I love beer. That much should be obvious by the very existence of The Gnarly Gnome. But there is another side of me that only those who either know me in “real life” or those who pay close attention will know… I also love cigars. There are few industries in this “modern world” that we are living in that really personify what I consider ‘Craft’ and aside from our beloved beer industry, I think the cigar industry hits the nail on the head better than most anything else does. Partaking in a fine, handcrafted cigar after a long day at work can only be made better with a fine, handcrafted beer alongside it.
This was a world that I dabbled in for a while…the pairing of beer with cigars. I confess that I struggled with it, and had a more than a few pairings that just missed the mark before I decided that I needed to dig in and do some research… figure all this out. Lucky for you, I have cracked the code – sort of. Much like most pairing opportunities that you will find with beer, it’s a matter of taste, so things are going to differ a bit from person to person, or as I’ve found (and really love) sometimes it will even vary depending on a person’s mood, the season… all kinds of outside factors will change how you enjoy a pairing. I have come up with some rules though…some rules that are meant for you to break as you start to explore this world, maybe…but rules nonetheless.
The Rules of Cigar Pairing
- Don’t let either one, the beer or the cigar overpower the other.
- We are trying to pair here. Keep that in mind constantly. We are not trying to find a beer that makes your cigar awesome, or a cigar that makes your beer awesome…although both of those are another respectable approach, I look for a pairing between the two the lifts each into another realm together. I look for harmony. I want each sip of my beer to beckon me to take another puff of my cigar and vice versa…. Harmony. One tip that I have found to make this easier, and I don’t know the science on why… it’s just something I have found. Smoke your cigar first…light it, take a few puffs, let it get going before you start drinking your beer. Your mouth adjusts to the cigar first that way. I don’t know why this is important, but it seems to help the whole process along.
- Pay close attention to the intensities that you are dealing with.
- We are trying to achieve balance. If you have an extremely strong cigar (or beer) you will need a match it that can stand up. This is no different than when you are pairing beer and food. Intensity should be the first thing you think about before you even start to consider the flavors of each side and how they will play with each other. How can you do this? Beer is easy, it’s usually marked on the label via ABV or IBU numbers. Cigars can sometimes be a little more difficult, with their intensity usually coming through based on the wrapper color. The darker wrappers of cigars tend to hint that your might have a strong flavor profile. Note: this isn’t always true… don’t be afraid to pull your phone out and read some other peoples opinions on their beer or cigar online.
- Watch your serving temperature!
- A “too cold” beer will deaden your taste buds and limit your ability to taste both your beer and your cigar. I avoid anything short of 45 degrees during my cigar pairings, though have found that even upwards of 50 will sometimes be even better. I cannot stress this enough with tasting… temperature matters as much as any other factor after choosing your beer.
- Make Notes.
- I know that it might make you look a little “geeky” but take notes on your pairings. There are a TON of cigars out there and a SHIT-TON of beers out there. It’s hard to remember what you like, and why you liked it. If something is enjoyable or not, you want to remember it to replicate (or not replicate) this experience. Take notes.
- Drink Water.
- I will offer this as advice no matter what types of tasting you are doing. Water is a palate cleanser, a refresher. It helps you taste the flavors that you are experiencing. Everyone’s tastebuds get tired and offering them a way to take a little rest will only benefit you in the long run!
Building a Cigar For Beer
We talked about this a bit when we had our episode of Cincy BrewCast, live from Jungle Jim’s cigar festival (Worth a listen over here…) but there are cigar companies out there who are striving to make this whole process a little bit easier for the cigar and beer fans by crafting cigars that are build to go with beer from the get go. Here are some notables:
- CLE/Asylum – Dragon’s Milk – We talked to great lengths about this on the show I mentioned above. This is a cigar that is designed not only to pair with Dragon’s Milk beer, it was build with the beer and the bourbon wrapped in the process.
- Perdomo Craft Series – A series of 3 different cigars designed to pair with beer. They offer a blend for light beers, amber or medium beers and dark or heavier beers. A great beginner stogie, and from my experience the pair extremely well.
- Quesada Oktoberfest – I love these. This is a blend that is created for my favorite beer season, Oktoberfest. They are build to go perfectly with your favorite Oktoberfest beer and a big giant german pretzel… in my experience you can’t go wrong!
- Drew Estate Smoking Monk Series – I haven’t had the pleasure of trying these yet, but they are designed to pair with some of the more popular beer styles: Hefeweizen, Imperial Stout, American IPA, Porter and Triple Belgian. From what I hear, they are definitely worth a go if you see them around.
Some Pairings to Try
What type of guide would I be if I didn’t give you a starting point? I have found a couple pairings that (in my opinion) you can’t go wrong with… worth a go!
- Taft’s Ale House, Cherrywood Amber – paired with a Roberto Duran Signature blend – creamy and smooth cigar that brings the sweetness of the beer out fantastically.
- Braxton Brewing, Dead Blow Tropical Stout – paired with a Vicarias Black wrapper – although I have a love for their blue wrapper blend, the black wrapper brings out the great roasty flavors of the beer, while the beers backend sweetness pulls some of the sweet flavors out of the cigar.
- MadTree, Gnarly Brown – paired with a Monte by MonteCristo – this might be my go-to pairing, Gnarly Brown has a stunning roasty flavor that is topped of by a light hop bitterness that isn’t too much to pair with the Monte’s medium to full body. They sit with each other wonderfully without fighting at all with each other.
Just Give It A Go
Like I mentioned earlier…rules are meant to be broken, especially rules about taste. Keep track of what you like and what you don’t…but don’t stop experimenting. Talk to other people about what you’ve enjoyed, give them ideas. Thats the fun of all this! You can start by leaving your comments below…what pairings have worked great for you…and which ones haven’t?