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The sobriquet "dessert malt," often tagged to The Dalmore whiskies for their expansively sweet, yet nuanced characters, can be especially apt if your idea of an after-meal treat is something you light up and smoke rather than fork into your maw and eat—and you have chosen the Highland distiller's Cigar Malt Reserve as a companion.
If you know the whisky from its earlier incarnation—simply Cigar Malt—it is worth a second taste in the Reserve version, which debuted in 2011 with an enhanced malt recipe after the original had been rebranded four years earlier.
Tying a whisky to enjoyment with but a single product, like cigars, is a bold choice. First, you have to make good on the boast—don't worry, The Dalmore, shepherded by cigar enthusiast Richard Paterson, puts "paid" on that bill handsomely. Second, you're conceivably limiting your audience only to smokers. That's not a popular choice in a marketing world where you can read on a single wine label that the liquid pairs well with not only beef, pork, lamb and chicken, but fish.
That led to the choice in 2007 to rename the Cigar Malt, which had been introduced in 1999, as the Dalmore Gran Reserva. Paterson says that confusion over the original name even had people believing that the whisky was matured in tobacco leaves. The truth was that it was a mix of two malts, 70 percent of which were aged in Oloroso Sherry casks and 30 percent in Bourbon barrels.
When Dalmore returned the word "cigar" to the label, it didn't just tiptoe back. It did it with swagger. The new cigar mix comes in at about 10 to 14 years of age, but its content aged in Sherry casks (70 percent) is 30 years old. The rest of the recipe is 20 percent Bourbon-barrel aged and 10 percent matured in former Cabernet Sauvignon casks. The only down side to the rich mixture is that it costs about twice as much.
It's worth the splurge, however, when you're breaking out a great cigar. Paterson suggests Partagás No. 2 and No. 4. Those weren't available for this tasting, but we did quite well just the same, thank you.
(Cigar pairing notes on next page)
The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve (88 proof, or 44 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $120 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Rich amber color, slight copper. Massive legs take forever to break.
NOSE: Starts out with slight flowers and expands into fuller notes that suggest dessert: nuts, chocolate and cherries. And if you close your eyes, yes, you might even get a whiff of tobacco. But it's sort of like when you thought you heard Santa's sleigh bells while lying in bed on Christmas Eve.
PALATE: A big, bold, syrupy malt with plenty of candy-drop honey, fruits and spices. And, now that we're talking about Noel, there's Christmas cake with that juxtaposition of tart and sweet notes with raisins. Hearty flavors, with nuts and toast, then burst forth.
FINISH: The denouement is generally the nuts, but as it goes on and on you realize you're sensing licorice, which then reappears on the palate with the next sip. Sensational effect!
CIGAR PAIRING: La Aurora Puro Vintage 2005 110th Anniversary Salamón (6 1/4 inches by 52 ring gauge, $18.75, 90 Points, Cigar Aficionado December 2013) This double-tapered figurado smokes very evenly. Toasty, tea-like flavors develop to more concentrated notes of nuts and spice before a sweet and toasty finish. The cigar just fills up under the presence of the malt, becoming richer and more complex with the additions of candied and spiced notes, particularly honey and licorice. The Cigar Malt doesn't need much help, but gets it anyway, with a boost to its savory character.
Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Superior (6 1/4 inches by 42 ring gauge, $10.10, 89 points, Cigar Aficionado December 2013) Slim and pressed, this medium-bodied smoke has a full and lush draw that imparts a solid core of woody flavors and a touch of spice. The cocoa-like finish leaves the palate a bit dry. One of those times when a great cigar meets a spectacular whisky, and it's hard to figure which is on the giving or the receiving end. Tough duty. All the rich character of the Padrón explodes and the Dalmore just gets sexier. Plenty of toast and nuts coming from the cigar. Lots of candy and spice on the whisky. the Cigar Malt lives up to its name.
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