I recently met with Maggie Kimberl and Wayne Klawier to do a Bourbon and Cigar tasting. The idea was for Wayne to pick a cigar and then we would decide which Bourbon went best with the cigar. Wayne chose a Padron 1964 Anniversary Series Box Pressed Natural Torpedo. I found the smoke to be a medium bodied smoke with hay and a hint of vanilla or chocolate and cedar. It was very creamy with leather and nut tones. We decided to try pairing this with several Bourbons to find the right compliment to the cigar. We chose Weller Antique, Four Roses Yellow Label, Old Grand Dad Bonded. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, and Eagle Rare Small Batch.
We started with the Weller Antique as a wheated Bourbon at 107 proof. This is a light flavored Bourbon but does have some proof. I found the smoke really brought out the caramel in the Bourbon and added spice to the finish of the Bourbon. However the Bourbon did nothing to change the flavor of the smoke. Not bad but I was hoping for better.
Next we tried the Four Roses Yellow label at 80 proof. Again a lighter Bourbon in flavor and proof. The smoke brought out ripe apple fruit flavors in the taste and baking spices in the finish. The Bourbon enhanced the cedar and chocolate flavors in the smoke. Very nice pairing.
The Old Grand Dad was what Maggie thought would be the best match for this cigar before we started. As a Bonded Bourbon at 100 proof it is full bodied and flavorful. The smoke made the Bourbon more spicy but weakened the fruit flavors. The Bourbon made the smoke strong in the hay and cedar flavors. Very disappointing in that I had hoped for more.
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Is Wild Turkey in all of its glory – full bodied with a lot of flavor and proof at 110 proof. The smoke made the Bourbon less spicy in the mouth but very spicy on the finish. In fact the finish became astringent and a bit unpleasant. The Bourbon had little effect on the smoke to the point that the smoke became lost in the Bourbon’s finish. Not a good choice for this cigar.
The final Bourbon was the Eagle Rare Small Batch, 10 years old and at 90 proof. Full bodied traditional Bourbon with some fruit and caramel that worked well with the cigar. The smoke brought out some ripe pear and vanilla in the Bourbon while the Bourbon enhanced the cedar and turned the hay more to a green grass flavor. Not a bad match but it could have been better.
At the end of the night we all agreed that the best pairing was the Four Roses Yellow Label. It had the best balance of flavor changes in both the Bourbon and the Cigar.
Before we got started I predicted the Old Grandad Bonded would pair best with the Padron Natural 1964 Anniversary cigar because I thought the spice of high rye mash bill along with the higher proof would balance out the mild cigar. I didn’t make a prediction for the second best pairing because I thought for sure that would be it.
The Weller Antique 107 was a decent pairing- the smoke enhanced the mouth feel and caramel notes of the bourbon- but the alcohol burn was enhanced by this pairing. The Four Roses Yellow Label was a standout even before we tried any other pairings. The ripe apple notes were very strong in this pairing, and the smoke notes had more cedar and chocolate. The Old Grandad Bonded was far too spicy in this pairing, and in retrospect I believe it was because of the higher proof. The Russel’s Reserve Single Barrel was far too spicy and had an astringent finish with this pairing. We pulled a fifth bottle out, Eagle Rare Small Batch 10 year, to test something with rye flavoring grain and a lower proof. We found it enjoyable but the higher rye Four Roses was still the clear winner.
I usually recommend pairing a spicier bourbon with a milder cigar and a sweeter bourbon with a spicier cigar to achieve balance, but there are clearly some additional nuances to consider. Higher rye in the mash bill is certainly a top priority, but lowering the proof helps you to really taste the subtleties in both the whiskey and the cigar.