The latest issue of Philly Beer Scene hit the streets last week and while I was thrilled to see my own Drachentöter Dunkelweizen recipe in the Homebrewer's Corner, I was even more excited by the "Not Beer" feature on HOPZ cigars.
At first glance I said to myself, "There's no way these cigars are made with hops." After actually reading the article I was pleased as punch to be wrong, that these HOPZ Craft Beer Cigars from Ted's Cigars are in fact seasoned with a helping of Centennial hops. The idea seems too good to be true and I couldn't believe it hadn't been done on a large scale before. I know there is quite the niche group of craft beer drinkers who enthusiastically pair their favorite beers with a complimenting cigar, just like cheese pairings. Now I don't claim to be any sort of cigar aficionado by any stretch of the imagination but do enjoy them from time to time. This marriage of hop and cigar was irresistible to me so I set out to find a shop that carried HOPZ and after 10 or so phone calls I found my prize at Tobacco Leaf in Lawrenceville, NJ...conveniently located just a short walk from a Joe Canal's.
Once I got back home I scoured my stash a big IPA with some Centennial in it. After a bit of research which included calling Sierra Nevada's taproom to ask about their Estate hops, I realized that Firestone Walker's Double Jack fit the bill perfectly with Centennial used late in the boil as well as part of the dry hop. And so I was poised for an epic pairing.
My oh so understanding girlfriend was well aware of the gravity of the situation and conceded to an evening of porch drinking while I geeked out over the night's festivities. I picked up a bottle of Spire Mountain's Dark & Dry Cider for her, got the perfect summer night playlist going, settled into the rocking chair, and then got out my cigar.
This baby smelled fresh. The hop presence was most definitely there, adding to the wonderful and earthy roasted aroma. I usually find Centennials to be a bit more citrusy but the pine aspects really stood out here. The ceremonial first drag was shockingly smooth, I was expecting it to be much more harsh and intense given the circumstances. The cigar had a pleasantly subdued sweetness to it to compliment the floral and woody flavors. Just like a good beer, this cigar was really well balanced and did not go overboard with the hops in order to make a point or appease the beer geeks out there.
I figured pairing this with such a fine DIPA like Double Jack could only enhance every aspect of each product. This beer has a big aroma, fresh and grassy with a pretty heavy helping of oranges and pine. There's just a bit of a sweet note that comes through, mainly the aroma just prepares you to be hopped up. It is a fine looking pour, clean white sticky head and a really clear orange-amber body. The taste is a little breadier than you would think given the nose but obviously the grapefruity and bitter orange peel kind of hoppiness dominates here. A spicier note of pine along with a bit of warmth from the alcohol accompany the citrus and end up with a really dry finish that leaves you wanting more. The cigar really did enhance the beer, the spicier flavors of each worked wonders together and the beer's more aggressive citrus characters helped bring out the hops of the cigar itself. This was the first time I really sat there and thought about a cigar while I smoked it and now I can see how people could fall in love with these sorts of pairings. It was definitely an experience that I hope any lover of big IPA's can indulge in because it not only makes you appreciate what's in your glass but it is also an easy transition into another affordable luxury.
From what I've gathered from talking to different shop owners, supply on these puppies is pretty limited but Ted's is trying to boost production so I would assume that they will be a little more readily available in the near future. For now you can order your own HOPZ on their website along with some swag or any number of their other intriguing cigars, the Maker's Mark may be next on my list.