Ideas on Cigar and Beverage Pairings Part One

Cigar and Beverage Pairings

photo by Robert S. Donovan

Pairing cigars and drinks is a subject that I deal with on a regular basis, even having been invited by a college culinary arts program to address their students about the matter. I guess the reason that people ask me to speak or write about pairings is that I’ve formulated an approach that’s fairly easy to understand.

But before I detail my method, let me mention the exceptions to the theory. The first thing is that you can always drink something that’s lighter than the cigar, if you want the stogie to be the “star”. Secondly, water always works to help clear the palate. Lastly, if you like a particular type of drink, be it soda, liquor, wine, tea or whatever you prefer, go ahead and enjoy it with a cigar and don’t concern yourself with what “works”.

That said, if you match the pairing well, you will get the most out of the cigar and the libation, so it can be worthwhile if you have the time and motivation to do so.

So here it is;

Russ’ Theory of Cigar and Beverage Pairings: Match the body of the cigar and beverage, but contrast the flavor profile.

I can best illustrate this with an example.

Cigar type: Full-bodied, very spicy

Examples- Camacho Corojo, La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero, Casa Magna, Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970

Drink type: Ruby port

Examples- Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage, Graham’s Six Grapes, Fonseca Bin 27

Why do these work well together? Let’s look.

All of the cigars in the above example are medium-full to full bodied. Body can come from “mouth feel”, or the richness that fills and lingers in the mouth, but it can also come from the nicotine content. Generally, full-bodied cigars have a significant “nic-kick”. The ports have a very full mouth feel that coats the palate, therefore, there’s a balance of body between the smoke and the drink.

cigar and beverage pairings

Photo by Charles Williams

But the items are very different in terms of their overall flavor. The cigars listed can be described with terms such as: spicy, peppery, leathery, woody, flinty, earthy. The ports, however, will have very different terms applied to them, like: sweet, syrupy, tannic, acidic, round, rich, fruity.

Why the need for contrast? A great illustration is to go outside in cold weather with no gloves on for a while, maybe while making and throwing a snowball or two. Then, go inside and run cold water in the sink. Put your hands under the running cold water and it feels…warm. The fact that your hands are terribly cold will make the less cold water feel warm.

When you are puffing in a lively, spicy, tangy cigar with a rich body, you’ll notice some of the elements that people like about Buffalo chicken wings- heat, pepper, tanginess. When you contrast those flavors with sweet and fruity, the cigar tastes even livelier and the wine becomes even more syrupy and enhances the fruitiness.

Granted, this is an extreme example, but it’s a very common pairing, and one that I enjoy fairly frequently, which, being extreme, makes for a very clear illustration. When we get into more subtle flavors, the task becomes a bit more difficult, but I will address medium and lighter bodied cigars with some suggestions for appropriate beverages in future blogs. Thanks for reading.

Read more >> Ideas on Cigar and Beverage Pairings Part Two

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About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.