Soup of the Day: WHISKEY
So it goes with almost every advertisement, online suggestion, and customer question.
“What whiskey would go well with this cigar [or pipe tobacco]?”
And I answer, “well… what whiskey do you like to drink?”
“I like good single malt; Macallan, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Highland Park…”
“Well those go well with any tobacco, and if you already like those…”
“Sounds good, thanks!”
“BUT WAIT! There’s more…”
But they’re already gone.
Too many people stop at whiskey when pairing with tobacco. Not even the interesting whiskeys make the list. There’s nothing wrong with the classic malts, nothing wrong at all, but why stop there? If you like mild to medium cigars with a touch of sweetness, why not head for Glenmorangie, Dalwhinnie, or even (heaven forbid) Auchentoshan? A little fuller? Islays are not quite on the menu for medium-plus cigars, but for God’s sake, try a little Glenrothes, Craggenmore, Oban… If you like full-bodied, spicy and oily smokes then I dare you to crack open the Laphroaig. Or try the smooth, dark-fruit backbone of Lagavulin, or the much-unjustly-maligned Caol Ila (only for experts to detect the subtle complexities of iodine and cardamom), or the King of the Islays, the great eternal, butter-smooth smoke-bomb Ardbeg.
With pipe tobaccos, ditch the fair isle and turn to home shores. Be brave. Drink bourbon. Nothing says “Virginia” like its closest neighbor, Kentucky. To start off, pour some Buffalo Trace. Leave Maker’s Mark and Jack D in the dust along with Wild Turkey and Jim Beam. Do yourself a favor and get yourself some Eagle Rare, Woodford Reserve (the Oak and Maple Cask editions are mind-blowing) and Four Roses single cask. Or if you’re brave and like a little kick-and-crawl down the throat, try the legendary (and too-hard-to-get) Fighting Cock. Please, drink bourbon with pipe tobacco. You will be forever changed. Bourbon or Rye.
Okay. The exception: Islay scotches with Oriental-heavy Englishes. Mama Mio–that’s a match made in heaven. Or England.
But let’s be honest. There is a world of enjoyment out there for your sensation-starved tongue. Why let whiskey have all the fun? What about Rum? Brandy? Port and Sherry? Why not wine? Beer? Hell, why not even liqueur?! Cocktails are meals in themselves, and can be left gently aside, with the exception of a properly made Old-Fashioned (without the girly cherry) or Manhattan. But good aged rum is hard to beat with a cigar. That goes for brandy and cognac, too–I especially enjoy Asbach Uralt with a Padron 1964 Maduro.
Spare than tequila, try 100% agave Mezcals with your next contraband Cuban, or Arturo Fuente.
Port and a dark Virginia or a rich aromatic somehow launches you back in time to a nineteenth-century drawing room, and sherry is simply made for yellow Virginias. Both red and white wine can be an excellent complement to pipe tobacco is you stop being a snob and opt for slightly sweet rather than bone-dry (which works well with certain cigars). And there is something truly decadent about a Davidoff Grand Cru with champagne.
Nut-brown ales work well with mild aromatics, brown Virginia flakes, and aromatic Englishes, Stouts like matured Virginias, black Cavendish, and Latakia-heavy blends (try it with Rauchbier, German smoked porter!). Lagers and Pilsners like light tobaccos, and I find them especially nice with Dunhill Flake, Orlik Golden Slice, Hamborger Veermaster, and Reiner Golden Flake.
Liqueurs are dangerously sweet without some ice, but plum brandy, Calvados, and some Maraschinos work really well–orange liqueur with a touch of ice and maybe a spritz of aromatic bitters make an excellent companion to a sweet-leaning mild cigar. I fell in love with Cointreau (or Grand Marinier for you luxe types) and the Avo Domaine, which has just a hint of orange note. And please, please find out why Benedictine and Samuel Gawith’s best brown flake aged 6 months has become one of my favorite combinations.
But, did you ever think that we’re letting alcohol have all the fun? I certainly don’t suggest drinking a soda with your cigar, but coffee and tobacco, as the New World’s dual narcotic gifts to the world, were born in the same breath and should be consumed in the same mouth. Especially for our connoisseurs who have not reached the ripe old age of 21, I suggest a good cappuccino (not from Starbucks, mind you) with mild cigars, drip coffee for medium, and espresso with a full cigar. For pipe tobaccos, I generally shy away from the milk and stick to drip and French or Aero press (espresso and pipe tobacco go well together, too, but light Virginia flakes don’t agree with the acidity of a well-made espresso). Head over to Blacksmith for an excellent hand-pour, which is the perfect complement to a medium-bodied Virginia, or to Mercantile, right across the street from the Briar Shoppe, for the Gold Cup.
Now I’m going to blow your mind. Alcohol is made from fruit or malt, usually. Coffee is a fruit with a roasted “bean” pit. But tobacco, my friends, is simply a leaf. A leaf. What drink is made with leaves?
In my opinion, tea is the perfect complement to tobacco. In the winter, we consume hot tea (with a touch of whiskey, some sugar, and lemon… if you wish) with our tobacco. Earl Grey is great with cigars and lighter pipe tobaccos. Darjeeling and Oolong are wonderful for dusty, musky Virginias, light Englishes, and Burleys. In the summer in Houston, try a slightly sweetened iced Darjeeling with an Orange slice with Dunhill flake. It changed my life. Or an iced tea with no sugar and lemon with an Ashton Churchill. Blew my mind. Or, if you are really brave, ice down some jasmine tea and try some Spring Time flake from Stanislaw/Samuel Gawith. Whoa buddy.
In the winter, though, you must MUST try Winston Churchill’s drink of choice with a full-bodied smoke. Discover the wonder of Lapsang Souchong. A smoked tea (the Chinese scoff at Westerner’s taste for full-bodied teas, but hey, cigars are palate-wreckers), it is reminiscent of a forest floor, which has just undergone a forest fire, which was then doused by a thunderstorm. You think tea parties are for little girls? Think again, mate. This is tea to put hair in places that make your chest look like a doily. Drink this tea with a dark English, or with a full Virginia. Drink this tea with maduro cigars. Drink this tea with the strongest tobacco you can throw its way, and it will surprise you every time by outdoing the flavor. Man-tea.
But even if thunderstorm-fire-forest-tea is too much for you, don’t shirk other teas as a complement for tobacco. Roasted green teas and Claro wrappers go well together. Gunpowder green tea goes excellently with Nicaraguan tobaccos, and Habano wrappers. Again, Oolong and Darjeeling are fantastic with almost any medium-bodied tobacco. And maté with a little milk is perfect with Connecticut wrappers and mild aromatics. African Rooibos with rich aromatics and Dominicans work well, too. Pick up these teas, and more, at the best British tea shop in Houston, the village’s own British Isles.
Never be afraid to try a new pairing. Go for complementary flavors rather than trying to match them up flavor-for-flavor. Stay away from “soapy” or “herbal” flavors, if possible. As much as I love Campari and IPAs, they are not made for tobacco. If you follow those general rules, I guarantee you will find something amazing. And be sure to share. Half of tobacco-joy is about the company which you (and your tobacco) keep.