Sunday, November 6, 2011

Barley Oak & Habana Port's Beer & Cigar Pairing


Greetings, barons of brew & belicosos. The Barley Oak is partnering up with Habana Port for a Beer & Cigar Pairing! The titans of their respective industries in St. Tammany join together for a first.

Starting at 5 PM this Wednesday, November 9, come out & enjoy an array of cigars selected by Habana Port with suggested beer pairings for each.

* Alec Bradley Family Blend T.11 - Lazy Magnolia Jefferson Stout
* Padron 4000 Natural - Stone 15th Anniversary Black IPA
* A. Fuente Hemingway Signature - Kostrizter
* Brick House Toro - Boulder Beer Hazed & Infused
* Romeo y Julieta Habana Reserve Belicoso - Abita Oyster Stout
* Trinidad Habana Reserve Belicoso - Northcoast Pranqster

And just in time to watch the best sunset in town! Now, read Mark Janes' journal entry regarding the process in which we selected the cigar and beer pairings last Tuesday:

November 1, 2011

It's tough work...but someone has to do it. OK, grin if you want, because I'm referring to a beautiful Tuesday afternoon on the balcony at The Barley Oak...with cigars, beers, and two great (and learned) friends (and a few more who soon joined us).

Our chore? To smoke a sampling of cigars Luis had chosen for the upcoming cigar and beer pairing event at The Barley Oak...with the stated purpose to find at least one of the craft beers on tap at The Barley Oak that we collectively believe pairs well with each stick.

Joining me were these two “experts” (although they really don't consider that label appropriate, but do have better-than-average knowledge and palate for their respective products)...Luis Molina, cigar purveyor extraordinaire at Habana Port Cigar Merchants in Covington, and Vanessa Gomes, general manager and all-around “beer gal” at The Barley Oak pub on the Mandeville lakefront (the venue for the pairing event).

My part in this? My mutual love of cigars and craft beers had similarly resulted in a cigar and beer pairing several months ago at what is arguably (really, no argument at all) the best craft beer bar in New Orleans, which also prompted the addition of a humidor for cigar sales in said establishment. So, for some time now, I've been thinking I should introduce Luis and “Van” to do something similar north of the lake at The Barley Oak. Several weeks ago that introduction took place at Habana Port and an event date was decided. Tuesday was the day agreed to meet in advance for taste-testing and pairing menu finalization. Because of my passion for both sticks and swigs, I was invited to join them in this effort and was referred to as the “conduit” for what I
can only term the surge of brain (and palate) power that flowed between these two in preparation for the November 9th event.

I did take a few notes we decided to share about our testing procedure and results. The specifics of each cigar and the recommended beer to pair are found on the Facebook page for this event at If you're on Facebook, please take a look and let us know if you're coming!

First up was the Alec Bradley Family Blend T11. We decided to give NOLA Brewing's seasonal Smokey Mary smoked ale a try. This is not a heavily-smoked (and often meaty) rauchbier style, but instead a lightly pecan-smoked brew. So, we found that AB's bold and complex cigar flavors simply overpowered it. Next we tried it with Stone's Escondidian 15th Anniversary Imperial Black IPA. In this case, it was the beer that overwhelmed the taste profile and we couldn't detect the wonderful character of the AB. But, the third time was indeed the charm. Thanks to Van's keen taste buds and suggestion, we gave Jefferson Stout from Lazy Magnolia a try and it turned out to be a great complement to this cigar. Always pushed with nitrogen (versus the more carbonating CO2 blend of gas) at The Barley Oak, it had just the right smooth “creaminess” along with the slight sweetness to allow flavors of both brew and cigar to shine.

Having already sampled three brews and with his memory of Padron 4000 (Natural wrapper) qualities, Luis instinctively knew that of the six cigars he brought, that one would most likely pair well with the Stone 15th Anniversary. So, that's what we tried next. And he was absolutely right. We didn't need to sample several beers to find one that worked (although that wouldn't have been bad duty); we agreed that this cigar and beer pairing was our strong recommendation in common.

Vanessa is no stranger to cigars (she is an aficionado) and Luis no stranger to beer (a homebrewer, as well), so each of them were well prepared to make pairing suggestions based on what they respectively know about each one's product forte. When Luis brought out the A. Fuente Hemingway Signature as our next cigar to pair, Van pondered the tap wall and came up with two possibilities to give a shot. The Köstritzer is a German schwarzbier (black beer) style. While dark in color, it is comparatively light in taste and not overly bitter. And while the Hemingway is certainly flavorful, we needed a beer that would again enhance both rather than have either overpower the other. From the first sip and puff, we all seemed to agree this was a great combo. But, Van had also thought we might try it with Brother Thelonious from North Coast Brewing. Before tasting, I would have agreed that this Belgian style dark ale might pair well...but as good as the brew itself is, we all found the combination a little off-putting for some reason. We decided to consider ourselves lucky with the schwarzbier and move on.

The Brick House Toro was next. (By the way, there was plenty of water to cleanse the palate after each beer and/or cigar.) Vanessa suggested we try Moylan's Extra Special Bitter...and on a hunch, also brought Saint Arnold's seasonal Christmas Ale. For whatever reason, I ended up with a hemp/pot kind of aftertaste from the pairing with ESB and Van picked up on that herself. We laughed that that might in itself be enough to encourage others to pair, but decided to look for something less specifically reminiscent. The “winter warmer” from SA wasn't a bad choice; in fact, we all gave it a hearty “maybe”...but Val decided to go back to the drawing board one more time. So, out came Hazed & Infused from Boulder Brewing. She was right on target. This hazy brew had just the right qualities to match perfectly with what Claudius (Van's “squeeze”) considered a unique smoke worth taking back to German friends.

Time was flying by and we all had other plans for the evening, yet two more sticks awaited our pairing savvy. Next was the Romeo y Julieta Habana Reserve Belicoso. Frankly, it's just a delicious cigar. For this, Van decided to grab a bottle of Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale. There's a nutty quality in this cigar that it was thought the Nut Brown might complement, but we all agreed it missed the mark. We tried Warsteiner Dunkel, too...but that pairing just lacked pizazz. I'll take credit for suggesting we give Abita's new Select series Oyster Stout a try. This time I was spot on. Seemed a very balanced and exciting pairing.

Finally, out came the Trinidad Habana Reserve Belicoso. We gave Saint Arnold Fancy Lawnmower a try, but this normally crisp and refreshing German Kölsch style beer just seemed unpleasantly thin when stacked against the richness of the Trinidad. Van suggested instead that North Coast's Pranqster, a Belgian style strong pale ale, might stand proudly with this cigar. We gave it a go and all three found quick agreement. To be honest, we all tried one more and enjoyed the beautiful Pas De Dieux saison from High & Mighty Brewing best with this cigar. But, it's very doubtful that brew will still be available on the 9th. Something about the flavorful spiciness and farmhouse funk just made it an exceptional pairing. But, no problem, the Pranqster does very nicely, thank you.

I'm often asked what characteristics are considered to match cigars and beers. There's no one right answer. In some cases, the two pair well because they have harmonious flavors, such as a spiciness/peppery or floral/citrusy quality found in both cigar and beer, or a similarity of sweet or common notes like chocolate, coffee or toffee. In other cases, it's a wonderful contrast and dissimilarity that makes for an interesting and delicious pairing (like the bite of a bitterly hoppy IPA with some naturally sweeter and milder smokes). What I can say for certain is that it is not as simple as the general belief that cigars with maduro wrappers pair well with dark brews such as stouts and porters. Think of all the dark wrapped cigars you've smoked and how different they can be from one another (not all maduro wrappers have the same taste and aroma). The same is true of stouts, which all are dark in appearance but there's a huge difference between a dry/lighter-bodied Irish stout and a rich, thick sweeter “chocolate” stout. Pairing is not automatic, it's inspired. And that's why we assembled the Three Pairing Amigos (ok, one amiga) to take on the challenge.

So, there you have it. You know the cigars. You've heard our collective pairing recommendation for each one. Come to The Barley Oak on Nov. 9 and judge for yourself. After all, taste is absolutely subjective and it won't hurt our feelings if you choose to disagree and find a better pairing of your own (in fact, we hope you'll come back here and comment about it!) We simply offer this guidance in a spirit of friendship among herfers and beer geeks. The rest is up to you!

~Mark Janes

So we hope to see you out at the Barley Oak for what will surely be a memorable event!

Until the next post, siempre fumando,
Habana Port

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