919 East Colfax Avenue
Denver, CO 80218
Tel: (303) 832-2440
Cigar lovers often enjoy rum, cognac, scotch, or port with their smokes, but there is a plethora of other possible pairings. Colorado is justly famous for craft beer, and according to the April 8, 2013, edition of Time, 2012 saw a 72 percent annual increase in U.S. exports of craft-style brews. So I headed over to Capitol Cigars, owned by longtime resident and entrepreneur David Engleberg, to determine if some of our state’s best cereal-based quaffs could possibly match up to his selection of fine stogies.
Tasting/smoking panel held March 26, 2013 at Capitol Cigars in Denver (www.coloradocigars.com). Attendees: David Engleberg, Mike Marlow (Capitol Cigars Manager), Joseph Owen (Consultant) and your humble correspondent.
Engleberg, who has been a cigar smoker most of his adult life and was a frequent customer of Capitol Cigars before he bought the store three-and-a-half years ago, wants it to be a place for both novice and inveterate smokers. “We have a knowledgeable and polite staff that will do its best to offer suggestions and recommendations to satisfy every need. In addition to our large humidor and tremendous selection of fine cigars, we have a comfortable smoking lounge offering free wifi and complete beverage service including beers, liquor, and wine.”
Due to its proximity to the state capitol, many politicians from state and municipal government come by to enjoy the lounge. “They’re from all political parties,” says Engleberg, “and meet here on common ground to have a good cigar and a cocktail or other beverage. It’s not our policy to divulge our customer list, but if you come down you’ll probably recognize some familiar faces.”
Great beer can handle a lit stick
To answer the initial question, yes, terrific craft beers (especially darker versions) pair magnificently with good smoke. Bubbles help a lot by scrubbing the mouth after each sip (sparkling wine also does the trick). But my research also revealed that the right choice depends on emphasis, whether you want beer with a cigar or a stogie with suds.
Joseph Owen is a consultant to Capitol Cigars who has an M.B.A. in Hospitality Management from Southern Illinois University Carbondale (the same place he got his Mechanical Engineering Degree) and has built cigar programs at the Brown Palace Hotel and the Broadmoor Hotel. He’s excited about the recent explosion in craft bottlings that translates into more choices for the serious smoker. “Aged beers with higher alcohol levels, which clean the mouth in a similar way as do bubbles, are also a great way to test your tastes.”
Manager Mike Marlow, who has been with the company three years, says that another element is similarity of production. “They’re both handmade products so consistency can be a moving target. But that’s what you have us for! There is a lot of blending of terroirs with both cigars and beers, which can impact each product’s expression. Of course, tobacco has only undergone serious quality blending for the past 100 years or so. Beer’s history is much longer than that!”
Owen urges lovers of good beer and cigars to freely experiment. “There are a lot of craft beers out there so enjoy!” Of course, Marlow believes that this research is best done in a friendly environment like that at Capitol Cigars. “We have a sense of community and adventure here that puts everyone at ease.” As for the future, Marlow and Owen are working on a signature cocktail while continuing to scout for exciting new beverages and stogies for the lounge and bar. Two other employees, Lewis Lefevre and James Blake, also serve as able assistants to a customer’s selection process.
Beer: Oscar Blues Little Yella Pils (Lyons, Colorado) $9/six-pack of 12-ounce cans
Cigar: Joya de Nicaragua Cabinetta (Esteli region of Nicaragua) $8-12/cigar
Marlow says that this pairing was tricky because lighter wrappers, especially those that are less intense, in the main sun-grown and barber pole (blended), are what usually pair best with daintier beverages. “But we settled on the Cabinetta even though it is capped with a Madura wrapper on the head. The rest is a lighter Connecticut shade and causes the cigar to start with a light hint of dark chocolate. As the cigar progresses it gains strength, the dark chocolate flavors growing pleasingly bitter without overpowering pilsner’s more pungent elements.” Something else to consider with wrappers is relative oiliness. Those that come from, say, Cameroon are often more unctuous and more strongly-flavored than Cuban, which tend to be drier, almost parchment-like.
Beer: Odell Brewing Company 5 Barrel Pale Ale (Fort Collins, Colorado) $9/six-pack of 12-ounce bottles
Cigar: Perdomo Champagne (Nicaraguan with a Connecticut wrapper) $8-12/cigar
Marlow and Owen feel that because the Perdomo is a lighter cigar it won’t overpower the flavor of mid-textured beer. “The Perdomo has some very nice light wood and earth notes to go with the hops,” says Marlow. “But, as the name Champagne would indicate, it has a light, bubbly texture on the delivery. This smoke leaves only a slight impression on the tongue and does not linger, so there is a lack of that distinct cigar aftertaste that could be a negative in this context.”
Beer: New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale (Fort Collins, Colorado) $9/six-pack of 12-ounce bottles
Cigar: Crown Heads Four Kicks (made in the E.P. Carillo factory in the Dominican Republic) $9-13/cigar
The Four Kicks, made by former CAO blender John Huber, brings a chocolaty element to this fruity, malty beer that snuggles up nicely. Fat Tire is a Colorado classic, and it makes sense to pair at least one cigar with a true Mile High original.
Beer: Left Hand Brewing Company Blackjack Porter (Longmont, Colorado) $9/six-pack of 12-ounce bottles
Cigar: Illusione Corona Gorda (Nicaraguan wrapper, binder and filler) $8-12/cigar
Beer is less robust than most other cigar-worthy beverages and thus it usually requires a milder smoke. But darker suds have more flavor than light and can stand up to big-boy ash. The stick has hints of almond, pomegranate, and cinnamon alongside black olive and mushroom. It balances mocha-tinged porter extremely well.
Beer: Avery Brewing Company Out of Bounds Stout (Boulder, Colorado) $8/six-pack of 12-ounce bottles
Cigar: Ashton VSG Illusion (extra-aged Ecuadorian wrapper and a long-aged blend of six Cuban-seed Dominican longfillers plus an extra-rich Ligero leaf) $8-12/cigar
This bundle of burning leaves’ dried fruit character is perfectly suited to smoky exploration. Stout often tastes smoky to me and so this seems the perfect solution. The deep, rich blueberry and black tea tones of the cigar come alive when in contact with this strong beer’s pulsating dark chocolate and orange peel.
Certified sommelier and unfilteredunfined.com editor-in-chief Ben Weinberg, JD, MBA, pens Weinberg’s Wine Tech in Sommelier Journal and has written for the Daily Beast, Worth Magazine, The World of Fine Wine, Wine Enthusiast, and The Tasting Panel Magazine, where he is the Rocky Mountain Editor. He also leads luxurious, behind-the-scenes tours of the world’s most famous wine regions via WineOnTheRoad.com.
Ben can be reached at BentheWineBerg@coloradostatesman.com