Many craft beer aficionados may be interested in cigars, but just do not know where to start. The shear number of cigar brands, cigar producing countries, sizes, and colors of cigars makes it difficult to navigate through a humidor or online shop as a beginner. Unlike craft beer, there are no established websites where reviews of nearly every cigar can be found. Most review websites are personal blogs consisting of personal opinions and tasting notes; because of this, the potential benefit of having different palates reviewing each cigar in one area is lost. The purpose of this series is to introduce cigars to those with no prior knowledge, but to also present enough information so that even those of you with prior experience may learn a thing or two. As we progress through this series, specific pairings will be shown and discussed as well as recommendations about how to decide on a pairing yourself so that you may begin experimenting in confidence.
Craft Beer Community Have the Skills
As beer nerds, we have trained our palates through constant experimentation within the world of craft beer. We have reached a point where we can detect subtle flavor nuances that would have passed far over our heads at an earlier point in this journey of tracking down and consuming stellar beer. We now know that it is not merely the flavor of a beer that makes a great beer great, but also the aroma, the mouth feel, the appearance in the glass and more. Many of us have begun to or have already been enjoying additional life luxuries such as fine wine or whiskey. Why not also enjoy cigars? As with anything, there are many preconceived notions about cigars and their pairing with beer. Let’s discuss them.
Where to Begin With Cigars and Beer Pairing
First, I have read countless times that cigars may destroy your palate when pairing with beer, leading to the smoker losing some or all of the wonderful flavor of his/her beer. While this is possible, it usually is a result of improper pairing, not of the cigar itself. Many aficionados choose to pair their cigar with whiskey, typically scotch or bourbon. The most obvious reason for this choice, to me, is that the whiskey has no problem holding up to the cigar itself in body and flavor. I am yet to smoke anything that has had the potential to completely drown out a spirit, although some nuances of the flavor profile may still be lost with improper pairing.
Proper pairing is key to experience all that both cigar and beer have to offer. A common ground must be found between beer and cigar, whether that is in the flavors of both or the body (full, medium, mild/light) [as examples]. A cigar that has similar flavor notes to the beer it is paired with may act in a synergistic fashion, with both acting to prep your palate to experience subtleties of the other. In addition, I have found that pairing based off of contrast works well too. One of my favorite types of pairings is a Maduro wrapped cigar and a beer such as a barleywine or strong ale. The cocoa and espresso notes that come from some Maduro wrappers contrast well with the presence of sweetness and dark fruits found in most English style barleywines. This contrast between cigar and beer helps to further elevate the flavors found in each.
Many countries produce cigar tobacco, whether it be wrapper leaves, filler or binder. For the sake of this article, and since the author is located in the U.S., Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars will be focused upon as they seem to be the most prominent, although many of these cigars may also be utilizing tobaccos from Honduras, Mexico, and even from the state of Connecticut. A basic generalization from many aficionados is that Dominicans tend to have a softer, more mild flavor profile while Nicaraguans tend to be a bit more medium to full bodied and the flavors tend to be bolder and more interesting/complex. As always however, there are exceptions to these generalizations, so proper research is still needed before buying off an assumption.
This introduction to cigar and beer pairings is in no means a comprehensive collection of knowledge and information, but merely a stepping-stone for those who wish to begin their own experimentation in the pairing of these two great luxuries. I highly encourage everyone to continue their research on their own. Research of the history of tobacco, the countries who produce tobacco, the types of tobacco and even how cigars are made will all be of benefit. Researching previous pairings that others have done will be of great benefit as well as finding reviewers that you can trust, as they may assist you in choosing which cigars to buy in the beginning of this journey before you have developed your palate and discovered your personal preferences.
Coming up next in this series will be a deeper look into the cigar.