How to Pair Cigars and Beer?

How to pair cigars and beer

Hey everyone! Today I’m going to talk to you all about pairing cigars and beer. I’m really excited to have a chance to delve into this topic, so I want to give a quick shout-out to the Cigar Inspector team for letting me do this. Let’s see, a little bit about me … My name’s Robert. I’ve loved beers ever since my first ale and I’ve long been a connoisseur of craft beers—which have been more and more available in America in recent years, which is great. More recently I’ve gotten into premium cigars, and it didn’t take me long to realize that two things I love separately can go even better together.

I think that beer gets something of a bad rap. You say “beer,” and a lot of people drift right back to their college days when they were imbibing lots of cheap booze and playing embarrassing drinking games. Or you might think about the hundred cheap empty beer cans in your neighbor’s backyard. The beer landscape is transforming in America, though. Microbreweries are on the rise and it’s a lot easier to get your hands on a top-shelf craft beer than it was in the past. Imported beers and high-quality local beers are both more widely available, and we’re talking about a whole different world now.

Some folks seem to have the misconception that either your beer will overwhelm your cigars or vice versa, but it’s all down to smart pairings. The right beer can complement your favorite premium cigar just like the right scotch, whiskey, or bourbon. The trick, as usual, is to look for a beer and cigar with notes which either match or complement one another. If you can do that, the beer and cigar will enhance each others’ flavors and you will pick up on subtleties you would otherwise miss. Let’s break it down.

Ales

Beers fall into two main categories—ales and lagers (here is a very handy beer glossary). So let’s talk ales to start with. Ales on the whole tend to be richer, heavier beers. They’re often but not necessarily darker—let’s not forget pale ales (some of my favorite beers fall into this category). Because ales tend to be rich, however, they can easily take over your palate unless you pair them up with a stronger cigar. Drinking a medium- or full-bodied ale? Pair it up with a medium- or full-bodied cigar. The notes in a lighter cigar will get lost.

So let’s get a little more specific. For a porter ale for example, any cigar with darker, richer flavors like chocolate or espresso will work great. Cigars with maduro wrappers are a great choice, and I’d especially recommend a Nicaraguan maduro with a porter ale. The dark, rich flavors and sweetness accompany the porter ale great, with just enough spice to balance it out.

Stouts

For a proper stout like a Guinness, you’re going to definitely need a cigar that packs a full-bodied punch. Because Guinness has strong bitter notes, you may have a hard time finding a cigar strong enough to stand up to it without being too bitter itself, but the smoothness of Guinness makes it a great choice if you can find the perfect pairing. Another option for pairing with strong cigars is a barrel-aged ale or porter. Any of these would go great with a stronger maduro, but keep in mind that the color of the leaf alone doesn’t denote strength, since you cannot see the binder and filler. Ligero cigars use the strongest and richest leaves, and are quite popular these days.

Consider the Kristoff Ligero Criollo or La Flor Dominicana Cabinet Maduro. Another great one is the Tatuaje Cojonu 2003. Cigars like these pack a serious punch and are strong enough not to be overwhelmed by the stoutest Guinness!

IPAs and DIPAs

India pale ales pair up well with fuller-bodied cigars as well because they have a strong concentration of hops, which make them a little too bitter to pair up well with milder stogies. IPAs and DIPAs are toughies, but something “sharp” will work well. Look for a cigar that packs a flavor punch with spice or spiciness or even a floral edge. Several brands to consider include Illusione and the Cuban Ramon Allones and Montecristo. Cigars from these brands often feature some floral notes as well as other distinctive flavors that should stand out against the bitterness of the IPAs and DIPAs.

Lagers

Lagers, unlike ales, tend to have a lighter, cleaner taste, and are almost always lighter in color, but once again there are exceptions. Dark lagers can be quite delicious, especially for cigar pairings. If you are trying to pair a mild cigar, a lager is definitely the way to go, since the clean taste of the beer won’t overwhelm your palate.

For lagers, consider a cigar with a Connecticut leaf wrapper or another mild wrapper, but remember that the filler is going to contribute a lot of the strength (or lack thereof). Cigars with lighter-color wrappers are often milder, but not always! Steer away from ligeros. Some specific recommendations I’d give for pairing with lagers include the Cuban Por Larranagas or the Oliva Connecticut Reserve with the Connecticut Shade Ecuador wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler. Another nice choice is the Casa Toraño which includes an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper along with mild filler leaves from Nicaragua and Honduras.

Experiment and Find What You Enjoy

While my recommendations above give you a good starting point, it’s important to note that every person’s palate is different and one person’s perfect pairing could be a disastrous one for someone else. The general advice above should help you to get started on the right track, but remember that a beer someone else perceives of as “bitter” may not be as bitter to you. A cigar that you consider creamy and sweet may seem less so to another person. That’s why there is a lot of variation in specific pairings from person to person, even though the ground rules stay about the same.

The best way to figure out the right pairings for you is to experiment—which is all part of the fun! I suggest that before you try any pairing, make sure you have tried the stogie and the beer separately. Be sure to smoke the cigar from start to finish so you know what to expect! Then work on pairings based on your notes and intuition, and see what happens.

I’m going to be bringing more beer info and tips your way in the coming months, so I’d definitely appreciate your feedback. In the meantime, try out some of the ideas I’ve suggested. Any of you folks around here already into pairing beers and cigars? What are your favorite pairings? Share in the comments!

12 Comments on “How to Pair Cigars and Beer?”

  1. How about pairing coffee with cigars? I’ll supply the coffee!

  2. What cigar would to pair with Michalob Ultra with a lime twist?

  3. Heiko Blumentritt says:

    I had many beer-cigar-pairings. A combo that everybody should be able to try due to availability is Chimay Bleue and Montecristo (No 2).
    For Stouts and IPA’s you have to go with a cigar with an intensive taste. With Lambics it’s possible to pair which is less intensive.

  4. @Jim
    Could be a great idea, my coffee experience is limited to Nespresso so there’s some work to do here! :)
    @Heiko
    Thanks for the comment – I love the Chimay but haven’t paired it with a Montecristo cigar yet – will try it out.

  5. @Andre
    I haven’t tried this beer yet, looks like something very light so I guess only the mildest cigars would pair well. I must admit I’m afraid just about any cigar would overpower this beer…

  6. Excellent article. I’m a beer enthusiast myself and I’m just getting into cigars, so this is a great way to get started on the right path. So far I’ve been having some luck pairing up malty beers (like English style ones) with maduros, and I’ve noticed that beers with spice in them go great with a wide variety of stogies, especially those that have spicy notes as well. Goose Island Mild Winter is a great choice.

  7. I’ve never understood folks who think that beer and cigars don’t go well together. You definitely gotta put some thought into it so you don’t mess up your palate with an overwhelming combination, but there are a lot of beer notes and cigar notes that complement each other nicely, especially with dessert/festive beers and ales and sweeter cigars. La Traviata from CAO is one of my favorite cigars to pair up with ales. Hard to go wrong with the dessert notes in that cigar.

    With lighter cigars I usually go for wheat beers. IPAs are tough, but not impossible to pair. The key seems to be to find a cigar that can match the beer’s intensity without doubling up on the overwhelm factor. I really like Fuente Queen B and Fuente Between the Lines, both great choices for IPAs. That said, IPA pairings still are not really my favorite. I’m sort of proud of myself for finding pairings that work, but I still prefer the sweeter/dessert type pairings like La Traviata that I mentioned above with the dark ales.

  8. Anybody have any luck with IPA pairings? Robert, I notice you mentioned a number of cigars to pair with IPAs. But which IPAs specifically would you suggest? I have a really hard time with these pairings. Most of the IPAs I like just seem to be too bitter, which overwhelms every cigar I try.

  9. @Sorrento
    Admittedly these pairings are the most difficult, I can see very well what you’re talking about. From my experience, the lighter, not too hoppy IPAs pair better with cigars. You can try Snake River Pakos, Bell’s Half Hearted or Great Divide Titan, among others.

  10. @Sorrento @Robert
    I avoid IPAs and cigars completely. I haven’t found a single pairing that works for me, and I’ve ruined many a cigar by trying. I’d much rather stick with pairings I trust … like a full-bodied maduro with a barrel-aged stout or porter. I also love a good pale ale and something lighter. Cigars with Connecticut wrappers go great with pale ales. I’ve met people who like them with IPAs, but I am not one of them. Then again, I don’t really like a lot of the more bitter/sharp cigars, and especially avoid those with floral notes. I don’t like the edge they put on the flavors.

  11. My favorite pairing so far is Lagavulin Distillers Edition and Partagas D4. Heard that recommendation a few times and gave it a try and was sold. I’ve found a few other pairings that I like, but none like that. Perfectly complementing flavors, very balanced. Beers in general don’t go as well with cigars in my opinion as scotch or bourbon. Rum can make a great pairing as well, especially if you’ve got a dessert-style cigar.

  12. You left out the Belgian ales?!

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