A smoky digestif: Cuban cigar and drink pairings for after meals
Probably the most popular occasion for a Cuban cigar is after a fine meal, usually in the evening. This is the moment when the work is done, our bellies are full and we have the opportunity to relax and enjoy, without the possibility of interruption by phone, email, or any other of life’s technological ties to the office. Lighting our cigar at this point can be instrumental in unwinding the tension of the day, especially when paired with a generous glass of our favourite fine spirit.
Strong spirits are just as well-suited to the end of the day as cigars. As soon as it hits our stomach, the alcohol will help the digestion of the food; as it hits our bloodstream it will assist the relaxation of the mind and body. The end of the day is when we are least likely to have responsibilities still to fulfil – we must simply eat and prepare for sleep. The perfect timing, then, to allow our guard to drop slightly as the alcohol has its affect.
As autumn looms on the horizon, the nights begin to approach more quickly and a chill creeps into the evening air. It may not quite be time to light the fires yet, but an extra layer will be required when smoking al fresco. The alternative, of course, could be to heat from the inside out – a hearty glass of whisky will keep even the Scottish September evening breeze at bay. Best choose your stick carefully, however: most of our favourite spirits have flavour profiles as strong as their alcohol content, so we will need a cigar powerful enough to stand up without being overwhelmed. Here are a few suggestions.
Glenfarclas 15/Partagas Serie E no. 2
Speyside, in the Scottish Highlands, is to whisky what Cuba’s Pinar del Rio is to tobacco: known as the best of the best. In the land where whisky was born this little riverside region boasts the highest concentration of whisky distilleries, and Glenfarclas is one of the most popular. Their Glenfarclas 15 is a wealth of flavour in a glass; aged in ex-sherry barrels and with a spicy, fruity richness most commonly associated with Christmas cake. The mighty Partagas E2 is more than capable of mixing with this astonishing dram, matching the spice and body and adding its own peppery notes to the aftertaste. A truly digestif combination, to follow meals laden with red meat rich desserts.
Rum Edmundo Dantes 15/Montecristo Especial No. 2
My own national allegiances put aside, the most natural foil for a Cuban cigar can only be Cuban rum, and there is no better example than Rum Edmundo Dantes. 15 years is a long time to age a spirit in the heat of the Caribbean, and the result is an exquisite rum – velvety smoothness, with notes of spice, vanilla and tobacco. These will blend beautifully with the cinnamon and dark coffee notes and peppery kick of the Montercristo Especial No. 2, while the elegant Laguito No. 2 vitola will ensure the cigar smokes long enough to justify at least one more glass of this extraordinary rum.
Gran Centenario Añejo Tequila/Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de San Juan
Many people have a bad image of tequila, which is sadly caused most often simply by bad tequila. All spirits have versions out there which will please neither the tastebuds at the time nor the stomach the next morning, and Mexico’s national offering is no different. Done well, however, and it can be mellow, sweet and a pleasure to drink: Gran Centenario Añejo Tequila is all three. Caramel, chocolate and nuts are all present, and will mingle with the initial citrus and eventual toffee of the Hoyo de Monterrey Hoyo de San Juan. This may be the lightest pairing on this menu in terms of body, but it is certainly not lacking in taste, and is a great option for after a particularly sweet dessert.
Remy Martin XO/Cohiba Esplendidos
Fine Champagne Cognac like Remy Martin XO deserves to be paired with fine Cohiba cigars; 2 flagship brands of their sector coming together to deliver a top-class taste experience. This cognac is packed with spice and fruit, with an underlying richness attributable to its extra age. The Cohiba Esplendidos is an imposing Churchill-size cigar, which will supply complementary flavours of cedar, cocoa and pepper for at least 90 minutes. These are 2 premium names, and will create a wonderfully opulent finish to any evening.
Jasmine Green Tea/Diplomatico No. 2
Of course, not everyone finishes a meal with alcohol, and even those who do may have evenings when it does not seem proper or appealing. If, like me, you have retired from the world of alcohol, we are fortunate, as such moments are well-catered for. An ever-increasing market exists of beverages for those who do not drink. Jasmine Green Tea is not one of these new arrivals, having been enjoyed for thousands of years, but its fragrant and sweet character pair beautifully with similar notes from the Diplomatico No. 2. This is now the only regular-production Diplomatico cigar; a wonderful piramides which will smoke over an hour and develop in strength and flavour as it does. Brew a pot of tea, allow the leaves to rest there so the infusion builds strength at the same rate as your cigar, and enjoy this surprisingly flavoursome sober digestif.