Pairing Experience: Illusione ECCJ 25th & Old Forester 1920


A bit ago I put out an article called Pairing Cigars & Whiskey that went into my thoughts and methods for pairings. For my first Pairing Experience, I elected to go with a cigar that I am quite fond of and a bourbon I have actually never had before. Due to my inexperience with the bourbon, I went with a cigar I have found to be a good pairer with higher proof whiskey. 

Illusione ECCJ 25th Robusto Extra

This cigar pays tribute to the 25th anniversary of Cigar Journal, previously named European Cigar Cult Journal. This is the third ECCJ release from Illusione following the 15th and 20th. The ECCJ lineup from Illusione is one my favorites of their portfolio and this 25th is one I find to work well as a pairer. It is full in flavor and body with medium strength and typically brings a variety of complex flavors ranging from sweet and floral to savory and earthy. 

Country of Origin: Nicaragua

Factory: Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A.

Wrapper: Nicaraguan Cafe Rosado Corojo

Binder: Nicaraguan

Filler: Corojo ‘99 & Criollo ‘98 (Nicaragua)

Vitola: 5 ½ x 50 Robusto Extra

Price: $11.80 MSRP

Release Date: May 2019

Company Website: 

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Whisky

Regrettably, it took until now for me to try Old Forester 1920. My whiskey experimentation phase is a more recent experience for me. Previously, Old Forester wasn’t on my radar because I usually stuck to more affordable, “every day” drinkers. Then when I began exploring whiskies, even though I became aware of how popular 1920 is, something else always got my attention more when it came time to buy. I’m glad I got my hands on this 375ml bottle to try. 

City of Origin: Louisville, Kentucky

Distillery: Old Forester Distilling Company

Mash Bill: 72% Corn, 18% Rye, 10% Malted Barley

Proof: 115

Release Date: August 2016

Company Website: 

The Experience

Cigar Prelight

This ECCJ is dense and firm. It has such a clean wrapper with an eye catching cap. The cigar smells of cedar, barnyard, and a bit of dark chocolate. The cold draw reminds me exactly of one of those dark chocolate, strawberry nougat filled candies in a box of assorted chocolates. 

Whiskey Pre-Pairing

This Old Forester has a fairly dark caramel color with a reddish hue. Giving it a swirl looks a little thinner than I anticipated. The nose has a lot of fruitiness. It reminds me most of a red grape juice and maybe some stone fruits. It has a little cherry and some oak in there as well. The palate is a lot more savory for me. I definitely can taste some oak on the finish and there’s a bit of cherry and spice. I have yet to get any banana I hear of. It does have a decent bit of heat on the finish but not up front. The finish is super long and now I’m getting the faintest chalky banana note like if there was a banana flavored Tums antacid. 

First Third

The cigar opens up with a lot of wood, toast, and some earthiness. There’s a bit of a turmeric like earthy spice. Nosing the whiskey with the smoke in my mouth really let’s the grape sweetness shine. The retrohale of the cigar shows some floral notes, a bit of pepper, and a touch of sweetness. Taking some time between a puff and a sip shows no real impact on one another. At about a half inch into the cigar, taking a puff and immediately taking a sip of whiskey creates a very creamy mouthfeel and flavor to the whiskey. There may even be a bit of vanilla showing now with little to no oak or spice. Going back to the cigar, I am getting some creamy nuttiness on the draw now. The finish on the whiskey is still super long. Going directly to the cigar from a sip still shows a lot of creaminess, some nuttiness, and a bright fruity note from the whiskey seems to cut through the smoke. The finish has a savory quality but with some caramel or brown sugar like sweetness. 

Second Third

Going into the second third the whiskey has taken on a sugar cane like sweetness on the palate. There’s still some oak, minimal heat, and maybe a touch of cherry and some stone fruit. The cigar is still creamy and nutty and is beginning to show some floral notes on the draw and a bit of general sweetness. There’s an earthy, wood quality on the finish. Taking a sip directly after a puff brings a pretty big blast of fruit candies first that quickly dissipates into a lot of oak. Going from a sip to the cigar takes out a lot from the cigar. There are no floral notes, no creaminess, and no earthiness. What’s left is like a dark roasted nut - toasty, nutty, and slightly bitter in a good way. Passing halfway, the cigar alone is still quite floral, sweet, creamy, and nutty. The retrohale is creamy with some earth and vanilla. The nose on the whiskey is faint probably from all the retrohaling conditioning my nose but there’s still definitely fruity sweetness. The palate is creamier than the start with some bright fruitiness still. I still say more of a stone fruit. The heat is present when it’s the whiskey alone. The finish is pretty oak forward. Interestingly I took a small, quick sip and it reminded me of cream cheese. 

Final Third

The cigar alone is still similar to the second third with the floral component and nuttiness, however the cream has subsided. The earth is a bit more prominent and there’s a little pepper. The whiskey alone has shown the fruitiness dialed back and the initial profile being a slightly salty, creaminess. It’s not as distinctly cream cheese like the end of the previous third. There’s a touch of cinnamon flavor and heat. The finish is still the same oakiness. I must be hitting the tips of this Illusione and am getting some charred wood, dark cocoa, earth, and pepper. I’m curious how the pairing will go here. With smoke in my mouth there is virtually no nose on the whiskey. Taking a sip directly after the puff brings a lot of creamy vanilla up front then the fruitiness and cinnamon stand out. There’s no oak on the finish at all and the finish seems shorter. Going from the whiskey straight to the cigar brings out very dark and creamy flavors, but they’re faint. It’s like dark roast coffee and bakers chocolate. Just past the band the cigar went out and I did a relight to get one last pairing note. Fortunately the relight brought on no off flavors. Taking a puff before the sip, the bourbon really stands out like it is alone. It’s bright fruit up front with a fair amount of heat. There’s a touch of cinnamon and the finish is a creamy oak and a bit of sourness. The cigar, unfortunately, went out again before I could take another note. 

Overall Experience

The overall pairing time was 2 hours and 18 minutes. I’d say it was a decent pairing. There were times where the cigar and whiskey tasted as you would expect, then times that the pairing showed some uniqueness and changed up the profile for both. The highlights of the pairing for me were the big blast of cream and fruit. I am not a fan of overly oak forward whiskeys or cigars, so the times when oak was really prominent were my least favorite points of the pairing. That being said, it seemed that oak had a pretty prominent place, at least for my palate, in the profile of the Old Forester. I’ll be curious to revisit the Old Forester by itself again and also paired with a cigar that has more wood or, more specifically, oak flavor notes. 

Try the cigar yourself at Small Batch Cigars and let me know what you think! Use code “Whiskey” to get 10% off your entire order. Plus, sign up and begin earning 5% back in rewards points with each purchase.

Feel free to reach out to me with questions, concerns, criticisms, or just to talk at @guitarsandcigarsfarm on Instagram, or via email at

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