By Bob “The Reverend Hurricane” Meyn
Being from New Orleans, it’s only natural that I typically enjoy a beverage (and usually an adult one) while smoking a cigar. But like many of us who have our “go-to” cigars, I also have my “go-to” drink: Maker’s Mark Bourbon.
Maker’s Mark is easily recognized by the hand-dipped red wax coating on the top of each bottle. The recipe of Maker’s Mark also makes it particularly good pairing for most cigars. By law, bourbon must have an initial mash (the stuff that starts the fermentation process when mixed with yeast) of at least 51% corn. Most bourbons use a combination of more corn, rye and wheat to make up the remaining 49%. Maker’s Mark differentiates itself and produces its characteristic flavor by using a very particular wheat, red winter wheat, in place of the rye as its flavor grain. This substitution gives Maker’s Mark a slightly sweeter taste with much less spice than typical bourbon.
Now, Maker’s Mark is not the most complex or most expensive bourbon available, but the flavor profile of the drink produced by the winter wheat substitution is what makes it a perfect cigar accompaniment for me. Maker’s rather “simple” profile doesn’t overtake the flavor of the cigar I’m smoking the way more “complex” bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle or Bookers can.
I typically smoke very flavorful, full-bodied cigars: Nicaraguan Habanos (from FSS), Oliva Serie V, and Tatuaje Cojuno, that bring more than an ample supply of spice and punch, so I don’t want more of those flavors coming from my beverage. For my palette, the sweetness and simplicity of Maker’s enhances the smoke’s flavor rather than masks it. As a corollary, if I’m smoking a milder cigar such as a CAO Gold, I tend to pair that cigar with a more complex bourbon to add to the flavor profile of the smoke-drink combination. In other words, (and this is strictly for bourbons), the more flavorful the cigar, the less complex bourbon makes the better match, and vice versa.
How to best pair a drink and cigar is certainly a matter of personal taste, but if you try the general guidelines of how I pair different styles of bourbons with cigars, I think you’ll find that you’ll enjoy the particular cigar you’re smoking just a bit more.
This article, which originally posted on October 18, 2010, has been updated.