By Richard Carleton Hacker, Author of "The Ultimate Cigar Book"
Whether it’s cigar and scotch pairing, cigar and beer pairing or any cigar and liquor pairing, even the most seasoned cigar smokers and spirit connoisseurs can sometimes find themselves at a loss when pairing drinks with cigars. In fact, the very ability to pair cigars and spirits strikes many as a mystery. But like most mysteries, it can be solved, for there is a clue, and it is literally right on the tip of your tongue. It is simply a matter of learning how to taste.
You already use your natural tasting abilities when you select the dressing to put on a salad, or decide which wine to drink with dinner. Your palate tells you what is right for you. And the more you use your sense of taste, the more refined it becomes. That’s how professional cigar makers and whiskey distillers develop their expertise.
For example, a cigar master can pick out a single tobacco leaf, and by smelling it and smoking it, can identify the type of tobacco, tell you where it was grown, and how far along it is in the fermentation or aging process. Likewise, a master distiller can “nose” a sample of whiskey taken from a barrel and separate the aromas into a multitude of flavors. He can even tell you its proof! Cigar masters and master distillers are called “masters” for a reason; they spend years developing their skills - and tasting is definitely a skill. Luckily, like most skills, such as learning how to smoke a cigar like a pro, it can be learned.
Few things are more satisfying, from a palate pleasing point of view, than pairing your favorite cigar with a suitable libation. Some classic pairings with cigars are cognac, single malt whisky, bourbon, rum, rye, and port. With the exception of tequila, most white spirits – such as vodka and gin - do not work as well because the cigar will overpower the drink.
Of course, there are always exceptions. Some red wines and certain beers can also make a great match with cigars. The main criteria is not to let the drink dominate the cigar, or vice versa.
I like to tell people who are pairing drinks with cigars to simply match the body of the beverage to the body of the cigar. For example, a light-bodied cigar will go well with some white wines, young reds or blended scotches. Medium-bodied smokes are great with Speyside and some Lowland whiskies, most Irish whiskeys, rums, bourbons, ryes and ports. Full-bodied smokes are a perfect match with peaty Islay and heavier Highland single malts.
Pairing cigars with wines and spirits is just one part of the equation. Craft beer and even some cocktails can make for great pairings, too. But in the end, your taste is the final judge as to what will work and what won't when it comes to pairing cigars and spirits. Have fun testing out different smoke and drink combinations and develop your own perfect pairings.
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