Posted: Feb 21, 2013 12:00am ET
For some, it’s that first glimpse of the lush, green fields sprawling beneath the wings of the 767 as ocean turns to land. For others, it’s the first sniff of aged tobacco leaves, flat and waiting to be rolled into cigars. For me, it’s that moment when you step from the airplane door into the gangway and feel the tropical heat and humidity hug your body in an embrace that says, “Welcome back, you’re in the Dominican Republic, cigar country."
I left my home yesterday long before the sun rose and landed in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, around noon to join the 6th annual ProCigar Festival. This weeklong event brings cigar retailers and enthusiasts from around the United States and the world for immersion in the glorious world of handmade, Dominican cigars.
I’ve been coming to the Dominican Republic for 17 years, and I always enjoy coming here. Some of the cigar world’s best-known brands are made here, by members of the association known as ProCigar: Arturo Fuente, Davidoff, Macanudo, Romeo y Julieta, Fonseca, La Aurora, and the organization only recently added two new members, La Flor Dominicana and EP Carrillo.
The first function I attended was a press conference where representatives of each ProCigar company (save for Fuente, who was not here during this particular conference) sat on stage. In a sign of the expansion of the organization, the members were quite literally shoulder to shoulder, and one had to sit outside the confines of the table. February 20, as it turns out, was a birthday for ProCigar.
“ProCigar turns 21 today—we are legal drinking age,” said Manuel “Manolo” Quesada, owner of Manufactura de Tabacos S.A. (MATASA), one of the most prominent members of ProCigar. Quesada explained how 21 years ago that very day, six companies came together with a handshake and founded the organization, dedicated to ensuring the quality of Dominican cigar production.
Posted: Jan 25, 2013 12:00am ET
I’ve been doing quite a bit of research lately on man caves, the rooms that men dedicate to getting away, either all on their own or with friends and family. Not all of them allow cigars, but as you could imagine, I focused exclusively on the cigar-friendly variety.
There’s a cable TV program dedicated to man caves on the DIY Network, a cigar shop that calls itself the man cave and tons of great examples from around the United States and around the world. I’ve spoken to a cigar lover from Denmark who built a cigar-friendly man cave in an old house with a selection of old jazz playing on a turntable. I visited a builder in Connecticut who turned a new basement into a gorgeous cherry- and stone-lined “gentleman’s room” with a wine cellar and gas fireplace, and I interviewed a doctor who built a 2,600 square foot (!) man cave complete with a movie theater, bar and golf simulator, every blessed inch of it cigar friendly. And there are many more I’ve discovered. Each of these places are wonderful in their own way, and reflect the interests and passions of the individual owner.
Now I’d like your involvement. I bet many of you have man caves of your own. (I even have my own man cave in my basement. A friend of mine dubbed it The Bunker, and the name stuck. I’ll likely be there this weekend, smoking a cigar and enjoying a movie on the big screen.) It doesn’t have to be palatial or fancy—it just has to be your own special place where you go to smoke cigars. I’d love to see a photograph (or, better yet, a few) and hear in your own words what makes it special, and why you built it. It might become part of a gallery of man caves we’re putting together at Cigar Aficionado.
So let’s hear about—and see—your cigar-friendly man caves. Upload your photos and comments with our Moments to Remember tool.
Posted: Dec 12, 2012 12:00am ET
I turned 44 this year, so I don't consider myself old but I'm far from young. I'm reminded of my lack of youth on a daily basis, whether it's from looking in the mirror at my bumper crop of gray hairs or in the little reminders I hear from coworkers. One of them in particular (I'll keep him anonymous, but his last name rhymes with "Fittaker") enjoys reminding me that he was only eight years old when I started working for this magazine, more than 17 years ago. Funny guy.
An even more painful reminder of my fleeting youth came about a week ago, when I played in my annual football game. While I failed to shed blood on the gridiron (that was my friend Jim) and didn't need to be carried off the field (that dubious honor went to my buddy Tim), going head-to-head with a stronger, faster, 27-year-old player left me with a misaligned shoulder. Pass the Advil, and forgive me if I don't raise my arms above my head for awhile.
So my body isn't improving with age. But cigars certainly do. I'm reminded of this fact as I puff on a Davidoff No. 1, a gran panetela that was rolled in Cuba way back in 1986, the year I graduated from high school and went on to college.
Back in 1986, my hair was jet black, my knees were sound and I would have bounced back from that football game in about 15 minutes, rather than needing weeks of physical therapy. The years have taken a bit of a toll, you might say. But the Davidoff I'm smoking has fared quite well. The cigar burns absolutely perfect, and has developed notes of caramel, honey and almond, with exceptional balance. It was 7 1/2 inches long when I started, and I've just removed the band to keep on smoking. I'm not going to tell you the score—I'm saving that for the Connoisseur's Corner page in the February issue, which will be out in early January—but I think you can tell it will be quite high.
Posted: Nov 28, 2012 12:00am ET
November is always a busy month here at Cigar Aficionado. We hold the Las Vegas Big Smoke, finalize our top 25 cigars of the year, and throw a big party in our hometown: The Big Smoke New York.
The event takes place on Thursday night, and it allows cigar lovers to light up indoors and share a smoke with their fellow aficionados and some of the biggest names in the premium cigar industry. (Tickets are still available—click here for details.)
Big Smoke week means visitors from the cigar world in our offices, smoky meetings and late night dinners. It brings the cigar world to Manhattan and makes our office a very busy place. At any given time you might find Litto Gomez in one office and Jorge Padrón in another. Rocky and Nish Patel might drop by for a smoke and a chat, and Carlos Fuente Jr. or Alan Rubin might say hello and talk about their latest creations.
Big Smoke week is a high-energy stretch of cigar smoking and camaraderie. All of us from Cigar Aficionado will be there-come and join us.
Posted: Oct 29, 2012 12:00am ET
My office is closed today, due to the approach of Hurricane Sandy. Outside the wind is howling and the water is rising, and we’re waiting for the worst to come later tonight.
Hurricanes are rare in the New York area, but they’re quite common in cigar country, and I’ve been getting calls and emails of concern from friends in the cigar industry. Jorge Padrón called, checking on how things looked up here, and I just got off the phone with Litto Gomez, who was also checking in on me. Earlier, Rafael Nodal sent me an email. They’ve all been through the same and much worse, but they know that all of us up here in the north are hurricane novices.
If you make cigars, hurricanes are a part of your world, and there are legendary storms that have reshaped the cigar world. Hurricane Gilbert tore the roof from the Royal Jamaica factory in 1988, and the brand had to be moved from Jamaica as a result.
Hurricane Georges nearly ended the Fuente Fuente OpusX brand, taking down so many of the Fuente Family’s tobacco curing barns in 1998 they doubted they could go on. And Hurricane Mitch, a brutal storm that killed thousands in Central America, shut down the Nicaraguan and Honduran cigar industries for a time in 1998, scouring away tobacco fields.
Sandy is supposed to be bad, but we’ve had time to prepare and hopefully it shall pass without too much harm. For all of you in the path of this storm, stay safe.
Posted: Oct 18, 2012 12:00am ET
The smoke police want to take away Santa’s pipe.
I discovered this while reading today’s New York Post, which had a small news item about Canadian author Pamela McCall self-publishing a new, sanitized version of the Christmas classic A Visit From St. Nicholas. I dug around, found corroboration of the news, and looked up McCall’s author biography and a Facebook page dedicated to her book.
McCall describes herself as a “children’s advocate and smoking cessation coach.” She decided to scrub away the smoking reference from the original work by Clement Moore, which dates back to 1823. One of the most famous of children’s stories, A Visit From St. Nicholas (also called ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) is credited with shaping the image of Santa Claus as a jolly, overweight and, yes, smoke-kissed image of Christmas.
McCall’s Twas the Night Before Christmas is published not only without the apostrophe before the “t” in “’twas,” but it also is missing Santa’s trademark pipe. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the verse, allow me to quote the line from the original that ignited McCall’s ire:
“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.”
I have no issue with a person coming up with a story that doesn’t mention smoking, or one that talks about smoking being bad for you. If it’s your story, you can write it any way you please. But rather than having the creativity to imagine a tale of her own, to pluck words from the ether and place them together in a way that people might find as memorable, endearing and entertaining as the original, McCall simply took out her red pen and cut out the words she didn’t like. That’s not writing, that’s censoring.
How odd that McCall would find Santa’s pipe such a problem. The story is about a man who spends his workday climbing down chimneys, many of them presumably dirty. Sure, it’s only one workday a year, of course, but it’s quite a busy one, and Santa clearly pays a price for moving through flues. In an earlier verse, St. Nick is described as:
Posted: Oct 5, 2012 12:00am ET
Grab a cigar and a fine beverage, and get ready to sit back and take in a game. The Major League Baseball playoffs begin today.
A baseball game offers the perfect tonic for a cigar. Unlike football, which is a game of constant action, baseball games can be long, drawn-out chess matches pitting pitcher against batter, one manager’s strategy against the others. The numbers mean something. Your eyes can move away from the screen for a bit while you engage a buddy, son or spouse in conversation about what’s happened before, what might happen next and how it’s all been done before. There’s history and legend and, hopefully, memorable games.
As the postseason unfolds, we at Cigar Aficionado have brought to you, once again, our guide to puffing in the playoffs by writer Alejandro Benes. His superb piece talks all about the memorable 2012 regular season (a Triple Crown winner—first time in my lifetime!) and lays the groundwork for where you can smoke in the cities that are part of the playoffs.
Read the story, root for your favorite team or against your most hated enemy, and get ready for baseball played in the crisp fall air. Me? I’m rooting for the New York Yankees, a team I’ve loved since I was a kid, and I’ll be on my couch on Sunday with a good cigar, a cold beverage and a burning desire to see them win. (Gordon, who is a Red Sox fan, will be watching soccer this weekend.)
Who are you pulling for?
Posted: Sep 26, 2012 12:00am ET
On Friday, I had a smoke with Steve Saka, the chief executive officer of Drew Estate. Before long, we were talking about the smoke that put Drew Estate on the map in the minds of high-end cigar smokers: Liga Privada No. 9.
Liga Privadas have quite the buzz lately. In our most recent Cigar Insider poll of U.S. cigar retailers, Liga Privada was ranked No. 3 for hottest brands, the cigars consumers request most often in top-tier cigar stores. (It tied with Fuente Fuente OpusX—quite an achievement.) The hallmark of Liga Privada No. 9 is a very dark and very oily Connecticut broadleaf wrapper, and as Saka and I puffed we got to talking about making Liga Privadas, which are always on back order.
“It has seven different tobaccos from seven different vendors,” says Saka. “And it has the most difficult wrapper, Connecticut broadleaf, No. 1 darks.”
Broadleaf is not your usual cigar tobacco. It grows short and bushy, with fat, wide leaves from the open sunlight. Most cigar tobaccos are harvested in a process known as priming, where the leaves are removed from the stalk in groups of three, working from the bottom of the plant. Workers take three leaves from one plant, move to the next, and repeat the process. Days later, they take another three from each plant, until you’re left with bare stalks.
Broadleaf is stalk cut; when the time is right, a worker takes a hatchet, chops the entire stalk, lets the plant wilt a bit in the sun and then spears the plants on a lathe to allow them to hang upside down in a barn on the stalk.
Where Connecticut shade is mild and creamy, Connecticut broadleaf is full-bodied and muscular. It’s gutsy, flavorful stuff.
On paper, broadleaf is relatively cheap, say about $23 a pound, compared to nearly $40 for a pound of Connecticut shade, broadleaf’s more famous cousin. Connecticut-seed wrapper grown in Ecuador sells for a similar price. But Saka and other cigarmakers have told me that broadleaf, when you factor in all the effort and waste, is actually the most expensive wrapper tobacco in the world.
Posted: Sep 17, 2012 12:00am ET
many months of effort by the entire Cigar Aficionado staff, our 20th
Anniversary issue is complete. It reached newsstands at the end of
August, and on Wednesday, September 12, we brought together a beautiful
group of friends from the cigar industry for a party at the Grand Havana
Room in New York City to celebrate the issue.
The party—like our summer spent putting together the issue—went by in a blur. (You can read Andrew Nagy’s story about the event by clicking here, and launch a photo gallery by clicking here.) The highlight for me was watching editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken induct our nine new members of the Cigar Aficionado Hall of Fame, and listening to their acceptance speeches. Each of the men—Carlos Fuente Jr., Hendrik Kelner, Robert Levin, Benjamin Menendez, Manuel Quesada, José Orlando Padrón, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Nestor Plasencia and Jose Seijas—have dedicated their lives to the world of premium cigars and tobacco. As cigar lovers, your lives have been enriched by their hard work and expert knowledge, which in most cases was passed down from their fathers or grandfathers.
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani spoke beautifully about the cigar industry, and the city he loves, eleven years and one day after the 9/11 attacks that changed his life—and the life of all New Yorkers—forever. Executive editor Gordon Mott was the opening speaker, and talked about how Shanken’s dream to start a magazine was one that most people felt would fail. Menendez, in his acceptance, paraphrased Mark Twain, saying “all ideas are crazy, until they work.” Look for a video of the event on our website soon.
The gathering was a way for me to reconnect with old friends. I haven’t been with the magazine the entire 20 years, but for a little more than 17 years the seat from where I’m typing this blog has served as my second home. I’ve had the privilege of covering the intriguing, friendly, passionate and humble men and women of the premium cigar industry for all that time, and I’ve gotten to know them extremely well. I consider myself a lucky man to have a job that brings me such pleasure, and brings me closer to such a fine group of individuals.
Posted: Jul 27, 2012 12:00am ET
A week from today I’ll be landing in Orlando to join our editorial team from Cigar Aficionado at the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers trade show, which begins next Friday and runs through the weekend. Think of the show as the main event for new cigars in the premium cigar industry—this is when just about every company that makes a cigar by hand gathers to show off its new wares. We’ll be there to cover it all.
There was a time when new cigars weren’t a part of the cigar industry. If you smoked cigars during the 1970s or 1980s, you probably had a regular brand, even a regular size. Old school retailers who I’ve spoken to over my years of covering the cigar industry have explained that cigar smokers of yore didn’t even experiment from size-to-size. If they liked Punch Rothchilds, they didn’t reach for a Punch Lonsdale every now and then to mix it up. If they smoked Arturo Fuente Curly Heads, they didn’t occasionally reach for a Fuente 8-5-8.
That was then. The reality of today is that many cigar smokers look for what’s new.
“The most common question asked by our customers is ‘What’s new?’” John Anderson of W. Curtis Draper in Washington, D.C. told Cigar Insider for its annual poll of U.S. retailers.
If you’re into new cigars, like most cigar smokers of today are, this is an exciting time of year. The IPCPR show is the stage for most cigar companies to unveil new product. Here at the office, the new smokes are coming in already.
Our goal here is to get you information on all the new cigars on our website—our coverage will begin right after we touch down in Orlando—and to rate them once they debut in the market in Cigar Insider.
So my question to you: Do you look for what’s new to smoke? Or are you more of a throwback smoker, and you don’t change from your tried-and-true cigar?