How To Taste Cigar Flavors in Whisky
December 27, 2022 –––––– Jonny McCormick
The aromas and flavors of premium cigars are always a joy to discover in whisky. Nothing beats the feeling when a dram sparks the pleasurable associations of rolling a dark cigar under your nose in a cigar lounge. Whisky lovers who have toured cigar factories in Cuba, Nicaragua, or the Dominican Republic can appreciate the aromas of the piles of tobacco leaves. The leaves are cured, fermented, and aged to produce the different grades of tobacco that the torcedores blend, pack, and roll into handmade cigars. If you have a seriously good humidor filled with cigars, then nosing certain whiskies may trigger the familiar fragrance of the Spanish cedar interior, since most cigar boxes are made of cedar, or at least include a cedar insert.
A well-chosen whisky can make a fantastic pairing for a cigar, and distilleries including Dalmore and Tomintoul have made that process easier by releasing their own cigar malts, created to complement rather than mimic the flavors in a cigar. Once you’ve got that special box-pressed cigar on the go—when the draw is sublime, the burn is even, and you’ve built up a pleasing inch of ash—then there are many whiskies around that can deliver a satisfactory pairing. As the editors at Cigar Aficionado, our sister publication, can attest, describing the complexity of flavors from smoking a fine cigar invokes a language as rich and tantalizing as any whisky tasting note. Common descriptors for good smokes from cigar brands like Padrón, Montecristo, Cohiba, and Partagás capture woody, earthy, nutty, and spicy flavors, as well as associations with notes of cocoa bean, leather, espresso, and vanilla—aromas and flavors that are no strangers to the whisky lexicon. It comes as little surprise then that our Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest event is so popular, where one of the event highlights is the opportunity to enjoy the No.-1 cigar and No.-1 whisky of the year side by side.
The origins of cigar and cigar box flavors in whisky are largely achieved during maturation. Spiciness can originate from the cereals in the mashbill, such as the percentage of rye, though fermentation contributes too, while the use of peated malt can deliver flavors akin to cigar smoke. Casks make the greatest contribution to flavor, with factors like the choice of European or American oak, toasting and charring of the staves, previous cask fillings, conditions experienced by the cask in the warehouse, and the length of maturation being integral to the development of woody, chocolaty, vanilla, nutty, and coffee notes in the whisky.
Light Things Up with one of these tasty whiskies
Tobacco Leaf–Glenmorangie A Tale of Winter
Milk chocolate, almond nuttiness, spice, tobacco leaf
Cigar Wrapper–Old Forester Statesman
Earthy cigar wrapper, tea leaves, root beer spice, berry fruit
Cedar–Jack Daniel's 10 year old
Cherry, wood and baking spices, brown sugar, cedar chest