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Whisky and Cigars

by Gavin D Smith, 12/06

There are a number of parallels between great cigars and great whiskies. Both are hand made products in which integrity of ingredients, processes and terroir are crucial. Some whiskies suit certain moods, times of day or occasions, and the same is true of cigars. Hopefully, the Festive Season offers us the opportunity to sit back and relax with a favoured dram and a fine smoke.

Whyte & Mackay's Master Blender Richard Paterson created what is acknowledged as the optimum single malt whisky intended to accompany a cigar, the Dalmore Cigar Malt, and at the 2006 World Whisky & Cigar Challenge, that whisky was awarded the gold medal in partnership with the Honduran Don Ramos Churchill. Both silver and bronze positions fell to another Paterson creation, the Dalmore Black Pearl, accompanied respectively by a Davidoff Millennium Blend cigar and an Avo Domaine from the Dominican Republic.

Here Richard Paterson gives us the inside track on whisky and cigar pairings.

"When I choose a whisky to accompany a cigar I'm looking for some of the characteristics of the whisky to be reflected in the cigar itself. With the first puff you know whether the cigar is going to be light, medium or heavy in style, and as with the aftertaste of a whisky, you're looking for a similar reflection on the palate.
  

"For example, if you had a Speyside malt you'd perhaps go for a lighter tobacco, such as a Dominican Republic cigar or a floral Havana, like some of the Cohiba range. Heavy Islay malts go with heavyweights such as the Punches and the Bolivars. There's a degree of sweetness in all malt whiskies, so the cigar must be well rolled and blended to avoid bitterness.


   "Personally, I'm looking for something with medium flavour in terms of both the whisky and the cigar. Neither must be too light. Choose an Upmann, a Hoyo de Monterrey, a Romeo Y Julieta, a Montecristo or a Partagas. They are all medium in character but with a bit of body and weight, without being too overpowering.

"When it came to putting together the Dalmore Cigar Malt, the Dalmore already had the necessary weight, body and character to start with. I knew it could be compatible with a good cigar, but I needed to give it a degree of sweetness. Most cigars have some subtle sweetness: oranges, vanilla, caramel and even bananas, along with spicy, peppery notes towards the end.

"Because bitterness sometimes comes through in a cigar, the sweetness of a more sherried malt helps to balance the smoking/drinking experience. Therefore in the Cigar Malt I use 60 per cent whisky from Oloroso sherry wood and 40 per cent from American White Oak. You've got to have weight in the whisky, and 'silkiness' is very important, too.

"If I had to choose another whisky to go with a cigar, besides the Dalmore Cigar Malt, I'd opt for a 21 year-old Glenfarclas or an old Glenrothes. I'd go for an 18 year-old Glenfiddich or a Balvenie Double Wood with a lighter cigar, and, perhaps surprisingly, an aged Pulteney goes perfectly with a Bolivar. The smokiness of Talisker also lends itself well to a cigar, but it needs to be well aged to get that real sweetness coming through. The age is crucial.

"Other drinks that are ideal with cigars are Cognacs and Armagnacs, and old Calvados can be fantastic. And then, of course, there's coffee. Cigars go well with Java, Ruandan, Nicaraguan and Columbian. If you're hosting a dinner, pay particular attention to the coffee, the whisky and the cigar. Get these just right and even an average meal can become memorable in retrospect."
  

For further cigar information see www.cigars.co.uk (with a comprehensive list of leading UK retailers), www.habanos.com, www.cigaraficionado.com, www.cigars-review.org.

  

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