I have been asked by multiple followers of mine, both online and in person, to write-up my personal guide to pairing drinks with cigars. I will do my best to write a single, comprehensive, article on the art (or some call ‘science’) of pairing your delicious cigar with a beverage. You will also find at the end a sample list of my favourite pairings. So let us dive in!
When your among cigar and pipe smokers and the topic of pairing comes up your typically get mixed opinions, some say that you can drink whatever you feel like when you smoke your cigar, other will be extreme on the opposite faction and say to drink nothing because it naturally diminishes the natural flavour of the cigar. I think that both sides have a point. I tend to agree with the former, in that you should obviously enjoy a beverage of your choice, but the other side has a point to. If you drink anything but water (that being anything that has a flavour) you will naturally disturb the oils and flavours that the smoke from the cigar leaves in your mouth, thus diminishing the flavours and nuances. However, we can tolerate a particular loss of nuance, particularly if you smoked that particular cigar before, if we choose the right drink which accentuate particular flavour profiles. This is the art of pairing!
Complimenting and Contrasting
There are two main theories when pairing your cigar with a drink. You can choose a particular to complement a flavour(s) your cigar posses, or you can choose one that contrasts the flavour(s). For example, let’s assume my cigar has a dominant cedar profile (meaning that the taste of cedar is the main flavour), I can compliment this flavour by drinking something that has a cedar (or other wood) flavour in it, say an oak cask aged Scotch whisky or an old oak aged wine. That is called complimenting. On the other hand, we can also contrast our flavours. If I had the same cigar with a cedar profile, I can diminish that flavour by drinking something sweet like a port, or bold like a peated Scotch. Both of these can easily overpower the delicate cedar profile. Contrasting is typically a good idea when the profile of a cigar is naturally bold, and the smoker wants to mellow it out with a delicious drink.
Both theories of practice are acceptable, the question is under what circumstances do you choose one theory of the other, and what should we drink to have the most enjoyable experience?
You don’t have to be a sommelier to be able to enjoy a nice glass of wine with you stogie. The question is which one best suits which cigar? Wine typically is a very bold and flavourful choice of beverage to pair with your cigar, because of this we have to be careful not to choose something that can ruin our enjoyment of cigar. I have noticed that white wine is a great choice when smoking Cuban cigars for example.
Cuban cigars tend to be the most ‘cedary’ cigars on the market. Their unique habanos aroma compliments the sweet (and even dry) white wine profile. Cuban cigars are typically very delicate in their aroma, and stick to very strict blending profiles. It is best to also choose a delicate drink to enjoy with it, a sweet and dry white is a great choice.
Good red wines are typically as complex and nuanced as cigars are. Because of this we have to keep in mind that the very nature of pairing two powerfully flavourful items will hinder some flavours and embolden others. Bold red wines such as Amarone, Barolo, Ripasso and Cabernet Sauvignon are great choices when smoking equally bold cigars, typically maduro cigars that posses potent flavours. Also, the high sugar content in these delicious reds helps to counteract the effects of nicotine, which would otherwise give many aficionados light headedness and sometimes nausea.
However, if you are looking to contrast some flavours I would suggest grabbing a bottle of your favourite Barolo and light up a Davidoff 2000 or your favourite Cuban robusto. The oak flavours that Cuban cigars produce near the end of the final third contrasts well with the sweet strength of the red.
This is one of my favourite categories for pairing. The category of fortified wine is long but I want to focus on Port mainly, as well as Ice-wine (although not typically considered ‘fortified’). The main attribute that these two forms of wine posses is their consistency as well as rich sweetness. It’s that thicker consistency, as well as their palate cleansing property’s that allow them to enrich the flavours of equally bold cigars. Let us use some examples. I would really drink a port (unless it’s a lighter white port) with a light cuban cigar, the sweetness will overpower the dryer aged tobacco and cedar notes, however Cuban cigars tend to become rich near the end of the final third, thus you can pour yourself a glass and pair it then if you wish. One of my favourite sticks to pair with port is the Alec Bradley Prensado which is an extremely bold and rich cigar from beginning to end. Drinking anything that is not sweet, rich or thick enough can be boring when your smoking such a fulfilling stick for 2+ hours.
Perhaps the most popular category of cigar pairing drinks, spirits like scotch whisky and brandy/cognac are the signature drinks that you see cigar aficionados handling. There is good reason for this, these types of drinks typically have such complex nuances that the cigar smoke helps to surface out, and vice versa. Scotch whisky for examples comes in dozens of profiles, perhaps you want to pair a dry earthy cigar with a peated scotch to bring out the salt and wood notes in the cigar. Likewise, Brandy and Cognac are usually sweeter in profile, and thus you can play around with those also. Although that is not my choice of drink, people enjoy a glass of pear Brandy with their mild-medium bodies cigars to compliment the light wood and caramel notes. Bourbon is also an interesting choice since they are double-distilled and smoked. That latter characteristic makes it an ideal candidate for pairing since the smokiness that the bourbon possess matches well with medium-full bodies cigars. Careful not to choose a cigar that too light, bourbon is usually very potent and can easily overpower your delicious stogie.
This is becoming an ever more popular drink for pairing. Like I mentioned int he previous part, you typically think of a cigar smoker holding a Scotch in one hand and their cigar int he other. However there are many popular beers that are coming on the market that match very well with cigars. Although there are too many beers that we can mention here, let us simply stick to generalities. Firstly, like all the other pairing beverages, we should look for a beer that balances flavours well. For example, I wouldn’t drink Kronenburg 1664 Blanc with a Gurkha Ghost (not that I would smoke a Ghost) because the very light fruitiness of the beer will be easily subdued by the very earthy notes of the cigar. Thus, we have to look for a beer that would compliment the cigar, perhaps by subduing some of its flavour, or accentuating others. A strong stout beer like Guinness Extra Stout with its strong coffee and molasses notes would easily balance out the earthiness of a Gurkha Ghost. Likewise, wheat beers go very well with Cubans, the bread and coriander notes that are very easily found in wheat beers goes well with the cedar and wood aromas. Remember balance is key! A great way to determine what beer and cigar go best together, you can take a look at Famous Smoke Shop’s Cigar & Beer Pairing Guide.
My Favourite Pairings
Southbrook Organic (white) – paired with – Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure #2
Travaglini Gattinara 2009 Nebbiolo (red) – paired with – Padron 1964 Anniversary Presidente
Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Corvina Blend (red) – paired with – Alec Bradley Prensado Churchill
Valpantena Valpolicella Doc Valpolicella (red) – paired with – Cohiba Maduro 5 Genios
Laphroaig Quarter Cask Single Islay Malt (Scotch Whisky) – paired with – Padron Maduro 2000 Robusto
Lagavulin 16 Years Old Malt (Scotch Whisky) – paired with – Nate Sherman Timeless Classic Churchill
Glendronach 12 Years Old Single Highland Malt (Scotch Whisky) – paired with – My Father #1 Robusto
Dalwhinnie 15 Years Old (Scotch Whisky) – paired with – Ave Maria Lionheart
Hacker Pschorr Weisse Bier (wheat beer) – paired with – Montecristo #2
Schneider Weisse (wheat beer) – paired with – Trinidad Robusto T
Guinness Stout (stout) – paired with – ROMEO by R&J
Leffe Brune (roasted) – paired with – My Father La Antiguedad
Remember, pairing is all about balancing complimenting and contrasting flavours. In the end, pairing is all about personal taste, its yours to discover!
By: Steven Umbrello