[Originally published in November, 2012 at Manarchy Magazine]
We’re putting The Whiskey Review on hold this month to bring you something a little different.
Hearing the word ‘tequila’ summons an image of a lime wedge perched on the salt dusted lip of a margarita glass, and this is only the beginning. Tiny umbrellas, body shots, Mexican food, spring break; whatever direction one’s imagination goes, a blue-grey puff of cigar smoke is probably not part of that picture. We pair cigars with whiskey or cognac, but clear spirits don’t even appear on the radar. To most, the thought of pairing tequila with a basically any cigar seems counterintuitive; the smoke almost certainly seems destined to overpower the delicate flavors in the spirit. There are those, however, who think outside this box.
As a Certified Master Tobacconist (among other things), Michael Herklots stands out as a rare talent in what many consider a dying art. He’s worked with manufacturers throughout the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras and now oversees Nat Sherman’s iconic flagship store on 42nd Street in Manhattan. The notes that follow are his contribution to a growing trend in cigar-tequila pairing.
If you’ve ever asked a waiter what kind of wine would go with your entrée, he probably said something like, “White wine goes with white meat or seafood, red wine with dark meat”. This is because the respective flavors tend to compliment each other. In much the same way, pairing scotch or bourbon with a cigar or pipe tobacco is rather commonplace. This can be referred to as Matching, since the idea is to accent similarities between the drink and the dish or tobacco product.
But consider some of those original images invoked by the thought of tequila, namely that of Mexican food; a style of cooking characterized by blends of spices and an array of peppers, sauces and properly seasoned meats. Contrast all that against the defining characteristics of a good tequila, subtlety and nuance, and a vast array of possibilities open up to those willing to experiment.
Another way to look at pairing, from Herklots’ perspective, is called Dialogue, and this is where things get really interesting. Not only is Matching an achievable goal with tequila and a fine cigar, but this idea of Dialogue really takes a turn you have to experience to believe.
Since not any old tequila will suffice when pairing with a fine cigar, Herklots has selected two of Tequila Avion’s offerings. Precious few brands of tequila embody such substance and character as to give one pause. Given that Tequila Avion won the World’s Best White Spirit along with a handful of other impressive top honors at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, it’s safe to say these guys are in a league of their own. The two tequilas featured below are Avión Reposado and Avión Añejo. I’ve tried each of these pairings listed below, and my advice is to pick one or two that seem up your alley and give them a try.
Pairing 1 (Match)
Nat Sherman Metropolitan Union (Natural)
MH: This Connecticut Shade wrapped cigar will compliment some of the floral notes as well as the “buttery-ness” of the Reposado. The creamy mouthfeel of the smoke goes perfectly with the tequila’s finesse. The cigar will offer some notes of wood and toast, not presented by the tequila, but these notes will become part of the finish lingering on your palate to embrace the balance.
Pairing 2 (Dialogue)
Nat Sherman Metropolitan Union (Maduro)
MH: This cigar is the exact same as the aforementioned except the wrapper is a Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro. The fermentation process of this particular leaf is done at a higher temperature for a longer period created more sugars in the leaf. While the end flavor is not “sweet” like candy, there is a sweet characteristic that is quite prevalent on its own, and when tasted with the Reposado, is actually propelled to center stage. The cigar offers a slight bitterness and charry-notes that help spread the overall impact of flavor around the palate. This helps balance the overall palate experience beyond that of the very mid-palate experience of the Reposado itself.
Pairing 1 (Match)
Nat Sherman Timeless Collection Hermoso
MH: This cigar features 6 different tobaccos from three countries. Two of these tobaccos are ligeros hailing from the top of the plant. This thicker format cigar uses more filler tobaccos than that of a thinner one, using even more ligeros to accommodate the ring gauge. The cigar’s richness and intensity in delivering flavor is tempered by the tobacco’s age- much like the Añejo. The overall stimulation on the palate of the cigar itself is quite broad, but when accompanied by the Añejo is focused to more of a mid-palate experience, with some impact between teeth and cheeks as well as roof of mouth. It’s a wonderful, easy and accessible pairing that allows you to enjoy them both- but focus on other things… like the company you’re enjoying them with.
Pairing 2 (Dialogue)
Nat Sherman Timeless Collection 556
MH: This Nicaraguan puro uses 100% Nicaraguan tobacco. As is typical with Nicaraguan Tobacco, one can’t help but appreciate the notes of espresso and cocoa with a slight earthiness. The magic here comes in the pairing. While the molasses note marries perfectly, the caramel, and dried citrus fruits actually help round out the linear nature of the cigar. This creates great dialogue between the two that begs you to take another sip and follow quickly with another puff to layer one upon the other… and continue to build the intensity in the complex pairing. A STAR combination!