Even the blending experts don’t always agree on how much of a cigar’s flavor comes from the wrapper leaf – learn why, plus we pay forward a cool trick you can try to test your favorite cigar to see how much its flavor comes from the wrapper leaf.
2016 CA Report: West Coast Beer & Cigar Pairings
West Coast Beer and Cigar Pairings
By Jonathan Detore & Lauren Lerch
It may seem pretty obvious to most of our readers by now that we’re pretty keen on pairing our favorite cigars with some of our favorite drinks. In fact, we even created an entire webpage dedicated to helping anyone find a cigar and drink pairing based on their own personal preferences. From scotch, rum, whiskey, beer, and more, personal experience has taught us a more than a few things when it comes to blending the flavors of a cigar with the flavors of these drinks. But as the self-proclaimed beer-guy of the bunch, I feel like I’ve failed you all, and I’m sorry. Let me explain…
I love my craft beer, whether it be a dark and menacing imperial Russian stout or a light and crisp pilsner. But my knowledge in the craft beer industry is fairly limited simply due to the fact that craft beers are, for the most part, regional offerings. Every time one ventures to a bar in a new city, one is met with a chorus line of a curious assortment of new wood, metal, and plastic tap handles. I’ve been lucky enough to travel around quite a bit over the past few years, but my range has been limited to New England and the Mid-Atlantic with a quick exception on overseas voyages and one curious trip to San Francisco. So with that said, it should be noted my experience with West Coast offerings is a little lacking. But to all you West Coasters out there, allow me to make it up to you in a big way as I introduce your West Coast beer authority, Lauren Lerch.
Working for Red Rock Brewery out of Salt Lake City, Lauren has years of experience in the beer industry from learning the ins and outs of brewery operations to managing her own beer blog with her friend Jenni Shafer. Together, these two have covered topics from what glassware to use with certain beers, to becoming a certified beer judge and everything you can possibly imagine in between, covering beer festivals, and judging brews at competitions. In other words, Lauren and Jenni are true beer authorities who can put any dollar draft night frat boy to shame. I highly suggest going to their blog over at Crafty Beer Girls and read up more about them so you can be as impressed with them as the beer community is. As an added bonus, after she schools you on beer knowledge, Lauren can school you with an epic drum solo.
So before I start in on these cigar pairings with Lauren’s beer picks, here’s how we work our magic behind the curtain to make this piece possible: First I chose some of the most popular selling cigars in the U.S. and gave her my tasting notes on each of them. Lauren then went around multiple festivals and breweries on her side of the nation over about a 2-3 month period, and picked out some beers she thought would pair well with the cigars I chose. From there I merged my tasting notes with her beer tasting notes, brushed it up a bit, and voila! We got a damn tasty-looking list of cigar pairings.
Acid Kuba Kuba with Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA
Jon: Acid Kuba Kuba cigars, as any fan of theirs can attest, have a lot of herbs, botanicals, oils, and spices that are infused into the cigar, marrying the flavors together and making it a real flavor bomb. One of the notes I can really get out of this one is clove, but it has a distinct sweetness to it along with a light spice. It’s not a strong cigar, clocking in more on the mild to medium strength scale, but what it lacks in strength, it makes up for in high WTF flavor levels. So to pair with this incredibly unique cigar, we need an incredibly unique beer. Lauren’s suggestion comes out of Oregon by way of Deschutes Brewery with their Chainbreaker White IPA.
Lauren: With a moderate intensity the hops lend aromas of grapefruit and pine, while the yeast is all stone fruit and clove. Added coriander marries the fruit aromas with a dominant spice character. Whiffs of doughy malt can be teased out of the bouquet. When it comes to flavor, a gentle tangerine hop flavor mingles with bready yeast. Spicy coriander takes over with hints of lemon. Moderate hop bitterness is balanced by mild malt flavors and assertive yeast. A medium body and mildly bitter finish of dried orange peel keeps me going back for more. I chose Deschutes Chainbreaker because I feel the tasting notes are nearly identical to the Acid Kuba Kuba. They share spicy, botanical notes balanced by sweetness, making this pairing a sure bet.
Arturo Fuente 858 and Anchor Steam
Jon: Next up is a long standing classic in the cigar realm: the Arturo Fuente 858. Arturo Fuente cigars in general have a great deal of woodiness to them; more specifically a note of Spanish cedar, along with some earthiness or mineral flavors and some classic tobacco flavors. The cigar won’t blow you away with complexity, but it will leave you wanting more because of the quality of the smoke and flavors it produces, which begs the question why this stogie isn’t twice the price. In my opinion this is a damn good everyday smoke that will never let you down whether you’re on the golf course or in the lounge with your buds. And to go with this staple in the cigar industry is a staple in the craft beer industry: Anchor Steam Beer out of San Francisco.
Lauren: Another beer featuring moderate intensity, the aromas you should get with this beer includes bread crust, burnt caramel, toast, earthy hops, and light fruitiness. The flavors include toasted rye bread, pie crust, gentle notes of some fruit (apples, pears). The moderately high bitterness balances the slightly sweet, bready malt flavors. Body is medium with a smooth mouthfeel. Aftertaste is crisp and bitter. I chose Anchor Steam to pair with the Arturo Fuente 858 because of the unique burnt character the house yeast gives their beer. It should lend itself to pairing nicely with the earthy, tobacco character of the cigar. On a contrasting level, I think the Anchor Steam’s fruity notes will play well with the cigar’s mineral and woody features. I also chose it because I’m currently reading a book on the history of Anchor Steam, and it only seemed right to match a historic cigar with a historic beer.
Padron Anniversary 1964 Maduro with Firestone Walker Wookey Jack IPA
Jon: Padron 1964 is a kingpin in the cigar industry, one that we’ve written about to death. But how can you deny giving continued press on one of the best cigars to ever be released? It’s one of the most revered cigars in the industry, with a lot of complexity, some decent strength, and great quality. This has been close to winning the best cigar in the world quite a few times, and why it hasn’t is beyond the comprehension of most cigar reviewers. With hints of cocoa, leather, earth, chocolate, among others from the 4 year aged all Nicaraguan blend, the flavors never seem to stop lining up, and the construction on these box-pressed Maduro wrapped beauties is impeccable. This isn’t just a cigar, it’s a work of art. And Lauren isn’t just a beer lover, she’s a beer guru for cracking the code on what to drink with this holy smoke.
Lauren: I thought long and hard about this one. I couldn’t pair a subpar beer, or even just a good one, with “one of the most revered cigars in the industry”. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves, but Firestone Walker Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA out of California is one of my all-time favorites. After looking up scores on beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com, I finally understood everyone quietly agrees it’s something to behold. It was while I was reading your notes on Padron 1964 that I realized Wookey Jack might just have a best friend in the cigar world. I believe the Wookey would complement Padron nicely, while contributing citrusy flavors for complexity. Think chocolate oranges, but much less sweet. If I had to put money on one of these five cigar pairings, this would be the one.
With moderately high intensity you should experience aromas of spicy rye, molasses, dark chocolate, burnt toast, citrusy hops. In terms of flavor, this brew is a beast with high quality dark chocolate, vanilla, gingerbread, and burnt marshmallows. Hop bitterness is up front and rocks the palate through the finish. Citrusy/earth hop flavor melds with char and spicy rye. The body of this wooly beast is just what you would expect – hefty and smooth. The aftertaste is chargrilled pineapple slices and pumpernickel bread.
Cohiba and The Lost Abbey Avant Garde Biere De Garde
Jon: Cohiba cigars are one of the most well-known brands in the nation. Of course this is partially due to the fact that it borrows its name from its Cuban counterpart, but this Dominican version has long blessed many a cigar collector’s humidors because of its incredibly smooth smoke, great construction, and easy-going yet attention grabbing complexity. The Cameroon wrapper makes it naturally sweet and creamy with underlying notes of cedar as well as some slight pepper while the aroma is sweet and enticing to completely round this smoke out. So while this cigar isn’t flashy with gob-smackingly rich and decadent flavors like you would get from any number of the new releases coming out today, this is a great classic cigar for anyone looking for a truly refined and relaxing smoke from start to finish.
Lauren: To go with such an outstanding cigar, my pairing choice is the Lost Abbey Avant Garde Biere De Garde out of San Marcos, California. This medium bodied beer includes aromas of bread, toast, mild apple, with a little bit of must to round it out. Flavor wise, expect biscuit, fresh bread, and oddly enough some white mushroom. The balance is toward the sweet malt with gentle hop bitterness on the other side with a slight herbal note. Much like a farmhouse cellar – earthy and well-aged. The Cohiba and Avant Garde share similar flavor profiles, with each contributing unique characteristics for complexity. As Cohiba is very high end, I chose The Lost Abbey to match the quality.
Romeo y Julieta 1875 Bully and Red Rock Brewing Company Frohlich Pilsner
Jon: The Romeo y Julieta 1875 Bully is perhaps the most popular standby smoke in the entire industry. Thousands of boxes of this well-known cigar are sold every year for weddings, graduations, or just to enjoy any time of the day. But what makes this highly regarded cigar loved by all is twofold, starting with its rich history of success, tracing its roots back to Cuba in 1875 (hence the name). This longevity is due to the brand’s continued persistence in making each line of cigars they produce top quality. Secondly, the flavor appeals to a wide array of cigar smokers. With a mild to medium profile, this smoke is not too bold as to scare away greenhorn smokers, yet not too mild to turn off veteran smokers. Instead, they’ve found a happy medium of flavor and strength to keep both sides happy. Included in the flavors are notes of hay or barnyard, with baker’s spice and some black pepper peeking through for an added bite. Though this isn’t the most complex cigar on the planet, it is one of the most consistent and reliable.
Lauren: Consistency? Reliability? That’s the calling card of the Red Rock Brewing Company Frohlich Pilsner brewed right here in Salt Lake City, Utah. This low intensity Pilsner will greet you with aromas of a malt forward, almost cracker-like note, bread dough, spice, grassy hops, with some slight sweetness. Flavors include white bread and hay, with a peppercorn-like spice coming from the Noble hops. Gentle malt sweetness is balanced by a moderately aggressive hop bitterness. The body is light, and carbonation is moderate. The finish is gently bitter and crisp. This is one of those beer and cigar pairings that will work mostly through complementary flavors, I think. The cigar’s one-dimensional nature as well as spice character should match well with this easy-drinking pilsner featuring spicy Saaz hops.
Thankfully Lauren included brews that most of us can find outside of each brewery’s respective areas. Anchor Steam and Lost Abbey have made their way to the East Coast for us to enjoy, so to all of my Easterners, take the time to get to know how the West brews beer. To all those that live out on the West Coast, let me know what you think of these beer and cigar pairings in the comments below. A big thank you to Lauren for her help in putting together this article. Again, check out her blog at www.craftybeergirls.com to get some great inside knowledge of the craft beer industry.