Contributed by Jonathan Detore
In a mahogany-adorned cigar and whiskey lounge, you release a sigh, and with it the day’s stresses, as the aged leather of your comfortably worn chair welcomes you. A glass of Scotch sits on the table to your right, awaiting a warm hand to claim it as its own. The chatter of other patrons seems to diminish around you as you wonder with anticipation how the next few hours will carry on. In an ashtray just inches from the glass lays a premium hand-rolled cigar. Carefully roasting the foot to perfection, the billowing smoke begins to dance across the room, filling every corner with the aroma of rich tobacco. As you savor the flavor of your first puff and gently allow the smoke to escape your mouth, you finally adopt the patiently waiting Scotch after allowing it to breathe, bring it to your lips, and enjoy a long-awaited first sip. The silky smooth flavors of the Scotch and cigar marry on your palate, bringing a whole new meaning to the word “complexity,” as the aroma of the now resting cigar completely rounds out the experience.
It’s a story that never gets old to those who enjoy a cigar with the perfect spirit. The mingling of flavors shared and contrasted between the two, the aroma, and relaxed atmosphere is a recipe for a great night relaxing with friends. But finding the right pairing is highly important, and there are a few tips you should follow when preparing for a night of leisure.
Typically in the cigar world, straight brown liquor pairings such as Whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon, Brandywine, or Dark Rum are highly preferred to alternative options such as Vodka or Tequila simply due to the fact that cigars and brown liquor share a wide array of tasting notes. From earthy, sweet, malt, floral, fruity, spice, and more, it’s relatively easy to find a spirit and cigar that match up with each other based on this broad range of flavors. That is not to say a cocktail with a vodka or tequila base is out of the question. But in terms of finding a pairing to enjoy straight or on the rocks with a stogie, brown liquor reigns supreme.
The easiest part of choosing a pairing is simply starting with the libation you want to enjoy during your down time, and you’re halfway there. But with literally thousands of cigar brands on the market, many with multiple lines or blends, picking the right stogie to pair with your spirit can seem a bit daunting. However, if you have an understanding of the base flavor categories of the variety of liquor you choose along with a basic understanding of the base flavors found in cigars, it’s actually pretty easy. The rule of thumb for a complementary, or mirroring, pairing is simple: match the dominant base flavor with a cigar that shares that dominant base flavor. Spicy spirits go with spicy cigars, sweet spirits go with sweet cigars, and so on.
If you select a malty Irish Whiskey, try to find a cigar that shares that same base flavor. A proper cigar recommendation would be something with a hint of charred wood or bread, which makes a great deal of mild Connecticut wrapped cigars, such as the Romeo y Julieta House of Capulet, a good choice. If you picked a powerful peaty Scotch, try something with a heavy woody note to match the floral base. Something like the A Flores Gran Reserva which comes packaged in a cedar sleeve to marry a wonderful woody flavor with the cigar comes to mind, or for a spot on pairing, one of the many cigars aged in oak casks such as the Camacho American Barrel Aged.
There are also contrasting pairings that open a whole new door to the pairing realm which can be rather confusing for a beginner. To gain a better understanding of this concept, let’s take a trip over into the world of food: a proper complementary pairing would be spicy tacos and hot sauce. However, if you’re looking for a contrasting flavor addition, it’s recommended to squeeze a wedge of lime over your tacos. The citrus cuts the spice to bring out flavors from the cilantro and other ingredients, as well as gives you a wonderfully sweet flavor of lime. In essence, a contrasting pairing does a good job introducing you to the more hidden flavors in your dish, and thus adding more complexity to your meal. The same applies for spirits and cigars. Find a spirit you want to enjoy, and pick a cigar that might tone down one of the dominant flavors in your libation to bring out a flood of hidden flavors.
The trick to a great contrasting pairing is finding which flavors you want to cut, and which you want to enhance. If a Scotch has a wonderful fruity note that you feel is being drowned out by a strong peaty note, it would be wise to find a cigar that not only can cut the peaty flavor, but also enhance the fruitiness. In this case, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest something such as the Aging Room Maduro. With a good amount of baker’s spice present in the overall flavor of the cigar, the peaty notes of a Scotch should subside, leaving the fruity notes of your Scotch to mingle with the natural flavors of dark cherries and apple found in the cigar.
At the end of the day, cigar and spirit pairing is a matter of educating yourself on flavors, experimenting, and in some cases, a good deal of luck. But by simply understanding how to work with and find your personally-desired complementary pairings, moving to contrasting pairings shouldn’t be a hard next-step to take, and can make your downtime more enjoyable and relaxing than ever thought possible. Let me know what you favorite pairing is in the comments below, and stay smoky. Cheers!
Jonathan Detore is a craft beer-sipping, sports-watching stogie lover, writing every day about anything and everything cigar-related as Copywriter for Cigar Advisor Magazine and www.famous-smoke.com. From what you should smoke on the golf course to what pairing goes with your favorite cigar, he’s covered it all and more.