Matching whiskey and cigars is a true treat and a luxury. It is the mark of an incredibly classy evening, and the combination will help to make both the drink and the smoke all the more enjoyable and delicious.
But there are countless different whiskies out there and countless different places to start. If you’re new to the worlds of whiskey or cigars (or just new to combining the two), then it’s important to ensure your first encounter is a positive one so that you get off to the best start.
This post humbly puts forward one combination for your consideration: the Oliva Seri V Melanio, with the 1792 High Rye.
Why Bourbon and Cigars
Smoking in all its forms has always been as much about the paraphernalia and the experience as it is about the actual taste and smell.
The point is that it’s sometimes just great to sit down and inhale something warm. To feel it fill your lungs (or just your mouth in the case of a cigar) and to blow that plume of smoke away and watch it hang in the air.
With all that in mind then, it should really come as no surprise that the surroundings and the circumstances are almost as important as the smoke itself. You want to enjoy a fine cigar on a special occasion, as a celebration. Ideally with close friends or family. And definitely with a drink.
What’s the best thing to pair with cigars? Suggestions range from coffee to soda – but nearly everyone agrees that whiskey is a fantastic choice. This is another experience that is ideal for celebrations, for alone time, for bonding. It’s another luxury that’s all about those finer, more subtle flavors.
But that then leaves us with another classic argument: bourbon or whiskey?
In a moment, we’ll discuss why bourbon is the best answer in a moment. But first, let me tell you about this fantastic combination.
Okay, so what we’re looking at here is the Melanio as the cigar. It’s a limited release (so you know it’s’ going to be good), and it is a follow up to the very popular Oliva Aos Serie V. It’s a full strength cigar in the Figurado shape, and it will set you back about $15 per stogie.
The leaf is an Ecuadorian Sumatra leaf that is thick and oily. It is full flavored and brings notes of leather, coffee and just a trace of pepper.
1792 is a brand of whiskey that comes from Bardstown Kentucky. It is owned by the Barton 1792 Distillery, which in turn is part of the Sazerac Company.
The name 1792 refers to the date when Kentucky became formally recognized as a State. As you can see then, the 1792 label is steeped in the local culture and is very much a product of its location. (That said, the company was previously known as Ridgewood Reserve 1792.)
1792 has been enjoying a lot of popularity and praise lately – being the winner of many prestigious awards. It specializes in small batch whiskey, aimed at the higher end market. This gives it a complexity and subtlety that is ideal for pairing with a good cigar.
Specifically, we’re going to be combining the Melanio with the High Rye. Bourbons are made with rye as the secondary grain in the mash bill, but in this case, the Rye is used in far higher percentages. This, combined with other flavorings, creates a very spicy, yet complex flavor that is the perfect partner for the coffee and pepper stylings of the Melanio. Together, they make a very robust and fully flavored combo that makes you stand up and take notice!
Bourbon vs Scotch
So, why combine bourbon and cigars, rather than Scotch? What’s even the difference?
Well, actually the difference comes down to many things – and it is as much about the culture here as it is about taste.
Scotch whiskey is the original. It takes back over 500 years, and in order for a whiskey to be classified as Scotch, it must come from Scotland. There are a few other rules too: for instance, it must be made using pure barley with no additional ingredients, other than coloring.
Another important rule is that Scotch whiskey must be aged in oak casks for at least three years.
The result is a drink that is certainly very well regulated and high quality. But at the same time, it’s also arguably ‘blander’ as compared with bourbon. Thanks to the combination of grains, the added spices and flavorings, and other things going in its favor – bourbon tends to be the more flavorsome and arguably the more ‘interesting’ of the drinks. Thus it can pair better with a wider range of cigars and also help to bring out those subtle notes in both the flavor and the odor.
While scotch must be aged for at least three years, the stipulation with bourbon is that it must come from entirely fresh barrels. That means that more of the woody flavor and smell tends to transfer itself into the drink, and the result is something that is more of an experience to drink and something that goes well with many of the slightly oaky cigars.
1792, in particular, takes great pride in meeting all these conditions, resulting in one of the most authentic bourbon whiskeys around – and an ideal place to start if you want to enjoy a fantastic pairing with the Melanio.
Some Whiskey Terminology
There’s a lot to unravel and unpack when it comes to understanding what makes a great cigar and whiskey pairing. If you’re currently feeling a little lost, the consider some of these terms which will help you to better understand whiskey and the 1792 in particular.
Believe it or not, whiskey is actually made from beer. It’s a strange form of beer, but it’s still beer! And that’s probably why cigars are also known to pair very well with craft beer!
The whiskey will be bottled at the proof that it came out of the barrel if it is classified as ‘cask strength’. This is typically more expensive, but it means you can add a little water and enjoy the bottle for longer.
If you would like to impress your next drinking buddy, then you should know that a ‘shot’ of whiskey is called a dram. And we don’t ‘shoot’ it!
Some of the terms you read on the labels of bottles will help you to understand the whiskey better and whether it’s likely to go with your cigar of choice. Other terms are essentially just empty, marketing slang. ‘Handcrafted’ falls firmly in the latter camp and technically means nothing at all!
Malt is a grain that is sprouted and then toasted. It makes whiskey a little sweeter, and you might know it from other types of drinks and chocolates!
This means that all the grain used in the beer/whiskey were grown in a single location. This doesn’t directly influence the flavor of said whiskey but will typically indicate a higher quality product.
Whiskey is matured in either an oak barrel or a cask. When you say that a whiskey is ’25 years old’, you are talking about how long it was in the barrel or cask – seeing as it doesn’t continue to mature inside the bottle. Unlike wine, there is no benefit to keeping a whiskey for years on end.
We’ve already discussed the difference between Scotch and Bourbon. But Irish Malt is another form of whiskey, which is produced from barley in a manner very similar to Scotch. However, it is tripled distilled. Triple distillation will help to create a higher and cleaner spirit.
This is the main process used in the production of whiskey. Whiskey will generally be distilled twice: the first distillation will produce low wines and the second will be used to collect the strong, distilled spirit.
Whiskey can be placed into a second casket after its initial maturation which provides additional flavor. It can then be ‘finished’ with sherry, madeira or burgundy for instance.
Learn these terms, try this pairing, and you will be on your way to chart the fantastic world of cigar and whiskey pairings. If it all sounds a little complex right now and all you can taste is smoke and alcohol… don’t worry! This is an acquired taste, and it takes time to mature your palette and to develop the sensitivity.
You will find that this is part of the fun: and this understanding of how the preparation process works and how different whiskeys vary will help you to better understand what you’re drinking and smoking.
There are more tips alongside our other pairing recommendations, so be sure to check those out and read the primer here.