“The Great Spirit sent a woman to provide for a starving world. Wherever the woman touched the earth, corn and potatoes grew. Feeling tired, she rested. When she stood again, there grew tobacco.” ~ Huron Mythology.
My first view of Cigars was through the 1966 Hollywood Epic – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, where “Ceegar” was as prominent as the lilting tunes in the back ground.
As Clint “Blondie” Eastwood, narrowed his eyes, adjusted his Stetson and watched the four horses closing in! Birds circled high up in the eye, dust rose from the tracks and his eyes steadily watched the advancing “mob”…all this while puffing at his Cigar, perched on the left side of his lips. You could feel the tension in the air, as the gun battle started. Five mts and 100 shots later, the four baddies lay on the ground, stone dead, whilst “Blondie’ cupped his hand, lit the Cigar again & headed towards the bar. As Clint Eastwood bites off the end of the Cigar, he throws a shot of Bourbon ( I assume its Bourbon ) down his throat and looks pensively at the blue yonder, all this while Cigar being his only & steady companion.
Having grown on a healthy diet of Western Movies & novels ( all time favourite was Sudden by Oliver Strange ), my earliest exposure to Cigar was through these fascinating fantasies. Cigar was what macho men enjoyed, a rough, masculine image and very very Western. Back home when you saw Indians smoking a Cigar, it was normally a well toned man, possibly wearing suspenders, a beret, with a twirling moustache & always with a Whisky by his side. There was something about a Cigar and a Whisky, even then, a quiet, confident and assertive feeling.
Cut to 2014 and whilst men ( and lots of women too ), are younger, stylishly attired in well appointed suits, wavy hair and smoking Cigars in high end Bars in New York or London, the concept of Whisky & Cigars is still quite profound & stylish.
In fact, amongst life’s most fascinating experiences is matching whisky flavours with Cigar aromas, which either enhances one taste or contrasts with the other. World’s favourite tipple, Whisky, speaks a common language of appreciation, when it is matched with Cigar, which is now being offered from global terrains, tribes and traditions. From a humble beginning at elitist tables, with a small group of enthusiasts, the concept has come in its own. Nosing & tasting notes of malt, offer a spectrum of taste as fascinating as Cigars.
Though, internationally the concept has grown over the last few decades, in India, it was introduced just a few years back. The initial response has been encouraging, though a Cigar Culture is still evolving.
According to Mark Hesseman, an avid Cigar afficiando, “I have been enjoying Cigars for over 30 years. For me, The Avo Heritage is a recent find and a great one. I like a full tasting Churchill size and this one was recommended to me at a great cigar establishment called The Blend in Indianapolis, Indiana. The cost is less than half of most Cuban cigars and gives excellent value. It’s spicy taste and easy draw make it a great cigar for most any occasion. It’s very well constructed and so smokes smoothly right down to the butt. I probably smoke these cigars more often than any other.
In order to view the Whisky & Cigar Match, lets understand some more on Cigars.
The aromatic tobacco plant – Nicotiana Tobacum – first grew in the Americas, where the natives smoked it for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. Despite the widespread usage of tobacco by the American natives, the indigenous plant remained unknown to the rest of the world until Christopher Columbus lowered the anchors of his ship in the Bahamas in 1492. While he did so, he was oblivious that he was about to change the world! Columbus and his sailors carried tobacco seeds back to Europe, and within no time, tobacco was the most sought after plant all over the world! When Columbus landed in the Bahamas, the natives presented him with gifts of fruit, wooden spears, and tobacco. Sailors accompanying Columbus who returned home introduced Europe to the custom of smoking.
The cigar in its current shape was first produced in a Spanish town, Seville, in the first half of the eighteenth century. Britain witnessed cigar culture after cigars were imported in the country. They were considered as a luxury because of the high taxes levied on them. Thus, slowly cigar smoking gained popularity by becoming a symbol and an indulgence of the elite. Until 1960, Cuba had a monopoly on premium cigar tobacco because no one else in the world was growing it. It was only after 1960, when many Cuban people, including some of the country’s most respected tobacco growers and cigar masters, left Cuba that premium tobacco was cultivated in other countries such as the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua. As a result, premium cigar tobacco will always be compared to Cuba simply because Cuba was the first place where it was cultivated.
Besides the country of origin, a large variety of tobacco is grown across the world. These varietals are blended together to get the perfect taste in a cigar, much cherished by the connoisseurs.
It is widely believed that filler tobacco in a cigar is largely responsible for the taste and flavor characteristics with binder leaf giving the cigar the required tensile strength and wrapper leaf responsible for its shiny and oily appearance. Filler leaves, typically are chosen from the top part of the plant, called as Ligero leaves or from the middle part, known as Seco leaves. Ligero leaves are most flavorful and are generally full bodied whereas Seco leaves are relatively lighter in flavor as well as color.
Master cigar blenders (who are no less than fine artists of taste!) use a variety of flavorful tobaccos from across the world to create a complex smoke. Apart from the widely common and admired Cuban tobacco, there are Brazilian fillers, grown from the Bahia seeds, which are extremely aromatic and full bodied. Cibao valley in the Dominican Republic typically produces medium bodied tobacco, which have a medium to high flavor amplitude. Peruvian fillers typically have a hint of sweetness in them, whereas Nicaraguan tobaccos have a distinctively spicy flavor and a strong aroma that comes from the ligero and seco leaves.
Tobacco flavor is derived from the soil/ climate of a particular location before it is harvested. Some Caribbean/ Central American countries have soils very similar to Cuba’s, and they can produce tobaccos that are equally rich in flavor, strength and depth. But to be clear, because the soil imparts the flavor, nothing tastes like a Cuban cigar other than a Cuban cigar, just as nothing tastes like a Nicaraguan cigar except a Nicaraguan cigar.
The Malt & Cigar Experience
A fine way to close an evening is in the company of some good single malt whiskies, few friends and a robust Cigar, indeed a fine luxury experience. Over the last few years, the association between Whiskies & Cigars is beginning to be well established. Whisky brands have taken the lead in hosting bespoke evening by showcasing Whiskies and fine cigars. It is a discovery of discerning depth. Full bodied, aged and aromatic single malts, aptly paired with robust & intense “smokies”. A relatively strong whisky will work well with the stronger cigars.
Some traditional Pairings
1. The heavy weight Cohiba Siglo IV matched the Sherry Cask Macallan 18 YO to perfection.
2. The fruit and oak bite of the veritable Chivas Regal 18 married well with the demanding Montecristo No.1.
3. The smoky Ardbeg pulls a punch with
4. Dalmore Cigar Malt works well with most Cigars, definitely with Monte Cristo No 2 Most Cigars, definitely with Monte Cristo No 2
5. Glenfiddich 21 YO, is confident of being Romeo Y Julieta Exhibicion No.3.
6. Robust Speyside go well with Partagas
Though over time, India is witnessing the entry of Cigars from Dominican Republic & even from Honduras. These will be able to match the vast range of whiskies already available in India.
Premium cigars from the Dominican Republic are regarded by connoisseurs as amongst the best in the world. On attributes like ‘construction of the cigar’ , they’re often rated superior to Cuban cigars (i.e. the traditional benchmark for premium cigars). Dominican cigars feature among the Top 10 Best Cigars of the World (by ‘Cigar Aficionado’ magazine) every year. Luxury brands like Davidoff and Dunhill cigars are made in the Dominican Republic. For the US market, brands like Romeo Y Julieta, Cohiba, & Montecristo (originally Cuban brands) are made in the Dominican Republic
Cigars are well appreciated post dinner, with heavily sherried malts, enjoyed in thick bottomed glasses. According to Atul Kapur, a man known for great taste in life and all things nice, “I enjoy a good Armenteros Torpedo Cigar with my favourite Whisky, King George V, after dinner. I often play some Nat King Cole or Giovanni in my Bar & enjoy the experience. It`s my time and I truly enjoy the feeling of all these elements coming together.”
For our pairing we decided to pair the Armenteros Cigars, which have distinctive tasting characteristics, using a variety of tobacco from across the world, with a wide range of Single Malts. Rajiv Behl, a Real Estate Developer, has been smoking Cigars for over 10 years and enjoys a Cigar, almost every evening. “Cigars are a personalized statement and best enjoyed with heavty Whiskies. I normally enjoy The Balvenie 21 YO with my Churchill. “
• Armenteros Robustos, a full bodied powerhouse, offers connoisseurs a rich and complex experience with its cinnamon spicy notes along with woody and nutty flavor. It is lovingly paired with The Glenlivet 25 YO.
• Armenteros Torpedo, with its rich toasty notes and earthy and hickory finish delights the consumers without being too hard on the strength. We found that The Singleton 18 YO was a mellow but consistent companion.
• Armenteros Churchill cigars use a complex blend of tobaccos which gives fine woody notes with an undertone of cocoa bean, spicy anise and hints of licorice. The Lagavulin 16 YO was the worthy suitor.
• Armenteros Corona cigars have an enticing sweet aroma and cedar flavors complimenting the smoke perfectly. Enjoyed best with The Macallan 21 YO
• Slim and firm, Armenteros Petit Corona burns beautifully, with a smooth draw imparting flavors of wood and spice to the connoisseur. Romanced with Talisker 18 YO
“No one can tell me what is a good cigar for me. I am the only judge. People who claim to know say that I smoke the worst cigars in the world”. – Mark Twain
Sandeep Arora – Whisky Ambassador and a Connoissuer on Whisky & Luxury Experiences.
COHIBA SIGLO IV
Cuba’s iconic cigar brand. A demanding, heavy girth Havana with a smooth draw, complex taste and aroma. Stands up to the Auchentoshan very well.
VEGAS ROBINA CLASICOS
A demanding, medium bodied Havana with a perfect wrapper and draw. Slightly salty on the tongue with good earthy depth to it, worked well with the Black Bottle.
Another demanding medium to full bodied Habanos with a great slightly tarry taste to it. Has a pleasant aroma with sweet spicy undertones which married well with the Chivas Regal 18.
A great medium to full cigar with deep earthy notes and complex aroma and taste, which complimented the Dalmore beautifully. Slight sweet undertones with a dark richness to it.
ROMEO Y JULIETA EXHIBICION NO.3
A slightly bitter and tarry, medium bodied Havana which burns well with a wonderful aroma. Woody notes with a little sweetness to them perfect for the Glenfiddich.
RAFAEL GONZALES LONSDALE
A near perfect Havana that draws and smokes exceptionally well. Lovely earthy notes with slight sweet almost honey taste making a great companion for the Ledaig.