|Don't like ads?
I feel sad to admit that Backbone Bourbon Company hasn’t been high on my list of bottles to review for a little while now. There’s no good reason why this is other than my attention has been focused elsewhere. But while I’ve been away from the brand, they’ve kept churning out a variety of well-aged, well-proofed and well-priced products that consumers like me probably take for granted.
In this new world of rising whiskey prices, Backbone keeps it real by never really charging more than they have to. I’ve consistently found prices hover around $10 per year aged but there are instances where the price decreases once the whiskey gets over the six year mark. That’s practically unheard of in this day and age.
Naptown Bourbon Club
The bourbon scene in Indianapolis (where the nickname “Naptown” comes from) is alive and well probably because to our close proximity to Kentucky (Louisville is only 90 minutes away). There were already many bourbon groups in all shapes and sizes when I got into the scene in 2018. Facebook’s steep crackdown on alcohol sales in 2019 fractured most of them and forced many to re-evaluate their rules. Many groups became strictly informational (no buy, no sell) while some saw the possibility of legitimizing sales by becoming clubs with their own barrel picks. The financial transactions of doing barrel picks were done outside of Facebook, but the information on what picks were in the pipelines were coordinated on posts for all to see.
Naptown Bourbon Club was established on these principles along with becoming a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Proceeds go to a multitude of charities that the group is very transparent about. Their website lays out events that they are coordinating and serves as a record of everything they’ve done in the past.
Naptown Bourbon Club collaborates with Blend Bar and Backbone Bourbon Company
I’m not a member of Naptown Bourbon Club, but my good friend and neighbor Brad is. He gave me the skinny on how this particular bottle came into existence. According to Mike Roszkowski (the Naptown Barrel Picks Director), the club approached Backbone about doing a single barrel pick for the club. This was convenient for both parties because Backbone’s new warehouse is located inside the Indianapolis city limits. But the group didn’t want just any kind of single barrel, they wanted to do a single barrel that would emulate the style of the many “Cigar Blends” released onto market recently.
So NBC enlisted the help of the experts at a local cigar bar called BLEND Bar in Indianapolis to get their take on creating the ultimate bourbon to pair with a cigar. It was quickly decided that they would not pursue an Amburana-wood finished style of Cigar Blend. They wanted it to be in the style of old-school Cognacs that were specifically created to pair well with a cigar.
With that in mind, they approached Backbone with the request to do a blend. The bourbon they would use was sourced from MGP (it is unknown if they used the low or the high-rye recipes) and were aged between 4 to 7 years old. The concept was to use five different barrels and combine them into one. The first two barrels would be finished in Cognac casks as a foundation to the profile they really wanted to highlight. One barrel would be finished in a Sherry cask for added sweetness to stand up to a cigar. Two barrels would be left “as-is” and mingled with the others for balance.
Keep in mind that these barrels were not all filled to the brim with liquid. I’m not quite sure they were even filled 1/4 of the way up. Regardless, once all finishing barrels were complete, they were dumped into a single Armagnac Cask to put the finishing touches on the liquid.
But how does it taste?
The liquid came out darker than 98% of the bottles I have seen. Judging by the bottle numbers on the front of the barrel, it also appears like it’s a short barrel too. I’m not sure if that’s because of evaporation/leakage (unlikely) or the fact that the original 5 barrels were blended in small amounts. A total of 128 bottles was the final tally and the proof came out to an impressive 121.4 proof. Not bad for a finished bourbon! The final price was not cheap – coming in at $95 – but was likely dictated by the amount of effort that went into creating the blend as well as a portion of the proceeds that would go to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Would this bottle show itself to be worthy in the end? The cost is half that of a bottle of Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend (which has a retail price of $175). But since the age on this one is roughly half that of the Magnus, it appears to be priced fairly. All that’s left is to taste it and see if the value and the flavor make this a steal or a dud. Brad sat down with me for the experience, so I’ll also be sharing what he thought at the end. As usual, this was sampled neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Sensory overload with rich, dark fruit scents in every variety of alcoholic grape liquid. Notes of gingerbread and baking spices add a lot of complexity between the layers. I swear that some of the smells remind me of a heavily-sherried Edradour Scotch. Tannins seem to be struggling to create much of an impact, but mainly center around oak and a bit of tobacco leaf
Palate: A ridiculously thick and chewy mouthfeel leads to a flood of wine and cognac flavors. It is all so dark and foreboding. Usually with as much cognac influence as this one has, I can detect lighter notes like white grape juice. Not the case here. The spicy nature of Armagnac assists the already-potent style of MGP’s ryed bourbon. I don’t get much oak for the tannins, but I do find shoe leather occasionally.
Holding each sip in my mouth reveals a good amount of heat and spice that lets you know it means business. Notes of chocolate-cherry cordials ping around with some tangy wine notes. Vanilla creme pops up occasionally. The Sherry influence becomes more noticeable the longer I sip on it. There is a peppery spice followed by a beautiful fortified wine note that comes across as the same sherry flavors I find in Scotch. Flavors of berries (blackberries, raspberries and currants) and occasionally a burst of citrusy lemon peel are fun additions to an already fun pour.
Finish: The finish initially starts out just as dark and robust as the palate. Deep red wines and a healthy dose of mulling spices dance on my tongue long after the sip is done. But eventually it cools down to a more mellow vanilla, ground cinnamon and lighter style of red wine. Light chocolate settles in as well as a grape flavor that I can only associate with an old summertime snack I had as a kid: frozen red grapes.
If you follow my reviews, then you know my affinity towards unique whiskies – and I think I just found my next favorite one. I’ve had multiple batches of Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend in the past, but none have achieved this degree of flavor intensity. That’s a good and a bad thing because while the Magnus’s are much more balanced, after a while they start to all taste similar to each other. What Naptown Bourbon Club did with their finishes in this bottle is nothing short of pouring a bucket of ice water on you while you sleep. You’re going to need a moment to collect yourself after what just happened.
If the boys behind the blend set out to achieve a bourbon that would hold up to the most impactful cigars, then mission accomplished. There is no way you’re not going to taste the flavors coming out of this whiskey regardless of whatever else you’ve been eating, drinking or smoking. And if that’s something you’ve been hunting for, then I have good news. Wait, no I don’t. All of the bottle have been sold out.
I promised to give you Brad’s thoughts on this bottle too, so here it goes. “This bottle of Cigar Blend is the ultimate night cap. It’s a huge swirl of flavor with more layers than I can ever remember encountering in another whiskey. There is some sugary sweetness, but also the tartness of grape and rich tobacco. All of these come wave after wave. I enjoyed every moment but feel like my palate needed to take a few days to rest every time I poured a glass.”
I figured I’d use this section to plant my flag about the direction of Cigar Blends in the enthusiast community. Let there be no mistaking my love for them. But I must put an asterisk after that comment because not all cigar blends are created equally. I don’t think the Amburana ones should be part of the conversation.
There seems to be a battle going on between producers who want to use the word “Cigar” on their whiskey labels and need to decide what finishing casks to obtain for it to happen. If you like Amburana wood finishes, then fine (I’m less of a fan these days) but they should be their own category. I think Cigar blends/batches should be a term used strictly for wine-derivative finishes like fortified wines or the various styles of grape brandy’s out there. But since I don’t make the rules, I’ll just have to support my opinion with reviews like this one. Will you join me?
Want to learn more about how you can support the fight against Cystic Fibrosis? Visit www.cff.org to learn more
Here is a partial list of American whiskey brands with a Cigar version finished in the correct casks:
Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend (finished in Sherry, Cognac and Armagnac barrels)
Old Elk Cigar Cut (finished in Port, Sherry, Cognac and Armagnac casks)
Wheel Horse Cigar Blend (finished in Armagnac, Port and Cognac Barrels)
Good Times and Good Old Times Cigar Blend (finished in Armagnac, Oloroso Sherry and Cognac barrels – or maybe they just dumped flavored syrups of those casks into the bourbon knowing those clowns)
Copper & Cask Cigar Batch (Armagnac and Port Cask Finish)
Blaum Bros 7 Year Old Cigar Blend (Cognac Cask only)
Here is a partial list of American whiskey brands using Amburana wood in their Cigar blends/batches
Copper Sky Cigar Blend
Starlight Cigar Blend (both Rye Whiskey and Bourbon)
Rock Town Cigar Batch
*Bourbon Culture is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.