Posted: Nov 10, 2008 1:45pm ETI’m back in my chair Monday morning after a great Big Smoke Weekend in Las Vegas. Even though we didn’t top last year’s numbers, there was a huge turnout. Like always, there was a sea of happy faces, and everyone was drinking and smoking and generally having a great time.
I want to publicly thank all the attendees, and I want everyone out there to know about it. We were under some pretty severe restrictions about where we could smoke, and it would have been all too easy for people to ignore our pleas for compliance. But they did. It meant there were a few times we didn’t get to light up like previous years, but we managed to move from those rooms to the main seminar room where everyone could enjoy their favorite cigars. And the main Big Smoke room was jammed with smokers both Friday and Saturday night.
Our coverage of the Big Smoke will begin later today, and continue for the rest of the week. You’ll get to read about some of the really great moments: Jorge and Jose Orlando Padrón presented their 40th Anniversary cigar. Carlos Toraño told great stores about fooling Spanish smokers into thinking they were smoking Cubans, but they were his cigars. And Carlos Fuente Jr. reminded everyone just how much of a family effort the cigar business can be. There was a rolling seminar with La Gloria Cubana’s Ernesto Perez-Carrillo that demonstrated every step of the process used to make a great handrolled cigar; I even served myself up as fodder for making a fool of myself, trying to put a wrapper on a cigar in front of the crowd. Talk about nervous; I said I’d rather tee off in front of 50 people than do that again. James Suckling led a great discussion about the state of Cuban cigars. And then, James and Dave Savona led a great panel about the process of blending cigar tobacco. All I can tell you is that the seminars sold out more than three weeks before the event, so if you are interested in coming next year, give yourself a reminder for mid-year to make your reservations.
Posted: Oct 22, 2008 10:49am ETI was standing on the corner of 44th Street and 5th Avenue recently in New York. I looked up as a Nissan Maxima cruised through the light. The window was open, and the driver was puffing away on a big double corona. He wasn’t going that fast, and as he passed down the street, the sweet aroma of the cigar wafted over the crosswalk.
My first thought was, “well, now I know where everybody is smoking cigars!” But I realized almost immediately that I’d known that many people choose to smoke in their cars anyway. For some, it’s the only place they can enjoy a cigar. Home is off limits, unless it’s outside on the back patio. Forget the workplace. I’m not sure there any offices left in America, other than ours, where you can light up a cigar; it’s either the law or company policy. There’s the golf course, of course, but not everybody plays golf. And, as Gay Talese once pointed out in an early issue of Cigar Aficionado, there’s always walking the dog time to light up.
We’re also lucky in New York because there are still half a dozen cigar bars or more, and some restaurants that have rooftop access have put in smoking lounges. And nearly every tobacconist that can re-arrange his store, or expand it, has been putting in areas where their customers can smoke. I’m sure that’s true around the country, where even the most draconian smoking laws in some states have exempted retail tobacco outlets. But it does mean there are quite a few options in New York City to have a cigar in a public place.
I, for one, have never enjoyed smoking in my car. One reason is that I do lease my cars, and cigar smoke permeated leather is one of those items that triggers an end-of-lease damages payment. I also never got into the rhythm of smoking while I drove. I love to drive, and there’s always too much else going on, especially with the manual transmission in my new car, to really sit back and relax with a cigar. Another reason is that I spend a lot of my work day in a smoke-filled office, my own, and the last thing I want to do at the end of the day is sit in a car with a cigar going full blast; by the way, opening the window to me would diminish some of the enjoyment of the cigar, not to mention causing it to burn unevenly.
Posted: Oct 17, 2008 11:19am ETI promised everyone an update on my golf exploits. I won!!
As I explained in a previous blog, the Governor’s Cup is a season-long match play tournament with full handicaps that is open to all members in good standing of Sleepy Hollow Country Club. It does mean that the lower your handicap, the harder it is to win because you end up giving strokes. I gave strokes in three of my five matches, but in the finals, I was lucky to get four strokes from my opponent, a wonderful gentleman named Kieran Duffy.
I was surprised that I didn’t feel my nerves more on the first tee, but my first swing belied the truth; a classic big slice that suggests you’re a little tight and not getting through the ball. I ended up with a bogey, but my opponent’s nerves were apparently getting the better of him, too, and I won the hole. We halved two. But I lost three, four and five; each putt produced tremors in my hands that I couldn’t believe. But I turned it around on the 6th hole, a par 5 where, even though I was in trouble, I hit my fourth shot to two feet for a par that led to a win. I got back to all-square on eight, and then on nine, played my worst hole of the day, and I made the turn one down.
On 10, a beautiful par 3, we both hit the green, but I was a good 30 feet from the hole with a downhill putt over a ridge. I ran it 15 feet past the hole, and I realized I was looking at a two-down deficit. Instead, I sank the putt, he missed and we halved the hole. I won 11 outright so the match was all-square again. We both bogeyed 12 by missing fairly easy par putts, and then my run of putts began. I sank putts of more than 10 feet on the next four holes, leading to two wins and two halves. I was two up with two to play. I nearly drained a 30 foot par putt on 17 to end the match, but then he sank a great 15 footer for par to extend the match. I was one-up on the 18th tee. On the 18th green, I left myself a three-footer for par, he missed his par putt, and conceded the match. Whew!
Posted: Sep 23, 2008 2:48pm ETLast night, I had the honor and pleasure of attending the 20th anniversary celebration for Food Arts magazine, another publication in the M. Shanken Communications world. The magazine’s audience is mostly limited to white tablecloth restaurants and top chefs, but it is truly an amazing food magazine run by Michael and Arianne Batterberry. The chefs and restaurateurs in attendance would wow any foodie from anywhere in the world: Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Jean Georges Vongerichten, Emeril Lagasse, Drew Nieporent, Mario Batali, and Susanna Foo were among the many celebrity chefs at the dinner at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
But if happened once, it happened half a dozen times. Ken Aretsky of Patroon in New York asked me jokingly where we’re going to have cigars. Drew Nieporent said he had to leave one outside on the sidewalk because he couldn’t walk inside the Plaza with it. Adam Tihany, one of the top restaurant designers in the world, wanted to know when we could light up. No one seriously thought we could because the smoking laws in New York City are very well known, but just the joking tone was enough to reveal how much we all missed even the possibility of having a cigar after the meal.
It used to be, in those halcyon days before smoking bans, that every M. Shanken Communications dinner or gala event came complete with cigars and a fine selection of spirits for after the meal. Whether it was in New York, Miami, Las Vegas or even San Francisco in the early 1990s, the cigars would come out and people would light up. At the Wine Spectator’s Wine Experience gala banquet every year, it didn’t take long after dessert was cleared that you could smell the unmistakable aroma of a hand-rolled cigar; that even occurred for a few years after the smoking bans had been passed.
But times have changed. No one expects cigars and very few people arrive at the dinner ready to smoke. Hotels and banquet halls have gotten very specific in their rules and regulations so it is impossible to “break” the law without causing problems. As a result, everyone is reduced to joking about smoking a cigar and letting their nostalgia fill in for the true pleasure of having a post-dinner smoke.
Posted: Sep 12, 2008 10:59am ETI’ve been holding off writing this blog, partly because I don’t want to jinx myself. But Dave has been putting pressure on us to submit some blogs, so here it goes.
Last Friday, I rescheduled a golf match to beat the weekend’s rains from Hanna. The match was part of Sleepy Hollow Country’s Club season-long Governor’s Cup, which is a match play format with full handicap. It is distinct from the club championships, and not all the low handicappers sign up, so it gives opportunity for hackers like me to get some real tournament experience and hopefully, not embarrass ourselves.
Last week’s match was in the semifinals. Yeah, after three years in a row of washing out in the first round, I had several miraculous recoveries this summer, coming back once from three down with four to play and once losing a three up lead with four to play, and then winning both matches. In fact, each of my first three matches had gone to the 19th hole, which is played on our first hole. I was beginning to feel invincible on that hole, however. In two of the first three matches, I had birdied the hole and in the third match, a quarterfinal, I played it perfectly to par it.
But the semifinal loomed as an impossible challenge. I was playing a great gentleman who carries a 25.8 index, and a course handicap of 31. The math was pretty easy. I was giving up 20 strokes. That’s right; a stroke a hole plus two holes with two strokes. To a man among my friends, not one thought I could win the match. Count me among the skeptics. I haven’t had the greatest of golf seasons as I’m been working on a swing change since late last year; after several years with an index in the six to seven range, it had climbed as high as 10.5 in June before dropping back to 9.2 by September. So, without one round under 80 all summer, I knew that I was hanging by a thread against my opponent before I ever teed off.
Last Friday was a perfect day. Thanks to the near unanimous dismissal of my chances, I was relaxed and feeling good. We teed off at 7:45 a.m., just the two of us with a caddy. My strategy was simple: focus early and get him down in hopes that he would start to press a little bit. Now how many times have you had that thought going into a round of golf, and suddenly look up on the fourth tee to realize you’re already four or five over par for the round and down a bunch of holes to your opponents. That didn’t happen this time. I parred one, birdied two to beat a bogey from my opponent and parred three, winning that hole too after he had trouble getting out of a sand trap. I’m on the 4th tee, up by three already and thinking, wow, this never happens to me! He won 4 after I hit an errant second shot, and I couldn’t get up and down, carding my only double bogey of the day. But I parred five and six for wins and then almost sank a bunker shot on seven for birdie, but we finally halved that hole.
Posted: Sep 2, 2008 4:53pm ETI was reminded again this Labor Day weekend what makes a cigar special. When you smoke for a living, as we do here at Cigar Aficionado, it’s safe to say that sometimes you smoke because you are required to meet a deadline. Because we never know which cigars we are smoking, there’s never any real choice. Right now, there is a stack of cigars with numbered bands in my humidor on my desk. The extent of the decision process about which one I’m going to smoke consists of deciding what time of day I’ll be tasting, and then I reach in the humidor and pull one out…sometimes without even looking at it before I begin the task of examining the variables that we use to rate a cigar.
So, when my wife and I headed off to a friend’s house on Sunday for dinner with he and his wife, I relished the moment when I was finally showered and dressed, and I stopped in front of my humidor. I opened the doors, and the lovely aroma of aging cigars filled the small alcove where it is located. I pulled out the top drawer, where I keep most of my “special” cigars, and spent a good five minutes thinking about the evening, about the bottle of 1986 Dow’s Port that I was bringing with me, and which cigar would go best with it. I knew it wouldn’t be a super late night because I had a golf match in the morning so I didn’t want an overly big cigar. I settled on a Fuente Fuente OpusX PerfecXion X cigar, dampened the hydration slip in my Elie Bleu two-cigar humidified case, and put the cigars in it. With one last look at the tray, I closed up the humidor and walked out the door.
The cigar was sublime. The port matched the light sweetness of a nearly 10-year old Opus perfectly and my friend and I sat on his porch looking out over the dark shadows of the Hudson River and the Big Dipper up in the sky. It was a perfect late summer evening, made all the more special by a cigar that I wanted smoke. I savored every puff.
I went through the same process the following night as we headed off to another friend’s house for a casual supper. This time, I choose two Padrón 1964 Aniversarios, because I know this friend loves those cigars. In the end, it got late, and we didn’t light up, but I left both cigars with him. He showed off his cabinet humidor, which was filled with several trays of outstanding cigars. I know we’ll share some of them in the future.
Posted: Aug 4, 2008 9:24am ETMy family and I took our annual pilgrimage to the Canadian Rockies in July. Five days of hiking in backcountry is good for the soul, even if it includes one day of walking in a snowstorm that left between four to six inches of fresh powdery stuff on the ground above 6,500 feet. And, as usual, we kicked off our vacation with a stop at the Post Hotel, a Relais et Chateaux property in Lake Louise.
Andre and George Schwarz have run the small European-style hotel for 30 years, and have turned it into a luxurious outpost with a great restaurant that has received Wine Spectator’s Grand Award for its outstanding wine list. There’s also a wonderful pub-style restaurant with a lot of comfort food in a relaxed setting.
But after dinner, I was hankering after a good cigar. I figured I was going to have to go outside and sit on the patio because of Canada’s smoking laws. And, the last time I’d been at the Post, they had told me their smoking lounge had been shut down out of concerns over how to interpret the law. I won’t get into the details, but because Lake Louise is on federal park land, there are some exceptions to the law, and the smoking lounge was open for business. It has a glass door separating it from the main Post dining room.
I lit a 15-year-old Don Carlos No. 3, ordered a glass of 20-year-old Graham’s Tawney and sat contentedly puffing away in a big, plush leather chair. There are about 20 seats in the lounge, which has a low ceiling, a fireplace and a fully stocked humidor of fine Cubans: the inventory in July included Bolivars, Cohibas, Romeo y Julietas and Montecristos. The bar also had a full-range of American Bourbons and fine Single Malt Scotches. The Don Carlos supplied all its sweet, earthy leather notes, and I was in heaven.
Andre Schwarz came in the room and we sat chatting for nearly half an hour about the lodge, the winter ski season, the smoking laws, and whether or not the strength of the Canadian dollar had slowed the arrival of American tourists. (Not really, he said.) It was a great moment of sheer luxury before the trek into backcountry and five days of solid hiking. But my East Coast time clock finally caught up with me, and I had to say goodnight. I knew I’d be back next year.
Posted: Jul 24, 2008 2:31pm ETI was away from the office during the first part of July, and for much of the time, almost off the grid in the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies near Lake Louise. But I had a couple of “cigar moments” that I’ll share with you over the next week.
On July 4th, my wife and I spent a lovely evening at the home of a friend of mine. He and his wife have a view that overlooks the spire of a local Presbyterian church, all the way across the Hudson River to the Palisades on the river’s west side. He opened a lovely bottle of 2001 Brunello, and we had a great summer meal with Middle Eastern accents, including grilled lamb chops.
My friend is an avid cigar smoker who, because of health concerns, has cut back on his smoking, but now when he smokes, he wants to savor every second. After the meal, we retired to his porch as the last wisps of sunset-lit clouds turned to pink and then dark orange above the Palisades. He poured two tumblers of an Isle of Jura scotch, and brought out two Opus X Belicosos. We lit up and began an hour of great conversation about American and Israeli politics, the allure of his wide-ranging business interests around the globe, and my impending departure the next morning for the Rockies.
As we talked, we began to see, and then hear, the fireworks celebrations of towns up and down the Hudson. There were are least three or four different shows that kept lighting up the sky, including one that was taking place in a town on the west side of the Palisades, which blocked our view of all but the highest, and biggest, exploding aerials at least five miles away. There were kaleidoscopes of colors in greens, blues, reds and whites, and from the furthest visible explosions, it would take a good 20 to 30 seconds for the sound to reach us.
Our cigars burned low, but we heard a call from our wives from the other side of the house in the driveway amid the sudden pounding of explosions. We went to investigate, and from there, we were looking almost straight up at the annual fireworks’ display at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club, which is less than half a mile from my friend’s house. We could almost see the entire part of the aerial fireworks, and the only thing the grand finale lacked was the heart-pounding depth of being right under the explosions.
Posted: Jul 18, 2008 11:25am ETI got back this week too from IPCPR, or what we now refer to as the cigar retailer trade show, in Las Vegas. James Suckling and Dave Savona have done a fantastic job of telling you about all the great things that went on there, and I can tell you, there’s still more to come.
Thanks to the magazine going into production this week, my trip was cut short, but I had a wonderful day and a half on the show floor and spent time with people from the industry that I’ve gotten to know well over the past 16 years. Once again, the upbeat mood reminded me how low the industry was in 1992 when we attended our first convention, and how far we’ve come since then. While some retailers, and manufacturers, are clearly worried about the economic crunch in the United States, the majority of people from both worlds are positive about the upcoming year.
But that’s not the true big news out of this year’s show. I smoked a number of cigars given to me by industry stalwarts. Across the board, they were the best cigars I have ever smoked in one place in such a short period of time. There were new products that you’re going to see on retailer’s shelves this fall, And there were several smokes that can best be described as special experiments by the cigarmakers with new blends and exotic combinations of tobaccos, a sign that no one is sitting on their laurels but continuing to push the envelope of taste and flavor.
Dave, James and I kept looking at each other and raising our eyebrows because so many of the cigars were excellent. And in a couple of cases, the reactions came from cigars that in the past have under-whelmed us.
For several years now, the editors of Cigar Aficionado have said that this is the golden age of cigars. It was true then, and it is even more true today. We always have been strong advocates for the exciting new cigars that become available in recent years, brands that were made by newcomers who brought a dream to fruition. But this year, I can tell you that you will have to re-visit some brands that you haven’t tried in awhile because they too are in the process of evolving. I won’t mention any names yet because it will be a few months before they hit the retail market. But get ready smokers. You are in for some exciting new cigars this fall.
Posted: Jun 26, 2008 2:59pm ETI attended a banquet this week of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. There were a number of honorees, including Judy Rankin and Gary Player, but the Gold Tee award, the group’s highest honor, went to Charlie Sifford, the 86-year-old former PGA Tour professional who broke golf’s color barrier at the professional level.
Sifford regaled the crowd with tales of his early days on the PGA Tour, and thanked everyone for putting him in the company of previous award winners, a distinguished group that includes Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Byron Nelson, and Sam Snead. Last year’s winner was Ernie Els.
Sifford won his PGA Tour card in 1961, forcing the rewriting of the Tour’s “Caucasians-only” rule. He went to win twice on the PGA Tour, and as one of the original members of the Senior Tour, captured its Open Championship in 1975. Sifford also noted that he had endured some “tough times” playing on the tour where he was the subject of threats and racial epitaphs. Player, who introduced Sifford at the banquet, spoke of how courageous his friend of more than 50 years had been during his playing days.
Sifford was also known for playing with a lit cigar. He said he was once asked about why he played with it, almost never removing it from his mouth. He said that on a full swing, he could tell if he was swaying off the ball because the cigar would move and point away from the ball. And, the same thing on his putts; if the ball moved off the end of the burning cigar, he knew he was moving his head and could stop it.
Now I know why I need to smoke more out on the course.