The world of whisky and cigars is an often maligned subject. Do the two really work together? Sometimes we're inclined to think not. A visit to Fox's of St James recently proved to be a mixed bag for us - three superb cigars: Bolivar's superbly rich Belicosos Finos, a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial and a moreish Montecristo Edmundo.
We'd chosen some interesting whiskies to go with our sticks: Ardbeg Uigeadail, Highland Park 21yo and a single cask Glenfarclas, providing a meaty mix of wood and sherry influence.
But despite the wealth of wares on offer, we just couldn't get a handle on any of the pairings - they were either too weighted in favour of the cigar, the whiskies losing all their appeal, or the melange of flavour just overwhelmed the palate totally. In the end, we just wanted a milkshake and a sit down.
But not being quitters we've vowed to keep up the research into the ultimate pairing - and by jingo, we're pretty sure that courtesy of Partagas and The Dalmore, we've found an intriguing marriage, based on compliments, subtlety and spice. Surely, the recipe for any great partnership?
Mr Richard Paterson, man of refined vices galore, is no stranger to the gentle art of fine smoking. One of his best creations, The Dalmore Cigar Malt was perfectly balanced to allow even the most subtle wafts of a lightweight El Rey Del Mundo to tantalise the palate, one giving the other enough room to breathe (excuse the pun). When it was discontinued in 2007, a few people undoubtedly planned to march on Whyte & Mackay's Health & Safety Commandants (sorry, lawyers) burning stakes in clenched fist, hell bent on retribution for the whisky's untimely withdrawal.
Or perhaps a few strongly worded letters were sent. Either way, it was a huge result when the whisky was rightly reinstated earlier this month, in a slightly reformulated state. The new The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve will be available from February bottled at 44% and priced at £70 and we were eager to test it out - with the daddy of the Partagas range, the Serie E 2.
With a full bodied blast of toasted chocolate and spiced notes, it is a formidable test for many a decent dram...
The Dalmore - Cigar Malt Reserve - 44%
Nose: Toasted orange zest, leather, earthy/mushroomy undertones and dark chocolate shavings. given a little time, a touch of vanilla (reminiscent of pipe tobacco) comes to the fore.
Palate: A rich mouth feel, with a little rubberiness, dark sherry, dark sugar- in fact, lots of dark tasting things- treacle, cocoa and toasted malt round out the darkness. Given a few minutes and the first mouthful of Partagas, the flavour is undaunted by the smoke - citrus notes and woody spice also develop, but the undercurrent of treacle, sherry and chocolate blend well with the top notes of the cigar.
Finish: the smoke clearly takes the lingering lead, but the rich fruity notes of the whisky return, alongside a pronounced malt extract note. Everything is there, but nothing pokes out too provocatively.
Overall: There is enough light and shade to this whisky to handle a big beast of a cigar. We have yet to try it against a mild smoke, but it is very pleasing when the combination of flavours on the palate doesn't pull in different directions. Here, the experience is enjoyable and complimentary.
Richard, a victory for you and two fingers to the non smoking pedants.