Cigars and Spirits: A Winter Pairing Guide
Whether it is the chilly weather, the limited sunlight, or the visiting in-laws, the holiday season is a time when we all could use a little extra cheer. For the cigar smoker, adding a thoughtfully-paired beverage to your next smoke is a sure-fire way to increase your jolliness factor while also elevating the sensory experience. We’re sharing some of our very favorite holiday-season cigars and drink pairings*, as well as a few tips for how to create the perfect pairing with the cigars and spirits you might already have on hand.
*Grinches & Humbugs beware: the cocktails presented in the following article are known to cause significant spikes in caroling, gift-giving, and goodwill towards man.
The Basics of Cigar & Drink Pairing
The pairing of tobacco and alcohol is not a new phenomenon, but the recent proliferation of craft beverage culture in the United States and other developed countries has led to a sharply increased demand for curated cocktail pairings.
This is because the flavor and aroma compounds present in food and drink can interact with one another to create new expressions that would be otherwise inaccessible if each item was enjoyed separately. The rich, flavorful complexities of the tobacco plant make pairing cigars with spirits a natural choice for cocktail pairings.
No matter how you arrive at your decision, there is one rule that stands out above all others. Enjoy yourself. Pairings don’t have to make sense if they make you happy. As any regular reader of ours will tell you, if you aren’t enjoying your smoke, you’re doing it wrong.
Cigar & Cocktail Pairing Suggestions
Now that you’re armed with the basic concepts, we’re going to share some of our go-to favorites for holiday cigar & cocktail pairings.
For Mild Cigars: The “Stinger”
One of our favorite ways to bring out the mild, toasty flavors of a mild-bodied cigar is with a little bit of cream. The cream acts as a sort of canvas upon which the flavors of the cigar are both expanded and rounded, leading to a delicate smoothness.
The Stinger utilizes crème de menthe to open up the rich flavors of brandy. The sharp mint acts as a sort of tongue-refresher, preparing your palate for another puff of rich tobacco.
- 1 ¾ oz Cognac (or Tequila, for a Mexican Stinger)
- 2/3 oz White crème de menthe (the green variety is less visually appetizing)
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, then strain into a cocktail glass. It is also common to see Stingers prepared in a shaker and served over rocks.
While the creamy, refreshing nature of the Stinger makes it a pretty damn good pairing for just about any cigar, it is particularly well-suited for mild-bodied cigars with shade-grown wrappers. The Dominican Montecristo offers light notes of both grass and cedar that melt seamlessly into the minty crème de menthe and is widely available.
For Medium Cigars: The Cuba Libre Especial
Rum and cigars go together as well as peanut butter and jelly, no doubt due to the overlapping flavor and aroma components of vanilla and subtle tropical fruit. Our recommended rum-based, cigars and spirits pairing considers the old standard, Rum & Coke, with added complexity from a darker, bolder rum.
The Cuba Libre Especial utilizes dark, 3-year aged rum and your favorite cola for a harmonious blend of dark caramel and spice. A twist of lime cuts into the sweetness, making it highly palatable.
- 4 oz Cola
- 1/3 oz Fresh lime juice
- 1 2/3 oz Bacardi Black 3-Year Aged Rum
Combine ingredients in a ‘rocks’ glass, mix, and enjoy!
The dark spice complexity of both the aged rum and the cola will pair well with a medium-bodied cigar that is savory enough to stand up against the sweetness but has enough herbal character to contribute to the overall effect. To this end, the highly-popular Acid Blue Kuba Kuba is the obvious choice.
Pair Full-Bodied Cigars with the Rye Sazerac
When you’re pairing cigars and spirits, follow this no-nonsense rule. The bolder the cigar, the bolder the cocktail.
The Rye Sazerac offers the perfect solution. It blends Rye bourbon with bitters, sugar, and a few drops of Absinthe. This gives you a bold and slightly peppery flavor to savor. It goes down much like an Old Fashioned.
- ¼ oz Absinthe
- One sugar cube
- 1½ oz Rye whiskey (Cognac can be substituted for a more traditional Sazerac)
Pour the Absinthe into a chilled rocks glass and swirl, coating the interior of the glass. Add crushed ice to the glass and set it aside. Then, mix the remaining ingredients over ice. Finally, discard the ice and any remaining absinthe from the first glass, and strain the mixed drink into it. A thin lemon peel is an essential garnish.
Big bold cigars are a great match for this kind of cocktail. Rye whiskey packs enough of a punch to cut through the robust flavors of full-bodied cigars, particularly Maduro-style sticks that have the deep flavors that come with extended leaf aging. The Camacho Triple Maduro is not a cigar that we usually recommend for beginners, but its expert blend of three different Maduro tobaccos produces a smoke that is rich with notes of black pepper and coffee, the perfect companion to the Rye whiskey. These sticks are a bit harder to find but well worth it!