Posted: Jan 2, 2008 11:04am ETI spent New Year’s Eve with some of the same people that I celebrated with 30 years ago. Yeah, they are really great old friends, including my then-girlfriend, now my wife. The mother of my daughter’s best friend joined the party, too. My daughter and her friend were there for the food, and then departed to meet with friends at their own parties.
Back in 1977, I got to the celebration at an apartment on 22nd Street in New York City shortly after midnight because I had been working the night shift at the Associated Press. But the revelry was still in full swing, just as it was two nights ago; this time, however, I had been there all night.
For many of these last 30 years, we have indulged in Raclette cheese with new red potatoes, cornichons and some pickled onions. In the party’s traditional form, we’d light a big fire and figure out some makeshift way to melt the cheese right in front of the fire. Over the years, sanity prevailed, and we bought an electric Raclette melter (yes, they do exist) that would sit neatly on the table, the cheese unadorned with the drops of sweat off my brow from sitting in front of the blazing fire.
But in honor of the tradition’s 30th anniversary, we reverted to the original method. It was hot in front of the fire, but I have to say that the cheese tasted better than it does from under the electric melter, and I wasn’t even sweating….too much. We also changed another element of the menu; we used to have an appetizer of foie gras, but after too many years of feeling way over-indulged afterwards, we served a salad this year instead. Oh yeah, I forgot—we started with some caviar this year!
What was different this year from the original party was the cigars. My friend Matthew and I left the ladies in front of the fire exploring great tunes on our wireless music system, and we went to the humidor. We both wanted Cubans. I don’t keep a lot at the house, and many of the ones there are gifts from friends, and therefore, unbanded and mysterious. I chose a panatela, probably an El Rey del Mundo, and Matthew picked a luscious Colorado-hued corona; my guess was a Paratagas.
Posted: Dec 19, 2007 4:46pm ETI told you so.
It is always a little dangerous for a journalist to openly pronounce, “I told you so.” But I had one of those moments today when I opened the front section of the New York Times. On page 2, there was an article headlined: “Report Finds U.S. Agencies Distracted by Focus on Cuba.”
Here’s the lead paragraph:
Catching Americans who travel illegally to Cuba or who purchase cigars, rum or other products from the island may be distracting some American government agencies from higher-priority missions like fighting terrorism and combating narcotics trafficking, a government audit to be released Wednesday says.
Duh! I’m been saying the same thing for years, complaining that investigations into the importation of cigars were costing millions of dollars as well as posing an unintended danger. I always complained that if U.S. Customs agents were being vigilant for cigars, what else were they missing.
The NYT story, based on a report by the Government Accountability Office, said that in Miami, custom agents conduct “secondary inspections” of people arriving on charter flights from Cuba at more than six times the rate of passengers arriving from nations know for illegal drug exports.
And, the story says, between 2000 and 2006, in the Office of Foreign Asset Control, the Treasury Department agency that enforces the Trading with the Enemy Act, “61 percent of its investigation and penalty caseload involved Cuba embargo cases.” Furthermore, the New York Times story said that during that same period the OFAC opened 10,823 investigations into possible violations involving Cuba and just 6,791 investigations on all other cases.
Guess what. OFAC is also in charge of operations to freeze terrorists’ assets overseas. But seizing cigars is more important than illegal narcotics and terrorist funds. Oh, I’m sure they would deny that charge, but the agency’s actions speak louder than whatever excuses they want to make. Look at the stats: nearly double the number of investigations into Cuba as other targets, which implicitly means terrorist funds.
Posted: Dec 18, 2007 11:22am ETI’d been waiting for this moment since last year, when the Padrón family gave the world a tantalizing glimpse of its new cigar, the Padrón Serie 1926 80 Years, at the Las Vegas Big Smoke. We just call it the 80th Anniversary for short, but that shouldn’t be confused with the company’s 1964 Anniversary Series. The cigar has been made to commemorate the 80th birthday of the company’s founder, José Orlando Padrón, one of the real giants in the hand-rolled cigar industry.
The occasion for the smoke was a private luncheon with my boss, Marvin R. Shanken, and a guest of his. Mr. Shanken offered the Padróns as the after-lunch smoke. The guest would generally consider himself a Cuban cigar lover, and doesn’t regularly smoke Padróns. The box-pressed, perfecto style cigars were maduros, but not as dark as some that I’ve seen in the market.
I won’t go on about this cigar too much. It was great. Like most Padróns, the buzzword for the character of the 80th would be smoothness. It is simply a full-flavored, medium-body smoke where each element – texture, flavor, aroma – come together in harmony. It's too soon to be handing out non-blind scores on this cigar, but in the Cigar Insider released on December 4, the panel gave it 95 points.
And, we all acknowledged, no finer cigar is being made in the world today. There are many that match it from Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
But the Padrón Serie 1926 80 Years ranks up there in the pantheon of the world’s best cigars.
If you can find one, go get it. It’s a way to treat yourself during the holiday season, when all the other gift-shopping, party-going and general
family dramas take over our lives. A Padrón 80 Years is a way to get away from the hoopla for an hour or two.
Posted: Dec 7, 2007 11:43am ETSince I’m a suburban resident, I don’t frequent the cigar bars of the city very often after work hours. But a friend of mine was recently in town, and I hadn’t seen him in a long time. He suggested we meet at Club Macanudo one night this week. I’ve been there are few times over the years, but I had forgotten what a pleasant place it is.
I turned the corner on 63rd from Madison Ave. My first thought was, “I’m on the wrong street." But a few more steps, and the tall wooden doors with the small brass plaque came into view, understated and elegant. As soon as I swung open the door, I was met with that sweet aroma of fine handrolled cigars being smoked, and having been smoked for years in the same space. I walked into the first main room, where floor-to-ceiling cigar lockers loom over the chairs and cigar counter. I quickly checked my bag and coat, being sure to pull my cigars out of the briefcase, and headed into the bar.
It was early, but the bar seats were already filled, and the bartender was busy. The room was also packed, and the noise level was already high for a pre-six o’clock crowd. Victoria McKee, the General Cigar executive who manages the property now, was there and welcomed me and my friends after she finished up a CNBC interview. Yes, a TV guy was there checking into the state of cigars in America. One of his questions was: Are cigars recession proof? That’s clearly a sign of the times. We all believe they are, don’t we? Are you going to give up your cigars, or a new pair of shoes first? My shoes have a lot of good years left in them.
I pondered the possibility of an economic downturn as I kept sipping on my glass of Montecristo rum on the rocks, one my favorite drinks with a cigar. I had chosen a Stradivarius from the house cigar list, partly because I’d never smoked one. My friends enjoyed the Davidoff Millenniums that I had brought along for the occasion.
After a round of drinks, the group my friend had gathered together went into the large back room where there are tables and chairs. We ordered up a sampling of appetizers from the menu; fried calamari, coconut shrimp and spicy lamb chops. The first bottle of wine was a nice Bouchaine Pinot Noir, and we followed that up with a Ravenswood Zinfandel, which went better with the appetizers.
Posted: Dec 4, 2007 9:19am ETI haven’t been to the United Kingdom since the new smoking laws went into effect. I had read about those laws, and couldn’t quite register that smoking in public had been virtually outlawed across the country—in the bastion of cigar-smoking, you can no longer smoke. I just couldn’t believe it.
But I was at a dinner dance on Saturday night, and a friend of mine who had just been to see Edward Sahakian at Davidoff in London gave me a present from him. Gee, I’m getting paranoid. I don’t even feel like telling you all what it was…I won’t get specific. It was just a nice smokeable present from across the Florida Straits!
My friend began telling me about how hard it had been to find a place to smoke in London. None of the old haunts allow it, not even the private men’s clubs. And while you can smoke in tobacco shops, it is basically limited to cigars that you purchase there. Technically, you can’t walk in off the street with a lit cigarette or cigar and smoke that tobacco product in the shop.
My friend said that there are a few places, the Lanesborough being one, where they have a patio that they have outfitted with heaters and umbrellas (both rather necessary in London), and since it is outside, you can smoke there. And, he had heard of a few other places where the same kind of arrangements were being made. There won’t be many. Again, not to make a big deal about the weather, but London is not a place known for hanging out on patios.
I could only respond with disbelief. I then said what I still believe to be true. The pendulum will swing back someday. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be next year. Slowly but surely, the realization that cigar-smoking, at least, is an adult pleasure and an adult choice that people choose to do with a full understanding of the risks. What our governments need to start recognizing is that they are denying us all the intangible benefits that come from a sharing a cigar with friends and colleagues.
Posted: Nov 27, 2007 9:53am ETI have skipped a Thanksgiving smoke in recent years. There always seemed to be something conspiring against it. Sometimes, it was my post-Big Smoke malaise…I had just had enough smoking for awhile. Or I was at a house where smoking wasn’t welcomed.
Not this year. I was home. It was actually warm outside, so I didn’t even have to negotiate the use of the TV room (with the cigar fan exhaust) away from my daughter and nephews. And, my brother-in-law was keen to join me. He chose a Cohiba out of the humidor, and I reached for a Coronado by La Flor Double Corona, the number two cigar of the year. It came out of a box of 50 that I hope to age for years to come but I wanted to see how it had evolved in its first year out the factory.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I may have had the best turkey that I’ve ever had. We bought it from a local farm, Stone Barn Farms. It was a heritage breed, and was a free-range bird. Fortunately, I followed the cooking instructions, because normally for an 18-pound bird I would have been thinking, three, even four hours of cooking. After two hours, and another round of basting, it looked done…sure enough, the meat thermometer said it was done, so we pulled it out, covered it and set about getting the rest of the meal finished off. Instead of the usual delay of sitting down at the appointed hour, we were at the table at 3 o’clock, as promised. The bird was perfect, and I guess my mashed potatoes were good too…no leftovers.
After a round of pecan pie and an apple crisp fresh out of the oven, I was waddling around thinking about loosening the belt. It was nearly six o’clock. I went down to the basement and brought up the bottle of 1980 Graham’s Vintage Port that I had stood up the day before in anticipation of just this moment. I pulled out two glasses, picked out the cigars, and my brother in law and I retired to a small covered breezeway. He’s a great guy. A philosophy professor, and a bon vivant, he is one of the best cooks I know and we have shared many, many meals together, taking turns being the sous-chef for one another.
Posted: Nov 20, 2007 1:06pm ETIt’s Big Smoke day in New York. After 14 years, I know that means the holiday season is on us too. It’s always been the perfect kick-off to that time of year.
For starters, we get a parade of our favorite cigar manufacturers coming through the city. I’ve seen my favorite Yankee fan, Jose Blanco of La Aurora; Mike Chiusano of Cusano cigars, Micky Pegg and Jon Huber of CAO spent some time here yesterday; and members of the Cigar Aficionado staff have been out to events with the Fuente family and many others. It really is a festive time for all cigar smokers in New York City because they can attend events at retail stores throughout the weekend before and the week of the Big Smoke.
Then, of course, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. One year, we tried to do the event in October, and in November, we had dozens of calls from people asking, “OK, when is the Big Smoke this year?” For them, the event had become synonymous with Thanksgiving, too.
Tonight, more than 3000 people will descend on the Marriott Marquis Hotel, enjoy more than 30 cigars and sample some of the best spirits in the world. I know I’m already looking forward to that glass of Flor de Cana rum from Nicaragua. There’s nothing quite like it. Yes, the New York Big Smoke is more crowded than any other event we do during the year, but that’s part of its charm and energy. People are excited to be around their favorite cigar makers, and enjoying the camaraderie of their friends.
So, tune in over the next few days for an updated New York Big Smoke gallery, and more blogs from the Cigar Aficionado staffers. Maybe we can tempt you to put the event on your calendar for 2008.
And join all of us in giving thanks for another Big Smoke in New York.
Posted: Nov 12, 2007 11:28am ETI had just had one of the best weekends on the year. The Las Vegas Big Smoke. I know. I know. How can anyone take a comment like that seriously when it comes from the Executive Editor of Cigar Aficionado? After all, it is our event, and I work for the company that puts it on.
But this is a case where being objective shouldn’t matter. Here’s the rough outline of the weekend. I went with my wife. We had dinner with my favorite cigar makers (basically all of them) on Thursday night. Our table included my favorite Yankee fan, Jose Blanco of La Aurora, Ernesto Perez Carrillo of La Gloria Cubana, Chip Goldeen of Ashton, and Mike Gianinni of La Gloria Cubana, among others. We had a great time, laughing and talking seriously about the SCHIP tax situation, but generally just having a good time.
We relaxed on Friday during the day, soaking up the pleasures that are offered by Las Vegas and the Venetian Hotel, including the Canyon Ranch Spa. The 1st Big Smoke of the weekend kicked off at 6:30 on Friday night and nearly 3000 people showed up during the course of the three hours. Each attendee walked away with at least 32 cigars, they got to drink great spirits and beers and each food from a top Vegas restaurants. What could be so bad about that?
On Saturday, more than 500 people joined the Big Smoke seminars. Over the next few days, you can read detailed coverage about each of the seminars. Based on feedback from the attendees, it was one of our most successful programs ever. That’s what I thought, but I am only repeating what others told me. Big Smoke No. 2 of the weekend was Saturday night, and again, about 3000 people enjoyed the scene.
Sunday’s lifestyle seminars were a big hit too. At 9:30 that morning, which is amazingly early after three days in Vegas, the room was packed with people ready to sample Charlie Palmer’s breakfast. The Roll Your Own seminar was successful as always, and although I left before the end of Jack Bettridge’s single malt Scotch seminar, I’ve been told people hung around for a long time after its official end to sample all the wares.
Posted: Nov 7, 2007 3:20pm ETA good friend of mine had a health scare about a year ago. A two or three a day cigar guy, his doc ordered him to cut back to one a week, along with a whole host of other dietary changes and medicinal regiments. He looks great, and says he’s even feeling better. So when he came over the house for dinner with his wife on Saturday and after dinner asked, "Can we have a cigar?" I was ready for him.
I took him over to my cabinet humidor, and pulled open the doors, and I could see him taking in the aroma of perfectly humidified cigars. “What do you want?” I said. He said he wanted something small, another sign of his changing habits. Well, I happen to have some of what I think are the best petit coronas ever made, the Fuente Fuente Opus X PerfecXion No. 5. The ones I have in the humidor are about 10 years old, from a batch the family gave to my wife. My friend said it looked perfect. I chose a Don Carlos Lancero.
We retired to my den, which also doubles as my wife’s office. That means I don’t usually smoke in there, even during the cooler months. But I turned on the cigar exhaust fan, and we sat back; he had a glass of single malt Scotch, and I had a fine aged Cognac. We sat for more than an hour and traded stories about our lives, getting to know each other a whole lot better. It was a perfect cigar moment.
I kept thinking that he would reach a point with the cigar and say, that’s enough, or let out a gasp because he had burned his knuckles. But he kept smoking that cigar until he could barely grasp it between his fingers, savoring every last puff, and showing a degree of appreciation for a cigar that only a man who is limited to one a week can exhibit.
Posted: Nov 1, 2007 11:44am ETOver the years as a Red Sox fan, I learned early on not to gloat. After all, there was that painful lesson in 1978 when I moved away from New York to Mexico and my parting shot to my Yankee fan roommate was something along the lines of “don’t worry, there’s always next year.”
This year, I was very silent. I always assumed the worst. Down 3 to 1 in the ALCS, I was sure the season was over, and at 3 to 2 and 3 to 3. So, a 4 to 3 win against Cleveland was great, but then I figured there was no way the Sox could stop the Rockies’ juggernaut. In both game 3 and game 4, I was absolutely certain that when the Rockies got within one run, they would just keep rolling on and get back into the Series.
At no time did I prematurely light up a victory cigar. That’s the lesson. Never, ever gloat.
But that’s over. Now I can gloat. I had my Red Sox bear prominently displayed on my desk; not for too long, just a tasteful two days before I returned it to its normal resting place atop a bookcase in my office. (I have to say, the uniform is turning a little gray.) I was grateful that my Yankee fan employees came in to pay homage and give congratulations. Well, most of them did. There are still a few holdouts. My good friend Jose Blanco, of La Aurora, even called up to congratulate me.
Finally, after I was absolutely, positively certain that Major League Baseball couldn’t take the trophy away, I lit up a celebratory cigar. I chose a cigar that Dave Savona blogged about last week, the special Padrón dubbed Reserva de la Familia No. 44. It is a cigar that the Padróns are making only for special dinners, and, according to Jorge Padron, will never be sold at retail. Let’s just say that Dave was right in his blog; if you can find a Padrón dinner in your local area, ask if the 44 is going to be featured, then get a ticket and go.
It was the perfect victory cigar. Wait ‘til next year. But that’s the last time I can say that; after all, the no gloating period has already officially started.