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SCENE : Of Lemony Noses, Squidgy Pears and a Toffee-Ending Ozone

November 16, 1995|CHARLES PERRY

Cigar smokers aren't the sort of people to take smoking regulations lying down. First they inspired restaurants to have cigar nights. Now they have cigar clubs that serve them more or less as bars for smoking.

And as Grandmother always warned, where there are cigars, there's whiskey. Havana Studio, a new cigar club in Burbank, made the connection as explicit as can be recently with a tasting of six vintages, you might call them, of Bowmore, the well-known single-malt Scotch, under the sponsorship of Red Carpet Liquors.

The club room, wisely painted cigar-smoke tan, features a huge, impressive humidor filled with rentable locker drawers. When you want to light up a cigar, you saunter over to a cool-looking brass structure, something like a small water pump, and haul back a handle in a motion a bit like the one used in drawing a pint of ale. With a satisfying snap, out comes a gentle flame just meant for a stogie.

Apparently, what members do here is sit around smoking cigars, talking about cigars and having the occasional drink from the bar. It seems to be a full life and not totally a guy thing; there was about one woman to every 12 men that night.

James McEwan, the general manager of Bowmore Distillery, was lecturing about single-malt Scotch, particularly those from the island of Islay, while wearing a kilt without the slightest self-consciousness. It turns out that Bowmore is accented on the second syllable, and Islay is pronounced EYE-luh. Bowmore is the second oldest licensed (that is, legal) distillery in Scotland (1779) and does a lot of old-fashioned stuff like making its own malt on the premises, which involves having guys shovel barley around in a big room 24 hours a day most of the year.

Islay whiskeys are known for a powerful peat-smoke quality and often a tang of iodine. Bowmore is not very high in the iodine ratings, but it has a particular specialty in offering lots of vintages of whiskey. These are some of McEwan's comments on them.

The 8-year-old: "peaty, a geranium nose."

The 12-year-old: "a lemony nose, I find chocolate and pears--soft, squidgy pears."

The 17-year-old: "peat smoke, dark chocolate and exotic fruits. . . . Hints of lemon and digestive biscuits."

The 21-year-old: "sherry sweetness, with lots of heather smokiness and nice hazelnut dryness mixing well with a salt tang."

The 25-year-old: "Plenty of sherry[-like flavor], but surely as night follows day, you will find gradually, the oak, the smoke, the brine, the ozone ending with toffee and hazelnut."

The tasting ended with small amounts of a very rare 30-year-old Black Bowmore, which combined the authority of a very old Armagnac with a whiff of Scottish smoke and astringency.

Here's an interesting fact. When you spend a couple of hours in a cigar club, and you're not smoking a cigar--in fact, only maybe half a dozen guys are smoking cigars--your clothes can pick up so much smoke that the next day your car still smells of them.

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