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David Savona

Looking at Bigger Cigars

Posted: Jul 28, 2010 9:16am ET
Back 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.
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Hidden Gems

Posted: Jul 19, 2010 3:51pm ET
This 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.
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No Churchill for Churchill?

Posted: Jun 15, 2010 9:44am ET
Reading the news this morning I came across a disturbing piece from Mail Online, the online site of Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid. Beth Hail reports that one of history’s most iconic cigar smokers, Sir Winston Churchill, has been stripped of his beloved stogie.

A familiar image of good old Sir Winston, fingers of his right hand extended in a V for Victory salute, greets visitors to Winston Churchill’s Britain At War Experience Museum in East London. But according to the writer, the image is not historically accurate. She says it has been airbrushed, doctored to take away Churchill’s very famous cigar. A comparison of photographs placed side-by-side in the article gives merit to the claim that, indeed, Churchill’s cigar has stripped away to clean up the image.

No one has confessed to the doctoring, and it’s not been proven that the image has indeed been changed. But it certainly appears to have been. Each photograph shown in the article appears identical: the wrinkles on Churchill’s right sleeve, the four people in the background, the shadows on Sir Winston. I’m no expert on photorgraphy, but to me the photos look precisely the same, except for the cigar (and lack of one) and the fact that the cigar-less photo has been more brightly exposed. Take a look for yourself in the story.

Cigars have fallen victim to the censor's airbrush and scissors before. In 2006, a British unit of Turner Broadcasting said it would snip away any scenes of cigars in old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including "Tom & Jerry", and "The Flintstones." The Mail Online mentions the case of a school textbook adorned with a famous photo of cigar-smoking engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel—the cigar was deleted. In the case of this Churchill photo, if someone did make the edit, why take away the cigar? The writer suggests it was the work of someone hoping to be politically correct, and spare some visitor the sight of a lit cigar. Ironic, considering the theme of the exhibit—Britain during World War II. The museum shows “wartime bombs,” has images of London in ruins, buildings destroyed by Germany’s rain of rockets, scared people huddled in gas masks in fear of being poisoned by their neighboring enemy.
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Back From the Big Smoke

Posted: May 25, 2010 9:30am ET
Saturday night, Mashantucket, Connecticut, about 8 pm. I’m standing next to the Quesada Cigars booth at the Big Smoke at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, puffing on a Coronado by La Flor Double Corona and talking to Hostos Fernandez Quesada. A guy walks up to me and says hello. We chat for a bit, and I ask him where he’s from.

“Canada,” he says. “Cornwall, Ontario. All four of us.”

His name is Paul Desnoyers Jr., and he and three friends drove 400 miles, or more than seven hours without traffic, to make it to Cigar Aficionado's Big Smoke at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods. That’s dedication to the craft. Paul wrote me last night on Twitter and attached a copy of the photo (see below) we took together with buddies Matthew Clarke, Scott Lafave and Bernie Bougie. “The trip from Canada was worth every penny!” Paul wrote. “What a great night!”

I felt the same way. It was a great night, with a beautiful room filled with cigar lovers—most of them from places a little closer than Canada. There were plenty of people from around Boston and Providence, lots of aficionados from Connecticut and plenty from New York and New Jersey who made their way to our first Big Smoke of the year.

I smoked more than my share of great cigars, starting off with a corona-sized Room 101 (the 213) made by Camacho before lighting up the Coronado, which lasted quite awhile. My final cigar of the night was a Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial by My Father Cigars.

The cigar stars were impressive: Carlos Fuente Jr. of Arturo Fuente cigars, Rocky and Nish Patel, Orlando Padrón, Tim Ozgener and Jon Huber from C.A.O., the Newman brothers (Eric and Bobby) from J.C. Newman, Te-Amo’s Alejandro Turrent, Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley, Sam Leccia of NUb, Joe Chiusano of Cusano, Mike Giannini of La Gloria Cubana, Pete Johnson of Tatuaje; Hostos Fernandez-Quesada of Matasa; Eric Hanson of Hammer + Sickle, Matt Booth and Dylan Austin from Camacho; Andrew Brennan of La Flor Dominicana cigars; Frank Santos for Reyes Family Cigars; Carlos Llaca of Toraño Cigars and Roberto Pelayo of Dunhill; Dave Wagner of Oliva; Andrew Brennan of La Flor Dominicana cigars; Michael Walter and Andy Green of Ashton; Les Mann of Colibri and Sean Knutsen of Humidipak. I know I’m forgetting somebody.
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Foxwoods Bound

Posted: May 14, 2010 2:53pm ET
The Big Smoke at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods is only a week away. On Saturday, May 22, I’m going to be smoking cigars with my colleagues from Cigar Aficionado, a host of magazine readers and some of the best-known cigarmakers on the planet. Looking to meet executive editor Gordon Mott, maybe ask him a question about how we rate cigars? Want to share a smoke with associate editor Greg Mottola, or tap my brain about tobacco in Nicaragua? Here’s your chance.

The crowd is going to receive an A list of cigars. Alec Bradley Family Blend, Arturo Fuente, Ashton, C.A.O., Camacho, Carlos Toraño, Casa Magna (a former Cigar Aficionado Cigar of the Year), Cuba Aliados, Cusano, Diamond Crown, Flavours by C.A.O., Hammer + Sickle, La Aroma de Cuba, La Flor Dominicana, La Gloria Cubana Serie R, Macanudo 1968, NUb Habano, Oliva Serie G, Padrón, Panter, Rocky Patel, Tabacos Baez Serie H, Tatuaje, Te-Amo World Selection, Uppercut by Punch and Villiger 1888. Plus there will be free-flowing drinks from some of the top names in spirits, from Dewars, Glenmorangie, Remy, Macallan, Sheep Dip Scotch, Wild Geese Irish, Hammer & Sickle Vodka, Ron Matusalem, Classic Malt Collection, Oban, Singleton, Zacapa, Appleton Estate Rum, Don Q, Woodford Reserve, Tullamore Dew and icy Pilsner Urquell beer.

This is our second time at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods. It’s a cool, boutique hotel and casino on the grounds of the much larger Foxwoods casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Last year I saw readers who hadn’t been to a Big Smoke in some time, people from Boston, Providence, Rhode Island, as well as from the New York City area. Smoking laws have kept us out of Boston for years—the Bostonians were happy to see us back in their area, and we were happy to have them there.

If you’re in the area and you’re ready to have a smoke, join us. For more info or to pick up tickets, click here.
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Davidoff’s Dominican Wrapper

Posted: Apr 30, 2010 11:35am ET
I went to the launch of Davidoff’s newest cigar, the Davidoff Puro d’Oro, this week in New York City. It’s the first new Davidoff cigar brand (not counting limited editions) in a decade, and it’s a big deal because it has a wrapper grown in a new area of the Dominican Republic.

The launch, a quiet affair with a small crowd at Davidoff’s Madison Avenue store, featured a posh Davidoff humidor full of the new cigars, and an explanation of the line by Davidoff maker Hendrik “Henke” Kelner.

The cigars are much darker and stronger than traditional Davidoffs. They also don’t have Davidoff bands. Puro d’Oros are adorned only with slim, golden footbands, each bearing the name of the frontmark, but not the word Davidoff, giving the cigars a bit of a European look.

I spent most of the night chatting with Henke, a veritable scientist who can talk about tobacco for hours. Back in the early days of Cigar Aficionado, Henke thought you couldn’t grow high-quality wrappers in the Dominican Republic (and to be fair, he certainly wasn't alone in his opinion.) Now, several companies, most notably Fuente, as well as La Flor Dominicana and La Aurora, have proven how great a Dominican wrapper can be, and Henke's opinion has clearly changed.

Growing this wrapper and working with this tobacco certainly wasn’t easy. The project began when Kelner purchased a farm in an area where tobacco normally isn’t grown in the Dominican Republic, Yamasá, located a few hours from Santiago. There the soil is reddish and the weather, he said, is “perfect.” Idyllic weather aside, the soil in Yamasá proved tricky. “The sand was small,” Henke told me, squinting as he pinched his fingers together in front of my face. That caused the nutrients he added to the soil to leach out quickly. “It was too different,” he said. “Lots of iron, and aluminum.” Yamasá proved tough to master, one reason why the Puro d’Oro is one year delayed coming to market. 
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Smoking New Cigars with Tim Ozgener

Posted: Apr 26, 2010 10:00am ET
Tim Ozgener came by the Cigar Aficionado offices the other day with a few new C.A.O. La Traviata cigars in tow. Tim is the president of C.A.O. International Inc., headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, and La Traviata is his company’s latest brand.

C.A.O. released La Traviata late last year, with a trio of sizes. The brand came on the cigar scene with a bang when the robusto size (called the Divino) scored 93 points in a blind taste test in a November Cigar Insider. That was one of the higher scores of 2009, but the cigar came out too late to be considered for last year’s Top 25 ranking. (It will be a candidate for the 2010 list.) The Divino is a great smoke, meaty and spicy, with notes of nuts and dark chocolate. And the suggested retail price is only $4.95. What’s not to like?

Tim and the C.A.O. team have added two sizes to brand. The first, which just came to market, is a corona gorda (or Cuban corona) called the Animado, which measures 5 5/8 inches long by 46 ring gauge, and has a suggested retail price of $4.95. The second is a petit belicoso called the Favorito, measuring 5 1/2 by 52, which will be out in May with a $5.65 pricetag. Here’s Tim on video explaining the new sizes and the philosophy behind the La Traviata brand.

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Cigar Taxes Kill A Family Business

Posted: Apr 13, 2010 9:44am ET
When I heard the news I thought first as a reporter: Higher cigar taxes in Utah? Time for a story. I wasn’t  happy, but certainly wasn’t shocked. At the end, as I’m writing this blog, I’m simply sad.

The details as they unfolded were a little more troubling. Taxes in Utah were going from 35 percent to 86 percent, not only a real steep increase, but increasing to a level that’s extraordinarily high. Then I started making some phone calls.

I clicked on the Cigar Aficionado retailer database and began talking to the people who work at Utah smoke shops. There aren’t many, first of all. Utah is a huge state, but it’s sparsely populated for its size, with fewer than 3 million people, 37th in the United States. It’s hardly the epicenter of cigar sales. I started asking about the impact of the taxes.

“You need to call Jeanie’s,” said one cigar store worker.

I placed a call to Jeanie’s, a shop in Salt Lake City. Soon I was talking to the owner, a guy named Gary Klc, pronounced “kelch.” If you have any desire to buy a cigar from Gary, do it now, because this new tax is going to drive him out of business.

You see, the Utah cigar tax increase isn’t just about a higher tax. This tax hike comes with a very nasty thing known as a floor tax, which is a tax on the inventory of a cigar shop. The new tax doesn’t go into effect until July 1, so lawmakers fear that cigar shop owners will stock up on cigars before the tax change. To prevent that, they have added a floor tax to the legislation, which means that cigar shop owners like Gary will have to pay the difference in tax on all their inventory in the shop on June 30. That’s 51 percent of the manufacturer’s selling price, and that can be a lot of money, especially in the middle of a recession.
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Innovative Cigar From La Gloria Cubana

Posted: Mar 24, 2010 10:54am ET

I spent quite a bit of time the other day with Michael Giannini, director of marketing for General Cigar Co. and La Gloria Cubana. Mike came by the Cigar Aficionado office with Victoria McKee from General to give us an exclusive look at a new La Gloria Cubana that’s been in the works for a year and a half. 

The cigar is called the La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Tabaqueros, and there are a couple of things that make it new for the company. The cigar is made with two tobaccos that are a first for a La Gloria: Connecticut-shade wrapper and Honduran filler. And then there’s the little fact that the cigar has more than one wrapper.

The first time you look at a La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Tabaqueros, you might think you have the cigar upside down. That’s because the band is located about one third of the way from the foot of the cigar, rather than near the head. The band is placed so low because that spot is the place on the cigar where the light-hued Connecticut-shade wrapper meets the darker Ecuadoran Sumatra leaf. Mike, who was a chef before joining the cigar business 27 years ago, makes a food analogy when explaining the reasons behind the two wrappers.

“This is the appetizer,” he said, pointing to the shade part of the cigar, “and this is the big entrée. This is the Porterhouse,” he said, pointing to the upper two thirds. “It’s two wrappers, with two countries and two distinct flavors.”

The cigar was very cool to look at, a pleasure to smoke, and truly something different. Here’s a video Mike describing it, and a good view of the cigar and the box. 

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Smoking Green for St. Patrick’s Day

Posted: Mar 17, 2010 2:00pm ET
I had some leftover candela, or green, cigars from the video shoot I did with Jack Bettridge on Irish Whiskey and cigars. We didn’t smoke the candelas on screen, but used them at the end as a little joke. In the video, I passed on Jack’s offer of a candela.

Today being St. Patrick’s Day, I found myself staring at the candelas in my humidor as I thought about what I would smoke first today. I haven’t smoked a candela in years. So I dove in.

The green cigar is an Arturo Fuente 858 Candela, a 6 1/4 inch long, 47 ring gauge cigar with a considerably green wrapper. If you read my Cigar Aficionado story about candelas, you’ll find that green cigars were once quite popular in the United States. Normal curing turns a leaf from green to brown, but for candela the farmer seals the barn, cranks the heat very high and locks in the cholraphyl of the plant, keeping the color green.

But how would it taste? I lit up the cigar and took a puff. First impression? Not bad at all. Fairly mild, innocent, with just a bit of a freshly cut grass note on the palate. I kept smoking.

After an inch or so, the cigar became more toasty, with a bit of a graham cracker flavor. That grassy taste was a little less pronounced, but still there. I wouldn’t call the flavor great, but it was far from bad. The cigar burned beautifully, held a nice ash and the draw was exceptional.

A green cigar. Did it taste better than I thought it would? Yes. Will it become part of my regular rotation? No. But it's a flavor and a type of cigar that some people love. And on a day where green is king, it’s a fitting thing to puff.
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