While Bourbons are known for their sweetness and rye whiskey tends to pack a bit of spiciness, the commonality of Canadian whiskies, the other North American brown spirit, is smoothness.
Canadian Accents, the closing seminar of the Big Smoke Las Vegas weekend led by senior features editor and spirits guru Jack Bettridge, focused on pairing cigars with four spirits from The Great White North. "With Bourbons," Bettridge told the eager audience, "you're looking for bite. With Canadian whiskies, you're looking to slide."
Joining Bettridge on the Big Smoke stage was cigar veteran Manuel Quesada, founder of Quesada Cigars located in the Dominican Republic. Quesada also provided the audience with two cigars, a Quesada 40th Toro and a Casa Magna Colorado Robusto, Cigar Aficionado's 2008 Cigar of the Year. The spirits to be paired were J.P. Wiser's 18, a Pernod Ricard import; Collingwood from Brown-Forman (maker of Jack Daniel's); Canadian Club Small Batch Sherry Cask, a product of Beam Suntory, maker of Jim Beam; and Crown Royal, imported by Diageo.
Quesada started the seminar off by telling the story behind the Quesada 40th, which actually was blended by his daughters Patricia and Raquel. "The young ones," as Quesada calls them, wanted to create a cigar that honored their father's 40 years of making cigars. The mostly Dominican blend has "just a splash" of Nicaraguan tobacco in the filler and is covered by an oily wrapper from Mexico's San Andrés region. The blend, which is rolled at Quesada Cigars in the Dominican, comes in three core sizes, including a 6 inch by 54 ring gauge Toro that attendees received.
Quesada mentioned that the 40th's blend delivers a "a little sweetness and creaminess, and the bittersweet flavor on the tongue leans more toward espresso, although some do get chocolate." Through all this stimulation of the palate, the cigar "remains smooth." There's that word again.
Bettridge and Quesada lit up the cigars and proceeded to puff away while going through each of the four whiskies that had been poured out in tasting glasses in front of each member of the audience.
First up was the Collingwood, a spirit that debuted in 2011 and goes through a charred maplewood filtering process that comes out in the spirit as maple candy. Bettridge added that the whiskey also has a floral quality that can be deciphered as berries, with a hint of cinnamon and licorice spice thrown in for good measure.
"All the time, though, it stays remarkably smooth," said Bettridge. "A lot of times smoothness doesn't mean you get complexity of flavor. This is not one of those times."
Both panelists agreed the Quesada 40th paired well with the Collingwood, as the cigar rounded out the whiskey a bit. "The spiciness of both matches up really well, and the intense berry flavors from the whiskey rounds out the cigar." A nice dancing partner.
Next was the Canadian Club. Finished in Sherry Cask barrels for a few months before being bottled, Bettridge noted that the spirit "has a raisiny sweetness to it, with some tobacco notes and creaminess as well. You'd think the tobacco notes might clash with the cigar, but they are working together."
"I don't know about y'all, but I'm having a good time with this pairing," Quesada deadpanned, causing the audience to roar with laughter.
Then it was time for the J.P. Wiser's 18, a spirit "packed with rye," according to Bettridge. "It's a good breakfast whiskey, if you're looking for that." Distilled at the famous Hiram Walker Distillery in Ontario, both Bettridge and Quesada agreed that the spice from the Canadian Club was paired well with the 40th.
The final pairing with the Quesada 40th was with Crown Royal, a spirit created in 1939 to celebrate the visiting King of England. It wasn't until the 1960s that the spirit began to be imported into the United States in its familiar purple velvet bag.
"With the cigar," Bettridge said, "I'm getting a Heath bar blast out of this one. With some vanilla and some fruits, like grape and cherry."
After the first flight of pairings was complete, it was time to move on to the Casa Magna Colorado Robusto, a 5 1/2 inch by 52 ring gauge Nicaraguan puro rolled at Nestor Plasencia's Segovia Cigars factory in Nicaragua. Quesada noted that the former Cigar of the Year "will have a little sweetness of chocolate from the bittersweetness of the blend."
The chocolate notes, Bettridge said, played surprisingly well with the Collingwood's floral quality. "It goes to show you should never forego a whiskey and cigar pairing, because magic could strike and it could turn out really good."
With the Canadian Club Sherry Cask, a nougat flavor that didn't appear before emerged for both Quesada and Bettridge. While Bettridge declared this pairing as his personal favorite, Quesada politely disagreed.
"For me," Quesada said, "it was the Wiser's. The liquid creeps back over the cigar sensations on the palate and layers it well."
Both panelists thought the Crown Royal pairing with the Casa Magna, while still enjoyable, was not as synergistic as some of the other pairings. Bettridge decided to poll the audience with a show of hands to determine which was the winning pairing of the seminar.
Each pairing garnered a slew of hoots, hollers and hands, but the majority of the audience agreed with Bettridge that Canadian Club Sherry Cask and the Casa Magna were the best dancing partners.