Posted: Jan 6, 2014 12:30pm ET
I'm a bit of a weather junkie. I frequently check my weather apps on my iPhone, I'm guilty of turning on the weather on the television on a regular basis, and I'm adamantly opposed to naming winter storms. Part of my interest is occupational. Weather can play a major role in the cigar industry, with hurricanes, El Niño and volcanoes all posing risks of one sort of another to tobacco crops. But the major reason is just good old fashioned interest. I enjoy knowing about the weather, and its extremes fascinate me. Today, like many of you reading this blog, I'm thinking about the weather extremes in the Midwest United States.
Severe cold has closed schools in hardy Minneapolis and Chicago, which had temperatures of -18° and -11° Fahrenheit when I was writing this blog. Fargo, North Dakota, legendary for its cold, was 23 below. International Falls, which calls itself the "Icebox of the Nation," is 27 below.
I grew up in the northeast U.S., so I'm used to chilly weather. I remember camping in single-digit temperatures in an old army tent that didn't have a floor. I go to Vermont a few times a year with friends, and two years ago I opened my car trunk to find it covered in what looked like snow. I was confused, as it hadn't snowed the previous night, then I found a can of Fresca soda that had exploded from the cold and instantly turned into frozen chunks. That was cold.
On that trip, my buddies and I puffed cigars outside (it was a no-smoking house) and made it about 20 minutes as the temperature came close to zero Fahrenheit. That was, for me, extreme smoking weather. This weekend, with the weather well below freezing in the Northeast, and in the single digits much of the time, I didn't smoke at all.
But many cigar smokers only puff their cigars outside, and weather like this makes it all but impossible. This dip in the mercury sent me to Twitter over the weekend, where I asked the question: "How cold is too cold to smoke a cigar?" Some of you are a lot tougher than I am. Justin from Canada said it's never too cold. New Jersey Chef Scott built an igloo (with four chimneys) so he could have a cozy outdoor venue in which to smoke his cigars. And a cigar lover named Curtis smoked a La Flor Dominicana in Ottawa, Ontario, with temperatures of 22 degrees below zero.
Posted: Nov 15, 2013 4:30pm ET
It was the last day of a weeklong business trip. I had eaten red meat nearly every night, and smoked cigars each and every day. So what to do on that final night? Yes—a steak and a cigar.
It was Sunday, and the Big Smoke Las Vegas weekend had concluded. I set out from the Mirage Hotel with senior features editor Jack Bettridge and headed to Paradise Road, home to Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse.
I've been coming to Vegas for years, and back in the heyday of cigar smoking this particular restaurant was cigar central. The smoking section was large and lively, and we would puff away at our tables before, during and after our meals. Changing smoking laws ended the indoor smoking in 2007, and management at Del Frisco's searched for a way to accommodate people (such as yours truly) who enjoy a great cigar with a meal.
The answer came in the form of a patio, located just outside the front entrance of the restaurant. It opened in 2010, and I visited it for the first time less than a week ago.
It's a fine space, with three tables of four, plus some couches off to the side. The tables allow for the full dining experience to take place with cigars. A roof keeps the rain away, should it fall. Heaters take the chill away on cool Vegas winter nights. I chose the new San Cristobal Revelation Prophet (made by My Father Cigars for Ashton Distributors Inc.), which I lit while pondering the menu and sipping a gin Martini.
Time stood still on that patio. The waitstaff was there to help, but never pushed. The meal was not rushed. After a time, we ordered some kumamoto oysters. Later, we tucked into steaks. Mine, a sirloin served on the bone, was tender, delicious and aggressively seasoned, a Del Frisco's style that I appreciate. It was presented a true medium-rare.
The cigars were delicious. No one complained about the smoke. For a little while, it was as it I had stepped into a time machine that took me back 15 years. (Sadly, my hair remained gray.) It was a fine dinner, and one I wish could be replicated more often.
Posted: Oct 28, 2013 4:30pm ET
I stepped out my door this morning and was greeted by the dark cold. The air was chilly enough to make my breath visible—it looked like I was having a Cohiba before breakfast. Fall is here in the northeast.
I think about the weather on occasion, but it's always on the mind of cigar guys like Eric Newman, the president of Tampa's J.C. Newman Cigar Co. When he asked "How's the weather?" over the phone last week, he wasn't making idle conversation, but looking for business insight.
You probably know that severe weather can wreak havoc on cigarmakers and tobacco growers, whether it be hurricanes, tornadoes or floods. But even something as seemingly innocent as an extra cold winter or a very late spring can have a negative impact on premium cigar sales.
Eric described how the United States cigar business has become quite subject to weather in recent years. Warmer temperatures, no snow in months that typically have snow, a lack of rain on weekends—that type of weather is good for the cigar business. When it gets very cold, when it snows quite a bit, that slows business down.
The reason? The great outdoors. More and more people in the U.S. now have their regular cigar—whether it's daily, weekly or monthly—in some outdoor spot, such as a golf course.
"The business is so dependent on the weather," said Eric, a longtime cigar industry veteran. His company owns the Diamond Crown and Brick House brands, among others, and J.C. Newman has been selling cigars for well over 100 years.
"With all the smoking ban legislation, we're so dependent upon good weather," he said. "If you talk to a manufacturer everyone tells you the same story."
Cigar smokers are quite unlike cigarette smokers. The typical cigar aficionado smokes when he or she relaxes, not out of habit. With many indoor smoking spots gone, that spot of relaxation is often an outdoor spot such as the golf course or on a beach. If your regular golf game is rained out, maybe you don't smoke that Fuente you had saved for the 10th hole. If a cigar lover doesn't have his regular cigar on Friday, said Newman, "that doesn't mean he smokes two on Saturday to make it up."
Posted: Oct 11, 2013 12:30pm ET
Twenty-five years of anything calls for celebration, for a quarter century is a major milestone. In the world of weddings, tradition dictates that it be honored with a gift of silver. For Davidoff, that benchmark was celebrated with cigars.
On Wednesday, I joined Davidoff in honoring 25 years of their flagship store in New York City, the Davidoff shop on Madison Avenue. The store has gone through relocation and redesign over the past quarter century. Today, it's a beautiful cigar-smoker haven with a comfortable smoking lounge and a large variety of handmade cigars for sale, not only from the Davidoff group but a host of other companies. It's a fitting testament to the Davidoff name.
The dinner was a grand four-course affair and cigar smoking was allowed and encouraged. I made my way through a Davidoff Nicaragua Toro (93 points, Cigar Insider) and Davidoff Nicaragua Robusto (91 points). I enjoyed them both.
Luis Torres, who manages the Davidoff Madison shop, spoke about the first visitor to sign the guest book—Zino Davidoff himself. If you have smoked cigars for some time, you no doubt know the name. Zino Davidoff (1906-1994), the son of a tobacco merchant, traveled to Cuba as a young man to learn about cigars and tobacco. He opened a shop in Geneva in 1929 under his own name, and created the Davidoff cigar brand in 1969, which was acquired by Oettinger Imex AG in 1970. Davidoff today is a global brand, with a considerable cigar portfolio including Davidoff, Camacho, Avo, Room 101 and Cusano cigars, among others.
Posted: Sep 19, 2013 1:30pm ET
I was filling out paperwork for a doctor's visit and I came to the question about smoking. This is typically a complicated answer on my part, and I bet, on yours as well.
The usual boilerplate is written something like this:
Q: Do you smoke? Check yes or no.
Q: If you checked ‘yes,' how many cigarettes do you smoke?
When this happens, I take out my pen and give a detailed answer.
Yes, I smoke, but I only smoke cigars—and I smoke them often. Aside from a couple of ill-fated experiments in my long-ago youth, I have never smoked cigarettes.
Cigars and cigarettes are quite different from one another. Cigars, at least the type of cigars you and I smoke, are made entirely from tobacco (almost always dark, air-cured tobacco), rolled by hand and are not inhaled. Cigarettes are cranked out on machines using a host of products, including flue-cured tobacco, and they are sucked deep into the lungs.
Cigarette smokers puff out of addiction. Most cigar smokers, myself included, do not. You don't see cigar smokers huddled in office doorways in the middle of winter, rushing to get a bit of smoking time during a break. I smoke cigars often, but I don't wake up with a burning desire to smoke, nor do I try to rush a last-minute cigar before a long flight, or fire one up the moment I get off a plane. I take breaks from cigar smoking, typically when I go on family vacations, as cigar smoking is a part of my work.
Cigars and cigarettes are quite different, but that difference tends to be lost by most in the medical community, as well as by lawmakers. Smoking, many erroneously believe, is smoking. Some see no difference between a Marlboro and a Macanudo, or a Parliament and a Padrón. But some do.
It brought a much-needed smile to my face when I came to the question in this doctor's office:
Q: Do you smoke cigarettes?
My short answer—no.
There were no questions about cigars.
Cigars are cigars. They are not cigarettes. And it made me happy to see at least one medical professional who clearly knows the difference.
Posted: Jul 16, 2013 1:30pm ET
Team Cigar Aficionado is here in hot Las Vegas at the annual IPCPR trade show, where cigar companies unveil their latest creations for the retailers in attendance. For us at the magazine, we get a chance to meet with the players—major and minor—in the premium cigar business and test out their newest smokes.
As I write this blog its about two hours before the show floor opens for day three. If you’ve been following my Tweets, and those of my coworkers, you’ll have followed along with our findings.
Yesterday was a busy one, with a full day of the show, a working lunch, a meeting once the show closed and then off to a party high atop the Palms with Alec Bradley Cigar Co. The workday began at 10 and ended at midnight. I may have lost count of how many cigars I tried. Many were great.
Looking through some of the offerings I’ve seen so far, there’s quite a mix in terms of power. For those who prefer their cigars strong, there is the 601 La Bomba Warhead, a very dark and pressed smoke from Espinosa Cigars that I smoked and enjoyed. It had power, especially at first, but enough sweetness to round it out. Fuente, which had big plans for 2012 that were derailed by fire, now is poised to unveil several lines, including the strong Arturo Fuente Destino al Siglo, a line of four cigars that come packed in boxes resembling books. (And before anyone says this is a copy of the Habanos book collection, recall that Fuente packed Hemingway Masterpiece cigars in book-like boxes back in the 1980s.) I smoked a Churchill-sized example of the smoke yesterday with its creator, Carlos Fuente Jr., and found it leathery and strong, with great flavor. It has things that remind one of Fuente Fuente OpusX, but it also has its own identity. The Garcia’s new El Centurion, one of my favorites from Monday, is strong and chocolaty and full of big flavor.
Medium bodied has the greatest array of choices. The new Oliva Serie V Melanio Maduro, which has a touch less power in my opinion than the traditional Serie V, is a box-pressed torpedo made with a maduro wrapper from Mexico’s San Andrés Valley. Davidoff Nicaragua, the company’s first Nicaraguan puro, is a very pleasant smoke with a rich and medium-bodied character. I smoked several samples before the show, and I’ve enjoyed every one. Azan from Nicaragua, a new cigar from Roberto Duran Pelayo, has a solid toasty character with a touch of cinnamon. La Palina’s Classic line, which has done well in Cigar Aficionado tastings, has expanded with a new lancero size, which I enjoyed quite a bit. It’s a very savory medium-bodied blend.
Posted: Jul 14, 2013 8:30pm ET
My Sunday began with a 4 a.m. wakeup call to make a bright and early flight from New York to Vegas. It’s a weekend, but today is a workday. After a five-hour flight I zipped straight to the Venetian Hotel and Casino, threw down my bags in the room and grabbed a cup of coffee as I walked to the Sands Convention Center. It was going to be a busy day.
The cigar industry returned to hot Las Vegas this morning as the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailer trade show opened its doors. The show, which is off-limits to the public, brings out most of the players in the world of premium cigars and accessories. I’m here with Cigar Aficionado for the 19th time in a row covering the show.
I’m not alone. Team Cigar Aficionado is very well represented here on the editorial side, with executive editor Gordon Mott, editors Greg Mottola, Andrew Nagy and G. Clay Whittaker. We all have our notebooks and lighters and we’re moving around the floor seeking out all the new products coming to your favorite cigar stores down the road. So far the show is off to a good start. The mood seems bright—everyone seems to enjoy coming back to Vegas, which is a popular place to visit, to say the least—and the floor layout seems better than last year. I’ve seen quite a bit so far and as I’m typing this blog I’m only about four hours in.
I’ve already puffed some very interesting new smokes, such as the Alec Bradley Mundial and El Centurion by the Garcia family. I’ll save the details for later, because even though my internal clock says it’s quitting time my Las Vegas day won’t end for another eight hours or so. There are many more cigars in my future, and a whole notebook to fill.
Check back to this website for updates, and if you really want to keep busy, follow me and the rest of the Cigar Aficionado gang on Twitter. We’ll be out here smoking—let us know what you think.
Posted: Jul 10, 2013 12:30pm ET
Do you like broadleaf tobacco? I cut my teeth on the stuff back in the day, puffing away on homely but tasty Muniemaker Breva 100s when I was in college. The cigars, then and now, were machine-made, but contained only tobacco. And they were wrapped with dark, rugged leaves of Connecticut broadleaf.
I recently returned from a short trip to several tobacco fields in north central Connecticut to look at the 2013 broadleaf crop for a story I'm doing on broadleaf for Cigar Aficionado. You'll read about it in the October issue. The plants were young, having just gone into the ground about a month prior to my visit, and had a long way to go in what had been a very rainy summer.
Some people are still surprised that the very northern, decidedly non-tropical state of Connecticut grows superb cigar tobacco. There's delicate and mild Connecticut shade, a tall plant that grows under tents of nylon, resulting in thin, light tan leaves found on such cigars as Macanudo and Fonseca.
Then there's broadleaf, a squat, bushy plant that basks in the straight sunlight and makes fat, thick and dark leaves. The bulk of it goes to machine-made cigars such as Backwoods, but the very best go on rich and dark maduro cigars, such as La Riquezas, Punch maduros and the ever rare and appealing Arturo Fuente Añejos. It's also the hallmark of the Liga Privada brand—named yesterday as the Hottest Cigar Brand in the United States by Cigar Insider.
Broadleaf has an inherent sweetness and big, bold earthy flavor. The crop goes into the ground in June, and workers were transplanting some of the year's final seedlings to a field when I made my trip. (Thankfully my visit was not on July 1, when a tornado touched down in a tobacco field in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. See our story on the damage here.)
Posted: May 3, 2013 12:30pm ET
New York City's most recent mayors have had a love/hate affair with cigars. Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is a passionate cigar smoker. He graced the cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine in December 2001, is a regular at our Night to Remember dinner and has spoken repeatedly about the rights of cigar smokers. Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg couldn't be more the opposite, having initiated the New York City smoking ban and making move after move to make buying and smoking cigars increasingly difficult in the city that never sleeps.
So it made me happy to read a New York Times piece about a mayoral hopeful who held a fundraiser inside a cigar shop while puffing away happily on a cigar. Joseph J. Lhota, who once served in the Giuliani administration, including as deputy mayor, filed his candidacy for mayor on January 17. Last week, according to the piece written by Michael M. Grynbuam, Lhota fired up a Montecristo White with about two dozen supporters in the Habana Hut Smoke Lounge in Bayside, Queens, while discussing his hopes to become Mayor of New York City.
Lhota doesn't smoke as many cigars as he used to, according to the article. But he enjoys a good smoke on occasion, like the majority of cigar aficionados. And he's not afraid of a good old-fashioned smoky room. At one point he even joked about opening a cigar shop nearer his home.
You shouldn't vote for a man just because he smokes a cigar. But when politicians have beliefs that mirror your own—rather than standing in conflict to what you believe in—that's a good thing.
New York City will elect a new mayor on November 5. It would be a pleasant change to have another cigar smoker back in that seat.
Posted: Apr 17, 2013 3:30pm ET
A luxury suite at Yankee Stadium. Your own barrel of George Dickel whiskey. The chance to meet golfing legends Nick Faldo and Tony Jacklin. A humidor representing 120 hours of painstaking labor. A dinner with legends of wine and cigars.
All of these remarkable experiences and more were auctioned off at Cigar Aficionado's 19th annual Night to Remember dinner. Last night's event raised some $1.2 million to help cure prostate cancer.
The setting was the Four Seasons restaurant in midtown Manhattan, and more than 200 guests arrived in black tie for a smoky cocktail hour featuring many of the cigar world's most revered brands, followed by a rich dinner of squab risotto and sirloin steak with wines by M. Chapoutier and Caymus. When the meal was complete, waiters brought out Flor de las Antillas Toros, Romeo by Romeo y Julieta Piramides and Padrón Family Reserve 85 Years, Cigar Aficionado's Nos. 1, 3 and 4 cigars of 2012.
I had a birds-eye view of the auction, as I was called up to the podium by Marvin R. Shanken to assist Gordon Mott, who took over Marvin's traditional role as auctioneer. Gordon stepped into the role with style, keeping the energy in the room high as he described each lot and encouraged the bidding, which tended to be heavy. Michael Milken, Rush Limbaugh, Jaime Coulter and Lee Einsidler were among the active bidders. (Look for Greg Mottola's comprehensive piece on the event for complete details of what was auctioned.)
I've been attending the Night to Remember for many years now, and it always strikes me how people bond during the evening—even people who were once enemies of a sort. Rush Limbaugh spoke of how he and John Salley were once antagonists, but have become friendly. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who made the dinner despite a busy media day giving comments about the tragic terror attack in Boston, actually prosecuted Michael Milken years ago, but today the two are cordial as they have united in a common cause to stamp out prostate cancer, a disease that has affected both men.