I've been looking forward to this one for a while, and I had a nice day to light it up.
A few months ago, I read about Ted's Cigar's "HOPZ" in Beer Advocate magazine. I smoke about 6-10 cigars a year, and I'm certainly a novice in the area of fine tobacco, but I do find it enjoyable on occasion, albeit rarely. The magazine article did not provide a review of the product, only a launch announcement. There's some more information on the website here
. Supposedly, TCs aged the Connecticut and Cameroon tobacco leaves with Centennial hops. They're rolled together, allowed to co-mingle essential oils for a few months, and then the tobacco leaves are pulled and rolled into a cigar. The idea is that the hop oils are not isomerized, so they should be relatively low-bitterness, but still add a pleasing hops flavor and aroma to the mild tobacco smoke. It seemed like a cool enough idea that I had to try it.
I inquired at my local cigar shop, and they actually didn't have the product yet. This cigar was purchased at one of my local better beer stores (disclosure: I paid $12), from a plexiglas display cabinet that was not environmentally controlled. Fortunately, Ted's has some interesting packaing methods that ensure fresh flavor regardless of store storage methods.
That's a glass test tube. Inside the lid is a small, moistened synthetic sponge which both cushions the cigar from mechanical shock and maintains the humidity at the proper 70% level.
All you have to do is store it in the correct temperature at or around 70*F, and it'll keep fresh for a long time. This is a huge plus for sales at retail points other than dedicated cigar shops (such as beer stores or bars) and for casual smokers like myself who don't have any interest in maintaining their own humidors. This cigar was purchased several weeks ago and stored in an old cigar box in the glass tube. It was perfectly hydrated, and I noticed no sweating, discoloration, or cracking of the wrapper. Nice!
I lit the cigar with a semi-toast method using wood matches. Pairing here is Immort Ale from Dogfish Head, their interpretation of an American barleywine. More on that after the pic:
Ted's recommends pairing the cigar with an American IPA or similarly hoppy brew. After nosing the cigar, however, it seemed to warrant a stronger ABV and Immort was the strongest commercian beer I had on hand at 11%ABV. The hop flavor of the cigar is very subdued, and I didn't want a super-hoppy beer to overpower it. It turned out to be a fine pairing, though in retrospect, I'm going to agree with Ted and suggest an IPA pairing would be better. More on that in a moment.
The cigar is perfectly rolled and the ash "stacks" perfectly:
When the ash falls, it "cones" perfectly:
Perfect for hanging out on a nice day and burning all the deadfall in the back yard...
The tobacco flavor is very mild and this is a perfect "beginner" cigar because nothing about it is particularly overpowering. Milder cigars also make better beer pairings in general, so I think the tobacco selection is right on. Sadly, there's no potent punch from the hop oils. The flavor is very light, and it might be lost completely if I weren't told it was there. It does take an experienced beer palate to even identify it, and even then it's mild. There's a slight bitterness added, and the oils coat the tongue quite well, carried by the smoke. With the high-ABV barleywine, more of the tobacco flavors (which are alcohol-soluble) are brought out. However, the hop flavor of the cigar doesn't really benefit.
Which is why, 75% of the way thought the cigar when the barleywine was drained, I switched to a homebrew Belgian IPA:
I made this IPA about a year ago using recultured yeast from Victory's Wild Devil. It's a fantastic beer, if I can be so bold to say, and I wish I could share it with all of you. It was the only Belgian IPA I had around, though, so feel free to substitute Houblon Chouffe or Carlous' Hopsinjoor or the like. There are many good options in the category, and I think they pair much better with this cigar. You may feel differently, however, so you'll just have to try it. But for me, I say Belgian IPA all the way.
You'll also notice that I smoked this cigar well past the band. That's very unusual for me. Usually, I find that cigars just get too hot when you get close to the end, and the last inch and a half or so is just forfeit. Not here at all. This cigar was still good when it was too small to hold. Really.
One last bit of advice. I go by the general rule of thumb that cigars should be cut about half their main diameter. That 50% hole was excellent for the first half of the cigar, but it actually got a bit tight towards the end. I enlarged the hole to about 75% of the main diameter and it pulled much better. For my next one, I'll try to shoot for a ~2/3 hole size and split the difference.
Anyhow, HOPZ is certainly a neat product and nicely fills the niche of a hop-aged, "craft beer cigar."
I don't smoke cigars, but I thought this was interesting and well-written.
Wow... i think I'm as jealous about the DFH glass as i am the cigar!