To demonstrate the many options for marrying rum and smoke, we picked two cigars with quite different body spectrums to pair with an array of fine rums. On the mild side we chose the H. Upmann Connecticut by Grupo de Maestros Toro (87 points, $8.94), a creamy, sweet cigar with a maduro cap atop its light wrapper. Stepping up in body, we smoked the Oliva Serie V Melanio Figurado, a former Cigar of the Year. The $15.60 cigar, which has scored as high as 96, has toasted almond, cocoa and espresso bean notes. See our full feature on the rise of rum.
Ron Abuelo Centuria (80 proof, $140): This Panamanian solera rum contains rums as old as 30 years. Very smooth on first impression, it opens to licorice, honey, oranges and butter rum. The Abuelo added body and sweetness to the H. Upmann. The Oliva gave the rum depth, while the cigar grew in nuttiness.
Appleton 21 Years (86 proof, $120): Appleton grows 10 kinds of cane on 1,100 acres at its Jamaican estate. A signature orange note leads to licorice and cinnamon as well as banana, pear and honey. The insistent flavors overrun the Upmann a bit. With the Oliva, coffee and leather notes pop on the cigar, while the rum gains subtlety.
Bacardi Gran Reserva Especial 16 (80 proof, $100): Bacardi introduced this rum to showcase its premium portfolio. It succeeds, with a lush bouquet of vanilla, turning to berries, cherries, plums, toffee and slight banana on the palate. The rum gets some spice from the Upmann, to which it adds body. Toffee and vanilla grow with the Oliva, which reveals its own fruit.
Ron Barceló Gran Añejo Dark Series (80 proof, $25): “Dark” refers to deep char on the Bourbon barrels used to age this six-year-old blend from the Dominican Republic. It’s extra woody, but it’s also remarkably sweet and smooth, with cocoa and mango notes. The Upmann cadges woody depth from the rum, a note that also grows on the Barcelo. The Oliva was a sublime partner, stressing the rum’s wood and finding its own nuttiness.
Rhum Barbancourt (86 proof, $50): An émigré from the Cognac region of France founded Barbancourt in Haiti back in 1862, aging in French Limousin oak and using a pot still and sugarcane juice. It shows oranges, toffee, anise and cinnamon with a welcome bite. The rum smooths out the H. Upmann, while some of its exuberant fruit softens, but it fights somewhat with the Oliva, which gives the rum a slightly sour note.
Bayou Reserve (80 proof, $30): This rum is distilled in copper pots and aged by solera method, but the twist here is cane sourced from Louisiana. It’s very sweet, with ripe apples, banana and tropical spices. The Upmann and the Bayou are nonstarters, but the Oliva pairing beautifully melds the nuts and toast arising from each element.
Brugal 1888 (80 Proof, $50): This double-aged rum rests in ex-Bourbon barrels before moving to first-fill Sherry casks. The result is an elegant dry spirit with a zesty mix of nutmeg, cinnamon and nougat. The mild toro became more balanced, and the Brugal returned a zing that enlivened the smoke, but the dry rum had little interaction with the plump Oliva.
Flor de Caña (80 proof, $50): The cane for the molasses in this rum grows in volcanic soil on a single estate in Nicaragua. A creamy, vanilla, molasses flavor comes through first and is followed with fruit, spice and cocoa. The H. Upmann gives the rum licorice. Lots of latent fruit comes out on the Oliva and it gives depth and toffee to the rum.
Dictador Barton Rye Finish (90 proof, $2,055): Dictador ships casks of Colombian rum to select makers of different spirits for finishing. Its latest release was done in collaboration with Barton Brands. Four expressions were made (three separate finishes, and a blend of all them). The rye-cask finish created a spiciness, contrasted with apples and bananas.With both cigars, it doled out spice, getting maple notes in return.
Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva (80 proof, $40): This Venezuelan rum is pot-stilled from molasses and sugarcane juice and aged in small casks. It combines sultry brown, maple candy, graham cracker and fruit. It enriched the milder cigar, while taking on hard candy notes. The Oliva became sweeter, while underlining the rum’s woody notes.
Don Q Gran Añejo (80 proof, $60): This Puerto Rican rum blends traditionally aged rums between nine and 12 years, with other examples aged in the solera process. Its sweet side is caramel and toffee, the dry is cinnamon, for a crème brûlée effect. That last note gives vanilla to the Upmann, with spice coming to the rum. The cinnamon shines through with the Oliva.
E. León Jimenes 110 Aniversario (80 proof, $110): La Aurora, the oldest cigar company in the Dominican Republic, created this 10-year-old rum as a tribute to its founder on its 110th anniversary. It’s aged in Bourbon barrels for eight years, then it goes into Sherry for two more years. Sweetness is its opener with tropical fruit and berries wedded to rock candy before it finds spicy finesse. The mild toro makes it more complex, but the rum is too much for the cigar. The Oliva shines in this pairing, with nutty depth going to the rum and toast coming to the cigar.
Havana Club Añejo Clásico (80 proof, $22): Like a number of cigars that share their names inside and outside of Cuba, this brand is a relaunch, crafted in Puerto Rico based on a family recipe from a nationalized distillery. The rum receives a second aging after blending for a balanced mix of zesty spice and maple. The spice made the H. Upmann weightier, while the rum started to cloy. The Oliva made the Havana Club more savory and complex.
Mount Gay Black Barrel (86 proof, $45): Mount Gay is more than three centuries old, and the Barbados distillery is upgrading its brands Black Barrel and XO with a higher percentage of pot still liquor and longer aging. Black Barrel’s extended finish in deeply charred casks brings exotic spices to its mix of rich toffee, berries and cocoa. The Upmann deepened in body and returned cinnamon. The Oliva found apple and cocoa in the Mount Gay.
Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry (86 proof, $25): Xaymaca is a Jamaican entry in Plantation’s stable of Caribbean rums, and blends rums from two separate distillers. Both operate pot stills. It enjoys a year’s finish in ex-Cognac casks. Xaymaca is dry and elegant with pepper spice, fruit and cocoa. The Plantation’s pepper fills out the Upmann, but the cigar gets dry. Molasses, cinnamon and ripe apples appear when paired with the Oliva.
Real McCoy (80 proof, $45): A legendary Prohibition-era smuggler who maintained high production standards inspired the name of this rum from Barbados’ Four Square distillery. A 12-year-old, it is made with a single run through a combination column and pot still. Sweet vanilla is joined by pears, cocoa and a snap of smoke. It’s not a good partner for the Upmann, but sings with the Oliva, which enjoys complexity with its cocoa and vanilla.
Santa Teresa (80 proof, $40): Santa Teresa owns its sugarcane plantation in Venezuela, and crafts rum in a solera process using both ex-Bourbon and Limousin-oak barrels. Berries and fleshy fruits dominate, but it also hints at cocoa and coconut. It gives the milder cigar depth and improves itself with creaminess. The Santa Teresa gets a tingle of ginger and licorice with the stronger cigar, but the smoke is dulled with the pairing.
Zacapa Centenario 23 (80 proof, $40): This Guatemalan rum wends its way through the country as it travels from low-lying fields to the sugar mill and distillery and on to the cooling mountains where it undergoes aging in a solera system. The range of flavors is also wide with toffee, vanilla, tangerine and licorice. A coffee note appeared on the Upmann, while the rum tightened up. The Oliva partnership was very nuanced, each filling in flavors for the other.
Zafra 21 Years (80 proof, $37): The name Zafra means “harvest” and when this Panamanian rum debuted as a 30-year-old, the crop was limited. With the reduction in age, this variant has better availability at a more attractive price, while maintaining the same mélange of fruits and brown sugar with a brandy-like finesse. The Zafra found a hint of leather in the toro, while drying out a bit itself. The Oliva pairing was inspired, the rum becoming more savory and the cigar developing maple notes.