My first Big Smoke came in New York in 1997, when I started at Cigar Aficionado, and it blew me away with the great smokes, drinks and food. But mostly it was the fun and camaraderie of the guests that struck me. Here were all these stogie fans having a great time celebrating their passion for smoke and knowing they were with like-minded people. I thought: "It don't get much better than this."
So I guess you could say I was unprepared later that same year at my first Big Smoke Las Vegas where I saw all those same qualities amped up by a power of 10. Well, knock me over again, because I've just returned from the 14th Big Smoke Las Vegas and the event hasn't lost one quantum of enthusiasm—from the guys who line up hours before the doors open to the to those who treat it like a costume party to those who come as a club, a team and, in one case, a syndicate. Check out these flip videos I took as proof (and hold on until the end to see an enthusiasm of a different stripe):
Also, I read someone griping on the forums about the quality of drinking at this year's Big Smoke. Maybe he went to a different event than I did, but this video (and my inability to keep my hand steady while recording it) seems to suggest a preponderance of evidence to the contrary. Not only could you drink well, but if you went to the Patrón Tequila you could get your picture taken with young lovelies. Whatever happens in Vegas…well, you know the rest:
One day last week, a number of early-morning contretemps—including my daughter’s locking herself out of her bedroom—conspired to make me leave home without shaving lest I miss my train. I considered that I might just let it go for the day, thinking no one would really be scandalized by my stubble. I even asked Dave Savona if was that noticeable, which he didn’t think was, but then again he hadn’t shaved for years. By lunch, I decided a trip to the barber was in order.
I’m glad I did as my lunchtime adventure taught me two things: the value of self-indulgence and how much a professional shave is like a fine cigar.
The first concept, I’ll confess, was not a major revelation on my part as it's an idea that Cigar Aficionado has been directly or indirectly preaching from the outset: The Good Life is good, and you should take time and resource to treat yourself to it once in a while. But that is also something that we must remind ourselves of every once in a while (especially when you're het up from spending 15 minutes finding an Allen wrench and taking your daughter’s bedroom door handle off). In this case, the good-old-fashioned barber shave, while nothing to compare to the performance cars that you pay for in private islands and that we sometimes feature between the covers of our magazine, is a sweet little example of indulgence.
The second concept dawned on me because, in truth, I started the experience by ignoring the importance of the first concept. I arrived at the barber’s thinking I would rush through this so I could get a bite to eat before returning to my desk. I was even thinking I should get some reading done as sat in the barber’s chair. Of course, while you might read during a haircut, while being shaved it is quite impossible. Nevertheless, I began the ministrations of my tonsorialist with a distinct lets-get-this-over-with mindset. But once I got the hot towel on my face, it struck me that hurry was not in the program. The barber walked away and let me ruminate on that with my eyes closed. Once I gave into the idea that I was going to be there for a while, a great feeling of relaxation came over me and I submitted to the special attentions, the lotions and potions being rubbed into my skin, the careful going over with a precisely honed razor.
I wrote in Cigar Aficionado’s Good Life Guide not too long ago (June 2009) about the wide array of flavored vodkas that are available, but at press time I was unapprised of two new efforts from one of my favorite vodkas that are soon to be released. So I wanted to remedy that lapse in this space:
Cîroc is making flavored vodkas—Red Berry and Coconut—for the first time. The French vodka was already one of the first to be made with grapes, and its characteristic softness comes through on these two flavored versions.
Jean-Sebastien Robicquet, the creator and master distiller of Cîroc, recently showed off his latest innovations. Red Berry melds strawberry and raspberry into a sweet, yet creamy, combination. Coconut is predominantly flavored with that spice (one of only two vodkas so flavored), but also includes some tropical fruit flavors. The first is jammy, but not cloying. The second has a very polished texture. Both are flavored with natural ingredients, distilled to 70 proof and sell for $34.99 in the 750 ml bottle.
For Robicquet, who hails from the French vineyards, between the cities of Bordeaux and Cognac, all the Cîroc vodkas were a labor of love. He chose mauzac blanc and ugni blanc grapes (the second being the main varietal from which Cognac is made) and distilled the resulting wine five times, the last go-round in a pot still. The company has also created a range of cocktails for the vodkas. Of course, that wasn't enough for yours truly. Still Robicquet was polite and didn't kick, when I insisted on mixing the two flavors (the result of which was excellent by the way).
I'll let Jean-Sebastien tell you more in his own words on the following video: