Mention the enjoyment of a fine hand-rolled cigar these days, and many if not most, will take a disdainful look at the person suggesting the enjoyment of something so unhealthy, smelly and unsightly. After all, the stereotype of the middle-aged, overweight, sweaty male, chomping on a stogie, will no doubt fulfill the image most non-smokers may have of your basic cigar smoker.
About 5% of American adults currently smoke cigars. 8% of those cigar smokers are male; about 2% are female – and that number is growing annually. For example, about 7.6% of all U.S. high school students smoke cigars; but 6.2% of all female high school students smoke cigars on a regular basis – more than three times as many adult females. These figures come directly from the CDC.
Take it for what it’s worth. From this point onward, this article is for those who remain open to new sensory, life experiences that have proven themselves for hundreds of years – and how to make the most of them.
What to Smoke
The selection today of quality, hand-rolled cigars is enormous. If you’re new to cigar smoking, my advice would be to try as many as you can so that you can ultimately settle down on what you truly like. And you won’t know until you come across it. Cigars come in all shapes, sizes, strengths, characteristics and flavors. Everyone’s tastes are unique – and cigars will be no exception.
My own personal favorites include:
In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with any of these. Each one has its own unique characteristics, aroma and flavors.
Any Padron, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Davidoff's The Late Hour for example, always have an easy draw, good even burn, and they put out plenty of smoke. The Partagas D5 is currently my favorite Cuban cigar. The Macanudo Gold Label is an exceptionally mild smoke with a velvety texture on the tongue and in the mouth.
The Cohiba Siglo VI isn't a bad smoke, but thanks to the recent extortionist pricing policy of Habanos S.A., the state-run tobacco company in Cuba, the Siglo VI is now going for about $130 a stick - and it is positively not worth the money. You're better off going with any of the other favorites I identified above. If you must smoke a Cuban, I would definitely recommend any Partagas Serie D.
If there is a particular cigar you think you’d like to try, but are unsure if you will like it – look-up the cigar online and read some reviews to get an idea of the flavor and aroma notes of it. But also don’t be afraid to try something completely unknown.
Pairing With Spirits and Other Beverages
For a straight spirits accompaniment, try a McCallum 12 or 18, Dalmore Cigar Malt, Knob Creek bourbon, Weller's 12-Year bourbon, Martel Blue Swift or cognac, or maybe even some 15 or 21-year Appleton Estate Jamaican rum (if you can find it), all on the rocks. Every different combination will be a rewarding experience.
Interestingly, one beverage that gets mentioned consistently as being excellent to pair with cigars is coffee - especially expresso. I have also often paired with craft soft drinks such as artisanal root beer, vanilla cream or black cherry soda, or cola – all with excellent results on a hot day. And yes, Coke works just fine - at least for me.
Pairing with Food
No Hard and Fast Rules
The main thing to keep in mind however is not to be reluctant to try as many different cigar-drink-food pairings as you can. They are as infinite and complex as wine and food pairing – and arguably more versatile. Don't forget, cigar tobacco - like wine - varies by climate, soil conditions, the aging and seasoning processes used, and the techniques used by the torcedors in a given location or country.
So give this a try. Sitting outside on a cool summer evening with a fine cigar, quality whiskey, and some cool jazz playing in the background..... it's quite hard to beat. I've had some of my most profound thoughts about life during these sessions. Cheers!
© 2023 David Nogar All Rights Reserved
David Nogar worked in railroad operations for almost 50 years until retiring from the transportation business in early 2023.