Right before Christmas, Jonathan Drew took to social media to announce a boutique project in partnership with Cigars International called "The Smoking Monk of Esteli by Drew Estate". A selection of 5 unique blends, all in a Toro vitola, the handmade cigars were blended to be paired with specific styles of craft beer. The five blends included in the series are:
Hefeweizen – Mild-bodied with creamy notes of vanilla and a sweet finish
Imperial Stout – Hearty, medium to full-bodied blend with nuances of cacao and sweetened dark roast coffee
American IPA – Medium-bodied with a zesty flavor profile of citrus, spice, and slight smoky finish
Porter – Well-balanced, medium-bodied blend filled with notes of dark chocolate, coffee, and caramel
Triple Belgian – Medium to full-bodied with a rich, complex tobacco flavor and a spicy finish
In a Cigar Federation series, we will conduct 5 separate pairing reviews where we will experience each cigar by itself followed by an experience with the appropriate beer pairing. In addition, we will have a special series of Sharing Our Pairings focused on each cigar individually. Today, we have the second in our series - the American IPA...
Size: 6.5 x 54
Cigars Smoked for this Review: Two
Price Point: $9.00
Cigar Purchased: Samples provided by Cigar.com
Quick Note: For this review I used the CF rating system. You can view it in detail here.
Just as with the Hefeweizen, my first glance at the American IPA worries me. IPAs tend to be a bit lighter (when compared to Stouts or Porters), so a Connecticut wrapper makes sense, but I don't really expect it to fit my palate as I tend to prefer a bit more full-bodied cigars. The band on the cigar is consistent across the series with "The Smoking Monk of Esteli" written surrounding the logo. A foot band delineates each cigar in the series - this entry sees 'American IPA' written on a navy and gold band.
The wrapper itself, as previously stated, is a very light brown Connecticut. The wrapper is clean with some visible seams and a vein running down the length of the cigar. As I take a sniff of the foot, I'm met with some flavors that are a bit spicy and sweet. When I cut the cap with a table guillotine cutter, the cap tore a bit. It doesn't appear to be serious enough to impact the smoke, but I'll note it anyway. The pre-light draw is incredibly dominant with fire-cured tobacco - maybe more so than the actual KFC cigars. I've heard people claim that the Smoking Monks are infused cigars. I requested blend information from Drew Estate and was pointed to this. While I noted in smoking the Hefeweizen that there was a dominant vanilla flavor, I don't believe it to be infused (though it might be). This cigar, however, definitely has fire-cured tobacco in it - no doubt in my mind.
The American IPA starts out pretty powerful with a bit of spice and some mequite BBQ flavoring. At the one inch mark, I noticed the cigar starting to boat a bit, but it corrects itself. The ash held on for about 2 inches before I knocked it off. I notice some sweet wood flavors coming in and out through the first third. The aroma of the smoke is definitely that of a BBQ house. At times, I find the BBQ flavors and smokiness to be the main player, and at other times I get nuances of sweetness. The retrohale is incredibly smooth, but the flavors aren't nearly as mild as I would have expected for such a light wrapper.
The flavors are remaining fairly consistent as I continue into the second half. I'm encountering some slight wrapper issues stemming from the torn cap when I cut the cigar, but they are not impacting the smoke at all. With about an inch left, the wrapper was pretty much destroyed and I ended up putting it out. This isn't a bad cigar - if you like the KFC, I think you'll really like this as I wouldn't be surprised if this was the KFC with a different wrapper - but its probably not one I'd go after again.
Again, to compare to the Hefeweizen, with the Hefeweizen, I found similar flavor profiles between the cigar and the beer - creamy with citrus notes. In the case of the American IPA, the flavors are exactly similar to what I expect from an IPA, but I imagine it will pair nicely. Let's see...
For the pairing portion of the review, I chose the Stone Brewing Company IPA. The Stone IPA isn't one of my favorite IPAs, and while I've had it before, its not one I typically go to with the numerous IPA options available on the market. With that said, it is widely recognized as a stellar example of the style, and since Stone is fairly accessible for most of the American market, I thought it was a proper beer to use for this pairing review.
The Stone IPA pours a hazy deep orange color with a two finger head. In typical IPA fashion, notes of citrus and pine are evident aromas on the sniff. If you're not a beer drinker, an IPA might be a bit...abrasive to your palate. After years of drinking the style, the smell of hops - those citrus and pine flavors - and their tastes are things that get me excited. On the taste, the citrus and pine notes you smell are what immediately hit your tongue, but the finish moves to a pleasant tropical fruit flavor. Again, not one of my favorite IPAs, but a very good representation of the style.
My thoughts on the pairing are a bit interesting. As noted, the cigar itself has a bit of sweetness coupled with the BBQ flavoring. I'd expect that to compliment the citrus, pine and fruit flavors of the beer very nicely. However, I found the pairing resulted in the cigar coming across a bit harsh rather than accentuating it. There were glimpses of greatness where I'd take a sip of the Stone IPA followed by a draw of the Smoking Monk and the citrus would work beautifully with the fire-cured tobacco, but those were fleeting unfortunately.
For the purposes of this review, that is what it is. If you like the KFC produced by Drew Estate, I believe you will enjoy this cigar - I see a lot of similarities. Unfortunately, THIS pairing did not enhance the cigar experience for me (but it also didn't detract). For this reason, I'm giving the cigar by itself the same score as the pairing. However, I am going to go back and smoke this cigar with one of my preferred IPAs, and I expect to have a much better experience. End result - if you like the KFC, get this cigar, and if you like IPAs, pick your favorite and drink it while you're smoking this.
Rating: 85 AKA “Couple"
Pairing Rating: 85 AKA “Couple"