Japanese Whisky is known for its subtlety and complex flavours. Typically juxtaposed against the bold but straightforward designs of Kana script, Japanese whisky takes something with centuries of history and thousands of years of miles away in the Scottish highlands and puts its own respectful reinterpretation in a bottle.
Cigar lovers who enjoy their whisky have often struggled to pair the two together, both because of the sudden rise of the Japanese whisky market and the difficulty in bringing out the variety of flavours that premium Japanese dram contains.
So below, we have produced an introductory guide to pairing your whisky with the right cigars. Many of the rules from our Ultimate Guide to Pairing apply, but in this guide, we will drill deeper into what exactly makes a pairing work. Our ultimate guiding principle is: if you enjoy it, then keep doing it. Taste is subjective and varies from person to person. However, here are some good general rules and good pairings of Japanese whisky with our favourite cigars.
The Softer the Whisky, the Lighter the Cigar
When you pair a whisky with a cigar, the most natural mistake is to put a light cigar with a smokier whisky. The flavour of an otherwise beautiful Montecristo #3 gets lost in the peatiness and smokiness of Scotch like Laphroaig. Likewise, the intense smoke of a strong cigar can mask the flavour of a good whisky.
A Hibiki Harmony blended whisky, for example, has a delicate balance of autumnal fruit and fudge with a short finish of spice. It is exceptionally smooth and has a wonderful taste. Pair it with a light cigar – our recommendations at the end of this article – to bring out its flavour in contrast to what you smoke.
Blended Whiskies are Lighter; Single Malts are more intense
The first Japanese whisky introduced by Toshii was Suntory Shirofuda, a strong smoky whisky that struggled to gain popularity because of its taste. Eight years later, Toshii launched Suntory Kakubin, an immediate hit because of the expression’s lighter and complex flavour. Ever since subtler blended whiskies have been the most popular in Japan, and while single malts are growing more common, Japanese whisky taste remains more often blended or blended malts, which produces a lighter and more delicate style of whisky appealing to a broader demographic. As such, you would usually be wise to pair your Japanese whisky with a lighter cigar.
The way Japanese blended whisky is made is an extra reason for pairing lighter cigars with your dram. While in Scotland, distilleries tend to make a small collection of individual whiskies which are traded amongst each other to create new blends. By contrast, in Japan a multiplicity of styles were created in each distillery in the early twentieth century, fuelled by competition between Toshii’s Suntory brand and Taketsuru’s Nikka brand, the lack of standardised distilleries, and the unique Japanese climate, not to mention the different yeast strains, barleys, and cask options.
In recent years, however, Japanese Single Malts have become more and more popular, such as the Nikka Coffey or Yamazaki Single Malt. These can be more difficult to pair, as the complex tastes of these delicious whiskies take time to form clearly. We recommend pairing our Yoichi Single Malt, for example, with a Partagas No. 4. The sweet and tangy flavour plays against the firm floral fruity flavour of the malt to bring out the character of both even further.
Complement Subtle Whiskies, Contrast Against Harder Whiskies
When you are looking for a whisky to complement a lighter cigar, you want a softer and sweeter dram whose flavour complements your smoke. The Davidoff 1000 is one of our subtle and milder cigars with a gentle but earthy flavour. Pair your Davidoff cigars with something like a Suntory Whisky Toki, a blended whisky with a fruity-sweet flavour and earthier ginger finish. The characters complement each other, producing a delicate, delicious taste.
By contrast, more intense cigars ought to be paired with equally intense whiskies, as per the first rule of this article. However, rather than having similar intense flavours wrestle in your mouth, try to contrast between your cigar and dram. A strong caramelised apple flavour in your whisky can be paired with a chocolatey or earthy flavour in your stogie to activate your taste buds and explore the differences between tastes.
The one exception to this rule is peatiness or smokiness. As per the first principle above, try to match the smoke of your cigar with the peat of your whisky. These are the delivery systems for a lot of the flavour of what you smoke and drink, so if one is weaker than the other, you will start to lose its palate.The range of Davidoff cigars are milder and can bring out and complement the flavour of most Japanese whiskies. The Hibiki Harmony’s and Hibiki 21’s fruit flavours and spice aftertastes are complemented by the creamy spice of a Davidoff 2000. However, the ferocious flavour of a Davidoff Yamasa’s nut and spice contrasts exquisitely with the aggressive Akashi White Oak’s abundance of vanilla and orange.
Taste is subjective – do what works for you.
Finally, and most importantly, we want to reiterate that taste is subjective. Some combinations will work for you, while others you may not enjoy. Whatever pairing you choose, our extensive selection of cigars come with useful information about their flavours and aromas to work out what will pair with your Japanese whiskies.