Learning how to pair your favorite pipe tobacco with one of your favorite drinks can be a very finicky process and is often hard to figure out without some help.
While pipe smoking is a very personal hobby, few smokers have been able to perfect smoking a tobacco pipe on their own. We often need advice from other smokers and outside information in order to refine our process and learn the specifics about the hobby.
With our simple suggestions and knowledge of basic principles of flavor and how it affects tobacco and drink pairings, you can take your smoking experience from ordinary to extraordinary.
Why Pair Tobacco and Drinks?
I am sure there are many of you saying, “Why should I bother to pair my tobacco with a drink? Why do I want to make this more complicated? What possible good could come out of this for me?”
There are many reasons why you should pair your tobacco and drinks together. The key to a great recipe, whether it’s a tobacco blend or a dinner entree, is the correct combination of flavors. Tobacco and drinks work much the same way.
Consider a parallel in the culinary world. There are few things in this world that are as delicate and expertly crafted as homemade Italian pasta served with a homemade marinara sauce. While this entree is delectable and as perfect as it can be by itself, it is still missing something: A drink.
Of course you could always eat this Italian dish while drinking water, but that doesn’t enhance the flavor. What you need is a decadent red wine. A red wine will act as a magnifying glass, making it easier to detect some of the more subtle flavors in the dish.
Without the right drink to match with your food, some of the best flavors will be forever lost.
In many ways, pipe tobacco works the same way.
You may have a perfect tin of Virginia tobacco that has been aged for 30 years. You can crack it open, smoke it, and enjoy it for what it is. But unless you are enjoying it under the right conditions, you are missing something.
Another reason to pair these two is that it makes your smoking experience more personal. Before you enjoyed smoking your tobacco in your pipe, and it was wonderful. But now you can start adding another layer of flavor on to your already delicious hobby.
A Few Suggestions for Pairing Tobacco and Drink
Now that you are motivated to begin refining your smoking experience, you have to figure out what goes well together.
Many of the same principles for pairing tobacco and drinks are overarching principles in the larger world of pairing food and wine. While the specifics may change, the basic principles of flavor pairings are similar. With this in mind, it is not as difficult as you may think to match your tobacco with a drink that enriches its flavor.
Keep these principles in mind when experimenting with pairings...
Flavors should have an equal body
This is the most important rule for pairing drinks with your tobacco. It is imperative -- if you want to have the best pairing possible -- that you pair a medium bodied tobacco with a medium bodied drink, full with full, and mild with mild. Smoking a big bodied tobacco while sipping on a “weak” drink means that the tobacco will overpower the drink, and you will not be able to taste the subtleties in the drink. Likewise, do not have a strong drink with a mild-bodied tobacco.
Here are some examples of good mild, medium, and full-bodied combinations:
Mild - Mac Baren Modern Virginia and a lager, such as Yuengling.
Medium - McClelland Frog Morton and an Old Fashion cocktail.
Full - Samuel Gawith 1792 Flakeand bourbon, such as Woodford Reserve.
The whole purpose of smoking, and drinking too, is to taste as much as possible. You want to taste the subtle little notes that sometimes hide underneath more powerful flavors. If you do not balance the body of smoke and drink, then one will disappear and the pursuit will become rather meaningless.
Pipes Magazine created a fantastic, concise resource that lists a generic body ranking of some common drinks that are paired with tobacco:
Mild Bodied - Water, most tea, flavored waters, clear fruit juices, most lager and pilsner beers, many dry white wines, light rums, gin, and vodka.
Medium Bodied - Enhanced teas, most other fruit juices, amber and red beers, ales, heavier white wines and blushes, golden Rums, lighter Scotches and Whiskeys, lighter liqueurs and cordials, and most mixed drinks.
Full Bodied - Medium to dark roast coffees, dark juices (grape, dark berry), Stouts and Porters, dark Rums, full Scotches, Bourbons, and deep red Wines.
To get you started, here’s our favorite recipe for an Old-Fashion, Florida-style, to get you started. As suggested above, pair it with a bowl of Frog Morton and you’re likely to uncover a few flavors you never knew where there.
Match Complimentary Opposite Flavors
Perhaps the most well known pairing of opposite flavors is sweet and salty.
When you take a bite of salted caramel brittle and then eat a piece of kettle-corn you understand how well salty and sweet flavors compliment each other.The same principle applies to pairing pipe tobacco and drinks. If you are smoking a very sweet aromatic blend, then a slightly salty drink would pair well.
Other great flavor combinations are: smoke and oak, acid with richness, sweet and spicy, and even sweet with other sweets.
Another great way to compliment is by using the tobacco’s or drinks’ origins as a means of pairing. For example, McClelland tobacco (made near St. Louis, MO) and a St. Louis crafted beer, like a Perennial Artisan Ale. They may not match together perfectly with flavor, but the theme and reasoning you put into the decision make it worthwhile.
Keep in Mind when and where you are Smoking
This may seem like common sense, but there is definitely a right place and a right time for smoking and drinking.
For example, no matter what type of tobacco you smoke first thing in the morning, a good cup of coffee will always pair well. Conversely, when smoking late at night, a cup of caffeinated coffee may not be the best choice, even if the flavor is right. On the other hand, a stiff scotch may not be the best choice to pair with your tobacco in the morning or at lunch, but should instead enjoyed in the afternoon and evening.
It is also helpful to know where you are smoking. If you are traveling through Kentucky, it may be nice to smoke with bourbon. If you are on the coast of North Carolina or in the mainlands of California, a good wine may be a good choice.
Make your Pairing Process Personal
The art of pairing tobacco with drinks is a very personal process.
It is also a fairly unknown, yet demanded art that smokers want to experience. This is why organizations such as Cigar World go through extensive culinary and mixology training sessions, in order to make their organized events a symbol of perfect smoking and drinking.
Be encouraged by the fact that you CAN pair your favorite pipe tobacco and drinks with each other, and that you can do it in a manner that elevates the taste of each one. With these simple suggestions, you now have the ability to match the perfect drink with your favorite tobacco.
Chris Hopkins is a pipe blogger and former tobacconist. Chris worked for his first tobacco company at the age of 17 in Kentucky, then later as a tobacconist in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Chris currently operates an in- depth blog review of pipe tobacco and products at Pipe Tobacco Critique. He is currently a graduate student of theology at Kentucky Christian University and a minister in Winston Salem. Chris' passions include pipe blogging, movies, and cooking for his beautiful wife Emily.
Tell us, what drink do you typically have with your favorite blend?