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David Savona

Trade Show, Day One

Posted: Aug 10, 2009 11:08am ET
I took the early flight yesterday morning with Gordon Mott to New Orleans, taking off at 7 a.m. from JFK and landing in NOLA at 9. We were able to get to the convention center just after 10, right at the time the show floor opened for the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers show. Perfect. We stepped in and were immediately greeted by the aroma of fine cigars.

This trade show is the gathering of the premium cigar industry. They show off their latest creations and retailers—ideally lots of them—walk the aisles and buy (hopefully) lots of cigars. The editors at Cigar Aficionado? We walk around looking for great stuff to smoke so we can tell you all about it.

And I did indeed smoke some great ones yesterday. One of my favorites was the La Flor Dominicana Double Press.
Imagine a box of 10 cigars, each of them very flat, each of them in a little chamber. When you smoke all ten, flip it over and there’s the same presentation, with 10 more cigars. People often ask me what box pressing does to a cigar. In terms of flavor, the answer is nothing—a flat cigar tastes just as it would if it was round. But the pressing gives the wrapper an extra stretch. You stretch a wrapper to bring out its oils, and pressing takes that stretching to an extreme. Pressing it extra flat as with this cigar really stretches the wrapper, and makes it look absolutely gorgeous, slimming any veins. But forget the jazzy packaging and the flatness of the cigar—the Double Press is delicious. The kicker is the Habano seed wrapper grown in Ecuador, one of my favorites. Litto Gomez, the cigarmaker behind the brand, also uses the same wrapper (but a higher priming, I believe) on his Salomone, but this cigar is more nuanced, more balanced. “It’s not very aggressive,” Litto told me while we both smoked one at his booth. I found it very rich, nicely balanced and tasty indeed.
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Heading to the Trade Show

Posted: Aug 8, 2009 9:53pm ET
Tomorrow morning I’m catching an early flight to New Orelans for the IPCPR trade show, or what most people still call it, the RTDA. This is when the cigar industry gathers to show off its newest releases, and retailers go booth-to-booth ready to buy.

I have an empty notebook, a few lighters and I’m ready to go. I’ll be blogging as often as I can with info on the new cigars you can expect to see in smoke shops in the next few weeks and months.

I’m ready to smoke—hope you’re ready to read!

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Camp Smokes

Posted: Jul 24, 2009 4:43pm ET
My buddies and I took our children camping this past weekend. We pulled up to a small island off the Connecticut coast and waded ashore, using a small raft to bring in the kids. We started unloading the gear while the boys and girls began playing, enjoying the water and sand.

The weather was perfect. (Quite different from last year’s trip.) All was right with the world.

My friend Mark showed off an insider’s tip he learned from a north shore Boston resident to find quahogs and steamers—you throw a rock toward the sand (a big one), and the vibration scares the clams into jetting out streams of water, giving away their position. A little digging with a shovel and you have shellfish. The kids loved the show, but we freed the bivalves later, sparing them the knife (and Tabasco sauce.)

The kids played in the sun all day, and fairly long into the night around the campfire. We dined on real haute cuisine—hot dogs—but Russ turned the food up a notch with some good cheese and bread from a local shop.

When the little ones were finally asleep in the tents, Russ, Mark and I relaxed on the beach chairs and clipped the heads off of cigars. I had some old Aurora 100 Años Belicosos I had been saving for a few years—they were still nice and strong, very earthy, and pleasantly leathery, fine smokes for a perfect starry night by the fire. A little Buffalo Trace bourbon on ice completed the picture.

The next morning it was back to the beach for the kids, and time for a pancake and sausage breakfast. Yours truly forgot to bring the spatula, so we crafted one from a Jiffy Pop popcorn shaker, trimming the foil and folding it onto itself for strength. Gotta love Swiss Army knives!

The kids had a blast and the dads did as well.

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Rooting for the Cigar Guy

Posted: Jul 16, 2009 3:39pm ET
I was at my desk this afternoon when a buddy called. He was watching the British Open. “Jimenez just shot a 64,” he said. “He’s in the lead. And he’s smoking a robusto with a red band on it.”

Miguel Angel Jimenez, Spanish golfer, loves cigars, especially Cubans. “Partagas D 4?” I asked.

“I think that’s it,” the buddy said.

Sounds right to me. If I shot a 64 in the opening round at the British Open—heck, if I shot an 84 at my local munie on any Sunday—I’d fire up a celebratory smoke as well. Probably two.

You have to love Jimenez, whose nickname is “The Mechanic,” if not for his cool demeanor on the course, but for his unapologetic puffing. The man loves a great cigar, and he’s not going to let a little golf match on the world stage get in the way of his smoke. (Best description award goes to BBC Sport writer Ben Dirs, who wrote Jimenez up today as “The Fozzie Bear lookalike,” citing his amber colored bushy ponytail protruding from the back of his cap. Classic.)

I’m a huge fan of the British Open. Thanks to the time difference, when I wake up on Saturday and Sunday morning I can turn on the TV and get right to watching great golf. Now, with a guy who loves cigars as much as I do the leader in the clubhouse, I have another reason to watch.

I’m going to root for the cigar guy. Go Jimenez.
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The Cigar Guys (And Gals) Come to Town

Posted: Jul 2, 2009 1:58pm ET
This has been a short but busy work week, especially Monday: I spent the early afternoon with the Perez-Carrillo family, and the early evening with the Quesada family.

There are some similarities here beyond the obvious—each family is among the elite of cigarmakers. You all know Ernesto Perez-Carrillo for his La Gloria Cubana brand, which he shepherded until March, and Manuel Quesada is the famous face behind Fonseca and Casa Magna (our reining Cigar of the Year.) What you might not know is that each man has a younger generation coming up in the business, people in their 20s and 30s who are getting deeply involved in the cigar industry.

Perez-Carrillo left La Gloria to start up a new cigar company with his daughter, Lissette, and son, Ernesto III. (Although we don’t use it in our stories, Perez-Carrillo is actually Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr.) Lissette is a lawyer, and Ernesto III (who goes by the knickname Ernie) was in private equity. They are extremely excited to be working with their dad.

Quesada’s two daughters have been working with him for several years now. Patricia, the elder daughter, does administration and accounting, while Raquel is a cigar blender. They are two members of the company’s fifth generation, also known as “The Young Ones,” who have taken a bigger role at their father’s company. They were all there Monday night at the Davidoff store on Madison Avenue showing off a cigar they created together: Patricia and Raquel, their cousins Esther Quesada, Jose Manuel Bermudez, Hostos Fernandez Quesada and the newest member of the next generation, Terence Joseph Reilly.

“The young ones,” their father told me, “are building the pillars for my monument.”
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Father’s Day Smokes

Posted: Jun 22, 2009 4:36pm ET
I had a great Father’s Day. It started off with brunch at a local restaurant with my wife and son. They treated me to hanger steak and eggs, the steak medium rare, the eggs softly poached, with hollandaise sauce. It was brunch at a seafood restaurant, and my wife was more in the mood for lunch than breakfast—she began with a half-dozen bluepoint oysters on the half-shell. My little boy had never seen a raw bivalve on a plate before. His review? “Gross!”

In the afternoon, I headed out on the water again with my buddies Mark and Rick. We threw lines in the water for awhile, and Rick and Mark each caught a fat bluefish, and Mark pulled in a big striped bass (34 inches, by our estimate) that he threw back. I had a fish on the line but I couldn’t bring him in. Yes, he got away.

On the boat, I lit my first cigar of the day, an Alec Bradley Tempus Creo. It’s a great lancero, with an earthy flavor and a touch of leather. This one had been aging in my humidor for a year or so, and the age had made it even better. It was delicious.

After the fishing trip, we headed back to Mark’s house to catch up on the U.S. Open and fire up some more cigars. I had special Father’s Day smokes: Tatuaje RC 233s, These are 9 1/8 inches long by 55 ring gauge, huge diademas rolled by Pepin Garcia in Miami. I love these cigars—they are full bodied, loaded with coffee and leather flavors and they take forever to smoke.

Happy Father’s Day. What did you smoke?

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Fish Stories

Posted: Jun 17, 2009 2:53pm ET
Four thirty a.m. on a Saturday, and I was awake. Well, sort of awake. I took a quick shower, got dressed, and headed out for coffee and bagels. I was heading out on the water with a group of friends, and we were going after stripers, which apparently don’t sleep, not even on weekends.

Stripers are striped bass, the most coveted game fish in the Long Island Sound. Bluefish put up a much harder fight, but nothing makes your soul sing like pulling a shimmering silver and black striper with a fat belly out of the water. To top it off, they taste great.

I was invited on this trip by my buddy Tim, who won it in a charity auction. He invited our mutual friend Russ and his very experienced fisherman friend Mike. We were in the hands of Bill, the captain and owner of the fishing boat. Bill welcomed us at the dock, thanked all of us for being on time (amazing, given the hour) and took us out into the Sound just as the sun was cracking above the horizon.

I go fishing a lot, but I seldom catch fish. (To borrow a line from Deadliest Catch, that’s why they call it fishing, not catching.) I’m usually out there with a cigar, maybe a beer or two, and I throw a few lures in the water, but serious fishing? Not so much. This day was to be different—we were going to find something.

We set out in good spirits, sipping coffee and munching on breakfast as Bill took the boat out of the harbor. After a quick peek at a spot where he had seen a bunker boil (an area where baitfish are feverishly trying to escape from circling blues and striper below) we settled in one of his favorite spots off of Stamford, Connecticut. After cutting up some frozen bunker and setting them on hooks, we let out line, and a few of us worked spinners and lures on the surface.

It was quiet for the first 20 minutes or so, then came the clicks and whizzes of a line being taken by a fish. “Fish on!” someone said. Russ was closest, so he took a reel, and soon after he cranked in a striper.
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Cigars at 330 Miles Per Hour

Posted: Jun 12, 2009 1:21pm ET
I recently had a smoke with Tony Schumacher, a six-time champion drag racer. Tony, known as “The Sarge” for his Army sponsorship and military haircut, specializes in going very, very fast in a top fuel dragster. Fast as in 337.58 miles per hour.

Tony’s car, fed by gallons of nitromethane cut with a touch of methanol, goes from zero to 100 miles per hour in 0.8 seconds. “A Lamborghini will do that in nine seconds,” says Schumacher, a likeable guy with an intense style and a great story to tell. The car generates about 8,000 horsepower, and hits the driver with more G-forces than an astronaut experiences in a space shuttle launch.

Schumacher loves to go fast for work, but when he has downtime he takes is slow, namely with premium cigars. We puffed away in my office, me peppering him with questions about drag racing and him responding with inquiries about cigars. He’s partial to Graycliffs, and also enjoys San Cristobals and Nubs.

He also has a great sense of humor. He had me pull up the YouTube videos of his crashes—he’s had a couple of dramatic ones, including a particularly nasty one in Memphis in 2000. “It was ranked the worse crash in history,” said Schumacher, nonchalantly. The wing came off the back of his car, sending the speeding dragster in a violent right turn, through the barrier, and almost into an oak tree. I pointed to a chunk of metal spinning around and around. “Is that you?” I asked. “That’s me,” he said.

He broke his leg, dislocated eight fingers, chipped teeth and had “an incredible concussion,” but he was otherwise OK. The video ends with a close up of the wing that ripped off, nearly killing him. He saved it.
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In Defense of Steak

Posted: Jun 5, 2009 4:18pm ET
A good friend of mine maintains that there are far too many steakhouses in Manhattan. I disagree. Bring ‘em on.

I’m an unabashed steakhouse fan. A steakhouse dinner—start with a selection of raw oysters, then a salad with bleu cheese dressing followed by a medium-rare steak washed down with rich, red wine—is my favorite meal. And you can hold the cheesecake for dessert—give me a cigar instead.

I have several favorites here in New York City, and unlike my friend I revel in experiencing new expressions when I try a new steakhouse. Here are a few of the newer ones I find interesting, plus a selection of old favorites.

Primehouse New York
, 381 Park Avenue South
There used to be a very ordinary sports-themed restaurant with dull food directly across the street from our offices. New owners took this space and transformed it into a steakhouse. Genius. The steakhouse is grand and stark, and the selling point is an aging room lined with Himalayan salt. I don’t know if the salt does anything at all, but I really enjoy one of the lunch dishes, which has a very reasonable pricetag. It’s a hanger steak, served churassco-style with chimmichuri sauce. (This is best enjoyed rare.)  Outdoor tables are available on sunny days—if you ask nicely, they might even let you smoke a cigar.

Benjamin Steak House, 52 East 41st Street
This beautiful restaurant sits only a block from Grand Central Terminal and excels in steak for a group—large porterhouses sliced off the bone, served on a blazing hot platter. On a recent visit, the matire’d presented slices of the sirloin cut, and brushed each against the hot platter with a sensational sizzle to cook it more, if needed. For the truly hungry, the restaurant also serves a full breakfast. Yes, you can have a sirloin steak at 7 a.m. The restaurant is around the corner from the Barclay Rex smoke shop on 42nd Street.
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A Smoke With Rocky

Posted: Jun 1, 2009 11:25am ET
On Saturday afternoon I dropped by the Cigar Inn on Second Avenue in New York City to see Rocky Patel. He was there for the entire day, greeting cigar smokers and talking about his many lines of cigars.

Rocky never stops—he’s always somewhere on the road, whether its in a cigar factory in Central America or a cigar shop somewhere in the United States or abroad. The guy is tireless, and he seems to feed off the energy of the cigar smokers around him who enjoy his company. Everyone seems to love the guy.

And he’s making fine cigars. Remember his Rocky Patel Decade, which scored 95 points in Cigar Aficionado last year? That’s a number few cigars hit.

The cigar shop, home of the Cigar Aficionado lounge, was bustling, pretty impressive for such a sunny weekend afternoon. I was handed a dark cigar that Rocky makes special for the Cigar Inn, and I lit it up as I walked through the store, saying my hellos to the Fakih brothers, Billy, Gus and Bass, who own Cigar Inn. (Nice smoke—very spicy on the start, good flavor throughout.) People were all over the shop, smoking cigars, sampling drinks, and listening to live music played on an eight-string guitar. I liked their latest addition, a little walled off seating area outside the shop. It’s great for al fresco smoking now that the weather has turned gorgeous.

I spent some time chatting with a few of the people who were there to see Rocky, including a young couple from Washington, D.C. who came up just for the event. Nice people, really into their cigars. (A power puffing couple, if you will.)

Rocky and I caught up, and he told me he has some big projects on the horizon, such as a Patel Brothers cigar (featuring him and his brother, Nish) and a Rocky Patel 15th Anniversary cigar, both of which are coming out around July. 2010 is his company’s 15th year in the business. Seems like I was just writing about his 10th anniversary!
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