Though whisky may seem to be a fan favorite, to many cigar enthusiasts an aged rum is often seen as the best libation to sip while puffing away.
This holds particularly true among cigar enthusiasts who live in the regions where both items often come from. One possible reason for this may be that they each tell a similar tale of the geographical location in which they came from through a flavor related concept known as terroir.
It also may have a little bit to do with the surrounding culture.
In this piece, we’ll discuss the concept of terroir and how it may lend itself to the popular flavor combination found in cigars with rum – two of the biggest exports to come out of the Caribbean, Central and South America.
One major reason that rum pairs so well with a cigar may have to do with terroir. Originally derived from the Latin word ‘terre’, meaning “land or earth”, today terroir is borrowed from French and simply means “a sense of place”.
Terroir de Vin: The Beaujolais region in France
French populations originally began to use this term to describe any specific region or area used to grow grapes to make a wine. It alludes to the soil, topography and microclimate that are unique to a specific geographical area and the characteristics in which they impart upon the final consumable product.
Through terroir, the taste profile of a final product essentially ‘tells a tale’ of the land from where its primary crop or raw materials come from.
When it comes to cigars and rum, the main crops to which we are speaking about of course are tobacco and sugar cane respectively – both of which are widely known to originate from the same country or even region as one another.
Cigars and Terroir
In regard to cigars, terroir has been found to unquestionably influence the tobacco leaf and the final taste of a cigar. Even though a cigar may contain a blend of tobaccos coming from different regions, it can still tell distinct story about the natural factors of the area in which the tobacco originated.
As cigars are comprised of strictly 100% tobacco that has been cultivated and fermented (just like wine), the final product is very much the flavor embodiment of the land from where whence it came.
This concept can be observed through the use of Cuban seed to grow tobacco in other countries than Cuba. Cuban seed is frequently used to with an intent to create a cigar that is akin to the strength and aromatics of a Cuban cigar.
Placencia tobacco fields in Estelí
However as a result of the different soil, typography and climate that exists in other countries and their particular regions (such as the Esteli region of Nicaragua for example), the taste always tends to differ significantly from the taste of the tobacco that is traditionally grown in Cuba and its regions.
Because of the differing terroir, Cuban seed – when used to grow tobacco in other parts of the world – tends to imparts a different taste profile than when grown on home soil.
This means that in a cigar you can literally taste the land from where the process began.
Rum And Terroir
When it comes to rum, an influence of terroir on the final taste is still under debate.
Unlike a cigar which is made from strictly fermented tobacco, rum is traditionally made from a byproduct of sugar cane: molasses – and ultimately must endure a myriad of factors throughout the production process to transform and reduce it to a final liquid.
Cut stalks of sugar cane
The processes of making rum is as follows:
sugar cane is harvested and cut before being crushed to create cane juice. The cane juice is then heated to create sugar crystals. Once the sugar crystals are collected, the thick, sticky residue that remains is molasses.
After the molasses is diluted with water, as with a cigar it must ferment. The one major difference here is that yeast is added.
The next step involves distillation via a pot or column still. This is where the previously fermented liquid is heated and turned to alcohol vapors before being cooled and collected as a clear spirit prior being stored in either an inert vessel or aged in oak cask.
Powerful pot stills used for rum distillation
After this process, the rum is often blended with other rum from other inert vessels or oak casks. Prior to bottling, some rums are sweetened with additional sugar and may even have some spirit caramel added for coloring.
Unlike a cigar (or even wine where the concept originated), the final result ends up appearing in a drastically different state than the raw material (sugar cane) which it began as.
Though some may argue it, terroir is not clearly evidenced in the case of rum; there is not a clear and noticeable transmission of flavor from the land or region to the final product.