Jul 28

Beer pairing guide

While I have many favorite things that I truly enjoy in this world – the sound of the goal scoring horn at a Rangers game in Madison Sq. Garden… a perfectly seared, medium-rare porterhouse steak for 2 that’s actually just for me… and the searing metallic vocals of Judas Priest front man, Rob Halford – a premium cigar paired with a deliciously brewed concoction will forever rank high on my list. 

When it comes to hand rolled cigars, you could say I know my stuff. As an editor for Cigar Advisor magazine and a lover of the leaf for over 20 years, I’ve dedicated an awful lot of time to this wonderfully smoke-filled passion. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to visit cigar producing nations like Honduras and the Dominican Republic, walking the tobacco fields and touring the factories while gaining a life changing glimpse of an amazing, time honored industry.

As far as beer goes, I love the stuff, no – not the egregious piss water that flows from the Rocky Mountain marketing company, but rather, beer and ale brewed by masters who take their craft seriously – where body and flavor are truly an art form. Okay, no, I’m not an industry expert by any means, but I have a pretty well-trained palate and I sure as hell know what I like. I know what I like when I’m drinking beer on its own, when I’m pairing it with food, and most importantly for this article’s sake, when I’m imbibing an ice cold pint with a really good cigar. After a long-hard day at work, retreating to the back patio and firing up a tasty stick while downing some flavorful suds is my very own heaven on earth.

Red ChimayI’ve really grown to enjoy Belgian Style ales, and Chimay is an absolute favorite of mine. The complexity of their brews pair so well with a nicely aged cigar. Chimay makes several different ales that are full-bodied, complex and just loaded with rich flavors. I like to pair it with darker, full bodied cigars that also have complex flavor profiles. What’s really interesting is that a cigar will often take on different characteristics when smoked alone, paired with a libation, and even when smoked with different kinds of libations. So my Nicaraguan Maduro can actually become a pleasantly different experience when smoking it with each different style of Chimay’s tasty offerings.

Chimay brews truly authentic Trappist ales. What does that mean? Well, on their official website it says it means, “It’s brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery under the supervision and responsibility of the monastic community, which is involved in the entire process of making and selling the ale.” That’s right, religious order monks craft this heavenly liquid and they’ve been conjuring this miracle at the Scourmont Abbey since 1862. It’s not all just praying, chanting and vows of silence at the Abbey, they also vow to brew some of the best tasting alcoholic goodness known to man, and to that I say, thanks be to God.

These monk brew-masters are serious about the quality and purity of their products, as well as how the revenue is generated and distributed. Their website even lists their stringent code of ethics:

ETHICS permeates the entire process of making and selling its products. This ethical fiber is embodied precisely in the following:

  • The bulk of sales revenue is used for social assistance.
  • Special attention is paid to ensuring the responsible consumption of ale.
  • The people who make these products are respected and valued.
  • Manufacturing based on 100% natural, protected ingredients.

Like I said, these brothers clad in robes and sandals are intensely serious about their most holy product.

While they have several offerings, I really enjoy both the Chimay Premiere which is the red label, and Chimay Grande Reserve, the blue label. These two elixirs just pair magnificently with a nice premium cigar. First I’ll tell you a little bit about these two brews and then I’ll give a few good recommendations for the cigars to match up with them.

The red label, the Premiere, is the oldest of Chimay’s ales. It’s got a gorgeous dark coppery color with a slightly sweet fruity taste. You get these wonderful notes of apricots, brown sugar and nutmeg and it is so velvety smooth going down. The blue label, the Grand Reserve, was originally brewed as a Christmas beer in 1948 and it was so popular that they kept on making it. It’s a stronger dark ale with a very rich aroma and smooth flavor notes of mulling spices and caramel.

Now for the cigars – they’re all full flavored and quite complex…

The Drew Estate T-52 pairs amazingly with the red label ale. This Nicaraguan stick is dark, oily and an over-the-top tasty full-bodied beauty. It sports flavor notes of nuts, spice, espresso, and a nice smack of cinnamon, which just goes so well with the fruitiness of the beer. Another stellar choice for the red is the Aging Room Maduro. With a Dominican binder and filler, it’s wrapped in a silky smooth, full-bodied Nicaraguan dark Maduro leaf that is sweet on the palate. There are notes of dark chocolate and an amazing taste that reminds me of figs and spice.

For pairing with the blue label, the Padron 1926 is an excellent choice. It’s a beautiful looking cigar made with all Nicaraguan leaf aged a minimum of 5 years with a dark, shimmering wrapper. The flavor profile is loaded with complex notes of dark chocolate, spice, a touch of pepper and a wickedly pleasant dark cherry on the finish. And yet another great choice that matches up so well with the blue label is the Inferno Flashpoint Maduro, a cigar with all Nicaraguan leaf inside and a dark, sweet, aged Mexican San Andres wrapper. You’ll find flavorful notes of coffee, cedar, and a nice spicy little touch of black pepper.

So there it is, a couple of wonderful Belgian ales that pair so amazingly with these premium, hand rolled, full-bodied cigars. Okay, now I’m thirsty as all hell and jonesing for a good smoke so let’s end this little piece and I’ll meet you at the cigar bar. 

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