Cigars & Whisky

Cigars & Whisky

The Cuban influence

Cigars & Whisky | 28 Apr 2017 | Issue 143 | By Christopher Coates

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There are many parallels between cigars and whisky. One similarity is both products' link to a particular nation. Depending on who you're talking to, for whisky this may be Scotland, Ireland, or the USA, while for cigars the country in question is, undoubtedly, Cuba.

Although tobacco had been cultivated in the Americas throughout history, it was Cuban tobacco specifically that rose to fame in Spain, France, Britain, and North America during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Due to its link to the home nation of this prestigious commodity, cigar (rather than pipe) smoking became popular during the latter part of this period and, even then, began to be perceived as a status symbol.

Despite Cuba's unsettled history, the reputation of its tobacco continued to grow, as did the popularity of the cigar. However, as a direct result of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, a great number of cigar manufacturers fled the country - taking with them the seeds of cultivated tobacco strains and the rolling skills required to set up new factories.

Meanwhile, the Cuban tobacco industry was nationalised and to this day all Cuban cigars are produced by the state monopoly, Cubatabaco.

But it wasn't all bad for the Cuban expatriates. During this post-revolution era, helped enormously by the USA's trade embargo, a great number of NC (Non Cuban) cigar brands managed to establish themselves. The resultant lack of competition from Cuba in the US market afforded these producers the time and income to develop mature businesses - with key players emerging in Miami, Nicaragua, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.

Sometimes these new operations were established using the original names of the cigar houses that had been left behind, while others crafted new identities. As a result, today there are a few 'duplicate' brands, such as Partagas and La Gloria Cubana, where two separate brands, one Cuban and one NC, share the same moniker.

Interestingly, although much of the tobacco grown by NC producers comes from Cuban seeds, the effect of terroir has resulted in the strains developing distinct flavour profiles. As a result, similar to the emergence of what's come to be known as the 'world whisky' category, one may view these NC brands as having distinct character but a shared tradition. Indeed, most of the NC brands employ Cuban expats and rolling practices in their factories.

Where to smoke


Featuring 24 rotating draught lines, over 250 varieties of bottled beer, more than 500 Scotch whiskies and a walk-in humidor, CASC Bar's credentials speak for themselves. This underground haven also includes a heated - and covered - outdoor smoking terrace where guests may sit back and enjoy a cigar alongside their dram. What's more, the CASC team run their own annual whisky festival, The Whisky Mash, that will take place at the end of April.

7 Stirling Street, Aberdeen, Scotland, AB11 6ND
Telephone: +44 (0) 1224 212 373

Christopher recommends

The 'After Work' Pairing

Oliva Serie V Belicoso and Dewar's 18 Years Old (40% ABV)
Oliva is Nicaragua's second largest grower of Cuban-seed tobacco and has a pedigree that stretches back to 1886, when the founder ran a plantation in Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Today, Oliva offers a portfolio of award-winning cigars, including the Serie V - a blend of Nicaraguan long filler tobaccos and specially fermented Jalapa Valley ligero, with a Connecticut Broadleaf Wrapper.

The Oliva Serie V Belicoso starts off with a blast of black pepper, but becomes surprisingly smooth and creamy considering that it's a robust, medium to full-bodied smoke. It has an earthy twang and midway through there are flashes of vanilla, with nuts on exhale. The final third mellows a little and is dominated by clove and leather.

The V benefits from pairing with a lighter, sweeter style of whisky that will bring balance to its lashings of savoury spice. The Dewar's 18 Years Old works well as its notes of honey, fig jam, pie crust and red apple level out the V's black-coffee bitterness and pepper. This is a no-nonsense pairing for when you've been working all day and don't want to work hard on relaxing either!

Simon recommends

The 'Apple Pie & Custard' Pairing

Quai D'Orsay Coronas - 42 x 55/8 (£13.99ea) and Strathisla 12 Years Old (40% ABV)

Developed in the 1970s for the French market by Cubatabaco, Quai D'Orsay cigars are supposedly blended with a French palate in mind and thus generally have a lighter, greener profile.

This vitola has pre-light notes of cedar and citrus. Upon lighting, this transforms into a honey laden, rich creaminess with noticeable vanilla. Later, the sweet cedar woodiness returns, along with a cinnamon and nutmeg finish. The final third brings a definite change from mild to medium strength and a pre-existing earthy note becomes stronger, cutting through the honeyed cream element.

This delicate cigar needs an equally subtle whisky. Strathisla 12 Years Old delivers a nose of citrus, spice, and sweet pastry, while on the palate we find apples, pears, biscuit and toffee. This pairs wonderfully with the sweet cinnamon cream of the cigar and makes for a combined flavour that takes me back to childhood; Sunday afternoons spent enjoying my Grandmother's apple pie and home-made custard. It's a real trip down memory lane.
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