7½ ml simple syrup
2 ounces or 60ml of Stalla Dhu Saorsa
Garnish: mint sprig
Garnish: Angostura bitters (optional)
In a Julep cup or rocks glass, lightly muddle the mint leaves in the simple syrup. Add the whisky then pack the glass tightly with crushed ice. Stir until the cup is frosted on the outside. Top with more crushed ice to form an ice dome, and garnish with a mint sprig and a few drops of bitters (optional)