Bourbon and cigars taste amazing on their own, but together they are a match made in heaven.
Bourbon and cigars have strong and varied flavour profiles, so it is important to get the pairing right if you are truly going to enjoy them equally. Here are five great tips on how to pair cigars and bourbon-like a pro.
- Know Your Cigars
The key to understanding how bourbon and cigars pair well together is knowing the basics of cigar structure and flavor.
Cigars shapes and sizes vary according to the brand and can significantly change the flavor profile. Cigars are measured in two ways: length and ring gauge. A larger ring gauge will have more filler tobacco in the cigar, while with a smaller ring gauge cigar you will taste the wrapper more.
Longer cigars tend to allow their flavors to develop and change throughout the smoke, while shorter cigars usually have the same flavor as you smoke it.
The shape of the cigar can also change how you experience the flavor. For example, a torpedo-shaped cigar will concentrate the flavor, while a classic corona will have a more even distribution of flavors.
- Match the Body of Bourbon to the Body of the Cigar
Cigars are often categorized according to their body. The body of the cigar refers to the intensity and strength of the smoke. It can also refer to the balance of flavors, the mouthfeel of the smoke, and the persistence of the aromas.
The body is grouped into the categories of mild, medium, and full, with some cigars falling between these discreet categories in the spectrum. Milder cigars are usually easier to smoke and ideal for beginners, while veteran smokers typically prefer full-bodied cigars.
Bourbon can also be described in terms of the body, which typically refers to how the bourbon feels in your mouth. It may feel thick and sit heavy on your tongue and roof of your mouth or evaporate instantly.
Matching the body of the cigar to the body of the bourbon can help each product to stand out on its own without overpowering the other. Choose light-bodied bourbon with mild cigars and well-rounded bourbon with full-bodied cigars.
- Look for Complementary Flavors
Both bourbon and cigars have distinct flavor profiles and mismatching any of the flavors can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Before selecting a bourbon and cigar pairing, a little research on the different flavors offered by each product can help you to find a blend that suits your palate.
- Bourbon Flavors
Bourbon is made with a minimum of 51% corn mash bill, though most blends use over 70% corn, which gives bourbon its characteristic sweetness. The other 49% is made up of either wheat, barley, or rye, which can create distinct flavor profiles that differ between each brand and vintage of bourbon. Bourbons with a high percentage of wheat have a softer flavor, while bourbons made with rye usually taste richly spiced.
Bourbon is also matured in new charred oak barrels, which give a smokey, woody flavor to the blend, depending on the length of time the bourbon is aged. Typical bourbons flavors include vanilla, caramel, and oak.
However, wood-forward bourbon can also have flavors that include almond, cedar, and leather. Spicy bourbons offer aromatic baking spices such as cinnamon and cloves, or heat-like chili from spicy foods. Both these styles pair well with most cigars.
- Cigar Flavors
Cigars also have distinctive flavor profiles, which develop throughout the length of the smoke. The flavors present in the cigar depend on where the tobacco is sourced, the curing and fermentation processes, and how the cigars are aged and stored.
Some typical flavors you find in cigars include wood aromas such as cedar, teak, or hickory. There are also fruit flavors such as red berries, citrus and stone fruit, and spices, including pepper, coffee, chocolate, and baking spices. Other specialized scents include leather or charred meat.
Finding the right cigar and bourbon pairing means matching flavors that complement each other.
A sweet vanilla-scented bourbon could pair well with a cigar with notes of baking spices or chocolate. While a floral bourbon could match perfectly with a cigar that has strong flavors of citrus and mild wood.
- Expensive Does Not Always Mean Better
Bourbon is a notoriously expensive tipple due to the intricate and time-consuming process it takes to develop the flavors. Aged barrels are only legally allowed to be used once, and a significant portion of the liquor is lost through evaporation during the aging process.
This is why many bourbons are priced higher than other spirits. However, younger bourbon, which is more affordable, can still be pleasing to the palate and offer a complex variety of flavors to pair with your cigars.
Likewise, cigars have a reputation for being luxury items affordable only to the rich and powerful. However, the price of the cigar does not always determine the taste. There are many high-quality cigars available at every price point to suit different palates and budgets, including big, prestigious brands like Arturo Fuente and Romeo Y Julieta.
If you are determined to get your hands on premium cigars at affordable prices, you can buy Cuban cigars online.
- Experiment and Trust Your Instincts
The best way to find the right cigar and bourbon pairings is to experiment. Not every experiment is going to be a success, but you will have fun doing it.
Ultimately, the best cigar and bourbon pairings come down to your palate. All the research in the world isn’t going to help you if you keep second-guessing your decisions. It is vital to trust your instinct when it comes to the flavors you love.
If sweet bourbons are too cloying to your taste, try a spicy or floral blend. If full-bodied cigars are too rich but you love the flavor of full-bodied bourbon, don’t be afraid to mix and match different bodied cigars and bourbon.
Sitting back with a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigar in the other is a great way to relax at the end of the day. However, cigar and bourbon pairing isn’t a science; it takes practice to develop a taste for both and to learn how to combine their complex flavours perfectly. In the end, it all comes down to your personal strength and flavour preference; all you need to do is enjoy the pairing journey.
Daniel Stauffer is a blogger and devout cigar enthusiast who first developed a love for fine tobacco after receiving a box of cigars from a grateful client. He has continued to refine his palate and explore the art of cigar smoking, gaining valuable experience, which he enjoys sharing with other cigar lovers across the globe.