Whisky Advocate

Pairing whisky and cigars

November 24th, 2009

Tonight I’m going to Cigar Aficionado’s “Big Smoke.” It’s the cigar equivalent of a WhiskyFest. In fact, Big Smoke is held in the same room as WhiskyFest New York at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square in New York City. (We comp them a couple tickets to WhiskyFest and they do the same for us with the Big Smoke.)

I know that some of you would never even think of smoking a cigar, let alone smoking one while enjoying a whisky. But, for over 25 years, I have enjoyed an occasional cigar–and something good to drink with it.

Sometimes I’ll have rich, malty full-bodied beer to go with my cigar. Other times, I’ll have a nice vintage port wine. But many times I’ll enjoy a whisky with my cigar.

I don’t have a specific pairing, but I generally DON’T drink smoky whiskies with cigars, because cigars are already smoky. Rather, I look for something to complement my cigar–like a rich sherried Speysider or full-bodied bourbon.

For those of you who enjoy a cigar with your whisky (or whiskey), do you have a favorite pairing? If so, tell us what it is.

35 Responses to “Pairing whisky and cigars”

  1. David K. says:

    I agree with you John – I like a richer whiskey as well, or maybe even something cask strength. Some pairings i’ve tried recently that went well were the Glenlivet Nadurra with a C.A.O. Brazillia Box Pressed cigar, and a Glenfarclas 12 with a Padron Anniversary. I may have to try these again Thanksgiving day, just to be sure.

  2. GS says:

    I find that the taste of a cigar so overwhelms the whisky that I don’t want to waste one of my favourites. If I have a scotch with a cigar, I’ll usually keep it simple… Johnny Black, for instance. But I’ve recently started drinking dark rum over ice with my cigars. I prefer a spicier cigar like a Montecristo and find that the cool balance of a spirit over ice is a nice companion. I wouldn’t want to lose the taste of a good dram to a spicy cigar. Definitely interested in hearing how others approach this.

  3. Joe Maissel says:

    I’m with GS on this one. I tend to favor beer with cigars because I like the cooling and cleansing effect. But if I feel like having a Whisky I’ll go with something straight ahead like Makers on the rocks or Johnny Black. Now I’m going to try some dark rum. Thanks GS!

  4. JC Skinner says:

    I tend to find that a cigar overwhelms most spirits, not to mention impairs the taste buds.
    But I still like a nice Havana from time to time, and when I do, usually I pair it up with either a hoppy English ale or else a Greenore single grain whiskey.
    Both work well alongside the smoke, I find. The subtleties of more complex drinks tend to get lost in the fug of smoke, so I leave them for a cigarless occasion.

  5. It has been a very long time now, but I always found the old Glendronach 15, 100% sherry cask, single malt was a great accompaniment to a good cigar. Although it was sometimes inconsistent towards the end of the production of the 15 year (the distillery took to vatting whiskies from second, third and fourth refill, and so often totally spent sherry casks), but at its best, the nose of the 15 year was nicely sherried and a little fruity, with some pleasing cinnamon and ginger spice notes and very subtle hints of smoke. The whisky was full-bodied, creamy and well rounded, with the palate showing caramel, dried fruits, apples, some wonderful spice and smoke, with distinct toasted oak nuances. The finish was creamy, long, warming and delicious with sherry wood notes and more of that spice and mild smoke sensation. Paired with a good cigar, the smoke sensation in the Glendronach simply melted away, but what was left was extremely complimentary and satisfying.

  6. Here’s a new site dedicated to pairings, and they include chocolate, too:

    http://www.sipsmokesavor.com

  7. murphy says:

    Why obliterate the taste of a fine whiskey (or anything else in life) with a cigar? Health issues aside (although they are real and significant), why destroy the moment?

  8. sam k says:

    Murphy…why? Because I can!

    Many people feel that our beloved whiskey ruins things in their own lives, and it obviously comes along with its own health-related issues.

    And since we’ve been provoked, I’ll throw in the fact that I LOVE a good, solid bourbon or rye with a cigar (your choice) on my back porch regardless of the weather.

    Let he who is without sin…

  9. Yossi says:

    I’ll side with Murphy in the fact that I do not like a cigar while I sip on whisk(e)y. For me, it ruins the flavor. That’s FOR ME though.

    On the other hand, I enjoy a good cigar from time to time and love tequila with it. The two seem to go hand in hand. Again, for me.

    Do what you enjoy, enjoy what you do!

  10. tommyzman says:

    There is nothing more relaxing and enjoyable than a nice premium handrolled cigar and a good pour. Anyone who wouldn’t think of combining the two is missing one of god’s greatest gifts to mankind.

  11. Shumwai says:

    Recently, a really delightful experience was a Partagas Corona with the new Springbank 18yo. I like the refreshing interplay between this medium smoky, briny and sappy whisky and the soothing cigar.

    But for heavier smokes, I agree with Sam K that a Wild Turkey Rye, Rare Breed or L&G’s Woodford Reserve can be perfect complements.

    Enjoy!

  12. DWilliams says:

    Cigars for me tend to be maduro. A nice rum like a Clement from Martinique is a beautiful pairing. Clement has lot of spice and vanilla on its finish like the maduros. I also like a Woodford, Booker’s or a cognac to pair as well. Happy Thanksgiving. Wild Turkey for everyone!

  13. G Llaguno says:

    Two-Bit Cowboy, Great link!!!

  14. monique at the dell says:

    For lots of new single malt consumers, cigars are like the “gateway drug” that gets them interested. In that way, it’s actually good for the industry as a whole.

    I am often asked about cigar and scotch pairings, as many have noted above, you’re not going to taste much else but the cigar, so I’ve got to agree with John here, nice sherried whiskies, or younger bourbon casks.
    I am partial to Longmorn 15, Arran Sherry Cask, Aberlour Abunadh, Balblair 1997…
    A great note on the dark rums. Many aged dark rums are still very affordable and complimentary as well.

  15. David K. says:

    Still waiting for someone to say they pair the Dalmore Cigar Malt….surprised not to see that yet…

  16. Leither says:

    I like to pair a whisky with a cigar also and, like John says, very much agree with pairing up the spicy/sherried numbers rather than the smoky ones.

    So it tends to be Speyside scotch or either a Rye or a rye’d style of Bourbon for me. Preferably 46%+ and ideally CS or the combo doesn’t work, with the cigar overpowering.

    Personal favourites to pair are Rittenhouse Rye BIB or Wild Turkey Rare Breed and either Aberlour A’bunadh or Glengoyne 12 CS (plus I like to experiment with mixing a Rye with an A’bunadh!). Recently I’ve also found that the Bunnahabhain Darach Ur (travel retail) works well with a cigar, which I think is in part due to the new and sherry wood used.

  17. Red_Arremer says:

    No kidding David– Think maybe the low apv’s on Dalmores send cigar smokers elsewhere?

  18. Leither says:

    Also, what I forgot to say is that(and this is a bit spooky!) a few days ago I just booked a trip to NY in 2010 for my missus and myself for her (significant) birthday, staying in the Marriott Marquis.

  19. mike says:

    What cigar would go with a full bodied whisky.

  20. WHISKYhost says:

    @Two-Bit Cowboy, @Llaguno:

    If whisky and cigar pairings are your thing the WHISKhost blog has just added a new, bi-weekly feature:

    http://whiskyhost.blogspot.com/2009/11/cigar-whisky-pairings-1.html

    Would love your comments on pairings that you’d like to see Ben try.

  21. Jack Coupal says:

    Isn’t the Marriott Marquis the hotel that has the Majestic Theater within it?

    Wife and I saw Reba McIntire (sp?) in “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Majestic in summer of 2001, before all the bad stuff in NYC.

  22. John Hansell says:

    I forgot to mention rum in my original posting. The sweetness and richness of many fine rums go very well with dried, spice notes of a cigar.

    Jack, yes, I believe that’s the same hotel. It has some theater in it. (Not sure of the name.) It’s also where we host Whiskyfest every year.

  23. Shane K. says:

    Hi, I have tried many spirits over the last 11 years and I have got to say Malt whiskies are definitely my choice when it comes to cigars. Some fine pairings include, Cohiba sublime 2004 with Springbank 21, Montecristo No. 2 with Macallan Gran Reserva 1979, Aberlour A’bunadh with Partagas series D No.4, Nub 466 with Aberlour 18, Montecristo Sublime 2008 with Springbank PSI, La Gloria Cubano reserva figurados with Karuizawa 1971 to name a few. I think the viscous texture of the sherried whiskies tend to soak the palate like a sponge after the drying effect the puff of a cigar has. They just work together unbelievably well. Both handmade products from 2 countries with opposite climates meld together to compliment each other perfectly. SUBLIME indeed!

  24. Lee says:

    I pretty much only drink whiskey while enjoying a cigar. Probably 5-6 per week. I smoke mainly med-full to full cigars in strength so I try to make sure I have a whiskey that stands up to this. Also, I’ve tried cigars that I hadn’t smoked before that turned out to be too mild in flavor and gotten overpowered by a barrel stregth whiskey like G.T. Stagg. I find that a nice rye pairs well with a spicy cigar from a manufacturer such as Tatuaje, Pepin, Illusione, or a fuente Opus X.

  25. Greg says:

    I do pair whiskey and cigars! I don’t put a whole lot of effort into getting the perfect pairing but usually if I’m drinking a high rye bourbon, I’ll go with a mild bodied cigar and vice versa. I do mix things up and go with my pipe at times, especially now that winter is setting in.

  26. I frequently drink The Dalmore 12 year old with a La Flor Dominicana-Double Ligero. However, the real deal is The Dalmore Stillman’s Dram 28 Year Old with a Litto Gomez Diez Oriental. I’ve had the Cigar Malt but it really isn’t in the same league as the others I have listed here (IMHO).

  27. Joe G says:

    Oddly enough, I have Cigar Aficianado’s Big Smoke to thank for my new found love of Single Malt Scotch. As a long time cigar smoker, I used to turn to liqueurs as an accompaniment to my cigars. At the Big Smoke in Las Vegas in 2007, attendees were able to sample some top notch Scotch whiskey. Net result for me is that I now have a few fingers of this noble liquid when I enjoy my cigars.
    I do pair them according to the flavor of the cigar and my moods. Richly flavored smokes call for a peatier flavored drink, while those with milder flavors need a lighter taste. Regardless of my given choice, it is a pleasure to explore this pairing of drink and smoke. I wish everyone joy in their own experience!

  28. WHISKYhost says:

    Thanks to everyone who followed the link above and sincere thanks to John for allowing a link in the comments thread.

    The latest cigar & whisky pairing is up at the WHISKYhost blog:
    http://whiskyhost.blogspot.com/2009/12/cigar-whisky-pairings-2.html

    Happy drinking and smoking, people!
    Jason

  29. David says:

    Hi John,

    I read with interest the recent discussion about cigar and whisky pairings. This is an area that has fascinated myself and a friend of mine for a number of years. While everyone had talked about how cigars and whisky are a natural combination, we had noticed over the years that this was not always the case. Some cigars go well or okay with some whiskies and some simply don’t go together at all and ruin the enjoyment of both. We were so intrigued by this conundrum that we started systematically testing different whisky and cigar pairings to identify those that worked and those that didn’t. After going through many cigars and many single malts (a time consuming and tough task, but someone had to do the ground work), we started compiling a list of what we considered great pairings. Word got out about our “research” and our whisky and cigar loving friends were constantly asking for recommendations and to go public with our list so we recently decided to start a blog devoted to the subject. For those who might be interested the site is located at http://whiskyandcigarpairings.blogspot.com

    We hope it will generate interest and further discussion into the art of pairings and provide a forum to discuss issues related to the topic, a central place to share successful pairings, and a repository for all successful pairings. For anyone who has ever encountered a bad pairing, I think our blog will be a welcome source of pure pleasure.  When the pairing is right, they are indeed matches made in heaven.

    • Tim Bernard says:

      I would love to read the blog about cigar-whisky pairings but the website is telling me I need to be invited. I can identify with trying different combinations of cigars/whiskys and not have them compliment each other. How can I get on the blog?

      • David says:

        Hi Tim,

        Sorry about the blog. I took it off line and am working on putting it back up soon. In the meantime, let me share with you a few of what we’ve found to be excellent pairings:

        Aberlour A’bunadh and CAO Maduro
        Plenty of sweet cocoa and toffee. The sherry in the whisky brings out the flavor of the cigar.

        Ardbeg 10 Year Old and Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Exclusivo
        The pair combines to soften each other. The peat becomes a bit less overpowering and the whisky’s sweetness comes out to enhance the nuttiness/earthiness of the cigar.

        Balvenie 12 Year Old and Arturo Fuentes Cuban Corona
        Spicy! Creamy, nutty mouthfeel.

        Bowmore Darkest and Oliva V
        Robusto Heavy nutty notes (pecan pie), caramel, earthy.

        Bowmore Darkest and Padrón 1964 Anniversary
        Sweet chocolate, spicy pepper. Outstanding.

        If you try any of them, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the pairings.

        David

  30. Dave says:

    I actually found an exquisite pairing by mistake…It was an Aberlour 12 year on the rocks paired with a Rocky Patel Summer 2008 Collection cigar. I must say it was a match made in heaven. The sweet honey & citrus aromas from the cigar paired with the sweetness, richness and spice of the scotch was just perfect!. Very Smooth

  31. David B says:

    I must admit I’m a newbie to cigars but when it comes to whiskey I have great taste buds for it. Cigars in general for me taste absolutely great with a cigar. The better whiskers of course should only be sipped as should a good cigar. Smooth complements smooth. A good CAO cigar goes well with a fine whiskey; like a great bourbon as Woodford Reserve, or a lovely Glenlivet 18 yrs old at least, or the ever delicious Johnny Walker Blue or Gold Label. If you are a Canadian whiskey drinker I have to stick to the popular Crown Royal. Once upon a time I bartended in a very selective country club which offered very select membership and liquor list. Whether or not u prefer my choices I just want to say cigars are a great pleasure to smoke and great whiskey should not be ever watered down. Good smoking and sipping to you

  32. Aidan says:

    The Balvenie + Cohiba…. worth a shot.

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