Among the people we run into or who follow us the most asked question has to be “How do you come up with a cigar and drink pairing?” There are several thing we focus on when coming up with a pair: strength, complimentary flavors, contrasting flavors, richness and history.
What makes a good pair?
A great pair must be well balanced in all those areas. The cigar should be great on its own as should the drink. The drink should enhance the cigar’s flavor and complexity while the cigar should bring out new flavors and experiences in the drink. If one improves the other but the relationship is just one-directional, the pair doesn’t really work. Each should make the other better.
Keep in mind that people all taste things slightly different from each other and also have their own preferences. It could be that a pair you love will not be enjoyed by a friend or pairing group member, but this should help you get started.
The strength of a cigar is measured in two ways. Firstly in reference to a cigar the strength refers to the amount of affect the smoke will have on your physical body. The second attribute strength can refer to is how much taste and flavor your get in each puff. The strength of a drink similarly can refer to either of those as well. A very light cigar like candella will not generally pair well with a 45% cognac or rum. Likewise a double maduro or oscuro will probably not go well a pale ale. But you probably also don’t want to drink a 45% cognac or rum with a 7″ Le Bijou 1922 Churchill – you’ll be drinking that 45% for two hours and have a heck of a time driving home from your pairing group (We urge you to drink responsibly! Don’t drink and drive… we had to say it)!
In some cases the cigar will relieve you from the after burn of a strong drink as the alcohol comes back up through your nose after swallowing. In other cases the cigar will take away the sweet overtones of the drink and leave you with little but the burn. Depending on what you’re going for, either one can be a good, or bad thing.
Cigar and drink pairings can work very well together when they have similar flavors. Flavors of vanilla, toasted nuts, tobacco, cinnamon, earth and leather are common in a lot of cigars as well as drinks. Sometimes it works well to find those common tastes and flavors and try to bring them out in each other. Contrasting flavors are another area to look at. Sometimes the best way to bring out the floral or marzipan notes in a spirit is to contrast it with the spice and coffee flavors in an English Market Selection or maduro cigar. The key is to give it a try and find out what works for you. Learn from other people’s experiences and then share your own!
Richness could also be referred to as mouth-feel. Is the smoke dry or light? Is it thick and white? Slightly gray or chalky? Is the drink a dry Bordeaux or is it a succulent tawny port? Balance is the key here. A dry drink with a rich cigar may make the drink less palatable while two drier components won’t well together either. The key is balance with this one.
This is an aspect that may or may not affect your experience. When you can find a cigar and drink pair that have parallel or even interwoven histories it makes the experience just that much more enjoyable. The interwoven story of Torano cigars and Audrey cognac or the paralleled histories of Flor de Cana and Oliva, helps you to have a broader appreciation for what’s behind each product and can impress your pair group but also help you feel a deeper connection to the products you’re enjoying and the decades or centuries of sacrifice that went into making them what they are.
Price is the one thing we do not put much weight on though people are often tempted to. One of my favorite combinations was the Behike 56 with Woodford Reserve. The price of the cigar heavily outweighs that of the drink, but everything else fit just right. Two bad products won’t lead to a good experience but you can get good products at a reasonable price. Check out our budget pairs for ideas!
Share your pair
Don’t forget at any point you can submit your own pairing ideas to the site to help others put together a nicepair as well.