When it comes to selecting a great whisky, or three, to pair with a cigar, bourbon is a sure bet, according to David Savona, executive editor of Cigar Aficionado. “A little sweetness and cigars go really well together, and bourbon has that, as do most bourbon cocktails,” says Savona. You can certainly experiment with other whiskies, but the outcome is less predictable. “Scotch is a much bigger world, and some scotches fight the cigar as opposed to working with it,” he says. So why argue with success? By offering several bourbons, and one or more cigars, you’ll unleash a riot of flavors and fun.
Pick the Bourbon
Select several bourbons that span a variety of proofs and styles so that guests can mix and match their bourbon with a cigar. A solid-scoring and affordable bourbon like Four Roses Small Batch (88 points, $35) should form the foundation of your bar. Next, add a bottled in bond or barrel-proof bourbon, which is nice to accompany stronger cigars and will also stand up to ice or cocktail mixing. You can also venture into rye territory, with a high-rye bourbon or straight whiskey blend, like High West Bourye (91 points, $100), offering spice notes.
Select the Cigars
Your night is likely to include cigar smokers of varying experience and taste. Here’s how to put together a crowd-pleasing selection.
Different Smokes for Different Folks
Savona suggests targeting no more than three different cigars, which enables you to cover the spectrum of mild, medium, and strong flavors. If you’d rather choose just one, stake the middle ground and go with medium, he advises.
Size up the Competition
Cigars come in a vast array of sizes, which impact their flavor, smoking time, and price. “The two most popular sizes are robusto and toro; virtually every brand has them,” says Savona. Robustos are about 5 inches long and 50 ring gauge (a measure of the cigar’s diameter) while toros are slightly longer and fatter. “Toros especially can provide great bang for the buck,” says Savona. Cigars of these sizes should take around 45 minutes to smoke.
Wait Until the Last Minute
Cigars are best when kept at the perfect humidity, and that’s most easily accomplished by picking them up the day before the party. You can make your selections in advance and have the store hold them. If you must take them home more than a day before, tell the retailer you also need a humidified bag to store them in. “Just don’t leave them on your counter for a week or they’ll crumble like potato chips,” says Savona.
Savona offers his top picks of the moment, and shares helpful tips for decoding the cigar tasting notes you might read on store shelves or at cigaraficionado.com.
Look for notes that say creamy, vanilla, or grassy, advises Savona. A Connecticut wrapper is often a hallmark of milder cigars.
Feature flavors include coffee bean, caramel, and nutty notes. The maduro wrapper is dark in color, but not necessarily strong.
Savona associates strong cigars with leather, red pepper, and licorice notes. There’s no need to go up in size for big flavor.
My Father La Opulencia Toro (Cigar Aficionado’s No. 2 Cigar of 2018)—95 points, $11.80
Bargain Buy: Punch Diablo Scamp—93 points, $7.19