Summer 18|volume 11|Issue 4

    Raise Your Spirits

    Spirits – noun. An alcoholic beverage that is distilled rather than fermented; the liquid containing ethanol and water that is distilled from an alcoholic liquid or mash—often used in plural.

    Max Miller

    Max Miller

    When I started thinking about the content for this article, I thought I would explore what types of spirits pair well with cigars. However, as I dwelled further on the intersection of these two “vices,” I realized that the more interesting issue revolves around the impact of time on experience.

    When I sit on my patio smoking a cigar by myself in the late afternoon or evening, I inevitably slip into a contemplative state—a focused but relaxed state that allows me to assess the day and think about the future. Likewise, when friends or neighbors are visiting and smoking cigars, there is a certain ease, a calm, a sense that there is no rush to finish. The very act of smoking a cigar starts a conversation, an assessment of ideas, or a sharing of opinions. Of course, with every lighting of a cigar, there is the almost Pavlovian need to have some sort of spirits expression to accompany it.

    My two favorite cigar shops here in Pittsburgh (when I am not at home on the patio) are the Cigar Den in Lawrenceville (thecigardenpgh.com) and Leaf & Bean in the Strip (leafandbean.com/stripdistrict). Each has its own style and character, but one thing is consistently the same: You greet everyone when you come in and when you leave; and if you are new to the place, everyone greets you. In the cigar culture there is a camaraderie that develops that is unlike what you might experience even at the neighborhood bar. There is this unwritten rule that you are welcomed into the group. Men and women from every walk of life may be there, but everyone shares the common passion for cigars.

    Wrapped within this commonality is the drinking of spirits, expressions that complement the cigar experience. One key element of the cigar shop and cigar-smoking atmosphere is that both of these shops (and most similar shops) are BYOB. This means that many folks bring their own bottles. Of course, the usual commonly paired spirits, Scotch and bourbon, are always present. Rum, cognac, and tequilas are showing up more often. What is most striking about this dynamic is that many folks share the spirits they bring—often with someone they have not met before. What is it that can explain this behavior that very rarely happens if the same people are at a restaurant or bar?

    This is where I think the element of time comes into play. Smoking a cigar is a commitment to at least an hour for most cigars. Pull too hard and burn the cigar hot, and you can overpower the flavor of the cigar. Conversely, if you pull too infrequently the cigar goes out and you have to constantly relight it. There is this delicate balance of taking a pull on the cigar, talking, and sipping on a fine spirit. I intentionally use the word “sipping” because it communicates the notion of not overindulging. The way that fine spirits coat the mouth and palate complements the texture and flavor of the cigar. Savoring each sip and each pull is fundamental to the overall experience.

    The other dimension to this experience is that there are very few places to smoke cigars (other than the patio, of course). Therefore, when there is a chance to do so, the time becomes a special occasion, an occasion you want to extend as long as possible. This may even be a block of time that some look forward to each week or each month. The time becomes an oasis in a cigar desert.

    Last, but not least, the making of cigars and the distillation and aging of spirts are time-honored traditions that require skill and patience. Generational knowledge and quality ingredients combine to create fine cigars and spirits. Taking the time to savor and experience the cigar and the spirit is an homage to this diligence.
    As all of these dimensions of time converge, it seems that the resulting atmosphere is one of sharing, familiarity, and a complete lack of pretentiousness. There is no rush. You are not meeting friends before dinner or a show. It is not a limited happy hour. It is typically not an event of limited duration. The cocoon of time wraps around this experience, and emerging from this cocoon are colorful friendships, debates, revelations, and insights that flutter in a blissful puff.