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The Winter Warmer Holiday 12-Pack

Michael Marsh
Posted: December 30, 2003

If you're like most lovers of the leaf, you'll most certainly be spending New Year's enjoying a number of your favorite cigars. Maybe a Padrón here or a Fuente there, or how about one of those tasty-looking Cubans you have stashed away in the bottom of your humidor?

It also means you'll be pairing those cigars with libations, and it's likely those potent potables will include a few measures of Bourbon, a dram or two of Scotch or perhaps even a stick of rum splashed into your eggnog. And why not? The winter months are upon us and we all need the occasional spirit to warm up our insides.

But say you're a beer drinker. Or, let's put it another way: aren't we all beer drinkers? What happens then? Brown spirits have always gotten the nod as the best drinks to pair with cigars because they're complex, full-bodied and they taste so damn good. But aren't there any beers out there that are up to the challenge?

Well, 'tis the season. If you take a look in your local beer stores around this time of year, you'll find a number of hearty brews that will not only warm the paunch, but will also hold their own with a cigar. Many breweries have released their winter seasonals and others have given special attention to fuller-bodied beers that are heavy in character and, usually, higher in alcohol. Traditionally, these include such styles as India Pale Ale, strong ale and barley wine, stout and porter.

With so many beers on the market today, it can be difficult for a consumer to select one that he'll not only like, but that will also pair well with a cigar. Trial and error can be a good thing -- and is necessary in a lot of circumstances -- but it's always good to have an idea of what your palate is looking for, while keeping in mind the cigars that you normally like to smoke.

To help you on your way, we did a tasting of winter brews, winnowing the list down to 12 fine brews. We're only scratching the surface, but these 12 beers offer a good starting point for any beer drinker looking for a few brews to suck on during the holidays. We tasted each beer on its own, then again with two cigars: a medium-bodied C.A.O. Criollo Bomba from Nicaragua and a fuller-flavored Cuban El Rey del Mundo Choix Supreme.

Here are the results.

Allagash Grand Cru
(Allagash Brewing Co., Portland, Maine)
Since it opened in 1995, the Allagash Brewing Co. has dedicated itself to crafting Belgian-style ales and the classic brewing methods first practiced by monks in Belgium during the Middle Ages. This dedication has won the company gold medals at the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival.

Allagash Grand Cru is the brewery's winter seasonal, and rightly so. Grand Cru tastes like the holidays. It has a cinnamon and spice aroma, with a light trace of citrus and fruit. Spice flavors abound, with notes of malt and nutmeg, and it is bright, balanced and not too sweet or heavy.

Both the C.A.O. Criollo and the El Rey Del Mundo Choix Supreme paired well with the Grand Cru, as each reacted splendidly to the spices in the ale.

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