The waves were crashing high over the Malecón seawall on Tuesday morning as I stepped out of my hotel here in Havana. A cold front was blowing through, and the mercury had dropped to 50 degrees. For the locals it was a seriously cold day, but for a visiting Yankee like myself it was just a cool breeze. No chill could bring a frown to my face—I was heading to El Laguito.
Any cigar aficionado writing out his bucket list needs to include one item right near the top—buying a Cuban cigar in Havana. I live my life surrounded by cigars, but when I walk into a humidor that's loaded with fine Cubans I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Today was like Christmas over and over again.
Sixty ring gauge smokes have been on my mind lately. They're everywhere you look, and they're the hot new thing in cigar shops.
Most premium cigar companies now offer something (or many things) in a 60 ring gauge, a size that was once unheard of in the cigar world. Back in 1992, when Cigar Aficionado was created, 50 ring gauges were about the maximum you could find in most cigars. Sure, there was the occasional oddity, such as the Casa Blanca Half Jeroboam (I believe Robert DeNiro smoked one to great effect in the remake of Cape Fear) and Cuba Aliados always had a few incredibly fat figurados, but most cigar brands were no thicker than 50 ring. Diamond Crown pushed the boundary by launching an all 54-ring gauge line in the 1990s, but today 54s seem downright slim compared to a 60.
I love cigar dinners. Always have. Whether it's a black-tie affair with vintage wines and four-star cuisine, a business casual meal at a steakhouse, or a casual get together, let me smoke a cigar at the dinner table and I'm likely to be happy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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