Cigars and Whiskey may be the most traditional of cigar–spirit pairings, but there are so many cigars out there to enjoy and all of them pair differently with the many various spirits, wines, and beers from around the world. For many, finding those perfect pairings is a personal journey and an enjoyable one at that.
Know Your Palate
Know yourself. Your palate is your personal context for all of the advice you’ll receive here and elsewhere. Begin at the beginning. Do not pair a spirit you have never tried or do not enjoy alone. The same can be said for cigars. A particular cigar may pair really well with a young red wine, but if you have never tried that cigar or do not have a taste for red wine, you don’t have the context to enjoy the pairing. Many novices miss this point and make unfortunate choices because they’re following recommendations that may not apply to them or that they have not prepared for.
Invest time in learning how to taste as well. You do not have to be a connoisseur to approach tasting like one. A taste—especially when combining spirits and cigars—is an event. It has phases. You should think about what you are tasting and try to describe it with internal dialogue. It will not make every taste memorable, some simply aren’t. However, it will help you remember the worthwhile ones, and you will begin to develop a frame of reference for comparing individual tastes as well as complex interactions. Do not ignore your other senses either. Smell is particularly important, and sight and touch have their merits as well.
Match the Body
You will want to ensure that your cigar does not overpower your drink or that your choice of spirit does not dull the cigar. If you select a full-bodied cigar, for instance, then you want a spirit that you would equally describe as having a full body. In other words, you are seeking a balance or a harmony. As you learn, you will realize that there are exceptions as well as guidelines that simply do not apply to you. For now, however, you should stick to the basics, such as pairing cigars with a bold Bourbon, a peaty Scotch, or even a thick beer or red wine.
Vodka, Gin, white wines, and even pilsners are notoriously difficult to pair well. If any of these are your drink of choice, you may want to start with the lightest cigar available and then increase body until you find your balance. The cigar and the drink should influence the taste of the other, but they should not disguise it, which is what you should watch for. If you prefer a medium-bodied cigar, starting options include Rum, Cognac, and even Scotch from brands like Glenlivet or Macallan. If you prefer wine, deep reds pair well with a heavy body, and whites and young reds pair well with lighter bodies.
Understand the Origins
Another point that may be overlooked by newcomers is origins. Rum, for instance, hails from the Caribbean and thus tends to pair well with all manner of cigars from the Dominican Republic. Origin isn’t the end all be all. It does not mean that you cannot pair a DR cigar to a Scotch well, but this is a good starting point for when you are unsure where to start. If you want a wine to pair, seek a wine that uses grapes from the same area in which the tobacco is grown.
Be adventurous, too, which is the only way to achieve real growth as a cigar and spirits aficionado. You will not truly know what you like and dislike until you try it. Defy the guidelines. Pair a stout with a light-bodied cigar and learn from your own mistakes—or find a combination that works for you. A point that cannot be impressed on novices enough is there is no such thing as a “wrong” pairing. Your palate is completely unique to you. It will also evolve, and you must make preferences based on a context that no one else can truly share with you.
Embrace the journey. Follow advice at times. Break the rules of others. Go outside your comfort zone. There is no one right way, and when you find a pairing that makes you happy, how can anyone say that you are wrong? But remember: Cigars and alcohol should be enjoyed responsibly at all times.