Posted: Jul 25, 2007 4:44pm ETToday Sathya Levin and Manny Ferrero of Ashton Cigars came by the office for a few smokes and some lunch. They were giving me a first taste of their latest, the San Cristobal brand. These are going to hit the market next month, after a preview in two weeks at the RTDA show.
I smoked the San Cristobal Supermo first, a 6 by 50 toro with a very dark wrapper. It’s entirely Nicaraguan, made by Pepin Garcia at his factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. It’s quite a dark wrapper for one of Pepin’s smokes, and Manny told me it was a leaf grown in the Estelí region, from the upper primings.
I enjoyed the smoke quite a bit. It was very sweet, much sweeter than most of Pepin’s cigars, and had a good amount of dark chocolate flavor and a black cherry quality as well. It burned like a champ. Sathya said this batch had been rolled around April. I’d consider it medium to full bodied.
We had lunch across the street at I Trulli (try the veal Milanese, it might be the best in the city) to talk about tobacco and the cigar market. Manny was clearly taken by the tobacco Pepin is using in his cigars. “Dave, you could make a salad out of this stuff,” he raved, hands flying. After we finished, we fired up my espresso machine in the office and tried a smaller size, the Clasico, which measures 5 by 50. This was considerably spicier than the bigger cigar, with a good red pepper zing and a hearty blast of leather. It didn’t burn quite as well as the first, and had a looser draw. I’d call it a solid full body.
I’m not sure if I’m ready to eat a salad made of Pepin’s tobacco leaves, but I’m a fan of the cigars. The samples of San Cristobal are pretty impressive, and I bet they’ll make some noise at the upcoming RTDA.
Posted: Jul 18, 2007 3:23pm ETIt’s time to pick up the phone and to fight for your right to have a cigar at a price you can afford. News broke this week—in Cigar Insider, on this website and throughout the cigar world—that the U.S. Senate is considering a bill that would significantly increase the price of the cigars you enjoy. The legislation would add $35 billion to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the politicians who created this bill want those funds to come from tobacco users. And the burden that would be heaped on cigar smokers, especially those who smoke premium cigars, is completely out of hand.
Many people have erroneously described this tax as a $10 tax on cigars. What it calls for is increasing the current federal tax on cigars from 20.7 percent of the manufacturer’s selling price (more on that later) to 53.3 percent. That increase is bad enough, but what gives this increase such teeth is the fact that the current tax is capped at around 5 cents a cigar, while the new plan calls for a cap of $10 per cigar. Which essentially means there will be no cap.
The manufacturers selling price, depending on the company doing the selling and other factors, is roughly one half the suggested retail price of a cigar. This tax is added first, so this tax will exacerbate any local sales taxes and state tobacco taxes you pay on your cigars.
One cigarmaker told me this would double cigar prices. Another said it would be higher than that. On top of this consumer burden is a floor tax, where those holding stocks of cigars would be forced to pay a one-time tax to cover the gap between old and new tax, or 32.6 percent. Imagine you're a cigar distributor, and you have 100,000 cigars, worth an average of $5 each. You’ll have to write a check to the government for $163,000. Now imagine having 1 million cigars in inventory. That’s $1.6 million, gone in one night.
Posted: Jul 16, 2007 11:43am ETI shot a leisurely 18 holes the other day with my brother-in-law. We took a cart, which makes it much easier to smoke cigars. The course was playing a bit slow, so I fired up a Punch Double Corona on the fifth tee box. It lasted until about the 13th or 14th hole, when I lit a La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Lancero.
The cigars seemed to help my game, and I finished with a par. We had some time to kill and I still had half a smoke left, so we ambled up to the deck of the course’s restaurant, called Quatro Pazzi, Italian for "four crazies."
A waitress came over and we ordered a pair of Sam Adams beers. I asked for an ashtray.
“You can’t smoke here,” he said, “because there are people eating.”
Now I’m the last guy who wants to spoil someone’s meal by blowing smoke in their face, but I was sitting outside, with nothing above my head except an umbrella. And this is a huge restaurant. There are two large dining rooms inside, plus a porch that seats more than 100 people.
“Where’s the smoking section?” I asked.
I was told I could smoke a step off the patio, on the walkway leading to the restaurant. Which meant I couldn’t smoke at all.
Instead of food, we stuck to the beer and made an early exit. And that’s the last one I’m going to buy at that restaurant, unless they welcome my cigar.
Posted: Jul 8, 2007 3:00pm ETYesterday I lit a thin cigar while sitting on my front steps with my little boy. We got up, took a walk through the neighborhood, and enjoyed the time together. I puffed as he explored. He looked at the rabbit that lives next door and threw a handful of stones in a sewer grate.
My wife came home after awhile, and my boy ran to her. It was about then that the smell of my cigar—a well-aged Fuente Fuente OpusX Petit Lancero—changed dramatically. I looked down and noticed that I had smoked so much of the cigar that I had begun to burn the band. That’s the sign of a really great smoke.
I smiled, removed the scorched band, and went on smoking. This one was a beard burner.
Posted: Jul 3, 2007 12:02pm ETTomorrow is July 4, and I’m looking forward to it as always. My wife and young boy will be celebrating with friends at a cookout, and I can guarantee you that the day and night will include a bunch of great cigars.
Independence Day brings back fond memories of cookouts at friend’s houses, hot summer nights that always ended in the dead-end street where we took our spots to watch as the adults put down empty Michelob bottles and stuck in the wooden ends of bottle rockets, torching the fuses with lit cigarettes. We’d sit back and watch, ooh and ah at the homemade fireworks show, and chug a few too many sodas as our parents had a few too many beers. All the while the sweet smell of burning tobacco and spent fireworks seasoned the air, and every now and then we’d watch as someone walked out into the makeshift theater and laid out a new firework. When that person would run for the hills at full speed we knew it was going to be something big, and we held our ears accordingly.
So for those of you celebrating the Fourth, enjoy the day off with a few grand libations, char some meat on the grill and smoke a great cigar while you enjoy the fireworks. Happy Independence Day.
Posted: Jun 27, 2007 10:20am ETMost workday mornings I walk from the train station to the office. Usually my goal is to time my stride so I make the lights, but today I felt like a cigar.
I stopped for a moment, took out my cigar case and removed a corona-sized Dominican cigar given to me by a friend. I cut it, then lit it with my Extend torch (always be prepared, right?) and started walking down Lexington Avenue.
The morning cigar is often my favorite smoke of the day. The palate is fresh, and things typically taste different early in the morning. The cigar tasted stronger than it usually does, especially at first, and it had just a touch of harshness that I seldom remember. (I'm not going to name the cigar, as I would never rate a cigar this way: being outside and walking is hardly scientific, and there’s no way to fully concentrate on the smoke.) But about four blocks into the walk, it had settled down into the hearty, woody flavor I typically associate with this cigar.
It was a completely different walk. Instead of feeling rushed, I felt relaxed. Instead of watching the lights, I was watching my fellow commuters, looking at the shop signs, and noticing a few details I otherwise would have missed.
No one gave me the evil eye for smoking, and it’s a sad comment on today’s world that I would even consider that as a possibility. (There was one raised eyebrow outside Grand Central Station when I removed my oversized Donatus guillotine cutter from my pocket, but that thing draws a stare in cigar bars, so I suppose that was to be expected.) I tried to avoid blowing smoke in anyone’s face, and no one seemed to object to my cigar.
I didn’t have time to smoke all of it, but I smoked enough to put a smile on my face. And I arrived at my office at just about the same time I normally would had I not been puffing away.
All in all, it was a good way to start the day.
Posted: Jun 22, 2007 12:12am ETI feel a little like vice president Cheney: The other night I sat in an undisclosed location in New York City. But I wasn’t there hiding from terrorists, I was ducking the smoke police.
At this undisclosed location, I fired up two great cigars. And the reason this place will remain undisclosed is because my act of smoking was quite illegal.
I’m not going to say where it was, who I was with or even what type of place I was in. Suffice to say that we smoked in a spot where we weren’t allowed to smoke.
This is what it’s come to in New York, a city that has long prided itself on never sleeping and offering something for everyone, no matter what their taste: smokers must often resort to breaking the law if they want to indulge. A place where you’re not allowed to smoke? In today’s New York, that’s just about everywhere.
The first cigar I smoked was a Tatuaje RC 184 that was rolled two and a half years ago. It’s a 7 1/2 inch long, 57 ring figurado made entirely from Nicaraguan tobacco, and it’s heaven, a simply stunning smoke. The second was a special Davidoff rolled for the Columbus Circle store, and it too was delicious.
It was a great night, but it’s an absolute shame that it can no longer be done legally. The days of smoking indoors in New York City, for the most part, are in the past.
Unless you break the law.
Posted: Jun 15, 2007 12:17pm ETYesterday afternoon I drove to Garden City, Long Island, to catch up with an old friend of mine, George Brightman. George worked at Cigar Aficionado for 10 years, right from the very beginning of the magazine. His official title was director of business development, but his unofficial moniker was cigar guru. He knew just about everything about cigars and taught me a great deal about the business.
Before George worked at Cigar Aficionado, he sold cigars, and he’s returned to the retail business. I was in Garden City to see the new shop he’s running: J Barbera Tobacconist.
When I pulled up to 990 Franklin Ave. I had to dial the shop on the phone, because I couldn’t find it. It’s so new the signs aren't up yet. But it’s open for business, and it’s loaded with cigars. I think George has every Fuente they make in stock (would you like natural or maduro wrap on that Hemingway Best Seller?) plus humidors loaded with everything from Litto Gomez, Manuel Quesada, all the Gurkhas…you get the point.
George is a walking encyclopedia of cigars. As I fired up an Arturo Fuente Royal Salute (Sun Grown Wrapper), he torched a La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet and we talked cigars. We talked about smoking bans, tasting notes, cigar makers on the rise…a little bit of everything. We also spoke about how shops like this one, which has a huge smoking lounge, are becoming the last refuges of American cigar smokers. And one of the last places where you can truly interact with those from your community.
“I defy you to find an institution,” said George, punctuating his point with his half-smoked cigar, “that fosters and encourages that remarkable intersection of people as does the cigar business.”
He’s right. Get out to your local store, fire up a great cigar and talk politics, sports or whatever is on your mind with your fellow cigar smokers. And if you’re in Garden City, drop in on George and say hello.
Posted: Jun 11, 2007 10:59am ETAlas, poor Frank, I knew him.
As I write this, about 12 hours have passed since the last episode of “The Sopranos.” At the heart of the show was a mob hit, the final hit in a long stream of gangland executions that defined the series since its inception.
(I think everyone on the planet knows what happened, but if you didn’t see the show and you want to be kept in the dark, stop reading this blog.)
The hit in question was on Phil Leotardo, the head of the New York crime family that was warring with the Soprano family in New Jersey. Leotardo is a perpetually grouchy character who seems to have been slighted by just about everyone who has come in contact with him. He even carries a grudge against the people at Ellis Island who bastardized his family name, changing it from the original Leonardo.
Leotardo, played beautifully by cigar-loving actor Frank Vincent, had set up the show’s climax by ordering the hits on Tony Soprano and the leaders of his family. As last night’s show began, Bobby Bacala lay in a coffin, Silvio Dante was in a hospital bed, and Soprano himself was on the run. Things looked grim.
But then the Soprano crew caught up to Leotardo. Right after the white-haired don says “bye bye” to his infant grandkids strapped into the back of his very, very heavy SUV, he gets shot in the head while telling his wife to pick up a prescription. She screams, leaving the very, very heavy car in drive. It starts rolling. The wheel turns, and the tires head toward Leotardo’s head, which turns into a makeshift speed bump. Let’s just say there won’t be an open casket at the funeral.
I met Frank Vincent about a year ago when I wrote a profile on him for Cigar Aficionado magazine. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew he loved cigars, and I knew he played tons of mob roles. As it turns out, he’s a friendly guy with a great sense of humor, and he’s much quieter than the bombastic killers he plays on screen. People, he says, confuse him with his characters.
Posted: Jun 1, 2007 2:55pm ETI recently found one of the finest places on earth to smoke a cigar. The only problem? It’s not always in the same place.
The place is the Queen Mary 2, the stately ocean liner owned by Cunard. I was on the ship last week for the Britannia Ball, a fundraiser sponsored by CIT Group Inc., which benefited the New York City Opera and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The ship (never call such a glorious vessel a boat, I’ve been told) was docked in Brooklyn for the evening’s festivities, and as we pulled up to the liner it was impossible not to be awed by its sheer size. The QM2 is longer than Tiger Woods hits a golf ball (1,132 feet, or 377 yards), carries a crew of 1,253 and weighs about 151,000 gross tons.
Inside, the ship is simply gorgeous. Everything has been decorated to the hilt, with fine marble, rich woods, and grand rooms that simply awe. The ship has a spa, a planetarium, and it cost $800 million to build. (For more on the QM2, read this story from Cigar Aficionado.)
Despite being docked in New York, home to one of the most Draconian smoking bans anywhere, the ship adheres to its own rules. That means you can smoke. At a bar before dinner? No problem: the smoking section is to the left. There were ashtrays in the nightclub and on the bar. Remember those?
The evening brought 800 guests together for cocktails, entertainment, dinner and dancing. I began with much of the crowd on one of the ships myriad decks, enjoying the warm weather and having a Bombay Saffire Martini. The crowd was festive, obviously taken with the beauty of the ship. Soon it was time for the entertainment, where Patti LuPone was performing songs from The Lady with the Torch.”
I like live music, but I love cigars, so I skipped the show to go in search of Churchills, the QM2s cigar bar. Soon I was up on deck No. 9, walking the length of the ship (boy, that’s a long ship) to find the cigar bar.