Bottle: 436 of 504
Retail Price: $150
Tasted: neat in a glencairn glass. Bottle has been open for a month.
After Josephh A. Magnus’ great-grandson discovered original 100+ year-old bottles of Joseph Magnus’ pre-prohibition era bourbon that had been passed down through generations of the Magnus family, Jos. A. Magnus & Co. assembled a bourbon “Dream Team” in 2007 led by Nancy “the Nose” Fraley, Magnus Master Blender, Dave Scheurich, former Woodford Reserve Distiller and Whiskey Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, and Richard Wolf, former Buffalo Trace Distillery VP and General Manager. Upon sampling the pre-prohibition Magnus, which was one of the best bourbons the Dream Team had ever tasted, they discovered that Magnus finished his bourbon in used sherry barrels, a process that delivered a uniquely smooth bourbon with notes of rich, dark fruits. The team, led by Magnus Master Blender Nancy Fraley set out to recreate those historic Magnus qualities by finishing bourbon in used sherry and cognac casks at its DC-based distillery.
Nancy Fraley, Magnus Master Blender had this to say about the Cigar Blend:
I used about 25% of the Jos. A. Magnus straight bourbon (the triple cask), married it with 11 and 18 year old straight bourbon with a higher rye content (the MGP 36% recipe), and finished it in Armagnac barrels.
The Cigar Blend idea came about as I was sitting out on my deck on a warm evening last spring, smoking my pipe, as I like to do that time of year. I was sipping some Jos. Magnus bourbon, but somehow that just wasn’t doing the trick for me while smoking the pipe. So I got out some of my other favorite Bourbons, such as Stagg, Four Roses Single Barrel, Willett rye, etc., and nothing seemed to be working for me that evening (not that those aren’t all world-class whiskeys, but sometimes one’s palate is just at another place at a certain time). Well, in addition to bourbon, I collect vintage Armagnacs, as I travel to the Armagnac region of France about once a year, and I got to thinking that Armagnac, with its characteristic prune (or “pruneau”), dried apricot, black fig, and sweet tobacco qualities might just be the very thing that one would need to help give the bourbon some greater length, depth, and complexity on the palate, and might work well with a cigar or pipe. Also, as brandies such as Armagnac or Cognac approach their tenth year in cask, they’ll often develop a quality known as “rancio,” which is a blanched almond, walnut, even blue cheese type aroma that comes from the oxidized esters of fatty acids (and brandies, when distilled on the lees, are plentiful on the fatty acids!). This rancio character, and the extra fatty acids, go a LONG way to help develop mouthfeel and richness on the palate.
I thought that by using some older Armagnac casks with light to no tannins, the bourbon could pick up more of this “rancio” character, and in general, more fatty acids that would help to give greater depth, richness, and also finesse on the palate. As I mentioned in an earlier note, I combined about 25% of the JM Triple Cask bourbon with some 11 and 18 year old 36% LDI bourbon for more spice and tobacco notes from the rye content. The tricky part is of course is to make sure there is enough wood sugar sweetness to help balance the rye and drier elements in the whiskey. When blending any barrels of bourbon together, not just this product, finding balance is key and isn’t easy to do.
Nose: Tart cherries, loads of vanilla, with a dry spicy sensation on the nose. Prune, fig, and cinnamon. It is a very interesting nose. It almost has a touch of that dusty funk you sometimes get in bottles that have been sitting around for 30+ years.
Palate: Loads of dark fruits. Prune, fig, and blackberry. This does have some rye spice to it. A nice rich mouthfeel. Also, common bourbon notes of caramel, tobacco, and oak. The palate is sweet, but no overly sweet like you can get in other offerings finished in wine/cognac barrels, etc… Although, I admit I do have a slight sweet tooth. Definitely not as sweet as High West’s Mid Winters Night Dram.
Finish: Medium-Long. Not much burn, but those dark fruits and caramel notes linger.
87 – 89 (B+) = Great, A cut above, want to own a bottle
The Joseph A. Magnus Cigar Blend is one interesting pour. It is unique and has layers that aren’t usually present in bourbon offerings. I enjoyed it but wasn’t blown away. Although, it is for sure one the best bourbons I have tasted with a secondary barrel finish. Admittedly secondary barrel finishes really aren’t my thing.
The $150 price tag is just hard to swallow, but considering High West’s Mid Winters Night Dram is around $90 which consists of lesser aged whiskey, the pricing makes a lot of sense in today’s market.
There is some hype circulating in the bourbon community around this bottling and other Joseph Magnus offerings. Is the hype warranted? Hmm… kinda. They are doing some really interesting finishes with good aged sourced whiskey and being completely transparent about it. I look forward to tasting more of their offerings in the future. Cheers!