Sitting down with your favorite tobacco and a trusted pipe is a wonderful experience. Sitting down with a good beer in a frosty mug is also a moment to savor. It’s only natural that we put the two together.

Before proceeding too far on the analysis of flavor pairings, let me explain that most scientific tests, studies, and respected papers involve pairing food and drink together. I cannot see a reason that the same analysis can be applied to the pairing of smoke and drink or food and smoke; it’s all about flavors and texture. And anyone who has smoked a good bowl of tobacco can say with absolutely certainty that tobacco has as much flavor and even body as a fine wine.

On the issue of pairing food and drink, or tobacco and drink, there are a number of different thoughts. The first and perhaps most common is that pairing food and drink is completely subjective and bogus, relying more upon the thoughts and expectations of a successful match than the flavors themselves.

This is a totally legitimate analysis, at least on its face. After all, studies have been done where people have been told that the food or drink or even water that they are having is high quality. Accordingly, the subjects raved about the superb taste, only to find out it was a $.99 microwave meal or tap water (See Penn & Teller’s “BS” for entertaining examples of this).

Even more damning of our perception of taste came from a double blind wine tasting at the University of Bordeaux. The exact same wine was served to 54 wine experts in two different bottles with two different labels: one a grand cru bottle (a highly respectable label) and the other bearing the title vin de table. The grand cru wine was reviewed a complex, balanced, and well-rounded, while the table wine was called “weak” and “flat”. Remember, the exact same wine was in both bottles. Does this mean that our impressions are entirely dependent on what we think will be good?

Yes and no.

Our mindset obviously has an impact, but it isn’t the end of it. Think of ice cream. We often add toppings, from chocolate to nuts to fruit to a little bit of salt. But would you ever add garlic? What about fish? Guacamole? Even if someone told you it would be delicious? Probably not. No matter how much someone managed to convince you that ice cream and sawdust would taste good, you’d still hate it. So taste pairings do matter, even beyond our impressions.

So, once we’ve decided that it’s worth the effort to pair a tobacco and a drink, there are still a number of philosophies to work through.

First philosophy: drink whatever drink you like. Well, that makes sense, but it’s not really worth an article of advice, is it? You didn’t need someone to tell you that. It’s like reading a self-help book that says you don’t need help. So, moving on.

The next of the major two philosophies is to pair complementary or similar flavors. To take an example, you’d pair a sweet dish with a sweet wine, a spicy Indian dish with a spicy beer. This method of pairing might help to draw out the hidden flavors or emphasize those already present. An example with tobacco might involve pairing an English “Lat-bomb” with a smoky Stout. One of my favorites is Founder’s “Breakfast Stout”. A lager and a Virginia is another classic combination, both relying heavily on the natural, sometimes subtle citrus flavors.

The other option is contrasting, where you try to pair flavors that aren’t present already. Sweet for a salty dish, mellow for a spicy dish, and so on. This, too, can help to emphasize the flavor in a different way.

Like so much in the pipe world, there isn’t a right or a wrong option, just the one that yields the best results for you.

But I’m not done! There’s more to consider when making these pairings than just flavor.

Let’s talk about body. No, not that kind of body! Everyone knows that different foods have different feelings in your mouth (called mouth-feel in the alcohol world), like a cream sauce versus a red sauce. The same is true for alcohol and tobacco. I’m sure many of you have lit up a new blend and felt it coating the inside of your mouth, resulting in a creamy, dense smoke, while others seem to release light wisps no matter how much fire is put to it.

If you’re wanting a drink to enhance the experience of your tobacco, general wisdom is that you don’t want one with a bigger body than your tobacco. So an oatmeal stout is probably not the best thing with a delicate blend, even if the flavors seem perfect on paper. The stout will simply overwhelm the smoke.

There’s also alcohol level to take into account. A light feeling yet high alcohol content drink, like vodka, might still overpower a light tobacco blend. There are a number of reasons for this. Alcohol can dull the sensitivity of your taste-buds, which would defeat the purpose of our exercise. Too much of a strong alcohol can also remove the protective coating on your tongue, leading to an increased sensation of tongue-bite. So, with a lighter blend consider a lower alcohol content beverage.

Another good thing to consider is what is known as “brightness”. This often refers to acidity, tartness, or sourness of the drink. With wine, it’s pretty obvious, with cocktails it’s often denoted by the presence of lemons or some other citrus, and hops in beer. This acidity is very good at cutting through coatings on your tongue caused by the smoke. So, if you find yourself smoking a blend that leaves a coat on your tongue, either through intense flavor or perhaps literally, as some smokers have discussed, then a bright drink might be your key to reawakening the flavor.

Another good weapon for cutting through those coatings is carbonation. I know some pipesters who put a slice of lemon in sparkling water to double up the effectiveness…but where’s the fun with no alcohol, right? So, maybe a gin and tonic with a slice of lime instead.

Again, these are all just suggestions, general theory to help guide your decision. You may find a combination that you love that goes against all conventional wisdom. Awesome! In fact, share it with us in the comments section below these piece. We’d love to hear it and share it so that more people can enjoy it, too.

Over time, we’ll be sharing some of our personal favorite things to pair with a particular tobacco, from food to drink to music. It’s our preference and maybe it will match yours. But the best pairing out there is the one you love the most.