This article is going to give you the basics in pairing what you drink to the tobaccos blends you smoke. As any wine Sommelier will tell you it’s not just that a certain wine goes with certain types of foods, but that the wine makes the food taste better and vice versa. The exact same thing can be said for Tobacco. Some drinks will actually make the tobacco taste better. I’m sure a lot of people don’t give it a second thought, they grab their favorite drink and pipe (or cigar) and don’t give it a second thought. Chances are it’s working for them or else they wouldn’t keep doing it, but the possibilities are endless so why not explore other options?
All one has to do the next time they sit down to enjoy their pipe is to do a little experiment. Get yourself two different drinks, pick two that are as opposite as you can get and try one then the other. For example Orange Juice and coffee. The tobacco will taste very different to you. Keeping this in mind may change the way you choose drinks while you are having your evening pipe.
What Does It Mean To Pair Drinks?
Pairing tobacco and drink means that after choosing one of these things, you pick the other to compliment the first. If you want to have a certain Tennessee Whiskey, then what cigar might go well with it. Or, you sit down to have your everyday Virginia Perique blend, is there a family of drinks that go well with it? Giving this some consideration can go a long way to adding to your enjoyment. If you give it no thought at all, you could actually be detracting. A good example of that would be choosing an unsweetened green tea to go along with a super sweet tobacco. The tea might taste a little bitter to some people, thus ruining the whole experience.
We are not talking about palate cleansing. Water is perfect for that and when tasting tobacco water is a good choice because it doesn’t mask any of the flavors you are trying to pick out. I often drink water while smoking my pipe but what we are trying to do here is match up tobaccos and drinks to get the most out of each.
There are two ways to pair drinks with your tobacco. People will tend to favor one method over the other but you should always keep both in mind. The first is a contrasting pairing method. This uses the principle of creating a balance between the tobacco and the drink by using contrasting tastes and flavors.
The second method is the congruent pairing method. In this method you are using the shared compounds to amplify the tastes. Both methods work well although people will naturally drift to one of them over the other.
Matching Intensity vs Matching Tastes
The two ways of pairing just discussed is talking about how to match, or pair tastes. There is a difference between that and pairing intensities. When it comes to the intensity of a drink you want that to match, rather than contrast. Although you may want to contrast a particular taste by choosing something different, like a creamy drink with a bold tobacco, it does you no good if that drink is weak and subtle. In that case you need to choose something that is going to stand up to the taste of that tobacco. Conversely, if you have a subtle light tobacco and choose a drink that has a huge punch, you’re not going to be able to pick up the notes in that tobacco, it’s just not going to be able to compete. You can contrast the tastes, but you need to match the intensities.
Special Considerations When Pairing With Tobacco
There can be no argument that smoking has some serious harmful effects on your body. The fact that you don’t inhale pipe or cigar smoke greatly reduces these risks but that doesn’t mean that you should discount all the effects. One of the things to consider, and it’s important in this discussion is the production of Saliva. The amount and consistency of saliva in your mouth greatly effects the way you taste things. Saliva production is decreased in someone who smokes. There are two things to consider here. One is the amount of nicotine in the tobacco is proportional to the amount it will effect most people. Two, the longer you have the smoke in your mouth also effects the amount of saliva production.
It almost seems like the two are opposites. Pipe Tobacco and Cigars typically have a much lower nicotine level than cigarettes so that is good. But at the same time the smoke is held in the mouth much longer, which is not good in this instance. A lot is going to depend on the type of tobacco you smoke. A higher nicotine level smoke is going to effect you more, so keep this in mind when you go to do your pairings.
Even though the amount of saliva produced is lower in a smoker that saliva is thicker and the amount of nicotine amplifies it. One other thing to toss into the mix, your age. The amount of saliva decreases significantly with the age of the smoker.
Why Should I Care?
What this all means is when your mouth is dryer you don’t taste things as well. You need the saliva to break things down in your mouth so that the various chemicals (what everything is made out of) can be detected by your taste buds. If your mouth is dry it’s not going to be able to pick up the subtle complexities of your favorite drink.
If you have never given this much consideration before then starting out you should not worry about all the components in a tobacco blend. Rather, you should pick out what is the dominate source of it’s taste. If the blend has Latakia think about the smokiness of that tobacco leaf. The woodsy, campfire taste it give you. If the blend is a Burley you might think of nuts. Virginias might call to mind some figs or fruit, most people would say bread or hay. Perique heavy blends are of course spicy.
Those are just examples and to be able to pair well you need to know, or at least be thinking about, what you personally tasted when you smoke the various blends. Once you can pick out what you are tasting, you’re half way there. Pairing then becomes pretty easy as all you have to do is decide which pairing method you like and the choices are quickly narrowed down.
Breaking Down Tobacco Groups and Drinks
From a previous article “What Does Pipe Tobacco Really Taste Like? Expectations vs. Reality” we will borrow the list of the different kinds of pipe tobaccos and the some of the more popular blends.
Burley tobacco is a very common variety. It is used in many blends because of its subtle flavor. I has a low sugar content and tastes earthy or nutty. Blends with Burley can give you a little of a nicotine sensation. Many aromatics use Burley but the blends are so heavily cased and topped you may not get the full effect of the tobacco.
Cavendish tobacco is not a variety of tobacco but a process in which it’s cured. The tobacco leaves are pressed into blocks and are heated with either fire or steam and then left to ferment. It really brings out the natural sugars in the leaf . Often times flavors are added prior to the process and it produces a wonderful tobacco infused with flavors like cherry, chocolate, rum and vanilla. These are a favorite with many blenders.
Dark Fired Kentucky
Dark Fired Kentucky is a bold tobacco that is full bodied. It is cured in barns over a fire and it produces a very ’smokey’ taste but not as pronounced as Latakia. Blends using Dark Fired Kentucky have a little bit of a beef jerky taste to them.
Latakia is an important ingredient in many blends such as English. It is cured over a wood fire and has a very strong peppery taste. Latakia is often blended with other tobaccos to ad a zing to them. It has a aroma to it that reminds you of a campfire. Very distinct and very strong tobacco.
Oriental tobaccos are those that have originated from the East. Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean. They are very spicy although not peppery like Latakia.
Perique is probably the most unique of all tobaccos. It is produced in a very small area in St. James Parish, Louisiana. The tobacco leaves are pressed into wooden barrels and allowed to ferment and cure. It is a very strong tobacco which is very spicy. It can not be smoked by itself but rather added to other tobaccos to add spice to a blend.
Virginia Tobacco, referred to as Bright tobacco by tobacco farmers. It is a light tobacco that has a high sugar content. As it ages the sugars come out and the tobacco sweetens, and you can detect a slight citrus or fruity taste to them. Virginia tobacco is often described as having a bready or hay-like taste to them.
Different factors can effect the sugar content and the color of the leaf. The longer they are cured the darker and less sweet they become. When you hear Golden Virginia, Red Virgina or Lemon Virginia they have come from the same plant but just undergone a slightly different curing process or length of the process.
Different Tobacco Blends
English Blends are made from blending Virginia tobaccos with Latakia and Orientals. No toppings are used in English blends. The ratio of different tobaccos is left to the blender but the Latakia and Orientals play a supporting role compared to the Virginia.
Scottish Blends are like English Blends but have very little Latakia in them, and may not have any Oriental tobacco at all.
Balkan Blends are the opposite of the English Blends. They contain the same tobaccos but are Oriental and Latakia forward and use a much smaller amount of Virginias.
Va/Per or Virginia/Perique is a Virginia based blend with a complement of Perique added to spice it up. Va/Bur is similar but Burley is used in place of the Perique.
Different Types of Drinks.
It seems logical to list alcoholic beverages. This is going to be an extremely bare bones list. Wines for example would be an entire article just to scratch the surface. Drilling down into specific families of wines, regions, Wineries and even production years is far beyond where I’d like to go right now.
We are not going to start listing all the different kinds of teas and coffees, sodas and fruit drinks or this article will never end. The non alcoholic drinks are widely known so we’ll take it for granted that you are familiar with them. In the future we may break down the different types of teas and coffees but for now we will leave them in a general category.
Can be made from any fruit. It has a high acidity so young grapes is a favorite. Heavy in texture containing 35-60% alcohol. Cognacs can be included here but they must be distilled twice, usually in copper stills and aged at least two years in French Oak Barrels. A weighty drink.
Made from the byproducts of sugarcane or molasses. Sweet, usually mixed with other juices. 35-50% alcohol
Full bodies with a full structure. Less fruity than other wines, Reds are usually more complex. It is higher in Acidy and drier than other wines.
Usually citrusy but can have an apple or pear flavor. Some can be fruity like a pineapple, others can have notes of butterscotch, vanilla or caramel. More medium bodies than the Reds and some can be quite light.
A wide array of exotic fruits. Medium bodied. Sweetness dominates the taste profile and can have a hint of spice.
Barley, water, hops and yeast are the usual ingredients although rice, the and wheat are sometimes used. The hops give it a distinctive taste and it can be slightly bitter. Other tastes that come to mind are the maltiness of the beer, which at times can be quite pronounced and the toasty flavors that come from the preparations of the grains before brewing. With the popularity of India Pale Ales (IPAs) the range of flavors is almost endless. Beers usually contain 4-8% alcohol
Entirely made in Scotland as the name implies it is malted from barley or grain with the spirit aged in oak casks for at least three years. Scotch has an earthy and smoky flavor.
Distilled in America is made of at least 51% corn. The standard is that manufacturers CANNOT reuse barrels. therefore they only use new charred oak barrels which gives it it’s reddish color. It is slightly sweet with just a hint of smoke.
Tennessee Whiskey is similar to bourbon but it is steeped in charcoal before the fermentation process. It is sweeter than other Bourbons because of sugar-maple charcoal used. Like Bourbons they contain 36-50% alcohol.
Tequila is made from the Blue Agave plant. It obviously tastes like agave (who knows what that tastes like?) and it also has a vanilla, caramel taste to it and can be quite spicy.
Tequila sold in the U.S. must be at least 40% alcohol.
A Marriage Made In Heaven
The last two sections were long but gave us a good foundation to begin the marrying process of selecting a good drink to go with our tobacco. Like marriage, people are looking for different things and sometimes ones you think may not go together end up being a wonderful combination. Typically things that are most alike get along well together and ones of different intensities do not. We are talking about tobacco and drinks now? Aren’t we? Anyway, experiment with some of the flavors, beginning with what is recommended then expand out and see what you like.
Pairings are subjective and there is no right or wrong.
Keep these simple guidelines, already discussed, while going through these examples. Keep it simple, match intensity. Decide whether or not you want Contrasting Pairing or Congruent Pairing.
Exercises Using Pipe Nook Examples
To get us started lets take a few examples. I thought it would be fun to use The Pipe Nooks five best selling tobaccos. Eddie Gray just put out a video on this subject so it fits in perfectly with this topic. We will use his Top 5 for our exercise.
Cornell & Diehl Autumn Evening
The number one selling aromatic sold by C & D. Red Virginia and Cavendish based with a big Maple flavor. Has a taste of French toast or pancakes.
For this I’m choosing my favorite Bourbon Knob Creek straight. You can definitely pick up the molasses and caramel flavors. As mentioned before it’s sweet and you can taste Maple Syrup in the drink.
Both the tobacco and the Bourbon are smooth and light. Nothing to overwhelm the other and they have the common thread of the sweetness of Maple.
G.L Pease Virginia Cream
An aromatic Virginia based (most aromatics are Burley based) Perique, Dark Fired Kentucky and Black Cavendish. Topped with Vanilla and Bourbon.
We are going to start this with an non-alcoholic drink, Tea. Tea is going to be a light coupling with the aromatic. The toppings, especially the Vanilla is going to go so well with the complexities of a tea like Earl Grey. There is going to be a hint of smokiness with the Kentucky and Earl Grey matches it. The taste is in the background. Personally I’m not one to put cream in my tea but in this case it can be the thing to do. This is an excellent pairing and I can recommend it from experience.
Since the blend has some Bourbon topping, that is also a good choice, but remember to match the intensity. You need a Bourbon that’s toned down. Maker’s Mark is light and sweet with a hint of Vanilla. It’s also inexpensive so that’s pretty good. It’s 90 proof so you can sit and sip away as you smoke your pipe and not worry about falling out of your chair.
Cornell & Diehl Haunted Bookshop
Burley, Virginia and Perique. It is a blend dominated by the Burleys and has more nicotine than the average pipe tobacco.
For this blend we are going to take the Contrasting Paring approach. The Burley is earthy and nutty so we want to pick something sweet and a little spicy. The hit you get from the nicotine can be enough for most pipe smokers to sit up and take notice so we want something that can match it in intensity. You know where we’re going as this is a favorite pairing from Haunted Bookshop’s No. 1 fan. We are going to choose Canada Dry Ginger Ale. The sweetness of the soda (Pop) makes the tobacco that much more flavorful as Burleys don’t jump out at you like Brights do. The Ginger give it the spice or zip we are looking for. This is a classic example of the Contrasting method.
G.L. Pease Quiet Nights
English blend heavy in Latakia, Orientals, Perique and Virginia.
The Latakia forward blend needs something smokey to complement it. There are many good choices here as bourbons are aged in charred barrels which give them a smokey flavor, but we are thinking that Scotch which has gone through a Peating process makes a better pair. We are going to pick Talisker 18 Year Old. A single malt that is smoother than the normal 10 year old and for a few extra bucks well worth it.
This is a fantastic pairing. Can you imagine an evening with Quiet Nights and a dram of Talisker? It just doesn’t get any better than that.
If you are not a Scotch drinker or want to keep costs down, any of the Johnny Walker Bourbons go well with Quiet Nights.
This is also a good blend to go with one of the IPAs. The hoppiness of a beer goes so well with the English blends. You will want something a little bit heavier and the Ale fills that bill.
Cornell & Diehl Speakeasy Navy Blend
Virginia Perique, Dark Fired Kentucky and Orientals
With a Rum casing and a Virginia base this one is fairly simple. A Rum like Bacardi Grand Reserve 8 a great choice. It’s been aged at least eight years, it much more full bodied than a regular Rum which makes it great for sipping rather than making mixed drinks. The best part is it’s not too sweet and the flavors that come out in the aging process, like nutmeg and Vanilla will complement the Kentucky and Oriental tobacco.
If you want a hot drink, a Hot Toddy would be an excellent choice. You can make them with Rum and the honey is what will add the sweetness. Don’t go nuts with the honey but add enough to match the intensity of the tobacco.
Parings Included In Reviews
That was fun to say the least. They were easy blends to work with because they are so popular and we know the flavor profile of them well. What about blends you know nothing about? That’s where a good reviewer comes in handy. Someone who does a complete review, that covers all the bases, will usually include some recommendations as to what pairs well with it. Plus it’s working the other way as well. For example you want to try some new Pipe Tobacco and you don’t know much of anything about the blends. You know you like to have Whiskey at night or Red Wine on occasion, a good reviewer will point you in the right direction as to what you may want to try next.
More often that not you’re going to be drinking something while you’re smoking so why not take a few minutes and pair them up? The adage Wine makes the food taste better is so true. The amount of enjoyment you get with a good pairing is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Not only are you doing yourself a disservice if you don’t give it any thought, but you might be taking away from the experience by choosing the wrong drink. Just as a good pairing enhances the flavor the wrong pairing will flatten or deaden it. A big heavy Port after dinner paired up with a light cigar and you just wasted the money you spent on the cigar. You’re never going to taste it. You may as well buy something cheap. But a nice bold cigar that can stand up to it is well worth the money.
I urge you to give it some thought. The next time you sit down to have a smoke take a couple of drinks with you and try them out side by side and see if you can taste a difference in the tobacco. The results my surprise you. If you take the basics we have laid out, you have the foundation to begin making great paring choices that go with your individual tastes. Good luck and remember, sometimes the journey itself is most of the fun.