By Gary Korb (Executive Editor, CigarAdvisor.com)
IS A MAN ANY LESS “MANLY” BECAUSE HE’S NOT A BEER DRINKER? Speaking for myself, I never fully acquired a palate for the bitter, malty taste of beer. Maybe because I was always a soda drinker I got spoiled by the sugary taste of Pepsi, 7-Up, and the like, which today I no longer drink. Of course, as I matured, I came to appreciate a few beers, but mostly the lighter, sweeter fare.
My first “real beer” experience came out of sheer necessity. I was still in college, and one summer day I’d gone fishing off the coast of Long Beach Island with my Dad, a few other guys, and my Dad’s friend who had a big tuna-class boat. It was a hot day, and as we headed back through the inlet I was parched. The soda was gone. It was beer, or else. I plucked a frosty can from the cooler and popped it open. It was ice cold, and to this day was probably the most refreshing beer I ever drank. From that point on, I got it, but generally continued to prefer hard liquor over beer.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I had finally assembled a very short list of beers I could enjoy on a regular basis, either on their own or with food. (Beer and pizza are a natural, agreed?) Like the beers that you’ll see below, they were on the lighter, sweeter side, not too far removed from a lot of the cigars I enjoy smoking. As a cigar smoker, I never thought about pairing a cigar with beer, mostly because I wasn’t a fan of beer, but also felt that other libations such as rum, single malt scotch, Port, and a few red wines, just seemed naturally more fitting.
When Famous Smoke Shop opened the Leaf Restaurant and Cigar Bar five years ago, craft beers were all the rage, and they’ve continued to grow exponentially. My beer-loving friends were crazy for a lot of the stout IPAs, which I found way too hoppy for my taste, and there were always new beers on tap every week. Being the curious type, I would occasionally treat myself to one of these new-fangled brews, usually on the recommendation of a friend who knew my tastes. Many were refreshingly impressive, while a lot of others just didn’t do it for me, so it was back to my old staples.
Eventually, I found some beers that I could enjoy with cigars as much with anything else – next to coffee, that is. Even more recently, Famous Smoke Shop and The Man Guide created a Cigar & Beer Pairing Guide, and you’ll find a couple of those pairings below.
So, if you’re like me, and like beer more than love it, I hope you find the following five cigar and beer pairings as satisfying as I have.
Asylum Insidious Toro & Shock Top Belgian White
The Cigar: Let’s start with a nicely contrasted pairing. The 6″ x 52 Asylum Insidious Toro is a very mild cigar with a sweetened cap that contains a blend of mellow Honduran-grown tobaccos neatly rolled in a golden Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. The smoke is very creamy with light notes of earth, sweet spice and cedar, while the cap adds a smack of sweetness to the mix.
The Beer: The Shock Top Belgian White is a spiced Belgian style wheat ale that’s made with orange, lemon & lime peels, and some coriander spice. Due to its unfiltered nature, the beer is naturally cloudy with an attractive golden color, and offers a smooth, spicy flavor profile that reveals elements in the cigar you may not ordinarily notice when smoked with other alcoholic beverages.
Laranja Reserva Volta & Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat
The Cigar: Using an extremely rare, orange-hued, Brazilian Laranja wrapper (Portuguese for “orange”), the Laranja Reserva selection from Erik Espinosa has received some of the highest tasting scores from the cigar media and consumers alike. Full-bodied, yet hardly overpowering, the 6½” x 48 Laranja Volta issues a perfectly-balanced, complex mix of earthiness, sweet spice, coffee, cocoa, and a tangy note of orangey citrus.
The Beer: I like the Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat for its fruity aroma, smoothness, balance of flavors, and impressive mix of earthy, herbal and citrusy notes. It’s also relatively dry on the finish with crisp notes of honey, wheat, pale malt and orange peel.
When it comes to a cigar and a beer that perfectly complement each other, it doesn’t get much more enjoyable than this combo.
Perdomo Craft Series Amber Sun Grown Epicure & Honey Brown Original Lager
The Cigar: Here’s a cigar that was created specifically for enjoying with a lighter beer. The 6½” x 54 Perdomo Craft Series Amber Epicure is a medium-bodied, full-flavored cigar built on an all-Nicaraguan core and rolled in a sun-kissed Nicaraguan wrapper. This puro brims with perfectly balanced flavors of earth, spice, graham cracker, roasted nuts, and a honeyed note of tobacco.
The Beer: Honey Brown Original Lager has been at the top of my list for years, mostly for its smoothness, balance, and sweet honey-like character. Though some beer aficionados may think of it as more of a summer brew, I love it all year round. It has a hint of honey in the aroma, while offering a sweet, malty taste on the finish.
What makes it an excellent pairing with the Perdomo Amber is how well this lager’s lighter taste complements the heartier Nicaraguan tobaccos in the cigar, making it another match made in heaven.
J. Fuego Connecticut Tradicion & Corona Extra
The Cigar: Let’s try a light-to-light combo by starting with a cigar from one of my favorite master blenders, Jesus Fuego. This reasonably-priced, 6″ x 50 Toro from his J. Fuego Connecticut selection has been an everyday favorite of mine for its balance, earthy Nicaraguan spice, and aromatic Ecuador Connecticut wrappers. You’ll also find some toasted nut and sweet tobacco elements in this mild to medium-bodied cigar.
The Beer: When it comes to lighter beers, it doesn’t get much lighter than Corona Extra, and I still like drinking it with a lime wedge stuffed into the bottle neck. It has a fruity aroma with a note of hoppiness, and a pleasant malty character that’s always crisp and well-balanced on the palate.
Here again, but even more so with this lighter brew, the rich flavors of the Nicaraguan tobaccos become even more prevalent as the sweet aromas from both the cigar and the beer marry for a truly relaxing experience which also complements this beer’s laid-back image.
Plasencia Reserva Organica Robusto & 312 Urban Wheat
The Cigar: This pairing came right out of the Cigar & Beer Pairing Guide, and I couldn’t agree more. What you have in this 4¾” x 52 Robusto is a cigar made with 100% Certified Organic tobaccos grown in Nicaragua from filler to binder to wrapper. No pesticides – no nothin’, but the richest, organically fertilized soil and fresh rain water. The result is a smooth, medium-bodied smoke that’s as pure in tobacco taste as it gets with a floral aroma. Rich flavors of natural tobacco and cedar are made equally impressive by this blend’s simplicity when compared to cigars with more complex flavor profiles.
The Beer: 312 Urban Wheat gets its numerical nom de plume from Chicago’s area code, which is also the city that inspired it. This unfiltered wheat beer has a cloudy, golden color and offers a sweet-spicy aroma with a hint of hops, malt, wheat and a floral note. The body is smooth and creamy, offering wheaty flavors with some hoppy notes on a sweet finish.
When enjoyed together, the 312 brings more flavor to the palate, while still allowing all that natural tobacco flavor to come through from the Reserva Organica. It’s one of those pairings you really need to taste for yourself to fully appreciate.
So, there you have it, light beer fans. Whatever type of beers you prefer, as you continue to smoke more cigars, you’ll come up with some good pairings of your own. If you already have, please feel free to leave them in the comments section.