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Cigar and Drink Pairing

One of the most favorite questions I get asked is, “what should I drink with my cigar”. And my favorite way to answer that question is “it depends.”

Of course, that sounds like I am trying to avoid the answer, but really, I am not trying at all, and to the contrary I am absolutely serious about the answer. What do I mean by “it depends”? Well, that is simple it depends on you and your mood at the time and what you are craving at the moment based on your preference of either the cigar or the drink.

Let me give you an example.

Say you are greatly desiring a super peaty Scotch that is smokey and has a lot of burnt caramel on the flavor profile. You may choose to match that with a strong cigar with a touch of sweetness that can stand up to the Scotch. On the other hand, you might want that Scotch to be the notes of choice and smoke a cigar that is weaker and will allow the Scotch to overpower it but let the cigar complement the Scotch’s smokey profile.

This begs the question, is there a perfect match between cigar and drink?

The answer is YES! We just need to refer back to my response “it depends.”

For most of us we have been taught that you pair like kind to like kind. Mild cigars should be paired with a lighter beer, wine, Bourbon, or blended Whiskey. For strong cigars, pair with a strong stout beer, red wine, Scotch, Cognac, Rum and so on. And you can keep playing this out for mild plus, medium, medium full, over the top or just about any version that a cigar comes in. But is this the right way?

Years ago, I would have agreed, you pair like kind to like kind, but one day that all changed. I started to realize that yes, like most of us that smoke cigars, I liked to have a good drink to go along with my cigar. I genuinely enjoy a great drink on its own too. It occurred to me that sometimes the cigar was driving my pairing ritual and other times it was the drink. I discovered that if I let the desire drive my cigar and drink pairing then I almost always found the perfect pair.

Personally, I am a Speyside Scotch drinker when it comes to Scotches. That does not mean that I do not drink other things – I like beer, wine, rum, bourbon, whiskey, rye, tequila. Basically, I like good quality alcohol that is not flavored, even vodka and gin on occasion.

When it comes to cigars I also smoke all over the board but my favorite go to is a great medium to full bodied cigar, like the Encore.

So, knowing that I like Speyside Scotches, it is clear that the Encore would be a perfect fit for a cigar whiskey pairing, like kind to like kind. However, I would also pair that full-bodied cigar with a lighter Scotch, or even a beer or a slightly sweet chilled white wine. I also find that a light bodied Rye Whiskey goes well with it.

On the other hand, when I reach for strong scotch whiskey like an Islay that is smokey and rich I want to enjoy that drink so I would pair it with a more classic medium or lighter cigar, like Dusk, so that the drink takes center stage. Why? For me, it is because the cigar does not try to match up to the drink but instead it will enhance the rich, slightly sweet smokiness that a strong Islay has.

One thing that is important to know about pairing your cigar and drink is that in many ways it is trial and error. As an extreme example I know a guy that likes to smoke medium to full maduro cigars that are slightly sweet with a bit of earthiness to them, like the Dusk I mentioned above, but his favorite drink is a root beer with his cigar. Is he wrong? I dare say not! Why? Because he loves it and that is what makes him happiest.

So, if it is trial and error then how does one start to pair their cigar and drink? For me it was easier said than done but over the course of the process I learned a few things I can share with you.

First you need to figure out your desire at that moment. Your desire for a cigar or a drink? Depending on what you desire, decide what kind of cigar, or drink it will be.

Ask yourself if you want the pair to match, be lessor or stronger? Then give it a shot and see what you think.

The good news is that you can always change the mix if you want. I know with a cigar that is not easy unless you have thousands of cigars at your disposal, but you can always pour just a little of the drink and see if it fits the cigar. If not, pick another drink.

Picture this to help you in your pairing process. You are sitting looking at a great cigar one that you have been dying to try, like Cigar Aficionado’s #1 cigar of 2020, the Pledge Prequel by E. P. Carrillo Cigars. You know from talking to your friends or the shop owner that this cigar is strong, full of pepper and earthy woods with a subtle sweetness. You have been waiting to get this cigar and now you have one. Before you light it, ask yourself what is more important, the cigar or what I am drinking with it? In my case a cigar that I never tried, and I have heard rave reviews about, I would want the cigar to be that standout so I would pair with something that would enhance my pleasure of the smoke. I might find a Rum that is not overly sweet or even a good smooth sipping tequila to enhance the peppery spice on this cigar. By no means do I want a drink that will make the cigar not be the focal point of my time.

On the other hand, one day you walk into your favorite Cigar Bar and look behind the bar and see that great bottle of Scotch you have been really wanting to try. Today is your day to do that so you get a pour and go looking for your cigar. You know that the Scotch is smooth with a hint of peat and a subtle wood and sweet finish. This bottle is always out of stock and you finally are getting your turn. For me, this drink takes the main stage and is my focal point tonight. So I am looking for a cigar that will enhance the drink – say a medium cigar that has a long creamy finish without a lot of spice, like the New Wave Reserva. The Encore mentioned before would also be a good choice.

I started this topic with responding to the question “What should I drink with my cigar?” and answering “It depends” because in my mind this is the actual truth. You as a smoker of fine cigars and drinker of fine alcohol need to decide this on your own. You can read all the magazines and articles in the world written about this, but in the end your taste buds will tell you what you like with your cigar.

Many claim pairing Rum with a cigar is the best – I have to be in the mood but others swear by it. The French claim that pairing a cigar with Cognac is the only way. I am more partial to Scotch. This list of pairing is endless, and I am sure if you look far and wide you can find a drink for every cigar and a cigar for every drink.

In the end, do not be afraid to pair away and try it all. Ask your friends, local lounge members and cigar shop owners. Research with tastings at your local liquor store or ask the expert there. Take notes and refer back to them and then find the pairing that interest you most and try it out. Lastly share with your friends because in the end this is how we all learn. May the smoke and spirit join happily in your endeavor to find the perfect cigar and drink pairing.