Cigars or Bourbon? I say both!

If I cannot drink Bourbon and smoke cigars in Heaven than I shall not go.

Mark Twain

My name is Bryan. Bourbon is just my thing.

State of distillation: Florida

Rick house: Tampa

Floor: 33614

Taste profile: Forward, a good kick in the mouth, with subtle hints of citrus, cut to the chase, and good laughs.

My name is Bryan Brantley. In 2016, my bourbon love affair began, or as some may call it, my date of distillation. Bourbon is unique as we all know, yet most of us didn’t start by drinking bourbon. We usually picked up another cheap spirit and called it a day. This is what makes bourbon so beautiful. We all end up here. Bourbon is meant to be a spirit we enjoy in brotherhood (or sisterhood – shoutout to the bourbon women!). Enter my goal: to bring more people together over this brown water that is so cherished.

As I embark on this blog journey I encourage all of you to try something new. After all, that is how it all begins. For those who may not be familiar, I will post weekly bourbon reviews and suggestions of what is available at different price ranges. Once a month I will dive into my favorite pour and smoke pairing during that time. I will also post pictures of what I find along the way.

I want to personally thank Scott for inviting me to join the Cigar Hawk blog. I am roughly a year into the cigar game but thoroughly enjoy my humidor being full. As the Hawk himself would say, “Long ashes, and full glasses!” Cheers everyone!

The tricky topic of “pairings”

One of the most common things I get asked when I ask about new content and things people would like to see more of is pairings. Cigars and spirits, cigars and wine, cigars and foods, etc. This is not only one of the most requested topics but it is by far the hardest topic to do. Simply by the sheer numbers of combinations that are available to us I would venture to say would be in the billions. Which, when you consider it, is a very good problem to have! If we only had 5 cigars and 10 spirits to pick from, it would be no problem.

I will be the first to admit that the topic is one that really appeals to me as I love to try new things but the overwhelming number of options make it a challenge I am not sure I want to tackle. Not only that, it is also highly subjective. Much like cigar reviews, it comes down to each individual. You may find certain flavors and notes that I simply just don’t get. Lord knows I read reviews and wonder what the hell is this person smoking because I have never gotten Lucky Charms Marshmellows covered in Dr. Pepper in my cigar profile…ever. Not even smoking an Acid.

My other thought about this topic is that I am honest enough to admit that my palate is not well rounded enough, IMO, to do the topic a lot of justice. Not saying that I wouldn’t be willing to give it a shot but just know that it may not be of much value. Again, a super subjective topic. I have done bourbon tastings and cigar tastings with friends and rarely to we all agree on the notes and flavors. While we may find some common undertones and primary notes, the subtle differences varies greatly across the group.

Another thing to consider with pairings is your own personal range and likes. As someone with a heavy palate that really enjoys medium rare steaks, red wine, bourbon and maduro cigars as my go to options I am going to have a real challenge doing pairings on things like Connecticut’s with white wine, beer or vodka. While those may make for some absolute dynamic pairings, I am not sure I would be able to enjoy them.

I have a ton of respect for people like James Brown of Black Label Trading Company and Black Works Studio that was heavy in the wine industry and has trained his palate as a sommelier. I believe this is what makes him so successful as a cigar blender. That is someone who I think would provide some serious pairing options because of his experience.

Another thing that plays a HUGE factor in creating perfect pairings has nothing at all to do with taste. It has everything to do with experiences. I can remember one of my most favorable pairings was something I rarely even drink and when I do, the first few sips are terrible. I was at a work conference in Scottsdale, AZ with my now current boss (we had just met for the first time) and he found out I was a cigar guy. He was a scotch guy. I am not. I am a bourbon fan but scotch has not been favorable to me. I gave him a cigar and he purchased us a Lagavulin. For those that know, or don’t, this is like drinking campfire smoke from the heavy peat. Drinking it now, it takes me a few sips to ease into it and I wonder what the hell was so different about it from what I remembered. What I remembered was that drink, in AZ, paired with a Padron 1964 maduro and the atmosphere and conversation was one of the best experiences I have had, making it one of the most memorable pairings in my recollection.

To sort of wrap this up a bit, my suggestion is to try different things, take notes on each. Write down pros/cons, likes/dislikes of the cigar you are smoking and whatever you are pairing it with. As you experiment I think you will find trends and patterns in the flavors and profiles of things you like and you don’t. If you have a cigar that you absolutely love and a wine or spirit that you absolutely love, try pairing them if you don’t already. I have done that in the past and have been really disappointed in the findings. Sometimes the flavor combinations actually overpower or work against each other. Once you have put together a solid list of 5 or so choices, switch them up. Try a cigar you had more pros than cons and pair them with a drink you maybe had more cons that pros and see if anything changes. It’s a super challenging and fun thing to do. Keep making tweaks and changes to your pairings until you lock one down that you absolutely enjoy. Then start all over. Lol. That is the game and that is what makes it such a fun and interesting topic, Variety is the spice of life and we are blessed to be able to sample so many different things. Stop smoking the same cigars you always have, stop being the “I’m a XYZ man/woman, I only drink this or smoke that”. Life is too short to be narrow minded. If you have some favorite pairings, please feel free to comment and share.

Thanks for reading and following. Make sure you share this article with friends and follow us on Social Media. Until next time, #LongAshesFullGlasses

Reserve Cigar Company Especial Toro

Well folks, it’s been quite some time since I have had the opportunity to sit down and do a review but finally that has changed some. The new house is finished, we are moved in and now it’s time to start enjoying life again. Today we revisit a company I reviewed back in Dec. Reserve Cigar Company from Atlanta. Check out the company spotlight and interview I did here on the blog page. This is my second review from this up and coming brand. I was impressed with the first one I tried so let’s see how this one stacks up.

The Especial 6 x 52 Toro is wrapped in a dark brown wrapper with medium veins and tight seams.

Blend is undisclosed other than Sun Grown wrapper and Dominican tobaccos.

The cigar feels firm with no soft spots. The construction looks and feels solid. The dark blue and gold band is simple and elegant but really dresses up the cigar nicely.

Pre-light: This cigar has been in my humidor since Dec. I am picking up notes of straw, barnyard and wood. I used a V-Cut to open this one up. The draw is very nice with slight resistance. I pick up notes of hay, wood and espresso.

1st Third: Very nice profile right off the first draw. Tons of thick smoke and notes of wood, sweet cocoa, and hints of spice. There is a nice, subtle sweetness of cedar wood and cocoa. The draw is perfect and the burn is nice with a slight wave to it. It is a very warm, beautiful suny day with a pretty gusty breeze here in North Carolina today. As I move further into the first third, the blend stays pretty consistent.

2nd Third: As I move into the halfway mark the profile changes slightly to more of an earthy, woodsy blend. I am picking up nice hints of sweet cedar wood, earth and cocoa. There is a very brief touch of bitterness that passes quickly. Not sure what that was but it came and went quickly. As I move further in the profile changes just a bit to more of a floral almost grassy note. The draw and burn are both still very nice. The strength and body is a smooth medium.

Last 3rd: As I move into the last third, the profile stays very consistent. This is a very easy cigar to smoke with a nice flavor profile. It is a nice woodsy, earthy, creamy smoke from start to finish. I decided to pair the final inch or so with a pour of Larceny bourbon. This cigar certainly brings out the sweetness of the bourbon and the bourbon enhances the cedar and wood in the cigar. This pairing works very well together.

Final Thoughts: I am really impressed with this cigar and the brand. Be sure to go back in the blog and check out the company spotlight and interview I did with owner Alexis Webber. This is a great cigar for any time of the day. It is easy and smooth to smoke. It is easy enough for beginner smokers but complex enough for advanced smokers. The profile does not change greatly from start to finish but it varies enough to keep it interesting.

If you are interested in ordering, I highyl recommend the 6 pack sampler so you can try the entire lineup. Visit

Be sure to follow us on Social Media, follow Reserve Cigar Company and join the #ReserveFamily.

Until next time, #LongAshesFullGlasses.

Beginner Bourbon Series Part 3…Eagle Rare

Happy Whiskey Wednesday my smokey brothers and sisters of the leaf! As I post this I am getting ready to board a plane to Europe for mine and the wife’s belated honeymoon.

So in part 4 of our beginner’s bourbon series, we take a look at another one of my all time favorites. Eagle Rare!

Another masterpiece from the Buffalo Trace distillery, Eagle Rare not only offers an amazing tasting juice, but a pretty cool wine style bottle to go along with it.

Eagle Rare is a 10 year aged bourbon, that up until a few years ago was branded as a single barrel. However, with the increasing demand in good bourbon, Buffalo Trace was forced to go from hand bottling Eagle Rare to using a bottling system. Buffalo Trace had announced dropping the single barrel listing from the label due to the possibility that a bottle could technically get a drop or two from a different barrel.

Mash bill- 75% Corn, 10% Rye, 15% Malted Barley. It uses Buffalo Trace’s mash bill # 1, the same as Buffalo Trace bourbon.

ABV- 90 proof

Price- 28-36 dollars. 34.99 here in NC, but you can find the half gallon bottles for 60 and save a few bucks.

You just have to figure out where to store that beast.

Color- A honey amber color that looks as perfect as a color can get.

Nosing- I instantly pick up charred oak and citrus. As though someone was squeezing fresh tangerines right on the fire while the barrels were toasted. Upon my second nosing, I get hints of vanilla, and dark chocolate.

Taste- oaky, sweet, and very little spice. I tasted dried fruit and raisins. It’s not super complex and none of the flavors really “pop” out. Hints of caramel and marshmallow can also be detected.

Finish- I find the finish on Eagle Rare to be medium, even though most would say it’s short. Toasted toffee and cream come to mine while swirling this around on the tongue. For a 90 proof bourbon, there is very little burn or alcohol aftertaste.

Final Thoughts- I mean what can I say, I love the stuff. It’s one of my go to daily drinks. It won’t break the bank, and it’s easy on the palate. This was another one of the juices that got me to fall in love with bourbon. I never have less than three bottles of this in my home bar at any given time. This is also one I would highly recommend as a dessert bourbon.

Even though I used my Norlan to do the nosing and tasting, I took the pictures in my new rocks glasses that I had my family crest engraved on.

I didn’t add any water or ice to this bourbon, because it was already incredibly smooth and easy to drink.

Beginners Bourbon Series…Larceny

It’s Whiskey Wednesday my fellow hawks!

So my plan is to do a review every Wednesday (since I’m probably enjoying a drink myself).

I’m going to start with five of what I consider to be beginner bourbons. The ones you let your friends try when you’re trying to bring them to the dark side!

Remember hawks, enjoying bourbon is no different than enjoying cigars, it’s completely subjective. So what I smell or taste, may not be what you smell or taste.

Hopefully everyone enjoys the reviews

Larceny Bourbon review

Larceny is a 6-12 year, no age statement bourbon from Heaven Hill Distillery.

The mashbill- 68% corn, 20% wheat, and 12% malted barley

Price- 19-30 dollars, but I paid 24 in NC on sale (29 regular price)

Color- Honey/Light Carmel

Nosing- At first the nose on this heavy corn bourbon was nothing but alcohol. I have experienced this with other bourbons before, so I let this one set for about a minute. After letting it sit, I picked up all the typical bourbon smells of vanilla, caramel, and oak, but was able to pick up honey, cherries, and dried fruit.

Tasting- I really pick up the honey, corn, and sweet notes. It almost taste creamy, as the vanilla and caramel hits your tongue. The bourbon has very little spice and isn’t very complex. Very little heat or burn for a 92 proof whiskey.

Finish- creamy, sweet, almost a orange flavor, but doesn’t last very long.

Conclusion- This is by far my favorite bourbon to send new whiskey drinkers to. It’s soft, subtle, and won’t kill your tongue. It has tons of sweetness bc of the high corn and wheat content, which makes it a smooth drinker, at a great price point. Because it is not overly complex, beginners won’t have a hard time picking up the main flavors.

I didn’t see the need to try this one with a drop or two of water, or ice. It was smooth from start to finish without any assistance.

I did this review over two days. One without a cigar, and then today with a Foundry Time Flies. They paired nicely together, however the cigar did seem to over power the bourbon just a little.

** I want to thank my buddy Gonzo for doing this review. I look forward to more reviews as we expand on the content featured here. Please feel free to leave comments, questions and suggestions. Until next time…Long ashes and full glasses.

Ezra Zion Announces Oak & Eden Whiskey


Ezra Zion is pleased to announce it’s latest company venture: a partnership with Oak & Eden Inspired Whiskey.

Ezra Zion rounds out the ownership team which includes brothers Joe and Jamie Giildenzopf; who serve as CEO and Master Distiller, respectively.

“We’re elated to bring innovative, small-batch, ‘boutique’ whiskeys to our friends in the cigar community.” stated Kyle Hoover, Ezra Zion co-owner. “Everyone knows there’s nothing better than having a great cigar and whiskey. It’s absolute heaven.”

Oak & Eden will be distributed by Republic National Distributing Company, one of the nation’s largest spirit distributors and will soon be available in most liquor stores, bars, and restaurants throughout Texas.

The official product launch will be in April across the State of Texas, and will expand to the rest of country over the course of 2018. Initial launch will be two products: Oak & Eden Bourbon and Oak & Eden Rye.

“We’re excited to introduce Joe to the cigar community. He’s a total genius. Having him at the helm of Oak & Eden is epic. The level of palate sophistication and blending aptitude on this team is legendary!” added Chris Kelly, Ezra Zion co-owner.

Oak & Eden whiskeys are unique. Each is “in-bottle finished” with a patented spire technology allowing for a variety of diverse finishes and revolutionary new small-batch whiskeys.

“We say that the spire is ‘Better than a barrel’ because the surface area ratio of oak wood to liquor is higher with our spire than a barrel. It makes a superior whiskey. It’s an evolution in whiskey making that we’ve perfected and patented.” added Joe Giildenzopf.

Ezra Zion will introduce a line of Oak & Eden whiskey inspired cigars. Each project will be blended as the optimum cigar pairing for each whiskey release.

“No doubt we’re going to be flooded with emails about this. We’d ask each of you to follow @OakAndEden on Instagram and like Oak & Eden on Facebook. We’ll be posting regularly to keep you up to date on everything Oak & Eden.” added Hoover.

(Courtesy of Cigar Federation Press Release)

For more detailed information visit

Changes on the way…Stay tuned

As we continue to expand and grow I have decided to bring on some help. If you are not yet a member of our Facebook group, hit us up and join the club. I will be bringing on reviews from other people to keep content coming. I am also working with a couple of people to bring in reviews of craft beer and spirits (mainly whiskey/bourbon). My goal is to bring as much content to you as possible and keep thing interesting.

If you have any suggestions on content you would like to see, please feel free to reach out here and let me know. I look forward to what’s next and I hope you will keep up the support.

Thanks for the support! Long ashes and full glasses friends!

Mbombay Gaaja Maduro Torpedo

I want to first start by apologizing to Mel Shah, owner of Bombay Tobak, for taking so long to get this done. I wanted to make sure I gave this the appropriate time to do this right. I appreciate your support and your patience.

I stumbled upon Mbombay cigars at a local shop here in North Carolina and was happy that I did. I have seen them online in a few places and have been intrigued to try them. They did not disappoint. What disappoint me was that when I went back to said shop, they were sold out! Fortunately I was able to score some and have been dying to review them. Finally that day has come. A little about Bombay Tobak before we jump in.

“Cigars, for us, are a way of life. The philosophy is simple – use the best tobaccos to make cigars of the highest quality.Our cigars aim to emulate the fabled cigar culture of Cuba. From selecting prime tobaccos to controlling the intimate details of the aging process, we take multiple factors into consideration to help produce a truly unique smoking experience. Our cigars are hand-rolled in Costa Rica by some of the most experienced hands in the industry and feature intricate bands representative of the artistic nature of our craft.MBombay was born at the hands of a former IT professional turned cigar store owner with a passion for tobacco. We apply that same attention to detail to each and every cigar, and have spent countless hours working to procure the finest tobaccos and produce a unique line of high-quality products.If asked why we began this journey, simply put – we felt something was missing. At Bombay Tobak, we concentrate on aging, proper fermentation, and the importance of patience. Using prime tobaccos and a process of experimentation, we’ve discovered creative processes to produce impeccable cigars at a reasonable price point. In a world of online discounts and freebie offers, we decided to walk a different path.We hope you’ll join us.” (Taken from the Bombay Tobak website)

Pronounced Gaa-ya, the Gaaja Maduro is available in 2 vitolas:

Maduro Torpedo (6 1/2 x 54) —$15.50 (Boxes of 10, $155)

MBombay Gaaja Maduro Toro (6 x 54) —$15.50 (Boxes of 10, $155)

Let’s jump into this one and see how it does.

Mbombay Gaaja Maduro Torpedo 6 1/2 x 54 MSRP $15.50

Wrapper: Brazilian Mata Fina

Binder: Ecuadorian Mata Fina

Filler: Dominican Criollo 98 Viso, Dominican HVA Mejorado Ligero, Ecuadorian Criollo 98 Viso, Paraguayan Hybri 2000 Viso, and Peruvian Hybrid Habano

Country of Origin: Costa Rica

Whew! That’s a ton of different tobacco! No wonder the original blend was a 4 year process!

Appearance: This is a beautiful box press cigar with a dark brown wrapper with very tight seams and small veins. The band really stands out against the silky smooth wrapper and gives it a very nice appearance.

Pre-light: The cigar feels firm with no soft spots but feels fairly light in the hand. The box press really works well and feels nice when you hold it. From the wrapper I pick up notes of natural tobacco, earth and a faint cocoa. From the foot I pick up wood, earth and hay. I use a straight cut and the cold draw offers a slight resistance but it is near perfect. I get notes of wood, straw, pepper and a light sweetness. It’s certainly intriguing. Let’s get flame to this and see what we get.

1st Third: Right out of the gate I get a ton of cedar, a cocoa/mocha note, some pepper and a floral, almost grassy note. Very interesting blend to say the least. As I move about 1/4 inch in, I pick up some spice, cedar, earth and pepper. The floral note is subdued but certainly still there. I cannot pinpoint what it is but it brings a unique flavor to the palate. The draw is perfect, not tight, not airy. I am getting huge clouds of thick white smoke from each puff. The burn line has a slight wave to it with a small ash flake. I am very intrigued with the flavor profile. Strength is a solid medium.

2nd Third: As I move into the halfway point a nice creamy cocoa/dark chocolate note appears, the pepper and cedar are a bit more subtle but still linger in the background. This is a creamy, smooth cigar with a ton of flavors. Burn is on cruise control. A bit wavy but nothing requiring a touch-up at this point. Performance is still excellent. Ash holds for about 3/4 of an inch. The chocolate, coffee notes really take shape with the pepper and cedar keeping the profile balanced. I am really enjoying this smoke.

Final Third: Another interesting transition as we head to the finish. The cedar and pepper take the front of the profile. The chocolate is more of a mocha/espresso type flavor. Although the flavors have switched up from time to time, the cigar remains balanced and nothing really jumps off the charts as far as changes. It all just works. The blend flows beautifully from third to third and certainly makes it interesting. The wavy burn worked itself out without and is slightly crooked but no issues at all. The draw remained perfect and the smoke production was the same as the first third. I had some flaking from the ash but nothing terrible.

As I come to the end of this cigar I am left still intrigued by it. It is certainly complex but remained smooth and never got above a medium – medium plus in strength.

Final thoughts: I really liked this cigar. It is a beautiful cigar that is very complex but stays smooth and enjoyable. I don’t think new smokers would pick up on the complexity of this cigar so I recommend this for experienced palates. It is a full medium to medium plus but is packed with flavor. This one will keep you intrigued. This was my first time with this cigar and I look forward to trying it again when I can sit down and just enjoy it. I paired this with water as I always do when I try a new cigar but this would pair nicely with a number of spirits. I am not sure I would go with anything super heavy as it would likely overpower the flavors in the cigar but I could see it going nicely with a nice port wine and perhaps a dessert whiskey like Bastille.

I recommend trying this cigar and see what you think. For me, I will certainly purchase more. The sticker price is a bit of a shocker until you fully understand what makes this cigar. This was a 4 year process with the finest tobacco from 5 different countries. I could see this cigar going for more and it would be worth it.

Mbombay has been under the radar for most people for awhile and I hope reviews like this one help to shine some light on a great brand making some incredible cigars.

I hope you enjoyed my take on the Mbombay Gaaja Maduro. Until next time…long ashes and full glasses friends. Peace.