Parings 101: Cigars and Beer
Below is the second of three Guest Articles we have for you on pairing cigars and alcoholic beverages. All three pieces have been written by Lindsay Heller and cover Spirits, Beer, and Wine. To prevent information overload, we have separated these articles by beverage type and will present them in the same manner. After reading what Lindsay has to say about pairing cigars and beer, be sure to check back next week to see what she has in store for you on pairing cigars and wine.
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Pairings 101: Beer
Whether you think about it or not, let me tell you beer gets a bad rap. The American market has finally been embracing the European microbrew lifestyle as well as larger labels outside of the stereotypical “cheap” beer you most likely drank in college, so it is a great thing for those of you that love a good brew with your smoke. I have to admit that coming from a wine background I never used to give beer credit until a good friend taught me about beer as if we were talking wine and then I was hooked.
With beer we are essentially talking two different types: ales and lagers. (Although Lambic is a third, it is an obscure Belgian style that is not very popular in the States unless you consider yourself an artisan beer drinker.) Either way the beer you drink consists of four basic ingredients–hops, malted barley, yeast and water—and outside of the other botanicals added, the only differences between a lager and ale is the type of yeast used and the temperature at which fermentation occurs. Both lagers and ales can be thought of like cigars in the sense that their sub-types range from light to full, pale to dark, and so on.
If you are an ale fan then you probably prefer your cigars to be a bit richer in flavour and on the medium- to full-bodied side, and that’s rightfully so: you need a smoke with some “umph” to work with the beer and not be swallowed by it. Porter ales are great with cigars because the use of black or chocolate malt gives the beer great colour and flavour. Sierra Nevada Porter is creamy and rich and its roasted malted barley notes and hints of coffee and dark chocolate is a lovely match for cigars like the Tatuaje RC 233, the Upmann Vintage Cameroon line or even as something bold as an Ashton VSG.
While most people confuse Porter ale with Stout, Stout is actually darker, thicker and its overwhelming characteristics are that of strong barley and hops. Although Guinness is the most famous Stout in the world, I personally find this somewhat difficult to pair with a good cigar just because it is so rich. Guinness is amazingly bitter and strong in the front, but with the perfect pour you can definitely taste the sweetness in the finish; this makes pairing it hard because not every strong cigar can be so balanced. Honestly if I had my choice of smokes while nursing a pint it would have to be a Bolivar Corona Gigante (Cuba) or a Padrón 80 Años Maduro. Both of these cigars are great sizes for such an intense beer, but like the beer itself, these sticks are solid in construction and delivery.
If Guinness is too much for you on a regular basis but you still like the complexity of Stout, then I highly recommend giving a Sweet or Cream Stout a try. These beers are not as “hoppy” in taste and instead a greater sweetness comes through which is a nice counterbalance to the typically bitter taste of most beers of this variety. I highly recommend Sam Adams Cream Stout with an old reliable cigar: the Padrón 2000 Maduro. This cigar is not pretty to look at, but immediately upon lighting there is this hint of sweetness coming off of the wrapper and light pepper intermingles with some chocolate and lots of coffee notes; in fact as this cigars burns one could swear there is even a hint of raisin and dark fruit, which makes it an inexpensive winner with this tasty beer.
Lagers tend to be more common in the American market for a variety of reasons, but for the purpose of cigar pairing, you would want to be drinking either Pilsner or Dark Lager.
Warsteiner is a Classic German Pilsner that has finally found its way onto even the most simple of grocery store shelves and it is just a nice, stable beer. It is a bit malty in flavour, but there are hints of honey and it is a very clean in taste. The funniest part of a Warsteiner is that it kind of does the opposite of what most cigars do on the palate: instead of starting off bitter like many beers and cigars, this Pilsner actually gives you the sweetness up front and the bitterness in the back, so pick a cigar that does the opposite. I would recommend smoking a Joya de Nicaragua Antaño since the Joya itself is earthy with some spice, but overall there is a nice floral quality to it for a fuller cigar. With some black licorice notes coming out towards the end, this smoke keeps the malt quality of the beer in check throughout.
There are not too many Dark Lagers out there but the one I will mention – Sleeman Dark – is great, so if you ever come across it definitely give it a shot. Sleeman is an all malt beer brewed with English Aroma hops and deep well water, so its malt flavours, hints of caramel and occasional toasted Earth notes have become a trademark taste for the brand. (Note: Dark Lagers are actually medium in body and ruby red/brown in hue, so do not get confused and think it should be deeper and fuller.) It is a balanced beer that deserves an equally balanced and rather aromatic (for lack of a better term) cigar. For the perfect pairing, if you can get your hands on a Partagas Series D no. 4 (Cuba) than go for it. The D4 is earthy and toasty and supremely balanced in its nuances and burn, but it also comes with hints of creamy caramel which brings out the same in the Sleeman Dark.
Lindsay M. Heller is New York City’s only female tobacconist with years of experience as a cigar lover and professional. She has been featured in numerous national and international lifestyle publications, such as Rolling Out, Cigar Snob and Europe’s El Gusto. Outside of her activities in the political arena fighting for smoker’s rights, Lindsay also hosts cigar events and classes, pairing seminars, participates in tasting panels and as a consultant in blending. She currently works for Nat Sherman on Fifth Ave in Manhattan. If you would like to contact her, she can be reached at TheCigarChick@vzw.blackberry.net or you can follow her on Twitter as “@TheCigarChick.”