Posted: Oct 7, 2010 12:00am ET
Years ago, long before I worked at Cigar Aficionado, I went to a party at a friend's house. A member of his family had just given birth, and it was time to celebrate. A tent was put up in the backyard, long tables brought out and huge bowls of pasta with red sauce and sausage were passed around, with plenty of red wine and loud conversation. After cake and coffee, after the meal was cleared away and the sun had set, someone passed out cigars. The men lit up, laughter ensued, and a new child was welcomed into this world the way it had been done time and time again, surrounded by relatives bonding over a smoke.
The cigars were far from fancy, the wine no award winner, but it was a memorable night. Cigars are for celebration. I smoke cigars all the time, and if you're reading this blog I suspect you enjoy a great smoke on a regular basis as well. But when there's a wedding, or a birth, or a big deal to commemorate, even casual cigar smokers and a few brave non-smokers might grab a Churchill from the box that is passed around, light up, and celebrate in style.
This age-old ritual (who knows when it began?) was brought to the forefront last week when the Cincinnati Reds, a baseball team that has been denied a postseason berth for 15 years, grabbed the National League Central Division with a walk-off home run and celebrated the milestone with big cigars in the locker room
A few people watching on TV called to complain. (Read our story here.) People watching adults celebrating a team's biggest win since 1995 with a few cigars called to complain, prompting Cincinnati officials to send an inspector to ensure such a transgression doesn't happen again.
What a great use of city resources.
Cigars have been lit to celebrate the finest things in life for ages, and some of my fondest moments have been paired with celebratory smokes. The type of cigar being smoked isn't what's important-I've been handed Cubans, Nicaraguans, Dominicans, even machine-made smokes and have puffed away happily to commemorate happy occasions. Births. Weddings. Promotions. New homes. The list goes on and on.
Posted: Sep 20, 2010 12:00am ET
Flash back to 1997. The space station Mir was in orbit, the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke 7,000 for the first time, a computer program called Deep Blue made history by beating champion Gary Kasparov and Cigar Aficionado magazine launched its website, CigarAficionado.com. Today, after 13 years, all of us here at Cigar Aficionado would like to personally welcome you to the completely new beta version of CigarAficionado.com. It's a very modern take on your favorite cigar website.
We released the beta version of our new site this morning, while leaving our old site intact for a few more days. We hoped to ease you into the new site, rather than making an abrupt change, and also allow you to compare the differences between the two. We've been opening up the two homepages side-by-side to make comparisons.
The differences are striking. The most obvious change from a visual standpoint is our new slider of photographs. Our old homepage typically had images that were the size of a mini Post-It note, about 1 1/4 inches square. The photos on our new slider are huge-6 1/2 inches wide and more than three inches high. (In fact, the width of the new photos is identical to the length of the celebratory cigar I'm smoking right now.)
Our cigar ratings are improved-there are more than 13,000 cigars in our database-and they're easier to sort and use so you can find the best cigars to suit your palate. You can search by price, tasting date, country of origin, even the type of wrapper you enjoy.
The new site is engineered to make you a bigger part of what we do. On the original site, any user feedback only happened in our forums. Now you can comment directly on any story we've written. And registering to comment is entirely free.
Speaking of registering, the process is much easier than in the past. Have a Facebook, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, AOL or Yahoo account? You can use any one of those to log in, or simply create an account with an email address.
Posted: Aug 14, 2010 12:00am ET
I’m home from the IPCPR trade show going through my notes and all the cigars I brought home from the trip. I thought I’d put together a few numbers about what I found in New Orleans:
122 Cigars (all singles, none in boxes) brought back in my carry-on bag from the trip. This is fairly typical for me. I'm happy that I didn't have to go through a bag search this year. One year it happened, and I got a kick out of the inspector's face as she pulled Ziplok bag after Ziplok bag of cigars from my satchel, her eyebrows rising higher with each discovery.
60 The hot ring gauge of the trip. Ultra fat cigars, specifically those measuring six inches long by 60 ring gauge, are becoming the hot size in cigar shops. Some call it a Gordo, and more and more cigarmakers are adding them to their lines, if they haven’t already. Xikar had a 6x60 banner as tall as me in their booth announcing the addition of the sizes do their line. As one retailer told me, “If they make it in a six-by-60, I buy it.”
11 The amount of pounds gained by my suitcase while on the trip. Most of that is press materials.
2 Number of times I ate alligator on Tuesday. Alligator po boy at Mulates? Very nice. Fried alligator with chili aioli at Cochon? Amazing.
12 The amount of pounds I feel like I gained from all the fine New Orleans food I ate while in the Big Easy.
0 Number of raw oysters I ate while in NoLa. (I love raw oysters, but I never eat raw Gulf oysters.)
3 Number of people I know who got sick on this trip from eating raw Gulf oysters.
6,400 The weight, in pounds, of the segment of Berlin Wall on display at the show.
138 Pages of notes I took in my reporter’s notebook on the trip. More than one cigarmaker thought I write in shorthand, but it’s just bad (and quick) handwriting.
2 The number of La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amors that I smoked. Ashton’s Sathya Levin wanted my second opinion, as I wasn’t blown away by the first one. The second truly impressed, and it had that Pepin-like intensity that I’m used to.
Posted: Aug 12, 2010 12:00am ET
There was sad news to report as the trade show began this morning. I found out that Jean Clement, the cigarmaker who was better known by the name of his cigars, Juan Clemente, died here at the trade show. But, as with all things in this world, life must go on, and so did the trade show.
Try as best you can, there's no way to see everyone at the show. I set out this morning ready to cross the final names off my list and meet as many people as possible and smoke as many cigars as I could.
I started off with Jon Huber at the C.A.O. booth, and he showed me the new C.A.O. La Traviata Maduro, which I've smoked before. C.A.O. has plenty of new things, including a La Traviata Ninfa (four by 38), which comes in tins of five ($14.95 per tin.) It looked like a good way to start my day, but they didn't have a sample, so I moved on to my next stop.
I smoked my first cigar with Alejandro Turrent, the maker of Te-Amos and the grower of San Andres leaf from Mexico. He has a new cigar made in Nicaragua by Omar Ortez, and the cigar (called Dos Familias by Ortez y Turrent) is roughly a 50/50 split between Nicaraguan and Mexican tobaccos. Very nice blend. I found it salty and nutty, with a touch of sweetness and just a bit of earthiness. It's about $6.
La Palinas, made by Graycliff for Bill Paley, now have four new sizes. I puffed on a La Palina Alison while talking to Paley, and I asked him if he had encountered any resistance to his prices, which run $13 to $23. "I expected tons," he said. "I've had little resistance. People understand what it is, and where it belongs." It's not cheap to make cigars in the Bahamas-the duty is enormous. I found the Alison very pleasant.
I was less enamored with a bargain smoke from Jesus Fuego, a $2.50 little cheroot known as a Origen Original. It's rustic, made with a binder leaf to save some money, and it's nice and cheap, but I found the flavor disappointing.
Illusiones are typically some of my favorite smokes, and I paid a visit to Dion Giolito, owner of the brand. He has a candela lancero-few people smoke candelas, and few smoke lanceros...how many smoke lancero candelas? Dion has your cigar! I opted to try his Illusione Singulare, which he changes each year. This one is lovely, made mostly of seco tobacco (from low on the plant) in what Dion calls "the mildest cigar I've ever made." It's very, very flavorful, with a sweet, nutty richness that I enjoyed very much. I followed that with a Padrón Family Reserve No. 44 in natural wrapper, which is consistently wonderful.
Posted: Aug 11, 2010 12:00am ET
The crack of thunder shook me out of my slumber this morning in New Orleans. It was a line of storms with frequent bolts of lightning and booming retorts, followed by a heavy rain. Welcome to August, storm season in New Orleans.
The previous night was a late one. It began with dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Cochon, where team Cigar Aficionado was joined by Tim Ozgener and Jon Huber from C.A.O. International and Nish Patel and Sam Phillips from Rocky Patel Premium Cigars. We dined on crisp and flavorful bites of alligator; spicy, roasted oysters; smoked rabbit and cornbread dumplings and roasted red fish. Cochon, which is hip and eclectic, is perfect for trying food you won't find elsewhere and washing it all down with bracing cocktails. It's loud, vibrant and enormous amounts of fun. The good times continued as we made our way to Frenchman Street, which has side-by-side bars featuring live music. We walked into the Spotted Cat Music Club, and were treated to the sweet sounds of Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns. What a great band (there was a guy playing a mean sousaphone) and what a glorious voice on Miss Lake. That woman can sing.
This morning I made it through the rain and into the convention center, where my first visit was Oliva Cigars. I smoked an Oliva Serie V Double Robusto with Gilberto Oliva Jr. and his brother Jose. Gilberto spoke about how difficult it is to get consistency out of cigars, with tobacco crops changing ever year.
"Making cigars is like playing a nice piano-you're always tuning it," he said. "If you want to have consistency, you have to keep tuning it all the time."
His tuning is working out great-the Serie V was exceptional, as always. Lovely smoke.
The talk of the morning was the tropical storm watch-New Orleans was in the bullseye of a storm system that had formed in the gulf, and it was expected to gather strength and hit us on Thursday. People were quite distracted from buying cigars, and many were planning on getting out of Dodge early to avoid getting stuck. (Maybe that's why people usually don't hold conventions in New Orleans in the heart of hurricane season.)
Posted: Aug 10, 2010 12:00am ET
After a bracing southern breakfast of eggs, grits and biscuits at the hole-in-the-wall New Orleans institution known as Mother's, I rolled into the convention center for the formal start of the IPCPR trade show. (I really mean rolled--I'm feeling very full here.) I headed for the Cigar Aficionado booth, and nearly walked into the Berlin Wall.
Wait, you ask. Didn't they tear down the wall? They sure did, but they saved parts of it, and one 6,400 pound, 12 1/2 foot tall chunk was standing in the middle of the Hammer + Sickle cigar booth. Brand owner Eric Hanson bought it and has created a cigar inspired by its fall 21 years ago.
Hammer + Sickle Berliner Mauer 1961-1989 was made for Hanson by Camacho Cigars, and is all Honduran save for the filler blend, which is Dominican and Honduran. The cigars come in three sizes, each made with a copper band (real copper, not copper colored, and the tensile strength of the metal rather than glue keeps it around the cigar.) I touched the piece of the wall that was on display, which had me in awe. Wins my award for most visually arresting product launch.
Next stop was Ashton, where I met with Sathya Levin. Ashton has a host of new product, primarily the La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor brand, made at My Father Cigars in Estelí, Nicaragua. The big thing here is the wrapper, a very dark Mexican leaf grown from Cuban seed. I puffed on the 6 inch by 52 Magnifico size, which had some bittersweet chocolate, earthy notes, and a dry finish, with a medium body. It was fine, but I didn't like it as much as I enjoy the other La Aroma lines. Ashton also has a bunch of new limited-edition lanceros, as well as a selection of $10 figurados (Salamone-esque in shape) in various lines, and a squat new San Cristobal called the Fire Plug.
At the La Aurora booth I chatted with José Blanco about the company's new Guillermo León cigar, which I puffed. It's a slow starter that gets mild, easygoing and a bit creamy, with a touch of sweet spice. La Aurora also has a new Corojo (grown in Ecuador).
Posted: Aug 10, 2010 12:00am ET
I flew into New Orleans Monday afternoon for the start of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers show, also known as the IPCPR.
Today was all about getting into town, getting settled, and getting ready for a busy week. The long taxi ride from the airport showcased the typical New Orleans summer weather. I was treated to a spectacular lightning display as bolts of white thundered down from the heavy, charcoal gray clouds covering the city, followed by a hearty southern rainstorm.
I checked into the Windsor Court hotel, and before too long the storm abated, and I met up with executive editor Gordon Mott and the rest of the crew from Cigar Aficionado for a smoke and a pre-dinner cocktail. New Orleans, alas, has gone the way of most American cities, and smoking is a largely outdoor activity here. Here that means smoking on a terrace, so we pushed aside the sodden cushions and hunkered down for a cold drink (Abita Amber in my case, a great local brew) and a fine cigar.
I’ll be smoking new cigars all week, so I started with something I knew well to calibrate the old palate, a My Father No. 1, our No. 3 cigar of 2009. It was rich, hearty and balanced, with a fine amount of sweetness. I love that cigar. We were soon joined by Tim Ozgener, Jon Huber and Mike Conder from C.A.O. International Inc.
They were toting the new C.A.O. La Traviata Maduro, which I had tried before, and I tucked one into my shirt pocket for later. (IPCPR strategy: never walk around in shirts without pockets, or without a bag, because you will inevitably run out of space for your cigars.)
The show begins in full Tuesday morning, and I’m eager to see the retailer turnout. This show is always held in the middle of summer, and whenever the site is hot and humid, subject to hurricanes, tough to get to, or not Las Vegas, people fear the retailers who are here to buy might stay away. I’ve heard a good crowd is expected—I certainly hope that’s true. We’ll see tomorrow.
Posted: Aug 6, 2010 12:00am ET
Starting Monday I’ll be in New Orleans for the annual International Cigar Pipe and Retailer trade show, the show formerly known as RTDA. Those of you who follow the industry know that this is the time when cigar companies unveil their latest smokes. Those of you who are new to this blog or website should get ready: there’s going to be a lot of news about great new smokes coming out next week.
I’ve already smoked samples of a few of the new smokes that have been sent to me. The Padrón Family Reserve No. 46, which will be on sale in September, is a gorgeous, box pressed corona gorda that is (predictably) delicious and refined. I’ve smoked that and enjoyed it immensely.
Just this week I tasted the new and substantially more powerful Room 101 Conjura from Camacho Cigars, and I liked it quite a bit. Lots of earth, a pleasant funkiness and a rip-roaring amount of nose spice (I gave one to Greg Mottola, and he dubbed the spice horseradish) make this a fun after lunch or after dinner smoke. Dylan Austin, director of marketing for the brand, warned me not to smoke it before lunch, and that’s a well-informed note of caution.
Rocky Patel's 15th Anniversary cigar, which went on sale a week ago, is also superb, very rich, nice and hearty, with a fine balance that comes from Ecuador Habano wrapper, which has become one of my favorites. I'm looking forward to smoking a few more of those, especially in the Toro size.
I love the trade show for many reasons. I went to my first in the summer of 1995, only one week after being hired by Cigar Aficionado. You’ve heard of trial by fire? There I was, on the trade show floor in Orlando, wearing a suit and tie (we were more formal in those days) grabbing cigars from every booth I could find, picking up business cards by the stack and filling notebooks full of information.
Posted: Jul 28, 2010 9:16am ETBack in 1995, when I was hired by Cigar Aficionado, I was a huge fan of big cigars (I was also thinner, had no beard, and my hair was all black, but that's another story.) When I wanted a cigar—and I always wanted a cigar—I reached for the big ones, double coronas and Churchills especially. Sure, I loved robustos too, enjoyed big pyramids as well, but I didn’t look upon coronas and petit coronas with as much favor.
Things changed. I had my smaller cigar revelations that opened my eyes to just how good a smaller smoke can be. First came the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos No. 3, which is 5 1/2 inches long by 44 ring gauge. (We include them in our corona category when we rate them.) If you haven’t smoked one of these, stop reading my blog right now, go to your favorite cigar store and buy one (better yet, buy a couple.) You’ll know what I mean. It’s one of the all-time great cigars, and it’s downright diminutive.
Then came the Cohiba Siglo I experience. It was 1996, and I was sitting on a balcony in Pinar del Río, Cuba. I opened up a box of Cohiba Siglo Is for the first time. Puny little smoke I thought, looking at the four inch long, 40 ring gauge petit corona. I didn’t expect much. Wow, was I wrong. It was bold and full of taste. How could there be so much flavor in such a small package?
I moved away from really big cigars for awhile. Sure, I smoked them (I smoke cigars of all sizes, for tasting as part of my job) but when I smoked for pleasure I tended to go with robustos, corona gordas, coronas, lanceros, almost anything but the doubles and Churchills I loved as a younger smoker. One reason was my newfound love for the smaller cigars, but another was the constraints of time on smoking large format smokes.
Posted: Jul 19, 2010 3:51pm ETThis weekend I took my wife and son out for breakfast at one of our favorite places. It’s a tiny donut shop called Speedy Donuts that has been in business for 41 years, almost as long as I’ve been alive, and despite driving by the place literally hundreds of times it was only a few years ago when I finally went in for a bite.
The outside is plain and the inside is old. A menu board, which was once colored white but has now taken on a rich patina of coffee with too much cream, lists the simple offerings, each laid out with black press-on letters that were last changed years ago. Egg sandwiches. Pancakes. Western omelets. The soda fountain still has Diet Rite.
There’s a counter that seats a dozen and, depending on when you go and who has moved things around, about five tables. The counter is the busy spot, and behind it is where the magic takes place. The coffee is passable, but that’s not why I come here. Speedy Donuts makes very simple food using very simple ingredients. Behind the grill, flipping eggs and flapjacks, is a man who is as comfortable there as Carlos Santana is with a six string. Butter is used copiously. The bacon is thick and crispy, and the home fries are always perfect, having been cooked for a long, long time with just the right dusting of oregano. The woman behind the counter, round and smiling and always attentive, serves breakfast the way breakfast should always be. And when you’re done? If you have the room, there are the donuts made fresh on the premises, not in some factory miles away, as you might find in a chain donut store. Every time I’m there I see the same old man at work, and every so often he reaches into the donut bin and breaks one apart to check his work. He takes a taste, and nods approvingly before heading into the back to make more.
After tucking into my plate of eggs (over easy), potatoes, bacon and well-buttered rye toast I showed a modicum of restraint and passed on the donut, watching my son chew his way through a fresh one smeared with chocolate and dusted with sprinkles. His smile made my day.