Posted: Nov 21, 2008 3:13pm ETI’ve been traveling to cigar country for 13 years. They’re wonderful places, but if you’re visiting a tobacco field or a cigar factory, odds are you won’t be sleeping in a Four Seasons Hotel. There’s even a chance you might have a close encounter with something exotic.
Like a tarantula.
My close encounter with the Arnold Schwarzenegger of spiders took place back in September 1999, long before we had blogs on this Web site. I was looking through some old photos today, which reminded me of the incident, so I thought I’d share it with you here.
It was my first visit to Central America. I started in Nicaragua, spending about one week in cigar factories and tobacco fields, then drove along the Pan American Highway from Estelí, Nicaragua, to Danlí, Honduras. I met with a few cigarmakers, visiting a few factories in the town, and then I drove with Christian and Julio Eiroa to their farmhouse in the Jamastrán Valley.
The house was beautiful, and the Eiroas are wonderful hosts. They made me feel right at home. As you can imagine, you don’t grow tobacco in big cities—these are farms, out in the middle of nowhere. It was a good drive to the farm, and we arrived after the sun had set. As we drove up a hill to the house, I saw some kind of deer running away from the headlights.
We had a great dinner, and soon it was time for bed. I went to my room, and felt like reading a bit before turning in. The lamp by the bed wasn’t plugged in. I saw the outline of an outlet behind a pillow, so I took the cord and moved the pillow to plug it in. And that’s when I saw the tarantula.
Don’t call it a spider. I know tarantulas are spiders, but calling this thing a spider is a gross understatement. It was bigger than a hockey puck and it was covered in hair. And it didn’t look happy.
This is the time in the story when I should mention that I’m afraid of spiders.
So what did I do? First of all I figured no one back home would believe my story, so I grabbed my camera and snapped a photo. Check it out.
Posted: Nov 5, 2008 4:32pm ETThe other day I grabbed the uptown subway to make my way to Davidoff of Geneva on Madison Avenue. Jon Huber and Frank Kapp from C.A.O. International Inc. had flown into town, part of their C.A.O. Rock N Rolled Tour. I wanted to say hello—Jon and I go way back—and I think the Lx2 is the best blend C.A.O. makes.
The idea for the Rock N Rolled Tour came from Huber’s neck and Frank’s head. Huber almost has enough tattoos to get him an honorary membership in Mötley Crüe, and his latest (at least, I think it’s his latest) is this vibrant bird on his upper back and neck with the words “Rock N Rolled” above it. Frank thought it would make a good idea for an in-store promotion for the new Lx2.
Here’s Frank and Jon talking about the tour at Davidoff.
So the tour gave people a chance to meet Jon and Frank, listen to a little rock music and sip a bit of George Dickel Tennessee whiskey while puffing on a new C.A.O.
What’s not to like?
Posted: Oct 28, 2008 3:17pm ETThis is one of those classic good news/bad news situations. This morning a big box was delivered to my office. Inside were Fuente Fuente OpusX Lanceros.
Five hundred of them.
That was obviously the good news part of this blog. The bad news? They’re not for me. They’re one of the cigars the audience will be smoking on Saturday, November 8, at the Big Smoke Las Vegas seminar.
Take a look at this video to check out the stash.
The cigars are going to be part of the Father and Sons tasting, where three father and son teams will take to the stage to discuss what it’s like to work with family and create great cigars. The Padróns, Fuentes and Toraños are speaking.
I’m sure the cigars will be great…but I have to wait with everybody else until next Saturday before I can find out!
Posted: Oct 15, 2008 3:25pm ETFew people have dunked over Michael Jordan. One man who did—and did it emphatically, in a big game situation—is John Starks.
If you watched New York Knicks basketball in the 1990s, you know John Starks very well. He was the dynamic, damn the torpedoes, full-speed ahead shooting guard for the Pat Riley era Knickerbockers, and he played with fire, passion and guts. Playing alongside Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley, Starks and the Knicks came thisclose to an NBA crown.
I remember the dunk. It was the 1993 playoffs. With under a minute left in the game, Starks had the ball along the right side of the court and was being guarded by B.J. Armstrong. He saw an opening and took off along the baseline for the basket, dribbling with his right hand, and soared over Horace Grant as Jordan came in to help defend. Starks switched the ball to his left hand, soaring incredibly high for a guy listed at 6’5” tall, dunking over the Bulls with authority. It’s one of the most exciting plays I’ve ever watched.
I knew Starks had a great basketball game, but I only found out he enjoyed cigars the other day when I spoke to his business associate, Gary Basciano. Starks loves his smokes so much that he’s coming out with his own cigar brand called Dominican Legends. He came by the Cigar Aficionado offices the other day so I could try one of the new smokes. Here we are chatting about them:
The smoke was very pleasant: Cameroon wrapper around a Dominican binder and a mix of Dominican and Nicaraguan filler. The cigars are made by Eddy Zarzuela, who owns E. Zarzuela Cigars in the Pisano Free Zone in Santiago.
I enjoyed the smoke. It had a substantial amount of flavor without being overpowering, and was extremely pleasant. A nice cigar. It will be on the market next month.
Posted: Oct 8, 2008 11:24am ETOliva Cigar Co. has been making cigars since 1995, but it really popped up on my radar screen three years ago when I noticed their value-priced cigars scoring well in Cigar Insider and Cigar Aficionado. The one that really caught my interest was a $4.50 robusto called the Oliva “O” Classic Olé. It was named our No. 9 Cigar of the Year in January 2006. You have to love a world-class cigar with a suggested retail price of less than $5.
Oliva has been doing very well lately, and last year the company took the No. 4 slot on our Top 25 with the release of the Oliva Serie V line. Last week, Oliva vice president Jose Oliva came by the Cigar Aficionado office to show me what he calls “the maduro interpretation” of the cigar, the new Oliva Serie V Maduro Especial. It’s made with a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper around Nicaraguan filler and binder, and it’s pretty damn tasty. I shot a little video of the cigar, about ten minutes into the smoke, and had Jose talk about it. Check it out.
Broadleaf takes me back to my roots. Back when I was in college, I smoked Muniemaker Breva 100s, machine-made cigars (100 percent tobacco machine mades, not the type made with a zillion flavorings, the ones that are wrapped with something that looks like brown paper) that were wrapped in dark, rugged broadleaf. So I tend to enjoy the sweet, rugged flavor broadleaf imparts to a cigar.
The Serie V Maduro is excellent. It has some cocoa, coffee bean and raisin flavors, with a lot of spice. I found it delicious. It burned beautifully and was exceptionally well made. I didn’t score it, but it would have done well.
The first Serie V maduros will ship next week. You can read a little more about the cigars in yesterday’s Cigar Insider.
Posted: Sep 29, 2008 4:07pm ETI thought I had witnessed just about every way you can light a cigar—matches, lighters, cedar spills, candles (bad), gas stovetops (effective in a pinch)—but I heard of a new twist on Saturday night.
My wife and I went to a casual dinner party not too far from home. The rain held off, so most of the men gathered in the nighttime air for cocktails and hors d’oveurs. I only knew a couple of the people at the party. I met a gentleman named Rob who works in sports management, who is quite the fan of Montecristo No. 2 cigars.
We spoke about cigars for a bit and Rob told me about a trip to a small chalet in Switzerland several years back. He ordered a post-dinner Monte 2.
The cigar sommelier brought out a humidor, selected the proper cigar, clipped it, and lit it with a cedar spill. Nothing unusual so far. But instead of blowing on the lit foot, the sommelier extended his arm, the cigar held in his hand, and began making ever-larger arcs with the smoldering figurado. After a few passes back and forth, he ceremoniously whipped the cigar in a circle, again and again, adding air to the foot.
He handed the cigar to Rob, who took a puff—the cigar was perfectly (and elaborately) lit.
It sounds to me like the cigar version of sabering open a bottle of Champagne. (Or a way to get a little exercise before you smoke.) I’ve never heard of a cigar being lit this way. Has anyone ever tried it?
Posted: Sep 16, 2008 11:42am ETSo I get the chance to play this great golf course the other day: Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale, New York. One of America’s greatest tracks, according to Golf Digest magazine. And to top it off, I was playing with Marvin Shanken and Gordon Mott, plus my coworker James Molesworth, a senior editor at the Wine Spectator.
I brought along a few baggies of cigars. I had a variety of smokes: Padilla La Perla 1932s, one of my favorite small cigars; Tatuaje RC 233s, big, bold monsters that are absolutely gorgeous; an Oliva Serie V Torpedo, a really nice, flavorful smoke, and a few random milder ones in case anyone wanted a break from the heavy stuff.
It was a stolen day, bright and sunny, if just a bit windy. It could easily have been a rainout, with the remnants of Hurricane Ike storming north and (thankfully) west of us. I get to the driving range and hit a few balls to work out the kinks in my game, then reach into my bag for a cutter and lighter.
No dice. I had packed enough cigars to supply an all-night poker game, but I didn’t have a lighter or a cutter. Not even a match. Whenever I leave the house, I usually grab a lighter and a cutter. When I’m heading to some cigar-smoking venue, I typically bring two lighters, just in case the first one runs out of juice. (You’d be surprised how often that happens.) But for whatever reason, on this day I left without grabbing anything.
And my backup lighter and cutter wasn’t where they were supposed to be, in the small, highest pocket on my golf bag. Nothing in there except for tees and ball markers. Try lighting a cigar with one of those.
Given what I do for a living, this is pretty inexcusable. Given that I recently filmed a video on the very subject of what cutter and lighter to bring to a golf course? Absolutely pathetic.
Posted: Sep 4, 2008 10:10am ETCharlie Toraño came by the office today. Charlie is the president of Toraño Cigars, and his family is one of the leading families of cigars and tobacco. Back in the pre-embargo days, the Toraños grew tons of great wrapper tobacco in Cuba. After losing their farms to the Cuban Revolution, the Toraños were responsible for helping grow tobacco in the Dominican Republic and Honduras. They were true pioneers.
Today the Toraños make cigars in Honduras and Nicaragua, and Charlie brought along one of their newest, the Carlos Toraño Tribute 2008.
If you’ve enjoyed earlier versions of Tribute, you might have wondered where the heck they are—the last one went on sale in 2004. This is a limited-edition product the Toraños come out with on occasion, and they’ve waited four years to release this one.
They’ve stepped up the blend a bit with the ’08 version. It has a dark wrapper from the Mata Fina region of Brazil, a Nicaraguan binder leaf and a mix of Nicaraguan fillers from Estelí and Jalapa.
We lit them up after lunch, and the cigar gave me a very quick first impression of black pepper spice. It then warmed up nicely to grow more balanced, with the zippy pepper framed by an underlying sweetness. It has hard wood notes, a touch of raisin flavor and a heavy cedar component, probably from the six months of age the cigar has. It burned perfectly.
I caught a familiar flavor in the sweet note and asked Charlie if the binder was from the Pueblo Nuevo farm in Nicaragua. It is—this is a proprietary Toraño/C.A.O. farm that grows very nice tobacco with a good sweet component.
I shot a little video of the cigar and Charlie explaining what makes it special. Take a look:
The cigar goes on sale in October. Charlie is proud of it: “You get the best of the tobacco we have,” he said.
Posted: Aug 22, 2008 2:33pm ETChicago: It’s one of my favorite places in the entire world. Now that we no longer can do a Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke, I don’t travel here very often, so I was happy to get back to the Windy City.
After joining up with the rest of the team at the hotel lobby, those of us who weren’t too exhausted from the road headed out to Jack Schwartz and Iwan Reis, a pair of great Chicago retailers. We puffed away on cigars (naturally) and I joined Litto Gomez in a La Flor Dominicana 2000 Series No. 3, a great small smoke. Jack Schwartz is a small shop with a phenomenal selection, and a couple of smoking chairs plus a rail with chairs. Iwan Reis is a gargantuan shop, with a new smoking lounge that’s very spacious. Half the cigar industry was in there yesterday—Christian Eiroa, Nick Perdomo, Tim Ozgener, Litto Gomez, Jorge Padrón, Robert Levin, Peter Baenninger, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Jose Oliva, Rocky Patel, Jonathan Drew, and the CRA organizer Keith Park.
Being in Chicago means I need to stop in the Italian Village, a homey, old school red-sauce Italian near the financial district. I ordered pasta arribirata with meatballs. The sauce was great, and the meatballs were absolutely perfect.
The last time I went to Italian Village I smoked right at my seat, but that’s all gone now. My brother called me in the middle of lunch. When I told him who I was with, he asked if I was smoking a cigar. I told him we couldn’t smoke in Chicago restaurants anymore. “That’s why you’re on the tour, right?” he said.
That’s precisely why we’re on the tour, and that late afternoon we rallied 500 cigar smokers to the CRA cause. Half the group went to Up Down Cigars, run by the wonderful Diana Silvius-Gits. I went with the other half to 8 to 8 Cigars.
The crowd was inspired at 8 to 8, and the store was packed with cigar smokers. (It was also packed with great cigars—8 to 8 has a wonderful selection of smokes.) Everyone was having a great time, mingling with the cigarmakers, getting autographs and having some food. I shot a little video of the crowd inside—take a look.
Posted: Aug 21, 2008 2:50pm ETWednesday morning in New York City’s LaGuardia Airport had the elements of a mini Big Smoke, minus the cigars. Sitting in a lounge, waiting on a delayed flight to Milwaukee were Jorge Padrón, Jonathan Drew, Litto Gomez, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Robert Levin, Peter Banninger, Charlie Toraño and Eric Newman, along with myself. We were chatting about Tuesday’s dinner that kicked off the Cigar Rights of America tour, and eager to take off on the second leg of the show. We were also eager to fire up cigars, but we couldn’t. Talk about punishment—each guy in the group was carrying dozens of cigars, but we couldn’t light up…yet!
When the plane touched down in Milwaukee, half of us went straight for the Starbucks counter in the airport. Almost every cigar guy I know is a coffee guy as well, and half this group needs espresso like an old car needs motor oil. Refreshed, we headed to our hotel.
We lit up right outside the hotel. Jorge Padrón handed me a tidy Padrón Serie 1926 No. 6, and I was ready to go. The game plan was to get a quick bite then head to Western Lakes golf course for the CRA event where a group of Milwaukee-area cigar smokers were about to have the cigar night of their lives.
So why Milwaukee? The immediate area is home to a group of very motivated cigar retailers who joined together to create a group called C-SAW (the Cigar Store Alliance of Wisconsin). They fought tooth-and-nail to squash a Draconian cigar tax that would have made premium cigars extremely expensive.
The C-SAW group did a great job of getting out the word on CRA, and about 225 people joined us at the golf course. They puffed cigars and tucked into a few hearty brats. How could you come to Milwaukee and not have a bratwurst? It was my first visit to the city, so I made sure I had one.
I know everyone in this group very well, but spending time on the road is causing us to bond even more. We’re a bit like a band hitting the road, minus some serious musical talent. (Actually, we do have a very capable drummer—Ernesto Perez-Carrillo hits the skins very well.) This morning, we piled into a van for the ride to Chicago, cracking jokes along the way, but we’ve lost one member—Charlie Toraño had to fly to Central America to check out his factories. Duty calls.