Published on April 1st, 2014 | by Siz1
How to Pair Cigars Part 4
How to Pair Cigars
Now I’m assuming most of you are going to take the academic route and really research which cigars you want to pair. I totally understand that and honestly I really enjoy doing that. In fact I built an entire website where that’s the majority of what I talk about! So… let’s talk about it. Now the first thing I’m going to say and you’ll probably hear me say this over and over again, tastes and pairings are highly subjective. So there is a high probability that you’re going to disagree with what I say about pairing cigars. That’s fine, you’re not going to hurt my feelings at all. I’m just wanting to start the conversation and help you all out on the journey.
There are tons of resources out there on wine and food pairings. There is an entire industry dedicated to it in fact. There are so many tried and true combinations & pairings when it comes to food that it’s nearly impossible to list them all and I’m not even going to try. What I am going to do is give you my simple formula or method if you will, for pairing cigars with any spirit. This is going to take some effort and research on your part, so I hope you’re ready!
Pair Based on Flavors
First, let’s talk about flavors, according to numerous scientific studies humans can experience five specific tastes: Salt, Sweet, Bitter, Sour, and Umami (also known as Savory). However, we tend to experience many other things that we perceive as flavors; when products come in contact with our olfactory sense, ie our sense of smell. The combination of smell & the sensation of flavors that our tongue perceives triggers our brain to create an experience. We classify these experiences somewhere in that giant mush that we have between our ears. So with all of these different combinations of senses that we call flavors we can get a little lost in what we’re actually experiencing. Because of that I have come up with a very simple method for my pairings. I try and take things that are either opposite ends on the taste chart and combine them OR I take very similar things and combine those (see taste chart below). From my experience if I try and combine something that is just in between two flavors the results are typically not great pairings. Let me give you some examples to clear this up a bit.
Let’s take one of the most classic food pairings of all time and break it down: Peanut Butter and Jelly. Now if you can lump these two into specific categories you have Jelly obviously in the Sweet flavor zone and Peanut Butter in the Salty flavor zone. Some of you might say, now wait, peanuts are very savory, which should put them in the Umami zone to which I could agree with you. However, I believe that Peanut Butter is more Salty than Savory personally. Again, all subjective so un-ruffle those feathers.
When I’m looking to pair a cigar I tend to take this detailed approach: I try to find a cigar that either falls in the Umami zone or the Spicy zone. Then I’ll reach in my liquor cabinet for something that compliments it in the opposite flavor zone. Now I know what you’re thinking. There are only 5 tastes, so there is no polar opposite, you’re obviously a very keen learner and I’m glad you picked up on that. So my solution to that is my flavor wheel above.
I’m not really one for having rules on what you can and can’t do when it comes to pairing cigars. However, I have one rule that I try to abide by when pairing. I try not to pair two flavors that sit next to each other on this flavor wheel. From my experience the resulting pairing just won’t be that great. Sometimes it may hit my palate approvingly, but most of the time I’m not going to enjoy it. Of course there are always exceptions. Most of you are probably sitting there looking at the wheel and you’re thinking there are only a few options for polar opposites. At some point I’m going to have to pair flavors that sit next to each other. I agree with you, sometimes that happens. The ending result isn’t always bad, but from my experience polar opposite flavors tend to align better when pairing.
Ok, so far we’ve only taken the approach of pairing opposite flavors. Many of you may have heard the old age that opposites attract; that works very well in the cigar pairing world. Whether you’re talking about atomic particles or atomic personalities, there is something that brings opposites together and creates a pleasurable synergy between the two.
Pairing Similar Flavors
Now let’s talk about pairing similar flavors! I’m talking about overloading our senses with the same flavors for maximum, flavor overload. I’m a fat kid at heart, and there are few things that I love more than combining chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup topped with crushed Oreos and cookie dough. Yeah, I know, I have an addiction to chocolate. It’s okay, the wife knows about it, and she still loves me. If you think about it there are a ton of different layers of sweetness. Just take a walk around a candy store and look at all the different options out there. You can buy sweet fruity candy, chocolate, butterscotch, caramels, the list goes on and on. The same goes for cigars and spirits. If you’re looking to pair in the same flavor zone there are tons of options available to you. I’m going to stick with the Sweet flavor zone for this example.
If you’ve read my site for any length of time you know that I’m a huge fan of bourbon. Bourbon has a wide range of flavor qualities about it. However, if you were to ask , most people would tell you it tilts towards the Sweet side. That’s due to the fact that it has to be made with at least 51% corn, which gives it that foundation of sweetness. Now when you combine that with the aging process from new white oak barrels you typically experience flavors such as caramel, molasses, butterscotch all things that under the Sweet flavor zone. Rum falls into this same category, it starts out from sugar cane, the holy grail of sweetness.
So since we’re staying in the Sweet flavor zone let’s say we want to pair a sweet spirit such as bourbon or rum with a cigar. How do we go about finding that cigar? It’s pretty simple, you can read some reviews of cigars to find out which ones have more of sweet flavor profile and choose from there. Now I know, that sounds kind of vague and a lot easier said than done, but that’s the fun of the journey. I’m actually working on adding an element to the site that lets your search by flavor profile. So just hold on to that thought while I finish the programming on it.
So whether you’re pairing cigars with opposite flavored spirits, or common flavored spirits it really doesn’t matter that much. It’s all up to you and how you want the pairing to hit your palate. As long as you enjoy it that’s really all that matters.
Let’s take a look at another important pairing factor when it comes to cigars and spirits.
Pair Based on Strength
Now this is always a big discussion point when I talk to other cigar smokers. Everyone wants to pair their cigars and spirits in terms of strength. If they’re smoking a strong cigar they want to drink a strong bourbon to go toe-to-toe with it. That’s fine if that’s how you want to roll. Personally I prefer to take an alternate route, let me explain why.
The problem with pairing strength on strength is that somewhere along the way one of the product’s flavors are going to be muted and overpowered. Typically this happens with the notes from the cigar. Because the cigar generally isn’t as overbearing in terms of flavor, it’s going to lose this battle most of the time.
If you’re drinking something like Booker’s bourbon for instance, that usually comes out somewhere around 120-130 proof. That bourbon is going to easily overpower every cigar that you smoke, even if it’s an Opus X!
So, what do I suggest when pairing based on strength? First off, this is my mantra and I’m sure you’re probably tired of hearing it, but figure out which product you want to be the star of the show and pair based off that. If you have a Opus X then you don’t want to overshadow that cigar with a significantly stronger spirit. Get something that won’t overwhelm your palate, and get something that will compliment the flavors from that cigar. My suggestion in this case would be a sweeter rum something similar to the Pyrat XO Rum. It has lots of great citrusy flavors that don’t overpower, but would compliment that spice very well. This rum isn’t going to burn out your palate on your tasting, and the sweetness is going to offer a nice compliment to the spice and full body of the Opus X.
So what if you’re smoking a lighter cigar? Maybe you want to smoke a Rocky Patel Cameroon and pair it with something. You have a couple of options here, either go strong with the spirit and make it the star. Or go light and subtle with the spirit and try and let the cigar shine. The problem with a light bodied cigar like this is that most things will overpower it in terms of flavors. The great thing though, these cigars usually offer some great flavor complexity so you can get some great flavor combinations out of them if you pair with a lighter spirit. My suggestion would be to go with a something like a lighter flavored Scotch. You don’t want something that is known as a flavor bomb. Find a Scotch that is a great tasting whisky and fairly complex that way you can really sit and enjoy the flavor combinations that are happening. My suggestion would be the Glenlivet 12 or the Laphroaig 10. This is a fairly standard whisky that proves it has great complexity and depth, yet it won’t overpower too many cigars.
When you’re paring cigars and spirits just remember you don’t always have to make either go toe-to-toe with each other. Ideally you want to combine them to get the most flavor combinations possible. You don’t want one to drown out the other. So just take that into consideration next time and you’ll surely be on the path to some excellent cigar pairings.
Pair Based on Price
This is often an overlooked aspect of pairing cigars. Most people assume that the more you spend on something the better of quality it’s going to be. This simply isn’t true. I’ve had some incredible cigars for $5-7 and I’ve had some pretty terrible cigars in the $15-20 range as well. The same can be said for spirits.
I’ve personally tried the pairing concept of pairing cigars and spirits that are in the same price range. Now when I say that, it’s obviously not a direct correlation in price. Because lets be honest, it’s going to be really hard to find a $7 bottle of bourbon. What I mean is splitting cigars and the spirits into pricing tiers: top shelf, mid shelf and bottom shelf. Once you have them split into those sections then you can pair some up more adequately.
This pairing technique is obviously not based on any sort of flavor combination structure, it’s just simply another technique out there for you to try. It’s worked well for me in the past and acts as sort of a kamikaze type of pairing. So it’s a great way to get out there and try some different pairing combinations without having to think too much about the flavor profiles beforehand. So if that’s something your interested in this can be a great technique for you.
↞ Part 3 & Part 5 ↠