5 Great Whisky Cocktails to Pair with Cigars – Part 1

During covid I was bored. So I watched a lot of television and a lot of old episodes of Bar Rescue, where ‘the Gordon Ramsey of the bar industry’, Jon Taffer rescues failing bars. A concept that Gordon Ramsey also uses in Kitchen Nightmares and I remember watching Hotel Impossible many moons ago where failing hotels were rescued by a hotel expert. But Kitchen Nightmares and Hotel Impossible aside, while watching Bar Rescue I noticed they created cocktails in every episode. That looked delicious and fun to do, so I got myself a cocktail kit and started experimenting. It quickly became a hobby and I love making cocktails for my wife and my friends.

But there is a downside to becoming a amateur mixologist. Most cocktails at bars are not up to my standards anymore as I know how to improve them, and taste when they use poor quality ingredients such as commercial bottled juices instead of freshly squeezed juice. Plus the liquor cabinet explodes, as you will need ingredients that you don’t use often but those bottles (like absinth, Chartreuse, bitters and other liqueurs) take up a lot of space.

Often people ask me “what is your favourite cocktail” or “what is the best cocktail to pair with a cigar”. These questions seem similar but aren’t. Some of my favourite cocktails are citrus forward and citrus forward cocktails are hard to pair with cigars. I also like the Miami Vice, but it’s not a cocktail I will recommend here as it’s quite some work. Plus it’s also a personal taste thing. I am not a fan of spirit forward cocktails, where all of the ingredients are spirits. So don’t expect me to answer Martini, Negroni, Manhattan of something similar while there are others who swear by a negroni with their cigar.

So here are 5 recommendations of whisky based cocktails to try with a cigar. Recommendations are in random order by the way. Let us know in the comments what your favourite whisky based cocktail is from this list or if you have any recommendations for me to try.

Old Fashioned

The classic amongst classics. An old fashioned was one of the simpler and earlier versions of cocktails, before the development of advanced bartending techniques and recipes in the later part of the 19th century. With these new developments and fancier cocktails with other ingredients, the more conservative drinkers asked for “that old fashioned cocktail” and that’s now the name came about. The cocktail thanks much of its current popularity to the tv show Mad Man where it’s the favourite drink of one of the leading characters.

This cocktail is so simple, but it shows how a bit of sugar, a few dashes of bitter and an orange peel can make such a huge difference when added to whisky. It makes the whisky smoother, more approachable yet also more complex and complicated. Since you can make a good old fashioned with any whisky or bourbon, the best pairing can differ. If you make an old fashioned with a heavily peated whisky, the perfect cigar is different than when you make the same drink with a smooth and mild Irish Writer’s Tears for example. So take your favourite whisky, make an old fashioned and pair it with a cigar of your choice. Why don’t you let us know what your favourite whisky is for an old fashioned and what cigar you’d pair with it.

And now for the Old-Fashioned recipe:

1 sugar cube
3 dashes of bitters
2 oz or 60 ml of whisky
orange peel
Put the sugar cube in a highball glass, add the dashes of bitters and a splash of water. Muddle the sugar cube. Add ice and the whisky. Stir for 10 seconds, then add an orange peel.

Amaretto Sour

There are several versions of the Amaretto Sour floating around on the interwebs, and the recipe below is a mash-up between the Amaretto Sour I found on the Jim Beam website and the one from the legendary barkeeper Jeffrey Morgenthaler. The latter uses a high proof bourbon, but I make this cocktail with any bourbon I have available at the time.

Amaretto dominates the nose, it’s almond. Almost like almond paste that pastry chef use for deserts and cookies. The egg white and the carbonated qualities of the lemon lime create a nice foam layer on this bright yellow cocktail. One small sip and I’m sold. This cocktail has a creamy mouthfeel, almonds, the lemon brings a bright tart, while the bourbon brings oak and vanilla. Simply wow. And even though there is lemon, it is not so strong in flavour that it makes pairing hard. I love this cocktail and because of that I would take a cigar that I love as well. A complicated, well balanced cocktail deserves a complicated and well balanced cigar.

And now for the Amaretto Sour recipe:

1 ounce or 30ml of Bourbon
1 ounce or 30ml of Amaretto
¼ ounce of 7.5ml of Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
¼ ounce of 7.5ml of Lemon Lime (I use Sprite)
¼ teaspoon sugar (or rich simple syrup)
1 egg white
Garnish: lemon wheel and a cherry
Add the egg white, bourbon, amaretto, sugar and lemon juice in a shaker. Shake vigorously. Add ice and shake again. Strain in a rocks glass over fresh ice, then top up with the lemon lime.

Cameron’s Kick

This cocktail is over a hundred years old and first appeared in the ABC of mixing cocktails, a 1922 publication. It appeared again in 1930’s the savoy cocktail book. This is a cocktail that both the lovers of Irish whisky and the lovers of Scotch can support as it uses equal parts of both.

The nose is all about lemon, and that worries me. Strong citrus is usually hard to pair with cigars. But let’s see. This is a refreshing drink but the Jameson Irish Whisky that I used is overshadowed by the lemon and the Scotch. I used Auchentoshan Three Wood. The orgeat gives a bit of a nutty backdrop. The cocktail is thick in mouthfeel. The lemon is not overpowering, so that makes this cocktail a good match with cigars. If I didn’t know the recipe, I would have sworn it had some bitters as well. A fuller bodied cigar would go very well with this cocktail.

And now for the Cameron’s Kick recipe:

1 ounce or 30ml of Scotch whisky
1 ounce or 30ml of Irish whiskey
½ ounce or 15ml of Lemon Juice, freshly squeezed
1/3 ounce or 10ml of Orgeat
½ ounce or 15ml of chilled water
garnish: Lemon zest twist
Add the liquids in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Grapefruit Collins

The drink is truly in a category of its own with its unusual combination of ingredients. Scotch whisky and grapefruit juice aren’t often found together in a cocktail, especially in a fizz. Bitters are never unwelcome in cocktails, but as a rule, Collins drinks don’t call for them. However you choose to categorize this drink, its uncommon mix of elements adds up to one creatively tasty cocktail according to the renowned website liquor.com. I recommend a smoky or peaty whisky for this cocktail, even though I normally don’t like peated whiskies.

The nose is dominated by the grapefruit oil as the foam does not have a smell at all. The drink itself is perfectly balanced, the bitterness of the grapefruit, the tart from the lemon, the smokiness of the peated whisky I used all bound together by the sweetness of the simple syrup and the texture created by the egg white. This is a nice, refreshing cocktail but not very outspoken. And thus it will go well with many cigars.

And now for the Grapefruit Collins recipe:

2 ounces or 60ml of peated whisky
1½ ounce or 45ml of Grapefruit Juice, freshly squeezed
½ ounce or 15ml of Lemon Juice, freshly squeezed
½ ounce or 15ml of simple syrup
3 dashes of Peychaud bitters
1 egg white
Club soda, chilled
garnish: Grapefruit twist
Add all ingredients minus the soda water and the grapefruit twist in a shaker and vigorously dry-shake. Add ice and shake again until well-chilled. Strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice and top with soda water until the foam rises above the rim of the glass. Express the oils from the grapefruit twist over the top of the drink and then discard.

Japanese Sour

The classic Whiskey Sour provides inspiration for countless cocktails, as bartenders across the world play with or add to its constituent parts (whiskey, citrus, sugar, egg white). In the case of the Japanese Sour, it involves Japanese whisky , the Japanese citrus yuzu and kuromitsu. Yuzu is a citrus fruit with a tart flavour that’s like a combination of lemon, lime and orange, and kuromitsu is a molasses-like syrup derived from kokutō, a mineral-rich unrefined sugar. If you don’t have kuromitsu, you can replace it with honey, like I did.

The five drops of bitters on top of the creamy egg-white layer dominate the nose. The egg white creates a creamy texture and this cocktail isn’t as sour as you might expect with the yuzu juice and lemon. The fruity flavours of the Nikka Coffey Grain, my choice for this cocktail, are clear in this cocktail, with the citrus as a supporting flavour. The honey syrup provides a nice sweetness that balances everything out. There’s even a little hint of vanilla that I didn’t taste in the neat version nor in the old fashioned. It makes this cocktail a perfect companion for many cigars, from a mild and creamy Sobremesa Brulee to a Joya de Nicaragua Antano 1970 Churchill. But if you want to remain in the Japanese theme, why not try an Alec & Bradley Kintsugi?

And now for the Japanese Sour recipe:

2 ounces or 60ml of Japanese whisky
¼ ounce or 7½ml of yuzu juice
¼ ounce or 7½ml of lemon juice
1/3 ounce or 10ml of rich honey syrup (as a substitute for kuromitsu)
1 egg white
Garnish: 5 drops of bitters
Add the Nikka Coffey Grain, Lemon juice, Yuzu juice, honey syrup and the egg white in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously. Then add ice and shake again until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass. Add 5 drops of bitters as a garnish.

Inspector X

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