By Father John Rayls
Have you ever read an advertisement about a whiskey or a cigar and wondered if the marketers had ever even bothered to try the product they were pushing? Sometimes the claimed flavors and aromas are the stuff of pure Hollywood fiction, with no connection to reality.
Knowing how this can be the case, I tend to view some pairing suggestions in the same light. They can come across as trying to create a connection and an experience that’s an obvious stretch. I’m always interested in how consumables might fit together and why, but I want the connection made with well-grounded simplicity. Charlie Daniels spelled it out in one of his songs several years ago…”I ain’t nothin’ but a simple man”.
My attitude is that a good whiskey and cigar pairing needs to begin with a good smoke, build on it with an enjoyable whiskey, and find a balance between the two. I don’t want either one over-powering the other or competing for my constant attention. In an ideal situation, they should work together as one bringing out the best in each other. If it’s a mild cigar, I prefer a subtle whiskey. If the whiskey announces its presence with authority, I prefer a bold cigar.
The Ashton Variety 5-Pack I acquired through Holt’s Cigar Company provides a range of cigars and displays how that simple balance can work in practice. Ashton is a well known Dominican Republic cigar manufacturer with a reputation for quality construction and a moderate price structure. This variety pack included one each of:
- Ashton 8-9-8
- Ashton Aged Maduro No. 40
- Ashton Heritage Churchill Puro Sol
- Ashton Cabinet Pyramid, and
- Ashton VSG (Virgin Sun Grown).
I paired these with a range of whiskeys, including bourbon, rye, Irish whiskey and single malt Scotch.
Ashton 8-9-8 paired with Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey
The 8-9-8 is a Lonsdale, 6.5″, 44 ring gauge cigar. It’s power profile is very mild with a flavor profile that is lightly smokey, woody with a somewhat creamy feel. At times, a slightly sweet undertone will creep in, but never as a major influence. The first third burns quickly and unevenly, but evens out and becomes consistent in burn and flavor at the start of the second third. This is a smooth smoke with an easy draw.
Matching this with an Irish Whiskey (92 proof) allows this mild cigar to hold its own. Teeling has a slightly sweet flavor profile that balances well against the 8-9-8. According to our own review: “The flavor is syrupy and mellow, and hints at dark, spiced rum. This is sweet whiskey, but a little woodiness and pepper in the taste keeps it from becoming too sweet. The finish flows out of the peppery note and into a nice, warm glow.” As a subtle whiskey, it is fully complimentary to this mild cigar.
Ashton Aged Maduro No. 40 with The Glenlivet Nadurra Scotch Whisky
The Aged Maduro is a medium bodied, Corona Gorda measuring 6″ with a 50 ring gauge. It is a beautiful dark colored cigar with an easy, slightly tight draw and a slightly spicy profile. It has an oily veiny wrapper that has a hard feel, but it doesn’t smoke that way. There are hints of vanilla and even marshmallow when initially lit. It also burns unevenly in the first third, but evens out at the 40% mark.
The cigar has a slight peppery feel on the front of the tongue which matches well with The Glenlivet. The Nadurra single malt has a creamy mouth-feel which softens the overall experience and balances well against the maduro. There is a slightly salty flavor matched with a slightly sweet one that is very inviting. There are multiple Nadurras available, but all start from a similar beginning and would serve a pairing just as well.
Ashton Heritage Churchill Puro Sol with Rock Hill Farms Bourbon
The Heritage is a Churchill measuring 6.75″ with a 44 ring gauge. It is a smooth medium bodied smoke with a slightly sweet note and bread undertones. It’s a nice creamy cigar that is enjoyable from start to finish with a nutty earthiness.
Rock Hill Farms is a Buffalo Trace bourbon, made from the same mash bill as is used for Elmer T Lee and Blanton’s. Rock Hill is 100 proof of goodness with notes of vanilla and caramel. It is an easy drinking whiskey that is very smooth and compliments perfectly The Heritage. There is no harshness in either the cigar or the whiskey.
Ashton Cabinet Pyramid with Filibuster Rye
This is another mild smoke, but is one of my favorites if you’re in the mood for a light touch. It has been described as a blonde torpedo (Figurado) at 6″ with a 52 ring gauge. In spite of its mildness and innocent looks, it is nicely flavorful with smokey, nutty tones and a very nice creamy finish. Like all other Ashtons I’ve smoked, the Cabinet is very well constructed and you will find yourself ashing it two or three times at most for the entire cigar.
The Filibuster Rye provides a creamy taste profile made up primarily of lightly sweet and moderate spiciness (imagine honey and light pepper at 90 proof). It’s made from the MGP mash of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. With the double barrel aging in second-fill French Oak, there is a solid dried fruit and toffee flavor profile. This is the best cigar out of the 5 measured in terms of volume of smoke (I need to pick up a few more of these!) and matches up very well with Filibuster.
Ashton Virgin Sun Grown (VSG) with Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon
The Ashton VSG is a full bodied smoke that has an excellent reputation worldwide. It is extremely well made and is a dark colored beauty to observe. It brings to the table espresso and dark chocolate overtones. The VSG is a “home run” in every facet and is very enjoyable. It held an even burn and flavor profile throughout and held my attention down to burning my fingers trying to figure out how to get one more draw before putting it down.
Part of the thrill of this particular pairing was using one of my favorite bourbons! It is a powerful cigar matched with an equally powerful whiskey. Knob Creek Single Barrel (120 proof) doesn’t take a backseat to anyone or anything. It’s potent, but not overwhelming and very flavorful. There is a long finish with a very satisfying creamy feel.