Whiskey and cigars seem to go hand-in-hand. This pairing is often seen by whiskey drinkers and cigar smokers as the epitome of relaxation for your leisure. There are many opinions on pairings and quite frankly, you can’t really go wrong with whatever you select. Besides, the act, in and of itself, is meant to be freeing. So why bog it down with rules and regulations? I am of the opinion that the best pairing is the one you have going on at that instant in time.
Each pairing is unique and any combination is the correct one and should be explored. In fact, a single pour for the duration of a single cigar, combined in the same manner throughout, can yield different experiences. Whiskey drinkers understand the effect that “airing out” can have on a pour. Cigar smokers understand the way that cigars can “transition” throughout. These situations alone can lead to a dynamic pairing all on their own. Next time you pair a cigar and whiskey, note some things you like and dislike early into the pairing. At the end, take a look at the notes and see the changes that occurred.
Moving forward I would like to begin incorporating some Pairing Experiences into my rotation of cigar related articles. I thought the best way to introduce these new items would be to discuss some things I find helpful when deciding on what to pair and how to get the most from the experience. I am not going to tell you that you should have this bourbon with this cigar or that rye with that cigar, because, as I stated earlier, there is no wrong answer. You have to find your own palate for pairings just as you had to for whiskeys and cigars independently of one another.
Personally, I prefer to only pair whiskeys I have had one their own and cigars I have had on their own. One of the reasons for this is because I like to understand the level of body and flavor in the cigars and whiskeys I am considering for the pairing. An imbalance in the intensity of flavor or body can cause one half of the pairing to overpower the other. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and is something you can use to your advantage. Maybe you are socially having a cigar and don’t necessarily care to pay attention to it, but there is a whiskey you have been looking forward to pouring. You can opt for a cigar that is mild in flavor and body because the whiskey will be overpowering the cigar and be the primary part of the experience.
The other reason I prefer to know the cigar and whiskey beforehand is because I like to decide what kind of pairing I want to have. There are times I am interested in focusing on the flavor experience of the pairing to see how the whiskey and cigar influence one another. In this instance, I would likely select a cigar and whiskey with similar flavor profiles. These similar flavors will “cancel” out in a way and highlight subtle differences in the cigar and the whiskey. Conversely there are instances where I want to enjoy a cigar for what it is and a whiskey for what it is. Here I would opt for more dissimilar, unique flavor profiles. These contradictory flavors will be apparent.
Experimenting with the Pairing
When it comes time for the pairing, I take two approaches. If I am looking to just enjoy a cigar and a pour, then that is just what I do. I kick back and unwind for a couple hours just enjoying the experience. When I want some whiskey I take a sip and when I want some smoke I take a puff. When I want to embrace the flavor experiences of the pairing, I am much more experimental and focus on what I am doing and what is resulting. I try different orders in nosing and tasting the whiskey and cigar to see what changes from puff to puff and sip to sip.
For instance, nosing whiskey is a critical component to whiskey tasting. I like to nose the whiskey on its own, then take a puff of the cigar and keep the smoke in my mouth while I go back for another smell of the glass. This can have significant impacts on the scent of the whiskey and flavor of the smoke. I also mix up the order in which I puff and sip to see the shift in flavors. It’s amazing how different the whiskey can taste when you just finished a puff or how different the cigar can taste when you just finished a sip. Leaving some smoke or whiskey in your mouth when you go for a sip or puff can yield interesting results as well.
In closing, I just want to reiterate that there is no right or wrong way to pair cigars and whiskey. Just as there are no right or wrong pairings. The great thing about these hobbies is that we can make our own traditions, practices, and rules. If you are enjoying the experience, then you are doing it correctly. It’s so easy to get lost in what you see and read about what is “proper” in the world of whiskey and cigars, just as it's easy to get lost in the hype or praise surrounding brands, blends, and bottles. Pave your own way and you’ll have more fun doing it.
Feel free to reach out to me with questions, concerns, criticisms, or just to talk at @guitarsandcigarsfarm on Instagram, or via email at email@example.com.