Posted: May 15, 2013 10:00am ET
I always liked the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," but until Monday night I never knew how much.
In the latest episode, the show's best characters—the delightfully sleazy Barney and the comely Robin with the odd masculine taste—are set for with their last night out before their impending nuptials. The plan is to relax and celebrate "everything that makes us awesome" at their favorite table at a familiar bistro.
They are drinking tumblers of Scotch at the bar, when Barney says he almost forgot something. He produces a plastic bag with two cigars. An appreciative Robin coos, "No way. Is that...?" Barney confirms, "El piramide, the first cigar we ever smoked together." (Small point of order: If memory, of an episode aired years ago, serves me right, the pyramids they actually smoked first were Partagás, which these cigars didn't appear to be, but I'll have to take that up with the show's continuity department.)
Their revelry almost immediately ends when an obnoxious p.c. yuppie couple complains. Robin explains that they're not going to light them up. They just want to look at them.
"Right," says the woman. "The smell even when they're unlit is very..."
"...pungent," the so-called male in the relationship finishes her sentence. He even wants them to put the bag away. "It's just reeeeally unappetizing."
When the couple steals their table by the window, the games begin. In unison, Barney and Robin decide to "make those smug, obnoxious sons-of-bitches pay." I've said too much already, so I won't ruin the clever way they go about it. Hopefully, you have it on TiVo, or can watch it online.
Anyway, the way the writers quickly got the point across that this couple was just unbearably awful was to present them as baseless cigar haters. Even when Barney and Robin didn't plan to light up, they imposed their opinionated will. And the viewer immediately understood the scenario. You know those people. Obnoxious. Perfect.
Posted: Feb 13, 2013 12:00am ET
The first thing I did when I heard the unsettling news Monday morning was to run out to the liquor store and buy a 1.75-liter bottle of Maker's Mark—not because I needed a drink at 9:30 a.m., but because I wanted to secure some of the original proof Bourbon from Loretto, Kentucky, before it sold out.
In case you haven't heard: on Saturday Maker's Mark sent out emails to its legion of Ambassadors informing them that after more than 50 years that the company was changing the proof on its Bourbon from 90 to 84 (or 45 percent alcohol by volume to 42 percent).
Given my well-documented love affair with this Bourbon that is made with wheat in place of rye, I immediately worked through the familiar stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and buying a bottle. Then I decided I needed to put in a call to the source itself to get the whole story. So I called Rob Samuels, who has served as the COO of Maker's Mark since his father, William Samuels Jr., stepped down as CEO in 2011.
Monday night at 6:30, I spoke to Rob, who had spent a hectic few days talking to reporters and friends of the brand, trying to quell concerns that the whisky (Maker's Mark's prefers to spell it the Scottish way-without the "e") would be changing.
Maker's had been a small brand, known mostly in Kentucky, until the 1980s, when it began growing by about 8.5 percent a year and became ubiquitous across America as well as being well-known in many foreign markets. The problem, Rob says, started about 18 months ago, when popularity started creating shortages. They managed down inventories, eliminating distribution in certain countries, but still the top sizes were not available in some markets during November and December, the company's two biggest months. "This is different than anything we've ever experienced."
Maker's Mark has been on a tear lately to make more Bourbon by running the distillery even on Sundays (unusual in Kentucky) and adding more warehouses to store the liquor for its six- to eight-year maturation. Several months ago they started looking at other ways to solve the problem, while "maintaining the taste profile and each step of the process exactly today as it has always been. This was the alternative to meet demand." Lowering alcohol content stretches volumes, because it is achieved it by adding more water during bottling. Maker's Mark and almost all whiskeys are diluted to some extent-the minimum proof being 80, or 40 percent alcohol. But naturally the option of further watering down Maker's has not sat well with the many alarmed bartenders and consumers who have weighed in since the announcement. Rob says, however, that concerned calls have been fewer than the ones received when shelves were empty.
Posted: Feb 8, 2013 12:00am ET
I have a confession to make. For three seasons now I have been hooked on what is essentially a soap opera: Masterpiece Classic’s “Downton Abbey,” produced for British television, but shown here on PBS.
Sure it’s very classy and all, telling the fictional story of a noble English family during the last days of the great manor houses in the early 20th century, but still—I admit—it is a soap opera. And I’m hooked at the gill—addicted to this show that is more the kind of thing my wife would watch than my smoking buddies. Even while I was performing the manly rite of watching the Super Bowl on Sunday I was secretly recording “Downton Abbey” on DVR for later viewing. (No! I didn’t forsake my beloved Ravens during the brownout.)
Despite its scrupulous attention to cultural details and the historical underpinnings of the show—it begins on the day of the sinking of the Titanic, continues through the First World War and its aftermath, with steady references to then-current events—something of the unrealistic pervades the plot. For instance, all seems lost for a hoped-for union between Matthew Crawley, a third cousin, and the lord of the manor’s eldest daughter that would save the family from giving up Downton Abbey, when Matthew is paralyzed in the war. After a miraculous recovery revives hope, it is only dashed again because of his previous commitment to another. But relief in the guise of the Spanish influenza pandemic swoops in to put the romance on track once again. You get the picture.
And it is this reliance on the hand of fate (deus ex machina), not the R-words (romance and relationship) that makes “Downton Abbey” such a soap opera—and hence so objectionable to the man in me. Nevertheless, I plow through because I am captivated by the plot and fascinated by the attention to historical detail in what is otherwise a costume-drama period piece.
But recently something started to gnaw at me. And it had to do with cigars. Whenever Matthew and Lord Grantham want to have a heart-to-heart, they do so after dinner over a nice smoke. So far, so good. I, of course, understand how conducive a fine Habano is to deep conversation. It is the setting, however, that bothered me. Every time they light up, it is at the supper table. Even while the ladies have left to enjoy petits fours and palaver (or whatever they do), it still seemed a little vulgar in a manor of this style to smoke up right there. The research I’d done on gentlemen’s retreats of the rich and famous when I wrote “Smoking Rooms of the Gilded Age” (May-June 1998) suggested that any place as elegant and set on protocol as Downton Abbey would have had a more appropriate place for men to take their cigars.
Posted: Aug 1, 2012 12:00am ET
I’m sitting atop 666 Fifth Avenue, gazing out across glorious Central Park as the sun goes down in the full flush of midsummer and I think, “What would make this scenario even better?
I’ll kill the suspense right now and just say it: a cigar and a cocktail.
Happily, the above mentioned address is home to New York City’s Grand Havana Room, where enjoying those two items in conjunction is not only allowed, it’s the plan. So I summon the svelte waitress in the end-of-the-world mini-dress, request a Knob Creek Manhattan straight up with a twist and draw my Alec Bradley Tempus from a pouch humidor.
All is right with the world. I’m in one of the premier smoking spots on the globe, ensconced in an enveloping leather easy chair in this wood-paneled haven of—what some would call decadence, I would say—spiritualism.
But my reverie abandons me as I ponder the lot of the souls wandering just beneath me in the park. For they cannot smoke their cherished cigars. They cannot sip their Manhattans. And it’s simply because the law won’t allow. Here, I am one of the privileged. I can indulge myself in these two ways after a day of work, which is something that not too long ago you could do all over New York City. Sadly, that is no longer true, and you need access to this club or one of a handful of places that still allow cigars.
Then I remember it is summer, and the weather and human ingenuity have conspired to vanquish draconian smoking regulations. There’s the hotel across from where I work that opens its rooftop to cigar lovers. There’s the pub down the street that’s created a patio in its backyard. And then, of course, there are the many tobacconists who, no matter what the climate, have welcoming lounges for those who could not otherwise find smoking asylum.
So I sit easier thinking of the retreats that allow us to pursue our passion and I raise my glass in appreciation of them. I hope you all have just places and cherish them. At Cigar Aficionado, we want to know about all such precious vanishing natural resources. Wherever you are in America, please tell me the places you have found to enjoy a cigar and a cocktail.
Posted: Jul 2, 2012 12:00am ET
Some invitations you don't turn down—so I didn't. Jimmy Russell, master distiller of Wild Turkey and a Bourbon titan, visited New York from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, last week to pour some American Honey at Blue Smoke, the Danny Meyers barbecue joint in Murray Hill. You get the picture. This wasn't something I was going to miss.
American Honey is a Wild Turkey-based liqueur that is catching fire right now, and while I'm normally more of a fan of Russell's fuller-proof spirits—Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Rare Breed, the single-barrel Kentucky Spirit and Russells' Reserve—at 71 proof this is a formidable liqueur even with the insistent sweetness of honey.
While the idea of a whiskey-and-honey drink may seem like the latest thing—witness Jack Daniel's also has a popular version—Jimmy explained that his has actually been around since the 1980s when it was first released as Wild Turkey Honey. Not only that, but he traces his inspiration to his childhood when his parents—his father was a stillman himself at the distillery now called Wild Turkey—would rub a mixture of Bourbon and honey on his gums to calm him when he was teething. "These days they'd probably get arrested for doing that," Jimmy laughed. They stopped giving it to him when he started asking for "some of that honey." (Maybe that explains his life-long taste for Bourbon.) As an adult he still touts it's medicinal purposes, however, explaining that if you put some in a shot glass and microwave it, you've got a ready-made hot toddy. "It's good for a cough," he said. "So I always try to have a cough."
When I—sadly—had to leave that soiree of whiskey and barbecue, Jimmy was kind enough to give me a bottle to take home. and this weekend I was inspired to experiment with it. While watching tennis on television I was moved to read up on Pimm's Cup, one of the signature beverages served at Wimbledon.
Pimm's No. 1, a gin-based concoction, is one of my favorite liqueurs, but it seems there have been as many as five other variations of that liqueur that is the alcohol quotient of the mixed drink known as the Pimm's Cups. Brandy, Scotch, rum, vodka and rye whiskey have been among the base spirits for Pimm's versions that, at one point, numbered 1 through 6.
Posted: Jun 26, 2012 12:00am ET
It's no secret: pairing cigars and spirits is my thing. But I don't regard the actual mixing of the two a particularly palatable proposition. That is, I don't dip my cigar's head into a brandy snifter before smoking it and I don't feature tobacco that has been flavored with whiskey—even the Maker's Mark cigar that has been aromatized with one of my favorite Bourbons; it smells and tastes rank when you light it.
But how about if you made a cocktail that tasted like a cigar? At least then you could go to a bar with a no-smoking policy and, while not actually indulging in our favorite pastime, get a reminder of what you were missing. I encountered something like that yesterday at an event for Pallini Limoncello at the Macau Trading Company in New York City's Tribeca section. It was a small gathering with the express purpose of inventing cocktails with the host's liqueur.
Limoncello is the signature drink of Italy's Amalfi Coast, where huge lemons grow all over the place. While out-sized, the native lemons aren't particularly tart compared to what grows in the United States, and they make a sweet liqueur that tastes something like a lemon drop. Limoncellos are not necessarily made from that lemon, although Pallini is one of the makers that uses Amalfi lemons exclusively.
Anyway, we all set to work on creating drinks and a few of them ended up being fairly reminiscent of a cigar. No, there was no tobacco added. (I've had that at a Manhattan contest, and it succeeded in putting me off what is usually one of my favorite drinks.) What gave them that taste were smoky spirits. In particular, Ardbeg single-malt Scotch and mezcal. It seemed that the lemon in the Pallini brought out the inherent smokiness in both those products in a pleasant way.
It wasn't something I would have thought of. (My own instinct for the limoncello challenge was to go with Bourbon, in something like a Sazerac offshoot, including a wash of absinthe and a dash of orange bitters, which worked out well, but had no cigar overtones.) This suggests to me a whole new avenue of experimentation with sort of Rob Roy variations, using Islay Scotch and limoncello. Now, I have something to do with my free time. My wife's reaction was, "Oh, joy!"
Posted: Mar 23, 2012 12:00am ET
We place a lot of importance on the age of things. Age generally confers quality on old whiskeys and wines. However, when it comes to seafood and athletes, we usually prefer them fresher. Ever think about the words you’re using and how old they are?
All the ones I’ve used so far are centuries old and still going strong. My colleague Andrew (Drew) Nagy just brought to my attention an article from the Spring 2012 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly that presents a sampling of 15 words taken from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), together with their first known written use.
It’s an odd mix, notable to us because it includes the term tobacco, which it turns out is an old word indeed. The OED tracks it to 1585, when one William Harrison wrote the following:
In these daies the taking-in of the Indian herbe called Tabaco, by an instrument formed like a litle ladell, wherby it passeth from the mouth into the hed & stomach, is gretlie taken-vp and vsed in England.
Of course, Harrison’s spelling of tobacco (as with about a quarter of the other words he uses) differs from what we’d now consider Standard English. But the real linguistic origin of tabaco likely stretches back far longer. We (English speakers) got the term tabaco from the Spanish, who got it from the Taino Indians when Columbus visited Cuba, some 90 years earlier. How long the Taino (who also gave us another great word related to smoking: barbecue) had used it is anyone’s guess.
What makes some of the other 14 words on the list fascinating is their chronological relationship to tobacco’s emergence. For instance, the word anarchy (1539) predates tobacco. That is logical since one can imagine that a world where men knew nothing of tobacco must have been rife with the disorder and lawlessness implied by anarchy.
It wasn’t for another 13 years after tobacco’s origin that Shakespeare first wrote audaciously (1598) in Love’s Labour’s Lost. After all, how audacious could anyone have been without a smoke? Oddly, fun didn’t enter the language for quite a while (1699), while you’d think there would have been quite a bit of that once men got their tobacco.
Posted: Feb 21, 2012 12:00am ET
Everyday life is so full of doublespeak that I’m always surprised to encounter straightforward speech. George Orwell shined a light on deceptive bureaucratic wording in the novel 1984, in which the Ministry of Truth is actually busy falsifying history and the Ministry of Love is where you go to get tortured. Today, in real life, the concept is more pervasive. For instance, we have such institutions as the “employment bureaus,” which are really unemployment facilities designed for those who have been laid off only to be told they were “downsized,” or some such euphemism. And the examples go on and on.
So I admit I was taken aback last week when I visited the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas and read this forthright heading in its guide to dining: “Nonsmoking Policy.”
The wording was so honest that it was kind of endearing. Even while I knew I was just about to be told where I couldn’t smoke, I was struck by the author’s honesty in simply stating that fact. It’s been my experience that institutions will call out their “smoking policies” or “smoking regulations,” even while they are really informing me is that what I can do is the very opposite of smoking. Here was a refreshing bit of truth in advertising. Atlantis had decided not to sugarcoat the bad news.
My immediate assumption was that my enjoyment of cigars was about to be relegated to the resort’s casino floor. Perhaps “enjoyment” is too strong a word here, because it is difficult to take much joy in such a meditative and sensual pursuit as cigar smoking when one is confined to an atmosphere punctuated by blinking lights, clanging bells and the aroma of menthol cigarettes and decorative deodorants meant to hang on a car’s rearview mirror.
Except that when I read on it turned out that the news wasn’t so terrible. I could smoke cigarettes at all the outdoor restaurants and bars, as well as in indoor bars and lounges. Cigars were a bit more restricted. I could smoke them at indoor and outdoor bars, but not in restaurants.
Posted: Feb 13, 2012 12:00am ET
I know a lot of guys are flummoxed about what to give for Valentine’s Day tomorrow. You don’t want to buy some jewelry that might not go with her other accessories and you certainly don’t want to fatten her up with some expensive chocolate.
Here’s a genius gift idea, and the only thing that cheeses me off is that I didn’t think of it years ago. It would have saved me a lot of trouble and heartache.
Bottega Distilleria, the grappa maker, is suggesting using its blown-glass bottles as vases for delivering your loved one a single perfect rose. The idea is that you’re showing your gal your abiding concern for the environment by recycling one of Bottega’s beautiful decanters instead of throwing it away and adding it to your carbon footprint like some heathen.
(The company offers a range of imaginative bottles you could use, but the obvious choice for this job is the design it uses for its Red Rose Prosecco Grappa, shown.)
The beauty of this is that it is win/win. Your lady is gratified that you thought of her in this creative and ecologically sensitive way. And you get to drink the grappa as you empty the makeshift vase so it can accept the floral symbol of your love for her.
But why stop at grappa? There are a lot of attractive liquor bottles out there that I think about would make lovely vases. Four Roses Bourbon, for one, is a no brainer.
And Valentine’s Day isn’t the only time to show your sensitive and caring side. You can make your girl feel loved on any holiday.
In fact, I’m kicking myself right now because I didn’t get my wife a rose yesterday for Lincoln’s birthday.
One word of advice: remember to purchase the rose before you drink the contents of the vase.
Posted: Jan 13, 2012 12:00am ET
Over New Year’s a friend told me he resolved to give up cigars in 2012—except on special occasions. So I wondered what such a regime would look like for me, so I decided to craft the following smoking calendar for the next month, starting today, that would indicate special occasions on which I could smoke:
January 13: Well, I am not going to start quitting today as one should always taper into things of this nature. Smoke.
January 14: NFL divisional playoffs (New Orleans vs. San Francisco; Denver vs. New England). It is impossible to truly evaluate contests of such important without the help of a good cigar. Smoke.
January 15: NFL divisional playoffs. (New York Giants vs. Green Bay; Baltimore vs. Houston). See above. Also 45th anniversary of Super Bowl I (Green Bay 35-Kansas City 10). Smoke.
January 16: Martin Luther King Day. As this is a national holiday, it would seem almost sacrilegious to observe it without the sacrament of a cigar. Also 93rd anniversary of first day of Prohibition: necessary to strike a blow for freedom. Smoke.
January 17: Ninety-sixth anniversary of Professional Golf Association. Must show solidarity with golfers whose only respite from anti-smoking regulations is often on the links. Smoke.
January 18: Thesaurus Day, created to honor Peter Roget, the author of the foremost compendium of synonyms. What’s another way to say special occasion? Cigar? Smoke.
January 19: Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. Ever read those stories? This guy was clearly smoking something. Smoke.
January 20: Fifty-first anniversary of inauguration of John F. Kennedy. He may have embargoed Cuban cigars, but not before he first filled his humidor with them. (Read the story in Cigar Aficionado, Autumn 1992.) Smoke.
January 21: Thirty-fifth anniversary of pardon of Vietnam War draft dodgers. If Jimmy Carter let them off the hook, can’t a guy get a pass for a cigar? Smoke.