Below is the first of three Guest Articles we have for you on pairing cigars and alcoholic beverages. All three pieces have been written by Lindsay Heller and cover Spirits, Beer, and Wine. To prevent information overload, we have separated these articles by beverage type and will present them in the same manner. After reading what Lindsay has to say about pairing cigars and spirits, be sure to check back next week to see what she has in store for you on pairing cigars and beer.
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Pairings 101: Spirits
There is no reason to be intimidated when wanting to enjoy a favourite cigar with a favourite beverage: as long as you keep in mind why you like each consumable on its own, then you are almost guaranteed to figure out which cigar goes best with your drink of choice. The following is a basic overview of how to pair your cigars with spirits, beer and wine. (And for those of you who do not drink, I will give you a great, inexpensive tip: get yourself some good hot chocolate and a Padrón Londres and it is the tastiest total combo for under $10!)
For the sake of simplicity, I am going to focus on three commonly-consumed spirits: rum, single malts, and cognac. (If you are a vodka drinker pairing is not rocket science, but I will warn you that unless you are smoking something rather mild, the cigar will overpower the vodka. If you are a gin lover, then pretty much stick to EMS style smokes because EMS are essentially the gin of the cigar world.)
Rum can be a bit tricky to match accurately with a cigar, but this also depends on what kind you like to drink. I am personally a dark rum drinker and any rum lover will tell you clear rum is for mixed drinks while dark, aged rums are meant for neat consumption. Dark rums are naturally much deeper and sweeter since they receive their colouring from the molasses that remains leftover from the fermentation process, so a traditional maduro with overt spice is not the way to go. My recommendations for a smooth, dark rum would be a cigar that tends to have some natural creaminess or sweetness to it, i.e. Montecristo White Label (mild with hints of vanilla), Toraño 1959 Exodus (medium Cameroon with almost no spice & a bit of natural cane in the back of the draw), or if a maduro smoker virtually anything with a Mata Fina wrapper where there is a pleasant spicy-sweet quality to the smoke on your palette. Keep in mind rums come from countries that also produce cigars, so there are endless possibilities!
Single Malt Scotch
If you consider yourself a purveyor of fine cigars, then more than likely you have had scotch in your lifetime, and when done right, this pairing can be magical. While this marriage seems to be the most common after-dinner scenario, I find scotches tend to be the most mismatched with cigars overall these days on two fronts: (1) most people do not understand the complexity of a good scotch; and (2) the trend in the non-Cuban cigar market is maduro, maduro, maduro. The beauty of a good scotch is how a plethora of subtle nuances come together to form something unique and the last thing anyone should want to do is completely overpower their rather expensive drink. My advice to you would be to pick out one or two elements of your chosen scotch that would be enhanced by smoking a cigar in tandem.
Speaking from personal experience a wonderfully subtle element to bring out of a single malt is anise. If you are a fan of Laphroaig then their 18 Yr is the perfect match for an Illusione 888 cigar, where the Nicaraguan smoke made with ’99 Corojo seed comes with a super smooth draw and perfect anise points throughout. For a good scotch and cigar combination without breaking the bank, I highly recommend Nat Sherman’s Gotham Eastside Collection: the cigars themselves are medium-bodied but pack the flavours of something much fuller without having to have that extra body. The Eastsides commonly give the smoker pronounced hints of toasted nut, cedar and oak, and with that it goes quite well with Macallan Fine Oak Single Malt 10 Yr.
Some of the most commonly tasted notes in a cognac are vanilla, nuts, caramel and light florals, which when it comes to cigars you might be wondering how to make a successful pairing with such feminine flavours. While there is no full-proof trick, I have found over the years that the best cigars to have with your cognac are not those that share characteristics with the drink, but rather compliment them. One needs to keep in mind that VSOPs and XOs are the best to pair with a stogie, and in parallel the older the cognac, the stronger the nuances for the palate.
A well-known and moderately priced mid-age cognac is Hennessey VSOP where nuts and wood mix with hints of licorice and for me, there is something about a nice medium-bodied Cameroon smoke to make this pairing worthwhile. I highly recommend a Montecruz cigar which is a fantastic smoke many people thought fell by the wayside, but they are still produced well and able to be purchased for a low price. (I purchase mine from Ron of Serious Cigars for $5.00 per Corona.) There is a delightful smokiness with an air of pecans in this cigar and at the risk of being labeled crazy, this cigar honestly tastes like scamorza (smoked mozzarella), which in its written description sounds like a weird pair, but trust me on this one—it’s just too good.
Lindsay M. Heller is New York City’s only female tobacconist with years of experience as a cigar lover and professional. She has been featured in numerous national and international lifestyle publications, such as Rolling Out, Cigar Snob and Europe’s El Gusto. Outside of her activities in the political arena fighting for smoker’s rights, Lindsay also hosts cigar events and classes, pairing seminars, participates in tasting panels and as a consultant in blending. She currently works for Nat Sherman on Fifth Ave in Manhattan. If you would like to contact her, she can be reached at TheCigarChick@vzw.blackberry.net or you can follow her on Twitter as “@TheCigarChick.”