The drinking of whisky and the smoking of cigars have a long history together. This pastime has enjoyed something of a revival in the UK in the last year and numerous events are being held to match certain whiskies with certain cigars and discuss the flavour combinations. Such an event was recently held in London. Unfortunately, we couldn't go but we know a man that could - Chris Maclean (pictured, left). Chris likes the odd cigar here and there, is a whisky lover and also writes the Drink Station blog, which specialises in soft drinks. So what better man to write a review of the evening for us? A big thanks to Chris from us both. We hope you enjoy his review.
I was recently invited to a cigar and whisky tasting event at Boisdale of Belgravia. I’d heard a lot about this place, and as the self-proclaimed ‘embassy for Scotland’ it doesn’t disappoint. Founded in 1988 by Ranald Macdonald, Boisdale aims to showcase the very finest Scottish produce in London, in an almost defiantly Scottish atmosphere. The cigars were provided by Hunters and Frankau, a historic 220 year old company, being the sole official UK agents for Havana cigars and purveyors of the coveted ‘English Market Selection’ seal of quality. The Glenmorangie whiskies to be sampled were the Original 10 year old, the cask strength Astar (57.1% ABV), and the Signet.
We made use of the sizeable Cigar Terrace for this event. This is a purpose-built outdoor roof space that is covered, heated and comfortably furnished in the warm Boisdale tartans. The Cuaba cigar was a real talking point, even before any matches were struck. Cuaba is named after the highly combustible bush that the Taino Indians used to light their ‘Cohiba’ or cigar, and is made at the Romeo Y Julieta factory in Havana.
The Distinguidos cigar we were to sample is a large cigar (162mm long x 52 ring guage), with a very distinctive torpedo shape, being pointed at both ends with a bulbous middle. This double taper is known as a ‘doble figurado’ and although now rare, was in fact the shape that all Habanos were rolled in up until the mid 1930s. At this time the straight sided ‘Parejo’ shape took over, and it is said that the main reason for the change in shape is that young men of the time found straight sided cigars easier to light correctly.
The unusual torpedo shape of this cigar also creates a unique flavour profile. Whilst the taper at the cut end acts as a funnel to concentrate the flavours as they travel towards the mouth, the second taper at the lit end offers a rare occasion to taste the outer wrapper and binder leaf of the cigar when it is first lit and the early smoke is drawn through. I took a few moments to light the cigar and taste the outer leaves on the first of several draws: tangy, nutty (almonds, marzipan), sharp. The effect was much like an aperitif, stimulating and enlivening the palate. This worked well with the opening dram of Glenmorangie Original 10 year old, reflecting the clean vanilla, honey and almond flavours found here.
As the combustion burnt slowly outwards to reach the widest part of the cigar, I noticed that the draw on this cigar was consistent and even, creating a fine ash that held together, and with the leaves packed tightly but not so much as to inhibit the draw. The flavour then filled out significantly at this point, settling first then gaining richness and weight, with tangy ripe fruit and sweet spices coming through. Several guests talked up the Glenmorangie Astar at this point, with its creamy, spicy intensity providing much more impact, vigour and a long cleansing finish.
Into the final third of the cigar and somebody quietly pushed a dram of Signet in my direction. Cuaba is described as a Medium to Full flavour cigar by the Hunters & Frankau team, and this was beginning to make sense. Leather, earth and black pepper notes from the tobacco found an equal in the Glenmorangie Signet, with its unusual proportion of highly roasted ‘chocolate malt’ and fresh casks creating a viscous malt with mouthcoatingly dark flavours. The cigar really dovetailed with the whisky at this point, with each enhancing the experience of the other.
The debate between the Signet and the Astar continued apace, with some guests enthusing over the addition of a few drops of water to the Astar, which opened up the fragrance and fattened up the texture in the mouth. I had met my match in the Signet however, with its bittersweet composure offering a fine pairing with the cigar in terms of balance and intensity, at the bottled strength 0f 46% ABV.
This was a special evening during which the combined artistry of the cigar maker and distiller could be appreciated and explored at leisure, in fine company and surroundings. I can highly recommend catching up with the Hunters & Frankau team at one of these events, where cigar and whisky novices and enthusiasts are equally welcome. Thanks to Dan Pink and Jimmy Mcghee of Hunters & Frankau for providing the cigars, and to Adam Williams of Moet Hennessy for the whiskies.
JCLM writing for Whisky For Everyone