Hosted by Jack Bettridge, senior features editor and spirits guru for Cigar Aficionado magazine, the concluding seminar of the Big Smoke Las Vegas weekend focused on pairing two Padrón cigars with four premium Bourbons Bettridge chose himself: Four Roses Small Batch, Bulleit, Knob Creek and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.
For a whiskey to be legally sold as Bourbon, Bettridge started, it must fulfill at least three requirements: the spirit must be aged in new, charred oak barrels; it must be distilled from a grain mixture (mashbill) that comprises at least 51 percent corn; and it must be poured into a barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof.
Padrón supplied audience members with two cigars: the 91-point Padrón Serie 1926 Maduro No. 9 and a Padrón Dámaso 34, a special torpedo size of the company's new, first-ever Connecticut covered cigar that was rolled specifically for the Big Smoke. Hence, it's never been rated.
"I was a little worried when I saw the Dámaso," said Bettridge, referring to its Ecuadoran Connecticut wrapper. "I thought it might be too mild for the Bourbons."
"Dámaso," said Padrón with a wry smile, "is not mild at all, but more of a medium-bodied smoke."
Bettridge explained that the room would first light up the Dámaso and pair it with all four Bourbons, which had been poured in separate glasses in a flight fashion. After discussing the pairings, the panel would then light up the 1926 Maduro No. 9 and move through the Bourbons again, one by one.
First up was Four Roses Small Batch, a 90-proof Bourbon. What sets Four Roses Distillery apart from other Bourbon makers, Bettridge explained, is how it opts to mix-and-match its five different yeasts with its two mashbills, resulting in potentially 10 different Bourbons.
"The whiskey gets more floral and becomes a bit more complex while it gives the cigar back some woodiness," Bettridge opined as he smoked and sipped.
The co-hosts moved on to the Bulleit (pronounced like the word ‘bullet'), or as Bettridge says "The coolest name in Bourbon." Bettridge said he chose the Bulleit for its unusually high rye content in its mashbill. While most Bourbons tend to use more corn or malted barley in their mashbills, Bulleit is known for using a higher percentage of rye in its grain mixture. "Somewhere in the 60s," said Bettridge.
This gives Bulleit noticeable bite, which Padrón said he preferred with the Dámaso. Bettridge agreed, adding that the Dámaso "brought out the barrel flavors—caramel, vanilla—in the Bulleit that wasn't present before."
Bettridge and Padrón then started pairing their cigars with the Knob Creek, which Bettridge mentioned is the best-selling super-premium Bourbon in the country. Made by Jim Beam, Knob Creek is aged nine years and is a 100-proof Bourbon. Both panelists agreed that the Knob Creek overpowered the Dámaso.
Similarly, the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked also was a bit too dominant for the Dámaso. Woodford Reserve, Bettridge said, is known for eschewing column stills in its distillation methods in favor of the old school pot stills, which are more popular in Scotland.
While the Dámaso was not a great dancing partner with the Double Oaked, the 1926 Maduro No. 9 was lauded by both hosts as a home-run pairing.
"The bodies of the Woodford and the No. 9 match perfectly," said Padrón.
Bettridge agreed, adding that the "Woodford brought out more of the nutty, candy-bar flavor of the No. 9."
In fact, it was generally agreed that the 1926 Maduro No. 9 paired more favorably that the Dámaso with the flight of chosen Bourbons, mostly because the cigar's fuller body could stand up to the high proof of the liquids.
"The No. 9 shows that you are almost guaranteed a great pairing with Bourbon," Bettridge said. "It also helps if you have a great cigar."
As Bettridge and Padrón continued to smoke and sip, they fielded questions from the increasingly talkative audience that touched not only on Bourbon, but also Padrón's cigar company.
Some attendees, likely with planes to catch, quickly quaffed their final pours, grabbed their luggage and left the Mirage Convention Center. Others, though, savored the casual ending to the 20th annual Big Smoke Las Vegas weekend, enjoying their Padróns down to their knuckles, their Bourbons to the last drop.