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Jack Bettridge

Sense of (Smoking) Place

Posted: Nov 15, 2011 12:00am ET

A 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.

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Re-Exploring the Room

Posted: Nov 14, 2011 12:00am ET

Back 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).

Bottle shot of Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky.
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Of Rock Legends, Tequila and Cigars

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.

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Reunions, Reputations and Life Reassessments

Posted: Sep 26, 2011 12:00am ET

Three 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.

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An Open Letter to a Brother-In-Law

Posted: Jul 1, 2011 12:00am ET

Dear Thatcher,

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.

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To Pack, or Not to Pack, Heaters

Posted: Jun 22, 2011 12:00am ET

A 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.

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Happy Cinco de Mayo!

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.

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Fight Fire With Drink

Posted: Apr 26, 2011 12:00am ET

As a New Englander, I never expected to feel as though I were stepping out on a limb by taking an anti-Royalist position. But even here in the cradle of liberty the pending nuptials of a future British king is fomenting so much excitement that you wonder why we bothered with the War of Independence only to slaver over every detail of the very pomp and circumstance that we fought to free ourselves of.

My wife says it's "because it's so romantic."

Which apparently trumped all the "give me liberty of give me death" bravado I could muster, because on Friday morning three females in my house plan to switch on the television at dawn to watch the furtherance of empirical tyranny walk down the aisle in guise of romance.

Well, if you can't beat them, ridicule them, I always say. So I'll be there to kibitz, make fun of the wedding gown and strike a blow for freedom in the only way available to me at four o'clock in the morning: by mixing a drink.

This is a strategy that-unsurprisingly-has occurred to a number of others, even those who don't take my curmudgeonly view of the festivities. I've just been informed that Berry Brothers & Rudd, the London purveyor of wine and spirits that gave us Cutty Sark, has joined forces with The Bitter Truth, a German outfit (after all Prince William has much Teutonic blood on his father's side) to suggest a few cocktails using-again unsurprisingly-their products. Given my for taste for gin, I normally wouldn't have a problem with Brit hooch, except this one day I've set aside for protest. So I'll be drinking neither the Ginger Royale (is that the Ginger Quarter Pounder translated for the metric system?) nor the Wedding March, but see below for recipes.

A more to the point wedding drink (especially given the obsession with the fertility of the royal lineage) is an ale apparently created with Viagra by the British brewery BrewDog. Three bottles of Royal Virility Performance is said to deliver the dosage in one of the little triangular pills. The brew is also laced with other aphrodisiacs, including horny goat weed and chocolate. Of course, that's out of the question for me as this will be a family viewing and I can't risk another incident.

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A Proper Wager

Posted: Mar 31, 2011 12:00am ET

When state colleges meet in important games it always seems to generate the sort of gubernatorial bravado in which the states chief executives wager something emblematic of their state on the game. The Washington State governor might put up a bushel of vaunted apples against a sack of the famed potatoes from Idaho. The Dairy State, Wisconsin, could bet cheese for some corn from Illinois or Iowa.

But what of the meeting between the universities of Connecticut and Kentucky on Saturday in the NCAA men's basketball semifinal? The governors—respectively Dan Malloy and Steve Beshear—in an uninspired piece of betting have put up for stake ice cream from Connecticut and country ham from Kentucky.

Are they new here?

What sort of a pantywaist gamble is that? Connecticut's not known for ice cream. And country ham for Kentucky? Maybe, but shouldn't Virginia be putting up country ham? If Connecticut bets Kentucky, the stakes have to be cigars versus Bourbon.

At least that's what immediately comes to my admittedly jaded mind. But come on, this is clearly a nanny-state-politically-correct decision. I'm a Connecticut resident and am badly embarrassed by this wager. It's not bad enough that we produce some of the best wrapper tobacco in the world and then basically ban smoking in the state, we have to put ice cream in a wager. What's next, you won't be able to drink Bourbon in Kentucky, but you'll be allowed all the ham you can eat?

Malloy! Beshear! Have some cojones.

And, "Go, Huskies!"

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Let There Be Ice

Posted: Jan 10, 2011 12:00am ET

It may be that winter just dumped another six inches of snow on me or that I received a press release from Johnnie Walker Gold Label touting its "ice pillar," which is a packaging sleeve intended to keep the whisky cold, but I'm thinking about strategies for cooling beverages this frigid morning. No, I haven't had a drink, yet!

Chilling alcohol-especially whisk(e)y-is such a touchy subject for some that you sometimes feel like you're advocating breaking one of The Ten Commandments when you ask for a few cubes in your drink. I've been chided by a certain venerable master distiller of Scotch, whose name will go unmentioned, for even suggesting the idea with one of his malts. (I responded with my standard quip that the only reason not to use ice is if you've the lost formula-to which I got a blank stare.) On the other hand, now another Scotch maker wants to enable me in my quest to bring down the temperature of its blend. So whom am I to listen?

I'm leaning toward Mr. Walker on this one. Not that I'm advocating chilling your Scotch against your will, but I feel if you want it a little frigid, you should have it that way. Then again, I tend not to be very rigid about how people have their drinks in general. If a guest-for some bizarre reason of his own-asks for root beer in his Cognac, I'll give it to him. I just won't pour him XO. When you take drinking too seriously you ruin the whole point of the endeavor.

But the urge to cool alcohol I don't consider bizarre at all. Clearly, cold drinks are a refreshing summer staple and most cocktails call for chilling-even those as "serious" as the Manhattan and Martini. So why not cold whisk(e)y?

The best argument against it is the damage that ice can reek as it thaws. We've all been over-served ice, especially the minuscule machine-type or crushed ice that you get in some bars. As the ice quickly melts, the drink is immediately diluted beyond recognition and you are left holding a sad excuse for a drink. But all ice is not the same, and certainly formidable chunks won't ruin your whisk(e)y, assuming you drink it fast enough-which I'm always careful to do. (As a member of the Maker's Mark Ambassadors program, I was mailed an ice tray as a holiday gift that makes ice spheres the size of a baseball that can outlast anything I pour into an old-fashioned glass with it.)

Johnnie Walker Ice Pillar
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