The cardinal rule is that you should start by matching the body of the smoke with the body of the drink. Full-bodied cigars tend to pair best with full-bodied whiskies. Milder cigars often perform well with lighter whiskies. Any imbalance in one element can drown out the other or, worse, a milder spirit might find off-notes in a fuller cigar. Yet it’s a rule that will avoid mistakes more than discover great unions. Despite the logic, many is the time when sublime marriages come of opposites attracting.
That’s because one component in a pairing is a complement to flavors in the other. Bitter and sour notes need sweet and savory flavors to temper them. In turn, the latter gain interest from the former. When all taste constituents start to ping and feed off one another you get pure excellence. One of my favorite experiences is what I call the “Snickers bar effect.” Nuts and chocolate and salt and caramel come together and taste like a grown-up candy bar.
Certain spirits excel at cigar pairing, and, hint: they’re all brown. All types of fine brandies work. (The cliché of gentlemen enjoying a cognac and a smoke after a dinner party holds true.) Whiskies from across the globe are excellent choices; scotch is a classic. Rum can be heavenly, but has pitfalls. If you are into wine, choose something with plenty of structure (maybe even something fortified, like port or vermouth). With clear choices like gin and vodka, it’s not so much that they react badly, but neither should you expect magic in the match