Cigars and Sake


Our panelists talked about pairing cigars and sake. Rajan Rengasamy not only is Habano Sommelier judge for his country, the UAE, but also became Sake Sommelier of the year in 2013. We learnt a lot from them in a recent discussion in the Cigar Sense Member Facebook group. We want to share with you some highlights of that discussion, so you can also experiment this type of pairing, or share with us your experiences.

According to the Japanese Sake Makers Association “Sake is an alcoholic beverage brewed primarily from rice and water. It resembles white wine in appearance, ranging from almost transparent to slightly yellow. The 13%–17% alcohol content of many sake varieties is slightly higher than that of wine, but sake also has a mild taste with little acidity, bitterness or astringency. In terms of chemical composition, sake extract (consisting mostly of residual sugars) contains a comparatively high percentage of glucose and significant levels of nitrogenous components and amino acids, but little organic acid.”

Rajan explains “Sake is unique and interesting to pair, I would say it is in contrast to wine pairings. Every sake has its own characteristics and generalizing it when enjoying it with a cigar would be disrespectful. I would see a wide range and variety of sakes which can be paired with cigars. When it comes to regular sake we must be careful in the pairing.

Koshu – I would look for a robust, medium to high flavor intensity cigar. Preferably woody as key aromas. Spicy or complex cigar characters would not let you enjoy this sake.

Cigars and Sake
Winner Rajan performing the ancient ritual of breaking open a ceremonial cask of sake, often carried out at special occasions in Japan
credit: Linda AFWS

Kijoshu is my next sake. It’s also known as Jizake, as this is the name of a boutique producer. Kijoshu is an interesting sake which you might compare with cream sherry or something displaying nutty and dried fruit aromas. Cigars light or medium in nicotine strength with sweet aromas or sweet spices aromas would be great. Of course, personal preference matters, as always.

Umeshu, you might have come across this . It is often described as plum wine or plum sake. It is actually a fruit (UME) infused shochu. UME is a type of plum (a cross of apricot and plum). This is categorized as liqueur with notes of dried apricot, sweet and slightly high in alcohol. It can be enjoyed with ice or as sour component. I would pair it with a cigar with key notes of dried fruits. Most cigars with light to medium nicotine strength are an ideal pairing.

Taru – cigars with peppery notes are great, however I would stick to light strength cigars only.

The more refined sake is, the colder it is served. Mostly Junmai and Yamahai style sakes are served warm. I would not recommend them, however they can be palatable for some.”


CH, PhD in sensory science, adds “Warm serving tends to be reserved for cheaper qualities. Certain aromas are only soluble in alcohol rather than in water, i.e. our saliva. A chilled alcoholic drink such as sake can bring out complexities in the cigar, which you might even miss, without interfering otherwise. Sake pairings are supporting, rather than complementary. Hot alcohol is always tricky, as it will be more aggressive and numbing. I am not sure it would make for a successful pairing, but that would be personal taste.

As he writes, CH tries a special Daiginjo (Dewazakura “Sakura Boy”) with an Illusione Haut 10. Daiginjo displays tropical and fruity aromas, such as melon and banana.
“The umami quality and otherwise neutral character make for a fascinating pairing. While it is a subtle pairing, it is, as expected, the palate sensation which drives the pairing. The sake makes the oily smoke seem lighter, more ethereal/mature in aroma and brings out a mild spice which is otherwise subtle in the cigar itself.
Inversely, the smoke makes the sake seem even oilier and richer than it already is, with a suggestion of sweetness. The combination also extends the oily palate expression considerably, leaving a nutty, oily coating on tongue and palate.
If you like utterly rich, oily palate sensations – as I do from time to time – then this is your pairing. It reminds me of white chocolate with a milk chocolate aroma.
Certainly a “harmony”/luxurious pairing. Cheaper sakes would run the risk of seeming alcoholic, harsh or bitter, especially if the cigar is more robust or spicy.”

To learn more about sake, check out the official website that most educators use.

We hope we have inspired you and provided a path to explore the world of sake with cigars. Enjoy!

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