Pairing Cigars with Life
If there’s one thing that can be said about cigar smokers, it’s that we like to live life with gusto. We’re generally not the type to be content to sit on the sidelines watching others savor all the goodness life has to offer. We’re enthusiastic about the things we enjoy. Fine cigars, sure. But also, the food we eat, the beverages we drink. How we spend our precious leisure time. We thought it would be a good idea to dive into some of the things we enjoy pairing our cigars with. This multipart blog will cover food and drink, but also some of our favorite activities we happen to enjoy cigars with. For this first installment, we’re going to stick to the drinks with pair cigars with.
Cigars with Liquor
When you hear about pairing a cigar with something else, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is usually scotch, bourbon or cognac. These are natural stablemates for several reasons. Lots of us see our smoking time as a reward. A time to relax and reflect on the day’s accomplishments. Perhaps to carefully consider a business maneuver. Enjoying cigars with friends is also high on the list. All of these are also times when we might savor a smoky Speyside single malt or a small batch craft bourbon whiskey. The pairing of fine cigars with certain liquors was inevitable. So, let’s explore that further.
Cigars with Whiskey and Whisky
Why’d we say whiskey twice? Many of you will know this, bit for those who don’t. In short, Whisky is from Scotland. Scotch Whisky. Whiskey with an ‘e’ refers to most other whiskey’s including bourbon. Scotch and bourbon are two of the most popular libations we pair cigars with. There are several reasons for that. Historical and cultural proximity is a big one. When cigars were really becoming popular in the western world, scotch and bourbon and other whiskeys were popular too. The other reason is much more interesting, however. Whiskey and whisky have extraordinarily complementary flavor profiles when you compare them with cigars. Indeed, we even use many of the same terms to describe the flavors of Scotch and bourbon as we do cigars.
- Roasted coffee
Scotch and Cigar Pairing
See what we mean? The flavor profiles are inherently compatible and complementary. There’s a knack to pairing. When it comes to Scotch, people usually go one of two routes. They either match flavor profiles, say caramel with caramel or they look for complimentary pairings, like pairing a peaty or spicy Scotch with a milder, creamy or vanilla-toned cigar. There’s no wrong way to do this. Your palate is the canvas and you wield the paintbrush here. Explore. Experiment. See what you like. With that fresh in your mind, here are two combinations we suggest:
Oscar Valladares Altar Q Toro and Oban 14 Years Old
The Altar Q Toro is medium in intensity with an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper that introduces dried fruit, cream and a whiff of cedar. Oban 14’s rich, mature fruits and honeyed spice flavors dovetail very nicely with this cigar. This is example of parallel flavor profiles. While the flavors complement one another, neither will totally overshadow its partner. Together they create an entirely unique experience that equals more than the sum of its parts.
Illusione Cruzado and Balvenie 14-Year-Old Caribbean Cask
The Illusione Cruzado features a robust Nicaraguan Corojo ’99 Rosado wrapper and all-Nicaraguan fillers. It’s a bolder smoke that announces itself with the rich flavors of black pepper, roasted nuts, coffee beans and fresh earth. The Balvenie 14-Year-Old Caribbean Cask is a smooth Speyside single malt that has a notable rum fore note that hits the palate early, backed by vanilla and a hint of sweet fruit. This would be an example of contrasting flavor profiles that complement one another. The Scotch complements the cigar without stealing the spotlight.
Cigars with Bourbon Pairing
Bourbon is America’s Whiskey. Distilled primarily from corn, it carries a seductive sweetness backed with strong notes of oak and vanilla. We think bourbon’s inherent mellowness makes it a nice co-star for a spicy or peppery cigar. But like we said, there’s no wrong way to do this. Trust your intuition here. You know your cigars. Introduce them to some craft bourbons and see if the stars align. Bourbon’s prominent flavors being more familiar, many it takes less work to find a cigar to match than it does with the more complex flavor profiles of Scotch whisky. Here are two cigars with two bourbons we think play nicely off each other:
Drew Estate Liga Privada No. 9 and Starlight Double Oaked Carl T. Bourbon
The Drew Estate Liga Privada No 9. is, in a word, special. One of our favorite cigars with seven different tobaccos wrapped in a deep dark oily maduro wrapper, it’s got a complex, spicy flavor profile that will captivate even a seasoned aficionado. The Starlight bourbon reminds us of eating an apple fritter with vanilla icing while sitting next to a campfire. Its mellow warm sugar is always present but ever mindful that the Liga Privada is the headliner.
Drew Estate 20 Acre Farm and Town Branch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
The Drew Estate 20 Acre Farm is balanced and smooth with a luxuriantly buttery undertone and complexities of oak and cedar. We think the Town Branch Kentucky Straight Bourbon’s rich caramel and black cherry with just hint of cinnamon, cardamon and oak compliments it nicely. This is a pairing with slightly smoother flavors for those who appreciate a little subtlety without sacrificing complexity.
Other Liquors and Libations
While Scotch and Bourbon are among the most common libations, we enjoy cigars with, there’s other choices to combine your cigars with that are absolutely worth exploring. Consider rum, cognac, port or even an ice cold, hoppy IPA. There’s a universe of flavor combinations out there so let your imagination roam free and explore some possibilities. Here’s a few we like.
Cigars and Cognac
Cognac is one of the perennial classic digestifs people enjoy cigars with after a meal, but cognac and cigars go well together just about any time at all. If you’re looking to marry cigars with cognac, we find the Ashton Symmetry line a great place to start. In our experience, cognac pairs nicely with cigars that are neither too strong nor too mild. Toasted nuts and cocoa flavors are also pleasing to the palate combined with the spicy-sweet mature fruit flavor notes cognac possesses. The Rocky Patel 1990 Vintage Toro would be another one of the cigars with those qualities.
Cigars and Port Wine
This combination has been around ages. Port is richer and more powerful than ordinary wine, while retaining depth and sweetness even after decades in the cask. Veteran cigar smokers well know that a desert port with an excellent cigar after a fine meal is a true thing of beauty. If you’re looking for inspiration, we think Ashton VSG Tres Mystique are great cigars with to enjoy a glass of port
Cigars and Rum
Not only are cigars and rum from the same part of the world, but a good dark rum’s mature sugar and spice is just right as a partner with a cigar. They make beautiful music together. As far as rums to enjoy cigars with, we like rich, dark rums like Eximo Facundo or Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva paired with milder, creamier naturals like the Espinosa Crema No. 1.
Cigars and Beer
The world’s your oyster when it comes to pairing cigars with beer. These are two worlds that both have a tremendous variety of flavor profiles and styles. We could probably write an entire book about the possibilities there. Again, it’s really up to your individual taste what works best together. There isn’t necessarily a right and wrong way to paid cigars with beer. We’ll tell you what we have learned as general rules though.
Matching the wrapper to the beer is a good idea. The wrapper contributes up to 90% of the flavor of a cigar. The style of beer is often indicated by color. In other words, lighter beers pair with lighter cigars. Medium with medium and combine your dark maduros and stronger cigars with dark, heavy beers like stouts, porters and barleywines and such. This seems to make the most sense to us. Lambics and sour fruit-based beers are tricky to pair with a cigar, so bear that in mind too.
Hey, What About Cigars Smokers Who Don’t Drink?
Don’t worry, we see you! Stay tuned. Part 3 in this series that explores mocktails and non-alcoholic drink pairing with cigars.
Smoke Inn is Your Cigar Shop
We hope you got some ideas from our exploration of pairings of cigars with Scotch whisky, bourbon, port, cognac, rum and beer. “Cigars With…” will be a multipart series so be sure to tune in for the next chapter which will cover food pairing and a third installment about non-alcoholic beverage pairings. As we’ve said before, we think of cigars as an experience.
Pairing cigars with food and drink or really anything that engages the senses can heighten the experience of smoking a cigar and bring new dimension to it. Many of us do this already, perhaps without really realizing it. Grabbing hold of this idea by the reins can lead to some pretty cool discoveries, so we definitely recommend broadening your horizons as far as pairing cigars with other flavor experiences if you’re not already doing it. And hey, if you’re local or happen to be visiting South Florida, be sure to reward yourself with a visit to one of the country’s best cigar shops in person. We’d love to see you.
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