The Beginners Guide to Pairing Cigars and Craft Beer
So, you say you want to smoke cigars.
Step into my office…
The world of craft beer continues to grow. It’s a fascinating world filled with great suds and great people. The breweries all over the country also have the right idea on how to run a business…I can bring my dog? SWEET!...on Sundays I get 10% off for bringing my dog? EVEN BETTER!
As craft beer has grown exponentially over the years, the cigar industry has made strides as well. Cigars aren’t just for your grandpa anymore. There are plenty of edgy new cigar brands and price-points just like in beer.
But for most of us, taking a leap into a new hobby can be tough. We don’t want to seem uneducated, but we aren’t willing to ask for help. The cigar industry still struggles with this point, unlike craft beer for the most part. (We all have that one bartender who has given us crap over asking the difference between two IPAs from the same brewery with the same basic description.)
You can walk into almost any beer bar with zero clue of what you’re looking for and the bartender isn’t going to just stare at you like an idiot, unless you ask to sample every beer on the menu…by the way, don’t do that.
But if you walk into a cigar shop, there are times that you feel a bit unwelcome or that you’re inconveniencing an employee by asking for help or a recommendation on a cigar.
Let’s change that. Because some of the coolest people ever smoke cigars…Winston Churchill, Arnold Schwarzenegger, MJ, DeNiro, and ladies...don’t think I forgot about you. Demi Moore, Ciara, JLo, Dita Von Tesse, and Rihanna are just a few of the famous cigar smokers.
Just like beer, all of these famous smokers started at the beginning, but for you guys it’s even better. You get to drink beer while trying out cigars!
Ok the ground rules; because I’m sure 90% of you reading this are thinking about Cubans right now…
No Cubans aren’t legal to sell in a cigar shop currently.
The two major countries are the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua
Don’t ask for the “cheap” cigar, ask for an inexpensive one and don’t ask for Cubans
Size does matter ;)
So, most people will buy the smallest cigar for their first time, but the reality is that a smaller cigar will smoke stronger than a midsize cigar. To make it easy the 3 main sizes that every shop will have are Robusto, Toro, and a 60-ring gauge cigar (fat boy). All you first-timers and occasional smokers…go for the Toro. It’ll last for about 45 minutes to an hour, have great flavor and will smoke at the correct strength.
Dominican cigars tend to have a smooth and creamy quality to them which makes them ideal for beginners. Nicaraguan cigars have a bit more of a peppery spice on the finish. Not like a habanero or cayenne pepper, just your standard black pepper from the table.
So, when you talk about beers to pair, these two features come into play as well as the strength of cigar. Mild, medium, or full-bodied.
Smoke your mild cigars with your lighter beers. Hefeweizens, light lagers, and pilsners will pair the best. You don’t want to overpower the beer or cigar and these will compliment nicely.
Full-bodied cigars are going to pair best with the big beers such as heavier porters, stouts, barleywines, and anything barrel aged. ABV isn’t the only thing here. For instance, Dogfish Head 120 would be a big beer but I would pair that with a medium body cigar because it’s an IPA and not as heavy on the body.
Your medium body cigars are, to me, the best when it comes to pairing with beer. Especially since IPAs are all the rage right now, but it can be a little tricky. Because the majority of cigars fall into the medium body category there are a plethora of options. You can take a traditional approach such as, I’m having a standard West Coast IPA, so I’ll take a true medium-bodied Nicaraguan cigar to pair. The black pepper spice and earthy tones pair well with the hop bitterness as if you were drinking in the woods.
Or you can take my approach, which is to mess with my taste buds by pairing flavors that are somewhat opposite. For instance, if I’m going to drink that same West Coast IPA I could pair it with a medium Dominican cigar. I’m going to get some more sweet coffee, cocoa and stone fruit out of the cigar mixing with that hop bitterness that seems counterintuitive but with the dry finish on both beer and cigar it won’t leave your palate saying, “what the hell was that”.
So now that you have at least 2 worthwhile sentences it’s time to get out there, pick up some of your favorite beer and get some suggestions on what cigar you should pair with it!