Yes, beer has many friends; snacks, cheese, hamburgers, pasta, chicken, fish, etc.. Really any food can find the appropriate beer pairing. But if you are a beer connoisseur, and also love cigars, do you ever find it challenging to match a beer, rather than a more potent spirit with your stogie? Its easy to see why this can cause issues.
Cigars by nature are hugely aromatic and potent creatures. Even the lightest shade claros are going to be filled with a variety of perfumey tobacco smoke. Then when you start to get into Colorado or Maduro wrappers you really begin to unleash the full power and potency of a cigar. I mean, thats why we love cigars in the first place. And they do fit the world of spirits exceptionally well. But what about beer?
Its all about flavor here; both with beer and cigars. So lets start by examining the flavors that you are going to find in a cigar, and match the beer to it.
There are three primary factors that will affect the flavor, body and feeling of your cigar. They are the filler tobacco, the wrapper leaf, and the shape and size of the cigar. Filler tobacco is the largest component of a cigar, it is a mixture of one or more varieties of aged tobacco leaves that are bunched together by hand, then wrapped in a binder tobacco leaf to form the blend. The strength and flavor of each individual tobacco that is included in the blend will play a significant factor in the cigar’s overall strength, body, flavor, complexity, and draw. Typically, larger ring gauge (thicker) cigars can have more tobaccos in the blend, and thus create a more complex smoke.
The wrapper leaf is what everyone sees and touches on a cigar. It is the outermost layer and is often considered among the most important part of the cigar – this is of course because a poor quality wrapper will not be appealing to the eye, may feel bad, and will ultimately not make people want to smoke it. The wrapper leaf should be clean of imperfections, lush in oils, and its color should be consistent. The wrapper will play another large role in determining the overall flavor and character of the cigar.
Cigar manufacturers recognize over 100 wrapper shades, but they can be summarized into 7 primary colors as shown here. The lighter shades tend to represent a cigar with a lighter body, and a similar smoke flavor. As you go down the range getting into the darker shades the flavors that will accompany the wrapper become richer, more complex, spicier, bolder, and deeper. There is no best wrapper leaf, just like with beer, you have to find the shades that you enjoy the most. And the beauty of it is, is that many blends are rolled with multiple different shade wrappers; so you can really break down the flavors and determine which you enjoy, and which you don’t.
The final characteristic of your cigar that will affect how it treats you is the shape and size of it. There are two general shapes of cigars, each with a variety of sizes. A Parejo is the most common shape; it is a cylindrical cigar and has straight sides. A Figuardo is a cigar with an irregular shape, such as a tapering out towards the foot of the cigar, or a pointed head. The shape of your cigar will certainly affect the way is smokes in intricate ways, however the greater concern is the ring gauge and length.
The Ring Gauge of your cigar is a measurement of its diameter – measured in 64ths of an inch. Therefore a cigar with a 64 ring gauge (which is huge) would have a 1 inch diameter, and a cigar 32 ring gauge would have a diameter of 1/2 and inch. Most typically, the larger the ring gauge the bigger the body, and more complex the smoke will be. A larger ring gauge allows the manufacturer to use a greater variety of tobaccos, as well, a larger surface area of tobacco is ignited pulling a greater amount of smoke through the cigar. This is only a general rule however, even a thick cigar can have a light body or easy flavor; so if you are unsure of what the smoke will be like, you are best off to chat with your tobacconist and see what they have to say about the cigar in question.
The Length of your cigar will primarily affect how long you will be smoking it for, but it will also affect the flavor. A longer cigar will of course burn for more time that a short one, but also a longer cigar provides more tobacco for the smoke to flow through from light to mouth.
In Part 2 we will actually look at some cigar and beer pairings to determine what cigar characteristics match well with what beer styles.
Shown above from left to right (length x ring gauge): Rocky Patel, Olde World Reserve Corojo Toro (6.5 x 52); Alec Bradley, Tempus Criollo Genesis (5.5 x 42); La Flor Dominicana, Air Bender Guerrero (6.25 x 54); Alec Bradley, Prensado Corojo Robusto (5 x 50); Alex Bradley, Maxx Vice 6T2 (6.5 x62)