Mastering the art of Pairing Cigars with Whisky
For enthusiasts of cosmopolitan delights, there’s a remarkable synergy between a fine cigar’s smoky tones and the subtle notes of tobacco, leather and baked fruity notes in whisky. When thoughtfully paired, these two delights can boost each other, creating an exceptional sensory experience. Like pairing bitter-sweet dark chocolate with a Sherried single malt or seafood with coastal-maritime whiskies such as Oban, Glen Scotia or Clynelish. So, what could go wrong with cigars and Scotch whisky?
First things first: A bit of History
Whisky and cigars have a long and celebrated history of being paired together. According to Damian Enders, the co-owner of Cigar and Lounge in Boston, this iconic pairing is believed to have originated during the Anglo-Spanish War (1779-1783), when Great Britain and Spain were fighting against France. Rumours suggest that the British supplied Scotch whisky. At the same time, the Spaniards brought their cherished Cuban cigars, creating a trend that moved from traditional pipe tobacco to the combined practice of smoking a cigar while sipping whisky.
Moreover, the Americas and the Caribbean also played a significant role in pairing cigars with whisky and other brown spirits. In 1885, Oscar Hammerstein, a famous tycoon, invented and patented the first cigar-rolling machine in New York City, while whisk(e)y and rum production evolved in the continental US and the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th centuries.
So, why do so many like to pair the two today?
Believe it or not, many flavour characteristics found in whisky can be easily replicated in a wide variety of cigars. For example, full-bodied Sherried whiskies emphasising winey, nutty, leathery or chocolatey notes share similar elements with strong cigars. We suggest a robust and spicy Cuban cigar wrapped in Maduro leaves and a whisky that matches its flavour, such as GlenAllachie 12, GlenDronach 15 or Macallan 18. Based on my experience, a full-bodied cigar like Partagas goes particularly well with Ledaig 18-year-old. This whisky is not only rich and full-bodied with many of the flavour characteristics mentioned before, but it also offers a beautiful smoky touch that enhances the pairing experience even more.
Pairing cigars and whisky can be compared to a well-orchestrated symphony, which aims to find complementary notes. Scotch whisky is highly respected for its diverse flavour profiles, ranging from peaty and smoky to fruity and floral. Similarly, cigars come in different strengths and flavours, from mild and delicate to robust and full-bodied. Knowing the tasting notes in both will help you create more pleasant combinations.
Tips for Pairing: Intensity
A cigar’s flavour intensity is determined by its wrappers and fillings, which can be categorised as strong, medium, or light. Most of the world’s light and strong tobacco, known as filler, comes from Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. According to Lee Ringelheim, owner of Soho Cigar Bar in Manhattan, the wrappers, also known as tobacco leaves, contribute up to 60% of the cigar’s flavour, and they are classified according to their body, ranging from Maduro (strong) to Natural (light).
When it comes to pairing cigars with whisky, it’s essential to consider the strength and flavour of both. For a lighter, milder cigar, it’s best to pair it with a delicate and softer single malt like Ardmore or Cu Bocan. These whiskies have floral and light citrus notes combined with a gentle touch of smokiness that perfectly complement the mildness of a Dominican cigar in a Natural wrapper or a Connecticut-wrapped cigar without overpowering them.
Speyside whiskies like Benriach The Smoky 12 or Meikle Toir The Sherry One are the way to go for medium-bodied cigars, such as those with Ecuadorian or Sumatran wrappers. These whiskies have a middle level of smokiness in combination with fruitier and spicier undertones that complement the cigar’s complexness.
Cigars that have a Maduro or Habano wrapper and are robust and full-bodied, mix well with peaty/smoky single malt whisky, such as Port Charlotte or Octomore from the Isle of Islay. These are excellent choices as their bold and heavily peated attributes complement the intensity of the cigar, creating a rich and flavorful combination.
Last, contrasting flavours can work well for those who love significant contrasts and more daring combinations. In this particular case, consider a sweeter type of whisky with a substantial presence of vanilla, caramel and toffee notes, such as Bunnahabhain 12, Glen Grant 10 or Glen Moray 12, which can beautifully contrast a peppery Nicaraguan cigar wrapped in Maduro, creating an enjoyable mix of sweet and spicy notes.
Pairing Cigars with other drinks?
If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide on pairing cigars, whisky and other drinks, check out “Cigar & Whisky: More Great Cigar Pairings“. This guide offers valuable information on perfecting the art of cigar pairing. You’ll learn about great combinations, get practical tips, and receive insightful recommendations on enhancing your cigar and whisky pairing experience. Alternatively, if you are more into vaping, Provape offers a wide range of products you can check out here.
Pairing cigars with whisky is a pleasant journey of exploration. There are no strict rules, only guidelines that can enhance your experience. It’s essential to be open to experimentation, savour each sip and draw, and allow your palate to guide you towards your perfect pairing. As your preferences evolve, so will your appreciation for this harmonious marriage of indulgence.