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How To Pair Whiskey With Cigars, an Age-Old Marriage

A stylish man drinking whiskey and smoking a cigar.

Even those who don’t puff can respect the tight-knit match of whiskey and cigars. It’s smoke on smoke, really, with one side complementing the other and vice versa. Yet, because there are so many flavors and styles on either side of this particular wedding aisle, it pays to have a little wisdom. That way, you’ll nail the pairing and see just how the two forces combine to create something rather extraordinary.

We know it’s not all about looks. But rest assured, you’re going to appear and feel like a badass when engaging in this age-old marriage. With a snifter in one hand and a stogie in the other, you can conquer the globe (or at least feel like you can).

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Match by Makeup

A major rule most cigar buffs adhere to involves the makeup of both the cigar and the whiskey. Think of it in terms of weight — is it a heavy, peaty Scotch you’re working with or a relatively light and floral summertime Scotch? Are we dealing with something medium-bodied and spicy like a rye bourbon?

For example, a classic medium-bodied cigar like a Romeo y Julieta 1875 does wonders alongside a pour of lighter to medium Scotch, such as The Balvenie 14-Year Caribbean Cask. In fact, most whiskies given the rum treatment — a trending maneuver right now that sees distillers age or finish their work in barrels once used for rum — do particularly well with cigars. It’s a Caribbean love affair that’s a blast to explore.

Read up on your cigar of choice online or chat with your local shop owner. Following the guidance above, if you’re after a bold beast such as an Asylum Straight Jacket from Nicaragua, you will need whiskey with the muscle to stand up to it. We’re talking peaty Scotches or higher-proof bourbons. Maker’s 46 is a great selection in a scenario such as this.

Look for Both Offsetting and Sibling Flavors

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This part can be a bit trickier, but not if you keep in mind some basic principles, many derived from the culinary arts. Fortunately, the flavor profiles of cigars tend to be similar. You’ll encounter a lot of things like vanilla, toffee, dried fruit, candied citrus, chocolate, roasted nuts, spices, etc.

Start by simply matching puzzle pieces. If a whiskey touts sweet and spicy notes like the vanilla and cinnamon you tend to get from Four Roses Small Batch bourbon, go with a cigar that offers a similar profile (something made from Corojo tobacco, perhaps, known for having a signature sweetness). It does not have to be a mirror image, but you’ll enjoy the syncing of certain sibling flavors. At the same time, you’ll likely see how some individual qualities in the cigar might bring out subtler notes in the whiskey — notes you might otherwise not get if you were just drinking it straight or mixing it in an Old Fashioned.

Look for offsetting opportunities, too. It’s a great way to temper some of the more pronounced notes either side can offer. In other words, if your whiskey is spicy, look for a cigar that can deliver some sweetness. If you’re getting a lot of earthiness and herbaceous qualities from your cigar, lift it up with some brightness and floral notes from a lighter whiskey, perhaps one not aged as long. Love those dark chocolate notes your cigar is throwing your way? Go with a nutty whiskey as the two flavors adore each other. In short, think less about styles and more about specific flavors and which ones you know work together. You’ve been eating and drinking long enough to know as much.

Trust your own palate, as no two are exactly alike, but you can at least get basic tasting notes from the cigar manufacturers and whiskey producers. Use these generalizations to weave together ideal pairings.

When in Doubt, Go Bourbon

If you don’t want to spend your time playing with the many permutations out there, just pick a sturdy bourbon. The American whiskey style tends to be a middle-of-the-road option. And we don’t mean that in a bland way. Instead, the style tends to offer a nice balance of fruit and oak, sweet and earthy, clean and rustic. A good bourbon will rarely overwhelm even the lightest of cigars. At the same time, it will rarely let you down if paired with a robust cigar.

Expand Your Options

Whisky is the go-to when it comes to cigar pairings but there’s no need to stop there. Spirits like rum, Cognac, and even some sherries can play off of a stogie nicely. We even like some stronger and fortified wines while having a puff. Try something bold like Tannat or Merlot, or a smooth and rich option like Porto. The higher ABV, the better, as generally, you’re going for heft over brightness and acidity here. What’s needed is a heady wine that can handle the big earth, baking spice, and tobacco notes cigars tend to offer. Even the heaviest of beers can go great things to cigars. Look for something like a high-octane barrel-aged stout or smoked porter next time you don your smoker’s jacket.

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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