Some say it's impossible to pair a premium cigar with an American-style India Pale Ale, and while it pains me to admit it, they are largely right.
Often the crisp, dry finish of a typical American IPA doesn't mesh well with smoke, but instead cuts right through it, acting more like a palate cleanser rather than a flavor partner. Even worse, the normally pleasant, hop-forward bitterness of an IPA can sometimes latch onto the bitter notes of a cigar and overwhelm your palate. (Remember the absurd bitter beer face commercials of the ‘90s? Something like that.) While some IPA and cigar combinations do exist—and work well—largely the two are best left to enjoy on their own.
For those looking to match smoke with a beer featuring a strong hop-profile, Double IPAs, or DIPAs for short, are perhaps the best answer. By definition, based on the Brewers Association 2013 Beer Style Guidelines, DIPAs, also called Imperial IPAs, offer higher hop bitterness, flavor and aroma than American IPAs. However, in order to balance out all those hops, DIPAs possess a higher malt character along with higher alcohol content. It is these two qualities that make them such good candidates to pair with premium smokes.
Recently, Dogfish Head Brewery and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. released a remarkable DIPA called Rhizing Bines. The brew is the first collaboration from the two breweries since they released Life & Limb in 2009. The brew was largely the brainchild of Sam Calagione, president and founder of Delaware-based Dogfish Brewery, and Brian Grossman, son of Sierra Nevada Brewing co-founder Ken Grossman. (The name Rhizing Bines refers to the hop plant, which is often mistakenly called a vine but is technically a bine. While vines use suckers and tendrils to climb, bines have tiny hairs that aid their ascent.)
Rhizing Bines is being billed as an "East-meets-West" DIPA for a slew of reasons. Firstly, the geographic locations of the breweries: Dogfish calls Delaware home while Sierra Nevada is headquartered in Chico, California. Secondly, the beer incorporates ingredients and brewing techniques from both breweries. Thirdly, the tasting profile of Rhizing Bines is something of a cross between the prototypical East-Coast IPA and West-Coast IPA, styles that Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada helped define. Additionally, the name is a nod to Sierra opening up its first East Coast brewery next month.
The hops used in the brewing of Rhizing Bines were the big, bold Bravo hop and a wonderful new hop that is so new it doesn't have a name yet, only a number: 644. The 644 hop, said by Calagione to be a hybrid of Simcoe, is an experimental hop that Sierra Nevada had a hand in developing. The breweries well-known yeasts, Doggie and Chico, were used to ferment Rhizing Bines. Red heirloom wheat from South Carolina's Anson Mills was also used in the beer.
Rhizing Bines (8 percent abv, $8 for a 750 ml bottle)
APPEARANCE: A slightly cloudy liquid shines a rich, gold California chardonnay color. Craggy, foam-heavy head with clingy lacing that recedes but is revived with a swirl.
NOSE: A healthy dose of melon (honeydew), earth and hay, with subtle notes of cereal and biscuit.
PALATE: The viscous liquid starts out grassy and piney, staying true to the typical West Coast IPA profile, before folding nicely into a melon and citrus midpoint that includes a hint of nuts. The finish is pleasantly sweet, tart and slightly dry, and the essence of pine and melon linger in the mouth.
CIGAR PAIRING: Illusione hl Claro ($9.60, 7 1/2 inches by 40 ring, 87 points, April 2013 Cigar Aficionado) - The minerality and white pepper notes balance the sweet and hoppy finish while the floral notes and creamy smoke grab ahold of the beer's lingering hop essence. Creamsicle-like taste as sweet floral notes grab onto the finish. A nice pairing.
Viaje White Label Project St. Patrick's ($8.56, 5 by 52, not yet rated) - Not a pleasant pairing. Apart, the two can stand on their own, but when put together, the hoppy finish of the beer clashes with the cigar's floral and spice notes, creating a bitter taste.