Smoke and spirits

A combination ‘much like sex.’


WORDS ZSARLENE B. CHUA

Cigar-smoking, the time-honored hobby of puffing a tightly-rolled bundle of fermented tobacco leaves, is something that shouldn’t be rushed—a full-sized one can last a person one-and-a-half hours—and is best enjoyed with a glass—or two—of an alcoholic beverage of choice. Many aficionados suggest pairing stogies with a good Scotch.

“Cigars have just as much complexity as whisky and in actual fact, a lot more work goes into making a cigar than making a bottle of whisky,” Ranald Macdonald, owner of Boisdale Canary Wharf, told Vice.com in a 2015 interview. Boisdale Canary Wharf is a well-known haunt in the upscale Mayfair district in London that serves as a shellfish bar and cigar terrace. “They pair well because cigars are high in acidity and whisky is low in acidity, unlike a fruit-based digestif, for example,” he added. The beautiful combination between the two is much like sex, he said, as one would have to decide which one is on top: the whisky or the cigar.

Of course, in the end, most pairings are left to personal taste but for those who are new to appreciating a good smoke and good malt, there are a few recommendations to get you started. Discovery Primea in Makati houses one the country’s few cigar and whisky bars. 1824, the bar on the second floor of the hotel, is named after the year in Scottish history when the first license for single malt distilleries was granted. The dimly lit bar overlooking the cityscape features quite a collection of cigars and whisky as the hotel’s general manager, David Pardo de Ayala, is a known cigar aficionado.

The bar’s recommended pairings are composed entirely of Scotch whisky paired with Filipino hand-rolled cigars from Tabacalera Incorporada, the 136-year-old cigar company regarded as one of the world’s oldest.

After a century of tobacco monopoly by the Spanish colonial government which forbade Filipinos from growing tobacco leaves and making their own cigars, Antonio Lopez y Lopez, the Marquis of Comillas, created the Compañia General de Tobacos de Filipinas in 1881 to take over the said monopoly which was set to be abolished that year. In 1885, the company established La Flor Isabela, its flagship, along what is now known as United Nations Avenue. La Flor Isabela factory was considered state-of-the-art at the time.

According to a June 2014 piece by Norman Sison published in The Philippine Star, the company, in 1925, had close to 5,000 employees, with old photos of the period showing men and women hand-rolling cigars. Though other cigar companies were also in operation, the sheer size of the Compañia dwarfed the others, earning it the nickname “Tabacalera.”

The Tabacalera Manila office was situated at No. 936 Calle Marques de Comillas, named after its founder. (The street is now called Romualdez.) The office can be seen on a map of Manila dated 1898, when General Emilio Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence. 

“Tabacalera is a very clear demonstration that in the second half of the 19th century, Spain was able to develop the country from an economic standpoint, promoting new techniques, the exports of tobacco and sugar, the building of infrastructures that are still in existence today,” said then Ambassador Jorge Domecq of Spain, whose embassy in Manila organized an exhibition about Tabacalera at the Ayala Museum, in The Philippine Star article.

The ornate Tabacalera building was destroyed in the 1945 Battle of Manila and rebuilt after the war. Yet the ravages of war took its toll as the company went into a gradual decline. From the 1950s to the 1990s, it sold off its businesses and returned to tobacco trading. In 2007, it merged with Dutch company Lippoel Leaf, forming the CdF International Group. In 2011, CdF merged once again with American tobacco trading company Hail and Cotton. Tabacalera currently serves as the company’s Philippine subsidiary. “Businesses primarily exist to make money. But some, like Compañia General de Tabacos de Filipinas, are set apart when they also make history,” wrote Mr. Sison.

And now, the pairings.

Tabacalera Gran Reserva and Macallan 12 Years

This is for those looking for the gold standard, the hotel said, as it offers “the smooth and balanced flavors of both cigar and scotch” and is a natural selection for those familiar with this stellar collection as the cigar has been described as being well-balanced, perfect for the smooth Macallan.

1881 Perique Torpedo and Laphroaig 10 Years

“Fair warning, this is not for the faint of heart,” cautioned 1824, as both are characterized as being full-bodied and strong. A Perique torpedo is said to contain 19% Perique leaf—a tobacco plant usually found in Louisiana characterized by its strong, powerful and fruity aroma while the Laphroaig is classic known for its full body with smoky undertones and residual sweetness. (The 1881 Perique line is the newest cigar off of the Tabacalera brand with the company Web site claiming to be the first to be able to include the Perique leaf of Louisiana into a cigar. The 1881 in the name speaks of the year the original company was created.)

1881 Perique Torpedito and Bunnahabhain 12 Years

1824 recommends this pairing for “those looking for a strong but smooth pairing,” and for those “looking for the potent, yet suave flavors of cigar and scotch.” Bunnahabhain 12 Years, launched in 2010, is lightly peated making it light and fresh while the 46.3% proof adds complexity and flavor.

Don Juan Urquijo and Glenlivet 12 Years

“The pairing of these two revered flavors blend well together, mixing mild and spicy flavors,” 1824 said.  This Filipino cigar burns smooth and spicy while the Scotch is renowned as one of the Speyside’s definitive malts for its balanced and vibrant flavors.