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.
Posted: Aug 20, 2008 3:46pm ETLast night I joined about 300 people who lit up smokes in the name of fighting for their right to enjoy a fine cigar. We stood atop the Hudson Terrace rooftop lounge on the West Side of Manhattan, getting the Cigar Rights of America Freedom Tour started in style. With an open bar and plenty of fine cigars, the cigar industry got things going in fine fashion.
“It’s humbling to see the amount of people here who are passionate about their right to smoke cigars,” said Michael Herklots, general manager of the Davidoff shops in Manhattan, while holding a smoldering cigar in his hand. His and other shops in New York City and Philadelphia sold tickets to the show.
The lions of the cigar industry were the stars of the night—Carlos Fuente Jr. spoke about the passion of making cigars, and the right for consumers to enjoy them in peace. “Long live the cigar—and long live our freedom!” he said.
Christian Eiroa, maker of Camacho Cigars and the one credited by his fellow comrades with thinking up the idea for the tour, asked the crowd: “When was the last time you smoked a cigar in a bar? There’s a very important aspect for us being here.”
Litto Gomez, the hat-wearing maker of La Flor Dominicana cigars, said “Are we going to let the anti-smoking people continue to kick our asses?” The crowd shouted “No.” Gomez promised: “The CRA is going to put up a big fight.”
The CRA was formed by Keith Park, owner of God of Fire cigars and Prometheus, and Jeff Borysiewicz, owner of Corona Cigar Co. Backed by most of the best-known premium cigarmakers in the world, the CRA is a consumer organization hoping to fight for the rights of cigar smokers across the United States.
“Our biggest enemy is complacency,” said Jorge Padrón, maker of Padrón Cigars.
It was a beautiful night, with just a hint of the coming fall in the clear air, and each manufacturer auctioned off rare boxes of their cigars to the happy crowd. “This was every retailer and every manufacturer working together,” said Herklots, giving a nod in particular to Cigar Inn of New York City, which sold 65 tickets to the event. “Everybody put business aside and brought passion to the table.”
Posted: Aug 19, 2008 11:45am ETYesterday Manuel Quesada, known to all in the cigar industry as Manolo, came by the office with his daughter Raquel. They’re in town from Santiago, Dominican Republic, for tonight’s opening gala of the Cigar Rights of America Freedom Tour.
We spent a little time smoking their phenomenal new Fonseca Cubano Viso Fuerte. Forget everything you know about Fonseca cigars. This one is different. It’s high-octane and deliciously rich, with a hint of raisiny sweetness. That extra sweet taste comes from a little bit of Connecticut broadleaf filler that Manolo has in there. Lovely stuff.
Manolo said the new cigar is off to a robust start, but he wasn’t terribly pleased that he was short of supply due to the high demand for the smoke and difficulty of obtaining the wrapper from Nicaragua. (Every silver lining has a cloud somewhere, right?) If you see one of these cigars around, give them a try.
Right before we had lunch, we started talking about aging cigar tobacco, and I remembered an old conversation I had with Manolo in the Dominican Republic many years ago. Back then, I thought aging cigar tobacco simply meant that you left bales of fermented tobacco in a room, alone, unwatched. Not so. Even while the tobacco is aging, it needs work—the bales need to be moved around to balance temperatures, the tobacco needs to be fumigated (every three months, says Manolo) left tobacco beetles have a field day with the precious leaves…you get the idea.
I thought it was worth mentioning here: even a seemingly easy part of making cigars—letting tobacco age—isn’t that simple. It’s just another thing that needs to be done properly to ensure that your cigars taste and perform the way you expect, each and every time.
Posted: Aug 8, 2008 11:44am ETBack in my college days I was the lead singer in a rock band. My hair was a lot longer, I was a lot thinner, and I certainly was a lot braver because I howled my brains out in front of packed houses all the time. (OK, the houses weren’t really packed, but let’s say I sang in front of dozens of people here and there. You get the point.) We won the Battle of the Bands, but we never made it to the big time and never had a tour.
In two weeks I’m going to live the dream and go on tour—only this time it’s a cigar tour rather than a rock tour. The Cigar Rights of America is drumming up support for cigar smokers’ rights, and to get the organization started some of the most familiar faces in the cigar world are heading on the road for a series of smoker nights. And I’m going with them.
Carlos Fuente Sr. and Jr., Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Avo Uvezian, Jorge Padrón, Rocky Patel, Litto Gomez, Robert Levin, Tim Ozgener, Manuel Quesada, Charlie Toraño, Jose Oliva, Jonathan Drew, Pete Johnson, Keith Park, Nick Perdomo, Christian Eiroa, Eric Newman, Peter Banninger and Paolo Garzaroli have signed up for the tour. It starts on August 19 in New York City, then on August 20 the team splits up, with half the group (including myself) going to Milwaukee, the other half going to Minneapolis. We’ll all be in Chicago on August 21, split into two groups for a pair of events, and then we’ll fly en masse to Orlando on the 22nd for the final stop on the tour.
Each stop will have plenty of great smokes and a place where you can actually smoke them. Some of the tour events include dinner and all have music. Visit the CRA website for detailed information.
If you can, you really should try to make it to one (or some) of these smoker nights. Not only will you get a chance to meet some of the best cigarmakers in the world, you’ll be supporting the right to enjoy your cigars in the future. Attending any event funds the CRA and gives you membership in the fledgling organization.
Posted: Jul 30, 2008 4:37pm ETI’m back in the office after the IPCPR trade show (and a little vacation), and I sat down today and went through my huge Humidipak bag that I had stuffed with goodies from the show. I smoked three new cigars, and one was a really nice gem that I didn’t expect.
First, I lit up the new G.A.R. from George Rico, who makes Gran Habano cigars with his father, Guillermo. G.A.R. stands for George A. Rico, and I was looking forward to trying it because I really enjoy the Gran Habano brand.
This one looked great, with a dark, oily wrapper, which looked wonderful on this thick cigar, but I really didn’t enjoy it. It’s musky and very, very earthy, and it was missing the refinement and balance a good cigar needs. I need to try another at some point.
The Gurkha Black Dragon, which is made in Honduras by the Toraños for Beach Cigar, has a real odd look. The wrapper is a pretty dark (probably Mexican San Andres Negro) but the last 3/4 of an inch is exposed binder. I’m not a fan of this style of cigarmaking. The start (which has no influence from the wrapper leaf) is rather dry and one dimensional, but once you get down to the wrapper leaf, it takes on a pleasant, sweet, nutty flavor with a nice little kick to it. It turns out to be a good cigar—I’d prefer it without the gimmicky exposed bunch.
The last cigar I smoked was the Arganese CL3 Torpedo. We just wrote this cigar up in the latest Cigar Insider, which has part one of our coverage from the trade show. The cigar is a Dominican puro, and the wrapper, according to the company, is sungrown in the Dominican Republic from corojo seed.
It sure doesn’t look like sungrown wrapper, but I couldn’t care less—this thing is hands-down the best Arganese cigar I’ve smoked. It’s balanced, nutty, and semi-sweet, with a bold, spicy backbone to the smoke. Delicious. It has a bit of a firm draw, but it’s nicely rolled, measuring 6 7/8 by 52 ring gauge, and it’s going to retail for about $6.30. What a nice surprise.
Posted: Jul 21, 2008 10:13am ETI remember when Ernesto Perez-Carrillo first told me about his La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Miami. I’m pretty sure it was in New York at Cigar Aficionado’s Night to Remember dinner two years ago. I was sitting at the General Cigar table, we got to chatting, and he handed me a prototype and told me it was a new project he was working on.
I know Ernie and his Miami factory very well—that spot on Calle Ocho was the very first cigar factory I ever visited, when I was on my rookie trip for Cigar Aficionado magazine. (At the time, he handed me some ballsy El Rico Habano lonsdales that were so strong they nearly ended my cigar career, or so it seemed! But that’s a story for another blog.) So let’s just say I was eager to smoke the new cigars.
They’re finally ready. At last week’s trade show, I sat down with Ernie and Michael Giannini of General to take a look at the final product. “It’s going to come out this week,” Ernie said, opening a box of Churchill-sized smokes called Elegantes. The packaging is gorgeous, with a newly designed La Gloria band and bright, clear and regal artwork. Take a look at the video I shot:
I lit up an Elegante and listened to Mike. “This is the original boutique guy in the industry,” he said, nodding to Ernie. “Before anybody knew what boutique was.”
The Elegante, which measures 6 7/8 by 49 ring, is leathery, with lots of hardwood notes, coffee, and a long and smooth finish with a touch of cedar. Absolutely great cigar. Ernie outdid himself.
I found another great cigar at the SAG booth, run by Manuel Quesada, maker of Fonseca cigars. I don’t know what’s gotten into the old, mild cigar guard at this show but they all seem to be boosting their blends. First General took Macanudo and injected some serious flavor, now Manolo has taken the traditionally mild Fonseca blend and turned it into a flavor powerhouse with the Fonseca Cubano Viso Fuerte. “It’s not your traditional Fonseca,” said Manolo. He’s not kidding—I found it big, nutty and sweet, with a rainsy flavor, lots of nose spice and (get this): a leathery finish. Wow. I’m going to need more of those. Manolo slipped a bit of Connecticut broadleaf into the filler blend (I love broadleaf) and capped it with a Cuban seed wrapper grown in Honduras by the Plasencias. Check out the news bar on the homepage this week for more on the cigar.
Posted: Jul 17, 2008 2:41pm ETI know it won’t be easy to get sympathy here, but sometimes I have a hard job. And my job is never tougher than when it comes time to get info on new cigars from the Fuentes.
Now the Fuentes are great people, and Carlos Fuente Jr. and Wayne Suarez are dear friends of mine. But they just don’t release new cigars all that often, and when they do they don’t really want to talk about them. When I went to their booth the other day with James Suckling, I felt a little like a White House reporter trying to get information from a Bush administration press secretary. We talked about our families, we talked about our lives, but what about the new cigars?
Finally I saw something—a red, heart shaped cigar box under glass. Hmmm. Next to it was a mini-box of perfectos that looked like big Short Stories. Hmmm. With Fuente Fuente OpusX bands, and a secondary band reading 2006. Hmmm! What’s that? I asked. Turns out it’s a new size of Fuente Fuente OpusX called Love Story. Carlito originally made it for his parent’s 55th wedding anniversary. I was able to twist his arm and get him to talk about it while Suckling filmed. Check it out.
Carlito said it will probably be out for the holidays. I didn’t get a chance to smoke one, but I hope to soon. Fuente makes incredible shaped cigars, so I’m sure this will be something to remember. (And they actually have some other new smokes coming out. I'll explain fully in upcoming issues of Cigar Insider.)
I did smoke another My Father cigar from Pepin Garcia, when Suckling and I sat down with him and his son, Jaime. This was one of the best cigars of the show, hands down. Pepin showed me the My Father Lancero, which has a short pigtail. I’ve never seen a cigar in Nicaragua with this level of construction. It’s made with tobacco from his own farm, which is new.