For the cigar aficionado, there are few combinations of taste and scent that can compare to the rich and deep sensations that come from smoking a fine cigar. If one were to try to enhance that sacred experience, the best way to go about it would be by pairing the cigar with a fine spirit that truly complements its characteristics.
A great cigar and the right classic drink can strike the perfect balance, but both need to be afforded the same respect. This cigar pairing guide will help you learn some of the general dos and don’ts of cigar pairing and give you some ideas of the best combinations for you to try out.
The Art of Experimenting
Before getting into particular recommendations and general rules to pair cigars by, bear in mind that what you will enjoy is ultimately subjective. Cigar experts may have a cigar and drink pairings that they swear up and down by, but personal taste is just that, personal. Traditional pairings that you see in the movies could easily not suit your fancy, so be sure to try some combinations for yourself.
If you have no idea where to get started, this cigar pairing guide will give you some good ideas for drink pairings. After you taste test for yourself, you will at the very least have a better idea of what other combinations you might like to attempt.
Best Practices of Cigar Pairing
While the best pairings are very specific to the individual, cigar experts have two common philosophies for properly pairing cigars with alcoholic beverages. One school of thought suggests that you pair cigars with drinks that best complement the cigar’s taste when combined. The other, in contradiction, states that the best pairings are those where the cigar’s flavors and drink of choice have a greater contrast, bringing out specific notes that would not otherwise be noticed.
As the name would suggest, complementary pairings are ones in which the cigar and alcoholic beverage have some flavor or aromatic notes in common. For example, those who prefer complementary cigar pairings would suggest that full-bodied cigars be paired with a heavier full-bodied beverage like some whiskies and wines.
A lighter and sharper cigar, on the other hand, would be better paired with a refreshing beer or light cocktail. Pairing in this way is the more common of the two methods but try for yourself to see if it suits you. If not, give some contradictory pairings a try.
Those who follow the contradictory method find that when pairing cigars and drinks that contrast one another, one will bring out the nuanced notes of the other. In this case, a lighter or more mellow cigar will bring out the deep flavor notes of an earthy wine or bourbons aged in wooden barrels.
Alternatively, a light beer or white wine could be light and airy enough to bring out the rich flavors of the tobacco leaves in full-bodied cigars. The bigger difference between the two methods of pairing cigars is that in a complementary pairing, both the cigar and drink equally star in the oral experience. In a contradictory pairing, either the cigar or drink will, ultimately, triumph over the other.
Classic Spirits to Pair With
You do not have to stick to classic alcoholic beverages for cigar pairing, but there is certainly a reason that they are classics. If you are new to pairing cigars and drinks, there are a few drinks that have been tried and tested over the years and are a great place to get started.
If you plan to make a habit of pairing cigars, consider taking notes of the combinations you have tried as you go. Whatever suggestions are made to you, your taste buds will be the final judge.
Whiskies of all kinds are famously the most popular drinks to pair with cigars, and for good reason. The layers of flavor in a deep whiskey tend to bring out the best notes of a bold cigar. Single malt scotch whiskey, Irish whiskey, and bourbon have deep rich accents that cigar lovers cannot get enough of.
Stronger liquors like bourbon and other whiskeys often pair best with similarly strong cigars. Great rye whiskey can also hit all of the same notes as a full-bodied spicy cigar. Smokey whiskeys, surprisingly, are not very popular for pairing with cigars. For some, the combination of smoke flavor can be overwhelming to the taste buds, so most will opt for a rich flavored, but clean-tasting whiskey.
Whiskey has a rich history of being paired with cigars and is the best place for you to get started if you are not sure what your preferences are, assuming you enjoy a glass of whiskey in general.
Wine is another classic pairing for cigars, ranging anywhere from a full-bodied red wine to a sparkling prosecco. Heavy-bodied reds tend to be paired more often with strong cigars, whereas a lighter and brighter white wine would be more commonly paired with mild, light-bodied cigars.
While this general guideline may be helpful for finding the perfect combination of flavors, pairing cigars with wine leaves a little more room for error. The sweetness of wine almost always creates the perfect balance with the bitter smoky flavors of nearly any cigar.
Tequila and Mezcal
Unlike some other clear liquors such as gin and vodka, tequila is not too overpowering to pair with your cigars. While they are a less common choice for pairings, there are certain occasions that may call for it.
Tequila Blanco tends to pair well with bold-flavored cigars. Aged tequilas such as a Reposado or Añejo will better complement a richer aged cigar, though not with the lemon or lime that might usually suit the drinks. While mezcal can be paired well with a cigar, similar to smoky whiskey, the combination of smoked flavors can be overwhelming on the palette.
Hailing from the same regions of the world that cigars do, rum is another natural pairing for cigar lovers. Spiced rums tend to pair excellently with spicy cigars and those with sweeter undertones, especially if they have a stronger heavy-bodied flavor.
As one might expect, Cuban rum is the classic companion beverage for a Cuban cigar. Even if dark rum is not your usual drink of choice, the pairing is certainly worth giving a try.
Cognac and Brandy
Just a few notes off of rum, cognac, and brandy are two more alcoholic drinks that never miss when paired with milder or medium-bodied cigars. The smokiness of the cigar, when paired with the sweetness of a cognac or brandy coating your mouth, creates a blissful experience of both taste and physical sensation.
Cognac and brandy cigar pairings are the ideal entry-level combination for those who do not care much for the taste of whiskey. If you prefer mixed cocktails to straight liquor, those with cognac also make for great cigar pairing, such as a Sazerac cocktail.
Coffee and Chocolate
While not always part of an alcoholic drink, coffee is one of the most famous flavors to combine with the richness of tobacco. The flavor of a lighter tobacco cigar tends to go better with lighter morning roasts, while sweeter and stronger cigars tend to find a great balance with bitter darker coffee roasts. A good strong mocha or hot chocolate will also tend to hit those same bittersweet notes, making them a great combination with spicier cigars.
Not only are coffee and chocolate two ideal flavors to pair with your cigars, but they also make some of the best cocktails to pair with as well. Even a simple coffee cocktail like an Irish coffee (black coffee with Irish whiskey) will be a perfect pick-me-up on cold winter months when paired with bold, strong cigars. Irish cream and other coffee liquors also make for great cocktails when paired with black coffee and rich chocolate beverages.
Whether you opt for a cocktail or just want a warm drink in your hand to go with your cigar, coffee and chocolate are earthy and rich and make for a perfect pairing on a cool night.
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