Posted: Jul 14, 2008 8:32pm ETThe International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers trade show began today at 10 a.m., and I’ve been smoking since opening bell. I have a notebook full of scribbles on new cigars that I’m going to share with you.
My first smoke was the new Aroma de Cuba Edicion Especial from Nicaragua that I wrote about online and in Cigar Insider. I was asked in the forums if this meant an end to the original Aroma de Cuba, which is made in Honduras. Nope. “It’s not a replacement for the original,” said Ashton vice president Sathya Levin. “We wanted to strengthen and round out the La Aroma de Cuba brand.” He handed me a short robusto. It’s made by Pepin Garcia with a middle priming Ecuador wrapper grown from Cuban seed, and Nicaraguan filler and binder. It was mild to medium bodied, a bit floral, with a honeyed character to it, and some creaminess. Very tasty. Just what the doctor ordered for the morning. There’s also a new Ashton ESG, a pyramid size, but it’s not going to be ready all that soon. They hope to have it out for the holidays.
Here’s a shocker—Davidoff now has a maduro cigar, the first Davidoff white label ever. It comes in only one size, a longer (and darker) version of the Special R. The wrapper is Nicaraguan leaf. It has some sweet coffee notes, a smack of vanilla and a bit of a mushroom note on the finish. It starts shipping today, and will have a suggested retail of $15.50.
C.A.O. has a bunch of new smokes. I tried a robusto format of the new Lx2, a Nicaraguan puro with quite a kick. I liked it a lot. I think it’s the strongest C.A.O. I’ve ever had. There’s plenty of licorice and black pepper, with syrupy coffee, like a good café Cubano on the finish. I found it pleasant, rich and balanced. The company also has two samplers, including one called C.A.O. Champions that has 10 of the cigars that were rated highest in Cigar Aficionado. It comes in a snazzy red vinyl case.
La Aurora has also been busy, coming out with a new Preferido Lancero. It has the same blend of the original preferido, all Dominican on the inside with a Cameroon wrapper. It’s 6 7/8 by 40 ring, but unlike most lanceros it doesn’t have a pigtail. I fired it up with Guillermo Leon and Jose Blanco over some Dominican coffee. The cigar had a nutty and cedary taste with a touch of tinniness that faded after a few puffs. It became dominantly nutty. It’s going to be $8.
Posted: Jul 14, 2008 12:04pm ETFirst things first—I keep calling this IPCPR trade show by its old name, RTDA, so from now on I’m just going to say “trade show.” Problem solved.
It’s Monday morning here in Las Vegas, and in one hour the trade show begins. I arrived last night on a delayed flight from New York and met up with a big group of cigarmakers eating outside at Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s restaurant in the Venetian Hotel. I tucked into a plate of steak frites, ordered a Martini and fired up my first cigar.
Michael Chiusano, owner of the Cusano and Cuvée brands, gave me smoke No. 1. It’s the new Cusano 59, which is the final incarnation of the Cameroon-wrapped perfecto I smoked with him early this year in the Dominican Republic. It’s a fine smoke, much as I remembered—very toasty, just a bit sweet on the finish and with a pleasant, earthy spiciness. It was a nice starter smoke.
After the steak, I was ready for a strong cigar, and I found something I absolutely love. Pepin Garcia handed me his latest, My Father, in about a 6 3/4 inch long size with a tapered head. I cut it and lit it, and immediately I felt a big blast of power. Wow! I think this may be Pepin’s strongest smoke ever, or maybe almost as strong as the Tatuaje Cazadore he makes for Pete Johnson. Here are my notes, straight from my notebook: Big!! Spicy!! That’s some cigar.
There’s a lot more to say, but I have to get to the show. James Suckling is firing up a blog now as well. We’re going to keep you covered from top to bottom on this show, so stay tuned.
Posted: Jul 13, 2008 10:43am ETCigar cutter? Check. Notebooks? Check. Flip video camera? Check. In a few hours I’m flying out to Las Vegas for the annual IPCPR trade show (I still call the darn thing RTDA, just like everybody else in the cigar industry) and I’m getting my gear together.
I’m going to blog on what I see out there, and I’m sure James Suckling will as well. We’re going to cover the trade show floor and find out what you can expect to see in your favorite cigar shops in the next few months. We’re going to smoke plenty of cigars.
Follow along in our blog section all this week.
And if there's anything you want us to check out, or if we forget something, drop us a line and let us know.
Posted: Jul 3, 2008 2:02pm ETThe office is closing early, so I’m packing up some cigars and getting ready to head home. Tomorrow is one of my favorite holidays, Independence Day, and I plan on celebrating in smoky style.
It’s a day for family and for cookouts. My wife and boy will be joining a group of great friends near the ocean for a lazy day of grilling steaks, sipping cold beers and firing up hearty cigars while we watch the fireworks. This year the fireworks will be done by professionals, but I remember when I was a kid July 4 was all about the homemade fireworks show. We would gather in front of someone's house and stay up much, much later than usual. The adults would be drinking beers, we would be sipping sodas, and when it got dark enough someone would give up an empty beer bottle to serve as a makeshift firing pad for bottle rockets. It was a great way to spend a holiday.
I have a few fine smokes for tomorrow, starting with the new La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Miami, which is just about to reach cigar shops. It’s a heartier, richer La Gloria from Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, and I’m looking forward to smoking one with my buddies.
I’m also bringing along a few Don Carlos Aniversarios, the ones Gordon Mott blogged about not so long ago. Hey, if Gordon likes them that much, how can I go wrong?
I’m sure I’ll have some other things this weekend, too.
So wherever you are, have a great fourth of July, enjoy the time with your loved ones and fire up something special to celebrate Independence Day.
Posted: Jun 24, 2008 10:08am ETI’m jealous. I recently visited what has to be the ultimate home humidor.
Recently I flew to Nashville, Tennessee, to meet with the principals of C.A.O. International Inc. Nashville is a great place, lush and green, full of trees, with a hip downtown powered by the city’s music business. But it’s not the typical place where you would find a cigar company.
C.A.O. is the only cigar company in Nashville, and it’s there because of a woman, Esen Ozgener, the wife of C.A.O. founder Cano (pronounced Johnno) Ozgener. Cano graduated from Columbia University as an engineering major, and he fell in love with New York. But he also fell in love with Esen. “When you follow a woman in life, many strange things happen to you,” Cano told me once for a story I did on C.A.O. “She wanted to raise her family in a quiet place.”
They found their quiet place in Nashville, Tennessee, and 40 years ago Cano founded C.A.O. The company is still headquartered in Nashville, and today it’s a major player in the cigar world. Cano has sold his interest in the company, and he is no longer part of the day-to-day operations at the company, but he’s still deeply in love with the cigar business, and with cigars themselves.
After spending a few hours with Cano’s son Tim, who is president of the company, and chairman Gary Hyams and senior VP of marketing Mike Conder, we met up at Cano’s lovely home for some pre-dinner wine and cheese. Cano opened some great old bottles of Bordeaux and then showed me his incredible cigar room. Check out the video.
I can’t imagine a cigar smoker who doesn’t want a room like that! More than 100,000 cigars, artfully displayed and perfectly humidified. (Cano channeled his engineering background with the huge humidification system, which is tastefully hidden behind a semi-concealed door.) The floor is tiled, and the fact that the room is at basement level helps keep it nice and cool.
Posted: Jun 17, 2008 11:19am ETI zipped up the flap on my tent, put my left arm over my young son and covered him up as best I could. The orange tent glowed from the lightning bolts above and thunder cracked far too close outside. We were on an island. Our tent was the tallest object on the beach for about 50 yards, and the boat that brought us here was well offshore in high tide. The nearest home was two miles away. The storm came on hard, fast and took us by surprise.
Saturday started out well enough, with my buddy Mark and I taking our kids out on his boat to an island off the Connecticut shore. The water was calm as we set out for the short ride out of the harbor, and we got in close to the small island, anchored the boat and rafted the kids and the gear some 20 feet ashore in low tide. We set up our tents, put up the folding table and got to camping. The kids swam in the water, made sand castles and searched for clams. Mark and I each cracked a cold beer and lit up Coronado by La Flor Lanceros.
We had listened to the weather forecast on the local news before heading out. It called for isolated showers with a 20 percent chance of precipitation—no big deal. As we sat in our beach chairs, watching the kids play and enjoying the Coronados, we thought we might catch a break on the rain. The sky was mostly clear. Then as we began cooking dinner, a few rumbles growled in the distance. Around 8 p.m., we began getting the kids ready for bed, and that’s when the heavens opened up.
Storms in the northeast typically move in from the west this time of year, but the cell that found us snuck in from the north. It was big. Buckets of rain poured onto the tents, the wind kicked up, and the lightning was relentless.
My boy was a little spooked by the first big crack of thunder, but within two minutes he was snoring soundly. The kid’s a champ. He did a lot better than his dear old dad—I thought the tent was going to blow away, leaving us even more exposed. A few drops of water got in as the rain shield rose and buckled, but everything held up. Tip of the hat to the Coleman Co.—best $40 I’ve ever spent.
Posted: Jun 13, 2008 10:13am ETI usually start my day with a cup of black coffee. But I recently tried a much more potent pick me up—a trio of cigars made of straight ligero, which I smoked at 10 a.m. and chased with a bracing cup of espresso. Now that’s a hearty breakfast!
Most of you know that ligero is the name given to the strongest type of cigar tobacco, the leaves that grow highest on a plant. They are the last to ripen and they exhibit all the power that nicotiana tobacum can give. They’re the guts of a filler blend, the backbone of powerful cigars, like a hearty dose of pepper in a flavorful dish. But just as it’s unpleasant to eat straight pepper, it’s no picnic to smoke straight ligero. So what the heck was I doing?
I was doing what Alan Rubin, owner of Alec Bradley Cigars, does on a regular basis when he comes up with new tobacco blends. He has his cigar men make up little cigars made entirely of one type of tobacco. Then he smokes that component to take note of its flavor. Later, he combines them to come up with blends.
We were essentially deconstructing an Alec Bradley Tempus, the new hit cigar from Rubin. We were smoking most of the components that go into the cigar, one of which recently scored 94 points in Cigar Insider.
Rubin calls these little things puritos, and the first was made entirely of ligero from a small Nicaraguan farm called Membraño. We torched them up, and the smoke dialed in on the center of the tongue, with a very heavy mineral flavor, especially at the start, and lots of oily wood notes. It was very strong. After that, we fired up a purito made of ligero from Jalapa, a part of Nicaragua known for more elegant tobacco. True to type, this ligero was milder than the first, although it still had considerable power. This was nutty, kind of sweet, with a coffee bean flavor, and it hit in the back of the tongue. The third, ligero from Trojes in Honduras, near the Nicaraguan border, started with a wet leather flavor, with roasted nuts and charcoal. This one had a real sneaky strength — after a while, I started to feel it in my belly.
Posted: Jun 3, 2008 10:48am ETMy right knee is throbbing, my shins are swollen and both feet are sore. Why? I joined a few friends on Sunday and played soccer for a couple of hours. It’s been about a year since I’d played, and much, much longer since I played regularly. Let’s just say it’s a little harder now than when I was in my mid 20s playing a few times a week.
I blame it on field conditions. In my youth, I distinctly remember that all soccer fields were mowed very, very short. I was able to run for hours without getting tired, could cut on a dime (OK, maybe a quarter) and I never experienced any type of pain whatsoever, except for those times when you had to make a defensive wall and would inevitably absorb a kick in some place where you didn’t want to be kicked. But the field that I played on must have certainly had long, long grass, because I couldn’t move very fast, and I was nearly instantly exhausted from the merest amount of play.
Yeah. Must have been the long grass.
The afternoon of soccer in what seemed like oppressive heat was a big reminder that I’m getting older. I’m not as good at sports as I was as a younger man. I am, however, considerably better at post sport celebration.
After the game, my buddies and I crawled off to Mark’s house for much needed refreshment. “You really polished off that beer quickly,” Mark marveled. “I think I was dehydrated,” I said. Beer is mostly water, right?
Not long after the beer, it was time for a cigar. I chose a Montecristo Petit Edmundo, which never seems to disappoint. The robusto-sized smoke was rich, loaded with coffee bean notes and fairly full bodied—just what the doctor ordered. (I think Olympic soccer players recover from stressful games using the same beer-cigar method that I employed, but I could be mistaken.)
So I’m resigned to the fact that I’m older, slower and far less able to run around without causing my body considerable pain. But at least I’m now proficient in how to relax.
Posted: May 20, 2008 12:42pm ETSo I thought I knew all of Jose “Pepin” Garcia’s smokes. I was wrong. I had lunch the other day with John Gonzales, national sales manager for El Rey de Los Habanos, Pepin’s company in Miami. John and I were talking about cigars when he mentioned Vegas Cubanas, a brand I’d never heard of. When I professed my ignorance, John handed me a few robusto-sized smoked called Invictos.
John told me that Vegas Cubanas is one of the milder brands made by Pepin. He gave me a little document listing Pepin’s house brands. Pepin makes quite a few smokes. Some, like Tatuaje, are for other companies. The brands his company owns include various versions of the Don Pepin line, but also include El Rey de Los Habanos (the mildest cigar he makes) and Vegas Cubanas, which is described as being “mild to medium bodied.”
The cigar is made in Miami, on Calle Ocho. Like the bulk of what Pepin makes, it’s made solely from Nicaraguan tobacco. It looked pretty tasty, so I took the cigars back to the office. Yesterday, I fired a couple of them up. Here’s me puffing away in this video.
No shocker here—it’s a very good cigar. It’s nicely made (I don’t think I’ve ever smoked a poorly made smoke that’s come from one of Pepin’s factories), it’s woody, a tad earthy and a bit dry in character. It’s not very sweet, but it’s tasty, with a touch of coffee bean flavor.
Pepin makes some pretty gutsy smokes, and while this isn’t the strongest of his line I wouldn’t call it mild to medium bodied. I think it’s more medium-bodied.
I called Janny Garcia, Pepin’s daughter, for some more info on the cigar. She told me Vegas Cubanas is one of Pepin’s original brands. “We’ve made it since the beginning,” she said, making it four years old.
Here’s the best part—the brand is also a steal—about $5.30 a cigar for the robusto-sized Invictos, which is five inches long by 50 ring gauge. Not bad.
Posted: May 12, 2008 4:16pm ETThere’s just something special about firing up a great cigar (or two) on Derby Day. This year, my wife and I celebrated in style with a great group at the home of our friends Tammy and Jay Harris, who treat the annual Run for the Roses as if it were a national holiday.
Tammy and Jay created the ideal setup for a springtime party—a band playing Dixie music, a generous spread of fried chicken with all the sides, including Tammy’s homemade (and ridiculously addictive) biscuits with salty Southern ham, plus a bartender with a heavy hand and a deft touch at making Mint Juleps.
We were in fine spirits, arriving at the appointed hour dressed in our Derby attire. Jay was wearing a festive tie, my wife, Manuela, and virtually all the women wore hats worthy of any Southern belle, and I even dusted off the old Panama hat, which usually sits in my closet. My buddy Russ, who broke out the seersucker for the event, handed me a Cohiba Siglo I early into the party.
The little Cohiba is one of my all-time favorite small cigars. Every time I smoke one I think back to my first, which I smoked in Pinar del Río back in 1996. This one was as great as that first--slightly spicy, just rich enough, and full of great flavor belying its tiny size. I've always enjoyed them.
Cigars were welcome at the party, and about half the men in attendance chose to light up at some point. I, naturally, chose to light up a few times, following the Siglo with a Fuente Fuente OpusX PerfecXion No. 2. This is our current No. 2 cigar of the year, and it performed admirably. It was big, bold and leathery, with the right amount of sweetness needed to balance out the hefty power of the Opus. I was two-for-two with the cigars on Derby Day.
It was a great party, and went on long after the race had concluded. With the combination of good friends, great food, free-flowing cigars and fine spirits, it was impossible not to have a good time.