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.
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.