Letting the Smoke Get In Your Beer

Written by The Malt Monk




At the risk of offending some, I’m writing about my two favourite weaknesses: craft beers and hand-crafted cigars. One of the emerging trends in crafted beer circles is pairings with hand-crafted cigars. If you enjoy a fine cigar with a brandy or port, you will probably enjoy that cigar with an intense artisanal ale as well. When you get a great brew matched with the right cigar, it’s a sensory banquet. I don’t pretend to be a cigar expert, nor will I recommend specific types — cigar taste is as divergent as beer styles. I’ll leave that to the cigar magazines or your local cigar store owner’s recommendations. However, you only need the basics of cigar configurations and flavours to get started.

Size Counts 
Cigar length is relevant to the character of the smoke. Length ranges from 4 to over 7 inches and width (ring gauge) range from .25 inch to over an inch in diameter. Cigars with smaller diameters provide a more intense smoke. Conversely, cigars with larger diameters produce smoke that is fuller in flavour. When pairing cigars to beer, the general rule of thumb is this: the lighter and more subtle the character of the beer, the smaller and more lightly coloured the cigar should be.

Wrap That Rascal 
The cigar’s wrapper is a large part of the cigar’s flavour/aroma character. Typically, the darker the wrapper, the more full-bodied, earthy and robust the cigar, and conversely, the lighter the wrapper’s colour, the lighter the taste will be. The wrapper types you need to know about range from light to dark as follows:

• Candela (light green, herbal, herbaceous, leafy);
• Claro (light yellow/brown, toasty, woody, light spice);
• Colorado Claro (light brown, toasty-cocoa);
• Colorado (medium brown, roasty, cocoa-coffee);
• Colorado Maduro (fudge brown, roasted cocoa nibs);
• Maduro (dark porter brown);
• Oscuro (blackish brown, deeply earthy and robust).

Stuffing Matters 
Blended filler tobaccos create a wide variety of distinct impressions when combusted. A complex conjugation of flavours is derived from fillers blended from various growing regions, curing styles and climates. Here’s a short, rough summary:

• Dominican (generally a milder, toasty, even sweet tobacco, my favourite fill to pair with a Colorado wrapper and light and amber ales, even some fruit beers);
• Honduran (slightly more full-bodied or spicy than Dominican, my go-to filler for imperial wheat ales and hellerbock);
• Havana (medium- to full-bodied, goes well with most dark or tawny Trappist ales);
• Jamaica (mild, lighter than Dominican, a spicy filler for specialty ales like barreled strong and spiced ales);
• Maduro (dark, deeply cured tobacco ranges from sweet and mild to powerfully rich and heavy with earthy-chocolate-coffee flavours, a natural for Imperial stouts, double porters, smoked porters, coffee stouts and dunkler doppelbocks).

Pairing the subtle and powerful flavours of craft beer and cigars isn’t much different than with foods. You want either complimentary or similar (sympathetic) flavour pairings, seeking a harmonious relationship between the flavours of your smoke and the malt and hops, which are all competing for your palate and nose. Neither should overpower the other. Common ground can be your best friend but pairings based on contrasting flavours work well too. One of my favourite pairings is a Maduro-wrapped Reyes classic and a Trappist dubbel. The roasty coffee notes coming from the cigar contrast with the dark ripe fruits and toffee tones found in most big ales. The contrasting flavours enhance the character of the other.

Taste, Don’t Inhale, Sip, Don’t Gulp
Remember that this is an act of pure sensation. Draw on the cigar slowly and run the smoke over your tongue and through the nose, then sip and savour the brew. You need the time and space to relish this guilty pleasure — cigar smoking is not really an indoor activity! I enjoy a cigar and brew pairing on my patio, or at the campsite, or after a great meal with a dark dessert beer in front of the fireplace. You have to discover that special place for yourself, just as you must find a favourite cigar that sets the whole experience up. Cheers and enjoy your search.

colossusMalt Monk’s Pick o’ the Month

A miraculous thing happened for me this year: my favourite beer style and my favourite craft brewer got together and produced what is (for me) the best artisanal dark weizenbock this side of the Atlantic. My go-to beer was Schneider Aventinus, an authentic Munich dunkler doppelbock weizen. But it now has a challenger in Side Launch Brewing’s Colossus Dopplebock Dunkelweizen. Michael Hancock, formerly of Denison’s fame, has really come into his prime as a brewing artisan and one taste of this delicious creation affirms that. The pour from
the tap puts a turbid cola-coloured brew in the glass with a puffy off-white cap which lasts well. Aromas and tastes of clove, succulent fruit and bubble gum meet roasty-cocoa and coffee tones, with a dry, clean finish. What a brew! I have reserved a fine Puros Indios Pyramid to enjoy with a bottle of this fine Weizenbock on my next ice fishing trip.


THE MALT MONK is the alter ego of D.R. Hammond, a passionate supporter of craft beer culture. He invites readers to join in the dialogue at maltmonksbeerblog.wordpress.com/

About the author

The Malt Monk

D.R. Hammond wrote for Eatdrink as THE MALT MONK for many years. A passionate supporter of craft beer culture, more of his writing can be found at maltmonksbeerblog.wordpress.com.