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Jack Bettridge

Smoking Spots

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.

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An American Honey Cocktail Inspired by Wimbledon

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.

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Smoke and Cocktails

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!"

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Fun With Words Old and New

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.

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Non-Orwellian Smoking

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.

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Solving Valentine's Day

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.)

Grappa vase.

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.

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A 2012 Cigar Calendar

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.

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Bloody Heaven

Posted: Jan 5, 2012 12:00am ET

A popular line around our office is to refer to a cigar as a good “breakfast smoke." That means it's an admirable cigar, but mild-bodied—the kind of thing you light to wake up your palate in the morning. Every New Year's I'm reminded of what the best "breakfast drink" is. You can toast with whatever you want to when the ball drops the night before, but in the harsh light of dawn it has to be the Bloody Mary.

When restoration after an evening of overdoing is in order, there is but one drink to turn to: this colorful highball that combines vitamins (tomato juice), stimulants (hot spices) and the fabled hair of the dog (vodka). But, while it is the quintessential “breakfast drink,” I wouldn’t exactly refer to it as mild-bodied, given its composition.

Predictably, as soon as first light stirred the crust from my eyes in 2012, I started the year with a Bloody Mary. I advise always keeping the ingredients on hand as you never know when a bout of the Episcopal flu might set in. In fact, in the tassel-loafer panhandle of Connecticut, from which I hail, you'd have a riot if any of those ingredients were in short supply on a New Year's morning-after—or for that matter at any early-morning engagement—such as an orgy of Christmas-present unwrapping (if you happen to be visited with children) or a brunch (if you happen to be metrosexual)—at which one needs to be civil even while feeling cranky and creaky.

(However, if you are caught in short supply, certain substitutions can be made as emergency contingencies. If you have no tomato juice, try ketchup. It allows you to add more vodka for the purpose of dilution. If you’re out of vodka, use gin. If your spice cupboard is bare, repair to a bar that opens early.)

Anyway, as the weather on New Year’s Day was still rather warm where I live—it’s bitterly cold now—I decided to join that breakfast drink with a breakfast lancero (a Macanudo Café Portofino I’d cadged from the tasting for the December issue). I sat out on my deck and not only drank a Bloody Mary, but read about the drink as well. It was my first chance to peruse Jeffrey Pogash’s delightful treatise Bloody Mary, which was recently published through the Thornhill Press Libretto series. It’s a testament to both the drink and the book of the same name that I had any will to read at all that morning.

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From Russia with Gloves Off

Posted: Jan 3, 2012 12:00am ET

Not much gets a rise out of me in the way of smoking paraphernalia anymore, but I have to confess to being knocked out by one Christmas gift this year. It's handsome, it's clever, it's diabolical, hell, it may even be illegal.

No, it's not a Cuban cigar. It's a pair of cigar scissors that seems to double as brass knuckles (rather in this case, stainless-steel knuckles). On the one hand, you get a firm, three-fingered grip on the side opposing the thumb as you carefully cut your cigar. On the other hand, doesn't this thing look gnarly?

I got it from my nephew John Wilkinson, who's a sonar operator in the Navy. He spotted these scissors during leave on his last voyage, which took him to (where else?) Russia, and alertly procured a pair, knowing his favorite uncle was in dire need of such a thing.

It's not only a conversation starter, it could also be a conversation stopper. Imagine you're enjoying a cigar in your favorite legal smoking haven, when suddenly someone interrupts your reverie, saying something like: "Do you have to smoke that nasty thing around me?" You calmly slip on the Fist of Doom Scissors (not their real name, all the packaging was in the Cyrillic alphabet, so I have no idea what they're called) and "biff, bam, piyooooo...," debate over.

But, of course, I abhor violence and am not suggesting anyone use these scissors for anything but for their intended purpose of snipping the heads off of cigars. But it's nice to know you could if you had to.

Cigar scissors close up.
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Walking in a Window Wonderland

Posted: Dec 8, 2011 12:00am ET

Almost two weeks into the season, and I’m already getting the holiday spirit.

Let me preface this by saying, this is very early for me. I’m not the guy who warms up for the next round of festivities as soon the last dish is cleared from the Thanksgiving feast. In fact, it’s usually late on Christmas Eve—just after downing several Egg Nogs and sobbing while watching It’s A Wonderful Life—that I can even bring myself to say “seasons greetings.”

I’m especially scorched by the whole hit- the-ground-running approach to gift giving with its insistence that Black Friday is a national holiday that warrants arising at ungodly hours to secure so-called bargains.

So I guess you could sum up my overall holiday mood up to this point with one word: Humbug!

But today I had a transformation of Scrooge-ian proportions. And it happened in the most unlikely of venues: in front of a store window dressed for the season. I know, I know. Holiday displays are usually cheesy come-ons, but this was one was different. For me, it conveyed the true spirit of the season.

Pciture of Park Avenue Liquors holiday window.

Suspense over: It was the window at Park Avenue Liquors in Manhattan, filled with $140,000 worth of high-end spirits. I felt like a little kid again, pressing my nose to the glass to get a look at a Lionel train, a Flexible Flyer sled or “a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.” Only, in this case, I was taking a gander at 24 beautiful bottles, including Scotch whiskies (a 57- and 60-year-old Macallan, a Bowmore 40-year-old and the fabled Black, Glenmorangie Pride, Highland Park 50-year-old and The John Walker blend that includes whiskies from two different distilleries that no longer exist) and Cognacs (a magnum of Louis XIII Cognac, four different versions of Hardy Perfection, Hennessy Richard and Martel L’Or De Jean Martel).

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