The Art of the Good Cigar

A Matter of Taste

Beer and the art of the good cigar: matching your brews

Posted by herfergrrl on June 19, 2009

The traditional pairing for a good cigar has generally been a strong spirit – the subtle sweetness of an aged Cuban rum or Spanish brandy, or the heady, smoky nose of a fine single malt Scotch or whiskey are faithful and true cigar companions. But what about beer? Let’s take a closer look at the flavors of some of the world’s great brews, and see if there might be any suitable matches.

Pairing any strongly flavored consumables (beer, wine, food, cigars, spirits) isn’t always easy, and there are certainly both good and bad choices to be made. I would not smoke a cigar with a crisp Hefeweizen any more than I would drink a tannic red Chianti wine with raw oysters in lemon viniagrette. The results would be disgusting.

Give me that refreshing pale Hefeweizen with those oysters, or a steely Sancerre, and that’s a good match. And if you want to drink that young Chianti, fire up the pasta pot and load on the Bolognese sauce. This hearty Italian dinner would also be a fine time to pop a rich deep stout with the strength to carry its own weight under the load of acidic tomatoes and savory, spicy chunks of sausage.  

The average non-beer drinker (or worse, the “beer” drinker who has never had anything but Bud or Coors) does not know the difference between, say, a lambic, a wheat beer and a smoked porter, and wouldn’t have a clue what foods or what other beers they would and wouldn’t pair well with. “Beer’s beer, and it all tastes like Bud, right?”

Similarly, the average non-cigar smoker can not tell the difference between a light, grassy-earthy Mexican tobacco, a smoky-sweet Honduran maduro or the powerfully rich and complex savor of a classic Cuban. There is a difference, but it can take time to be able to educate your palate enough to be able to taste and appreciate the flavors and aromas. They do exist, and they are appreciated by cigar aficionados in much the same way that the different flavor profiles of various beers can be enjoyed. Pairing them together is a feat that takes some thinking about which flavors and textures will best complement the others.

Of course, to some people a cigar will always taste like a smelly burning leaf, or like a cheap strong nicotine fix. And to others, a beer will always taste like a Bud, or be just a cheap way to get plastered. But there is a lot more to beer, and a lot more to cigars, as the sincere fans of either of these things will happily spend hours telling you.

There is no medical evidence that moderate cigar consumption has any long term effect on the ability to smell or taste. Some of the greatest chefs in the world, men and women whose livelihoods and professional reputations depend on their sharp palate, are also cigar smokers.

However, immediate, short term effects of a cigar on your tastebuds are undisputable and potent. If you plan to eat or drink during or immediately after smoking a cigar, your choices need to be made carefully to avoid a mismatch. The smoky, cedary bouquet of a strong cigar can linger on your palate for hours, and it will continue to contribute to whatever you are eating or drinking.

Paired properly with the right food and beverage, say a luscious dark barleywine or a peaty single malt scotch, a Caesar salad rich with garlic and anchovies and capers, tenderly braised venison with sage risotto, this match may be made in heaven. I adore puffing on a creamy Vintage Butera cigar while I lick my lips over quail seared in a rosemary-chestnut crust and served on a bed of smoked onions and morel mushrooms. For a beverage, I would choose Old Nick barleywine for its peaty-rich nose and the finish of perfectly ripe apricots. The cigar’s potent contribution: a creamy smooth smoke with hints of cedar and spice.

Yes, you can match cigars with beer, wine, food or spirits – if you understand how these things work, and you have enough experience to know what combinations you do and don’t enjoy. Your own taste buds are the final arbiter of what is “right”, at least on your dining table, so you should use expert opinions as a starting place for your own explorations rather than accepting them as the only politically or socially correct ones.

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