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Whisky and Cigars...

Whisky and cigars are a classic combination, combining to heighten the taste of each, but which cigars are best and how do you choose your whisky match? Simply Whisky's Man In Havana is here to help with his 'A Dram Good Smoke' series of articles in which he adventures around the World discovering and matching the best cigars with the best whiskies.

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A Dram Good Smoke No.3 - Our Man In Havana visits Islay in Scotland

Aye, aye, min! Hou ar ye? There aren’t many things that get me swimming in Scotland.

Bracing myself for the scrotum-screnching cold of the Sound of Jura I plunged in knowing that my reward was waiting for me on the shore – a Bunnahabhainn 12 year old and a pot of steaming fresh scallops!

Extra kudos points with the boys who watched wide-eyed as though I were performing some heroic feat. Where else but in Islay, the Queen of the Hebrides?

Simon, Franchi, and I were on Islay (accompanied by Glasgow stalwarts Tommy and Brian) for the Islay Festival of Music and Malt or Fèis Ìle as it is known in Gaelic. Boosted no doubt by a few drams mid afternoon I decided it was a good time as any to take my first swim of the year with the majestic Isle of Jura looming across the Sound – incidentally where George Orwell wrote his classic book “1984” of Big Brother fame and where members of The KLF pop group burned £1 million in 1994.

There is, without doubt or the need to burn £1 million, something liberating about island life and about coming to an island. The things that really matter come into sharper focus here and you can feel your stress and preoccupations slip away from you like the water that sluices its way through the Sound of Jura.

Every year at the end of May whisky enthusiasts come from all over the world to this beautiful island in the Southern Hebrides for a week-long celebration of whisky and island life. Each distillery has a special open day with events, tastings, and distillery tours. They also produce a special and much sought after Festival bottling which enthusiasts from around the world will happily queue all night for.

Here we were then in Bunnahabhain with a ceilidh band blaring, a dram in the hand, and fried scallops on the shore. The distillery is tucked away in a corner of the north coast of the island with a long and winding road in. It’s easily the most spectacular location of all the 8 distilleries still functioning on the island.

I was excited to be here – my first time on Islay. There’s always a sense of adventure coming to an island – these are places at the edges. Island life has its own rhythm and while it’s easy to idealize these places – especially when the sun shines as it did for the 4 days we were there – there is still something liberating about coming to an island like this. At their best, islands are models for what society can be. Even though we did not have our own transport we had no problem hitching lifts around the island (which is much bigger than I imagined) – a great way to meet people and which added an extra element of serendipity to the whole trip.

The whiskies naturally reflect the place – big, briny, meaty, with an underlying elegance and warmth. They are the big hitters of whiskies but can be as refined and elegant as Muhammad Ali at the same time. They aren’t the easiest to pair cigars with, especially with the more peaty whiskies that can overpower the aroma of the cigar.

The Cigar - San Cristobal de La Habana La Punta

In my opinion a lighter, more aromatic cigar goes well with Islays so for my reward after toweling off I selected a relatively new and little-known brand, San Cristobal de La Habana which was launched in 1999. I had the La Punta, a figurado named after one of the fortresses in Havana that defended the city when it was the hub of Spain’s Latin American Empire.

San Cristobal La Punta5.5 (140 mm) 52 ring guage
A modern cigar, easy to smoke due to its size, with a fresh floral aspect

Dae ye ken?
San Cristóbal de la Habana was the original name of Havana, Cuba’s capital city, when it was founded in 1519

ORIGIN
Cuba - All sizes are made with tobacco from the Vuelta Abajo region using the "totalmente a mano, tripa larga" - totally hand made, long filler method

FLAVOUR PROFILE
Medium

Taste
Syrup, toast, nut, and hay

MANUFACTURER Info
San Cristobal de La Habana which was launched in 1999 as a tribute to the city’s long history on the threshold of the new Millennium. Its range is composed of four vitolas with a light to medium flavour

The La Punta is a medium bodied cigar with syrup, toast, nut, and hay flavours. It burns and draws beautifully with a cedary finish and complements more dominant partners like the Kilcohman 100% Islay very well. However, on this occasion I have chosen to highlight the splendid match afforded by an old favourite of mine, the Bunnahabhain Darach Ur.

The Whisky Match - Bunnahabhain Darach Ur

For this match my intellect was keenly focussed on employing the toast and nut aromas of my La Punta with the spicy vanilla, walnuts, cloves and cinnamon of the Darach Ur, a pairing aided by the gentle breeze blowing across Bunnahabhain Bay. I sat on the pebbly shore, dram and cigar in hand, watching the sails of the visiting sloop gently billowing, happy to have found one of my favourite spots on Islay.

Bunnahabhain Darach Ur No age statement 46.3%
Think you know Bunnahabhain? Think again, this one will surprise your taste buds!

Dae ye ken?
Bunnahabhain (Bu-na-ha-venn) means ‘mouth of the river’ in Scots Gaelic, a reference to the Margadale river from whose clear spring waters the whisky is distilled, while Darach Ur means 'New Oak'

Cask
New American oak

Nose
Oak dried fruits, spice, pine nuts, honey and sweet vanilla

Taste
Citrus fruit, spicy vanilla, walnuts, cloves and cinnamon

Finish
Medium-length finish is gingery and drying

Distillery Info
The remote location meant contractors had to build not only the distillery itself (completed in 1882) but also housing for the workforce, a reading room and schoolroom, a pier and a road to Port Askaig

For the next two series of a Dram Good Smoke I’ll be taking you to the southern and western sides of the island – for some sheep throwing, driving golf balls into the sea Happy Gilmore style, cycling across a bog, and of course introducing you to more amazing whiskies and cigars via the legendary distilleries of Laphraoig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, and Bowmore.

In summary

The next time you’re in Scotland, go for a dip but be sure that a reward awaits you on the shore. Slàinte mhòr – to your great health!

I can recommend smoking the La Punta and tasting the Bunnahabhain Darach Ur whilst learning a thing or two from these boys.


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