by Scott Hill
Let’s make this clear from the outset: I’m not a cigar expert and probably not even sophisticated enough to call myself a connoisseur. And I am absolutely not qualified to give any sort of exhaustive review of a cigar alone.
But, I am a whiskey fan. Like many whiskey fans, I will from time to time pair a cigar with a nice glass of bourbon, scotch or other whiskey. I suspect that many readers of this blog are like me, eager to learn more about bourbon, and interested to hear what a Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented Cigar is all about.
So I bring you this review: a Pappy cigar review in the eyes of a whiskey blogger.
A few months back, I learned of www.pappyco.com, which is the Pappy Van Winkle company’s obvious response to the Pappy craze. A brief but important aside — to my knowledge, Pappy Van Winkle doesn’t release the number of bottles sold under its label every year. However, I’ve seen estimates of anything between 6,000 and 10,000 cases (72,000 – 120,000 bottles). We know current retail prices range from around $79 to $349 per bottle. If we can assume that the distribution is much more heavily weighted towards the 10 year Old Rip Van Winkle than any of the 15, 20 and 23 year Pappy Van Winkle products, let’s just assume a weighted average MSRP of $100. Recall that Buffalo Trace is the company actually producing this stuff, so they get a considerable cut. As does the distributor and the retailer. And the tax man. So, the Van Winkles make, what, $10-$20 per bottle? Roughly $1,000,000 – $2,000,000 per year? That is not pocket change, but for the arguably most sought after bourbon in the world, it isn’t much. If I were the Van Winkels, I too would try to monetize the Pappy craze with t-shirts, glasses and other logo products. This is where the money is at. So why not cigars?
About two months ago during a monthly tasting, we were lucky enough to discover that the Pappy cigars were actually in stock over at www.pappyco.com. If you are in the hunt, you will recognize that “in stock” is a bit of a rarity. We decided to order a box. A few weeks back, several members of Flight Club sat down on a Wednesday evening to enjoy the cigars. We each brought different bourbons, and we fired them up.
A few quick technical notes. The cigars are actually produced through a partnership with Drew Estate and Pappy & Company. The wrapper is a barrel-fermented, tapa-negra style wrapper over Mexican San Andres base wrapper. The filler is aged Nicaraguan tobacco. We purchased the Toro size.
According to the website, the cigar is described as “Medium Plus.” Pappy says that it “allows both new smokers and experienced aficionados to enjoy the blend.” For me, this is one that falls on the lighter end of the spectrum, more geared towards the new smoker. I’m one who can appreciate a more robust cigar with bolder and spicier flavors, and this one felt a little mild even for me as an occasional consumer. As for general notes of bourbon-infused or spice flavors? I can’t say they are bountiful. Instead, I suspect these bourbon barrel cured flavors subtly compliment an otherwise smooth, sweet, creamy tobacco – the bourbon notes aren’t silent, but they far from dominate.
In short, it is a nice, mild, creamy, easy-to-smoke, high quality cigar. For the $13, I’m not disappointed, especially when considering the backstory of “aged in a Pappy barrel.”
Now, the advice that I think I’m actually qualified to give: I wouldn’t pair this cigar with an 80 proof, soft, delicate whiskey. This is the mistake that I made, at least during the first half of the cigar. Instead, the mildness of the cigar (or really any cigar) is best complimented by a rich, flavorful, high-rye (i.e., spicy) bourbon. For the second pour during this smoke, I enjoyed a glass of Wild Turkey Rare Breed. The higher proof shined through, and the spiciness added what I felt was missing for my palate in the cigar. With all that said, if an 80-proof, soft, delicate whiskey is what you prefer to go along with a cigar, than this is probably the cigar for you. The smooth, miid cigar will still allow you to enjoy the flavors of the whiskey.