The word whiskey comes from the Gaelic for “water of life”—uisgebeatha or whiskybae and nearly any grain can be used to make it." (Read more about the history of whisky.) In a short few years whisky went from being an old man's drink of choice to a sought after spirit for all. Pairing this liquor with a cigar is nothing new, however it's an art form that I will attempt to distill (pun intended).
1) Strength Matters. Stength is a complicated term that we could spend a lifetime discussing, but for simplicity sake we will define it as the strength of the experience of the cigar or whisky. An LFD Digger is Strong, a Cohiba Behike is not; Booker’s Bourbon is Strong, Hibiki Yamazaki 12 is not. Now that we have set a baseline it’s probably easy to see where we are going, do not pair a strong whiskey with a cigar that is not. It is very rare that a cigar is going to wash out a whisky, but the whisky can easily dominate a cigar. You would never smoke a Behike with a Cask Strength Scotch or a High Proof Bourbon, because the light, complex notes the Behike is known for would be lost.
2) Flavor is King. There are two ways to go about this, one is to flavor match and the other is to compliment. The first is much easier and a great way to get your feet wet with choosing pairings. There are a lot of parallels between cigars and whisky; the most obvious of which is peat which tastes like, well, smoke. Whisky is also well known for many other flavors that we are all familiar with such as leather, nuts, wood, chocolate, and for Cuban aficiandos, cereal and grain.
A direct flavor connection will pair well and enhance the flavor of both the cigar and the whisky as the flavors come to life with two different presentations.
There are some unique ways to do this as well, as some of the coastal scotches, such as Old Pulteney, will have a decidedly salty characteristic which can also be found in some coastal tobaccos. Think outside the box when considering a flavor pairing. Complimentary pairings are a bit more challenging but the rewards can be great.
Finish is a really big contributor to flavor in whisky, especially Scotch. These are especially prevalent in Highland and Lowland Scotches, known for spice, floral, fruity and caramel flavor profiles. Combining a fruity, floral scotch with a complex offering like the aforementioned Behike would work quite well, however steer away from the peat heavy options with the lighter cigars.
With so many small batch whisky options hitting the market today, there are no shortage of options. For a list of top small batch options click here.