The signs are everywhere: more and more Americans are interested again in the idea of using their homes to entertain friends and associates.
An Amazon search for books on “entertaining” calls up over 468,000 hits, while – if you search “party ideas” on Google – you get nineteen million. Whereas entertaining seemed to disappear from the culture’s radar during the ultra-busy, tech-obsessed 1990s, these days you can turn on cable channels devoted almost entirely to the teaching of techniques for entertaining. You can even find, if you frequent the right bookstores, a tongue-in-cheek children’s book purporting to show your toddler how to mix a drink.
The wild popularity of all those cable TV shows about food and drink, the success of Amy Sedaris’s book I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence and similar tomes, the mega-success of Martha Stewart: all are linked by a new generation’s interest in throwing good parties, offering tasteful hospitality, and having sophisticated, grown-up fun. The same core motivators, presumably, may have led many twenty- and thirty-somethings to take up cigar smoking during the 1990s, the “boom” years of the cigar industry.
So, if you’re a cigar smoker (occasional and social, or everyday) who frequently entertains, you may be considering throwing a party that unites those two often-linked pleasures: smoking and drinking. Though there are some cigar aficionados who prefer to keep the two tastes distinct, many others find that, with a little creative blending, the right cocktail can really make a perfect warm-up (or finish) to a good cigar.
It’s always a matter of personal taste – and if you’re entertaining, your first duty, of course, is to be sensitive to the needs and interests of your guests, especially those who are nonsmokers, dislike the smell of smoke, or are allergic to it. (This might be a good reason for throwing a cigar party, with invitations restricted to those who are interested either in trying a smoke for the first time or who are already committed cigar smokers.)
As far as beverages go, good wine goes with cigars – the finer the wine, the better the mix. Wine and cigars, after all, make a lot of sense together: they’re both acquired tastes, they’re both somewhat bitter, they both need to be aged, and they both need to be savored rather than rushed. Red wine, especially port, is a good possibility. You’ll probably want to steer clear of wines on either the extremely-sweet or extremely-bitter side of the taste scale. For that reason, beaujolais nouveaux and some cabernet sauvignons won’t work. Ultra-bitter or -sweet wines, including white wines, tend to have such a strong taste that they won’t get out of the way and make room for the taste of your stogie, so to speak.
The opposite problem occurs with ultra-subtle wines that won’t assert themselves against the taste of a cigar. Also recommended: red zinfandels, Pinot Noirs, and Spanish and Italian red table wines, which avoid extremes and have a taste strong enough to interact with that of your cigar but not so strong as to dominate it.
Beers might work – if they’re well-made, strong-tasting and dark. Stouts and ales work, especially a chocolate stout with a chocolatey puro cigar.
As for liquors, try fine malt whiskey. Or consider a coffee-flavored liquer. Best of all, according to some smokers, serve a fine scotch. Single malt scotch comes especially recommended.
Like mixed drinks? Consider trying a White Russian (the Dude’s drink of choice in the slacker classic The Big Lebowski, a movie that might make a nice background entertainment during your party), or a coffee-based mixed drink such as a Mudslide. (Instructions for making these drinks are easily found online.)
A cocktail that some bartenders have specifically chosen to accompany cigars is the stinger, which mixes creme de menthe and brandy. Several New York hot spots serve this cocktail with cigars.
Be creative and have fun! To round things out, try serving a hard cheese as an appetizer. Generally speaking, the stronger and more distinctive the taste, the better it will go with cigars.