Lighting up a cigar is a time-honoured tradition that takes on a ritual significance — sitting down after hours and sparking a stogie with your favourite nightcap is a perfect way to calm the mind and soothe the soul.
Cigars can and should, be paired with a fine whiskey to make the most out of the experience. Recognising a cigar’s flavour profile and finding a whiskey to match will allow you to transform this after-hours event.
Cigars, like wine, have a specific flavour profile. These can include tones of leather, nuttiness, spicy, woody, sweet, earthy tones and so much more. Some of these flavours may not be apparent — some come at the first puff, some are more subtle in the ways they influence your palate.
Leathery cigars have a strong earthy flavour which comes from a longer ageing process as well as wraps from certain parts of the world. Although the concept can be abstract, we all know the smell of a new leather jacket. This smell influences and defines the flavour you taste when you smoke a leathery cigar. Some countries that produce fine specimens include Ecuador and Nicaragua.
When you smoke a cigar with earthy, leathery tones, you are going to want a whiskey that enhances these flavours — notably a smoky, peaty whiskey. The whiskey will need to be bold as leathery cigars tend to have a strong flavour.
To that end — Lagavulin 16-year-old Islay Single Malt certainly does the trick. It has a deep, dry and peaty taste with bold flavours. This is a powerful Scotch, so if you enjoy something bold, this is for you.
For a more mellow compliment, try Milk & Honey Distillery’s Peated Cask Single Malt Israeli whiskey. This whiskey from Islay is matured in ex-peated whiskey casks and ex-bourbon casks, it gives notes of vanilla, oak and smoke through the nose with a peaty finished. For a less bold complement to your leathery, earthy cigar. You can’t go wrong with M&H’s compelling whiskey.
Nutty cigars tend to be milder and less bold than their leathery counterparts, although, rarely, this is not the case. Think hints of walnut, cashews, almonds and chestnuts or even pistachio. This nuttiness comes from the tobacco taking on the characteristic of the barrels it was aged in.
Cigars from the Dominican are often considered to be nutty. For example, take this medium-mild Ashton Cabinet Selection with notes of cashews and almonds as well as a creamy vanilla flavour.
When pairing a whiskey with a more mild, nutty cigar, you’ll want sharp fruity tones in the spirit to complement the subtle nutty flavours. For this, we recommend Highland Park’s 18-year-old Viking Pride.
This award-winning whiskey is a virtual orchard in a dram — full of floral and fruity notes. Notes of apple, pear and cherry blossom make up the nose, with an underlying citrus peel flavour. Followed by a slight bitterness — a hint of dark chocolate and coffee — which accentuates the fruit flavours. This whiskey is matured in first-fill sherry European and American Oak casks, helping give it its fruity notes. It is sure to pair well with a nutty stogie.
Another whiskey that is sure to pair well with a nutty cigar is Mackmyra First. This Swedish whiskey hits with hints of citrus and orchard fruits — lemon and lime notes on in the nose. It finishes with a sticky-sweet flavour that tastes like apples and honey. It is matured in bourbon-sherry casks of Swedish Oak.
Some cigars have a so-called spicy flavour, with hints of pepper, liquorice and anise. Others go as far as to have notes of jalapeno and cayenne. A classic example of a cigar with spicy characteristics is the Olivia Serie V. With Nicaraguan fillers and an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, this bold cigar has a spicy flavour with notes of chocolate.
The spice notes will come through on the draw, here you will want a sweeter whiskey to complement the flavour notes of your cigar. So far it has been all about the Scotch, but due to a large amount of corn used in production Bourbon is actually the sweetest whiskey around.
The sheer simplicity of Maker’s Mark Bourbon is what makes it perfect for the spicy stogie. This down-to-earth whiskey is sweet with notes of caramel and vanilla followed by a mellow, warm finish. It won’t muddle the spice of your cigar but will complement it with its sweet notes. Perfect for a nightcap, Maker’s is highly recommended.
If Bourbon isn’t your thing, try Glenmorangie’s Milsean — which literally means sweet things in Scottish Gaelic. This single malt is matured in ex-bourbon casks followed by former wine casks giving it the flavours of a moreish sweetshop in a glass. It has a candy-like flavour with hints of tart-plum and candied orange peels. Additionally, its long and spicy-sweet finish perfectly complements the spicy start and draw of your cigar.
A cigar with hints of cocoa flavour will be naturally sweet. This flavour will be subtle with hints of dark chocolate, molasses, caramel and maple. Arturo Fuente Anejo is a perfect example of a bold, lightly sweet cigar. This rare stick possesses incredible flavour and depth — its leaves are aged in Cognac barrels for an unparalleled flavour. Rolled using the finest Dominican tobacco this cigar does not disappoint.
While this list has so far mentioned various whiskies — step out of the box and enjoy your sweet cigar with a glass of Cognac. This famous French brandy pairs perfectly with the aroma of the cigar.
Try a glass of Frapin Chateau Fontpinot XO. This well-rounded brandy has complex notes of dried fruits, dark chocolate and caramel flavours with an oily mouthfeel, making it the perfect balance for an after-hours stogie. The Frapin family have been growing grapes since the 11th-century, it is safe to say they know what they are doing.
Bringing it back to whiskey, but this time Bourbon — as with spicy cigars, sweeter-than-Scotch Bourbon goes well with a sweet stick. Here try a glass of Henry McKenna 10-year-old. This hard-to-find Bourbon has notes of vanilla, toasted marshmallows and a lingering subtle spiciness that complements a sweet cigar. With an oaky finish, you can’t go wrong with pairing this bourbon and your favourite sweet stogie.
Woody cigars have a subtle wood flavour, have you ever caught a whiff of cedar when you’ve opened your humidor? Keeping a cigar in a humidor increases the woodiness of its flavour as the cigar matures. Hickory and oak are also common woody flavours present in cigars.
For a nice balance to an earthy, woody stogie try a glass of Aberlour Highland 18-year-old Scotch. This single malt is creamy with hints of peach and apricot and notes of chocolate, liquorice and oak. It will complement the cedar or oak flavours of an aged cigar nicely.
Another option is Balvenie Doublewood 17-year-old single malt. This whiskey is slightly sweet, with hints of dried fruits, spice, toasted almonds and cinnamon. There are also notes of vanilla, oak and honey. The vanilla and oak in this whiskey will help bring out the smooth woodiness in the cigar.
As you smoke a cigar the flavours you taste will change as the cigar burns, becoming stronger as the heat gets closer to your mouth. To keep the cigar from getting too hot, you can take long, slow drags — this will allow the full flavour of the cigar to emerge.
Fine whiskeys and cigars go together, in part, because of the way they are enjoyed. Both cause you to exhale, slowing down and enjoying the complexity of the other.
It is near to perfection to have a nightcap with your stogie after a long day or an exciting outing, stoking profound conversation if you are with company or deep introspection should you be alone.
So, slip on the smoking jacket, break out a bottle and enjoy this rite of late-night enjoyment.