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David Savona

Cigar of the Year Coming to Big Smokes

Posted: Nov 2, 2009 1:37pm ET
I know a lot of you are planning on coming to our Big Smoke in Las Vegas, which is less than two weeks away. (Can’t believe it—This year went by fast.) I just got off the phone with Manuel (Manolo) Quesada, and he told me what he was planning on giving out—Casa Magna Colordo Robustos, the Cigar of the Year.

I called him back to double check, and he really is doing just that, handing out one of the most in-demand cigars in the country. The Casa Magna became an overnight sensation when we at Cigar Aficionado named it Cigar of the Year in January. Despite its relatively large production, the accolade—combined with a suggested retail price of only $5.25 and a 93 point rating—caused demand to surge, and many cigar smokers have been unable to try one.

We knew Manolo was giving them out for the seminars (which have sold out) but handing them out during the evening Big Smoke events on Friday and Saturday nights is a much taller order—there are lots more people, so it involves quite a few more cigars. Pretty impressive. He’s also handing out the Cigar of the Year in New York on November 24, at our Big Smoke at the Marriott Marquis.

“We’re packing the bags now,” he said.

So, if you're looking for another reason to come to a Big Smoke, there's a big one. For more information, click here.

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A Senseless Ban

Posted: Oct 29, 2009 1:00pm ET
I’m still scratching my head over New York City’s move to ban flavored tobacco products, including flavored cigars and even pipe tobacco. It just doesn’t make sense. And even if you’re not a fan of flavored tobacco (and I’m not) you should still find the news disturbing.

The ban will go into effect in 119 days, but there will likely be a court challenge from makers of flavored tobacco products that could delay the enactment, or even stop it entirely. But there's a chance that, four months from now, buying flavored cigars, chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco in New York City will be against the law—just like buying fireworks, drugs, or guns.

This morning I spoke with Ron Melendi, general manager of De La Concha, a fine cigar shop in Midtown Manhattan that’s been in business since 1964, longer than I’ve been alive. The law will take away a big chunk of De La Concha's longstanding business.

“The final version of the law kills our aromatic pipe tobacco business, which is a material business for us,” said Melendi. “We’re known for pipes, we do a tremendous pipe trade, and now you’re basically taking our customer base—you’ve lost them. You can’t recoup this business. It’s gone. They’re going to go to the Internet, to Westchester, to Jersey, Long Island—we’ve lost them. We have to stop this now.”

The lawmakers who signed this legislation (Bill 433-A, read Greg Mottola’s fine story on the subject) envisioned this as a way to keep tobacco out of the hands of children. "This bill improves upon the recent federal ban on flavored cigarettes and makes New York City the first city to protect children from all flavored products on the market," said Bloomberg as he signed.

I’m a dad, so I share the concerns of the mayor to keep tobacco out of the hands of kids. But you don’t have to ban an entire segment of the tobacco business to save children. Kids don’t buy tobacco products at fine cigar shops—cigars and tobacco are regulated, and fine cigar shops do their job of keeping children out. If they don’t, they risk everything.
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Not My New York

Posted: Oct 15, 2009 10:17am ET
What happened to New York? When I was a kid growing up in Connecticut, New York City was always the big, mysterious place with a little Wild West thrown in. It had a reckless side, a rebellious side and a seedy side. Cabbies drove like crazy, you could find things here that were available nowhere else, and it was very common to see people wearing all kinds of crazy outfits. On an early visit, I turned a corner and almost walked into a man stripped to the waist with boxing gloves on each hand. (I crossed the street.) People were different in New York and they did what they wanted, and God help those who tried to tell them no.

That’s just not the same anymore. Today, the “N” in New York could stand for nanny, as in Nanny State. The city that once never slept is now more like the city that says No. The people in charge of this once rebellious city are now mimicking such anti Sin City municipalities as Canada and California.

What set me off this morning is yesterday’s City Council vote to ban the sale of flavored tobacco in the city. Flavored cigarettes (except for menthol) are already illegal in the United States, thanks to a September ban by the Food and Drug Administration, the new boss of the U.S. tobacco industry. The New York City ban is tougher, and would make the city the only one in the union (save for the state of Maine) banning all flavored tobacco, except for pipe and  hookah tobacco. The legislation needs to be signed by Mayor Bloomberg, and it’s hard to imagine that someone who is as anti-tobacco as the Mayor would vote such legislation down. Unless challenged in court, in about 120 days the sale of flavored cigars will become illegal in New York City.

(Irony of ironies, aficionados who enjoy flavored cigars might soon have to reverse generations of behavior and leave a city that long had a reputation of being the place to find whatever you want and go to a place like Connecticut to find it!)
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Smoking with the Most Interesting Man in the World

Posted: Oct 7, 2009 2:52pm ET
I met the most interesting man in the world the other day. No, I'm not talking about Jack Bettridge—it was Jonathan Goldsmith, the actor who portrays The Most Interesting Man in the World in ads for Dos Equis beer.

They’re great ads, and you’ve likely seen them. (The YouTube views on one of the commercials exceeds 1.4 million.) Goldsmith plays a mysterious character with near mythical powers, bench pressing a pair of women in chairs to the cheers of a crowd, freeing a grizzly bear from a trap, or exploring ancient ruins, all while wearing a well-pressed tuxedo or smoking jacket. A narrator proclaims his prowess, tongue pressed firmly in cheek: “He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels... He lives vicariously, through himself," and the classic: “He can speak French—in Russian. He is, the most interesting man in the world.”

When I had the opportunity to meet Goldsmith, I said yes, asking his agent if the actor enjoyed cigars as much as the character, who typically has a robusto in his hand. The answer was yes, so we met at the Cigar Aficionado lounge at the Cigar Inn on Second Avenue in New York City.

First off, the silver-bearded, well-tanned Goldsmith says he's not his character. "I'm not The Most Interesting Man in the World," he says, his voice quite unlike the gravelly, lightly accented one used by his character in the commercials. Turns out Dos Equis doesn't allow him to act in character outside of the ads—they prefer he maintain his mystery. While he's not the character, he's still quite fascinating. Goldsmith been acting in television and films since the 1960s. He demurs when asked his age: puts him at 70; he will only admit to being “between 61 and 96.” In earlier years he went by Jonathan Lippe, and has worked with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Burt Lancaster, John Wayne and Dustin Hoffman, but this most recent gig has brought him the most pleasure by far.
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Good Signs and Bad Signs

Posted: Sep 3, 2009 10:39am ET

Every cigar smoker has experienced the feeling of not being welcome. You walk up to a bar, cigar in hand, and encounter a sign. Perhaps it says NO SMOKING. Worse, you might enter the haze of a smoky bar, sit down at your stool, take out a cigar and only then see the sign that says NO CIGAR SMOKING, letting you know that only cigarettes are welcome. It happens far too often.

The other night, I saw a sign that made me smile rather than frown: Cigar Smoking Only.

The sign is posted at the entrance to the Cuesta-Rey Cigar Bar at Tropicana Field in Tampa, Florida. The Cuesta-Rey Cigar Bar is sponsored by J.C. Newman Cigar Co., owners of the Cuesta-Rey cigar brand. When the bar opened in 1998, it quickly became inhabited by cigarette puffers. The sign put an end to that. "It's kind of our revenge on places that won't allow cigars and pipes but allow cigarettes,” said Eric Newman of J.C. Newman in an old Cigar Aficionado Online interview.

The bar is gorgeous, with a splendid array of Newman and Fuente product: Arturo Fuentes, Diamond Crowns, Cuesta-Reys, even Fuente Fuente OpusX (and at proper suggested retail prices, no less.) There are comfortable leather chairs, a pool table, and a bar serving various libations. You can’t see the field of play from the bar, alas, but there are several televisions to keep track of the game. “Some guys never go to their seats,” Eric told me on Tuesday night.

The bar was full of happy cigar smokers on my visit, but not everyone appreciates having such a gem in the stadium. Tropicana Field seems almost embarrassed about the bar—the team removed the word “cigar” from the maps in the stadium, so it simply reads “Cuesta-Rey Bar.” And they no longer allow the Newmans to promote a cigar giveaway on the scoreboard, which they used to do during the seventh inning stretch. That’s too bad. The cigar bar was far busier on my visit than the stadium in general, which was less than half full that evening. The Tampa Rays should embrace the good thing that they have, rather than trying to sweep it away.

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Welcome to the Machine

Posted: Sep 2, 2009 1:15pm ET
I’m in Tampa, Florida, which once was the heart of American cigar production. In the 1950s, some 500 million cigars a year were made here. Things are a bit different now. When Havatampa Inc. closed its doors in July, it left only one cigar company making cigars in any volume in the Tampa area: J.C. Newman Cigar Co.

I visited J.C. Newman yesterday, dropping in on Eric and Bobby Newman, who run the company. Most of their business involves premium, handmade cigars: J.C. Newman owns the Diamond Crown, Cuesta-Rey and El Baton brands, among others, and is the sales partner of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., selling the cigars the company rolls. But on the second floor of its historic Ybor City building are several decades-old cigar making machines.

From left to right, Armando Garcia and Eric Newman.

I seldom smoke machine-made cigars. Most are made like cigarettes, with homogenized tobacco leaf as a wrapper. Nothing wrong with that if that’s your thing, but to me it doesn’t taste like a cigar. The cigars made by the Newmans have real tobacco leaf wrappers, a homogenized tobacco leaf binder and the chopped filler tobacco on the inside is leftover from Fuente’s handmade cigar production.

I stepped up to a gigantic, green metal machine, which seemed like a relic from the Industrial Age. A woman sat at the front, stretching out wrapper leaf over an aluminum plate with air holes. When she moved her hand, a die cut out the proper shape, then moved it to the rolling area. Every 20 seconds or so the floor shook as the hopper vibrated and chopped tobacco leaf into a scale, which was then dumped into the proper place to go into the homogenized binder. A little while later, a cigar was dropped into a tray by a mechanical arm.
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Bargain Cigars

Posted: Aug 28, 2009 12:23pm ET
What do you consider a bargain-priced cigar? A $5 smoke? One retailing for $4? Less than $4? Or maybe it’s simply a cigar that gives you a great smoking experience for less than you would expect.

Every year at Cigar Insider, we survey cigar shops from around the country to get an idea of the buying habits of the premium cigar smoker. This year price was a major concern. “People are buying cheaper cigars,” said Craig Cass, who owns four Tinderbox stores in (and around) Charlotte, North Carolina. “The $10 guy,” he said, “is now at $8.” Others agreed.

Everyone seems to be making do with a little less in their pockets today, so finding some bang for your buck in your neighborhood walk-in humidor is extremely welcome. Looking over the new cigars from the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers trade show, various cigar companies have come out with cheaper smokes this year, no doubt in response to the ailing economy.

One of those cheaper smokes is Brioso, from General Cigar Co. This new Dominican brand is made from a mix of Honduran, Connecticut, Dominican, Nicaraguan and Mexican tobaccos. It comes in four sizes, ranging in price from $2.99 (yes, a sub $3 cigar!) to $3.75. The brand is handmade from long-filler tobacco. How do they keep the price so low? No box. The cigar, which hits the market in October, will come in a display tray, and refills will be shipped in bundles. No box, lower price.

Brick House, a new J.C. Newman Cigar Co. brand, is made in Nicaragua from all Nicaraguan tobaccos. It comes in four sizes and sells for $4.75 to $5.75 per cigar. “We are in a recession, and post SCHIP,” said Eric Newman, president of the Tampa, Florida company. “I want to offer the marketplace a very flavorful cigar with a lot of spice, between $4.75 and $5.75. Everybody can’t afford a Diamond Crown.”
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Remembering Dad

Posted: Aug 17, 2009 4:17pm ET
My father died on July 28. He was ill for a short time, went through a tough operation, gave us hope that he would soon be back on his feet, but died very quickly of a heart attack on a Tuesday morning. One day he was there, the next he was gone.

His sudden passing was a dignified and painless way to go, but it was hard on those he left behind. Dad was 77, and he lived a great life. Everyone who knew him wished for more, of course, but he lived life to the fullest, saw his children have children of their own, and enjoyed his days. Dad was a great guy, and like any good father he was a teacher, passing on life’s lessons to help his sons grow into men.

Dad taught me how to make a proper fire, how to hammer a nail, the right time to flip a hamburger, and how to shuck oysters and clams. He taught me never to start a plumbing job on a Sunday night, because if you mess it up you’ll have a long wait until help arrives (or have to pay dearly for overtime.) He taught me how to pack a car, tie a solid knot, and cook breakfast for a dozen people. He was a man of great humor, and always had a joke. When he was on a breathing tube, only hours after his surgery, he asked for pen and paper and sketched out jokes by hand, bringing smiles to our faces. Taking care of us when we were trying to take care of him.

Dad taught me how to respect my neighbors and elders, how to love my country and how to have compassion for my fellow man. He showed me how to welcome guests with a cold drink and a warm smile, and how good friends can be as close to you as a member of the family. He patched up my cuts when I fell off my bike and drove me to the hospital when I broke my finger playing football in the front yard. When someone hit me, he held up his palms and taught me how to hit back, thumb outside my fists to protect them from harm. He taught me to take responsibility for my mistakes, to never be afraid to fail, and empowered me with the belief that I could overcome any obstacle set in my path.
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Trade Show, Day Three

Posted: Aug 12, 2009 10:21am ET
Monday night was a busy one. Barry and I walked to the Alec Bradley party. On the way we stumbled across the Cigar Factory of New Orleans, which I’d consider a must stop for any cigar smoker coming to the Big Easy. They had 8 rollers working when I visited, pumping out handmade cigars in a very rustic atmosphere. Owner David Sharrof told us the location had been going for ten years, and it seemed popular with the tourists. I didn’t try the smokes yet, but regardless of the quality this is a fine place to stop to see how cigars are made by hand.

Next up was a stop at the Alec Bradley party. I had a glass of Johnny Walker Black and toasted Alan Rubin and his team, firing up an Alec Bradley Family Blend.
Great story behind this cigar: Rubin made the cigar in honor of his father, plus his close associates George Sosa and Ralph Montero, and put the names of the fathers on the box. Quite a tribute. The smoke is very tasty, with an elegant, medium body, the kind of cigar you can smoke one after the other. The wrapper is grown in Trojes, Honduras, near the border of Nicaragua. Good stuff.

I finished the night with an incredible dinner at Commander’s Palace. I’ve had two meals at this temple of New Orleans cuisine, once on my first visit to New Orleans as a much younger man (some 14 years ago) and then on Monday night. Each time was incredibly memorable. We were greeted warmly by owners Ella and Dottie Brennan, and their dining companions Ambassador Lindy Boggs and Cokie Roberts. The meal included the finest fried oysters I’ve ever had, along with far too many rich New Orleans delights, including a dish of spicy gulf shrimp in a sauce of pepper jelly that I’m determined to try myself at home (even though I know I’ll never duplicate it to the level achieved at the restaurant.) The service was spectacular and unhurried, and we concluded in the restaurant’s spacious and covered patio with cigars and single-malt Scotch. “We’re one of few restaurants in the city that have covered seating outdoors,” said wine director Dan Davis.What a civilized, luxurious meal.
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Trade Show, Day Two

Posted: Aug 10, 2009 6:19pm ET
After several cups of strong coffee and a bracing breakfast, I headed back to the convention center on Monday morning with Gordon Mott, Greg Mottola and Barry Abrams from the magazine. We got out of the cab and headed our separate ways to cover the trade show floor.

I said hello to Ernesto Padilla, and asked when he would begin rolling cigars in his Miami factory. He’s hoping for September. He handed me a new Padilla Dominus, but I put it aside for later—from what he’s told me, this is not a morning cigar. We walked together to the Tabacalera Tropical booth to talk to president Paul Palmer and tobacco grower Arsenio Ramos from Aganorsa. Ramos once worked for Cubatabaco, and he’s knows Jose Orlando Padrón very well. We spoke about the differences between Nicaraguan and Cuban tobacco growing. Ramos talked about the humidity differences, saying Cuba averages 80 percent humidity while Nicaraugan humidity can drop to 50 percent. “In Nicaragua, you have to work a little more,” he said.

Palmer handed me a Casa Fernandez Lancero, which I lit up immediately. It’s not new, but it’s not a terribly well-known cigar. It’s all Nicaraguan, with lots of earth and power, maybe a medium bodied plus. Excellent smoke. Ramos, who grows the tobacco that goes into the cigar, took out one of his own, showed me that we were going to smoke the same thing and said, “That’s a man’s cigar.”

I next went to the Graycliff booth and spoke with Paolo Garzaroli. The newest from this company, which rolls cigars in the Bahamas, doesn’t yet have a name. “We’re having our customers name it for us,” he said. They hope to have a good suggestion by the end of the show, and the winner gets a free trip to Nassau. Good deal. I smoked the unnamed mini perfecto—it was very earthy, with a touch of a steely note and good balance. (Lots of balanced cigars so far at the show, which is a good thing.) The Bahamas being a high-cost place ot make cigars, this will retail for about $14. The Garzarolis are also making a cigar for Bill Paley, whose family founded CBS. Paley wasn’t at the booth, so I’ll get more on him later.
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