A good cigar is one of the best (little) things one may enjoy in life.
What’s better than a cigar? A cigar plus a beer.
I am particularly passionate about Italian cigars. Some might taste a bit rough, rustic. Yet, there are also some outstanding Italian cigars on the market, unfortunately little-known outside Italy. In this post I will guide you through three beer & Italian cigar pairings, which hopefully will offer cigar aficionados some useful information on these products (hardly available elsewhere in English) and beer fans stimulating ideas for some unusual beer experiences.
Italian cigars all come in the typical stortignaccolo shape (see picture below). A stortignaccolo may be enjoyed alla maremmana (whole) or scorciato (halved). Either way, it really makes no difference in terms of flavours, as most Italian cigars use short-filler. However, in this post I will introduce you to cigars that use either long- or medium-filler. Therefore, I invite you to smoke them whole, just as you would enjoy a Caribbean cigar.
The beers I chose for this tasting session are from the UK, Italy and the US. I feel that most Italian cigars are quite strong (especially if compared to Caribbean ones), so I went for pretty strong beers too.
In case you were wondering, these are rigorously after-dinner experiences!
Our first beer will be the 'weakest', of course: Buxton Barrel Aged Double Axe (10.4% vol.; yes, it’s the weakest of the three), which I pair with Nostrano del Brenta il Doge. This medium-filler, handmade cigar is of relatively moderate strength and is made of tobacco from Habano seeds cultivated in Italy. Buxton’s elegant double IPA has a mild sweetness to it and tropical fruits, citrus, and resiny notes that match perfectly Il Doge’s aromas of honey, eucalyptus, balsamic and hazelnut.
For a somewhat similar experience you may try to pair Il Doge with any DIPA of similar strength, such as Magic Rock Human Cannonball, William Brothers Double Jocker or any of the Cloudwater ones. However, Buxton’s Double Axe is a very characteristic beer, which makes the pairing itself a pretty unique one.
The second beer & cigar encounter involves an Italian barley wine-style fruit beer: Cotta n.1 (11% vol.), by Opperbacco brewery, located in the centre of the Peninsula.
Cotta n.1 is made with pale malts only, which are caramelised by cooking the wort for six hours. Afterwards, quinces
are added to the wort. The beer is fermented and then matured for one year in wooden casks previously used to age Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine. I paired this very special brew with a Mastro Tornabuoni Long, a handmade long filler made of Kentucky tobacco cultivated in the Val Tiberina (central Italy).
The cigar’s aromas of hazelnut, wood and leather create an intriguing match with the beer’s honey, vanilla, ripe banana, toffee, fig and brown sugar notes.
The Mastro Tornabuoni gets slightly piquant towards its half, which helps balancing the heavy body of the beer and adds to the overall complexity of the pairing with further notes of graphite, coffee and dried fruits.
I can’t really think of a possible substitute for this beer. However, if you can’t get your hands on Cotta n.1 (it’s a very rare brew), you may also try to pair your Mastro Tornabuoni with another excellent Italian barley wine such as Baladin Xyauyù.
A bottle of Bourbon County Stout 2014 (14.4% vol.) represents the climax of this round of pairings. I’m particularly fond of this beer; one bottle was kindly handed to me by Goose Island founder John Hall himself, at the Jugged Hare in London a few months ago. I believe it’s the perfect beer for a cigar pairing. It was in fact the first beer I thought of, when I was planning this post.
The Bourbon County Stout is a luscious and opulent imperial stout, which will remain dominant throughout the whole length of the smoke.
The Toscano Originale is therefore the ideal candidate to stand up to such a brew. This is a top-strength, handmade stortignaccolo, bitter and slightly sour, with strong roasted and woody notes. Italian Kentucky filler and North-American Kentucky wrapper.
The stout’s dominant notes of charred oak, vanilla, caramel, tobacco, molasses and toasted caramel espouse the cigar’s earthy, mahogany, leathery and barnyardy aromas. My suggestion is to indulge in this pairing on a special occasion.
Other possible beers to pair with the Toscano Originale are AleSmith Speedway Stout, Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout or Firestone Walker Parabola.
An imperial stout is likely to be THE best match for a cigar, ever. Empress Catherine II knew it very well. Around the mid-18th century she was getting strong stouts from Britain (we all know how the story goes), and at the same time getting cigars from the Dutch. The Russian empress certainly played a role in the current popularity of the 'imperial stout' style; similarly, we owe her a debt of gratitude for today's widespread use of cigar bands. Catherine II had her cigars decorated with silk bands, so that her royal fingers would not become stained while she was smoking. I can easily picture her sipping a strong, dark, British brew while puffing on her cigar.
I’m pretty sure we would have got along pretty well. Such a shame you died two hundred years ago.
With my purest love and respect.
*In no way I meant to introduce anyone to smoking. If you like to taste beer, please remember that excessive smoking may impair your sensory ability.