If you were to ask the average cigar enthusiast what Scotch they prefer with a cigar, more often than not, the answer would be one of the many single-malt varieties that exist. But where’s the love for blended Scotch whiskies?
The idea that single-malts are superior to blended Scotches for cigar pairings was one of the many whiskey myths that were dispelled during Sunday’s Top-Notch Scotch seminar, led by Cigar Aficionado’s senior features editor Jack Bettridge. Joining the magazine’s spirits guru on stage was Gabe Cardarella, North American Whisky Ambassador at Bacardi.
The duo sat at a table with two single-malt Scotches, Aberfeldy 12 and Craigellachie 13, as well as two blends, Dewar’s 12 and Dewar’s 15. While Cardarella gave a quick summary of the story behind each of the Scotches, the Mirage waitstaff quickly poured servings of each one for audience members.
“One of the things I love most about pairing a whisky with a cigar is that the smoke helps to cleanse your palate,” said Cardarella. “Your mouth gets used to the taste of the whisky, and the smoke can help reset your taste buds for the next sip. For tasting purposes, smoke is good to really understand what the master blender was going for.”
With the whisky poured, Bettridge encouraged everyone to remove the two pairing cigars that they received in morning, housed snugly in Boveda bags. The two smokes were the Cain Daytona 550 (87 points), a 5 inch by 50 ring gauge cigar and the powerhouse Oliva Serie V Melanio Figurado (96 points), a 6 1/2 inch by 52 ring smoke that was named Cigar of the Year by Cigar Aficionado in 2014. Both cigars are rolled at the Oliva Cigar Factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.
Dewar’s, which first launched in the United States in 1899, is best known for its ubiquitous White Label, said Cardarella. However, the Bacardi-owned distillery is not one-trick pony, as it offers many other Scotch expressions that can stand up to a great cigar.
The audience lit up the Oliva Serie V and began to sip on the Aberfeldy 12. Aberfeldy, which was founded in 1896 but didn’t land in the U.S. until 1999, is a distillery that sits on a river where people once panned for gold.
“You’re not going to find gold flakes in this spirit,” joked Bettridge.
The crowd followed along as Bettridge smoked the Oliva Serie V and sipped the Aberfeldy 12. Bettridge noted that he was getting a Snickers-bar effect from the pairing, as the Aberfeldy added some toast into the cigar and teased out more of the smoke’s nougat-like notes.
“The Aberfeldy definitely gives the cigar a little lift,” said Bettridge.
Bettridge then moved on to the Craigellachie 13, smoking the single malt from Speyside with the Oliva Serie V. Whereas most Speyside whiskies, Cardarella said, are known for offering “light orchard flavors,” Craigellachie is the “badboy” of Speyside.
“It’s the color of silk and tastes more like a lit match,” said Cardarella.
The Oliva, Bettridge noted, stood up well to the Craigellachie, with a give-and-take of stone fruits and cocoa coating the palate. Bettridge then set aside the Oliva and picked up the Cain Daytona. As he and the audience lit up, Cardarella explained what sets Dewar’s whiskies apart from other blended Scotches.
“Whereas other blends combine whiskies and then bottle, we do something called ‘double ageing,” Cardarella said. “After the initial maturation and blending, we then pour the blend back into oak casks to marry for another six months.” This additional step allows the older whiskies to better gel with the younger whiskies, so that the overall tasting profile is rounder, fuller and more balanced.
“The Cain Daytona brings a nice sweetness to the Dewar’s 12,” said Bettridge. “By itself, the Dewar’s 12 is a straight cheese and salt notes, to me. But, with the cigar, it becomes fuller in the mouth. Both the cigar and Scotch get ramped up.”
The Dewar’s 15, on the other hand, is more like “cake icing,” said Bettridge. With the Cain Daytona, that cake icing note turns into more of an all-spice flavor in the mouth.
Overall, Bettridge thought that the Dewar’s 12 and the Cain Daytona made the best pairing, and the audience raised their hands in agreement. And in the end, a number of Big Smoke participants were overheard praising their new-found love for blended Scotch.