Next up was a stop at the Alec Bradley party. I had a glass of Johnny Walker Black and toasted Alan Rubin and his team, firing up an Alec Bradley Family Blend.
I finished the night with an incredible dinner at Commander’s Palace. I’ve had two meals at this temple of New Orleans cuisine, once on my first visit to New Orleans as a much younger man (some 14 years ago) and then on Monday night. Each time was incredibly memorable. We were greeted warmly by owners Ella and Dottie Brennan, and their dining companions Ambassador Lindy Boggs and Cokie Roberts. The meal included the finest fried oysters I’ve ever had, along with far too many rich New Orleans delights, including a dish of spicy gulf shrimp in a sauce of pepper jelly that I’m determined to try myself at home (even though I know I’ll never duplicate it to the level achieved at the restaurant.) The service was spectacular and unhurried, and we concluded in the restaurant’s spacious and covered patio with cigars and single-malt Scotch. “We’re one of few restaurants in the city that have covered seating outdoors,” said wine director Dan Davis.What a civilized, luxurious meal.
In true New Orleans style, I began Tuesday morning with a solid breakfast including grits, despite my trencherman’s meals the day before. I then started on the trade show floor and tried the Carlos Toraño Exodus 1959 50 Years cigar. This brand comes in three sizes, and I tried the squat torpedo, measuring 5 1/2 inches by 52 ring. Charlie Toraño smoked one with me. It has a Brazilian wrapper, and contains some of the Nicaraguan Pueblo Nuevo leaf I’ve enjoyed on the CAO Lx2. Smokers got a preview taste of the blend last year in the Salomon size. I found it earthy, with some licorice notes and a touch of raisins (think that’s the Pueblo Nuevo.)
Jon Huber and Tim Ozgener showed off the new CAO items. I had a preview of La Traviata weeks ago back in New York, but they showed the new CAO Gold Vintage, featuring a cool new perfecto shape, the Bouchon, a first for CAO, which measures 4 7/8 by 60 ring.
All show I had been operating with a snazzy new Lamborghini torch lighter from the folks at Colibri, who returned to the cigar business in a big way with this show, in a fine, bright booth full of new gear. I don’t know how big the tank on this lighter is, but it was still going strong after untold numbers of cigars that I lit. Impressive. I’m not sure how I’m going to get it back to the office, as I’m not checking bags, but we’ll see. Keep your fingers crossed.
I met with Chris Topper, from Topper Cigar Co., and he has a new handmade bargain smoke called Silverdale, from an old brand made by his father. It’s a mixed filler cigar with a sub $4 price point, good for this market. Chris is big on the Connecticut broadleaf wrapper, so this cigar naturally has broadleaf around it.
Eric Newman of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. showed me his newest cigars, including the Brick House brand. This is another old brand name, this one from the time of his grandfather, J.C. Newman, who grew up in a brick house in Hungary. The box art is classic old art, with a big brick house in the center. “I don’t know where the palm tree came from,” said Eric with a smile—don’t think they have many of those in Hungary. The smoke is all Nicaraugan, made at the San Rafael factory in Estelí. “Not everybody can afford a Diamond Crown,” Eric said. The cigar is $4.75 to $5.75, a real good price.
I grabbed lunch at a casual bar/restaurant near the convention center called Ernst. They serve fine po boys, and I tucked into one made with shrimp and a cold Abita Amber. You can also smoke there (I’m not sure how, but I didn’t ask) and I fired up the Brick House. It had some cocoa notes, a dry flavor and a touch of muddled notes on the finish, all in all a pretty good bargain cigar with some interesting flavors.
I made it back to the convention center just as a huge thunderstorm erupted, something that’s happened every afternoon since I had come to town. I was ready for a hearty smoke, so I headed toward Pepin Garcia and Pete Johnson. Somehow they had been placed in a real lousy spot on the show floor, deep in a corner, but people were finding them just fine. I started with Pete, who gave me the new L’esprit de Vérité Tatuaje A.O.C. 2008. That’s a heck of a name to type, especially at 2 a.m. local time, so I probably made a mistake, but the cigar rocks. Pete was describing it as huge thunderclaps boomed through the trade show. It’s big, bold, and full of flavor. The kicker is that it’s made all from one farm’s worth of cigar tobacco, which usually is a recipe for a bland, dull smoke. Not this one. It has flavor galore.
As much as I wanted to nub that cigar, I had to move on to Pepin’s newest, the My Father Le Bijou 1922, which I wrote about in July but only smoked for the first time today. I smoked the Petit Robusto and really enjoyed it. Full of body, very bright, very bold, it’s a damn good smoke with plenty of power and character. The wrapper is dark and gorgeous, grown by Oliva Tobacco Co. in Ecuador from a Habano seed. John Oliva Jr. was there at the booth, and I complimented him on the fine wrapper.
After the show concluded it was time to eat yet again. I was dining at the Ashton dinner at the Foundry, with food by Emeril Lagasse’s team. I sat at a great table hosted by Sathya and Meera Levin from Ashton, and we had a fine meal while I puffed on a new San Cristobal Selección del Sol Robusto (another Pepin smoke) made with a sun-grown wrapper from Nicaragua. They passed out more cigars, but I kept with the San Cristobal, nursing it farther and farther down. It had a gorgeous, dark wrapper, a roasted, cedary flavor, and an intensity and richness that I really enjoyed. It might be my favorite cigar of the show, and I didn’t want to put it down.
I’m getting ready to pack up and head back to the office. I didn’t have near enough time to smoke every cigar I’ve been given, but we’ll assemble all our notes and give you a full report on the new items of the trade show in upcoming issues of Cigar Insider. And there will be more on the site in the coming days.