As many of you may know, beer can be paired with a great many things. Some, such as Brooklyn Brewery’s Garret Oliver, claim that beer has even greater versatility than wine when paired with all types of food. What may not be apparent, however, is that beer can also be paired with cigars.
That’s right scotch, bourbon and brandy, we’re coming for you!
Conventional wisdom and the reigning popular consensus is that cigars typically will pair well with big, heavy stouts or barley wines. This is most likely due not only to the thicker body but the flavors of oak, chocolate or even bourbon notes imparted from barrel-aging that these beers often undergo.
All that is about to change.
Ted’s Cigars offers Hopz, cigars that are infused with 100% Centennial hops. Ted’s claims that these cigars pair well with IPAs, especially IIPAs. This seems an audacious statement as past experiences of having a cigar with IPAs have been unpleasant. The sharpness and bright notes of IPAs become dulled and clash with the nature of a good cigar. Putting the two together seemed to ruin the experiences of both. But I’m up to try anything once and, if it feels good, twice, so I got a hold of some Hopz to see if the claims were true.
The fine folk at Ted’s kindly sent me some samples, carefully and handsomely packaged in a box and with a cap-lifter to boot! Yay, Ted’s! For the review, I opted for one of their 6×50 Toro guessing it would smoke long enough for me to work my way through a few beers. Besides, it was muy macho. The smaller 5 x 38 Petit Corona would have to wait for another time.
Ambience and accoutrements can add a lot to an experience and whenever I smoke a cigar, I like to bust out the Tommy Bahama ashtray my lovely and tolerant wife bought for me. Cigar, ashtray, cutter all at the ready, all that remained was to select some beer.
The Hopz was already reviewed against a double IPA so I thought to try it out against IPAs that could be considered sessionable. I selected Founders Centennial IPA. Though I normally enjoy contrasting pairings (cheesecake instead of chocolate cake with chocolate stout) I figured a Centennial hops-infused cigar would certainly complement a wholly Centennial-based IPA. I also opted to test it with Uinta’s Hop Notch, another citrusy everyday drinker, and a 2009 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout just to see how it worked with a “traditional cigar beer”.
The Hopz cigar came in its own glass tube. The plastic cap had a foam insert that was redolent with hop smell. Initial sniffing of the cigar only revealed trace hop aroma. I became suspicious that this would not be the sublime experience I was looking forward to. The cigar itself seems well-made, substantial and medium in color. According to the website, it’s a Cameroon wrapper made with long leaf tobacco. I’m no expert and I don’t know exactly what this means but it sure looks good to me.
There was some hop character as I held it in my mouth before lighting it. The cigar took the flame evenly and was incredibly smooth, not like some really dark cigars I’ve had in the past where the bitterness and acidity of the wrapper was too much. So far, I was enjoying the smoke.
I took a swig of the Founders then pulled on the cigar. Surprisingly, there was no acrimonious clash, no riotous revolt amongst my taste buds! Hmm, so far so good! But was this cigar truly a perfect match to IPAs or is it simply successful by being a “non-event”? Does it work only because it doesn’t clash? I needed to ponder this further so I drank and smoked some more.
As I got further into both the cigar and the pint glass, it seemed that the cigar did, in fact, augment the hop profile of the beer. The bright, citrus notes of the IPA seemed to be more prominent and lively and, if I can borrow a term from Garret Oliver, “snappy”, even! Admittedly, I don’t think I’m getting much hop from the cigar itself except maybe faintly in the aftertaste (after exhaling and doing a little “schmack schmack” test) but so far it seems to be holding up its claim.
After finishing the Founders, I started on the Hop Notch and continued to smoke. Though Hop Notch seems more “cat pissy” (in a good way) than the Founders, I found that the Hopz did not make the sharpness of this IPA unbearable and still continued to work with it in harmony.
Up next was the 2009 Bourbon County. This is a quintessential cigar beer and I was concerned that maybe the hop-accenting qualities of the Hopz cigar may clash drastically with this beer. Surprisingly, this was not the case either and though the cigar lent a sharpness to the Bourbon County, it was subtle and just made it seem like a hoppier stout. Though the experience with the Bourbon County was not a bad one, Hopz’ forté is most certainly with big hopped brews.
Overall, this was a great cigar. It provided a smooth, even smoke and indeed paired well with IPAs, a tricky feat to accomplish. It’s great to know that hopheads like me have options should we want to enjoy a smoke with our usual beverage of choice. Hopz is available online from their website or at select smoke shops. Seek them out and pair them with your favorite IPAs and double IPAs. I’ll be stocking up on a few myself!
Lawn Guyland, NY