Posted: Aug 13, 2007 9:48am ETAnyone watching “Mad Men”? I don’t mean the current presidential campaign, but the new series on AMC centered on the advertising industry circa 1960 (Thursday at 10 p.m. also on demand with TV Encore).
It’s pretty well done. Very good art direction (feels like the era) and a pretty punchy plot (if a little soap opera-ish). Producers take pains to emphasize how different the era was: no political correctness, indifference to safety issues, a gulf between men and women in the work place, lots of style and everyone smokes and drinks—all the time.
I was a only kid at the time, but that last part seems pretty accurate, except that it seems to me that cigars are a little under-represented on the show. My memory was of lots of cigar advertising and shops and a pretty good assortment of guys who smoked cigars or pipes. The one time I have seen someone smoking a cigar on the show, it was set up wrong (coming as a segue from a line about how they can smoke cigarettes as much as they want).
Of course, the ad agency that the show is set around has a cigarette account (they supposedly come up with Lucky Strike’s catch phrase “It’s Toasted” in the first episode, ignoring that the slogan really predates 1960 by more than 40 years), so maybe that explains the cigarette emphasis. But does anyone remember different—that there were way more cigars?
Posted: Jul 31, 2007 3:43pm ETSometimes this antismoking dementia gets in the way of my doing my job.
The other night I was invited to a dinner hosted by Remy Martin. The point was to show off its 1738 Accord Royal, technically a VSOP, but the company characterizes it as being a notch above that premium level, even while its not old enough to be termed XO. Standard Remy VSOP sells for $36.99, the 1738 version for $49.99. Like all Remy products, it’s a blend of eaux-de-vie that comes strictly from the Champagne crus of Cognac (so called for their especially chalky soil and not to be confused with Champagne region and its sparkling wines). In this case, the Cognac is 65 percent Grand Champagne and 35 percent Petite Champagne. The name, 1738 Accord Royal, stems from an eighteenth century degree from Louis XV that allowed Remy to extend its grape production in an era when new plantings were prohibited.
Now here comes Bettridge, who always natters on about how the Cognac accompaniments for a cigar should be XO level or above (see the video currently on the Cigaraficionado.com web site for more on that). So I taste the Cognac, and yes it is notably richer than the typical VSOP. My knock on lesser Cognacs is that they don’t have as much complexity and therefore fewer notes with which to harmonize with a good cigar.
This 1738 version seemed to be an exception to my rule, with a depth and width of flavor uncommon at this level. There was plenty of nuts and spice with round chocolate notes and orange and apple on a long finish.
That’s all great, but I still don’t know how it goes with a cigar. Why because the pleasant restaurant we were in (BLT Steak) is in Manhattan and in New York you can’t smoke in restaurants anymore -- even in a private room, which this was.
So I’ll have to get back to you later on how the 1738 worked out with a cigar. Any smoking suggestions?
Posted: Jul 20, 2007 2:53pm ETNormally, the news that my livery car is running 15 minutes late doesn’t make me happy, but last night was an exception.
Savona and I had just left dinner very pleased, having been the guests of Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue (ward.uat.dminsite.com/) of Kansas City, Missouri, which was hosting at the James Beard House in lower Manhattan. It’s always a great place to eat (former home of the iconic American chef, home to the foundation of the same name), but this meal was particularly satisfying. My penchant for barbecue is well enough known that I don’t have to go over that. But think of this: Hors d’Oeuvres included Hickory-Smoked Salmon with Toast Points and Rémoulade, Berkshire Pork Medallions with Spicy Barbecue Sauce and Mini Hickory-Smoked Kobe Prime Rib Sandwiches with Horseradish Sauce. Kobe beef BBQ? Oh my God!
At dinner we dined on Kobe Beef Burnt Ends with Grilled Asparagus, sampling Rancho Zabaco Sonoma Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2003. Then we moved onto Denver-Cut Smoked Lamb Ribs with Villa Mt. Eden Grand Reserve Zinfandel 2003. The lamb blew our minds. The finishing entrée was Crown Prime Beef Short Ribs, but alas we had to leave before the Bread Pudding with Vanilla–Rum Sauce.
As we stood waiting for the car, a call came in: “15 minute delay.” Did we go back inside with our tails between our legs to wait it out. No! Thanks to Savona, we had the ultimate capper to such a meal: cigars. But not just any cigar, the Arturo Fuente Short Story. Just the right amount of smoke for our small window of opportunity and more than enough flavor to stand up to the bodacious meal we just had.
I woke up thinking cigars and food are a pairing combination that often is overlooked and given short shrift. What do you think?
Posted: Jul 17, 2007 11:07am ETThe 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?
Posted: Jun 29, 2007 12:21pm ETEvery 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 (www.beefeatergin.com), 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.”
Posted: Jun 19, 2007 4:14pm ETEarlier 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.
Posted: Jun 7, 2007 3:15pm ETIt’s almost like the power of positive drinking…
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 (www.rumcapital.com) 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?
Posted: May 23, 2007 2:50pm ETIt’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.
Posted: May 11, 2007 4:32pm ETThis 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?
Posted: Apr 23, 2007 5:02pm ETCase 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.