Thanks to a massive craft revolution over the last two decades, beer is no longer second fiddle to spirits in the cigar world.
Anyone who’s smoked a cigar with a couple of watery cans of Whatever Light knows that most beer can’t hold its weight against a smoke, but once you get above a certain darkness factor or number of IBUs, it’s game on.
Yes, single malts and cognac may come to mind first, but the world of pairings is more varied and exciting with beer, including dark beers like the new 2015 Stone Brewing Imperial Russian Stout.
Stone Brewing ambassador “Dr.” Bill Sysak says that beer has more versatility in pairings not just because of the range of products available, but because of the permutations you can pair out from there. “I’ll actually pair a beer with each third of a cigar,” he explains, because the cigar’s flavor profile changes over the course of its smoldering lifespan.
“With craft beer, every pairing has both contrasting and complimentary notes. If you took a lighter cigar like a claro (Connecticut wrapper) or double claro (Candela) where it has grassy notes, a lot of times it will play right into something like an IPA.”
IPAs, of course, are among the most popular styles in the market these days, so if you’re a beer guy new to cigars, try picking your beers first (with a longer cigar you can enjoy about three pints before it burns down entirely). Coincidentally, Stone’s Enjoy by 4.20.15 IPA is on shelves, and the freshness clock is ticking.
But where the average cigar really shines is in darker styles, with darker cigars. Sysak says the “basic and breakable rule is to pair light to light, dark to dark.” And that’s why this is a particularly special time in Stone’s release calendar. Stone has two imperial stouts out right now that blow the roof off the cigar pairing game.
Consider the history: imperial stouts get their name from a style created to satisfy Catherine the Great’s love of stouts from western Europe. Beers traveling that far had to have the alcohol content beefed up to make the long journey across the continent, which is why they’re fuller-bodied.
Sysak says this year’s is very, very bold. “It has a huge aroma of chocolate and coffee. When you taste it, it has espresso notes. It’s just delicious. And it goes great with food and cigars.”
There’s also an odd-year release, if you can get your hands on it. It’s an altered Imperial Russian Stout with chai spices. “We take the base recipe and just add in something extra - a little boost,” says Sysak. “One year we did anise, this year we did chai spices.”
And in case you feel a bit overwhelmed at picking out a smoke for such a special beer, he sends out both beers with a series of recommendations:
2015 Stone CHAI‐SPICED Imperial Russian Stout ("Odd Year" Release)
10.6% ABV, 65 IBUs
La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Digger, Padron Anniversary Series, Illusione MJ12 Maduro