Whisky Advocate

Whisky and cigars: your opinion?

November 7th, 2010

I have a feeling that this will be a very polarizing discussion.

I’m heading to New York gearing up for our sold-out WhiskyFest on Tuesday. On Wednesday I travel back home, only to unpack and then pack again, because on Thursday I’ll be flying to Vegas to attend Cigar Aficionado’s Big Smoke weekend.

I have been enjoying an occasional cigar for nearly 30 years. My new boss wants me to attend his Big Smoke weekend to see how the event is run. (Let’s see…cigars, booze, food…okay, twist my arm. :) )

Anyway, many times, when I drink whisky, I don’t smoke a cigar. When I am enjoying a cigar, I always drink something with it, but often it’s something else (vintage port, a richly flavored beer, coffee). Why? Smoking a cigar, with its dry, spicy, smoky notes, often makes me thirsty. For this reason, I usually drink something that’s a little more thirst quenching (for lack of a better term) than whisky.

But sometimes I really do enjoy a nice sherried (or malty) Scotch or Irish whiskey or full-flavored bourbon to drink while I smoke my cigar. I think they go great together.

Just because I am drinking a whisky, it doesn’t always mean that it has to be the main focus of my attention. Sometimes, what’s most important is the conversation I am having with friends at the time. Or perhaps it’s the scenery I am watching, a book I am reading, or a movie I am watching.

Whisky, as much as I love it (and it’s my job), isn’t always my priority. Sometimes I am quite content with it playing second fiddle, with or without a cigar, where it’s just a small part of a pleasant experience. And if I don’t capture all the subtle nuances or flavors of the whisky (or even pay that much attention to it), then so be it. I might pick a whisky that is less complex or one demands less of my attention. Indeed, sometimes the highest rated whiskies aren’t always the best choice for a given situation.

How about you? Do you enjoy an occasional cigar? Do you smoke cigars when you drink whisky? If so, on what occasion do you do this? What whisky are you drinking, and what cigar are you smoking?

Do you agree with my opinion here, or do you disagree? And why do you feel this way?

47 Responses to “Whisky and cigars: your opinion?”

  1. It might be good for other people, but I can’t stand tobacco near my whisky

    The only smoke I like origins from the peat!

    I remember having a tasting ruined because the person next to me was a smoker. His tobacco bad breath totally disturbed me nosing my whisky.

    Luckily smoking isn’t allowed at tastings these days, but people going outside for a smoke in the break can do harm enough still

    It’s far from all smokers who are pesting their surrounding, but it can happen

    I had some similar experiences with people who uses too much perfume

    There’s a lot of threads on forums these days about pairing whisk(e)y with cigars. I prefer to pair my whisk(e)y with fresh air and good company

    Steffen

    • I have to chime in here. For me as a non-smoker, cigar smoke is the type of smoke that interferes the most with any eating or drinking pleasure.

      I can well imagine that cigars and whisky can be a good match for smokers. But they should make sure that if they are not alone, they do it only in company of people who don’t mind.

    • Murrell Kinkade says:

      Steffen, you nailed brother. I hate having a good whisky taste ruined by someone elses smoke. I do like Islay smoke, that is it though.

  2. John Hansell says:

    Steffen, it is for this reason, we never allow smoking at any of our WhiskyFest events. When I do smoke a cigar, I make sure there’s no one around who will be impacted negatively. (Most of the time, I am smoking outside at my house or a friends house, not in public.)

  3. Derek Stewart says:

    John, similar to you, I don’t need to have a cigar with my whisky. I enjoy the whisky on its own.
    I do, however, enjoy a cigar once or twice a month and usually have a whisky or beer with it.

    I had a cigar last night (CAO MX2) with a friend while sipping an Ardbeg Supernova. Not really the best combination as they are both pretty intense. I have tried several whisky/cigar combinations and find that I generally prefer to have a bourbon or sherried whisky with my cigar.

    I find that smoking a cigar somewhat ruins my taste buds for the rest of the day, so I try to delay the cigar until later in the evening. That way I can enjoy a lighter style Highland or Speyside whisky first.

    It really does come down to good company. If I am hanging out with the right people, the whisky, cigar, or any combination is just right!

    Cheers,

    Derek

  4. bgulien says:

    Sorry, I don’t smoke.
    As a former smoker, I saw my taste improve when I stopped smoking.
    But I can understand the enhanced experience when smoking a choice cigar.
    So go for it, if you are content with it.

  5. Rick Duff says:

    I rarely have a cigar.. but sometimes..
    summer/fall I like to sit out on the porch and enjoy one..
    usually with a whisky.. full flavoured bourbon.. or a bit smokier (peated) scotch.
    Like you.. the whisky is more of an accompaniment.

    A cigar on the golf course is nice.. wide open spaces with not many people around..
    and of course I have to have a few nips of whisky while playing.. the contents vary from bourbon, Canadian, or scotch..
    I usually have 2 flasks and 5 cigars in my bag..
    2 flasks so I can share with my partners and they can have something they like
    (they usually don’t like the scotch.. ).

    I am a subscriber to Cigar aficionado magazine.. the one from the company that owns you..
    but only because I had spare airline miles for it.. and I enjoy their articles on Whisky and
    the ads for Whisky.. the magazine usually only lasts 15 minutes .. then into the recycling bin.

  6. Jon W. says:

    I am not a big smoker, although I enjoy nice cigars occasionally. I rarely pair them with Scotch or Bourbon. I usually go for something lighter and sweeter, like rum or brandy. If I’m smoking a cigar that’s the focus, so I want something that can take a back seat. I like Scotch and Bourbon too much on their own.

  7. To say I like cigars would probably be a relative understatement, frankly. I love cigars. And the occasional pipe.

    But not with my whiskey.

    A cigar or pipe and a beer/cider is a nice combo. Maybe even a mixed drink if I’m feeling saucy. But whisk(e)y neat and a cigar, I feel, don’t work together. I think that the heaviness of a cigar coupled with the weight of a fine whisk(e)y negate the minutia of each other when combined. At best, each crushes the finer points of the other. At worst, one completely overpowers the other leaving a lack of balance. I find it curious that there are specifically marketed cigar malts out there, like the old Dalmore Cigar Malt and the Laing Cigar Malts. I guess if it works for you then more power to you but to me it just doesn’t mesh well enough to continually search out combos of whisk(e)y and cigars.

  8. Ossus says:

    I often enjoy a nice pipe with my scotch. I like pipes better than cigars with scotch because I find pipe smoke to enhance the flavor instead of covering it like cigars tend to do. I do enjoy cigars with some of the heavier bourbons because they are both such strong flavors, one doesn’t overwhelm the other.

  9. Jason Pyle says:

    John, I am a big time lover of cigars, and typically fuller bodied, richer smokes. Sadly, I have less and less opportunity to enjoy them. I always find my enjoyment of cigars proportional to the quality of the company I have with me. So it’s difficult to sit down and enjoy them as much as I used to. But absence makes the heart grow fonder.

    While I do drink whiskey when i smoke cigars from time to time, I am also an equal opportunity imbiber. I give all spirits and beverages a chance. So with that I’ll say that it’s most critical to me that folks assess what they are smoking and then determine what whiskey or drink will make the enjoyment better as a whole.

    I find richer, fuller bodied smokes go great with a rich, full bodied and even spicy/hoppy beer. First, as you mentioned, there is a thirst quenching property, but there’s also a palate cleansing property too. Those big smokes can really bring the power, and dumping 90+ proof whiskey on that sucker can be a bit overkill. So I think a strong heavy beer that won’t get lost is appropriate without being too much.

    I find subtle and elegant whiskeys go really well with Medium bodied cigars. The balance and moderate spice, heat, and subtle sweetness of the smoke can really compliment a whiskey with finesse and balance. I keep the barrel proof and big bold offerings typically away from Cigars in general.

    Mild, creamy, sweeter cigars I find go well with a great cup of coffee or a lighter, creamier headed beer. I also enjoy them on the golf course.

    So in short I guess I think about what I’m smoking first and the above is usually how it shakes out.

    Great thought provoking post!

  10. Mitch says:

    I have to chime in here since I pretty much love both, together or not. John, I think I wholeheartedly agree with you all the way around. I don’t HAVE to have a cigar with whisky or vice versa, but I do enjoy the two together and find that often they complement each other. Of course, I’m on a pretty tight budget and can’t afford either cigars or whisky that commands attention due to a whole lot of complex nuances. But the two do pare well together, especially when both are on the cheaper or middle-of-the-road end of things. Each often will make the other better than they otherwise would have been.

    It largely depends on the cigar and whisky though. There are those that don’t pare well, though I have found that parings that others have not liked, I have preferred. Personally, my favorite paring has been a medium-full flavored cigar pared with Laphraoig. Many think that both are too intense to complement each other but I have found that the strong tobacco “smokiness” of the cigar goes well with a good, strong Islay Scotch. I found this to be the case (though to a lesser extent obviously) with paring Black Bottle Scotch with a cigar too. I like the intense smokiness of both together.

  11. Considering I run an entire site dedicated to scotch and cigars (AspiringGentleman.com), I’d have to answer yes, I enjoy the pairing. With respect to both cigars and scotch (and food), if you want to taste test all the flavors, it’s best to isolate and pair with water only. However, put together, pairings of the two can add much to the experience. A nice creamy/leathery cigar (think Ramon Allones) with a nice sherried whisky (Macallan, for instance) is a fantastic pairing. As is a full-bodied, peppery cigar with a good Islay.

  12. Steven says:

    Just my two cents… I love both cigars and whisky, and I’ll try them together at times, but I have to say that I feel that a cigar is best paired with a good trappist beer, port or coffee. I can’t help but feel that pairing a cigar with whisky is kind of having two powerful forces fighting with each other over the attention of your tastebuds most of the time, while a beer or port seem to complement the cigar rather than fight it. A maduro cigar with a good bourbon like Blanton’s is a combination I like, but not every cigar lends itself to that. Guess it all boils down to taste, which is exactly what cigars and whisky are all about. Keep experimenting, I say!

  13. Amit Sawhney says:

    John,

    I’ve written about whisky and cigar pairings on some of your previous posts. I’m an avid cigar smoker (up to 8 sticks a day), but whisky is my first love. I pair them all the time.

    As is the case with pairings of anything, these two must also be paired in harmony. There has to be a balance of flavors. I rarely smoke a cigar with an Islay whisky. In my humble opinion, there are only a couple of Isaly whiskies (Lagavulin 12 Year Old Cask Strength and Laphroaig 25 Year Old) from regular botlings that actually pair well with cigars. These two in particular pair well with La Gloria Cubana Serie R Natural No 5 and Partagas 160 (if you can find them). The Cain F is a relatively neutral cigar and it pairs well with most lightly peated whiskies. Another good whisky for cigar pairings is the Glenfarclas 17. The Glenrothes 1998 would also be a good whisky to sip with a nice young and green cigar.

    I follow a couple of simple rules, connecticut wrapper cigars with light whiskies and maduro wrapper cigars with sherried whiskies.

  14. Tommyzman says:

    Pairing a flavorful premium cigar with a good whiskey is simply heaven on earth. A nice full bodied smoke along with the sweetness of a sherry cask scotch makes for happy time, every time.

  15. sam k says:

    I enjoy an occasional cigar with my whiskey, but those are almost always accompanied by a regional lager beer. I find that the cigar (my latest favorite is the Cigars international Diesel, with a PA broadleaf wrapper) and the bourbon or rye tend to be very intense as a pairing, and I prefer the cleansing effect of a Straub or a Stegmaier (really!) to keep my palate clean.

    Otherwise, for me, adding a big beer with this pairing just makes it get lost in the crowd. Regional pilseners and lagers do have their place in the beer-drinking pecking order sometimes!

  16. bozzy says:

    I enjoy occasionally cigars with my whisk(e)y at summertime especially a nice robusto in my backyard… Let’s think about for a second what did I sip with a cigar this summer: Laphroaig 18, Jameson 18, Highland Park Hjarta, Four Roses Single Barrel and Glendronach 12…

  17. Lee B says:

    I love cigars and American Whiskey. I put a lot thought into my pairings. I stick to something with a bit more wheat for a medium bodied cigar and gravitate towards higher rye content with bolder full bodies smokes. A barrel proof spicy whiskey can completely overpower subtle cigars. I rarely encounter this problem unless I’m trying a cigar that I’ve never had before.

  18. PeterD says:

    Put me in the category of cigars+Scotch=Bliss. Well, most of the time. I usually enjoy one premium Habano every day and after trying all sorts of combinations, I really don’t like any Islays with cigars. I vastly prefer nuanced sherried whiskies to match nuanced cigars.

    My favourite pairings are Montecristo #2 and Macallan 18 (for taste and pure decadence) and Upmann #2s or Magnum 46s with either Glenmorangie Nectar D’or or LaSanta. I’ve had 21 YO Glenfarclas with a Monte 4 and a Partagas Lusitania, and found it went better with the Lusi. If I know I’m going to sample some truly premium Scotches, though, I’ll wait until afterward to spark up a cigar.

  19. Keith Sexton says:

    Great topic. I smoke a cigar twice a week, but I never smoke one with a single malt. I don’t like the smell or taste interfering with the smells and tastes of the whisky. I know they can compliment each other, but I’d rather form an opinion on the scotch alone for what it is. I’m the guy who got mad when my wife bought a motion-detector air freshener. She, in turn, gets mad when I turn it around so the motion-detector faces the wall. If I smoke a cigar when I drink, it’s when I usually don’t care a ton about what it is I’m drinking.

    My favorite cigar of the moment is Rocky Patel, the Edge, in a maduro wrapper.

  20. MrTH says:

    Nothing ruins my enjoyment of whisky more than cigar smoke. Actually, it ruins my enjoyment of pretty much anything. What you consenting adults do on the other side of the door is fine with me, of course, and I’m sure you are all very thoughtful about when and where you indulge. But I don’t think most smokers realize how much of a cloud they drag around around with them, or for how long.

  21. Samuel Muindi says:

    I’ll admit that I used to enjoy a cigar on a variety of occasions, including drinking whiskey. But not being able to get the taste out of my mouth the next day was a problem.

    But lets be frank, the deal breaker regardless of taste and aesthetics, is cancer.

    • Lee B says:

      Cirrhosis of the liver is more acceptable? moderation is key with everything.

      • MrTH says:

        One risky indulgence is enough for me. Why compound them?

      • Samuel Muindi says:

        I agree wholeheartedly on the point about moderation. Indeed, I hate the feeling having over-indulged on too much whisky, no matter how good it is. So I am not particularly worried about damaging my liver, but I wonder if there is a safe/moderate level of consumption for smoking? I’m not a medical doctor, but my sense is that the bar is much lower.

  22. John Parker says:

    I always enjoy a Joya de Nicargua cigar with my George T Stagg, I love a full bodied cigar along side a full bodied bourbon, so I disagree with you, doing these 2 together always brings joy to my taste buds and they compliment each other like no others.

  23. Gal Granov says:

    I seldom smoke cigars, i enjoy a cigar once a year maybe, but not with my whisky. I don’t like to match it, and i don’t like being with people who smokes cigars, it’s just too overpowering.

    Like Steffen, i enjoy my qouta of smoke from the peat, and nothing like a good Lagavulin for smoke or Ardbeg for the ashy feeling.

    So, not thanks. no cigar with my whisky sir!

  24. The Leveller says:

    Great thread. For me, whisk(e)y on its own doesn’t work as a sole companion for a cigar – depending on the occasion, I might have a strong beer (e.g. guinness or a rich, high-strength ale (6-7% alcohol)), or a whisky with some water on the side (sparkling actually refreshes the palate really well…). I don’t actually think cigar flavours complement whisky that much – to me, whisky tends to taste too sweet against the bitter backdrop of a cigar on the palate…

  25. maltakias says:

    I prefer Port with my cigar but i have much more access to malt whisky (due to my stock) so i choose to drink whisky more often.Of course a mature Rum or Cognac is never overlooked.

    I agree that sherried malts tend to match more with a good cigar.

    And what’s better than a nice Cuban.(sorry my fellow american friends)

  26. Joshua says:

    John – great question!

    For me, it’s a matter of $$. Let’s face it, whisk(e)y is expensive and the prices are only going to go up. Cigars aren’t getting cheaper either. I LOVE a nice cigar and I LOVE good whisk(e)y. I just do not love what happens when you mix the two. The beautiful flavors from each seem to get demolished once they come in contact with one another and now my hard earned cash is down the drain. Give me a separation of church and state.

  27. Dan T. says:

    Count me in the ranks of those that enjoy the pairing of fine cigars and whiskies.

  28. Vince says:

    I have a cigar occasionally and when I do I think the perfect marriage is a highland scotch whisky. That is pure nirvana for me. I think the Islay whiskies (which I enjoy very much) dont marry as well to a cigar as a speyside or highland scotch.
    I may have a cigar every two months. When I do I have it by myself on my back porch. The rest of the time I love Bourbon and most of the time will have a beautiful KY Bourbon neat. I drink Scotch about 20% of the time when I feel in the mood for a more delicate whisky

  29. Kevin says:

    I used to smoke the occasional cigar and would pair a Islay or Bourbon with it, but about a year ago I was at a cigar bar that served cocktails and had a mojito with the cigar and was blown away.
    Like you said John, its nice to have something that quenches your thirst as the cigar dries out your mouth. The refreshment and the contrast between the cigar and the sweetness of the drink was wonderful.

  30. Ken says:

    I have a buddy who prefers Bourbon or lager, but after trying everything I have, my favorites turned out to be Cognac, Lagavulin, or soda-water.

  31. David says:

    John – that raises a good question about whisky ratings. It would seem that a higher rating doesn’t necessarily mean that a whisky is always better than a lesser-rated one…

    • John Hansell says:

      My ratings are “absolute” not “relative.” Just because I think that a whisky, on its own merits, is a great whisky, doesn’t mean that it is the right whisky for a given situation. That’s where the “relative” comes in. Some whiskies are good before dinner, some are good after dinner, some with a cigar, some not with a cigar, some demand more of your attention, some don’t, etc. I think you get my drift here.

      • David says:

        That’s very interesting… I wonder what reviews would look like if they incorporated both “absolute” and “relative” factors? I wonder if that would even be possible…

        Would “enjoyable in many situations” raise the absolute rating? Would “best enjoyed while reading Tolstoy” lower the absolute rating?

        Have you ever tried a whisky that you reviewed very highly, but wouldn’t want to drink particularly often? Or vice versa?

        Theoretically it would seem that the higher the rating, the more often one would want that specific whisky over a lower-rated one. However, if an 83-rated Cardhu is heavily calling your name, it will prob please you more than a Black Bowmore… So in that moment, relative trumps absolute…doesn’t it always? And could (or should, even) that be a factor in reviews? If so – how, I wonder…

  32. John – Like Luke-AspiringGent I too run a website devoted to single malt Whisky and cigar pairings called SipSmokeSavor.com. These are two of my great passions. And while I concede that Whisky is not the only libation that pairs well with cigars, given the enormous variety of flavors and styles available in the single malt, it is easy to find combinations that match. It is my humble opinion that a fine pairing transcends the individual experience of either malt or cigar alone. A great example is the pairing of the La Aurora Cien Anos and Dalwhinnie 15 yo. The heather honey sweetness of the malt brings out honey on the finish of the cigar. Or match an Aberlour a’bunadh with an Alec Bradley Tempus and taste the incredible spice flavors that appear on the palate. For me it is the ultimate indulgence.

  33. Mitch Gurowitz says:

    As funny as it sounds, it was the world of Whisky that made me interested in cigars. (Even Richard Patersons’ website has links to cigar pages on it). But oddly enough I still for the reasons that John mentioned, I much prefer a cigar with coffee. Current favorite cigars are Padron Anniversary 1926 Maduro, CAO Black, and I enjoy a lot of the Illusione and Tatuaje lines.

  34. Mike B. says:

    My downfall… Whisky and cigars…Yes your palate will change with your cigar…but maybe in a new adventurous way. I just have a great time with my old standby “Pappy Vanwinkle 20 year” , a whisky that I know all the flavors of and enjoy. Now lighting up a ACID 1400cc , ROAM, or Tabak cafe Con Leche cigar can be enjoyable pairing. These mild to full aromatic flavor infused cigar brings out a new taste to my Van Winkle ….no need for desert!

  35. Wayne says:

    With all respect and affection to friends who do not appreciate cigar smoke, my two favorite ways to relax are with a wee dram and a cigar. Yes, smoking does numb the taste buds a bit, but I don’t feel the need to pay serious attention to every dram. But I forgo cigars for several days before attending a tasting or when I am planning to pour something special. For me, cigars go well with any of the big robust bourbons (Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Knob Creek, Old Forester). Although it may be bit wasteful to pour an expensive or subtle dram while smoking a cigar, I confess that I do it from time-to-time. Having said all that I do think that the perfect spirit to enjoy with a cigar isn’t whisky at all. It is, of course, rum.

  36. Jason G says:

    I am a cigar smoker and do enjoy a good single malt, bourbon, or aged rum with my cigars. I usually only smoke a couple a week, but they pair very well with a good drink. However I don’t have to have a cigar with my whisky, and I don’t have to have whisky with my cigar. I can enjoy them together or by themselves… Either way I’m happy.

© Copyright 2014. Whisky Advocate. All rights reserved.