Treaty Oak – Full of firsts

The fourth Texas distillery that’s leading the way 

Written by: Maggie Kimberl

Having a home like this helps to bring you into the fold of other distilleries,” says Treaty Oak Distilling founder, Daniel Barnes. “It gives it that realness. That, and actually making good Bourbon.”

Back in 2006, Barnes opened the first iteration of Treaty Oak in an industrial area of North Austin, Texas. His father-in-law built his first still, which was open-fired like a turkey fryer.

“We only caught it on fire twice,” he laughs.

Today there are Vendome copper pot stills, and a column still on the way, in addition to brewery equipment. While the primary focus of Treaty Oak today is Bourbon and rye, they also make several gins, beer, and more.

IMGP5010 Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Barnes had been drinking Bourbon since the 90s, and his favorite back then was Basil Hayden’s. He had been in charge of food and beverage for a large hotel chain starting when he was in his early twenties, and had a great appreciation for foodways and food and beverage education. Then he began to realize there was a way to tie his love of food and beverage into a distillery.

“I see our economy as being upside down – food and education makes the least and it should really be the other way around,” says Barnes. “I saw the distillery as the perfect agricultural opportunity.”

Getting in on the ground floor of post-Prohibition spirits in Texas

Treaty Oak was the fourth distillery in Texas since Prohibition, but they were full of firsts. They were the first to ferment and distil, first using molasses and later using grains. They were the first distillery in Texas to distil rum and gin and the first distillery in Austin to distill whiskey, though Barnes points out they were not the first to sell their whiskey because he didn’t see those early batches fit to sell, an admirable and rare thing to see among craft distillers.

There were two locations in industrial areas of North Austin before Barnes bought the current ranch property in nearby Dripping Springs in 2013. The distillery building was built first, followed by the rick house and then the restaurant. Today there are buildings dotting the property, from the food truck to the cocktail bar, to the cocktail lab. Weekends are particularly busy at the distillery because there is live music and they bring in nearby vendors, like Smoky’s Mobile Cigar Lounge. The distillery becomes a weekend destination for the young professionals living in Austin and in fact the locals have nicknamed Dripping Springs ‘Drinking Springs’ for the mass of distilleries and breweries that have popped up in the area. Alice’s, the on-site restaurant named for the founder’s mother, is a culinary destination in its own right.

IMGP4994 courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Today this one time one man operation has grown to include over a dozen employees, including his business partner and longtime friend Nate Powell. Powell’s current title is VP of Sales, but as with many folks who work in small businesses he wears many hats.

I wanted to get back into a hands-on artisnal crafting job working with a team

“I wanted to get back into a hands-on artisanal crafting job working with a team that was passionate about what they do,” says Powell. “It took 12 years to finally have all the pieces in place, that was phase one. Phase two is going to be harder, but it’s going to be a lot more rewarding. The next three to five years it’s going to be about, how do I get every single person I meet to walk away with the same feeling about our product and story that I have.”

Powell’s job takes him on the road opening up new markets to Treaty Oak’s products.

Many of the spirits selling under Treaty Oak’s labels are sourced, but the team has always done their best to be transparent about that. The Red-Handed line of products are sourced, but the Ghost Hill line of products are made right there at Treaty Oak. There’s always room for experimentation, and there’s even an upcoming series called the Graveyard Series that has been buried underground to age for a couple of years in an attempt to learn how underground aging is different.

Entering the next phase of growth, no looking back

Because of the emphasis on foodways and agriculture, Barnes has made some good friends and allies within the local community. One such ally is James Brown, who Barnes and Powell lovingly refer to as the “Godfather of Corn.” Brown runs the local mill and is heavily involved in farming within the community. He recently brought back Oaxacan Green corn from the brink of extinction by purchasing the last few pounds of seed available and planting it in the middle of a large plot, so as to keep open pollination at bay. 

Next, he’s going to be opening a gristmill on Treaty Oak’s property to ensure a steady supply of ground grains for the distillery.

IMGP4978 Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Production kinks are running smoothly, and there’s now a steady supply of aged whiskey to sell, which means Treaty Oak is moving into its next growth phase. 

“Being in a place where we know we have a grain to glass Bourbon and having a steady supply, that’s really nice to see coming to fruition,” says Barnes.

“We talk about Kentucky Bourbon and we drink Kentucky Bourbon. That’s what got us started,” says Powell. “I want people to understand that Treaty Oak has a tremendous amount of respect for what Bourbon is. We want people to have that in mind when they are drinking our products. It’s a tribute to that heritage. This is our expression of Bourbon, but it’s a Bourbon with its own nuances and personality.”

Treaty Oak recently launched its gins in seven new states.

“We strive to strike the perfect balance between heritage and innovation,” said Barnes in a press release. “Our willingness to be different based on knowledge and expertise is what sets us apart.”

There’s collaboration in the future, with a partnership with Mahalo spirits, which also partners with Bardstown Bourbon Company.

Treaty Oak is certainly a distillery to keep your eye on.

Westport Whiskey and Wine – A family affair

We discover the shop making memories one barrel at a time

Written by: Maggie Kimberl

Chris Zaborowski spent years teaching wine appreciation classes at the local university, but when it was time to open his own shop he knew that he wanted to place an emphasis on whiskey. He was, after all, right in the heart of Bourbon country, and Bourbon’s popularity was just starting to rise after a decades-long slump. When he opened Westport Whiskey and Wine, the idea was to shine a spotlight on Kentucky’s native spirit by emphasizing consumer education and events, making this little shop a destination for Bourbon lovers from far and wide.

These days his entire family is involved in everything from the day-to-day operations of the store to picking the single barrels they will sell with the store’s name emblazoned on the side. As you can well imagine, picking single barrels as a family can present some challenges, but it also brings the family closer together.


“There is always some lobbying for the barrel each one likes best. Most of the time there is unanimity,” says father and store co-owner, Chris. “I have played the trump card, I write the check with other groups. However, when there is a dispute we do a blind tasting, winner takes all.”

For mom of the family Robin Penick, the biggest challenge is getting her family to agree on a time to meet up for barrel picks, and the time they spend together ends up bringing them closer together.

“I really don’t see picking a barrel together as a challenge other than aligning our schedules,” says Penick. “It’s more of an event where we get to learn about each other’s palates. There is always good conversation during our picks.”

But, she says, if there is a dispute she has no problem pulling rank. “[It] depends on whose barrel it is. If it’s my barrel there is no dispute.”

For Kendall Zaborowski, Chris and Robin’s son, the opportunity to pick barrels and to do so with his family is just too good to have complaints about.

“I’m just happy to have the opportunity,” says Kendall. “Often the biggest challenge for me is narrowing it down to one favorite. Or the inverse and having to tell the distiller that I don’t prefer some of the barrels they may have brought out for us. That’s never fun!”

Experiencing a barrel pick with your family is sure to make some memories, and doing so on a regular basis provides a treasure trove of family experiences.

“My favorite barrel pick wasn’t a true barrel pick,” says Emily Zaborowski, Chris and Robin’s daughter and Kendall’s sister. “It was back when Angels Envy was still doing their blending program. For that blending we went with my blend and I have to say it was a pretty good bottle. But true barrel pick, I would have to say when we did our Willett barrel pick for our 10th anniversary. I enjoy my relationship with the team at Willett and I truly admire what they are doing as a company and a family.”

“For me it was a Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel,” says Kendall. “We went with a group in the late winter or early spring, and it was pretty chilly, especially in the rickhouse. I was with my granddad (Robin’s father), my dad, and Dustin (my brother-in-law). Barrel selections at Wild Turkey are always great. Every time I’ve been they’re in warehouse one, the barrels are laying on the floor, and Eddie Russell is just knocking the bungs out with a hammer and we’re tasting straight from the barrel. The whiskey was pretty good, too.”

Chris echoes his son’s favorite barrel pick story: “I might have to say [my most memorable family barrel pick experience] was at Wild Turkey when it was the all-male family member pick. My father-in-law, my son, my future son-in-law and me with Eddie Russell. It was great to share that experience with all of them. Picking with Eddie is always a great experience.”

But for Robin, her favorite experience came as part of her birthday celebration this year, and it yielded a great keepsake: “For my birthday this year I got to pick a 1792 barrel. Name on the bottle and everything! We had plenty of barrels to select from and narrowed the choices down to two barrels. Because I had a hard time making a decision, we narrowed the choice down to two barrels and did a blind tasting. The winner was clear.”

Kentucky is a beautiful place and the distilling industry combines Kentucky’s natural beauty with unmatched Southern hospitality to make everyone feel right at home.


“I am so proud to be a Kentuckian when I visit any distillery here in Kentucky,” says Robin. “The hospitality that is offered is spectacular and always genuine. I love the settings where you can stroll on the green grass and meander along streams. I love the smell of the wood and barrels in the rick houses and that bone cold chill. I love the architecture and history that each distillery brings. And of course I love the Bourbon.

“My two favorite distilleries to visit would be Makers Mark and Peerless, both because they make great product but are also super welcoming as a family,” says Emily.

Kendall echoes, “I haven’t been to one I haven’t liked. Wild Turkey is great for its location with the overlook of the Kentucky River where you can sit outside and have lunch on a nice day. I also really like Peerless for everything Emily said, and it is just a gorgeous building.”

Distillery visits are rarely just about the Bourbon. They are often about the culture of the Bourbon industry and the heritage that ties it all back to Kentucky. Bourbon is tied to every aspect of what it is to be a Kentuckian, whether you like it or not. Visiting a Kentucky distillery is about deepening your connections with your fellow Kentuckians.

There is consensus among the family that they are all looking for the best possible whiskey, though they aren’t always in agreement as to what that means. Emily likes spicy whiskeys with depth and balanced wood tannins. Kendall agrees with her about the spiciness but also wants what he refers to as “ruggedness” to compliment the caramel notes. Robin likes to have a little spice but not too much.

“To steal from Bill Samuels when setting his goals for Maker’s 46, it has to taste yummy,” says Chris. “So I look for whiskey that moves me, hopefully both with a great nose and a full tasty palate. I do not like barrel tannic whiskey. I like to choose when I add water, not have to be compelled to drink it because all the moisture in my mouth has been sucked out.”

It takes a family effort to come to a consensus, but the proof is in the bottle. Stop by Westport Whiskey and Wine any time of the year and you’ll find at least half a dozen barrel picks on the shelf – some of which sell out within a few days.  

One thing is for certain – a family that picks barrels together, stays together.

The Kentucky Derby – And they’re off!

A look at the fastest two minutes in sports and its ties to the Bourbon industry 

Written by: Maggie Kimberl

In Kentucky, horse racing culture and Bourbon culture are almost indistinguishable. The two industries grew up together, side by side, different aspects of the same agricultural traditions from the frontier days of the Commonwealth. Over the decades both traditions have turned into the signature industries of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, all the while maintaining strong ties between the two. Today both industries are more popular than ever and The Kentucky Derby, presented by Woodford Reserve, showcases this relationship internationally as the oldest continually running sporting event in the United States.

“Kentucky has long been known for two things, Bourbon and horses,” says Woodford Reserve assistant master distiller Elizabeth McCall. “The limestone filtered water is the link between the two. This water is nutrient rich, full of calcium, magnesium, potassium which contributes to strong bones for thoroughbreds and iron free, flavorful water to make Bourbon. The two industries are a perfect pairing, Woodford Reserve is the most well suited Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey for the job. Our distillery is nestled amongst some of the most prestigious breeding farms in the industry and is one of the few distilleries where you can see Bourbon and young foals maturing side by side.”


“Legend has it that the industry kind of starts with the trips to New Orleans when people would buy fast horses for their trips home,” says Bourbon historian, Michael Veach. “The idea was that if your horse was faster than the bandits who were trying to rob you, you had a better chance of getting home alive. Once you got home, then you had a fast horse that you could then start breeding. We’re talking late 1700s to
early 1800s.”

1937 Derby First Turn

Back then the rivers were the main highway system, but before steamboats were invented, the trip to sell your goods, including whiskey, in major markets such as New Orleans was often one-way. In fact, this well-known trade circle is believed by some historians, including Veach, to be the source of Bourbon’s name, having taken it from the street upon which it was most often enjoyed. This trip took a matter of weeks to get there by flat boat, but a matter of months to return. Horses could make that trip much faster and considerably safer.

Over the next several decades, many families in the distilling business also found themselves in the horse racing business.

1924 Winner_s Circle

“As Bourbon and horses are two of Kentucky’s signature industries, the paths do cross,” says Chris Goodlett, director of curatorial & educational affairs for the Kentucky Derby Museum. “The family of Hamilton C. Applegate owned stock in Churchill Downs, as well as a distillery and a horse farm. The name of their signature Bourbon was Old Rosebud, which was also the name of their 1914 Kentucky Derby winner. Wathen Knebelkamp became Churchill Downs president in 1959 after serving in leadership positions in both the Schenley and Bernheim distilleries. Warner
L. Jones, Jr. started Hermitage Farm in 1935, bred 1953 Kentucky Derby winner Dark Star and served as board chairman of Churchill Downs from 1984-1992. He descended from the family that started Four Roses.”

Historically you don’t have to look very hard to find distillers and distillery owners who were also horse owners or breeders.

“The most famous was James Pepper,” says Veach. “He had horses both in The Kentucky Derby and in The Kentucky Oaks. His horse Miss Dixie actually won the Kentucky Oaks one year.”

“James E. Pepper and Ella Offutt Pepper owned Meadowthorpe Farm in addition to the distillery,” says James Pepper Distilling Co. visitor center manager, Marjorie Amon. “Pepper raced his horses in all the big races but he never won and he rarely sold. At the turn of the century he was overexposed in both whiskey and horses and wound up bankrupt, both the distillery and horses were seized. That’s when Ella went down to downtown Lexington and bought the horses back at auction, when everyone saw it was colonel pepper’s wife bidding on the horses, no one bid against her. She then took control of the horses, training them, racing them, and she did win the big races. In fact, she was so successful she earned herself the nickname “queen of the turf.” Her success was widely published and she ultimately earned enough money from selling her horses that she was able to stake the colonel to buy back the distillery out of foreclosure.”

Bourbon and horses are two of Kentucky’s signature industries


“The inaugural Kentucky Derby was run in 1875 at the Louisville Jockey Club and Driving Park Association, later known as Churchill Downs,” says Goodlett. “Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. was the founder and first president. Clark’s grandfather was William Clark, one half of the well-known Lewis and Clark expedition. The land on which to build the track was owned by Clark’s uncles, John and Henry Churchill (hence the name Churchill Downs). Clark was heavily influenced by racing in Europe and was particularly fond of the Epsom Derby, run at Epsom Downs in England. The Epsom Derby is a race for three-year-old thoroughbreds at a distance of 1.5 miles on grass. Clark’s Kentucky Derby was also designated for 

three-year-olds at 1.5 miles, but run on the dirt. The Derby has been run at its current distance of 1.25 miles since 1896. The Derby has never missed a year and will be run for the 145th time in 2019, making it the oldest continuously held major sporting event in the United States.”

Clark was also related to George Rogers Clark, who founded the city of Louisville.

“The inaugural Derby in 1875 had an estimated attendance of 10,000,” continues Goodlett. “The average Derby attendance during the past 10 years has been more than 160,000, and its momentum is not slowing down any time soon.”

At The Kentucky Derby, traditions have been born and have grown stronger during the years. Even the iconic mint julep cocktail has been around since the beginning.

“All evidence points to mint juleps being part of the Kentucky Derby since the inaugural running in 1875,” says Goodlett. “Newspapers of the 19th century reference juleps in regards to thoroughbred racing. There are stories of lore and legend regarding early runnings of the Derby and juleps. One story states that Clark served a julep to actress Helena Modjeska in 1877, and she was quite the fan. Another story states that Clark grew mint for juleps behind the clubhouse in the 19th century. The julep begins to be marketed as the official beverage of the Derby in the 1930s, around the time of the creation of the official glass in 1939.”

Other iconic Kentucky Derby traditions have nothing to do with Bourbon, but they are just as recognizable.

“I’ll start with the Kentucky Derby Gold Cup, first presented in 1924 to the owner of the winning horse,” says Goodlett. “There has been one significant change to the trophy. In 1999, the horseshoe tines were turned up as lore says that tines turned down make the luck run out. I’d also mention the Garland of Roses draped over the horse in the winner’s circle, an annual tradition since 1932. Lastly, I would cite the singing of My Old Kentucky Home during the post parade, a tradition in some form since 1921.”


Last year Woodford Reserve entered into a five year agreement to become the presenting sponsor of The Kentucky Derby, though parent company Brown-Forman has long sponsored and supported other aspects of horse racing, both at Churchill Downs and at other racetracks. 

The history of sponsorship and advertising between the distilled spirits industry and
the horseracing industry goes way back to the beginning.


“Horse Racing has been used in spirits advertising for a long long time,” says Veach. “The Filson [Historical Society] has one that shows them drinking the whiskey as the horses are running to the finish line. And that dates from around the 1880s.”

Veach also points out that in the not-so-distant past, Woodford Reserve actually bought a racehorse and was offering shares in that horse. Ultimately, they decided to put their energy into sponsorships, which propelled both Bourbon and The Kentucky Derby into the international spotlight.

“Making the official toast on national television was definitely one of the most exciting moments of my career,” says McCall. “I spent the weeks leading up to it practicing at home in front of my husband, Matt. He would pretend he was the camera man or someone cheering. I was nervous and excited, it was such a huge honor. I’ll never forget the energy of that moment, surrounded by my colleagues and my husband by my side in the pouring rain to give this toast. Everyone was so pumped for Woodford, the Bourbon industry and Kentucky to have that moment, it was just incredible. I have the toast ingrained in my memory forever!”

“Today we celebrate 144 years of tradition. From the rolling pastures to the limestone rich water that makes our thoroughbreds strong and our Bourbon stronger. This moment we share our Kentucky, and today we are all Kentuckians. Please join Woodford Reserve as we raise a glass to cheers The Best of Kentucky on Kentucky’s best day!”


It may seem like the entire Bourbon industry takes two weeks off to party nonstop, but there is still a lot of work to be done during that time period.

“During Derby season my duties as assistant master distiller shift to focusing mainly on brand ambassadorship and PR for Woodford Reserve,” says McCall. “[master distiller] Chris Morris and I will divide the duties and do some things together such as host VIP guests at the distillery, attend events in town, head to NYC for media, talk about the $1,000 mint julep as often as possible. All that while still keeping a plus on happenings within production and helping when and where I can. It is a very busy time with a very unconventional work schedule, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I don’t know if I have the right words to describe what The Kentucky Derby means to me,” McCall continues. “I have grown up with a passion for horses. My mom would drop me off at the barn in the morning and pick me up late in the afternoon. There was no place I would rather be but at a barn riding, grooming and cleaning stalls. Horses are very special creatures. I own a thoroughbred and their love to run is impeccable. Racing is truly in their blood, their hearts long to race, they give everything they have not because of the glory winning but because it’s what they were born to do. My horse is an-off-the track thoroughbred, when we would arrive at shows he would turn into a completely different horse. It’s like a switch would flip, he knew what he was there to do, compete. The passion these horses have for what they do makes me tear up everytime.”


Mint Julep Tours in Louisville offers horse farms as part of several of their tour packages. James Pepper Distillery in Lexington also dedicates a significant portion of its tour to the historic ties between the horse industry and the Bourbon industry. In between the two, you can stop by a thoroughbred horse farm for a tour nearly year round that has ties to both industries.

At Sun Valley Farm in Versailles the farm’s original owner was Samuel Pepper, whose father Elijah built the nearby Elijah Pepper Distillery, what today is called Woodford Reserve. (Samuel was also uncle to James E. Pepper.) You can even see many of Woodford Reserve’s rickhouses from the property, making this a great addition to a
Bourbon tour.

But perhaps the best way to learn all about The Kentucky Derby year-round is to visit The Kentucky Derby Museum. There you will find displays relating to jockeys, winners, hats and other traditional attire, and more.

And of course, you can tune in on the first Saturday in May.


The art of the mint julep

April is mint julep month in Louisville 

Written by: Maggie Kimberl

If there’s one thing that most people universally get wrong about the mint julep, it’s that they are supposed to taste awful. Mint juleps are supposed to be light and refreshing, served in the heat of the late Kentucky spring or early summer in order to keep you cool as you attend your favorite outdoor equestrian sporting events. The main reason most people think mint juleps are bad is that they have just never had a good one, opting to try a premade version and judging the entire category on its slacker cousin.

The month leading up to The Kentucky Derby is a special time in Louisville. The Kentucky Derby Festival is basically a three week party to celebrate a two minute horse race, and the entire month is dedicated to showcasing what a mint julep can really be. On Derby weekend at Churchill Downs, about 120,000 juleps will be served.

According to Stacey Yates, the idea for Mint Julep Month came from the convergence of a perfect storm of factors, from partnerships with local bars and restaurants centering around the cocktail, to a desire to highlight Bourbon’s versatility in the springtime.

“We simply declared it so, sent out a press release about it and starting curating anyone else that wanted to participate,” says Yates. “We had seen the success that National Bourbon Heritage Month had for creating a buzz in September and we thought this would be a nice counterpart to that in the spring for a Bourbon push as well. We created a content page on our website and it really took off when the Courier-Journal wrote about it like it has always ‘been a thing’.”

“The mint julep has been a part of The Kentucky Derby since 1938,” says The Silver Dollar bar manager, Susie Hoyt. “It’s become an important part of the event. The Kentucky Derby is a huge event that people come in from around the world for, so Kentucky and Louisville are are associated with The Kentucky Derby and Mint Juleps, even if it’s not during the Kentucky Derby.”

So where do you find the best mint juleps in Louisville? Start your search on social media, says Yates.

“If you follow #mintjulepmonth – especially on Instagram – you will see some really creative spins from Louisville bars and now throughout the country. We also now feed special offers, events, ideas etc. to a website in partnership with Garden & Gun [at]”

Crafting your perfect mint julep

“Mint can be delicate so it needs to be stored properly to prevent wilting,” says Hoyt. “It’s tough to leave mint out on the bar on a hot day, but it can work if you are going through it fast enough. I recommend putting cold water in the bottom of an old fashioned glass and propping the mint up like a bouquet. Sometimes we’ll even throw an ice cube or two in the bottom to keep the water very cold. If the temperature is warm, or the mint is not being used regularly, it needs to be left in the cooler.”

Whether you are going all out and hand-crafting each mint julep to order, or just garnishing your Bourbon and mint simple syrup mix with mint, taking the time to combine the ingredients close to when they will be consumed is the key to a pleasant drinking experience.

“With all due respect to the brands,” says Yates. “I simply think there is no comparison to a scratch-made mint julep. One where the mint has been steeped in simple syrup overnight, served in a proper julep cup, and lightly dusted with powder sugar, which is the Kentucky standard bearer. But I’d also add that my favourites are specifically the ones made by my Nonnie on Derby Day served with Old Forester – the house Bourbon.”

This Mint Julep Month, ditch the premade cocktail and whip up your best scratch recipe. Your Derby guests will thank you.

The Silver Dollar’s Mint Julep recipe by Susie Hoyt


• 5-7 mint leaves
• Crushed ice
• 2 ounces Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
• 1 ounce demerara syrup


To make the julep, slap 5-7 mint leaves and use a bar spoon to pull the mint leaves up the side of the julep tin. You’ll get a great aroma from the mint oil and all the mint leaves are discarded to prevent any grassy/vegetal notes that come from leaving mint inside the tin. The drink is built in the julep cup so the demerara syrup and Bourbon are added next. Add crushed ice. After a quick swizzle with a bar spoon, crushed ice is filled to the top and packed down so it is level with the top of the tin. Then a snow cone of crushed ice is added to the top and packed in as well. Tap one large mint sprig or two medium sprigs to release the oil and place the garnish at the edge of the glass touching the straw. The effervescent mint aroma is key for the mint julep.

Tim Laird’s “Mint Juleps for Many”


In a chilled julep cup add:

• 2 ounces Woodford Reserve Bourbon
• 1 ounce mint simple syrup
• Crushed ice
• Add a sipping straw and garnish with a large mint sprig.

To make the mint simple syrup:

• 1 part water
• 1 part sugar
• 1 part loosely-packed fresh mint leaves


In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the water is clear and the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and stir in the mint leaves. Allow to steep for 20 minutes. Strain into a glass container and store in the refrigerator.

Note: You can adjust the sweetness of the drink by adding more or less of the mint simple syrup. The mint simple syrup is also a great addition to iced tea. 


Lounging around

Visiting a cigar lounge is supposed to be a relaxing experience 

Written by: Maggie Kimberl

It’s a place to sit in a comfortable chair, maybe have a drink, and speak to your friends or make some new ones. Wherever you travel you can find a cigar lounge that feels like your home away from home, because the etiquette is always the same.

“Smoking a cigar in a lounge is supposed to be a relaxing experience, as well as an environment for comradery,” says Jonathan Ross Lipson, director of sales and marketing for Alec Bradley. “If it’s obvious that a fellow aficionado wants their space – don’t engage. If a fellow aficionado wants to join the conversation, be welcoming. As Lew Rothman, the ex-owner of JR Cigars, once said: ‘You meet the nicest people in a cigar shop.’ Have fun and don’t take life so seriously, everyone is there with one thing in common- doesn’t matter from which walk of life you come from- you are all there to enjoy a cigar.”

We all have tough days and hectic lives, but when you enter the cigar lounge you are supposed to leave all that at the door. Topics like politics and religion should always be off limits. You’re also supposed to leave your cigar collection at the door, an unwritten rule that those who are new to cigar lounges don’t always know.

“If the sole purpose of the tobacconist is selling tobacco and tobacco accessories, a lounge is an added benefit,” says Lipson. “In this case it is never OK to bring in an outside cigar, even if you purchased it previously from the same retailer. Purchase a cigar or multiple cigars that day to enjoy the benefits of the lounge; and it is a benefit, not a right. The tobacconist has overheads; how is he going to keep his lights on when you don’t support him? The only exception to this is if you happen to be a paid locker member and your membership agreement allows bringing in outside cigars. Would you bring a Whopper into McDonalds and sit down and eat? A cigar bar’s business is primarily liquor, this is where the best markup is. If you are drinking, feel free to bring your own cigar. If you are not drinking, you have to support the establishment somehow, buy a cigar.”

Some people will tell you it’s OK to bring something to smoke as long as you still buy something there, but the main takeaway is that you should always buy something if you are going to hang out. If you want to bring Cubans in an American shop?

“If you are in the US and claim that Cuban cigars are the greatest thing since sliced bread and you ‘only smoke Cubans’ why are you in the shop?”

When it’s time to pick a cigar, don’t be afraid to ask for help. In fact, the whole reason the shop is there is so that you can ask the tobacconist for advice, about what’s new, and to recommend something you may life based on your preferences. Your tobacconist also knows about all the latest tricks and gadgets.

“The tobacconist is an expert at his trade, so even if you don’t agree with how he tells you how to cut or light a cigar, indulge him, you may learn something,” says Lipson.

Keep your opinions about other people’s cigars to yourself, too.

“Just because your opinion differs from another aficionado, don’t judge another smoker’s choice of cigars,” says Lipson. “Everyone’s palate is different and you should enjoy what you want to enjoy, unfettered. The exception to this is if you are already in a clique and busting chops, that’s where the comradery comes in, no hurt feelings in this case.”

Lastly, “Don’t snub your cigar out in the ashtray, it stinks. Instead, leave it in the ashtray until it burns out.”

Alec Bradley Prensado Lost Art Robusto And Angel’s Envy Rye

Handmade items are often a lost art these days, and this cigar’s name is a nod to the fact that fine cigars are still made by hand. Alec Bradley is a small cigar company, based in Miami with a strong following. This 5×52 robusto is made in Honduras at the Raices Cubanas factory using a Honduran wrapper and Honduran and Nicaraguan binder and fillers. Predominant flavors of this cigar include milk chocolate and baking spice with a peppery finish. When paired with the Angel’s Envy Rye, the whiskey brings out strong dark chocolate notes in the smoke, while the smoke brings out caramel apple and baking spices in the otherwise maple-syrupy rum cask finished whiskey. The sweetness from the rum finish played nicely with the spicy and earthy notes in this cigar, enhancing them into a more sophisticated profile. MSRP is $10.

Black Works Studio Sindustry Robusto And Kings County American peated single malt whiskey

Black Label Trading Co. is based in Nicaragua and specializes in small batches of specially blended cigars. It features a Mexican San Andres wrapper, a Nicaraguan Habano binder, and a Nicaraguan filler. It’s 5×50 and only 500 boxes were produced, available only at select retailers in the United States. There are strong baking spice notes upon first light, often indicative of Nicaraguan cigars, but that quickly mellows to reveal notes of earth, oak, and cedar. When paired with the Kings County single malt the smoke brings out spice notes in the whiskey that are likely from the barrel, as well as faint green apples that would otherwise go unnoticed. The saddle leather on the nose of this whiskey also enhances the pairing. The whiskey really plays up the cedar notes already existing in the cigar for a beautiful pairing. MSRP is $10.

Tatuaje Monster Bride Of Frankenstein And Old Forester 1910

Every year around Halloween, Tatuaje releases a new cigar in the Monster line. Only 13 stores have received “dressed” boxes, while select retailers get a few plain boxes. Sadly this year’s Bride of Frankenstein is the last of the Monster series, as this was a project meant to have a finite shelf life. This cigar is a 7 ⅛x49 with a Connecticut Broadleaf Rosado wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler. Strong notes of cedar were present, but those gave way to a faint pepper spice that intensified after the first third. The smoke was mellow and creamy.

The Old Forester 1910 is the last in the Whiskey Row series of bottles, and it just so happened the last Monster paired beautifully with it. The cigar brought out baking spice and vanilla notes in the Bourbon, while the Bourbon brought out vanilla cream candy in the smoke. MSRP $13.

Liga Undercrown Sungrown Double Corona And Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye

Drew Estate Master Blender Willy Herrera has been busy turning out new blends since being appointed in 2014, and the Sungrown series of Liga Undercrown was a challenge from the tobacco procurement side of things. This 7×54 Corono Do is part the third line of Undercrown cigars from Drew Estate since 2011. It features an Ecuadorian Sumatra sungrown wrapper, Connecticut River Valley Stalk Cut/Cured sungrown Habano binder, and a blend of Nicaraguan fillers, one of which is an aged Ligero from the Nueva Segovia region along the border of Honduras. Upon first light there are notes of cedar, espresso, and bitter dark chocolate. Together with the Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye the cigar brings out warm baking spices and citrus in the rye, the rye brings out strong vanilla and chocolate notes. MSRP is $10.38.