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August 2014 Tobacco & Rum Pairing
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Philip Ili Barake
Philip Ili Barake, Cigar Sommelier, from Chile and contributing writer for "Got Rum?" magazine.
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Close up of Vanilla Cigar
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Photo by Luis Ayala
August 2014 Pairing
“Locos por los Cocos” (Crazy for Coconuts)
I took advantage of a recent Rum University training course in the USA to conduct a pairing with “Got Rum?” publishers and editors, Luis and Margaret Ayala. Since we had all agreed that the August issue of the magazine was going to be devoted to coconut, I decided to suggest something appropriate. The idea was for all three of us to smoke the same type of cigar and then each one of us would comment regarding the experience. This would allow you, the reader, to get a better idea of how some combinations may work better than others for some people.
The plan was very simple: incorporate coffee (first hot, then cold), chocolate, coconut rums and cigars into a relaxing afternoon by the swimming pool.
The First Third
We started this coconut-inspired pairing by preparing three cups of coffee using a Costa Rican peaberry coffee. I opted for a double espresso, Margaret chose the Espresso with cream and Luis decided he wanted a café americano, all without sugar.
For the cigars, I chose for all three of us to smoke Arango Sportsman Vanilla 200s, which are Londsdales, 155mm x 30-33. The cigars are box pressed, they feature a maduro wrapper and are infused with vanilla. The wrapper is infused with vanilla flavor, reminiscent of pipe tobacco. The filler gives the appearance of being Virginian in origin. The cigars have a perforation, which from the beginning I thought would interfere with a proper draw, so I opted to give the cigar an additional cut with a straight cutter. Luis opted for a v-cut while Margaret left hers “as- is”.
I decided we would start by pairing the first third of the cigar with the coffee and a dark chocolate from vanilla, which Margaret and Luis obtained in Italy during last year’s rum festival in Rome (45% cocoa).
I’ve always said that when it comes to pairings there are no rules, but a good recommendation is to always enjoy liquids before solids, and thus we commenced by sampling the coffee, followed by the chocolate.
The cocoa notes from the chocolate were superbly matched with the acidic notes from the coffee, resulting in a prolonged and exquisite finish for both. We then proceeded to light up the cigars. Margaret noticed the draw from her cigar was a bit laborious, so she opted to go with a v-cut as well, which helped greatly.
Margaret: the cigar features some dark chocolate notes by itself which, when combined with the vanilla chocolate are blended harmoniously.
Philip: the espresso takes center stage, with the acidity from the coffee being overpowering. However when taking multiple draws from the cigar, without tasting the coffee in between, the cigar manages to come across with its notes.
Luis: the cigar is reminiscent of some pipe tobaccos I used to smoke a long time ago, although not as aromatic or intense. In its first third it provides for a very mellow back ground vocal for the coffee and the chocolate, which clearly steal the show from a taste perspective.
As you can see from the picture show to the right, the color of the wrapper becomes much lighter at the point where it meets the ashes. This is a clear sign that the dark color of the wrapper is enhanced/intensified artificially. The additives quickly burn away, revealing the tobacco leaves’ original color.
The Second Third
Philip: after enjoying the acidity of the coffee and getting the taste buds used to those flavors, the change to the Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum was a very pleasant one, more pleasant than I could have anticipated.
Margaret: the subtle sweetness of the chocolate and the combination of the vanilla notes from the chocolate and from the cigar allowed for the transition from coffee to rum to be subtle but extremely enjoyable. The smoke is a bit hotter and peppery, which is balanced by the additional sweetness and silkier mouth feel from the rum.
Luis: the cigar continues to be consistent, suggesting very mild tobacco leaves selected for their ability to showcase vanilla without interfering with it. As I transition to the coconut spiced rum, my palate welcomes the additional sweetness as the missing ingredient needed to round up all the flavors in my mouth.
The Last Third
As we began smoking the last and final third of the cigar, we reached out to a snifter full of Sangster’s Old Jamaica Coconut Rum at 80-Proof (40% ABV).
Philip: the increased proof in Sangster’s rum came across a bit too aggressive, so I decided to add an ice cube to it, and that did the trick. The cooler, slightly weaker strength of the rum with the ice, gives the cigar an opportunity to still be noticed and contribute its notes to this pairing.
Margaret: the cigar started getting more aggressive and hotter so the combination with the sweetness of the rum and the added ice cube allowed to tone the bitterness down and to give a more refreshing taste.
Luis: after chocolate, hot coffee and the first coconut rum, my palate was beginning to tire. The Sangster’s rum with an ice cube gave me the coolness in the palate needed to re-invigorate the pairing. I like the extra proof in the rum, which matches the increased intensity from the cigar.
Additional comments from Philip: Analyzing the ashes from the cigars, it is clear that despite the fact that these are flavored cigars, the under lying tobacco leaves are not low quality. The combination of gray and white ashes speaks of the quality of the leaves, without recurring to an excessive use of manganese in the ground where the tobacco plants grew.
We concluded the pairing by enjoying a cooling and soothing serving of Frapuccino (iced coffee), which elegantly combined all the flavors previously experienced during the pairing, while at the same time giving the palate a cool and soothing break.
A themed pairing, like this coconut rum pairing, can be very tricky. The addition of the ice cube to the last rum made a big difference, reminding us that not only do we have the ingredients to play with, but also their order and the temperature at which they are served!
Philip Ili Barake