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The Ultimate Guide To Pairing Whisky & Cigars With Tony Collins

Tony Collins is an alumni of the Edinburgh Whisky Academy, having attained their Diploma in Single Malt Scotch Whisky and the Art of Tasting Whisky. He also holds the WSET level 2 in wines and spirits and has been involved in the Scotch whisky movement for a number of years hosting tastings, distillery tours and enjoying judging as well as bottle and cask investment.

I’m delighted to break my published writing “canard” with this recommendation for what sort of whiskies I think pair well with cigars.

So - which comes first; the whisky or the cigar?.. If you’re like me, that’ll depend on a number of factors such as mood, season, occasion, time of day - let’s not forget budget, as well as ultimately - what’s to hand or available!

A couple of pairing rule-of-thumb’s too; contrasting or complimentary flavour profiles tend to work best in my opinion. Think espresso with a square of bitter dark chocolate or a coffee ‘n cream latte. I also find higher abv (%) whiskies work better, particularly with higher strength or more astringent cigars. Pretty much anything 46% or above stands up well, especially in that first phase of a smoke. Mouthfeel, or consistency is important too as I find heavier or oilier spirits keep the proverbial juices flowing nicely. Generally I find cigar maker and distilleries tasting notes are fairly reflective so that should give a reasonable idea of flavour profiles and therefore potential pairing suitability.

I have the advantage of not being affiliated to any specific brand and there are sooo many good pairing whiskies out there it’s worth a bigger article in itself! However,  the following are just my immediate suggestions of drams that have worked well for me and my tastebuds.

Most whiskies matured in bourbon barrels are lighter than those aged in Sherry or red wine casks. Are you big, bold flavours or a fan of more subtle expressions? Chances are if you’re a cigar smoker it’s the former over the latter. If that’s your bag then I suggest you try the Speyside behemoth of Tamdhu Cigar Malt with almost anything; punchy cask strength, rich fruits of raisins, figs, warming Christmas spices of cinnamon and ginger with dark cacao chocolate on the finish - it’s cracking! This level of decadence doesn’t come cheap however (although it does come with a very cool monogrammed cutter), so the Tamdhu Batch Strength is definitely worth checking out as a cheaper yet still formidable and pretty close alternative. Anything by Springbank distillery works well too; their range is always 46% abv or above with wonderful Campbeltown characteristics of oiliness, a wisp of bonfire smoke and guaranteed bags of flavourful character regardless of which version. Be warned though - it’s popularity sky-rocketed over Lockdown and securing a bottle is now somewhat of an urban legend. A more attainable and worthy alternative is anything from Ardnamurchan distillery. Highland region, but West coast too, gaining rapidly in popularity - with a similar ethos of high octane, high quality ‘hand-knitted’ spirit with great, stand-up flavours. Smoke does work nicely with smoke too and I’m a fan of anything Kilchoman. This Islay certainly isn’t the medicinal fish barrel you may expect from some on the island. I’ve found their red-fruit casks (Port, red wine and Sherry matured) work really nicely with a smoke - especially over winter-time. A newcomer alternative in the smoke-stakes is Lagg from the established Isle of Arran distillers. Their Corriecraivie edition is a young and feisty Sherry finish which makes a lively and tasty foil.

I hope that’s given you some inspiration to go try something new. It’d be great to keep up so why not give me a follow on IG @whisky_at_the_roundhouse so we can follow each other’s pairing journeys.

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