Three Cigars, One Bourbon

photo by Maggie Kimberl

photo by Maggie Kimberl

When something gets repeated so frequently that no one questions it anymore it becomes dogma. But maybe it should  be questioned. One of the things I used to hear repeatedly at cigar shops and lounges was that you should pair a full bodied cigar with a full bodied bourbon and a lighter bodied cigar with a lighter bodied bourbon. This never made sense to me. A full bodied cigar and a full bodied bourbon are going to overpower each other and overwhelm your palate, while a lighter bodied cigar and a lighter bodied bourbon are going to lack interest. It makes more sense to strive for balance and complimentary flavors to enhance the overall experience. This is why I recommend pairing your cigar with a flight of at least three bourbons with differing flavor profiles.

I began to study cigar and bourbon pairings with Michael Veach about two years ago, methodically documenting the results of each study. I also studied and documented on my own. Some of the more interesting points I learned along the way include:

  • Proof seems to matter. Higher proof bourbons and ryes tend to overwhelm your palate when you are looking for subtlety and balance.
  • Anything that adds complexity to the flavor profile of the bourbon is going to change how it interacts with a cigar.
  • Premium or rare bourbons don’t necessarily pair best with premium cigars. Read that again and commit it to memory. Some of the best pairings came from readily available bourbons that cost no more than $30 a bottle.
  • Yeast in the spirit plays a bigger role than you think.

When you start your pairing, choose at least three bourbons that range in mash bill, yeast strain, proof, age, and more. Make sure you have one wheater in there – I usually use Old Fitzgerald Prime. Take a sip of the bourbon and then a puff of the cigar. Take note of how they enhance or detract from each other. Repeat these steps until you’ve discovered which bourbon pairs best with your cigar. Keeping notes will help you make more informed pairing decisions moving forward.

If you’re reading this because you want to know what to get the bourbon and cigar lover In your life as a special gift, I’ve got you covered there too. Based on my research I can recommend a bottle of Jim Beam Black Label (New York Spirits Competition Gold Medal Winner for 2017) with three cigars: L’Atelier 7th Sam, Dunbarton Umbagog, and the Alec Bradley Mundial No. 5. All of these should be readily available in your market, but if they aren’t, a good tobacconist can base recommendations for you off of this list. Tasting notes for all three:

  • Alec Bradley Mundial No. 5 - The smoke brings out a syrupy green apple sweetness in the bourbon. The bourbon counteracted the spiciness out of the smoke and highlighted the cocoa notes.
  • Dunbarton Umbagog - The smoke brings out  apple pie ala mode notes in the bourbon. The bourbon makes the smoke taste like chocolate milk.
  • L’Atelier 7th Sam - The smoke highlights an almost syrupy honey and vanilla flower combination in the bourbon. The bourbon draws out mineral and cocoa notes in the smoke.

Of course these are my impressions and you may find that your impressions differ. Take notes and enjoy yourself!

Have any other favorite spirit and cigar pairings? Please share them with us in the comments!