Pairing Cigars & Alcohol – Suntory Hibiki Harmony

Cigars and alcohol. Two luxury products that go hand in hand, and sometimes even meet on business level. Aging tobacco in whisky, rum, or cognac barrels is a practice several brands do to achieve extra flavour to the wrapper for certain lines. The famous bourbon brand Maker’s Mark has their own cigar, sold in tubes with the signature wax coating. Drew Estate works with Pappy van Winkle and used to make Kahlua cigars. Mombacho used to have the Diplomatico series. General Cigars works with Sazerac, which resulted in Fireball cigars, Weller by Cohiba and collaborations with Buffalo Trace. And there is the Diesel Whisky Row, a collaboration with Rabbit Hole Distilleries. Fratello Cigars also sells craft beer. Most famous are probably the Cuban collaboration between Martell Cognac and Cohiba. Dominique London, the European retailer with more than 20 shops in the UK, Belgium, Switzerland and the Canary Islands takes it one step further. They bought a distillery in Wales and produce whisky, gin, rum, vodka and liquors.

Hibiki Suntory Whisky

In the last few years, Japanese whiskies have become extremely popular which results in crazy prices. And even though I enjoy the Japanese style whiskies with the Nikka Coffee Grain as one of my favourites, they outpriced themselves from my liquor cabinet. I can get whiskies that I enjoy just as much for lesser money. Even this Hibiki Japanese Harmony, a simple blended whisky, is more expensive than some single malts that are just as good. Suntory is also the company behind Yamazaki, Hakushu, Chita, and Suntory Whisky Toko whiskies and products such as Roku gin and Haku vodka.

Recently was at a whisky tasting where I was shocked by the difference in glass. In Glencairn glass the whisky was like liquid chocolate, in a highball glass, the same whisky was almost undrinkable, flat and not palatable. So, I am trying this whisky in both glasses, and as an old fashioned and a Revolver cocktail. The Hibiki Suntory Whisky Japanese Harmony is a blend of at least ten whiskies, and the whiskies in this blend have been aged in five different kinds of barrels, including sherry, American white oak and Mizunara oak casks.

Neat

The whisky has a nice golden colour with a slight copper hue. There is a bit of an alcohol aroma with a nutty, floral, earthy base. The floral notes remind me of roses. The whisky is very friendly with a little smoky flavour over apricots and almonds. The mouthfeel is creamy and buttery. There are also notes of wood and leather, making this a very good pairing with cigars with a Cubanesque flavour profile. The finish has a bit of spice and tobacco with dried fruits, wood and leather. This will go great with a Herrera Esteli Habano, Rocky Patel Vintage 2003 Cameroon or any premium Cuban cigar.

In a highball glass, also called a rocks glass or an old-fashioned glass, there is more sweetness to the nose, with a stronger alcohol smell. The mild smoke is not noticeable anymore. There is more of an orange aroma with nuts and a little earthiness. The smoke is stronger in the flavour though, and it still surprises me that a different shape of glassware can make a difference in the taste. The buttery mouthfeel is there, with the nutty, woody and leathery flavour profile with a dried fruit sweetness. This is such a delicious and balanced whisky but it doesn’t have much character. It’s a Labrador or a Golden Retriever while sometimes you want a Pitbull or an American Stafford. And because of its friendly character, it is a great whisky to pair almost any cigar with it but just like with the Glencairn glass, something with a Cuban flavour profile will be perfect. Did I mention the Indian Motorcycle Habano or the Illusione Haut 10 when it comes to Cubanesque flavours? If not, then give these a try.

Old Fashioned

An Old Fashioned always has the same dominant aroma, the aroma of the orange peel. But there is something more to this, a mild smoke and other dried fruits. The cocktail balances sweetness, smoke, a little burn from alcohol and the bitters from the Angostura bitters perfectly with the nutty, woody and leathery flavours of the Hibiki Japanese Harmony. Somehow the addition of some sugar, the bitters and the orange peel oils give this drink a lot more character compared to drinking this very pleasant whisky neat. And thus, it needs a cigar with more character. Something with body, full bodied or medium plus. RoMa Craft Cromagnon Cranium for example, or a big and strong Cuban.

and now for the Old-Fashioned recipe:

1 sugar cube
3 dashes of bitters

2 oz or 60 ml of Hibiki Japanese Harmony
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.

Revolver

Over the course of the years I found out that spirit forward cocktails aren’t my preferred drinks, but the combination of the Revolver is very interesting. It is a riff on a classic Manhattan but with a coffee liqueur instead of sweet vermouth. And I happen to have a bottle of the Marsette Monsoon Coffee Liqueur in my possession, courtesy of Dominique London, so why not try a Revolver.

On the nose the cocktail has a nutty aroma that comes from the Hibiki whisky but with coffee and orange from the coffee liqueur and the flamed orange peel. The first sip gives me a strong whisky flavour, stronger than the neat version but then the coffee comes rolling in. It is quite strong and a lot less friendly than a neat Hibiki or an Old Fashioned. But once you are used to the combination, it is very pleasant, slightly bitter because of the orange bitters but earthy because of the coffee with nuts, orange and leather. The sweetness and bitterness are in a perfect balance like professional ballroom dancers. And my first impression, that the cocktail was too strong, has changed by the time I got to the last sip. This isn’t the last time I am making myself, and my lovely wife, a revolver. This cocktail goes well with a stronger cigar that has a sweet profile, or a profile with leather, pepper or wood. I wouldn’t pick a cigar with earthy of coffee notes to go with this cocktail, although I must admit, I smoked a Quesada Oktoberfest 2022 while drinking. That cigar has a bit of a coffee profile and it only enhanced the experience.

And now for the Revolver recipe:
2 ounces or 60ml of Hibiki Japanese Harmony

½ ounce or 15ml of Marsette Monsoon coffee liqueur
2 dashes of orange bitters
Garnish: flamed orange peel
Add the whisky, coffee liqueur and bitters in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Flame an orange peel over the top of the drink to express its oils and use the peel to garnish the cocktail.

Inspector X

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