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.
Posted: Apr 15, 2013 3:30pm ET
If you read this blog and visit this website on a regular basis, I bet you know the terms IPCPR, CRA and CAA. But how about TAA?
TAA stands for the Tobacconists' Association of America, a group of high-end cigar shops in the United States. The group is meant as a supplement, rather than a replacement, to the main organization of U.S. cigar shops—the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers (IPCPR). Every TAA member that I know is also a member of the IPCPR. But where the latter group's annual get-together is all about a high-energy, very hectic trade show spread over a group of days, the annual TAA meeting is a far more laid-back affair.
Every year the group gathers along with a number of cigarmakers for a series of meetings and social events. Last week, I flew down to La Romana, Dominican Republic, to attend the 45th annual show with Gordon Mott. There were meetings and discussions, presentations and a small trade show, but most of the time was spent socializing and really getting to know the other members of the organization. An undeniable draw for the conference was the setting: Casa de Campo, in La Romana, Dominican Republic.
This wondrously large, all-inclusive resort has always been a beautiful place. The resort boasts one of the finest (and toughest, I'll attest) golf courses in the Caribbean, Teeth of the Dog, and is only a few minutes away from Tabacalera de Garcia Ltd., one of the world's largest handmade cigar factories, where Altadis USA makes Romeo y Julietas, H. Upmanns and Montecristo cigars, among many others. Because of the cigar connection, I've had the pleasure of going there many times. But this was my first trip to Casa de Campo since the resort's $40 million renovation, and boy did it show. It was great before, but it's phenomenal now. Read Gordon's story from the February 2011 Cigar Aficionado to get a full idea of the resort.
Posted: Mar 22, 2013 3:30pm ET
I hope you’re smoking a handmade cigar as you read this blog. You know that the robusto, corona gorda or perfecto that you’re puffing was made by hand, but you might not have a full idea of just how much hand labor went into its creation. And I bet you didn’t realize that the hand labor started long before the cigar was a cigar.
I was going through some old files the other day, and I came across a video I shot two years ago, when I was in northern Nicaragua. I spent a day in the fields of Jalapa, a beautiful place known for growing some of Nicaragua’s finest wrapper leaves. It’s a gorgeous spot, with vibrant fields of green leaves, bright blue skies, clear and cold streams, and gently sloped mountains covered in vegetation. And it’s a fine place to grow tobacco.
I spent that day with Eduardo Fernandez and his team of tobacco men that lead Aganorsa S.A., one of the biggest growers of cigar tobacco in all of Nicaragua. Many of those videos ended up on this website, but this one never saw the light of day. And it illustrates my point about labor and cigarmaking.
Let me explain what’s going on in the video. You can see about nine men working with hoes on a very large field of young tobacco. The plants are only three weeks old, and they are getting close to knee height. The field has just been fertilized.
The men with the hoes are pulling the earth close to the plant on each side, a process that does several things at once. First, it brings the fertilizer toward the plant, where it’s needed. That move creates a ditch between the rows, allowing better irrigation. It also gives some structure to the plant and helps it stay in place for its very quick growth spurt—in another two months these little guys will soon be almost as tall as man. And finally you can see how hoeing disrupts the wayward stalks of grass that are beginning to grow. If you know your gardening, you know that a hoe is a farmer’s friend and helps get rid of weeds.
Posted: Mar 7, 2013 12:00am ET
One of the most exciting pieces of news from Cuba every year is the list of Edición Limitadas. Since 2005 there have been three per year (before that, there was as many as five) and our blind tastings in Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider have shown a general increase in the quality level of these cigars. In short, they’re smoking quite well lately, so let’s hope that trend continues.
I saw the lineup of 2013 Limitadas on display last week at the Habanos Festival and smoked one of the cigars. Cuba’s 2013 EL trio is considerably fat, with no cigar slimmer than 52 ring gauge. Remember back in 2002 when the Cohiba Siglo VI made its debut? The cigar was considered truly fat for a Cuban, a 5 7/8-inch long, 52 ring cigar known as a cañonazo, or canon shot. The Romeo y Julieta Romeo de Luxe Edición Limitada 2013 measures 6 3/8 inches long by 52 ring gauge, the same ring gauge as the Siglo VI but half-an-inch longer. Pretty big cigar. The Romeo de Luxes will come in boxes of 10.
The Punch Serie d’Oro No. 2 Edición Limitada 2013 is a traditional Cuban belicoso, known as a campanas. Measuring 5 1/2 by 52, it’s identical in dimensions to a Bolivar Belicoso Fino. Habanos S.A., Cuba’s cigar exporting company, has used Punch plenty of times for its Regional Edition program, but this is the first Punch Edición Limitada. Samples of the cigar looked particularly dark and oily.
Posted: Mar 2, 2013 12:00am ET
If you love Cuban cigars, there’s no finer place to shop than in Havana, which is loaded with Casas del Habano cigar shops. Gordon and I spent the day going shop to shop, visiting five of the best stores in Cuba. We were taking note of what was in stock (and what wasn’t) to get an idea of what you can expect when shopping for cigars in the heart of Cuba.
But first, let me flash back to last night. Gordon blogged about the Vegueros dinner, which featured a look at Cuba’s newest bargain-priced brand. I wasn’t impressed with the two Vegueros cigars that I smoked, but I truly enjoyed the sneak peek at one of the trio of Edición Limitadas for 2013, the Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure EL 2013. This fat, short smoke had an ultra-dark, ultra-oily wrapper and big flavor. It was young, which is to be expected, but I think this cigar will be something wonderful when it hits shops later this year.
Do you like Cohiba Behikes? They seem to be everywhere on this trip. Every shop I visited had some stock of Behikes, from a few boxes to stacks and stacks of them. There are more Behikes than on any of my other visits to Havana. They start at 22 CUC per stick for the BHK 52 (or 220 CUC for a box of 10) to 32 CUC for a BHK 56. I passed on some rustic looking singles in the Casa del Habano at the Hotel Palco (the heads looked too rounded, not flat enough) and the shop with the deepest stocks of Behike had to be the Casa del Habano at the Habana Libre.
Cohiba Pirámides Extras are in fine supply throughout Cuba. But the hot cigar of the moment is our top-rated Cuban cigar of 2012, the Cohiba 1966 Edición Limitada 2011. We asked everywhere we went, but the only shop that had any in stock was the Habana Libre. Not only did they have a few singles on display (at 21 CUC per cigar) but when prodded they produced a few boxes from the back. It’s the holy grail of Cuban cigars right now, and I can understand—they’re smoking beautifully.
Most shops were well stocked with recent production smokes, mostly 2012 production, and some 2011. If you dug around, you could find some boxes from 2010, like the couple of Bolivar Coronas Extra I saw (127 CUC per box of 25) in two shops. Truly deep digging in off brands (think Fonseca, Rafael Gonzalez) and you could find 2009, and even some 2007 cigars.
Posted: Feb 28, 2013 12:00am ET
It’s my fourth day in Havana, and the sun has disappeared, blown away by the wind and the rain. The front seems to be wreaking havoc with the electricity in the hotel, as it keeps going off and coming back on. I opted to take the stairs this morning when I left, instead of risking 18 flights in an elevator, and I felt vindicated when the stairway was plunged into darkness somewhere in the teens. (iPhone flashlight app to the rescue—don’t travel without it.) But this is Cuba, and things like this sometimes happen. Comes with the territory.
Gordon Mott arrived yesterday, and he met me at La Fontana, a paladar we truly enjoyed a few years ago. (We recommended it in our cover story on Havana.) Rob Fox of J.J. Fox in London and Dublin had organized a lunch with a group of his friends and customers, and he handed me a cigar that was nearly as old as I am, a Ramon Allones Private Stock No. 1 from the early 1970s. “It could be newspaper,” he said, not wanting to get my hopes up.
Old cigars don’t always improve—sometimes they turn to nothing, and are flavorless. This one was far from newspaper, but it was past its peak. Mine had a tight draw, and was largely showing dusty almond notes with just a touch of cedar. Very pleasant but mild. At the very end, with less than an inch left, I revisited the smoke, and it was far more intense with a long, nutty finish.
I began my Wednesday with another aged cigar from another retailer from the U.K. Ajay Patel handed me a 2002 Cohiba Robusto Reserva, which I smoked to start my Wednesday. Wow. What a brilliant smoke. I won’t go into the details (you’ll read much more about it in an upcoming Connoisseur's Corner in Cigar Aficionado) but I’ll be hard pressed to find a better smoke on this trip. Then it was off to a showing of art and Louis XIII Cognac, then the launch of a book at the Partagás Cigar Factory, and then our traditional opening dinner at El Aljibe, with plenty of cigars throughout the night.