Last week, I took a look at the more common non-alcoholic beverages that cigar smokers drink, and especially those that I tend to favor (hey, it's a blog...it's all about the opinion of the blogger at the end of the day!). Today I will take a short tour through the alcoholic beverage section of the Tiki Bar, working in reverse order up to the ones I favor...
Honestly, I can't imagine sipping vodka straight for any reason. Ideally, vodka should be colorless, odorless and tasteless...to which I reply: "What's the point, then?" The only one I can see is to get drunk and since I'm not a big fan of losing control and getting drunk (at least not on a regular basis), vodka does not hold a big place in my heart or liquor cabinet.
I couldn't decide to put Vodka or Gin first, because one is supposed to be tasteless and the other tastes terrible...at least to me. I have a friend who has been known to enjoy a martini with a cigar, though, so I elected to put it one step up from vodka. Not my cup of tea, but...
|Photo courtesy Wikipedia|
In the broadest sense, Brandy is any spirit distilled from fermented fruit products. That would include Cherry and Apple Brandy as well as the whole host of Grape Brandies...most of which just go by the term Brandy, but the best of which come from the Cognac region of France and go by that term. I have tried Hennessy and Courvoiseir, but when I go in for a bottle of France's best export, I invariably end up buying the Remy Martin VSOP. It has a slightly sweet flavor and smoothness that always has treated me well and goes extraordinarily well with many cigars. I was privileged a few years ago to attend a Gurkha/Remy Martin dinner at which I got to try the XO (about $125 a bottle) and the Louis XIV (about $2000). I have to honestly say that after drinking my half-shot of Louis, I did not want to ever drink another alcoholic beverage again if it could not live up to the complexity and over-the-top experience of that few sips...yes, it was that good. I got over it within a few days, though, realizing that unless I won the lottery I might never again drink the stuff, and I moved back into the realm of reality.
I originally thought of Rum as more of a mixer than a sipping beverage. I have long enjoyed a Rum & Coke or Mojito, but have found a few Rums that are actually very nice to have straight. On the bargain side is Whaler's Rare Dark Reserve, a rum almost the color of cola and priced at between $12 and $15 a bottle. I recently picked up a bottle of 8 year Rhum Barbancourt that was marked down from about $25 to about $14.50. I had some with a cigar just a few nights ago and was impressed by the fact that it was silky smooth without being overly sweet. I just may have found a new favorite sipping Rum and may have to return to the store to get another bottle or two before they sell out!
|Photo courtesy Wikipedia|
At the first meeting of the Tiki Bar group, we imbibed from a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, a mid-level blended Scotch Whisky that was very smooth, but ultimately rather bland after I discovered the joys of single-malts. I have tried Lavagulin and enjoyed it immensely, but was frightened off by its $80-100 price tag. My all-time favorite Scotch is the peaty wonder from Islay: Laphroiag. This dram is smoky and edgy, with a peat flavor that is hard to beat (some of the other peat-heavy drinks tend to push the limit so far that they are practically undrinkable, in my opinion). I have tried others, but keep coming back to this whisky that retails between $30 and 40 depending on where you live.
Some might just call this category "Bourbon" and expand on that term to include other derivatives, but I prefer to look at it the other way. If you are ever in the mood to experiment with something off the beaten path, you might try Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey. This bright orange liquor is made mostly like a Bourbon, but is aged far less time...but at higher and more consistent temperatures. The micro-distillery has a heated room where they store the whiskey so it is warm in the winter and out-right hot during the summer. The price is a little much (I paid about $50 a couple years ago), but it is truly different and something the whiskey aficionado should give a try to. There are plenty of other micro-distilleries popping up nowdays, too, making everything from Bourbons to Rye to other variations on the whiskey theme.
Rye whiskey has enjoyed a resurgence of late. One of my favorites is Wild Turkey Rye, bottled at the same 101 proof that their main line of Bourbon is. While Bourbons and other corn-based liquors tend to be sweet, rye tends to have a lot of spice and edge to it. Turkey Rye can commonly be had for less than $20 a bottle, making it a great buy, but there are others out there for slightly more than may suit your tastes better; I might suggest Rittenhouse or Russell's Reserve (also a Wild Turkey product, but better than the regular).
Tennessee Whiskey is a product near and dear to my heart being as I was born and currently live in Tennessee. I have visited both of the major Tennessee Whiskey distilleries and have my opinions on them. Jack Daniels is a perfectly good whiskey...for mixing. Old No. 7 is a bit harsh, but it is the best selling whiskey in the world and the price makes it easy to mix with cola or other beverages to good effect. For actual sipping, I like Jack's Single Barrel expression, although it is too expensive to have on hand very often (roughly double the price of regular Jack). A far better sipping whisky is Jack's neighbor up the road, George Dickel Tennessee Whisky, in the No. 12 expression. This whiskey is double-distilled (in both column and copper pot stills) and chilled before filtering through twice as much charcoal as regular Jack. The result is an uncommonly smooth corn-based whiskey with a fantastic flavor. I toured their distillery and wrote about it as well; you can read all about it here.
|Photo courtesy Wikipedia|
Which leaves us finally with Bourbon. To me, a good Bourbon is well-rounded enough to complement almost any cigar, from mild to medium to full-bodied. I have often made the comparison that Bourbon is to red wine like Scotch is to white...in most cases, Bourbon just has more fullness, body and complexity than Scotch and just goes with a wider variety of cigars. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, like the Bourbon I had this last year that was almost as light bodied as a Scotch (and I cannot remember which one it was, for the life of me, at the moment). The ones that go best for me with any cigar are Maker's Mark and Russell's Reserve. Both are relatively inexpensive drams that have a flavor that is easy to appreciate and complex enough to pair well. They are the ones I most often reach for when it is time to re-stock the liquor cabinet.
ONE MORE THING...
I was most of the way through this article when I discovered I had neglected beer and wine. The reason why is that I simply cannot drink them in any decent quantities. While I have been known to enjoy a good red wine or dark amber beer with a stogie, if I have more than one I end up with a headache. Not a hangover, mind you, but a headache right then and there. Something in beer and wine just doesn't agree with my system and causes a fairly quick headache to set in after more than 12 or so ounces of beer or 8 or so of wine. Go figure...I just have concluded that I would rather not drink the beer (or wine) than deal with the headaches.
So, over the last two Fridays I have had my say about what I like to drink when I smoke a cigar. Now it's your turn: the Comments section is open and ready for you to join the conversation...what's your favorite and why?