A Rumbunctious Pairing

Photo/Jeff Harris

Aged rums are a natural partner for handmade cigars

Rum is sometimes overlooked as a cigar partner, but the two are a sweet tasting natural pairing. Their ingredients—sugar cane in the case of rum, tobacco for handmade cigars—hail from similar, if not identical, regions. Forgo the clear rum you may remember from your youth and look instead to dark, aged rums, one of the fastest-growing segments in the category. More good rums are available than ever before, and some producers are even mimicking whiskey-making methods like special wood finishes. We tested some of the best rums on the market against a pair of very different cigars. The Alec Bradley Connecticut Torpedo (rated 88 points in the June 2015 Cigar Aficionado, $8.00) represented a milder smoke, with tastes of cream, tea, orange and a woody finish. The Oliva Serie V Torpedo (88 points, August 2015, $9.32) was at the full-bodied end of the spectrum, with notes of nuts, leather, maple and dried fruit.

Rum and Cigars pairing
The relatively mild Alec Bradley Connecticut (top) and the bold Oliva Serie V.

Appleton Estate 21
Jamaica's Appleton follows strict English rules, which insist a rum's label reflect the minimum age used in a blend. Surprisingly, this 21-year-old is not the oldest the estate has made (that was a 50-year-old). Specially chosen yeast gives it full body, with huge notes of apple, banana and pear, joined by licorice and cinnamon. Its voluptuousness was a bit much for the Alec Bradley, but paired with the Oliva the rum brought out loads of leather and coffee notes as well as its signature orange flavor. (86 proof, $134)

Cockspur VSOR 12
Getting wider U.S. distribution, this brand is blended from molasses rums made at the West Indies Rum Distillery on the beach in Barbados. Its VSOR (Very Special Old Reserve) melds the facility's oldest pot- and column-still spirits. Flavors of bread dough join with allspice, ginger, molasses and banana. Cockspur worked well with both cigars, finding spices and a bit of sweetness in the Alec Bradley while profiting from the cigar's creamy smoke. The rum took on leather and wood from the Oliva and gave back hints of banana. (80 proof, $30)

Rum and Cigars pairing

Cruzan Single Barrel Distiller's Collection
Made in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Cruzan holds the odd distinction of being the only rum on the American Whiskey Trail. This extra-aged example blends samples from five to 12 years old. Exhibiting the orange notes of a triple sec as well as cinnamon and licorice, it woke up the rich wood possibilities of the Alec Bradley's finish and took on some extra spice and orange. It did even better with the Oliva, imparting cocoa and white chocolate to the cigar and getting a hearty character in return. (80 proof, $30)

Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva
A pot-stilled rum made at the foot of the Andes Mountains in Venezuela with spirit as old as 12 years, this Diplomático mixes notes of butterscotch, nuts, brown sugar and vanilla with tutti-frutti, but without being effusive. While not a clash, it tends to run in cross direction to the Alec Bradley, even while the cigar gained from its sweetness. The Oliva brought chocolate and molasses to the Diplomático, while becoming more leathery. The rum's maple popped and sweetened the cigar. (80 proof, $40)

Rum and Cigars pairing

Don Q Gran Añejo
This Puerto Rican rum is distilled at the Serralés distillery, which dates to the 19th Century, but was rebuilt after Prohibition. The Gran Añejo is less dry than the island's typical style. It issues caramel and vanilla flavors, but also has ample sugar and spice. The Alec Bradley's tea and orange played into that hand and the cigar got back a woody lift. Leather and barrel flavors were the stars in the Oliva pairing. (80 proof, $60)

Dove Tale
This Florida rum from John Drew, (the spirits venture from the cofounder of Drew Estate Cigar Company) is made with molasses from cane grown in the Everglades. It smacks of butter-rum candy and caramel with hints of spice and grapefruit. The Alec Bradley opened it up quite a bit, lending the rum chocolate notes. The cigar got smoother and sweeter in return. The Oliva also found chocolate in the rum, as well as heightening its citrus. The cigar became earthier for its troubles. (80 proof, $35)

Eximo Facundo
Part of Bacardi's extra premium Facundo collection, Eximo was created to celebrate the rum maker's 150th anniversary. Made in Puerto Rico (with Cuban heritage), Eximo is blended with medium- and full-bodied rums before being aged 10 to 12 years. The result is a combination of vanilla and maple overlaid with walnut and pralines that sparked similar flavors in the Alec Bradley, becoming brandy-like at the same time. Mounds of fruitiness materialized on the rum when sipped with the Oliva, while the cigar took on chocolate and fruit notes as well. (80 proof, $60)

Flor de Caña Centenario 18
A Nicaraguan single-estate rum, Flor de Caña stresses its volcanic soil and slow aging. The spirit is accordingly sweet and full, yet complex. It mingles creamy vanilla and honey with spice and pine notes. The vanilla grew with the Alec Bradley as the cigar got nuttier. The rum really found its stride with the Oliva, becoming very lush with exaggerated honey and cream. The Flor de Caña also boosted the cigar's leather. (80 proof, $50)

Rum and Cigars pairing

Havana Club Añejo Clásico
The prerevolution owner of Havana Club sold its original recipe to Bacardi, which now distills the brand in Puerto Rico. A recent relaunch includes Añejo Clásico, which features lots of heady spice—eucalyptus, mint, even some peat—conjoined with maple and banana. The Alec Bradley was little changed by the rum, but added to its spice. The smoke on the Havana Club played well with the Oliva, while the rum became tangier. (80 proof, $22)

Mount Gay Black Barrel
Mount Gay is the world's oldest rum brand, made from local cane in Barbados. This small-batch edition gets a finish in deep-charred Bourbon barrels, explaining its name and providing plenty of oak tempered by berries and cocoa. The Black Barrel added a couple of belt notches to the body of the Alec Bradley, while taking on some spicy flavors itself. Woods were the hero in the Oliva union, with chocolate notes from the Mount Gay coming to the fore. (86 proof, $30)

Papa's Pilar 24
Sources for this blend include the Caribbean, Central America and Florida. Finished in Sherry casks, it contains pot- and column-stilled rums that have been solera aged. The upshot is deep molasses, cinnamon graham cracker and loads of vanilla. The Alec Bradley pairing had a candy-bar quality with plenty of toffee, while the cigar offered its toasty notes. Another confectionary pairing happened with the Oliva, this time with the rum taking on some lime. (86 proof, $40)

Rum and Cigars pairing

Plantation O.F.T.D. Overproof
The initials mean Old Fashioned Traditional Dark, but its outstanding feature is having one of the highest proofs in aged rum. Behind the alcohol blast are ripe apples, bananas and the fusel oils of Islay Scotch in this surprisingly nuanced blend. What might have been a clash with the Alec Bradley was a sublime marriage, especially with banana and cream. Then again, the pairing with the Oliva squelched some of the fruity nuances of the rum, even while its whisky notes were underlined. (138 proof, $32)

The Real McCoy Aged 12 Years
Also hailing from the West Indies Rum Distillery of Barbados, the Real McCoy builds on the legend of Bill McCoy, a Prohibition-era rumrunner known for unadulterated product sold outside the three-mile limit. Buttered rum, caramel and Bourbon notes mingle with Christmas spice. The Alec Bradley showcased its spice, while filling out itself, but the Oliva fought a bit with the McCoy, creating tannin notes in the rum. (80 proof, $45)

Rhum Barbancourt 15
Founded by transplants from France who employed their homeland's Cognac methods, Haiti's Barbancourt is made from sugar cane juice and smacks of caramel, maple candy and a grocery list of herbs and spices including mint, cinnamon, basil and licorice. Puffs of the Alec Bradley gave Barbancourt's oldest expression a woodier demeanor, while the rum drew spice from the cigar. The Oliva overran the spices of the Barbancourt, but its own leather notes were enhanced. (86 proof, $45)

Ron Abuelo XV Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish
This is one of three finished rums produced by the Varela Hermanos Distillery, all made with juice from cane grown in its own fields in Panama. With its finish, the Sherry Cask is aged up to 15 years and has a coffee bouquet that proceeds to maple, caramel and spicy nutmeg on the finish. The Alec Bradley became very cedary, but had little influence on the rum. A better give-and-take happened with the Oliva: the rum's coffee found focus and its maple gave a candy note to the cigar. (80 proof, $70)

Rum and Cigars pairing

Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Years
Zacapa is made in Guatemala from a first pressing of local sugar cane. The distillate is transferred to cooler, high-altitude facilities, where it is aged in the solera system in a series of cask types. It is thick and sweet with notes of toffee, vanilla, citrus and licorice. The conjunction with the Alec Bradley revealed cinnamon and licorice on both parties, while the cigar took on cedar. The Oliva amped up the Zacapa's barrel notes and teased out nuts and toasts, while getting welcome sweetness. (80 proof, $40)

Rum and Cigars pairing

Zafra 30 Master Series
Zafra's newest release is a very limited edition made from batching 30-year-old rums. Full of vanilla and molasses, it also features Christmas spice, banana, strawberry, licorice and cinnamon. The rum made a surprisingly agile pairing with the lighter-bodied cigar, adding its sweetness and spice, while taking on a pleasant toast. Vanilla and banana highlighted the marriage with the Oliva, the Zafra giving the cigar ample sweetness and becoming very hearty in the deal. (80 proof, $200)

Zaya Gran Reserva 12 Year Old
Made with black strap molasses in column stills, this Trinidadian rum includes 18-year-old spirit in its minimum 12-year blend. Quite sugary and dark, with berry fruits and some pear, it showed off against the cream and orange of the Alec Bradley. Woodiness is the surprise result of pairing it with the Oliva as the cigar became quite nutty. (80 proof, $26)

George Thompson Cortlandt Manor , NY, USA, November 4, 2016 2:42pm ET
While touring the La Aurora factory this spring we had the chance to taste La Aurora 110 Anniversary rum with one of their cigar parings. Needless to say the tour cleaned out the gift shop of any remaining rum. Still haven't opened mine yet...
KIM BROWN SHERWOOD PARK, AB, CANADA, November 4, 2016 6:35pm ET
I've been a big fan of the aged rums with cigars for years and while they are common up here they tend to be hard to find down in the U.S., especially in the Vegas casinos (where I'll be next weekend for the big smoke!)
joseph weeks bedford, ns, canada, November 6, 2016 10:46am ET
Research for this was probably started before the recent Obama update of Cuban imports to the USA. May I suggest a Cuban version of this article. Yes, I know you would have to sacrifice and go to la Habana, spend a week there researching, but your readers will enjoy the article. One of my favorites is the Ron Santiago of 11 years. An odd number but "Es Cuba".
Rodney Crockett Indianapolis, IN, United States, November 6, 2016 11:14pm ET
I've tried many different fine spirits with my cigars, cognac, bourbon, scotch. I always find myself coming back to pairing a smoke with a fine aged rum on occasion, just seems like a natural thing to do and I love the carnival of flavors that happens when I do.
James Spahn Pittsburg , CA, USA, February 9, 2017 10:38pm ET
Flor de Caña now makes a 25-year rum which pairs excellently. I had the honor of touring the facility in 2015. The founding family had the wisdom to store the rum during the Sandanista revolution and the following counter-revolution, and therefore be able to produce the world's first true quarter-century (based on average of the blend) rum. It has a truly complex character with notes of vanilla and anise that flow over a smooth, woody base. Highly recommended!

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