A traditional companion for a good cigar is often a strong spirit – perhaps the subtle sweetness of an aged rum or brandy or the heady, smoky nose of a fine single malt Scotch. But what about the often overlooked cigar pairing – beer?
Pairing any two full-flavored comestibles isn’t easy and there are of course both good and bad choices to be made. You probably wouldn’t enjoy a cigar with a crisp Hefeweizen any more than you might drink a tannic red Chianti wine with raw oysters in lemon vinaigrette. Give me that refreshing pale Hefeweizen with those oysters and that’s a good match. And if you want to drink that young Chianti, free up the pasta pot and load on the Bolognese sauce. A 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 may 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 Budweiser, right?” Similarly, the average non-cigar enthusiast can’t make heads or tails of taste differences between, say, an aged Dominican puro, a smoky-sweet Honduran-grown Corojo or the rich creaminess of a Nicaraguan handmade. Of course, there are distinct differences, but it can take time to educate your palate enough to distinguish the taste and appreciate the flavors and aromas. They exist, and they are appreciated by cigar lovers 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 thought as to which flavors and textures will best complement the others. Of course to some, cigars will always taste like burning tobacco while all beer will taste like a Bud and nothing more. But there is a lot more to beer, and a lot more to cigars, as fans of either will happily tell you.
The immediate effect of a cigar on your taste buds is potent. If you plan to eat or drink during or immediately after burning 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 will continue to contribute to whatever you are eating or drinking. Paired properly with the right food and beverage, say a dark barley wine or a peaty single malt scotch may be a match made in heaven. The peaty-rich nose and the finish of perfectly ripe apricots offered by a barley wine, in combination with a cigar’s potent contribution of a creamy smooth taste with hints of cedar and spice, can be a wonderful combination.
The bottom line is that you can match cigars with beer, wine, food or spirits – all you have to know is what combinations you do and don’t enjoy, which is simply knowledge gained through experimentation. It goes without saying that your own taste buds are the final arbiter of what is right on your table.