Cigars & bourbon pairing is a popular and most reliable American pastime, enjoyed everywhere from the trendiest lounges to backyard barbecues. The pairing of these two sensory treats might seem a tricky endeavor, but with a little guidance proves endlessly rewarding. Whether a pairing veteran or new to cigars and bourbon, this guide shows you everything you need to pair cigars and whiskey like a pro.
Many distilled spirits pair well with top premium cigars, yet bourbon is tailor-made for the job as they share many characteristics. Optimal climate and soil are necessary to grow the best tobacco for cigars, and the same is true for the corn, rye, barley, or wheat used for creating a fine whiskey. Whereas master distillers blend ingredients to create a particular bourbon expression, master tobacco blenders use various tobacco recipes to achieve a particular style of smoke.
The extended wood aging is also key to smoothness, flavor, and complexity, with bourbon aged in charred new oak barrels and cigars in Spanish cedar. As a result, bourbon and cigars often share core wood, earth, sweet and smokey nuances that make for a harmonious pairing. Yet the moments of quiet relaxation or lively conversation created by these sensory explorations best make cigars and bourbon a perfect fit.
Bourbon and cigars fit so well with each other because each shares a distinctive new world character, born out of similar histories that converge on early America’s frontier, especially in the South. Bourbon’s origin is shrouded in mystery, with various regional legends adding touches of local flavor to the story. Elijah Craig is often cited with creating the first bourbon in 1789, yet there is currently no definitive way to pinpoint the first bourbon. What is clear is that bourbon arose out of the distilling traditions brought to the new world by immigrants from all over Western Europe. Their descendants continued to refine their locally crafted whiskies into what would eventually become known to the world as bourbon, a key component of Southern pride and hospitality to this very day.
Much of today’s whiskey-making hubs are coincidently in the heart of American tobacco country, where select tobaccos still find their way into some of the world’s finest cigars from Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. Modern researchers tell us that humans have cultivated tobacco in the western hemisphere for at least 3,000 years. Yet tobacco did not enter European consciousness until after the voyages of Christopher Columbus in the 1490s. Members of his crew captivated the Spanish public by smoking rolled-up tobacco leaves through their noses, a crude version of what we now know as cigars. The worldwide tobacco craze that eventually followed, along with the rise of American whiskey, cleared the way for the cigar and bourbon pairings we enjoy today.
An adventurous spirit and love of the good life are all you need to embark on the bourbon and cigar pairing journey. Of course, each enthusiast eventually develops their own process, but to start, you can try two popular pairing methods to rev up your tastebuds.
The most common method is selecting cigars and bourbon of like character. The idea is to complement the flavor and complexity of one without overpowering the other. A more robust bourbon, for example, might drown out the finer nuances of a more mild cigar. So, the goal is to find cigars and bourbon that are equal in body and taste. Pairing a smooth, balanced smoke such as a Casa de las Estrellas cigar with a similarly structured Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon offers an exquisite example that brings out the sweet and spicy notes of each. This reliable method is a great way to train your palate to recognize similarities between flavor profiles.
Pairing contrasting characters, mild vs. robust or sweet vs. peppery, for example, is another method championed by connoisseurs. The goal here is to magnify the differing notes of cigars and bourbon to create a livelier, more complex experience. The structure of one might sometimes overshadow the other, but this method can enhance primary expressions while nudging more subdued flavors into the spotlight. For example, a Padron Damaso Robusto cigar’s subtle earth and cream notes explode onto the palate when partnered with the full-bodied spiciness of Baker’s Bourbon 7-Year Single Barrel.
Other than these simple guidelines, there are no rules for cigars & bourbon pairing other than doing what brings you the most pleasure. It is all about personal preference. The trick is finding out just what those preferences are. So, taking note of the body, flavor, and overall mouthfeel you get from each pairing helps narrow down your likes and dislikes, getting you closer to finding the perfect partnership between cigar and bourbon.
The pairing possibilities available to enthusiasts today are vast, with something to satisfy everyone’s taste. The best pairing often can just be your favorite cigar, paired with your favorite whiskey, so while the best cigar and whiskey pairings are subjective, there are plenty of reliable pairings to help get you started on the path to success. Here are four highly gratifying combinations:
Booker’s Bourbon is a fan favorite with a robust, unfiltered structure that goes toe-to-toe with the La Flor Dominicana DL-700’s potent mix of double-ligero tobaccos. Shared wood and exotic spice notes make for a bold yet balanced experience with hints of sweetness dispersed throughout a complex and warming finish.
The Rocky Patel ALR 2nd Edition Robusto cigar’s dark Mexican San Andres wrapper and core of rich Nicaraguan tobaccos find an ideal match in Clyde May’s 110-proof Special Reserve Straight bourbon. This full-bodied yet silky-smooth combination is underscored by a delectably tangy sweetness with both cigar and bourbon offering thick chocolate, wood, and spice notes.
The Black Warrior Torpedo, the pride of Tuscaloosa, features muscular Honduran and Nicaraguan double ligero tobaccos wrapped in a Sumatra Oscuro wrapper that dovetails with Four Roses Single Barrel Straight Bourbon’s sweet and spicy profile. The bourbon’s texture mellows on the backend allowing the cigar’s full-bodied character to take center stage for a long, velvety finale.
The Arturo Fuente Hemingway Signature cigar’s top-shelf Dominican tobaccos and Cameroon wrapper form an exquisite complement to Elijah Craig’s Toasted Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The classic Perfecto-shaped cigar and 94 proof bourbon deliver savory cedar, oak, herbal, nut, cocoa, earth, and pepper notes that play off each other for a memorably sophisticated experience.
A big step in the cigars & bourbon pairing journey is asking yourself, “What are the best cigar shops near me that best cater to my pairing needs?” Of course, you want the pairing experience to be a happy one, so seeking out reputable, full-service tobacconists in your area can help to alleviate any stress or frustration you might have in finding the right cigars. While there are many variables you might consider, start by searching for cigar shops that offer:
Not only can you rely on the expertise of a cigar shop’s staff for information, but spending time at cigar stores is also a great way to interact with other cigar enthusiasts. Specialized dealers with multiple locations, such as The Cigar Mansion, are ideal gathering spots for cigar lovers to share experiences over the best premium whiskey and high-quality cigars. Here you can pick up pairing tips, check out the latest in cigar accessories, root for the Crimson Tide on game day, and even make new friends along the way.
With their complementary characters and shared contributions to the American spirit, cigars and bourbon rise above the ordinary to deliver an unforgettable sensory experience. Discovering what suits your tastes best will take some trial and error, as well as a bit of patience, but it is all about enjoying the journey. So, spark up, sip, and savor the moment. Start your cigar & bourbon pairing adventure at The Cigar Mansion today!