Posted: Aug 11, 2010 12:00am ET
The crack of thunder shook me out of my slumber this morning in New Orleans. It was a line of storms with frequent bolts of lightning and booming retorts, followed by a heavy rain. Welcome to August, storm season in New Orleans.
The previous night was a late one. It began with dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Cochon, where team Cigar Aficionado was joined by Tim Ozgener and Jon Huber from C.A.O. International and Nish Patel and Sam Phillips from Rocky Patel Premium Cigars. We dined on crisp and flavorful bites of alligator; spicy, roasted oysters; smoked rabbit and cornbread dumplings and roasted red fish. Cochon, which is hip and eclectic, is perfect for trying food you won't find elsewhere and washing it all down with bracing cocktails. It's loud, vibrant and enormous amounts of fun. The good times continued as we made our way to Frenchman Street, which has side-by-side bars featuring live music. We walked into the Spotted Cat Music Club, and were treated to the sweet sounds of Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns. What a great band (there was a guy playing a mean sousaphone) and what a glorious voice on Miss Lake. That woman can sing.
This morning I made it through the rain and into the convention center, where my first visit was Oliva Cigars. I smoked an Oliva Serie V Double Robusto with Gilberto Oliva Jr. and his brother Jose. Gilberto spoke about how difficult it is to get consistency out of cigars, with tobacco crops changing ever year.
"Making cigars is like playing a nice piano-you're always tuning it," he said. "If you want to have consistency, you have to keep tuning it all the time."
His tuning is working out great-the Serie V was exceptional, as always. Lovely smoke.
The talk of the morning was the tropical storm watch-New Orleans was in the bullseye of a storm system that had formed in the gulf, and it was expected to gather strength and hit us on Thursday. People were quite distracted from buying cigars, and many were planning on getting out of Dodge early to avoid getting stuck. (Maybe that's why people usually don't hold conventions in New Orleans in the heart of hurricane season.)
Posted: Aug 10, 2010 12:00am ET
After a bracing southern breakfast of eggs, grits and biscuits at the hole-in-the-wall New Orleans institution known as Mother's, I rolled into the convention center for the formal start of the IPCPR trade show. (I really mean rolled--I'm feeling very full here.) I headed for the Cigar Aficionado booth, and nearly walked into the Berlin Wall.
Wait, you ask. Didn't they tear down the wall? They sure did, but they saved parts of it, and one 6,400 pound, 12 1/2 foot tall chunk was standing in the middle of the Hammer + Sickle cigar booth. Brand owner Eric Hanson bought it and has created a cigar inspired by its fall 21 years ago.
Hammer + Sickle Berliner Mauer 1961-1989 was made for Hanson by Camacho Cigars, and is all Honduran save for the filler blend, which is Dominican and Honduran. The cigars come in three sizes, each made with a copper band (real copper, not copper colored, and the tensile strength of the metal rather than glue keeps it around the cigar.) I touched the piece of the wall that was on display, which had me in awe. Wins my award for most visually arresting product launch.
Next stop was Ashton, where I met with Sathya Levin. Ashton has a host of new product, primarily the La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor brand, made at My Father Cigars in Estelí, Nicaragua. The big thing here is the wrapper, a very dark Mexican leaf grown from Cuban seed. I puffed on the 6 inch by 52 Magnifico size, which had some bittersweet chocolate, earthy notes, and a dry finish, with a medium body. It was fine, but I didn't like it as much as I enjoy the other La Aroma lines. Ashton also has a bunch of new limited-edition lanceros, as well as a selection of $10 figurados (Salamone-esque in shape) in various lines, and a squat new San Cristobal called the Fire Plug.
At the La Aurora booth I chatted with José Blanco about the company's new Guillermo León cigar, which I puffed. It's a slow starter that gets mild, easygoing and a bit creamy, with a touch of sweet spice. La Aurora also has a new Corojo (grown in Ecuador).
Posted: Aug 10, 2010 12:00am ET
I flew into New Orleans Monday afternoon for the start of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers show, also known as the IPCPR.
Today was all about getting into town, getting settled, and getting ready for a busy week. The long taxi ride from the airport showcased the typical New Orleans summer weather. I was treated to a spectacular lightning display as bolts of white thundered down from the heavy, charcoal gray clouds covering the city, followed by a hearty southern rainstorm.
I checked into the Windsor Court hotel, and before too long the storm abated, and I met up with executive editor Gordon Mott and the rest of the crew from Cigar Aficionado for a smoke and a pre-dinner cocktail. New Orleans, alas, has gone the way of most American cities, and smoking is a largely outdoor activity here. Here that means smoking on a terrace, so we pushed aside the sodden cushions and hunkered down for a cold drink (Abita Amber in my case, a great local brew) and a fine cigar.
I’ll be smoking new cigars all week, so I started with something I knew well to calibrate the old palate, a My Father No. 1, our No. 3 cigar of 2009. It was rich, hearty and balanced, with a fine amount of sweetness. I love that cigar. We were soon joined by Tim Ozgener, Jon Huber and Mike Conder from C.A.O. International Inc.
They were toting the new C.A.O. La Traviata Maduro, which I had tried before, and I tucked one into my shirt pocket for later. (IPCPR strategy: never walk around in shirts without pockets, or without a bag, because you will inevitably run out of space for your cigars.)
The show begins in full Tuesday morning, and I’m eager to see the retailer turnout. This show is always held in the middle of summer, and whenever the site is hot and humid, subject to hurricanes, tough to get to, or not Las Vegas, people fear the retailers who are here to buy might stay away. I’ve heard a good crowd is expected—I certainly hope that’s true. We’ll see tomorrow.
Posted: Aug 6, 2010 12:00am ET
Starting Monday I’ll be in New Orleans for the annual International Cigar Pipe and Retailer trade show, the show formerly known as RTDA. Those of you who follow the industry know that this is the time when cigar companies unveil their latest smokes. Those of you who are new to this blog or website should get ready: there’s going to be a lot of news about great new smokes coming out next week.
I’ve already smoked samples of a few of the new smokes that have been sent to me. The Padrón Family Reserve No. 46, which will be on sale in September, is a gorgeous, box pressed corona gorda that is (predictably) delicious and refined. I’ve smoked that and enjoyed it immensely.
Just this week I tasted the new and substantially more powerful Room 101 Conjura from Camacho Cigars, and I liked it quite a bit. Lots of earth, a pleasant funkiness and a rip-roaring amount of nose spice (I gave one to Greg Mottola, and he dubbed the spice horseradish) make this a fun after lunch or after dinner smoke. Dylan Austin, director of marketing for the brand, warned me not to smoke it before lunch, and that’s a well-informed note of caution.
Rocky Patel's 15th Anniversary cigar, which went on sale a week ago, is also superb, very rich, nice and hearty, with a fine balance that comes from Ecuador Habano wrapper, which has become one of my favorites. I'm looking forward to smoking a few more of those, especially in the Toro size.
I love the trade show for many reasons. I went to my first in the summer of 1995, only one week after being hired by Cigar Aficionado. You’ve heard of trial by fire? There I was, on the trade show floor in Orlando, wearing a suit and tie (we were more formal in those days) grabbing cigars from every booth I could find, picking up business cards by the stack and filling notebooks full of information.
Posted: Jul 28, 2010 9:16am ETBack in 1995, when I was hired by Cigar Aficionado, I was a huge fan of big cigars (I was also thinner, had no beard, and my hair was all black, but that's another story.) When I wanted a cigar—and I always wanted a cigar—I reached for the big ones, double coronas and Churchills especially. Sure, I loved robustos too, enjoyed big pyramids as well, but I didn’t look upon coronas and petit coronas with as much favor.
Things changed. I had my smaller cigar revelations that opened my eyes to just how good a smaller smoke can be. First came the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos No. 3, which is 5 1/2 inches long by 44 ring gauge. (We include them in our corona category when we rate them.) If you haven’t smoked one of these, stop reading my blog right now, go to your favorite cigar store and buy one (better yet, buy a couple.) You’ll know what I mean. It’s one of the all-time great cigars, and it’s downright diminutive.
Then came the Cohiba Siglo I experience. It was 1996, and I was sitting on a balcony in Pinar del Río, Cuba. I opened up a box of Cohiba Siglo Is for the first time. Puny little smoke I thought, looking at the four inch long, 40 ring gauge petit corona. I didn’t expect much. Wow, was I wrong. It was bold and full of taste. How could there be so much flavor in such a small package?
I moved away from really big cigars for awhile. Sure, I smoked them (I smoke cigars of all sizes, for tasting as part of my job) but when I smoked for pleasure I tended to go with robustos, corona gordas, coronas, lanceros, almost anything but the doubles and Churchills I loved as a younger smoker. One reason was my newfound love for the smaller cigars, but another was the constraints of time on smoking large format smokes.
Posted: Jul 19, 2010 3:51pm ETThis weekend I took my wife and son out for breakfast at one of our favorite places. It’s a tiny donut shop called Speedy Donuts that has been in business for 41 years, almost as long as I’ve been alive, and despite driving by the place literally hundreds of times it was only a few years ago when I finally went in for a bite.
The outside is plain and the inside is old. A menu board, which was once colored white but has now taken on a rich patina of coffee with too much cream, lists the simple offerings, each laid out with black press-on letters that were last changed years ago. Egg sandwiches. Pancakes. Western omelets. The soda fountain still has Diet Rite.
There’s a counter that seats a dozen and, depending on when you go and who has moved things around, about five tables. The counter is the busy spot, and behind it is where the magic takes place. The coffee is passable, but that’s not why I come here. Speedy Donuts makes very simple food using very simple ingredients. Behind the grill, flipping eggs and flapjacks, is a man who is as comfortable there as Carlos Santana is with a six string. Butter is used copiously. The bacon is thick and crispy, and the home fries are always perfect, having been cooked for a long, long time with just the right dusting of oregano. The woman behind the counter, round and smiling and always attentive, serves breakfast the way breakfast should always be. And when you’re done? If you have the room, there are the donuts made fresh on the premises, not in some factory miles away, as you might find in a chain donut store. Every time I’m there I see the same old man at work, and every so often he reaches into the donut bin and breaks one apart to check his work. He takes a taste, and nods approvingly before heading into the back to make more.
After tucking into my plate of eggs (over easy), potatoes, bacon and well-buttered rye toast I showed a modicum of restraint and passed on the donut, watching my son chew his way through a fresh one smeared with chocolate and dusted with sprinkles. His smile made my day.
Posted: Jun 15, 2010 9:44am ETReading the news this morning I came across a disturbing piece from Mail Online, the online site of Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid. Beth Hail reports that one of history’s most iconic cigar smokers, Sir Winston Churchill, has been stripped of his beloved stogie.
A familiar image of good old Sir Winston, fingers of his right hand extended in a V for Victory salute, greets visitors to Winston Churchill’s Britain At War Experience Museum in East London. But according to the writer, the image is not historically accurate. She says it has been airbrushed, doctored to take away Churchill’s very famous cigar. A comparison of photographs placed side-by-side in the article gives merit to the claim that, indeed, Churchill’s cigar has stripped away to clean up the image.
No one has confessed to the doctoring, and it’s not been proven that the image has indeed been changed. But it certainly appears to have been. Each photograph shown in the article appears identical: the wrinkles on Churchill’s right sleeve, the four people in the background, the shadows on Sir Winston. I’m no expert on photorgraphy, but to me the photos look precisely the same, except for the cigar (and lack of one) and the fact that the cigar-less photo has been more brightly exposed. Take a look for yourself in the story.
Cigars have fallen victim to the censor's airbrush and scissors before. In 2006, a British unit of Turner Broadcasting said it would snip away any scenes of cigars in old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including "Tom & Jerry", and "The Flintstones." The Mail Online mentions the case of a school textbook adorned with a famous photo of cigar-smoking engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel—the cigar was deleted. In the case of this Churchill photo, if someone did make the edit, why take away the cigar? The writer suggests it was the work of someone hoping to be politically correct, and spare some visitor the sight of a lit cigar. Ironic, considering the theme of the exhibit—Britain during World War II. The museum shows “wartime bombs,” has images of London in ruins, buildings destroyed by Germany’s rain of rockets, scared people huddled in gas masks in fear of being poisoned by their neighboring enemy.
Posted: May 25, 2010 9:30am ETSaturday night, Mashantucket, Connecticut, about 8 pm. I’m standing next to the Quesada Cigars booth at the Big Smoke at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, puffing on a Coronado by La Flor Double Corona and talking to Hostos Fernandez Quesada. A guy walks up to me and says hello. We chat for a bit, and I ask him where he’s from.
“Canada,” he says. “Cornwall, Ontario. All four of us.”
His name is Paul Desnoyers Jr., and he and three friends drove 400 miles, or more than seven hours without traffic, to make it to Cigar Aficionado's Big Smoke at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods. That’s dedication to the craft. Paul wrote me last night on Twitter and attached a copy of the photo (see below) we took together with buddies Matthew Clarke, Scott Lafave and Bernie Bougie. “The trip from Canada was worth every penny!” Paul wrote. “What a great night!”
I felt the same way. It was a great night, with a beautiful room filled with cigar lovers—most of them from places a little closer than Canada. There were plenty of people from around Boston and Providence, lots of aficionados from Connecticut and plenty from New York and New Jersey who made their way to our first Big Smoke of the year.
I smoked more than my share of great cigars, starting off with a corona-sized Room 101 (the 213) made by Camacho before lighting up the Coronado, which lasted quite awhile. My final cigar of the night was a Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial by My Father Cigars.
The cigar stars were impressive: Carlos Fuente Jr. of Arturo Fuente cigars, Rocky and Nish Patel, Orlando Padrón, Tim Ozgener and Jon Huber from C.A.O., the Newman brothers (Eric and Bobby) from J.C. Newman, Te-Amo’s Alejandro Turrent, Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley, Sam Leccia of NUb, Joe Chiusano of Cusano, Mike Giannini of La Gloria Cubana, Pete Johnson of Tatuaje; Hostos Fernandez-Quesada of Matasa; Eric Hanson of Hammer + Sickle, Matt Booth and Dylan Austin from Camacho; Andrew Brennan of La Flor Dominicana cigars; Frank Santos for Reyes Family Cigars; Carlos Llaca of Toraño Cigars and Roberto Pelayo of Dunhill; Dave Wagner of Oliva; Andrew Brennan of La Flor Dominicana cigars; Michael Walter and Andy Green of Ashton; Les Mann of Colibri and Sean Knutsen of Humidipak. I know I’m forgetting somebody.
Posted: May 14, 2010 2:53pm ETThe Big Smoke at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods is only a week away. On Saturday, May 22, I’m going to be smoking cigars with my colleagues from Cigar Aficionado, a host of magazine readers and some of the best-known cigarmakers on the planet. Looking to meet executive editor Gordon Mott, maybe ask him a question about how we rate cigars? Want to share a smoke with associate editor Greg Mottola, or tap my brain about tobacco in Nicaragua? Here’s your chance.
The crowd is going to receive an A list of cigars. Alec Bradley Family Blend, Arturo Fuente, Ashton, C.A.O., Camacho, Carlos Toraño, Casa Magna (a former Cigar Aficionado Cigar of the Year), Cuba Aliados, Cusano, Diamond Crown, Flavours by C.A.O., Hammer + Sickle, La Aroma de Cuba, La Flor Dominicana, La Gloria Cubana Serie R, Macanudo 1968, NUb Habano, Oliva Serie G, Padrón, Panter, Rocky Patel, Tabacos Baez Serie H, Tatuaje, Te-Amo World Selection, Uppercut by Punch and Villiger 1888. Plus there will be free-flowing drinks from some of the top names in spirits, from Dewars, Glenmorangie, Remy, Macallan, Sheep Dip Scotch, Wild Geese Irish, Hammer & Sickle Vodka, Ron Matusalem, Classic Malt Collection, Oban, Singleton, Zacapa, Appleton Estate Rum, Don Q, Woodford Reserve, Tullamore Dew and icy Pilsner Urquell beer.
This is our second time at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods. It’s a cool, boutique hotel and casino on the grounds of the much larger Foxwoods casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Last year I saw readers who hadn’t been to a Big Smoke in some time, people from Boston, Providence, Rhode Island, as well as from the New York City area. Smoking laws have kept us out of Boston for years—the Bostonians were happy to see us back in their area, and we were happy to have them there.
If you’re in the area and you’re ready to have a smoke, join us. For more info or to pick up tickets, click here.
Posted: Apr 30, 2010 11:35am ETI went to the launch of Davidoff’s newest cigar, the Davidoff Puro d’Oro, this week in New York City. It’s the first new Davidoff cigar brand (not counting limited editions) in a decade, and it’s a big deal because it has a wrapper grown in a new area of the Dominican Republic.
The launch, a quiet affair with a small crowd at Davidoff’s Madison Avenue store, featured a posh Davidoff humidor full of the new cigars, and an explanation of the line by Davidoff maker Hendrik “Henke” Kelner.
The cigars are much darker and stronger than traditional Davidoffs. They also don’t have Davidoff bands. Puro d’Oros are adorned only with slim, golden footbands, each bearing the name of the frontmark, but not the word Davidoff, giving the cigars a bit of a European look.
I spent most of the night chatting with Henke, a veritable scientist who can talk about tobacco for hours. Back in the early days of Cigar Aficionado, Henke thought you couldn’t grow high-quality wrappers in the Dominican Republic (and to be fair, he certainly wasn't alone in his opinion.) Now, several companies, most notably Fuente, as well as La Flor Dominicana and La Aurora, have proven how great a Dominican wrapper can be, and Henke's opinion has clearly changed.
Growing this wrapper and working with this tobacco certainly wasn’t easy. The project began when Kelner purchased a farm in an area where tobacco normally isn’t grown in the Dominican Republic, Yamasá, located a few hours from Santiago. There the soil is reddish and the weather, he said, is “perfect.” Idyllic weather aside, the soil in Yamasá proved tricky. “The sand was small,” Henke told me, squinting as he pinched his fingers together in front of my face. That caused the nutrients he added to the soil to leach out quickly. “It was too different,” he said. “Lots of iron, and aluminum.” Yamasá proved tough to master, one reason why the Puro d’Oro is one year delayed coming to market.