The history of tobacco in the US and its contributions to our culture are only rivaled by those of bourbon. Whenever I think of the old west I can’t help but see visions of a gun slinger bellying up to a bar with a cigar hanging from his lips and ordering a whiskey. While both cigars and whiskey are the end results of patient distilling or fermenting, the final product is aimed at providing the most discerning aficionado with a relaxing experience that tantalizes the palate with focus on flavor, body, balance and finish.
A common misconception when pairing anything with a cigar is that in order to complement each other, each needs to make up where the other lacks as it pertains to balance. For example, connoisseurs may pair a bitter cigar with a sweeter whiskey. In truth, these luxurious indulgences should be balanced if they are to be considered premium in their own right. Any cigar, whiskey, or wine worth its salt should be well-balanced between the stimulation areas on your palate including sweet, bitter, acidity, and salt. Therefore, a true connoisseur will always reach for a balanced cigar or a balanced drink and the methodology behind the actual pairings should come down to specific tastes which, at least in the case of cigars, remains largely subjective.
When I reach for a bottle of bourbon (or any whiskey) to pair with a cigar, there are a few basic things I like to consider. First of all, I don’t necessarily want a whiskey to match the cigar’s notes, but I do want it to match it in body. If you pair an intense cigar with a light whiskey, or a powerful whiskey with a light cigar, the subtleties can be dampened or even completely lost. Secondly, I generally look for a well-rounded whiskey that stimulates multiple areas of my palate. Cigars and bourbon often have many flavors in common, and are both wonderfully complex, but if you choose a bourbon that is, for instance, one-dimensional and overly sweet, much of the cigar’s complexity can be overwhelmed by that sweetness. In choosing a well-rounded bourbon, you allow room for the nuances of the tobacco and whiskey to play off one another, forming a patchwork of flavor and subtly. Finally, quality is paramount to price.
When selecting a new bourbon, do your research. You can often find lesser known whiskeys that are not only as cheap as some lesser quality bottles, but also far exceed the quality and complexity of more expensive ones. Educate yourself on the spirits and tobaccos you are purchasing, and enjoy one of the most simple, yet most wonderful of life’s little pleasures: cigars and bourbon.
Booker’s: A bourbon for serious and adventurous bourbon drinkers which proves that roaring strength and delicate nuances can live in harmony. The intense notes of burnt caramel, leather, and spice are backed by a pant-kicking proof of over 120, with a finish that goes on for days. Pair this with some of your favorite full-bodied cigars.
Recommeded cigar: Punch Bareknuckle.
Buffalo Trace: This affordable bottle is generally easy to find in your local liquor store, and its quality is unmatched in its price range. The well-balanced notes of brown sugar, fruit, and spice are sure to complement many of your favorite medium to full-bodied cigars.
Recommended cigar: Ave Maria
Baker’s: A uniquely warm and sweet bourbon with a medium finish and mouth-watering texture. Its notes of toasted nuts, vanilla, and fruits, and its medium body, complement many medium-bodied cigars nicely.
Recommended cigar: San Lotano Maduro.