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Jack Bettridge

Why a Culebra?

Posted: Jul 17, 2007 11:07am ET
The culebra cigar shape has always flummoxed me. Spanish for snake, a culebra is a crooked viper of a cigar, usually packaged in a set of three intertwined around each other. It’s novel, but what would possess anyone to roll tobacco in that way? They’re hard to package, weird to smoke and they don’t fit in any cigar case I know of.

I’d been ruminating over the mystery particularly lately since we recently tasted a culebra as part of a tasting for an upcoming issue. Then it hit me while in the act of typing said cigar review: With a culebra, you can smoke and type at the same time while keeping the smoke out of your eyes. Simply turn the cigar to the side of your face and let the smoke funnel away from you.

Is that problem solved now officially solved, or does someone have a more viable explanation for the existence of these serpentine cigars?
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Sharp’ning Up Your Cocktail Talk

Posted: Jun 29, 2007 12:21pm ET
Every year dictionary publishers and language arbiters announce with some fanfare words that they have decided to add to the lexicon. Because of the relentless march of technology, many of them are terms that sprout from the conversation of computer buffs and other such electronically obsessed types: blogging, podcasts, texting, for example.

Seldom is proposed a word that is useful to the rest of us. “Sharp’ner” is one such word. It comes to us from London slang and refers to a quick and social drink at the start of the evening. Currently being championed by the makers of Beefeater gin (, it’s a term that seems much more useful in our everyday life than “metrosexual” or “youtubing”.

Beyond simply defining the time and setting, the sharp’ner further seems to foster a healthy attitude about drinking—as the name implies the point is to hone the mind after the dulling workload of the day. Unlike the preponderance of slang phrases for drinking—hammer some pounders, slam some shooters, etc.—having a sharp’ner doesn’t have a sense of inevitable inebriation. And that is what Beefeater is promoting.

“In America, meeting a friend for ‘a drink’ can mean committing to an entire evening,” says the brand director, Suzanne Freedman. “Londoners have the right idea with the sharp’ner as it offers a way to meet up with a friend for one drink and very little obligation.”

The Kennington
The Kennington
I applaud the spirit of Beefeater’s effort even while I have no idea if sharp’ner is actually London slang. (I have heard the term “cleanser” used variously by Australians to mean a quick alcoholic drink to cleanse the mind and as a non-alcoholic drink between a bout with the harder stuff as a way to cleanse the palate even if it’s too late to cleanse the mind.) The concept of the sharp’ner is a way to focus on the remedial aspects of drinking and take the emphasis off of overindulgence, in short, more quality, less quantity.
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Further Adventures in Spotting Smokers

Posted: Jun 19, 2007 4:14pm ET
Earlier I blogged about a game I like to play that I call “Seen Smoking.” Not much to it essentially except spotting people smoking cigars. Sometimes it’s on the street, other times it’s in the media or celebrity life.

Sunday, I had a particularly good sighting while watching “Entourage,” the HBO series that just began its second season of the year. (It ran for a number of episodes in the time slot following “The Sopranos,” then took a week off when “The Sopranos” had its final episode and it just restarted in what is being called a separate season—these things were easier to follow years ago when every season began in September, but I digress.)

Anyway, as the season begins the main character, actor Vinnie Chase, and his entourage (hence the title) of hanger-ons, including brother, manager and go-fer, have traveled to Colombia to film a biopic of the drug lord Pablo Escobar. Enter Billy Walsh, the self-possessed megalomaniacal bully who is directing the “film.” (His term. I prefer “movie,” as I think of film as something you scrub off your shower door.)

Owing to his inability to find a good ending for the picture or bed down the starlet, Walsh commences to chain smoke cigars in a sort of punctuation to his directorial meltdown in the jungle. (Shades of Coppola on “Apocalypse Now”?) Cigars can get you through a lot!

It’s not the first time “Entourage” has featured cigars, but it is the most in one episode. Jeremy Piven, who has made quite a splash—Emmy Award—playing Vinnie’s oily, hyperactive agent, is known to smoke off the set as well. Apparently HBO hasn’t the same compunctions as a lot of the rest of television has about portraying characters with cigars—case in point “The Sopranos." More power to ‘em.
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The Power of Positive Drinking

Posted: Jun 7, 2007 3:15pm ET
It’s almost like the power of positive drinking…
…strike that…
…positive thinking.
I’ve no sooner put to bed a story on rum for Cigar Aficionado (August 2007 issue) than arrives from the trade organization The Rums of Puerto Rico ( an insulated backpack (with a set of luggage wheels, no less) that contains a bottle each of Don Q Cristal and Don Q Citrus Rum.
Am I that transparent?
Of course, this all plays into what I’ve been thinking and writing about lately: rum, in all its iterations—light, gold and dark—is on the upswing right now. Probably most remarkable is the white spirit part of that equation—it’s the fastest growing white spirit in the U.S. But lots of new rums are debuting as lighter spirits, belying the notion that liquor has to be dark to be good.
Puerto Rico plays a big part in that development, having been instrumental in trying to standardize a drink that has almost no international regulation. In particular, all Puerto Rican rums must be aged a minimum of one year—even the colorless ones. Consequently some legendary rums come from there, the aforementioned as well Ron Barrilito, Castillo and Bacardi.
Going into the summer as we are, I am very excited about the possibilities for rum cocktails and especially for pairing cigars with rum. The latter, I think, is especially well-advised during the summer months.
Does anyone else feel they turn to thoughts of rum in the warm weather?
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Gentlemen, You May Grill

Posted: May 23, 2007 2:50pm ET
It’s finally that time of year—in the New York area anyway—when you can go home in the evening and your patio grill beckons you to go out and put fire to high-grade meat.

This reason I bring this up is that in the coming issue of Cigar Aficionado—August—the Good Life Guide will feature a piece on fantastic stainless steel grills for which Savona and I did extensive research (read: we called in grills from Wolf, Weber, Viking and Ducane and fired them up every chance we got to cook a panorama of different cuts). Now, far be it for me to complain, but what kept this experience from being ideal is that because of deadline constraints we started the process in the dead of winter in order to get the story to you by that day in July—or whatever—on which the issue actually comes out.

In a way that was good because we could test the grills under the most abject of conditions and really know how truly they heated without having to worry about ambient heat that might tend to make the grills cook more evenly. It also gave us an idea of which cookers fired up on demand and which let a little wind affect them.

On the other hand there were things we couldn’t test—or more accurately didn’t want to. Because it was so cold, sometimes I found myself visiting the grill in short spurts, dealing with the meal and then running back inside to stay warm. That’s fine, but I also associate the grilling experience with standing by the fire while I light up a big cigar and savor a highball—both of which I chose not to do in 15 degrees cold.

Now, the weather is perfect for savoring both cigar and drink grill side, but we’ve written the story and are unable to report on how the Weber had a handy little spot next to the control knobs that is just perfect for my cocktail or that I’ve taken to tossing my cigar butts in the Viking’s smoke box for a later experiment in barbecue. I’m sure Savona could also wax eloquent how the Wolf and the Ducane were good companions for his smoking revery.
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Smoking and Drinking

Posted: May 11, 2007 4:32pm ET
This is a response to Savona’s most recent blog:

The bigger question is where to smoke and drink.

Sure, it’s hard to find a place to smoke, but doing that in conjunction with a fine whisky or other brown water is the toughest. It’s a Catch 22. You can drink in a bar, but you have to walk outside to smoke. But unless it’s a bar with a patio, you can’t take the drink with you—at least in the jurisdictions I frequent.

Let’s face it: the drink bone is connected to the smoke bone. You order a classic malt and your hand naturally reaches for your cigar case. You light up a fine cigar and you want a companion for it in the form of Scotch, Bourbon, Brandy or Rum.

You could, I suppose, carry a flask. But then you’re limited to whatever’s in that flask as a pairing for whatever cigar comes your way. Suppose you’ve packed a salty Islay malt and someone hands you a feathery light cigar with a Connecticut wrapper. Not too much synergy there, eh?

I long for the days when the two walked hand in hand. You could go to a well-stocked whiskey bar, pull out whatever you had in your case and make an exercise of choosing the best drink to go with it. If you were wrong—simple—order another.

Why can’t our booze and our cigars just get along?
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Sometimes You Get More Than You Pay For

Posted: Apr 23, 2007 5:02pm ET
Case in point: the promotional gift that just arrived on my desk with an invitation to a luncheon celebrating tourism in the state of Kentucky. It’s a miniature baseball bat from Louisville Slugger, about 15 inches long. Normally, you have to tour the factory to get a piece of wood like this, and while it may not seem very useful, I’ve found that if you like to serve Mint Juleps at this time of year, you can’t have enough of them.

The Mint Julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, which works out quite nicely since it celebrates the springtime return of mint just at the time that the Run for the Roses is run (this year on May 5) and the state’s contribution to the spirits world (Bourbon).

But what about the Louisville Slugger?

Well, listen to the recipe and you shall hear. In advance, make simple syrup (boiling equal parts water and granular cane sugar with some fresh mint leaves). Drip two to four teaspoons of the syrup into a highball glass. Drop four to five mint leaves on top. And this is where the Louisville Slugger comes to bat: muddle the mixture in the bottom of the glass, using the bat to crush the leaves into the syrup. Just get in there and mush everything together, this is what a bat of this size is made for.

Fill the glass almost to the top with crushed ice (and you can use the bat in the capacity as well, if you don’t have something mechanical to do the job. Add two to three ounces of your favorite Bourbon (this is no time to stint with the cheap stuff, pour the aged Pappy Van Winkle you’ve been saving or some Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, Evan Williams, Bulleit, Blanton’s Single Barrel or, if you really want to blow the roof off, Booker’s). Top with more crushed ice or some water or soda and some more mint leaves.

Drink, watch horses race, drink some more.
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Travelling Through Egypt

Posted: Apr 17, 2007 1:50pm ET
Day Two: In a Cairo Smoking Lounge

Imagine an open air bar with tarps for ceilings (sort of like the ones they use for Connecticut shade tobacco). Divans are everywhere, with patrons lying out and smoking from hookahs. It’s sort of the same mental image you get from the phrase opium den, but everyone’s smoking tobacco—flavored tobacco, but tobacco nonetheless.

A waiter comes and gives you a pallet of different tastes, most of which are fruity—cherry, apricot, orange—with some vanilla and spice choices as well. There’s also something labeled with Arabic characters that the waiter pronounces as “ass” and another one called “ass Africa.” For obvious reasons, I pass on those. In my group we order a combination of the above flavors not prefaced with “ass” and the smokemaster arrives to light the pipes. He does this with a chunk of lit charcoal, removing the mouthpiece from the hose so he can fire up your tobacco and hand you it to start puffing.

The smoke is quite mild and easy to inhale due to the cooling effect of the water in the hookah. Mainly, the fruit flavor comes through, which is quite insipid, but I don’t mention this as I don’t want to seem the ugly American. Best shuffle off and enjoy a cigar elsewhere.

Day Three: Aswan

The answer to my earlier question about whether you could smoke in an ancient Egyptian temple is no, but you can come right up to the door with a cigar. Also, vendors selling everything from robes to hookahs to turbans and skull caps can hound you right up to the door of the temple.

Day Four: Edfu

The ceiling of the Temple of Horus is charred with smoke, and naturally I get blamed:

“No, I didn’t have a cigar, honey.”

“Then why is the ceiling all black?”

“How do I know? Maybe some kid went nuts with a Magic Marker.”
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A Smoker On The Nile

Posted: Apr 13, 2007 4:27pm ET
Day One of my trip to Egypt to cruise the Nile, tour guide informs our group:

''You've probably noticed that people smoke everywhere here. We'll try to shield you from that, but bear in mind that you're only a group of 50 nonsmokers surrounded by 70 million smokers.''

Hee, hee, hee. Little does she know. Make that 49 nonsmokers.

Also they don't actually smoke everywhere. Museums and mosques are off limits. Haven't visited a pyramid yet. Will report on that situation.

Bad new is the wine's pretty bad and no brown water so far.

But good beer.
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Cigar Solitaire

Posted: Apr 11, 2007 12:13am ET
Since starting at Cigar Aficionado 10 years ago, I’ve played a game with myself that I call Seen Smoking. It doesn’t involve any equipment and the action is fairly simple: watch others smoking cigars. And it can be done anywhere: on my walk down Park Avenue to work, sitting in Madison Square, standing on the train platform, sunning on an island beach, even watching television in the den. It’s a form of solitaire for which you only need happenstance and powers of observation.

What makes it interesting is the scoring—which is totally subjective. I judge a sighting on two criteria: how interesting it is and how relatively positive or negative it is to the image of smoking. If you see someone smoking outside a building next to one of those ash cans that the nanny state provides for misplaced smokers as if they were back in high school at the designated smoking area, that’s a pretty bland sighting and has a base-level score of about a 3 on the 10-point scale. If he’s smoking an unusual cigar (either in brand or shape) add a couple points. If he’s a she, always add 5 points. An especially long ash can also earn an point or two. If the smoker is unkempt or offensive (blowing smoke in the faces of passersby, for instance) I subtract points as he’s running down our image. (Of course, you can make up your own scoring criteria, if you want to play at home.)

Sightings in unusual places get added points. Once I saw a construction worker use a lunch break to enjoy a perfecto high up on a steel girder while his colleagues munched on sandwiches yards away. That was an 8. Of course, if the location of the sighting is unusual because of its inappropriateness (an emergency room, for instance) you have to subtract points.

Unusual juxtapositions are also good for points. Someone of limited means who has decided to create an island of luxury in an otherwise drab life with a $10 cigar will always get a high score. I’m not sure why, but I don’t reward the well-heeled guy who’s smoking a machine-made cigars similarly. But it’s my game. I did, however, once spy a man in a three-piece suit discreetly tear the band off a Cohiba before he walked it through the park. He scored high for lack of pretension, although in retrospect I suppose he may have been trying to keep from being busted for trading with the enemy.
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