Cigar Aficionado

Pairing Cigars with Cask-Strength Whisky

One of the latest trends in whisky has been a proliferation in the market of cask-strength spirits (those whiskies bottled straight out of the wood they were aged in without being diluted with water to the typical proof profiles that range in the 80s). The concept is that this is the way that the liquor was intended to be drunk—even while its alcohol quotient may be a bit challenging.

The trend caused us to wonder: What does it mean to cigar smokers in their search for the perfect marriage of tobacco and brown goods?

We selflessly soldiered through, braving the high proof and finding some pretty pleasing results from four whiskies from the Classic Malts Selection matched with two carefully chosen cigars.

Glenkinchie 20 Year Old Special Release Bottled in 2010, Lowlands, (110.2 proof or 55.1 percent abv, $189)

APPEARANCE: Very light, sunlight, color. Slow medium width legs.

NOSE: Candied aroma with floral characteristics and pears.

PALATE: Very candied and fruity in mouth, with honey drops and a slight cheese note, mark the lightest whisky in the grouping.

FINISH: As it tapers off, nuts and caramel appear and the Lowlands malt becomes uncharacteristically toasty.

CIGAR PAIRING: For a more medium-bodied cigar we chose a Felipe Gregorio Refusion F2 (6 inches by 58 ring gauge, not yet rated) from the Dominican Republic. By itself it was a full-flavored cigar, but not overly spicy with nuts and caramel flavors. The cigar played well with the Glenkinchie, bringing more toast to the light-bodied drink and gaining more depth in the bargain. One of the best pairings.

For a full-bodied smoke we went to the Montecristo Edmundo (5 3/8 inches by 52 ring gauge, 90 points) from Cuba. The cigar is a slow starter with lots of flavor, a substantial smoke rich with wood, sweet spice, nuts and orange peel notes. It didn’t pair well with the Glenkinchie, however, becoming too sweet and making the whisky taste overly cheesy.

Auchroisk 20 Year Old Special Release Bottled in 2010, Speyside, (116 proof or 58 percent abv, $175)

APPEARANCE: Brassy color with slight green. Its tight legs are excruciatingly slow with big drops and thin tails like a lazy comet.

NOSE: Fruity aroma with honey and slight flowers.

PALATE: A peach and hard-candy quality is balanced with a certain weight and oily quality that speaks of nuts, wood, toast, cinnamon and a cigar-box cedar.

FINISH: Fruit hangs on forever in the after taste with savory bits of nut at the very end.

CIGAR PAIRING: Felipe Gregorio Refusion F2 - The cigar brings out chocolate, butterscotch and an aged Gouda flavor in the malt, which accentuates finer quality with no clash between. Another fine pairing.

Montecristo Edmundo - Here, the fuller-bodied cigar made the whisky tangier, squelching its fruit. The whisky made the cigar a bit nuttier, but all in all not a successful combination.

Port Ellen 28 Year Old Rare Edition Bottled in 2007, Islay, (107.8 proof or 53.8 percent abv, $299.99)

APPEARANCE: Light yellow color, slow fat legs.

NOSE: A big whiff of sweet smoke is followed by caramel and wood.

PALATE: In the mouth all that peat takes on the sea air of Islay and turns to candy with nuts, wood and pear and then moves on to licorice and a bit of cinnamon.

FINISH: The fruit on the palate lingers and repeats like a Howitzer.

CIGAR PAIRING: Felipe Gregorio Refusion F2 - With the smoke coming from the whisky the cigar loses some of it pop, while the whisky loses some of its peat character. Neutral pairing.

Montecristo Edmundo - Both elements seem to be helping the other with great balance. The fruity pear flavors of the Port Ellen start to pop and the cigar gets very leathery. An excellent give-and-take on what is already great stuff on its own.

Lagavulin 12 Year Old Special Release Bottled in 2010, Islay, (113 proof or 56.5 percent abv, $89)

APPEARANCE: Very light yellow color, fat, quick legs.

NOSE: The aroma has peat that speaks of toast and nuts, with some candy at the back end.

PALATE: The candy from the nose immediately jumps out, to be followed by toast, understated peat and the emblematic tars and sea breeze of Islay. A very well-balanced malt.

FINISH: That sweet and smoke interplay that informs the palate goes on and on.

CIGAR PAIRING: Felipe Gregorio Refusion F2 - This cigar is overwhelmed and flattened out in flavor by the whisky, which doesn’t suffer at the hands of the smoke. Still it’s not a successful coupling.

Montecristo Edmundo - At this point, the cigar turns into a nutty candy bar, and the whisky softens its firm peat stance to release its sweet and fruity charms. Ding, ding, ding, this is the winner among the pairings.

"Absolutely. The Laphroaig 10 cask strength is one of my favorite examples to demonstrate what just a little bit of water can do to a whisky. What an amazing spirit whisky is. " —August 13, 2012 13:19 PM
"That is true, and I toyed with noting that as I had tasted them all (plus other cask-strength whiskies) separately (no cigars) for something else I'm working on. At that point, I did add water. For the purposes of this cigar pairing we didn't, so I didn't mention it. Another Islay that I tasted previously was the Laphroiag 10-year-old as it comes both in standard proof and cask-strength and I could compare them head to head. It was striking how such a peaty malt at 86 proof could be far less smoky at 111 (or whatever proof it comes out of the barrel at--it varies by batch). Then you add a bit of water and smoke releases. " —August 13, 2012 10:54 AM
"Great artictle. You should mention that all of these Scotches open up nicely with a bit of distilled water. That Lagavulin 12 year old will start showing some fruity notes with just a few drops of water added. " —August 10, 2012 19:41 PM