Smoking a cigar on its own is something I rarely do. It is like drinking a glass of wine on its own without the right food – half the experience is missing. Try a good Australian dessert wine with the right blue vein cheese or the right red wine with a steak or a spicy pasta arrabbiata, and you will know what I am talking about. Its, as Nonno always says, “number one”.
Whisky, or whiskey, also adds a dimension to cigar smoking that I thoroughly enjoy. Having reviewed a number of cigars there are dozens upon dozens of cigars for every major flavour profile in the world of whisk(e)y – bourbon, rye, unpeated, peated, ex-sherry, ex-bourbon, wine finished, I can go on and on.
Despite the large number of cigars on the market, choosing the right cigar for your whisk(e)y is not that difficult if you follow these three commandments.
#1: Thou shalt accept that taste is subjective
Just as taste in whisk(e)y is subjective, so too is taste in cigar. This also means that whether a particular cigar and whisk(e)y combination “works” will depend on your personal taste. Cory Grover, of The Famous Smoke which has been selling cigars in New York city since 1939, says:
Pairing cigars with any libation first and foremost should enhance the smoking experience. Finding the perfect pair is always a personal preference. What you may think is a good combination may not be the best for someone else, everyone’s palate is different.
So, recommendations by people who claim to be experts should really just be viewed as a general guide to a fun exploration of whiskies and cigars. That said, there are a couple of rules which have held me in good stead when pairing whisk(e)y with cigars.
#2 Thou shalt match up flavours which the cigar and whisk(e)y have in common
This commandment kind of goes against the apple sauce and pork rule, mint jelly and lamb rule, and basically a lot of rules! But, despite popular opinion, whisk(e)y and cigars are not food. Grover suggests that ‘you need to enhance the smoking experience’, so, to get the most out of your pairing of a whisk(e)y and a cigar, ‘you could look at trying to match up certain flavor notes that both may have in common’.
That makes a lot of sense. It also makes me salivate thinking of the time I paired Eagle Rare 17 year old bourbon with a Perdomo Double Aged 12 year old cigar, which had been barrel aged for 10 years and then aged in ex-bourbon barrels for 2 years.
#3 Thou shalt match the body of a whisk(e)y with the body of a cigar
If you choose to smoke a full strength cigar with a light Scotch whisky, the whisky will probably get lost in the heavy taste of the smoke. This is why it is a good idea to pair full bodied cigars with more intensively flavoured whiskies, such as peated malts or cask strength whiskies, and light bodied cigars with lighter whiskies – you could try The Glenlivet, Dalwhinnie, etc. It is a good idea to pair whiskies and cigars that each have similar robustness and strength of character – its like matching Rocky with Mr T; you know it will be good entertainment.
The right cigar and whisk(e)y pairing is on Hulk Hogan v Ultimate Warrior proportions, to make you a bit nostalgic (if you’re old enough to smoke and afford cigars, you should remember these two greats of the wrestling world). Anyway, I digress. Sorry.
Back to business.
Pairing cigars and whisk(e)y is sometimes trial and error, but if you stick with the above guidelines then you are on your way to picking the right pairing. Partnering up with tobacconists and mixologists, The Famous Smoke has created The Ultimate Pairing Guide to help you on your cigar and whisk(e)y appreciation journey.
Enjoy the journey. Its a good one.