Single malt whisky: A fun night of taste and discovery
A lot of the time, I like to enjoy a stiff drink as a pairing with my cigars. One of my favourites for a long time has been a “wee dram” of whisky. Over the years I have enjoyed a good number of different single malts as well as blended scotches and bourbons, but haven’t really sat down to think about why I like them and how their many different characteristics could work with a good cigar.
Inspired by my Gin Advent Calendar, I thought that it was about time I started figured out what I had and what each of them tasted like. My reasoning being that in the future I would be able to make a truly informed choice about what whisky would work well with my cigar of the moment, if indeed that was the right tipple to go with my chosen stick. So I went to my drinks cupboard to grab a bottle and started to pick out all the bottles of scotch I had.
By the time I had found all of my whisky bottles I realised that I had three bourbons, two blended scotches and six bottles of single malts. As I only had six shot glasses to hand and really didn’t want to pollute the flavour of the drinks, I took it as a sign that I should start with my modest collection of single malts.
As an aside, I did have a little nibble of salted peanuts between each of the different whiskies in the hope of cleaning my palate and not contaminating the flavours. Whether this was entirely successful, I’m not sure, but each drink was very distinct from the others. So without further ado, here are my personal tasting notes on each of the drinks.
Whisky Tasting: The Contenders
This was the first in my whisky lineup. The liquid was a beautiful, deep golden colour, almost exactly what I would think of when asked to describe the colour of whisky. On the nose there was a sweetness of autumn fruits that really whetted the appetite. When I took my first sip it was sweet and smooth. My mouth was filled with sweet honeyed figs and there no fire in it at all.
I think that this would go with a medium to full bodied cigar that has deep and complex flavours which need balancing with something a little sweeter, but with enough body of its own not to get lost.
This particular whisky has been a fairly regular fixture in my drinks cupboard. The sweet honey and toffee on the nose for me have always made it an appetising neat sipping whisky. I find it almost as rich and fruity as an orange liqueur. There is a gentle fire to the back of the taste, but this is the perfect complement to the underlying sweet nectarine notes.
For pairings I would grab this bottle when I have designs on smoking medium-bodied Cuban cigars like the Montecristo No. 4 or full-flavoured, spicy Nicaraguan cigars such as the Oliva Serie V range.
For me, this whisky – which is sold exclusively in Tesco supermarkets here in the UK – smelt richer and more appetising than it tasted. The nose was full of honey soaked raisins with hints of vanilla coming through and it looked a lighter gold than the Glenlivet. The initial taste was of toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream, but it lacked length. There was a gentle burn to this whisky, but overall the flavour was rather limp compared to the others I was sampling.
As controversial as it may seem, I think that this would be best suited to cocktails when you want a step up from a blended scotch, which is how I ended up finishing this particular bottle.
This is not a whisky for everyone: with a nose that is heavily peated and holding all the salty aromas of the sea, iodine and peat are the foundation flavours of this single malt which to some tastebuds will be less like whisky and more like medicine or mouthwash. Personally I find this dram gives a gentle, warming fire sensation and leaves a delicious apple flavour at the end of the palate.
The recommendation I’m going to go for is one that was given to me. On Christmas day, I enjoyed a Plasencia Alma Fuerte Sixto II and whilst I pondered what to pair with it, I asked a friend and she suggested that the nutty flavours of the cigar would be perfectly balanced by this forthright whisky. I can only agree!
In hindsight, I probably should have had the next two whiskies prior to the Laphroaig, but such was my enthusiasm to sample them all, I just went along the line in the order that they came out of the cupboard! Both of the Penderyn whiskies are light on both the flavour and colour. I don’t say this as a negative at all.
The nose on the Penderyn Dragon made me think of a beautifully light sponge cake and the taste added to this hints of cream and grated apple. This one I have paired with medium bodied Cuban cigars before with very pleasing results.
As its name suggests, this single malt has been aged in Madeira casks, which gives it a sweet, fruity nose. There is a bit more fire to the taste of the Madeira cask than there is with the Dragon, but that isn’t saying a lot. Again, this was a deliciously light flavour with a sweet, open freshness. Notes of vanilla and dried fruit were prevalent.
Much like the Jura, this whisky would be best suited to pair with cigars that have a decent spice to them and need a bit of light, sweetness to act as a counterpoint.
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