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Jul 9 2014

Host a Cigar Pairing Party Like The Imbiber Himself

CAO blog

When Dan Dunn, The Imbiber himself, sends you tips on how to host a cigar and beer pairing, you read...and repeat as soon as possible: 

One of the only thrills that can top sparking up a fine cigar is sparking one up with a group of friends. Maybe it’s the ancient call to the campfire lodged in our cerebellum, maybe it’s the care you know went into a quality stick from a great producer, but something about gathering and sharing both fellowship and great tobacco with friends is inherently gratifying. All that’s left then for the smart host is to throw in some precisely chosen beverages and some stimulating conversation. It’s a sure-fire recipe for a night that will win you the enduring gratitude of all those that attend.

But before I continue, a word about those beverages. For centuries, friends have been enjoying their stogies accompanied by various varieties of liquor. But over the last few years we’ve been experimenting with something a bit different: cigar-beer pairings. With the results of our research in hand, I’d like to make an official proposal that beer be admitted into the international brotherhood of cigar-pairing beverages. Besides, CAO has never been a cigar-maker to hold with convention. If you’re smoking a maverick stick, it only makes sense to continue the experimentation by choosing a craft beer to go with it instead of a snifter of something.

With those things in mind I’d like to offer a few tips for ensuring your next gathering is one for the history books.


With summer weather coming on strong, consider holding your next smoke-a-thon outdoors in the backyard where the night sky stimulates conversation. If, however, the weather’s not cooperating, there’s nothing cozier than drawing on a stogie while you watch the rain come down outside.


Guests don’t typically bring their own ashtrays, so make sure you’re fully stocked. For something simple, I like Stinky Cigars' line of high utility, low cost options. I presume you’ll have some experienced smokers in your group who will bring their own cutters and lighters, but for the newbies (and the forgetful), make sure you keep some extras on hand. I like the Cuban Crafters Revolucion Cigar Scissors for easy slicing and the Xikar Executive for torching up afterwards.


The key to pairings is variety, and no drink makes variety easier to achieve than beer. Like cigars, beer ranges from mild to robust on the palate, so having a selection of beers on hand makes it easy for your guests to experiment and fine tune their gustatory odyssey. Flying Dog has you covered, no matter what you’re puffing, from the rich malty notes of Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout to the snappy bite of the Gonzo Imperial Porter.


What you set out for your pals to munch on is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Rumbling stomachs are no good for smoking. Still, you’re not trying to stuff them full either. The idea is to give your guests some interesting things to bounce off the smoke on their palates.

  • Cheese: Stick with the hard cheeses such as a bright sharp cheddar or gruyere. Avoid anything too creamy or rich.
  • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts and pecans all provide interesting accompaniment to a fine cigar.
  • Fruit: You can try dried fruits such as raisins or cherries, or experiment with juicy fresh pineapple, orange or melon.
  • Chocolate: Make it dark, and ideally with a high cocoa percentage.


Tell each guest to bring one of their favorite sticks to trade. In addition, make sure you have at least two smokes per guest. Make one mild, like the CAO Brazilia. That’s how you’ll open the evening. The other should be robust, like the OSA Sol. You’ll use that to close out the night. As your guests arrive, hand them a Brazilia and tell them to put their mystery stogie in the “grab humidor.” Make a list of everyone who drops one in, then offer them their pick, starting at the top of the list. (Nothing like a little incentive to make sure a party starts on time.) After everyone has enjoyed their mystery smoke, break out the Sols and finish the night off with a bang. The primary thing to remember is that your palate will fare best if you sequence move from mild smokes to robust ones as the night progresses.


It’s no coincidence that cigars and coffee come from the same places, which is why I always recommend capping your evening with this classic combination. Match your most robust smokes with the bold flavors of a Nicaraguan coffee. If possible, brew using a pour-over method to preserve the lighter top notes of your favorite beans.

Dan Dunn

Writer Dan Dunn's work on wine, spirits, beer, and countless other vices can be found on Food Republic, Playboy, GQ, USA Today, Maxim, The Los Angeles Times, and more. Check out The Imbiber's review of The Art of Craft, our cigar pairing pack collaboration with CAO Cigars. 

Then, find a Total Wine location near you to discover The Art of Craft.