Perhaps nothing indicates a man of class more than a fine cigar and a glass of brandy. But brandy is a very wide grouping including many types of drinks made of different grapes and using different methods. This article is meant to be a guideline to help you make the right decision when looking for a brandy to pair with your cigar. Each drink is unique just like each cigar is unique. If you’re not familiar with either component, research the flavours you should expect to get out of it and choose the right counterpart from there.
“Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.” – Samuel Jackson
There are several variations on how Brandy can be made in both technique and ingredient. The differences between Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, grappa, eau-de-vie or American brandies are subtle but key. There’s an excellent article detailing the full technical differences at tastings.com. I will simply outline in this article the flavours you can expect to receive from each style and hopefully point you in the right direction for choosing a cigar to go with it.
Pairing cigars with Cognac
French Brandy – Cognac is a French brandy that is produced in the Cognac region. It is double-distilled and contains 99% ugni blanc grapes. Cognac typically has flavour profiles combining nuts, fruit, caramel, honey, vanilla, and spices. Brands include Courvoisier, Hennessy, Martell, and Rémy Martin.
The Cigar – Cognac is a strong drink that can handle a delicate cigar and shouldn’t be paired with something too dark or overpowering. You don’t need to sacrifice flavour – just choose the right ones. The notes you want to look for are cedar, chocolate and baking spice or floral notes. Try pairing it with a Perdomo Edicion de Silvio, Torano Exodus or Bolivar Simones.
Pairing cigars with Armagnac
French Brandy – Armagnac is a region in France which is further broken into sub-regions which each have a distinct characteristic in the armagnac they produced. It is singled-distilled in a continuous still producing a clear eau-de-vie which is then barrel-aged. Armagnac is often considered a more sophisticated and complex drink than Cognac in many circles. Look for notes of dried fruit along with woodier, bolder alcohol notes and a longer, more intense finish. Armagnac is produced by Larressingle, Armagnac du Montal and Chabot among others.
The Cigar – Armagnac requires a more edgy cigar than Cognac. Stay away from lighter wrappers and delicate flavours. I would recommend avoiding most Cubans when pairing with Armagnac. Find something full bodied with a hint of spice, lots of woody or earthy notes and, if possible, dried fruit. Some examples would be Alec Bradley Tempus, Rocky Patel 1992 Vintage or Paul Stulac Red Screaming sun.
Pairing cigars with brandy de Jerez and Penedès
Spanish Brandy – brandy de Jerez and Penedès Brandy have their differences but for it is safe to group them for this article. They generally are deep, rich and lush with dried fruit, burnt caramel and distinct sherry notes from the casks they’re aged in. An interesting note is that due to North American import laws the spirit must be bottled at 40% whereas in Spain these drinks are usually only 32-36%. Some popular brands include Torres, Lepanto and Gran Duque d’Alba.
The Cigar – This is a rich drink quite different from the French Cognac or Armagnac you may be used to. The flavours are bold, dark, imposing. You want to choose a stick with strong notes of wet earth, dark chocolate and leather. Try a stick by Ramon Allones, a Padron “Padron Series”, or La Aurora 100 anos.
Pairing cigars with Italian brandy
Italian Brandy tends to be on the light and delicate side with a touch of residual sweetness. There are no specific brandy producing regions in Italy and production is limited. They’re not known for their brandies and from my observation most brands available on the shelf are fairly inexpensive. One such brand is Vecchia Romagna which is medium bodied with notes of fresh fruit, vanilla and caramel.
The Cigar – Choose something lighter in flavour and with notes of milk chocolate, roasted peanuts or florals. Try the Perdomo Champagne Noir, Berger & Argenti Mooch or Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill.
Pairing cigars with grappa or marc
Pomace Brandy – Italian Grappa or or French Marc is made from the the pressed grape pulp, skins, and stems that remain after the grapes are crushed and pressed to extract the juice for wine. They are minimally aged, rarely see wood and are an acquired taste. They are often quite raw but can offer an aroma of fresh fruit which is often lost in oak-aged Brandy.
The Cigar – A strong cigar is required for this strong drink. Look for a double or triple maduro or oscuro stick with strong notes of espresso and dark bitter chocolate. Consider the Camacho Triple Maduro, Perdomo 10th Anniversary Maduro or Rocky Patel Edge Maduro.
Pairing with other types of brandy
German Brandy – Or weinbrand is typically made from imported wines distilled in pot stills and aged for a minimum of 6 months in oak. The best German Brandies are smooth, somewhat lighter than Cognac, and finish with a touch of sweetness. They are generally fruity, with aromas of grape and oak. The most well-known brand is probably Asbach.
The Cigar – You want to choose a cigar that is similarly sweet and fruity and perhaps notes of milk chocolate. Try pairing it with the Kristoff Maduro, Drew Estate Java Maduro or Sancho Panza.
American or “California Style” Brandy – has a clean palate, lighter in style than most European Brandies, and has a flavour profile that generally makes it a good mixer. Flavours can range greatly in this region from nutty, floral, oaky, raisin, spice, pepper, coffee to maple sugar. Some of the more popular brands include Korbel, KWV or E&J. This style can even include fruit brandies such as Apple Jack or Pear-based eau-de-vie.
The Cigar – Because the flavours can range so greatly throughout this style of brandy it is difficult to make a broad recommendation for the group. Research the bottle you’re considering purchasing and the tasting notes behind it. Look for cigars with similar or complementing flavours. There is a basic complementary flavour chart here. And an extremely complicated one here.
Mexican & South American Brandy – Though not well-known outside of Mexico, brandy outsells tequila and rum in its own country. A variety of methods can are used in brandy production here. The resulting brandy often has a perfumed fragrance and serves as the base for a variety of mixed drinks, including the famous Pisco Sour. It is not generally considered a sipping brandy.
The Cigar – Because the flavours range greatly, the distribution is minimal and this brandy is intended for mixing it’s not possible to suggest specific cigars. You may want to look at the complementing flavour charts mentioned in the American Brandy section. There is a basic complementary flavour chart here. And an extremely complicated one here.
Fruit Brandy – Can be made from just about any other type of fruit. For example Apple Jack in the American Brandy section which is known as Calvados in Europe, or others which are made from pear or berries. These are not the same as fruit flavoured brandies which are grape brandies that have been flavoured with the extract of another fruit.
I tend to keep a decanter of Boulard Calvados on my desk at all times in case I need a quick but reliable pairing drink,