Your September/October issue of Cigar Aficionado will be arriving soon and available at newsstands in a couple weeks. The Drinks section of the Good Life Guide takes a look at the profusion of outstanding blended Scotch whiskies recently making the market. We've spotlighted one—The General from Compass Box—as the subject for this week's cigar-and-spirits pairing.
Compass Box is a negotiant of special Scotch whiskies procured by its founder, John Glaser, who cut his teeth in the industry with one of the giants and is now packaging his own tastes from select casks that he has sourced from throughout Scotland. Some of his other marques include: The Peat Monster, a blend of malts from Islay; Spice Tree, a vatting of Highland malts; and Hedonism, a combination of very old grain whiskies.
The General is a result of the serendipitous mixing of two blends made available to Compass Box from separate companies. Both had been blended of single-malt and single-grain whiskies in their youth. But, since they were not sold at the time, went back into casks in their blended state and further matured for quite some time. One of the batches is 33 years old. Compass Box is not divulging the age of the other for fear of violating the United Kingdom's Scotch Whisky Regulations' Citation 2009, No. 2890. (The age statement on Scotch whisky is determined by the youngest spirit in the bottle, so the supposition—hint, hint—is that the other parcel is even older.)
Whatever the age and provenance of the whisky, The General serves to highlight just how good blends can be—especially to those of us who have decided single malts are the only whiskies worthy of attention.
Some definition of nomenclature is perhaps in order. Single malts are the product of one distillery, made purely with barley grain and distilled in pot stills. They typically marry the whisky of several different casks within the distillery to achieve consistency from bottle to bottle. Blended malts (formerly called vatted or pure malts before new naming legislation came down from the Scotch Whisky Association) are marriages of two or more single malts from different distilleries. Blended Scotch whisky (without reference to malts) mixes the malt of several different distilleries with grain whisky. Grain whiskies are made from a combination of different grains and are distilled in a more efficient column still. They are also less expensive to produce and they mature more quickly. However, grains can put icing on the cake by sweetening and softening the palate.
Under the right circumstances, blends can be exquisite whiskies. Check out the upcoming issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine for more suggestions and read on to see how they also make excellent cigar partners.
The General (106.8 proof, or 53.4 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $300 per 750 ml. bottle)
APPEARANCE: Medium amber with a green tinge. Thick, quick legs.
NOSE: Floral and fruity aromas dominate with a bit of a candied note. Some nuts, which have a Port wine effect. Just the slightest whiff of Stilton cheese and peat on the back end.
PALATE: Incredibly sweet and spicy. Again the hard candy pops up with a taste of tangerine. The spice shows itself in the flavors of a Christmas pudding and a dusting of cinnamon on toast as well as a slight anise. Very little peat flavor in evidence.
FINISH: A long, engaging finish that holds dear to the fruit and spice of the whisky while introducing a graham cracker notion.
CIGAR PAIRING: Juan Lopez Seleccion No. 3 (Nicaragua, 6 inches by 60 ring gauge, $6.00, 90 points, August 2014 Cigar Aficionado) Rich and earthy, this bulky, sweet cigar delivers notes of orange peel and chocolate with oaky underpinnings. We thought of this cigar as an appeal to the sweet side of the whisky. The orange and chocolate of the Juan Lopez lit up under the influence of The General, and the smoke became even more of a bargain. Any rough edges that it had were smoothed out by the whisky. In the bargain, the blend became more voluptuous with the development of a creamy note.
Flores 1975 Serie Privada Capa Habano SP 52 (Dominican Republic, 5 inches by 52 ring gauge, $9.75, 93 points, August 2014 Cigar Aficionado) Neatly box-pressed, this smoke imparts a balanced and complex interplay of cocoa, vanilla and coffee bean. The burn remains even throughout the draw, rich and fine. Pairing two elements with intricate characters was the aim here (even while the length of each name couldn't be much more disparate). The General perks up a bit, showing even more complexity with its finish checking in earlier with graham cracker and cinnamon. The cigar's coffee and vanilla notes are more apparent. The diversity in both becomes even more apparent as each piles it on. The perfect end to a great meal.