Bourbon and Cigars: The Perfect Combination
A good drink and a cigar is the right way to end a long and stressful day. That much, we all know. Whether you’re relaxing on the deck or watching a game, a good smoke paired with a nice, single malt or rum cocktail is always a winner. Scotch and rum are great choices but don’t overlook a good American bourbon.
Scotch and bourbon are both excellent forms of whiskey. The former is Scottish and the latter is American. Yet, there are distinct differences in the distillation process, materials used, and the overall flavor. That makes choosing one over the other important choice for any cigar aficionado. Pair an Ashton ESG with a swig of Gentleman Jack for a full-bodied flavor with a hint of warmth and spice, for example.
Much like with the rise of infused cigars, the right flavor combination is essential when pairing a drink with a smoke. The reason certain drinks and cigars work well that the flavors complement each other. Understanding which drinks and cigars pair best is key to a rich, cigar-smoking session you’ll never forget.
Why Bourbon Works
There’s a distinct reason why certain spirits work with cigars and why others simply don’t. Generally, the rule is, the more full-bodied the cigar flavor, the more full-bodied the drink to go with it. This is precisely why spirits like vodka and gin are poor pairings for cigars. The taste of even a medium cigar will completely overpower the taste of most clear spirits like vodka.
Even flavored varieties of some alcohol don’t pair well with most cigars because the alcohol is not smooth or leaves an undesirable burn or aftertaste. This is why rum is often a good pairing for true Cuban cigars, the flavorings are a good match for one another.
Similar to the variety and age of tobacco in finer quality cigars, the aging process and ingredients of bourbon produce unique flavors designed to complement cigar smoking. For instance, pairing a Padron 1964 with a swig of Knob Creek not only goes down smooth, the pairing of the subtle sweetness and earthy spices of the Padron perfectly complements the woody flavors found in Knob Creek bourbon. Vanilla vodka and peach schnapps just can’t provide the same combination.
Finding The Right Pairing
Pairing your favorite cigar with the right bourbon is as much about your own personal taste as it is the experience. To know what goes well together you need to fully understand the flavors in both the bourbon and the cigar.
To think of it as food, you wouldn’t put fish sauce on a T-bone, the same way you wouldn’t mix a smooth and easy burning Cohiba with a shot of Jim Beam. For cigars, it’s mostly about the flavors the tobacco and wrapper brings into the mix, but for bourbon, there’s the entire distillation process.
Bourbon is made from many more ingredients than a cigar, namely corn, barley, rye, and for milder varieties, wheat. This gives every bourbon that comes off the line a distinct flavor profile with different hints of this or that to consider.
Much the same as Cuban tobacco is different from Nicaraguan or Dominican tobacco, each brand of bourbon changes up the ratio of ingredients, the additives, the time it distills, and a number of other factors to produce a unique blend and taste.
You’ll likely find that the most exquisite cigars have an equally complex flavor profile. For cigars with a woody flavor like cedar and oak, such as a medium-bodied Nicaraguan San Cristobal Revelation, the ideal pairing will have notes of sweetness to compliment the smokey wood flavor. The slight hints of vanilla and caramel found in a bottle of Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon are a great accompaniment to a San Cristobal or for a slightly different taste, Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon is excellent with its hints of toffee and honey to balance with earthy or woody flavors.
For more full-bodied cigars that offer a blend of spice, leather, and wood, with maybe a hint of sweetness from the wrapper, these are more at home with a sweeter finishing bourbon. A full-bodied Honduran specialty like a Rocky Patel compares well with a glass of Wild Turkey or Jim Beam thanks to the flavors of vanilla, toffee, and caramel that complement the cayenne kick and mahogany finish of a Rocky Patel.
Sometimes finding the right pairing takes a bit of trial and error, but much like learning to savor a good cigar, finding the right bourbon to drink with it is a process. Much how a cigar love may swirl the smoke from a cigar around in their mouth to really taste the tobacco, gathering all of its properties together into a distinct flavor, the same is true for bourbon.
The best way to find the right bourbon for a particular cigar is to slowly taste it and take note of all the different flavors that comprise the drink. When you savor and enjoy every sip, you’ll find the right pairing and gain a broader appreciation for the right combination.
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