Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Jos A. Magnus. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
The river was off-color and running high, so fishing was going to be a fool’s errand. But it was sunny and comfortable for a December day, and the four of us had driven a long way to be there. Foolish or not, we were determined to wet our lines.
Predictably, we ended up getting skunked and gave up after a couple of hours. Less predictably, we had a day we will remember fondly the rest of our lives. Because on this day, rather than spread out along the Deschutes River to chase redband trout, we settled in next to the water, broke out cigars and opened a bottle of Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend Bourbon.
We talked until the sun dipped below the canyon walls, about jobs and wives and lives and pretty much everything other than the fact that we caught zero fish. And we enjoyed the Joseph Magnus in the environment it was meant for. It says so, right there on the label.
Magnus is a distillery with an interesting story. Re-established as a brand in 2015, Joseph Magnus quickly asserted itself in the growing whiskey industry. It rapidly developed distribution in much of the United States, and cemented a reputation as a high-end blender and finisher.
Its best-known and most sought-after whiskies, though, are the ones in its series of cigar-blend bourbons. Joseph Magnus has released 34 batches so far, and all are well-regarded among whiskey clubs and on the secondary markets. The bottle we opened that December day on the side of the river is batch no. 27, which the official tasting notes say includes a blend of bourbons aged 12 to 20 years.
Ali Anderson, general manager at Joseph Magnus, said all of the Cigar Blend batches are part of a mother blend of 16 bourbon barrels ranging in age from 12 to 20 years old. Each batch is selected from that mother blend and then mixed with regular Joseph Magnus Bourbon, which was finished in sherry (two types) and Cognac casks. Finally, that blend is given additional time to finish in casks that previously held Armagnac brandy.
What we learned sitting in camp chairs deep in that river canyon in December is that this bourbon was slightly too aggressive for us on the first pour. A little rough around the edges, like a loud-mouthed gambler looking for trouble in a wild west saloon. But once we lit cigars and sipped the Joseph Magnus as we talked, it took on a different character altogether. Paired with a cigar, this became a sweet, mellow and easy-going bourbon that was ideal for the occasion.
What came off as aggressive in an initial pour, in other words, meant that it had the fortitude to hold its own next to the tobacco. I wouldn’t hesitate to pour this for bourbon-loving friends at home any time, but in this case I’ve already stashed the rest of the bottle away for future outings likely to involve good friends, good cigars and the great outdoors.
Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend Bourbon (Batch 27) (image via Scott Nelson/The Whiskey Wash)
Tasting Notes:Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend Bourbon (Batch 27)
Vital Stats: Blend of bourbons aged 12 to 20 years that’s mixed with regular Joseph Magnus bourbon and finished in ex-Armagnc casks; 121.31 proof; total of 390 bottles released (the bottle reviewed here is no. 370); MSRP of $175 for a 750ml bottle, but expect to pay considerably more if you can find it online.
Appearance: Dark amber, almost red.
Nose: Rich, luxurious and almost syrupy. Give it a splash of water and a little bit of time, and it opens up nicely. Even so, this is not a whiskey that will take guff from anyone. It’s coming at you hard and fast out of the glass. I get raisins, dates and a Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. It seems too on-the-nose, but I think I also smell leather and tobacco leaf.
Palate: Master Blender Nancy Fraley calls this batch the “sweet one,” and I can see where she’s coming from. It’s dark and rich – and definitely sweet, though not in the easy-going vanilla and butterscotch way typical of many bourbons. I immediately thought of a moist pound cake soaked in amaretto, which explodes with flavor after you pop it into your mouth. You’re chewing your bourbon as much as drinking it.
There’s a velvety and lush mouthfeel brought on from the 18- and 20-year-old bourbons in this blend. I taste plums and dark cherries, black tea, German apple strudel and nuts covered in dark chocolate. The sweetness fades but the finish holds on long and warm, settling in like a cigar you continue to taste long after you’ve finish smoking.
This is a complex bourbon. It’s good in its own right, but truly really reveals itself if you drink it alongside a nice cigar. What could seem like a little bit too much in terms of personality becomes exactly enough when you pair it with cigar smoke. This is bourbon with a backbone, complex and moody and daring you to pull your best cigars out of the humidor. Anderson, the general manager, said Joseph Magnus is finishing the Cigar Blend batch no. 35 in January and would be releasing it soon. If you’re a cigar smoker, especially, you could do worse than to find yourself a bottle.
Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. Scott works in higher education these days, but he previously spent 22 years as a journalist, covering 9/11 in Manhattan, crossing into Iraq with U.S. Marines and contributing to The Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of sexual...