A little while ago, we took to Instagram to ask our community about their favourite pairings for Cuban cigars. When it comes to stereotypical cigar-related content, you will commonly find large vitolas paired with whisky or cognac, and usually in a darkened, smoke-filled room adorned with leather chesterfields and gold-framed historical paintings and portraits, and smoked by straight-edged, well-tailored gentlemen.
We all know that’s not so much the case anymore. Cigar smoking is slowly being embraced by a younger, wider demographic, in situations and events far beyond private members clubs. Whilst a cigar is meant to be given sole attention to, we all know it’s getting harder to dedicate enough time. But that doesn’t mean it’s all or nothing. Quick smokes can be enjoyed in the morning alongside your coffee or between meetings; on a beach while you’re on holiday; with friends at an event; or with your afternoon or evening meals.
Firstly, I’ve personally found that whisky is far too strong an accompaniment for whisky, unless it’s a bourbon—and one very much on the sweeter side. A relatively intense smoke followed by an equally intense single malt or peaty whisky provides not much more than, well, heartburn. I’m not sure about you, but if I’m smoking a cigar I’ve had in my humidor for a while, I don’t want to waste it with the wrong pairing—be it drinks or food.
One of my favourite flavour combinations is something we often request at Franco’s in London—artisanal parmesan, nocellara olives and mixed spice nuts. The nuttiness of the cheese, sharpness of the olives and spice of the nuts makes it the perfect trifecta for a good quality smoke. Whilst my palette is solid but by no means perfected, let’s say, I have found that if you were to have a drink with this combination, a sparkling water or a Diet Coke does just the trick. There’s something about these two sparkling options that I find helps a cigar go down that much smoother. The coolness of the drink provides a great balance, and sort of acts as a bit of a palette cleanser almost, particularly if you’re smoking as part of a meal. This might also be the case as to why Mike Hughes’ has the odd panetela with a beer—but more on that later.
The biggest combination that our audiences resonated with, and one we tend to do also, is coffee. For the most part, people default to an espresso or two either due to time (short coffees with short smokes et cetera) or because it’s the purest form of the nectar. I, however, sometimes find that a strong espresso—particularly of the Italian or Brazilian variety—also tends to be far too intense, and far too earthy. Where possible, I opt for a roast that is light with fruity notes—a much more pleasant choice no matter if the cigar you have is full or light. The highlighted notes of the coffee are accentuated by the cigar, and ideally, vice versa. Another rule of thumb is that if the crema on your espresso isn’t noticeable, it’s probably not going to taste very good.
My default coffee (in general, not with a cigar) is a flat white, and I recently tried one alongside a Romeo y Julieta Linea de Oro Dianas and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. I had it along with the aforementioned sparkling water, but the flavours and textures didn’t clash at all, so I say, if you’ve not tried it - don’t rule it out.
If you are planning on drinking something a little more stiff, then Fernet-Branca is certainly the go-to. It was actually first introduced to me by EGM's founder, Ettore, so my association with the fernet is exclusively with cigars. Pretty handy for this article, then. A cousin of Amaro and Bitters, the taste is complex and develops gradually, which makes it a really interesting choice when paired with a cigar. If you fancy something a little more straightforward, though, rum is your friend. It’s one thing having it in a colder country like us in Europe, but if you’re on or near the equator, surrounded by sea, a cigar in hand and a beautiful long rum-based cocktail (or a short spiced rum on the rocks) you’ve well and truly made it, my friend. There’s no better vibe than that of Havana to enjoy the pairing, and we’ll show you exactly what we mean when we touch down in the Cuban capital next week for the XXIII edition of the Habano Festival. Until then, let us know what cigar pairings you’ve been enjoying lately by tagging us on Instagram.