Dan Philips doesn't give up. Some might call him obsessive. For example, since I introduced him to premium rums two months ago, he has become an expert. So, when Dan called and asked if I could provide him with a cigar, I figured the result could be higher sales for the industry. But Dan doesn't smoke. He needed the cigar to make an infused maple syrup. Cigar-flavored maple syrup. Let's start at the beginning.
Dan is the founder and owner of a gourmet gift company called The Grateful Palate (www.gratefulpalate.com). Among the businesses in Dan's company's broader portfolio is "The Bacon of the Month Club" and the importation of great wines from Australia. Dan is known in the wine business for having a great palate and keen sense of value. As a result of his profession, guests at Dan's California home have been treated to some extraordinary, little-known grape varieties (and some equally superb pork belly). So, as you might imagine, Dan frequently travels to Australia. On a recent trip that included Melbourne, he ran into a bartender who was mixing an Old Fashioned. The bartender enhanced the drink with a touch of maple syrup that was, yes, infused with cigar. Dan, intrigued, got back to California and dialed my number.
I delivered two cigars to Dan's kitchen. One was a Padrón. The other was a Plasencia. Before I went to Dan's, I called Jorge Padrón and told him of the "culinary" experiment about to occur. His reaction, completely sensible, was, "Why can't people just smoke a cigar?" I promised him I would let him know the results of the test.
Dan was ready. He had the maple syrup in a small pot waiting on the stove. I handed him the cigars and he asked, "How should we do this? Do we rip up the cigar?" I chuckled. Dan had not asked the Melbourne bartender for the recipe, or the bartender didn't want to divulge it. So here we were, left to guess how long to leave the cigar in the syrup and at what temperature to heat the brew.
Dan lit the burner under the pot with grade "B" maple syrup -- stronger and darker than what you put on your pancakes and usually used for cooking -- and stogie shreds. Dan's wife, Tricia, had made a superb stew for dinner, which went on, as wonderful dinners with many wines will, for a good long while. Dan periodically checked the syrup.
By the time we were ready for after-dinner drinks, Dan was eager to test the syrup. The cigar had steeped for four hours. The syrup was definitely darker than it was in its original state, which is fairly dark. We tasted "before" and "after." The one in which the cigar had soaked had a distinctly stronger and slightly bitter flavor. But the concoction had not yet been put to its intended use: the coup de grace in the Old Fashioned.
This past weekend, we tried the new syrup. This one was also dark. But this time the cigar didn't tease, it came right through. The blend was interesting, if a little overwhelming on first sampling. The syrup went into a new Old Fashioned. The verdict was unanimous. The maple syrup had been transformed into an amber, cigar-infused nectar that could refresh the DNA of a nearly-forgotten cocktail. Now, to get that little bit of cigar satisfaction in a state where you can't light up indoors, we can just pour a little of Dan's new syrup into our drinks as consolation. Might go well on vanilla ice cream too.
How to Make Your Own Cigar Syrup
Ultimately, the change that made the cigar syrup work was to "cook" the shreds of cigar for only six hours at much lower heat. Clearly, you can use any cigar you want. The one that ultimately made it into the most recent batch of cigar-syrup was a Joya de Nicaragua Antaño, a very strong cigar. Dan's recipe, as he reports it on page 83 of The Grateful Palate Gift Handbook for the Year of the Pig: 2007, is below.
Cigar-Infused Maple Syrup
1. Unwrap the cigar (select the finest cigar you can find, such as Padrón or Cohiba).
2. Slowly and gently heat maple syrup with the leaves. *The longer you can infuse the syrup, the better.
3. Using ultra-fine sieve and strainers, remove the leaves and bottle the syrup.
4. Keep refrigerated.
*The "leaves" means the tobacco that composes the cigar. You'll have to take the cigar apart, possibly in shreds, then put the tobacco in the syrup in the pot.
Below is the original recipe for the drink sampled in Melbourne:
Der Raum Islay Old Fashioned
Created by Marc Robson 2006
Marc is a bartender at Der Raum, a cocktail mecca in Melbourne. Der Raum is creating some of the most creative, cutting-edge and technically astute cocktails anywhere in the world. Der Raum generously made this recipe available exclusively to The Grateful Palate.
This cocktail is so distinguished it almost calls for a smoking jacket.
Using the famous mixing technique employed for the classic Old Fashioned drink, Marc has matched the peat in the Scotch with the rich delights of a great cigar.
Glass: Double Old Fashioned Method: Stir Garnish: Lemon Zest 60ml Jura Single Malt 10ml Cigar-Infused Maple Syrup 2 Dashes Peychaud's
Alejandro Benes prefers his cigars with a little rum. On the side. In a glass. The rum, that is. Entirely not with cigar leaves in the glass.