Here’s a question: have you been to your local beer retailer lately? If you answered “Yes,” then no doubt you noticed the absolute explosion of new craft brews that are taking the industry by storm. This trend should remind you of the boutique cigar boom of the recent past. Consumers are more focused than ever on discovering unique blends made from carefully selected ingredients, and more than ever before they’re eschewing national brands in favor of these small, specialized brands.
The rules of the beer world are changing – that’s a fact. The next logical step for any cigar enthusiast, especially one who frequently enjoys boutique brands, is to do a little bit of research and uncover the perfect pairings of craft beers and cigars. To point you in the right direction, we’ve highlighted some of the more popular craft beer styles below and have also included some of our favorites.
Affectionately, it’s just called “hefe.” This type of beer hails from Bavaria and typically includes a 50/50 ratio of wheat and barley malt, and has a cloudy appearance when poured. It has some dry and tart characteristics, along with hints of cloves, apples, and spices. It also has just a hint of bitterness from the hops and is often served with a slice of lemon to cut the bitter edge (a practice that was popularized in America, and is a no-no if you’re drinking a true German hefe). If you’re making the transition from typical lagers to craft beers, a hefe is a good place to start.
We recommend: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (Germany), Ayinger Bräu Weisse (Germany), Live Oak HefeWeizen (Texas)
These beers are rich and malty, and they often feature notes of dark fruit such as figs or raisins. They usually have an alcohol content greater than 8% ABV and a medium-dry taste with a good amount of strength. Imperial stouts are dark brown to black in color. The amount of hops varies greatly on these beers.
We recommend: Founders Breakfast Stout (Michigan), Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (California), Victory Storm King (Pennsylvania)
IPA (India Pale Ale)
It’s all about hops with the IPA, which most beer enthusiasts agree is an acquired taste. American IPAs are often bitter with notes of herbs and citrus. The style of brewing IPAs originated in England, and the American craft beer market has emulated them in terms of style while simultaneously pushing the limits of strength and bitterness. This one is not for the faint of palate.
We recommend: Stone IPA (California), Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA (Delaware), Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (California)
Porter beer comes from 18th century London originally, and is well-hopped and made with brown malt. American porter is inspired by old-school brewing methods and can be barrel aged in either bourbon or whiskey barrels. The bitterness from the hops ranges from brew to brew, but most are well balanced and may include notes of coffee or chocolate to mask the burnt flavor.
We recommend: Smuttynose Robust Porter (New Hampshire), Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (Ohio), Fuller’s London Porter (England)
The word “tripel” refers to part of the actual brewing process where brewers use up to three times the amount of malt. With a deep, golden coloration and an aromatic, complex character, these beers are universally adored by the craft beer enthusiast. They include prominent hops and spicy notes of cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, clove, and sometimes even banana. Tripels are very alcoholic, but some of the best ones hide it well, so be sure to sip this one slowly.
We recommend: Chimay Tripel (Belgium), St. Bernardus Tripel (Belgium), Allagash Curieux Bourbon-Aged (Maine)
Even a quick skim of this article should make a few things abundantly clear. First, boutique cigars and craft beer have a lot of things in common, not the least of which is a dedicated and loyal fan base intent on uncovering the latest and greatest offerings. Second, the two are practically designed to pair well together, with tasting notes that are highly complementary. It’s no coincidence that we positioned the new Smoking Monk by Drew Estate right next door to this article. Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg for craft beer. There are tons of resources to help guide your decision and to further educate you on selection, and eventually, to help you find the ideal brew to enjoy with your favorite handmade. Copious sampling and plenty of trial and error is half the fun. Bottoms up!