Posted: Jan 5, 2012 12:00am ET
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
Posted: Nov 15, 2011 12:00am ET
blog I wrote recently about having a cigar at New York's Explorer's
Club got me thinking about smoking venues and the idea that where—and
when—you smoke can be as important as what you smoke.
The aforementioned smoking experience was so good because it was a) virtually unplanned (cigar serendipity is always a delight), b) enjoyed with friends and a whisky (don't get me started on the latter) and c) partaken in a classic smoking atmosphere (the clubby ambience of a venerable old institution).
Was that the perfect smoking situation? I would say, “Yes,” except that I’ve enjoyed cigars in many contexts that were far different from that and which I also might regard as perfect. (At least I’m not ready to assess the relative merits each and declare one better than the other.) Does the Explorer’s Club experience beat smoking a cigar alone on my deck? It did that night, but many’s the time I want that solitude and am unwilling to share it.
In the early days of Cigar Aficionado, we ran a column called “Great Moments” in which readers would write about their prize cigar experiences. So many of them described idyllic scenes like climbing to the top of mountain and breaking out a long-saved Cuban or one-on-one bonding (especially of the father-and-son variety) over Corona Gordas, that I wondered if I were completely insensitive because I also treasured situations that were more clamorous. As well as the philosophical smoking moment, I also enjoy nothing better than playing cards or pool with a bunch of guys who are just shooting the shit while smoking up the joint to their hearts content. Could the two truths coexist?
Years ago, I wrote a Cigar Aficionado article about what were essentially the cigar rooms of the rich and famous. I discovered that the smoke-atoriums installed at some of the great Gilded Age estates were all different. Some were little dens meant for a maximum two people to smoke in peace while dressed in smoking jacket and fez. Others were great halls where the male contingent of a large banquet would take their postprandial cigar and Cognac, dressed in white tie and tails. Obviously, both worked or they wouldn’t have built a mansion around each idea. Different strokes—or should I say stokes—for different folks.
Posted: Nov 14, 2011 12:00am ET
in June, I wrote in this space about missing out on a windfall cigar
opportunity because I wasn’t packing heaters (as I normally would have
been before all this cigar regulation nonsense).
I would have made the same mistake again last week had not my illustrious colleague David Savona saved me.
We were headed to the same venue—Manhattan’s Explorer’s Club—where I had spent an early-summer evening wishing I’d brought smokes because the society’s upper-East Side facility has a second-floor patio on which smoking was permitted. (I suppose it isn’t such a stretch that an organization that notoriously hosts dinners where such dishes as earthworm stir fry and maggot-covered strawberries are served would have an outlet for smokers.) On the subway ride there I slapped my head and said, “Doh, we should have brought cigars.”
I explained the situation, and Savona—a former Boy Scout who almost made Eagle and is always prepared—said not to worry, “I’ve got you covered.” Not only did he have me covered, he had enough smokes to hand out to other guests willing to explore the possibilities of a great smoke and a Scotch whisky, which as it happened was the theme of the evening.
Perhaps you’ve heard of how several bottles of Scotch abandoned by the Ernest Shackleton expedition in Antarctica around 1909 were recently recovered. That dram—Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky—is no longer made, but there is a way to taste a facsimile thereof. Richard Patterson, the master distiller of The Dalmore, analyzed the whisky that was recovered and blended a replica of it using several Highland and Speyside malts from Whyte & Mackay (the Dalmore owner). That effort is now available for sale in a limited edition of 50,000 bottles ($175).
Posted: Oct 11, 2011 12:00am ET
“Oh, good luck taking over that gig!”
Mick Fleetwood is recounting one of his initial impressions of Sammy Hagar. He had just heard the Red Rocker was to replace David Lee Roth as the front man for Van Halen, and the founder/drummer of Fleetwood Mac, no stranger to difficult rock-band dynamics himself, was understandably empathetic.
Years later, Fleetwood’s feelings toward Hagar have turned from simple commiseration to admiration: “He’s the real deal. He’s a real musician and a great singer, very relaxed.” They are also now great friends, close enough that not too long ago when Hagar visited Hawaii—where Fleetwood lives—he phoned him up and the two got together.
Fleetwood had heard about Hagar’s latest project, Off The Record, a series of videos meant to pair rock royalty with buzzworthy emerging artists. “I felt compelled to ask him about his project,” says Fleetwood, and now he is appearing in the first of the series alongside Nicole Atkins, a singer/songwriter who performs personal material in a mix of styles. The conversations between the two, as well as musical performance, debut today on YouTube.
And that’s how that happened.
Why I’m on the phone call to Mick Fleetwood in Maui is a little more obscure. It has to do with my having gone not off, but on, the record as a fan of Cabo Wabo Tequila and my generally shameless sycophancy when it comes to rock’n’roll royalty. Cabo Wabo is a brand developed by Hagar, and it is under its aegis that the videos are being produced. When the promoters called and asked if I wanted to talk to a rock colossus, I said, “By all means.”
The video was shot in Fleetwood’s, the drummer’s soon-to-be-opened bar on Front Street, and features quite candid discussions. Atkins asks Fleetwood about the band’s first experiences on the road, and he responds, “When you’re in a band, it’s like a traveling circus.” Fleetwood then launches into an anecdote about narrowly missing being busted along with the Grateful Dead in New Orleans, when the then little-known Fleetwood Mac opened for the Dead, but got lost on the way to the post-concert party. (The Dead later recorded the incident in its song “Truckin”.) “If we’d have been in that hotel you’d have never heard of Fleetwood Mac again. We’d have been flung out of the United States,” points out the British musician.
Posted: Sep 26, 2011 12:00am ET
weeks ago I agreed to go to my high school reunion—scheduled for this
Saturday—thinking that a month would leave me plenty of time to prepare.
I would use those 30 days to do what I'd been putting off for decades:
become a success.
It's a nice sentiment that people go to these things to catch up with old friends and relive the good old days, but let's face it, the sweetest thing that could happen at a reunion is to return triumphant—to go back to the scene of your not-so-glory years and be recognized as a screaming success by the people who ignored you when you had zits. In fact, a recent survey—conducted by me—proves that 95 percent of reunion-goers simply want to shove their good fortune in the face of the star of the football team, who is now a janitor. (The other five percent just want to hook up with the school's hot chick—the one they never had the courage to ask out.)
My problem vis a vis appearing successful is that I'm basically doing the same thing I was in high school: smoking and drinking. Yes, I have made a career of it, and I am smoking and drinking better stuff than I was back then, but some of my classmates are captains of industry now. And I smoke and drink for a living. It doesn't seem that impressive when you say it out loud. I might argue that I'm sort of a superhero, keeping the world safe from bad cigars and shoddy liquor with my very important palate, but my wife doesn't even buy that one.
No, what I realized three weeks ago was that what I needed was some great deed, gesture or achievement that would put my career in a better context. But then I found out they don't announce the Nobel Prize winners until October 3, two days late for my purposes. And besides, it turns out there is no prize in Spirits and Cigar Literature. I quickly gave up on that.
Another option would be to return rich. Money always impresses people. I could make a few savvy investmests, maybe get in early on an LBO for the next Facebook and go show up in a Ferrari sporting a big wallet. But, my rotten luck, the reunion has to happen during a raging recession. I tried looking up that fellow who's hedge fund was making people rich a few years ago, but it seems Mr. Madoff is out of business. No, a month wouldn't be enough time to secure a fortune.
Posted: Jul 1, 2011 12:00am ET
Thanks for the invitation to bring my family to your place for Independence Day weekend. It's not every brother-in-law who is so generous to his extended family, and I would like to offer some small token of my gratitude.
It is a modest gift of something I think your otherwise lovely home is in sore need of. I've observed that because of its proximity to the water your property tends to be infested by hordes of insects during this time of year. I've discovered a product that can remedy this. It comes in cylinders of leaves rolled around each other. It comes in various lengths and widths, according to your needs. Don't worry, the composition is purely organic. I'm told the product is made from specially raised tobacco leaves that have been carefully aged and cured. When slowly burned they create an exhaust that repels insects quite effectively.
Some user-participation is required, however, as the product tends to burn out when left alone. Happily, this problem can be easily avoided by occasionally drawing air through the unit's unlit end to keep it smoking. I suppose that you could use some kind of bellows contraption for this purpose, but I find it easiest to resuscitate the unit orally.
From my own observations with this outstanding product, I can conclude that if we were to dutifully keep two of them operating on your outdoor deck from sundown into the evening we would be able to lay down a smoke screen that would effectively protect your house and its inhabitants from harassment by insects.
The repellent works best when used in conjunction with a dedicated glass vessel that is held in the unused hand and filled with alcohol (and ice if the weather suggests). The liquid I use has been carefully treated through years of containment in wood casks. As fumes are released from the wide mouth of the vessel, they combine with the smoke and, for reasons that science does not yet fully understand, further ameliorate the repellent function of the first devise.
Posted: Jun 22, 2011 12:00am ET
lot of things have improved for cigar smokers in the past decade-better
quality smokes, better availability. But one aspect has changed for the
worse and it's had a profound effect on my behavior.
Back in the boom years, I wouldn't walk around the corner without a pocket humidor in case the opportunity for a smoke arose. When I was expecting to meet people, I'd carry a lot more than that in case some poor, unfortunate souls were without smoke.
But since the proliferation of smoking ordinances I've backed off on packing heaters when I leave the office. What would be the point? The occasion to smoke hardly arises now as the number of cigar bars and restaurants has plummeted and you can't even stroll your smoke through the park. Used to be that several pubs and one steakhouse within walking distance were safe havens. Now I have to get on a subway for a whiskey and a smoke.
One of the downsides of not carrying is that every once in a while the opportunity to smoke rears its lovely head and I'm left empty handed. That happened when I was at an event for Canadian Club in New York's Explorers Club. Normally, I would have thought of it as the perfect clubby, old boy's venue for a smoke, but alas you can't indulge there anymore. Except that it turned out the party was held in a room with an outdoor deck overlooking the city on a summer's evening. Perfect! But I wasn't packing. Hell! I had to stand by and wistfully watch cigarette smokers puffing away.
Yesterday, I was at a luncheon for the Art of Shaving at Masa in the Time-Warner Center. Once again, in the old days I would have thought: "Shaving-men-cigars." But this day, it didn't even occur to me. And as it happened I was seated with someone who expressed an interest in cigars when he heard what I did. He didn't smoke-except cigarettes-and was wondering what entry-level smokes he might try.
I talked him through outstanding mild cigar brands and discussed shade wrappers as a stepping off point. But nagging at me were shades of the old day. If I were loaded up with cigars, I might have been the hero, reaching into my breast pocket, pulling out an Avo or something and saying, "Try this on for starters." And he might have walked his newfound friend down to the Carnegie Club and gotten his smoke on right away.
Posted: May 5, 2011 12:00am ET
I celebrated the 150th
anniversary of the Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of
Puebla on May 5, 1861, a day early with a visit yesterday from the Don
Julio Tequila master distiller, Enrique de Colsa Ranero. He came to
preview his latest creation, which will celebrate another anniversary
when it debuts later in the year, the 70th birthday of the founding of
Don Julio in 1942.
Almost as striking as his Tequila was the method in which he revealed it, which ran contrary to most of my experience. Usually when spirits representatives unveil their lines they either start with the liquor of the mildest body and build to the fullest or they proceed from entry-level quality to highest.
Enrique did neither. He went straight to his new surprise, the anniversary Tequila. Once you hear the logic it makes sense.
One of the strongest trends in Tequila is aging. Reposados (aged more than two months, but less than a year), Añejos (more than 12 months, but less than three years) and the new designation Extra Añejo (more than three years) have been growing in popularity. Enrique argues that while this relatively new development in aging Tequila has brought rich notes to the spirit, it also tends to mask some of the raw agave flavors that are the gift of Tequila as well.
He addresses this quandary with the 70th anniversary edition by starting with an Añejo version of Don Julio and then filtering it. So, rather than pouring first his Blanco (essentially no aging) and then working to the older stuff, Enrique went to this new juice first. And it was quite the pleaser—full of rich honey taste, almost rock candy—some of the mellow caramels and vanillas that you associate with its time in Bourbon barrels and, at the end, a minty evergreen and slight yeastiness.
From there he went to his Añejo Don Julio, which was also excellent, but focused on and developed the sweet and mellow, with pronounced wood tones. Gone were the hints of agave, yeast and mint.