There is nothing like retiring after a hard day with a cigar, I will give you that. To sit and enjoy a good cigar while sloughing off the cares of the day is a beautiful thing. But sometimes…sometimes you want a little more punch with your Punch. A little more austerity with your Arturo Fuente. A little more lift with your Liga Privada. Those times, perhaps, call for a wee drop of the creature to sip with your smoke. Fine alcohol and cigars is a timeless classic. From the stereotypical cognac dipped cigars of olden times to the modern day movement towards cigar pairings with just about everything, alcohol and cigars have withstood the test of time. And for good reason. It’s a tasty combo! But what’s the best combo, you ask? Well, I can’t tell you that. Only your taste buds can tell you that particular morsel of information. But maybe I can help you along the way. For me, I tend to shy away from the “opposites attract” mentality of pairing when it comes to alcohol and cigars. There are so many flavors in tobacco that can come out that it may become discordant and weird when mixed with certain alcohols. I prefer the tried and true method of complementing flavors that you get in the smoke. So let’s start with that, shall we?
Let’s say you’ve picked up a cigar that you love and has a beautiful, fragrant sweetness about it. Maybe its just that tobacco sweetness that comes from the breakdown of the tobacco during fermentation. Maybe it’s a sweetness that stems from a nutty flavor. In this case, you’ll want to go with a sweeter beverage. In this category, you have quite a bit of wiggle room. The perennial favorite for me is a good bourbon. If you want a gentle and sweet bourbon, try Maker’s Mark. If you want something with a little more oomph, maybe some Buffalo Trace products, starting with their standard Buffalo Trace and working your way up to the much praised George T. Stagg. Bourbons with a high corn content (most have upwards of 70% corn) and a low rye content will be good for this. You could also go with the classical cognac. Distilled from grape, the residual sweetness is still there in cognac and is historically a perfect pairing for cigars. Try the Pierre Ferrand line if you want something indulgent or Hennessey if you can’t find that. Also, what better to pair to sweetness than rum? You have a wide variety to choose from and I’m a personal fan of pairing cigars with rums from their respective countries. A Nicaraguan rum? Try some Flor De Cana 7. Dominican? Have a touch of Brugal Anejo. Finally, for a more delicate or lighter cigar, try picking up a scotch that’s been aged in a sherry or port cask. Macallan Sherry Oak is an affordable and popular choice or an Aberlour a’bunadh if you want something with a lot of punch.
Say your cigar is heavy on the cedar, oak, and deep tobacco flavors. For this, you’ll want to get some heavy duty stuff to sip on. Something with some clout from the barrel. Knob Creek bourbon is a good one for this, as the choice barrel selection by the Jim Beam family shows through nicely. If you want to step it up a notch, go for some Booker’s, another bourbon in the Beam family that clocks in at cask strength and is beautifully barrel-y. Heavy, brooding rums are also good for this as well. For some delicious cask punch with a bit of funk, try some blended Jamaican rums. Smith and Cross is a personal favorite (and the fact that it’s navy strength helps) or you can also go for some older bottlings of Appleton Estate. Really, you want to go for the older liquors at this point for the barrel influence…but you can also try some craft whiskies that have spent their time in small barrels as well. Balcones is a favorite of mine for cask depth and Tuthilltown Spirit’s Hudson line features a robust barrel profile so you could always try that out if you’d like.
For those spicy, zesty, peppery cigars, I’d recommend rye. Canadian ryes are pretty awesome these days. I’d recommend starting with a Forty Creek Barrel Select for a whiskey with a good rye content that shines through. If you want something economical, Old Overholt is an often overlooked rye that’s not only serviceable…but damn tasty as well. Rittenhouse Rye and Sazerac Rye are also good choices on the thrifty side although they‘re often sold out. The cream of the crop, to me, is the Thomas H. Handy rye released by Buffalo Trace. If you can’t find that, another good one is Whistlepig Rye from Vermont. All of the above have a characteristic spicy rye bite with a mellow but sweet finish that will complement that ligero like a champ.
Finally, for those of you that like claro and candela wrappers, or for a cigar that’s got a hay-like, grassy flavor…fear not! Rum comes back to help you out but not the type of rum you expect. We’re not reaching for the heavy molasses based rums this time but rather sugar cane based rum called rhum agricole. It’s grassy, vegetal flavor will go well with your cigar. Try grabbing a bottle of Rhum Clement (from Martinique) , Rhum J M (also from Martinique), Rhum Babancourt (from Haiti), or St. James Rhum (from Martinique) for that grassy goodness.
So, there you go. If you want to wet your whistle when it comes cigar smoking time, I hope this will help. I tend to gravitate towards cask strength offerings when smoking because the intense flavors are often required to match the smokes I tend to light up but that’s all up to your preference. The best advice I can give to you is to make friends with a reputable, well stocked liquor store and start asking questions. You’ll find that a lot of the flavors you get in cigars can easily be translated into a spirit type that will work with your stick. So the next time you feel a thirst coming on…reach for something that’ll help round out a rough day. Or make a good one even better.
Scott is on a perpetual quest to find the perfect pint, the dynamic dram, and the champion cigar. A Master of Science in Brewing and Distilling with hands-on experience in the beverage world. To read more from Scott checkout his site In With Bacchus and stalk him on Twitter by following @InWithBacchus.
5 thoughts on “Perfect Pairing: A Guide to Cigars and Spirits”
Nicely done, Scott! Definitely some good pairings ideas here. Any recommendations for Cigar & Beer pairings? Up coming article maybe? =)
Very nice article! Really great general overview. I hope to see you back with more pairing articles!
Slowly learning about cigars . I have found out that I am fond of a few from Drew Estates. . This has helped me a lot.
Really enjoyed this Scott! Can’t wait till your next article!
Scott this was a well thought out and insightful piece! Like others, I am looking forward to more article like this from you. Please don’t be a stranger.