Coming home from my microbrew mecca college town of Burlington, Vermont left me wanting. When you have breweries like Fiddlehead, Long Trail, Switchback, Rock Art and a seemingly endless number of local offerings at your fingertips, it comes as a shock when you’re back in New Jersey with zero clue as to what’s around your area to grab a good craft brew. Four years living away from home can leave you feeling like a tourist in your own hometown. Luckily, I found a job in another “Craft” market: cigars. The whole process of making cigars by hand is fascinating, and the flavors found in cigars mesh almost perfectly with the beer flavor wheel. Cigars had become been my go-to for flavorful craft products until a friend of mine called suggesting we hit up this brewery called Fegley’s Brew Works.
It was easy enough to embark on the 20 minute hike into Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to try out what the Lehigh Valley calls beer. With my standards set as high as possible, I saddled up on a bar stool, ordered a Fegley’s Steelworker’s Oatmeal Stout, took my first sip, and I became an instant fan. That same night, I brought a mixed 6-pack home and kicked back a few days later with a brew and a cigar. I was still new to the cigar industry and had only heard that cigars pair with brown liquor, never with beer. Oh, how wrong those old school smokers are. Craft beer and cigars are MADE for each other, and having found an epic brewery such a Fegley’s Brew Works right in the Lehigh Valley where my company Famous Smoke Shop calls home, I had a flavor duo that keeps my palate happy as can be, all within a 10 minute drive from each other. Pilsners and premiums, stouts and stogies, sessions and cigars; no matter what you drink, there’s a cigar that pairs with that sample you’re sipping. Luckily, I’m here to let you in on the 5 best pairings to go with this incredible brewery.
Creamy, rich flavor, full bodied, mild-medium strength… What, you think I’m talking about the beer? I’m actually talking about both. The 90 Miles 1980 is made by Flor De Gonzalez, which has their home base in Miami. This rather small boutique cigar is packed with rich charred flavors with a buttery flavor on the back end, and a creamy smooth finish. Pairing it with the Steelworker’s Oatmeal Stout was a no brainer. It shares the same qualities and flavor notes, amplifying similar flavors, and even drawing out hidden flavors in both the beer and cigars.
Just as Blonde Ales are a staple beer during the summer months, Romeo y Julieta cigars are a staple in the cigar industry. Blondes are known to having a crisp mouth-feel and refreshingly light flavor notes that please without overpowering. The 1875 is extremely similar in this regard, smoking with a similar snap courtesy of a light Connecticut wrapper. But the 1875 offers a hay-like flavor on the back end (similar to that in a traditional Belgian-style Saison) which really smooths out the brew. It completely transforms both the Knuckleball Ale and 1875 from two sources of enjoyment with a snap, to a pairing that offers a slightly heavier mouthfeel while taking some of the snap out of the picture without completely snuffing it out. This allows the silky smooth Connecticut wrapper to mingle perfectly with the natural sweetness of this stellar brew.
Goodness gracious do I love a traditional American Amber Lager when it’s done right. Some places seem to just thrown some hops and malt into a bathtub of boiling water, and call the result a lager. No thanks. But with Fegley’s, this handmade gem has just the right hints of malt, a slight hoppy back end, and a really pleasant mild caramel flavor somewhere in there. As for the pairing, we need to go into the ever maddening mind of Matt Booth with his Room 101 Uncle Lee. Made in the super-high-end Davidoff factory, this cigar puts off a slightly spicy flavor with an undertone of caramel. This is a pairing that seems like it shouldn’t go together, but the caramel connection binds the two together, while the unique flavors of each bring complexity to both the beer and cigar. This is a combo to really savor.
The Hop Explosion is not as intense as the likes of Heady Topper (Sorry, Alchemist cult followers. I love it, but it’s really intense), and I’m a big advocate of this offering. But to pair a cigar with a floral, moderately bitter IPA, it takes an equally intense cigar. Too bad cigars aren’t rolled with petunias because then this would be an easy one. But they aren’t, so I had to do some soul searching for an answer. What I got was the San Lotano The Bull. Rolled with an intense blend of full-bodied tobaccos and packaged in individual cedar sleeves, this full flavored cigar pairs perfectly with this IPA because of the woody/floral notes married into the cigar via the cedar sleeve. It’s hard to pair an IPA with a cigar, but if it’s full flavored with cedar notes like the ones found in the San Lotano The Bull, then it’s a pairing that will blend perfectly with all the flavors swirling around both the beer and cigar.
Cigars and craft beers are, simply put, symphonies of flavors. It takes trial and error to blend a cigar to find an end result that will appeal to the masses and give its beholder great flavor. Same with beer. Vats are brewed that in essence get poured down the drain if they just don’t hit the mark. Or they’re drank. If not, I volunteer to drink them. In any case, it only makes sense that one of the best high end yet still affordable cigars on the market is made by a composer: Avo Uvezian. The AVO Classic pairs especially well with the Steelgaarden Wit composed by Fegley’s. Both offer smooth, intricate, bubbly flavors that draw off each other for a combo that’s simply amazing. The citrus complements the silky mouth feel of the cigar, and the beer brings out extra flavors hidden in the rich blend of tobaccos.
Fegley’s beer has reignited that spark for craft beer that I thought I would lose by coming home from school. Their beers are spot on, and the flavors are as complex as the cigars I review. They exemplify what it means to be a craft brewery, only putting out 6,000 barrels a year across all their lines annually. When you see workers transfer mash and beer from one vat to another, label and cap bottles one at a time, and package their offerings to ship to waiting consumers mostly by hand, you appreciate the passion this incredible brand brings to the table. Having toured a seemingly endless number of breweries in my young adult life, I can honestly say these guys have that down-home work ethic to completely win over anyone who has an appreciation for a solid microbrew. And within those 6,000 barrels, the variety is nearly endless. With ever-changing taps to accommodate what appears to be almost weekly new offerings, these brewers have a tendency to change things up on a whim to keep our palates salivating to try what’s next. So next time you want to pick up a cigar and pair it with a beer, go for Fegley’s and experience just how much they will enhance your experience. And if you’re not into cigars, you should still go for Fegley’s Brew Works if you want a beer brewed with a passion unfound anywhere else in the industry.
Famous Smoke Shop – http://www.famous-smoke.com/
Leaf Cigar Bar – http://www.leafcigarbar.com/
Romeo y Julieta cigars – http://www.famous-smoke.com/brandgroup/romeo+y+julieta+cigars
The AVO Classic – http://www.famous-smoke.com/brandgroup/avo+cigars