First tested in the Swedish market, a sleeper among The Famous Grouse range of blended Scotch perfect for cigar smokers is The Black Grouse. With additional layers of Islay malts, it amps up the peat quotient on an already fine whisky at a value price.
Cigar smokers especially should consider this a go-to addition to their pairing as the smoke of Islay makes it a good choice with a range of sticks. Islay, with its preponderance of peat bogs, is known for a smoky style of whisky.
The standard Grouse is noted for its sweet style of spirit as it is informed in part, by the use of The Macallan and Highland Park, both in the armory of the blend's owner, The Edrington Group. The Macallan is especially known for its use of former Sherry casks in its aging process. The matchup of sweet-style whiskies with peat in the blend make for a well-rounded cigar pairing in The Black Grouse.
Famous Grouse's other blend variants also include The Snow Grouse, an exceptionally light whisky, meant to be chilled, and The Naked Grouse, which is informed by Sherry oak cask maturation. Also consider The Black Grouse for use on the rocks or in water or soda highballs.
The Black Grouse (80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $28.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Deep caramel and honey color. Comes down in fat, slow blobs.
NOSE: Peaty, yes, but not overwhelmingly so. The first impression is floral with a backbeat of honey and dried fruit. The smoke wisps about on the background.
PALATE: Sweetness begins the taste experience with all the promise of the flowers, fruit and honey of the nose coming through on the tip of the tongue. Then come waves of vanilla and toffee, as well as a bit of chocolate as spice. As the whisky makes its way across the palate, more savory notes include a malty flavor and, of course, the expected smoke.
FINISH: It is at the end that the peat comes out in spades. Long and lush, it's the campfire sensation that you ultimately drink this blend variant for. It is the finish that makes it so suited for cigar pairing as the flavors remain in the mouth even as you maintain the palate with more smoke.
CIGAR PAIRING: Toraño Salutem Robusto Extra (5 inches by 52 ring gauge, $7.20, 89 Points, February 2014 issue of Cigar Aficionado) Crafted with a round head and gorgeous wrapper, this cigar combines light, woody notes with fruity, floral flavors that include lavender and dried apricot, though the finish is tart. That same tartness seems to release the peat on the whisky, giving it the hoped-for smoke potential. The Grouse responds by searching out the wood on the cigar, making it heartier.
Davidoff Nicaragua Toro (5 1/2 inches by 54 ring gauge, $16.50, 95 Points, No. 3 Cigar of 2013, February 2014 issue of Cigar Aficionado) Floral notes add some complexity to this elegantly rolled sweet-and-salty toro. It develops profound coffee and leather flavors that recur on the long, smooth finish. And—bam—the luscious peat smoke comes right out on the whisky with every puff of this gorgeous cigar. No need to wait for the finish. You get roasted nuts right away. In the exchange, the Black Grouse picks up on the sweetness of the Davidoff and expands. An excellent pairing.