The moment you puff on a cigar, the effect is potent. Your taste buds react powerfully. A cigar’s piquancy loiters on your palate for hours, influencing whatever you are drinking. If you plan to drink while smoking a cigar, it is worth the effort to make sure you choose an appropriate beverage that will compliment the cigar.
Many cigar lovers find that strong drinks with a high alcohol content are the best thing to pair with a cigar. A handy guideline is to choose a beverage with similar weight and body as the body and strength of the cigar. But rules are made to be broken. While aficionados wouldn’t consider sipping a glass of Cabernet or champagne while puffing a cigar, others have found pleasure pairing a light cigar with a flute of Dom Pérignon.
The typical accompaniment to a great cigar is rum, brandy, whisky, or port.
Tobacco is used for both items so pairing rum with cigars is a natural fit. And rum is made with sugar which goes with a smoky cigar like almonds covered in chocolate. The fact that rum can be easier on the wallet than some other hard liqueurs is another attraction. A note of caution – there are no standards for rum quality so beware of inferior bottles of the libation.
Straight or on the rocks, a cigar paired with a glass of high-quality rum is a relatively safe bet.
If we went by tradition alone, Cognac is the choice of accompaniment for cigar smokers. As Cognac is often served after dinner and cigars are frequently smoked after a meal, the two may have come together out of opportunity. Cognac comes in three types – VS (very superior), VSOP (very special old pale), and XO (extra old). Most taste buds will love the combination of a full-bodied cigar and an XO Cognac. If you are smoking a light cigar, a panatela perhaps, a VSOP is a good choice. Cognac has established itself as one of the finest types of brandy but don’t discount ones made in southern France or even California.
With the rising popularity of cigar smoking while enjoying a brandy, bottles of the fine liquid have appeared on store shelves that are created specifically for imbibing while enjoying a cigar. Some common choices include Hine Cigar Reserve Cognac, Davidoff Classic Cognac, Davidoff Extra Cognac, Pinar del Rion, A. de Fussigny Cigare Blend, the Cigar Blend from Germain-Robin, and Pierre Ferrand Cogare Blend Reserve Havana, among other choices.
Some cigar connoisseurs consider a glass of single malt scotch to be the ultimate partner for a weighty cigar. Purists say the scotch is best served straight or with a splash of pure spring water, never ice which can dull the taste and aroma. Eighty to one hundred proof is ideal. Other single malt whiskeys and Irish whiskeys are also popular.
Port is a perfect cigar accompaniment due to its sweetness. The silky, smooth wine coats your tongue and throat and cleanses your palate, eliminating the chance of your cigar overpowering your taste buds. Make sure you choose a fine vintage for maximum effect. A tawny port is usually well aged and its thickness is what encompasses your tongue, leaving a sensation like no other.
What about beer? While beer is not the usual drink people think to order when puffing on a cigar, it does have its fans. Not long ago you wouldn’t see any self-respecting cigar smoker chugging a beer but nowadays, pubs and beer festivals are holding stogy sessions in their cigar rooms. If you want to try a beer with your cigar, aim for a dark, strong beer with robust flavour; few lighter beers are able to hold its own against a cigar. With a spicy cigar, try a fruit-tinged beer. Of course taste is subjective so whatever you like best, go for it! If a bottle of Budweiser is what you love with a classic Cuban, do it.
There are a slew of other drinks you might want to consider, depending on what your cigar-smoking taste buds prefer. Consider a glass of Bailey’s on the rocks, a dry martini, a margarita, coffee laced with Irish Cream, a Kahlua of some sort, a dark barley wine, or even a Mai Tai. Ignore what drink is the most socially correct one with your cigar; go with what gives you the most pleasure.
For those who like a non-alcoholic drink with their cigar, coffee is the usual choice. A complex coffee or a cup of espresso, with its preponderance of flavours, can make your taste buds sing. For some people, the combination is as pleasurable as a cigar and a good Cognac or the perfect glass of port.
The type of cigar you are smoking is a deciding factor in what drink to enjoy. Smoking a $20 cigar rolled on the thighs of virgins calls for a different drink than a cigarillo sold for $1.99 in a cellophane packet. Even the time of day can influence your cigar plus drink choices. A cigar smoked after an evening meal will be different than one you smoke as the sun rises.
The only way to figure out what cigar and booze combination you like best is through experimentation. Keep in mind that a cigar should never overpower a drink and a drink should never overpower a cigar. Through trial and error you will learn what makes your palate smile so get busy!