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Battle at the Bar

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
10th Anniversary Issue, Nov/Dec 02

(continued from page 4)

HINE The Antique, a Fine Champagne, is a balance of honey and maple with leather or saffron and chalk. Smokes medium to full body. Triomphe is a complex dance of subtlety and boldness, delicacy and full body, a Grande Champagne Cognac informed by spice, honey, flowers and toast. Excellent with a big cigar.


LARRESSINGLE XO Rich, sweet floral nose, followed by a complexity of maple sugar and honey with nuts and chocolate on a big round body, but still delicate. Smoke medium- to full-bodied.

TARIQUET 1985 A burst of chewy sweetness with a hint of toasty caramel and a taste of grape and flowers. Slightly, tight black coffee finish. Smoke medium to full-bodied.

1963 ARMAGNAC LAUBADE Faint hint of orange peel is pursued by toasted walnuts, butterscotch and a very floral finish with plenty of taste of the grape. Smoke full-bodied.


The peat bogs of Scotland are where whisky gets its characteristic smoky flavor. The decayed vegetable fuel is what Scotsmen have traditionally used to toast their barley in preparation for fermentation. Amazingly, that first step in the process leaves its mark through fermentation, distillation and years of aging. When a bottle of 21-year-old malt from Islay is uncorked, there is no mistaking the smoking that it went through when it was in but a larval stage. So what better complement for smoke but more smoke?

At least that's how I used to think. That argument, regardless of its tidy logic, does not take into account varying levels of peat, and that compatibility of a malt with a fine cigar often bears no relationship to that level. It was while drinking an unpeated single-malt Scotch that I had this revelation. Despite its lack of peat, the Scotch was running perfectly with the cigar, filling in where its partner left off and becoming greater for its exposure to the cigar's own smokiness, its own lack of smoke flavors notwithstanding. I realized that attributing any one quality to Scotch's tantalizing relationship with cigars would be futile, even counterproductive.

Scotch may be the cigar smoker's biggest challenge. Some 95 different distilleries dot Scotland. They are located in every microclimate the country has to offer. Most distilleries offer several different expressions. On top of that almost every single-malt is used as part of a Scotch blend of which there are hundreds. Add in the vatted malts that are regularly created by whisky alchemists, and you start to see that you will never taste every cigar with every Scotch. That is not a bad thing. It is a testament to the spirit's status as the most varied of the brown goods. As many distinct Scotch flavors exist as there are places in Scotland, and there is cause to drink almost every one of them. They won't all render an inspiring cigar matchup, but you'll have fun finding the ones that do.

While all single-malt Scotch is made from pure barley, the similarities effectively end there. As mentioned above, varying amounts of peat are introduced in the malting process. After a beer is made of the grain, it is refined in a pot still. Each distillery has a distinctly shaped still, and every distiller will argue that his is best for making whisky. The raw spirit goes into an oak barrel for the long sleep that will give it its subtlety. The barrel it is placed in is up to the discretion of the maker. It can be put in a used Bourbon barrel or one that previously held Sherry or a combination of barrels.

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