I'm a Dutch reader of your fine magazine and I'd like to share a good-life cigar experience when I visited London.
It was one of those early summer days when there's still freshness in the air. My wife joined me in London after my business trip. We strolled around Mayfair, past all these beautiful houses, and I was smoking my first Trinidad Reyes that I purchased at Davidoff's. I was halfway smoking it, with some pride and contentment, when we found a nice-looking cigar shop on Mount Street. The ground level of the brick building was richly embellished with red clay tiles and ornaments and there was a balcony on the second floor. It looked very romantic and I fancied myself sitting on the balcony, perhaps again with a Trinidad Reyes. Inside the shop there was a prominent picture of Winston Churchill buying cigars. I wondered if he would have purchased his cigars here as well.
So, I popped into the shop with my wife and asked if Mr. Churchill got his stogies from this place, on account of the picture. The shop attendant smiled and said, "No, back then this wasn't a cigar shop, but he did live for several years in the apartment above the store." That's close enough for me. I immediately spotted the Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona in the walk-in humidor. To me, this is a real prized cigar because it's not available in Holland. Under the watchful eye of my wife, I restricted myself to a single stick; she knows how fickle contentment is and how easily one gets carried away. My cigar was put into a bag as a souvenir—"Sautter," it said on the bag. We strolled back to Green Park for the tube to Sloan Square and a lazy luncheon.
Lunch was a warm-up for my palate, to prepare my taste buds for the ceremonial burning of the Hoyo de Monterrey. On my left a mother and daughter were having a lazy lunch as well; since they weren't finished, I asked them if they would mind if I smoked my cigar. "Oh, dear, of course not," they replied. "Well, it's a strong smell and it's not unanimously appreciated," I said. "We do like the smell of a good cigar," they said. So one thing led to another and we each chatted about our trip, telling where we went and what we did. Then moving on to who we were and where we came from. With caring pride the daughter mentioned that she and her mom had traveled extensively through mainland Europe. Mom touched my arm as she told her anecdotes and her little confessions: I do like my gin and tonics and like my cigarettes as well. She had a little sparkle in her eye, and started to chat to me alone, playfully taking tiny bites of her crème-brélée. Cigars and oranges reminded her of her father. Then lunch ended and we exchanged addresses before continuing on our way separately. Weren't they very nice people, I said to my wife. She smiled; I think that mom fancied you a bit, she said. I raised my eyebrow, replying, Sweetie, she's 92. Having succeeded at her little tease, she took my arm and pulled me down Kings Road, shopping for shoes until we ran out of daylight.
In your latest issue of Cigar Aficionado (August 2004) your Editors' Note related that golf was "the last frontier" where good friends could get together without the fear of the smoke police rushing in.
Well, there is one other place friends get together. As with golf, they move from hole to hole. They talk about how good or bad the shot at the last hole was. They talk about form, and how to improve. They talk about the latest equipment. And of course, some of them light up their cigars.
The group does not have the numbers that golf has; currently only about 60,000 people are involved. But it is one of the fastest growing sports. This is the sport of cowboy western shooting. The parent group is called Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). Every weekend all around the globe there are groups that get together, dress up in their best cowboy ware and go out to the range to shoot. Our holes are called stages. At each stage we use a combination of two single action pistols, a lever action rifle and a shotgun to hit, with any luck, a number of targets. Each stage is timed and scored. So you know how well you are doing from week to week.
I like to wait for a couple of stages to light up. It is either to reward myself for a good stage or to console myself for a missed shot. And I am not alone. There is a good mix of cigar and gun smoke.
Like a good cigar, this sport of single action shooting brings together a group of like-minded people, sharing a good time and building good memories. I am sure that if you were to stop by any of our shoots you would be most welcome. We could even work up a rig for you to shoot. For that is the Cowboy Way.
So you can say that golf is not the very last frontier. It is close, but not there yet.
Keep up the good work with Cigar Aficionado. I look forward to each issue.
Cave Creek, Arizona
I was wondering how Cigar Aficionado chooses the people who rate cigars. Also, I was wondering how the process works for the person judging, what characteristics do they judge, and basically how does it all get reported back in some definable way? I am sure this has been asked before, but I am curious.
Editor's note: Originally, the panel was chosen from among the existing cigar smokers at M. Shanken Communications Inc.,the company that publishes Cigar Aficionado; all but one was an editor on the magazine. As people have come and gone, we have trained new employees in the art and skill of tasting, in general, and in particular the tasting of cigars. The amount of time any new member spends in "Beta" testing—they rate cigars on their own, but the scores are not factored into the final tasting—varies between six and 12 months. We are constantly evaluating and comparing the taster's scores to be sure he is following the same criteria as we are.
U.S. Marines stationed at Fallujah, Iraq, have set aside time for a regular Cigar Night. Their General Support Company commanding officer, Maj. Brian Ballard, has begun this time for reflection—especially upon the week's more harrowing experiences. To his Marines after a week of near misses from enemy fire, he says, "I tell them, quite seriously, to take some time, a friend if so inclined, and go enjoy a good cigar and ponder how good life is. Take 45 minutes or so, get some perspective, then pick up your helmet and get back to it." The attached photo shows the sign at the entrance of their designated smoking shelter. As a veteran of Southeast Asia and Desert Storm, I know the value of receiving packages and hearing from fellow Americans while on such overseas assignments. Therefore, I encourage readers of Cigar Aficionado to send support—and maybe a few good cigars—care of: Major B. Ballard, BSSG-1, GS Company, UIC 42355, FPO AP 96426-2355.
James R. Snowden
Lieutenant Colonel, USAF (retired)
I want to thank you for the excellent magazine and Web site that you have. In my past life, I would read your magazine faithfully, reading the issue many times before passing it on to a friend. But like I said, that was in a past life.
Now I am a Peace Corps volunteer, assigned to a city called Cluj-Napoca, in Romania. Finding your magazine here is even harder then finding a good cigar...nearly impossible. Most of the cigars that I get are sent to me by friends and family from the States. But your online site is a fixture on my computer. Reading the articles helps bring me back to the days back in the States.
It is amazing being here of how much I miss the simple things that I took for granted back home. Sitting with friends enjoying a good cigar, or just sitting by myself reading your magazine.
I just wanted to say thanks...thanks for the little bit of sanity that your magazine brings me in my everyday world of insanity.
As always, Michael Kaplan is a superb poker writer. But he has neglected to mention Mike Sexton, who has done more than anyone else for poker's incredible surge of popularity in TV programming in the last couple years. Mike has long preached the concept of turning poker into a viewer-worthy equivalent of PGA golf. Judging by the hugely expanding presence of tournament poker on TV these days, he appears, finally, to have achieved some success.
Mike has put a lot of personal money into making such things happen in poker. A few years ago he played a big part in banking The Tournament of Champions of Poker in Las Vegas in an attempt to make poker a viewer-friendly sport. It never happened. Along with losing his shirt he also lost a good deal of the money he might have won as one of poker's ranking tournament players at the time. For instance, Mike won the prestigious European Finals Of Poker, held in Paris in 2000.
I have no knowledge of how much Mike may be banking the currently running "World Poker Tour." But he appears to be sticking to his earlier goal. And I'll bet he would be a frequent contender if he were allowed to play in the World Series.
William Alan Hafey
I love your magazine and can hardly wait until the next issue comes out after I have read the last one. But to my disgust I received the newest issue with Greg Raymer [the World Series of Poker champion] on the cover. Why, why, why would you do this before the final table is aired tonight, 9/14/04? I have been trying my hardest to not look this info up on the 'Net so that I could enjoy this great event on television. Now I get to watch my friends enjoy a cigar and not know who wins until the final hand. I have to sit and try not to give my information away. I am very displeased. Your caliber of magazine should have caught this mistake. I'm sure many other people's surprise was ruined, too.
Editor's note: Mr. McDonald, the thought never even occurred to us that there might be some suspense in this. The World Series of Poker took place in May, and Greg Raymer's victory was widely covered at the time. We're sorry that you didn't get to see the victory for the first time on ESPN. But both Pokerstars.com (one of Raymer's sponsors) and ESPN helped us put the cover together. They thought it was a good idea. And we thought it was good for poker in America. If more people watched the event because of our cover, that's good for the game.
I am an inmate at the federal correctional institution at Fort Dix, New Jersey. I was just getting into cigars prior to my incarceration, so I am very, very thankful for the opportunity to read about the many varied cigars out there just waiting for me to enjoy once again. I can imagine how the smoke of each cigar would dance across my palate, just from the descriptions published in each issue. I have been compiling a list of cigars I want to have at the ready for my return home, including a Diplomatico No. 2 and a Partagas Serie D No. 4.
Fort Dix, New Jersey