Thursday, December 27, 2007

Australian Cigar Smokers Need Your Help

By Gary Korb

If you're an American cigar smoker, then you're all too familiar with the way state and local smoking bans across the country have been enacted into law like a tripped row of dominoes. Fortunately, we have the IPCPR, The Intl. Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (formerly RTDA), and the Cigar Association of America (CAA) to help fight our battle in Washington and in our respective states.

Subjected to similar intolerance Down Under, Australian cigar smokers have formed The Australian Cigar Association. The ACA, led by Mr. Timothy Oliver, is committed to help change local, state and federal laws in order to return the personal rights that cigar smokers enjoyed prior to July of this year.

The goals of the association include proposing that cigar smoking be allowed in cigar lounges, cigar bars, cigar stores and cigar divans at the local level. At the national level, like the case IPCRP and CAA have made here in the U.S., the ACA is determined to prove that cigars are quite different from cigarettes. As stated on the website's home page, "It is the same as comparing a bicycle to a 747 and saying they both provide transportation. The difference between a fine hand made cigar and a cigarette is the same as a bicycle and 747." Moreover, like many of us in the cigar business, they feel that cigars should not be taxed at the same level as cigarettes.

To help advance their cause, I recently received an email from Mr. Oliver, which I have reprinted here:

I have completed a cigar survey that we can use world wide. It is designed to help me in the fight against cigar smoking. What has happened in Australia is that the local governments had given their promise to certain cigar locations exemptions to the new total smoking ban. A couple of establishments spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet the exemptions. The local government then backed out of the deal. I want to prove to the local and federal governments that cigar smokers are a political entity that they wish to nurture, not to alienate. The information I collect from all over the world will be made available to any and all pro-cigar organizations. Please pass this site along to all cigar smokers and ask them to please fill out the information.
Thank you for your help and consideration,

- Timothy Oliver

I hope you'll heed Mr. Oliver's request by visiting the ACA website and complete their survey. After all, us BOTL's have to stick together, even if we're separated by several continents.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's A Wonderful Cigar

By Gary Korb

We have an annual tradition at our house on Christmas Eve. We all watch Frank Capra's immortal film classic, It's A Wonderful Life. Tired of watching it on network television with commercial interruption, I finally bought my own copy on DVD. I have seen this movie more than any other movie. In fact, I can recite practically half the screenplay, and usually beat the actors to their lines when we're watching it, which my kids get a big kick out of. Watching the movie this year, I noticed just how often cigars appear in the movie.

Of course, there's the scene early on when a young George Bailey shows up for work at the Gower's Drug Store and pulls the handle on the cigar cutter as he utters the line, "I wish I had a million dollars." Shortly after, Mr. Gower appears, disheveled, chomping on a thick, chewed-up cigar. Several scenes later, George is ordered by Mr. Gower to deliver some pills George knows have been filled with poison. Just before leaving the store he stares at a cigar sign for Sweet Caporal Cigars emblazoned with the words: "ASK DAD, HE KNOWS."

Several other characters are seen throughout the film smoking cigars. In a scene where George is at the Bailey Building & Loan company, having finally settled the company's affairs since his father's death, one of the men at the board table is seen smoking a cigar.

At the end of the scene where newlywed George has given away all of his wedding cash to the Building & Loan customers to prevent losing the family business to Mr. Potter, George comes out of the safe door to find Cousin Eustace, handing out "wedding cigars."

Then there's the infamous scene where the old, Scrooge-like Mr. Potter sits George down to offer him a job at a whopping $20,000 a year, offers him a cigar, and even lights it for him. As the script reads:

GEORGE: Thank you, sir. Quite a cigar, Mr. Potter.

POTTER: You like it? I'll send you a box.

They're most likely Cuban cigars, too.

More cigars can be found in various scenes throughout the picture, like in Martini's Bar, for instance.

I don't know if the film's director, Frank Capra, smoked cigars, but what I love most about It's A Wonderful Life is, it's a big delicious slice of American life that you just don't see anymore.

So, in closing, I raise my cigar in a toast to the late Mr. Capra. May joy, prosperity, and your wonderful movie reign forever.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Smoke Before Christmas

By Gary Korb

I thought a little Christmas Eve cigar poetry would be in order today. Have yourself a very Merry Christmas, and may Santa bring you all the cigars you wished for. Enjoy!- G.K.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the casa
It was reeking with smoke from my Don Lino Africa;
My humidor was placed by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of CAO's danced in my head;
And Mom in her 'kerchief, and I in my robe,
Had just settled down for a long winter's smoke;

When out on the lawn dropped a Honduran bundle,
I sprang from my chair and started to stumble.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and reached for the stash;

Moonlight on the wrappers of fresh-rolled cigars
Gave them a luster like thousands of stars;
When, what to my wondering eyes was appearing,
But one dozen boxes of MAXX, how endearing!

With my sharp cigar cutter, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment I'd light-up a stick.
More rapid than eagles the cigars they all came,
I whistled and shouted, and called them by name;

Perdomos! Bahias! Even luscious Dominicans!
Like Fuente! Fonseca! And Avo! And Griffins!
To the top of the porch to the top of the wall!
I was smoking so fast, I had just smoked them all!

As long leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
My only obstacle, was keeping them dry,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With a sleigh full of ACID and 601's too;

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I sniffed I smelled smoke, and from what I could tell,
Down the chimney he came with a Rocky Patel;

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all covered with ashes and soot;
With a bundle of Dominique flung on his back,
He looked like a smoker and opened his pack;

The cigars - how they twinkled! Their wrappers how smooth!
Plasencia Organicas, with nary a tooth!
His droll little mouth was red as a rash,
And the beard of his chin was as white as an ash;

With the stump of a Graycliff held tight in his teeth,
The smoke encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and took out a cutter,
Then clipped his cigar like a pro, smooth as butter;

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I watched as he placed a Padron on the shelf;
With a wink of his eye and a nod of his head,
That's when I knew I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled up my humidor, then turned with a jerk,
As I placed in his fingers some aged Romeos
In a huge gust of smoke, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, and whistled with glee
While he puffed with delight on an Oliva V
Then I heard him exclaim, as he took one last toke,
"HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD SMOKE!"

© 2007 Famous-Smoke Shop-PA, Inc.
This content may be shared freely provided the copyright line and hyperlink above remain intact.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Cigar Blend Tasting in Danli and Esteli

By Gary Korb

Last month I had the rare opportunity to visit several cigar factories in Danli, Honduras and Esteli, Nicaragua. Most of my time spent in Danli was at the Plasencia factory, but each day on the road to their facility I also spotted the Carlos Toraño's factory, the Puros Indios factory, and the factory where General Cigar makes many of their Honduran brands. I would have liked to stop in to those factories as well, but the agenda was mainly limited to tasting some new Plasencia-made blends that will be coming soon to Famous Smoke Shop. I should add here that our hosts, Conrado Plasencia, who manages the Danli factory, and Nestor Plasencia Jr., were incredibly gracious. Although I've already thanked them privately, they also deserve a public acknowledgement.

Because space does not permit me to give you all the details of my trip, I thought the blend tasting would be a good place to start, with more adventures in the weeks to come, including over four hours of video I have to edit.

Blend tasting is a fascinating process. In Danli, we were taken to a large table situated at the back of the rolling room. So while you're smoking, you're also watching and listening to the rollers working away. The experience is akin to being inside an active beehive. A wooden tray is brought out with dozens of cigars, each designated by a number that is matched to a specific blend. Sometimes the number is written on a piece of masking tape adhered to a section of the tray, or it's written on a plain white band that's placed on the cigar. The rest is simple. Choose a cigar that looks tempting, light-up, start puffing, and write down your notes on a scratch pad.

At the Plasencia factory in Esteli, the process was pretty much the same, except the tasting was done in the Plasencia's spacious conference room. For this tasting, we not only sampled completed cigars, but we also sampled "cigars" rolled from a single leaf; for example, a Viso leaf grown in Esteli. These one-leaf cigars were rolled by Evilio Oviedo, Plasencia's master blender. (You can watch him in the video I took during the tasting session by clicking on the photo above.) This fascinating experience allowed us to gain a master blender's perspective of how tobacco leaves are selected to attain a certain flavor and strength during the cigar blending process.

The tasting session is usually accompanied by cafecito, or "Cuban coffee" served in little espresso cups. I don't know what it is about the coffee in Honduras and Nicaragua, but whatever they do to brew it, it's wonderful. I usually take cream & sugar in my coffee, but the coffee is so smooth and flavorful, I didn't need to add anything to it. It's like "the coffee from another planet." But I digress. When sampling the cigars, you don't necessarily smoke the entire cigar. Basically, you just want to get a good idea of the cigar's flavor profile, and reflect what you tasted in your notes. Of course, the better it tastes, naturally, you just keep on going. But usually about a third to halfway up the cigar will get you there.

Now to many an ardent cigar smoker, this probably sounds like the best job on earth, and in many ways it is. The thing is, after five or six cigars your palate starts to get a bit overcooked, and at least in my case, the cigars would eventually begin to taste sour or bitter. Even Hal, our General Manager, who has been through this process dozens of times, would eventually just kick back in his chair and say, "That's it for me."

The next day at the Oliva's factory in Esteli, Gilberto Oliva confirmed that this also happens to him on occasion. (I paraphrase): "If a cigar tastes bitter to me, I'll hand it one of my managers, let him try it, and usually, he'll say, 'It's fine.'"

But even when your palate is on overload, most of the time you can still tell the good from the bad.

Palate issues aside, I think we came up with a couple of winners. Actually, one of the new blends we sampled will be debuting in the Famous Smoke Shop catalog and on the website in the next couple of months. The most I can say at this point is that it's a line extension, and I think (hope) you'll find it as impressive as I did.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Iran in Nicaragua. Could it spell woes for cigar makers?

Having recently returned from a visit to Esteli, Nicaragua, a headline on the Fox News channel this morning caught my attention. It was about how Iran is "pushing" into Nicaragua with backing from - guess who? - good ol' Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

Recently, Iran opened a diplomatic mission in Managua, Nicaragua's capital. This has U.S. State Department officials concerned about Iran's presence in Nicaragua, particularly with regard to Iran's ties to Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guard, who are already operating in Latin America, and who may allegedly be tied to certain homicide bombings in Argentina.

So let me call your attention to the source of the headline. It comes from a story by Todd Bensman in The San Antonio Express-News titled, Iran making push into Nicaragua.

In his highly comprehensive report, Mr. Bensman writes: ...a new partnership with Nicaragua's Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, Iran and its Venezuelan allies plan to help finance a $350 million deep-water port at Monkey Point on the wild Caribbean shore, and then plow a connecting "dry canal" corridor of pipelines, rails and highways across the country to the populous Pacific Ocean.

I see this as a red flag, but not only to the U.S. What also worries me is how this "partnership" could eventually affect the production and cost of handmade premium cigars in Nicaragua and other tobacco-producing nations in Central and South America. Today Nicaragua. Tomorrow Honduras?

- G.K.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: 601 Blue Maduro Robusto

By Gary Korb

I know it's been while since I've posted "My Weekend cigar," but the weather here in Eastern PA hasn't been very cooperative of late. However, this past Saturday (12/15) I attended a 601 Cigars tasting event at Famous Smoke Shop in Easton, PA. Eddie Ortega and Patrick Vivalo of United Tobacco were there to do the honors, and the store was crawling with smokers who wanted to get their mitts on these exquisite, Don Pepin Garcia-made cigars.

Until this weekend, I only had one all too brief experience with the 601 cigars. It was a 601 Red that I sampled on the last day of the RTDA show in Houston this past summer. I remember it tasting good, but unfortunately I never had the chance to finish it.

On this occasion Patrick handed me a 601 Blue Maduro Robusto, a very attractive-looking cigar in a 5½" x 52 box-pressed shape. This cigar, which is blended with diverse Nicaraguan fillers and a Nicaraguan Habano Maduro wrapper, was solidly packed and looked good enough to eat. The pre-lit flavor was not as spicy as I was expecting, and once lit, the cigar drew perfectly with a deep, earthy and naturally sweet flavor. The smoke was smooth, thick and creamy with a heavy aroma; a sharp contrast to the cigar's medium to full-bodied character.

As the cigar burned toward the halfway mark, it didn't get stronger or bitter, it got better. The flavors began to caramelize into a more complex smoke, maintaining it's heartiness, yet never became overpowering. I continually found myself holding the smoke holding the smoke in my mouth as long as possible just to make sure I got every nuance of flavor before passing it out through my nose. If it's consistency you like in a full-flavored cigar, the 601 Blue Maduro Robusto's got it. I checked with some of the others around me who were also smoking the 601 Blue, and we were all pretty much in agreement.

In conclusion, this was one of the best cigars I've smoked all year. It had just the right amount of everything, and I smoked it down to ¾ of an inch - no joke. What's funny is, it was like when you meet a really great girl and hit it off right away; I couldn't stop thinking about this cigar all weekend. Congrats to Eddie Ortega and Don Pepin on this really beautiful "finger burner."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cigar Smoking in London. Where, please?

By Gary Korb

This morning I found the following email waiting for me:

We are going to London at the end of this month. I keep hearing about a smoking ban (with a few exceptions). As a three-a-dayer, I was planning on taking thirty Famous cigars with me. Am I wasting my time (and cigars)? Could you give me a general idea of the ban? It's hard enough to keep track of the bans here. Thanks. – Bill M.

Having never been to London (don't get around much anymore), I wasn't able to give Bill an answer based on my personal experience. We have posted several articles about the effects of the UK Smoking ban on CigarAdvisor.com, but not all that much on the ban itself. So I did a little research and came up with a few odds & ends that I thought would at least help put the situation into perspective.

According to a BBC News article published prior to July 2007, when the ban went into effect: "The ban covers virtually all enclosed public places including offices, factories, pubs and bars, but not outdoors or in private homes." The rest of the article was just mush about how much better life will be once the ban goes into effect, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I also found a recent blog by Cigar Aficionado editor, Gordon Mott, titled "Thoughts on the U.K." in which he talks about a friend's cigar smoking experience in London.

Frankly, I wish I knew more about the London smoking ban, but from what I could gather, the law seems pretty straight-forward. Moreover, from what I've read about enforcement of the ban, the Brits have torqued the screws down tight, but many pubs, particularly in the suburbs, are fighting back.

Merely as a presumption, I suggested to Bill that some London hotels may have designated smoking floors/rooms as they do here in The States, so he should check with his hotel first, but not to hold his breath. If the hotel has a good concierge, he or she should know where he could enjoy his cigars in peace.

Googling "London Cigar Bars" came up with a link at aficionado.org.uk that displays a list of cigar bars, hotels, and clubs. But the page warned that due to the new ban, they couldn't guarantee you'd still be able to smoke a cigar in any number of the spots on the list. The search term also came up with many direct links to the cigar bars, et. al., themselves, which might be more up-to-date.

Finally, I told Bill to bring his cigars anyway. My theory is, you never know where or when you'll find the opportunity to light-up, so you might as well be prepared. I also added he bring along some extra cash in case he found a cigar store, and might be obligated to purchase a stick in order to smoke, as Mr. Mott indicated in his blog. With the Euro being what it is, I added not to pick anything too "rare" unless he thought it was really worth it.

So now I'm reaching out to you. If anyone reading this has been to London recently and can shed any light on this subject, please leave a comment – and thanks.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Time to toot my own cigar sampler

By Gary Korb

I don't usually do the self-promotion thing, but in this case I figured, what the heck, so here goes...

A few days ago I posted a press release about the weekly Holiday Specials Famous Smoke Shop is featuring this month. One of the items up for grabs is a cigar sampler that I put together, simply titled "Gary's Top-10 Faves '07" sampler. It's a great collection at the sale price of $29.95 (reg. $49.99). The sampler includes one each of the following cigars:

MAXX "The Fix"
Aurora 1495 Robusto
Avo Maduro Robusto
CAO Cameroon Robusto
Oliva Serie O Robusto
Olor Fuerte Robusto
Perdomo Lot 23 Maduro Robusto
Plasencia Reserva Organica Robusto
Rocky Patel Honduran Classic Torpedo
Carlos Toraño Signature Robusto Maduro

It's not easy making these "Top-10" collections. Working with our Buyer, I have to use cigars that are available in quantity, and I try to include at least one cigar from the major manufacturers. Some of the cigars I wanted to include we just didn't have enough of, so it's a compromise, but I think we came up with a good mix in the end. There's something for every taste preference in there. Moreover, I wanted to keep the price reasonable. Believe me, I could easily make up at least another ten "Top-10" samplers, but I'll take what I can get.

So if you're looking to try some of these fine cigars, or looking for a great gift idea, please be my guest and check it out - and thanks.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Hiss! Boo! Somebody bounce that anti-smoking guy out of here!

I picked-up this neat little item today in Gary Menelski's Cigars Blog at Cigars.About.com. Titled "Cigar Spies Walk Among Us," Mr. Manelski references a recent New York Times article, "At a Cigar Show, an Air-Quality Scientist Under Deep, Smoky Cover," about Ryan David Kennedy, an anti-smoking advocate and grad student from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, who "snuck" into The Big Smoke - New York 2007, not to smoke, but to measure the air quality at the event.

At the very least, it's an interesting read. At most, having attended The Big Smoke - New York 2006 (see my CigarAdvisor.com article from last year), Mr. Kennedy's data merely confirms the obvious within the context of the circumstances. True, the cigar smoke does get a bit excessive inside the Marriott Marquis ballroom, but to a dedicated cigar smoker it's a walk in the rose garden.

Suffice it to say, I hope the Cigar Aficionado staff will be more diligent in weeding out such scallywags from now on. ;-)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Searching for great cigar gift ideas? Famous-Smoke.com has 'em, and more

By Gary Korb

Famous-Smoke.com has kicked-off the second phase of their online Holiday sales starting with their Holiday Gift Guide. Now appearing on their home page, Famous is offering dozens of money-saving cigar and accessory deals throughout the month of December designed for every budget. Every week Famous will feature three new cigar samplers ranging from 4 to 20 cigars, some of which also come with cigar humidors and other cigar accessories.

In addition to the Holiday Gift Guide, Famous-Smoke.com is also offering online cigar shoppers the opportunity to create their own "customized" cigar samplers for themselves, or as economical Holiday gifts. The "Create-A-Sampler" program, which normally offers one free cigar with every five single cigars purchased, has been reduced to "Buy 4 and One's Free." Shoppers can select from a long list of major brand premium cigars and stock up on their favorite cigars at a significant savings. For every 4 cigars they choose, the cigar of equal or lesser value will be "on the house."

For Famous Smoke Shop customers who can't decide on what to choose, or for "significant others" who would rather let their man (or woman) pick their own cigars, Famous Smoke Shop also offers Gift Certificates.

Phone orders can be placed via Famous Smoke Shop's award-winning customer Service Department by calling 1-800-564-2486.

Finally, for cigar smokers who live in the Lehigh Valley of Western New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store, located at 1100 Conroy Place in Easton, PA, will be offering in-store Holiday cigar specials, many of which include free cigars, accessories, and cigar brand merchandise such as hats, shirts, and other items. For more information on in-store specials, customers can call 610-691-8800 or log on to the Famous Retail Store web page.

Monday, November 5, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: Oliva Serie G Maduro Perfecto

By Gary Korb

Having been sick almost all of last week, I was looking forward to this past weekend for two reasons. First, I was able to smoke a cigar again. Secondly, I was excited about being able to light my new outdoor fireplace. Nothing fancy. Just a small, square, cast-iron base enclosed by four mesh screens. Since the weather here has dipped considerably during the past week, my timing was perfect. I stacked up a few small logs on some kindling and voila! - a warm, happy little fire ensued.

As is often the case, I was joined by my good neighbor, Richard from up the street. Today he was treating me to a cigar. He had won a 5 pack of Oliva Serie G Maduro Perfectos on CigarAuctioneer.com two weeks ago and brought one along. I'm a big fan of the Oliva Serie G Cameroon. I've only had a few Serie G in the Maduro, so it was a nice change of pace. Ironically, Richard brought a G Cameroon in the 4½" x 50 Robusto for himself.

The Oliva Serie G Maduro Perfecto is a 5½" x 54 square-pressed cigar that sort of resembles a chocolate kazoo. Yes, definitely one of the more interesting cigar shapes out there. The color was completely even in tone. The cigar was also well-packed, and the foot, which is a bit wider than most typical perfectos, lit evenly and burned true for the entire journey.

This is not a particularly complex cigar. The smoke was smooth, medium in body, and predominately woody in flavor with a clean finish. The natural sweetness of the maduro comes through from the get-go, too. As the cigar burned toward its plump, rectangular center it took on an earthier and spicier flavor, while maintaining a smooth, rich-tasting smoke. Finding it to be extremely consistent in flavor, and impressively resilient to the nippy afternoon wind, I smoked it down to about an inch.

By the time I let go of the cigar, my fireplace had waned to a little pile of crimson and gray matter for a perfectly-timed ending to an enjoyable late-day smoke.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Oops, they're doing it again!

Today I received the following "Take Action" alert from the IPCPR asking everyone in the premium cigar industry, and all premium cigar consumers, to call their respective representatives and urge them to oppose the revised version of the SCHIP expansion plan:

Following votes in both the House of Representatives and Senate, both chambers approved the second version of SCHIP expansion, funded solely by tobacco excise tax increases, specifically the excessive cigar excise tax increase. However, final votes demonstrate that President Bush's veto will withstand a veto override vote.

The pressure will be on those Congressmen and Senators who have voted against the SCHIP bill, HR3693, to vote in favor of the veto override. Take this opportunity to contact your congressmen and congresswomen and urge them to consider an alternative compromise to the current, draconian cigar tax!

You know what to do, and thank you in advance. We did it before and we can do it again. – G.K.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ron Paul's Sensible Case for Free Trade with Cuba

My reason for posting the following editorial by presidential hopeful, Rep. Ron Paul, which I found at FreeMarketNews.com is not an endorsement for the Congressman's presidential candidacy. Politically, I'm strictly independent and would rather leave such matters to the scribes in the political blogosphere. I'm posting it because he makes a sensible case, and as a cigar smoker, the future of being able to purchase Cuban cigars in the U.S. depends very much on the future of Cuba. With that, I now yield the floor to the gentleman from the state of Texas... - G.K.

Struggling for Relevance in Cuba: Close, Still No Cigars
By Ron Paul (Republican Congressman from Texas)
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Since Raul Castro seems to be transitioning to a more permanent position of power, the administration has begun talking about Cuba policy again. One would think we would be able to survey the results of the last 45 years and come to logical conclusions. Changing course never seems to be an option, however, no matter how futile or counterproductive our past actions have been.

The Cuban embargo began officially in 1962 as a means to put pressure on the communist dictatorship to change its ways. After 45 years, the Cuban economy has struggled, but Cuba 's dictatorship is no closer to stepping to the beat of our drum. Any ailments have consistently and successfully been blamed on US Capitalism instead of Cuban Communism. They have substituted trade with others for trade with the US, and are "awash" with development funds from abroad. Our isolationist policies with regards to Cuba, meanwhile, have hardly won the hearts and minds of Cubans or Cuban-Americans, many of whom are isolated from families because of this political animosity.

In the name of helping Cubans, the US administration is calling for "multibillions" of taxpayer dollars in foreign aid and subsidies for internet access, education and business development for Cubans under the condition that the Cuban government demonstrates certain changes. In the same breath, they claim lifting the embargo would only help the dictatorship. This is exactly backwards. Free trade is the best thing for people in both Cuba and the US. Government subsidies would enrich those in power in Cuba at the expense of already overtaxed Americans!
The irony of supposed Capitalist, free-marketeers inducing Communists to freedom with government hand-outs should not be missed. We call for a free and private press in Cuba while our attempts to propagandize Cubans through the US government-run Radio/TV Marti has wasted $600 million in American taxpayer dollars.

It's time to stop talking solely in terms of what's best for the Cuban people. How about the wishes of the American people, who are consistently in favor of diplomacy with Cuba? Let's stop the hysterics about the freedom of Cubans – which is not our government's responsibility – and consider freedom of the American people, which is. Americans want the freedom to travel and trade with their Cuban neighbors, as they are free to travel and trade with Vietnam and China. Those Americans who do not wish to interact with a country whose model of governance they oppose are free to boycott. The point being - it is Americans who live in a free country, and as free people we should choose who to buy from or where to travel, not our government.

Our current administration is perceived as irrelevant, at best, in Cuba and the message is falling on deaf ears there. If the administration really wanted to extend the hand of friendship, they would allow the American people the freedom to act as their own ambassadors through trade and travel. Considering the lack of success government has had in engendering friendship with Cuba, it is time for government to get out of the way and let the people reach out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"I'll have my cigar lightly toasted, thank you"

By Gary Korb

I recently attended an in-store cigar tasting event, during which I was comparing notes with the label's sales rep. At one point, he took out a freshly clipped cigar and I offered him my lighter, which to my surprise, he politely refused.

"Thanks, but I don't like using a torch lighter to toast my cigar," he said, and without skipping a beat, revealed a chrome lighter with a standard butane flame. "They tend to scorch the foot of the cigar, giving it a bitter taste," he added, while proceeding to toast his cigar in a more humane fashion.

That got me thinking. I swear by my torch lighter. I wouldn't use anything else to light my cigar, short of finding myself in a situation where I ran out of fuel, or had lapsed and just plain forgot the thing.

Since that fateful day, I became much more aware of how fast and dark the foot blackened when I put the torch to it. Maybe the guy had a point. Did some of those $10 cigars taste harsh because they were odd balls, or did I unintentionally sear them to bitterness? But Bic Clics, and Djeeps, et. al. take so long to toast up a cigar, you almost can't avoid burning your fingers. Plus, try using a Clic in a breeze.

Logic prevails. I hold the torch lighter a little farther away from the foot of the cigar when toasting it. This way only the fairest of blue light comes within reach of the cigar. Remember your Cigars 101: The flame should never touch the cigar.

So as irony would have it, I'm toasting up a Gurkha while writing this post, and the needle on my triple-flame torch lighter leaps to 'E,' but not before I get a nice light toasting across the foot. I complete the procedure by employing a long cedar wood match.

Perfect.

Monday, October 22, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: Perdomo Edición de Silvio No.2 Torpedo

By Gary Korb

This Perdomo Edición de Silvio® No2. Torpedo (6 1/8" x 54) was one of those cigars that I had in my humidor for a long time and kept putting off to smoke. Why? Who knows? Maybe I was waiting for some special occasion to smoke this cigar, which costs around $475 for a box of 20. OK, I did celebrate a birthday over the weekend, so I suppose that was as good a reason as any to smoke it.

These very limited edition Perdomo cigars are made in three wrappers: U.S. Connecticut, African Cameroon, and Broadleaf Maduro all finished with triple caps. My No.2 had the Cameroon wrapper. According to the Perdomo Cigars website, the Edición de Silvio is "comprised of a masterful blend of exquisite tobaccos, the origin of which are a fiercely guarded secret known only to the Perdomo family." And "only five of the factory's most elite torcedors are permitted to handcraft the commemorative cigars."

Sounds pretty special, huh? Actually, it was one of the most intriguing cigars I've ever had. The cigar drew well and burned perfectly with a firm, white-gray ash. The smoke was robust with a distinct spiciness on the finish, and incredibly smooth. I have to admit that it's hard to assign any specific flavors to the cigar other than to say it was predominately woody with dark, earthy tobacco undertones and a jumble of other little nuances on a long finish. I smoked the cigar with a beer, but as enjoyable as it was, I think I would have gotten more out of it had I paired it with a vintage Port, my usual choice with a cigar of this caliber. I think the fizziness and sharp taste of the ale may have restrained some of this cigar's other complexities.

Fortunately, I've got one in another size, so I'll have to see next go-round. But even at $23.75 a cigar, the Perdomo Edición de Silvio No.2 Torpedo is one of life's little masterpieces worth treating yourself to.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Saved by Veto

By Gary Korb

OK, we got lucky this time around. The House was unable to override the SCHIP bill veto, hence, no increase in the cigar tax - for now. But let's not start dancing in the streets just yet. Basically what we cigar smokers have gotten is an extension; probation, in another sense. It's good for the cigar industry's bottom line, but a cigar tax increase will come back to haunt us, if we don't keep reminding our representatives that it makes no sense to over tax premium cigars. (If you want to know the reasons why, see Nick Perdomo's letter posted on 10/8 at www.CigarAdvisor.com.)

Moving forward, it's now time to say thank you. If you were among those who helped fight the good fight, then this congratulatory message from the RTDA (now the IPCPR) is for you.

"We wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your perseverance, tenacity, vigilance, and persistence in contacting your U.S. congressmen and congresswomen, and your senators through phone calls, emails, faxes, and personal visits to their district and Capital Hill offices. Without your support and direct action we simply would not have made the noise we did in Congress, gaining the attention of influential members that now understand our niche community-industry cannot absorb a massive tax increase and continue to exist.

This is only the first round in what will most likely be a continuing battle for the next several months. As SCHIP expansion and extension of the current program will be sought by congressional democrats. We have already begun communicating and working with congressional leaders and their states, taking the position that if a tax increase in cigars must exist, that a realistic, manageable increase must be a part of the overall proposal.

A special thank you goes out to the manufacturers within our industry for their efforts throughout the United States and Latin America in mobilizing support against this tax increase. Through their coordinated efforts between the Latin American governments, and their counterparts in the United States, they illustrated and successfully conveyed the ramifications of this tax increase on the Latin American citizens and artisans who rely on the handmade cigar industry for a viable, living income. Key legislators now understand it is more than just a pleasure for consumers, but a way of life for those artisans who produced handmade cigars. Because of the handmade cigar industry, many of these citizens would not have reasonable access to medical and dental care, education, and other social services provided by manufacturers based in these small countries.

Thank you again for your efforts and direct action, for if we are to succeed, we must all hang together, or we will hang separately."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cigar Smokers Unite: 48 hours to override SCHIP!

Sorry to sound like a broken record folks, but if you haven't already done so, it is now more critical than ever to call your congressmen and help ensure that Congress does not override President Bush's veto on SCHIP.

According to a memo I received from IPCPR (form. RTDA), The House of Representatives' vote on the presidential veto of the SCHIP bill is scheduled for Thursday, October 18. Call your congressman's district office to voice your opposition to the current SCHIP funding renewal bill.

It is more effective to call the district office than the Washington, D.C. office. You will talk with a live person almost immediately in the district office who will take your message. Phone calls are tallied and forwarded to your congressman daily.

Do not wait. Click here and call today! The Action Alert will provide talking points for that quick phone call based on your congressman's vote.

Thank you,
G.K.

Monday, October 15, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: Rocky Patel Vintage 1999 Robusto

By Gary Korb

As I sat down to write today, I was tempted to call this week's article "Her Weekend Cigar." The cigar I smoked this weekend is actually less interesting than the company with whom I smoked it. I usually smoke out on the deck alone, or with my friend Richard from up the street, but yesterday afternoon I was joined by a lady cigar smoker. No, I'm not cheating on my wife. As a matter of fact, she was there, too.

As it turns out, the woman in question (another good neighbor, whom I'll refer to as "Mrs. F."), was over the house visiting my wife who's been helping her redecorate her home. As I prepared to repair to the deck with my cigar, etc., Mrs. F. caught eye of it and asked if she could join me.

"Sure!" I said. "Would you like anything in particular?"

"Surprise me," she said. So, the male chauvinist in me - assuming she would most likely prefer something on the mild side - offered her a Carlos Toraño Casa Toraño Robusto. Being in the mood for something mild, myself, I selected a Rocky Patel Vintage 1999 Robusto. It's a really nice, creamy-smoking cigar with the same filler/binder blend as the Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 and 1992, but with a gorgeous '99-vintage Connecticut wrapper that mellows the cigar out, while adding a dash of natural sweetness to the mix. As much as I like this cigar, I prefer the Vintage 1992, but as a change of pace, the 1999 is a mighty mellow fellow.

Prior to heading out to the deck I mixed up some martinis made with Absolut Vanilla vodka, Curacao, and pineapple-orange juice. The result was a green tinted drink which Mrs. F. dubbed a "Green Venus," since I had no idea what to call it.

Once we got the cigars going I learned that Mrs. F. was quite the cigar aficionado. She told me she stops into the local cigar store down the street on a regular basis, and that at first the guys in the store assumed she was coming in to shop for her husband. (Lesson #1: Be careful of presuppositions when a woman walks into a cigar store.) It seems I'd guessed correctly, though. Mrs. F. prefers mild to medium-bodied cigars, and she was really enjoying the Casa Toraño. She emphatically added that she does not like flavored cigars. And it also turns out that Mr. F. enjoys a good cigar, too, so now I've got two more neighbors to call for a smoke.

There we were, relaxing with our cigars and who shows up but Richard from up the street armed with a glass of cognac and an Oliva Serie G Robusto Maduro. Ah yes, a sunny and cool October afternoon enjoying good cigars in mixed company. Does it get any better than this?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Retro-Smoke: La Flor Dominicana Factory Press II

By Gary Korb

I don't know how "retro" this cigar is since the La Flor Dominicana Factory Press II was only released last year, but it's been sitting in my humidor for almost as long and has got to be one of the best cigars I've had the pleasure of smoking in quite awhile. Actually, I've been a fan of La Flor Dominicana cigars since I got into cigar smoking many moons ago. Their quality, flavor and consistency has always been truly outstanding, but I rarely buy them. The problem for me is they're too darned overpriced. Of course, there are always exceptions...

The La Flor Dominicana Factory Press II is a Limited Edition cigar that's crafted to a 6¼" x 54 length, then flat-pressed to what I surmised as closer to 64 ring - almost a full inch across. The blend consists of vintage Dominican filler and binder cloaked in a stunning Nicaraguan wrapper that glistens like black onyx. It really looks like a candy bar! Moreover, by the look of it, I thought it was going to be quite hearty. And the flavor…incredibly yummy.

I smoked it a couple of days ago out on the deck with a good book paired with my favorite non-alcoholic concoction of tonic water & lime juice. The cigar lit well and drew exquisitely. The smoke itself was creamy-smooth, medium in body and teased my palate with a delectable mix of espresso, cocoa, almonds, and sweet tobacco flavors. By the end of the first third, I was beginning to think this truly was a candy bar. The ash was quite firm and the 6+ inch length provided a long smoke that I didn't want to end.

My advice. If you can find one, get one. This is one of those "rare treat" cigars that really is worth the extra money.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Why Bill O'Reilly is wrong about Bruce Springsteen

By Gary Korb

I confess! I'm a regular viewer of The O'Reilly Factor. It's not because I'm an O'Reilly "Kool-Aid drinker," as he might say. Nor am I a Republican or a Neo-Con. I watch it primarily because Mr. O'Reilly has a good mix of regular weekly analysts like Bernie Goldstein, Dennis Miller, Geraldo Rivera, and my favorite conservative hottie, Michelle Malkin. Although I tend to see eye-to-eye with Bill on many issues, it seems that lately the more I watch "The Factor," the more I seem to disagree with him. What gnaws at me is his obsession with certain topics. Case in point: Liberal-minded (so-called) celebrities.

Last night, Bill had on Kinky Friedman (holding one of his big cigars in plain view of the camera - go Kinky!) to respond to Bill's accusations that Springsteen, who was featured this past Sunday night in a 60 Minutes interview, was ill-informed with regard to his views on the Bush administration's handling of homeland security and the war in Iraq. O'Reilly even went so far as to saying Bruce was "using his music and his talent to try and persuade people that his view of the world is right, and that can be dangerous in the war on terror." Later on in the interview he refers to The Boss "a pinhead." Hey, I thought this was the "NO-spin zone."

It was obvious that Kinky is Springsteen fan, if even from a distance, and by Kinky's reactions (watch the video, "Kinky Friedman on Bruce Springsteen" in the Fox News Video box) I think O'Reilly made Mr. Friedman somewhat uncomfortable, maybe even a little intimated. When the pontificating O'Reilly finally gave him a chance to speak Kinky did have some good comebacks, At one point in the segment, referring to the inspiration fans get from stars like Springsteen, et. al., Kinky said, "Have you ever met one politician who's inspired you." Later Kinky added, "Musicians can run this place better than politicians," which O'Reilly arrogantly shrugged-off. (As a musician, I agree with Kinky.)

Having been a long-time follower of Mr. Springsteen's oeuvre, I don't think Bruce wants to willfully influence anybody. His words and music speak for themselves and are open to interpretation, just like the music of artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, which Kinky clearly pointed out.

Bill, get off your high horse and leave the actors and musicians alone. Sure, they have some influence on young people, many of whom are of voting age (Bill's main concern on this issue).
To be fair, if you make a statement with regard to the Iraq war or the way the administration is handling things, you should be able to back it up.

That said, with regard to most Springsteen fans - many of whom are closer to Bruce in age, and like him, have families (myself included) - I believe they are quite capable of making up their own minds on the issues, and more interested in just listening to some good music.

My Weekend Cigar: Santa Rosa Toro

By Gary Korb

One of the best things about being in the premium cigar business is you get to try most of the new cigars before they hit the stands. Such was the case this past weekend when I got an unexpected glimpse at the newly blended and repackaged Santa Rosa cigar selection. Gone is the old familiar black label with the rose in the middle. Instead, the folks at Altadis U.S.A. glammed it up with a more upscale-looking gold and yellow-embossed band circumscribed by tiny roses.

Santa Rosa has always been a very good, value-priced Honduran cigar, yet somewhat underrated, because it's one of those cigars that's better-known to those who've discovered it more by word-of-mouth than by marketing.

The new Santa Rosa cigars, which I was assured will be arriving in stores shortly, are still made in Honduras (now at La Flor de Copan) with a richer tasting blend consisting of Honduran and Nicaraguan longfiller, Honduran binder, and an Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper. The wrapper on my Toro sample was very attractive (complemented nicely by the new band), well-rolled, and the cigar itself was packed firmly. The pre-lit draw was just right; the cigar toasted up nice and evenly, and burned well, too.

The first few draws were surprisingly spicy (not your father's Santa Rosa) but given a quarter of an inch or so, the cigar rounded out to a well-balanced, mild to medium-bodied smoke dominated by a toasty-nutty flavor with just an undercurrent of spiciness - and it remained consistent from that point on, too.

For those of you who've been missing their old Santa Rosas, or never smoked the former blend, I think you're going to be very impressed with the new model. They're even keeping the price reasonable, averaging from $3.60 - $4.20 SRP in six sizes, plus a 6" x 48 Tubo at $4.50.

Good job. See 'ya soon!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Support President Bush's Veto Now

As the inimitable Yogi Berra once quipped, "it ain't over 'til it's over." Thankfully, President Bush has vetoed Congress' proposed SCHIP funding legislation, House Resolution (HR) 976, which would have placd an excessive tax on tobacco, specifically with regard to handmade cigars. This is good news for the industry and cigar smokers, but it's far from over. The veto still has a chance to be overridden.

So now it's time for Part Two. Urge your Congressmen to vote "NO" on the veto override of HR976. Contact your Congressmen now by clicking here, and please share this action alert with everyone you know, especially your fellow BOTL's.

Thank you,
G.K.

Monday, October 1, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: Romeo y Julieta Habana Reserve Robusto

By Gary Korb

Ever get into one of those situations where you plan on doing something and never get around to it? Not because you've been procrastinating, but because something always happens to prevent you from doing it. I've been trying to smoke the new Romeo y Julieta Habana Reserve Robusto sample I got at the RTDA show ever since I came back in Houston in early August.

I didn't want to smoke it at the office because this cigar looked so gorgeous I wanted to smoke it where I would have no interruptions, like on my deck. So I took it home, and either it ended up raining, or I had to help my son with his homework, or I had an appointment, or band practice, or…well you get the idea. I just never got around to smoking it until this weekend. I had even pre-clipped it way back when in anticipation of smoking it sooner. OK, I digress, so let's get to it.

This Romeo y Julieta Habana Reserve selection is quite different than you're typical Dominican Romeo. Although it's made in Honduras, you could call it the "Nicaraguan Romeo y Julieta." The filler is high-priming Nicaraguan and Honduran, with a Nicaraguan binder and a flawless and beautifully oily Nicaraguan wrapper - Habano? - (it's only listed as "Nicaraguan" on the Altadis U.S.A. website.)

The smoke was very smooth - typical of the brand - yet was much more robust and earthier in flavor with a strand of sweetness running though it. It started out more medium in body, then grew considerably fuller in strength as it smoked, and became much spicier, too. The cigar burned perfectly and offered a sweet and spicy aroma. I also like the balance of the Honduran and Nicaraguan fillers, which gave the smoke a little more complexity.

Comparatively speaking, if you want to get as close to the Cuban Romeos as possible without breaking the law, this new full-bodied Habana Reserve blend may be the ticket. I've found the ISOM's much too spicy for my taste, and this Honduran version was much more appealing to my palate.

It may have been an elusive cigar these past three months, but it was worth the wait.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Retro-Smoke: CAO Criollo Mancha


By Gary Korb

Here's a cigar I really haven't smoked in a long while. The 5 5/8" x 46 CAO Criollo Mancha. Pronounced, "cree-yo-yo," this is another cigar that I found at the bottom of my humidor while rotating my cigars last month.

One thing you can say about CAO cigars is they have some of the most attractive wrappers, and this blend of diverse Nicaraguan filler & binder tobaccos is nicely complemented by an oily, buttery-textured Criollo '98 leaf grown in Ecuador and capped with a neat little Cuban-style pigtail.

I smoked the Mancha Wednesday night with a friend on his back porch under the full moon with a glass of Offley Porto 20 Year Aged Tawny. The cigar was much fuller in flavor than I had remembered, too. Earthy-woody flavors predominated with spicy chords, not "notes," and traces of dark roasted coffee in the mix. The cigar built in complexity, strength and spiciness during the last third, yet the smoke was never completely overpowering.

Listed as "medium to full-bodied," I think this spicier CAO cigar might be a little much for new smokers, but for the more experienced, I would recommend the Mancha if you're looking for a robust after-dinner smoke.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

SCHIP Update: It's never too late to call, even to say “thanks”

This posting may be a little too late, because I was out of town yesterday, and the Congressional vote on SCHIP has already been tallied, but here goes.

What follows is the gist of an email from Nick Perdomo that was forwarded to me:

“I have been in meetings all this week with several key Congressmen and Senators. Tell the people to call their Congressmen and Senators and to ask for their legislative assistants who are on the SCHIP bill, particularly the large cigar tax portion. These people need to know that this will destroy a complete industry in our country, not to mention putting over 400,000 people out of work in Central America. Also when leaving your message, thank them for removing the floor tax on large cigars.”

To call your Congressmen, click here.

To call your Senators, click here.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has followed through by putting the pressure on in an effort to keep this bill from breaking the back of the premium cigar industry.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: Rocky Patel Olde World Reserve Toro


By Gary Korb

This past Saturday was a wash-out in the Lehigh Valley, but the skies cleared up in the afternoon, so I spent the better part of two hours Saturday night out on the deck with a Rocky Patel Old World Reserve Toro Corojo (6½" x 52) and a glass of Barefoot Shiraz, a good, modestly-priced wine from California.

I've smoked a fairly decent number of the Olde World Reserve since their debut a couple years ago. They've been amazingly consistent, which is one of the primary reasons they've remained on my Top-10 list. The smoke is silky-smooth, robust, and marvelously complex with Rocky's signature creaminess throughout. If I had to compare them to another Rocky Patel blend, taking a line from Rocky's promotional literature, it's like "the Vintage on steroids," because they can be quite heady, as well. But I think what really distinguishes this blend from the Vintage line is the leaf selection and the aging process. Plus, the Corojo wrappers are pristine, like smooth, perfectly-tanned leather.

True, it is similar to the Vintage, but it's also "bigger and sharper" in terms of flavor. A better comparison might be the difference between watching regular TV and widescreen HDTV. You definitely taste a lot more flavors in the Olde World Reserve. And because it's not as heavy as Port, the delicate mix of fruity and tangy flavors in the Shiraz complemented the cigar well.

Please note, because this cigar made in limited edition, it's only available at the retail counter. But if you're looking for a great after-dinner or evening cigar, it's well worth stopping-in for.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Retro-Smoke: Diablo Pimiento

By Gary Korb

With the reemergence of this cigar that debuted in 2004, I thought I'd take another look at Diablo. The cigar I selected was a Diablo Pimiento, a 6½" x 45 Lonsdale, not a shape I normally smoke, but I figured if I liked the Lonsdale, the others should be pretty nice, too.

The cigar was very attractive with a thick, dark Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper. It was rolled a bit tight, but the draw was OK. It lit perfectly and burned clean all the way down with a light-grey ash.

Made with a Nicaraguan and Dominican filler blend, it's supposed to be a "spicy" cigar. From the get-go the cigar was actually quite mild, but what was spicy was the aroma, which I liked very much. I suppose the best way to put it would be "tangy."

As it smoked the cigar took on a more medium-bodied flavor, and then at about one-third up, the cigar did get spicier with sort of a mild, red-peppery taste. From that point on the cigar was very consistent, well-balanced, and pretty flavorful with a note of sweetness on the finish.

As good medium-bodied cigars go I would recommend the Diablo, but probably more as a warm-up for newer cigar smokers who want to crossover to the more full-bodied and genuinely spicy fare.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thursday, September 20 is National Fax Day - No New Cigar Taxes!


Earlier today I recieved an important message from Chris McCalla, Legislative Director of the IPCPR (Imported Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association), formerly known as the RTDA. He wanted to remind cigar smokers that “Congress has decided on a framework for the Federal Cigar Tax proposal, but much work is left to finalize the legislation. Opportunities exist for further compromise.”

Moreover, as part of an inter-industry coordinated assault on Capitol Hill, September 20 will be “National Fax Day” to Congress. So take a moment to fax your Senators and Congressmen and urge them not to pass any new cigar taxes. You can do so now by clicking here.

Thank you,
Gary

Monday, September 17, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: Oliva Special S Diadema 7x48


By Gary Korb

This past weekend was very interesting with regard to the variety of cigars I smoked. If you include last Friday night, I could add the Padron 1964 Anniversary Maduro Monarca. But I'll start with Saturday where I attended an outdoor party in New Jersey held annually by close friends of our family. Their home, which is in one of the more pastoral parts of "The Garden State," provides the perfect setting for at least a couple of good cigars. I don't know about you, but I usually have a hard time deciding what cigars to bring to these events. After some careful deliberation I decided to bring a Partagas Cifuentes Winter Blend Enero, an Oliva Special S Diadema 7x48, and a Padilla Miami 8/11 that had been given to me by a good customer a while back. This was a 6"x60 monster, which must have been a special edition or something, because I've never seen an 8/11 in that size. Plus, it had a 2" band, not at all like the black, gold, and red band on the 8/11.

I smoked two of the three cigars that day, having given away the Partagas Cifuentes to a BOTL who forgot to bring cigars. I had a few more back at the ranch, so I didn't mind parting with it. The Padilla Miami 8/11 was awesome. Flavorful, but powerful. There's a lot of tobacco to smoke through and I really felt it afterwards. But the cigar that really rocked me was my first cigar that afternoon - the Oliva Special S Diadema 7x48, and I say so because there's also a story behind it.

This cigar was one of three Special S Diadema 7x48's Jose Oliva had given me when he came to introduce the brand to a group of us at Famous last year, just prior to its RTDA debut. The Oliva Special S cigars are blended with a Nicaraguan Habano filler, Nicaraguan binder and a flawless, sun-grown Ecuadorian wrapper aged five full years. This series is also the priciest of the Oliva line extensions, so Jose was very concerned about our opinion. If I could describe the cigar's flavor I would say, imagine a Nicaraguan version of a Davidoff Aniversario No.3. The flavor was great, the balance perfect, great aroma and all that, but the first two cigars did not burn well, which I reported to Jose a couple of weeks later. I also told him that I'd prefer to keep the last cigar in my humidor and let it settle before I gave him my final opinion of the cigar. Well as luck would have it, somehow it wound its way down to the bottom of my humidor, and I didn't discover it again until a few weeks ago while rotating my cigars. This last cigar, which I paired with a vodka & tonic, was just as I had remembered it, and even better, for it had not only mellowed beautifully, but it burned perfectly, even with the little blustery wind we had on Saturday. I can now say with confidence that this is truly a wonderful cigar that should be experienced, especially in this unique, old Cuban-style shape.

On Sunday, I took out an unbanded handrolled cigar finished with a Cuban pigtail on the cap that had been in my humidor for at least a year. This one was found along with the Oliva Special S, and I believe it was a Tatuaje I picked up at the Jose Pepin Garcia booth at RTDA Las Vegas last year. It looked like a Tatuaje Cabinet Especiales, but the cigar was closer to 6 inches in length and ring was about a 42. Whatever it was, the smoke was full-bodied and very flavorful with a dark, earthy character and a long finish.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Retro-Smoke: Carlos Toraño 1916 Cameroon and Virtuoso



By Gary Korb

Last weekend, Michael Gant, regional sales rep of Carlos Toraño Cigars stopped by the Famous Smoke Shop Retail store to present some of the company's finest wares. Included among them were two cigars I haven't had in quite a while: The 1916 Cameroon Robusto (5½" x 52) and the Carlos Toraño Virtuoso Encore (4¾" x 52).

The 1916 Robusto is a true delight. A creamy, mellow smoke with a pleasant mix of earthy, toasty and sweet tobacco flavors that remain consistent all the way through. This is a very relaxing cigar that's perfect in the morning or afternoon when you want something a little lighter, yet rich in flavor.

The Virtuoso Encore, which not surprisingly holds a Famous Customer Rating of 9.45, is exquisitely dark, and brimming with rich, creamy, complex flavors, not unlike some of the better full-bodied pre-embargo Cubans. I reviewed the Virtuoso Forte a while back and scored it a "93." The Encore is equally outstanding. This cigar hits on all cylinders and is the perfect full-bodied after-dinner contrast to the milder 1916. A true "espresso" of a cigar that, while very robust, is not overpowering.

If you haven't had the pleasure of smoking a Carlos Toraño cigar, depending on your taste preference, these two selections are a great place to start.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Perdomo Habano cigars bow at Famous Smoke Shop

By Gary Korb

The highly-anticipated Perdomo Habano® Corojo and Maduro selections have finally begun appearing on the shelves at Famous Smoke Shop. Now in stock are the Gordo (6" x 60), Presidente (7" x 56), and the Torpedo (6½" x 54), with the Toro (5½" x 54) and Robusto (5" x 52) coming soon. Note, they are taking backorders in those sizes.

In case you missed it, here's what I wrote in my August 17th blog about the Perdomo Habano Toro Maduro: "This new creation from Nick Perdomo has been one of the most impressive in terms of my personal taste preference. It's beautiful to look at, too. The wrapper is dark, even in color, and oily. Plus, the detail on the extra large band is a piece of artwork unto itself. Thick, creamy smoke emanated from the head as the room filled with a hearty, sweet aroma. The flavor was primarily woody with a trace sweetness and a modicum of spiciness on the palate. (The cigar actually looks much stronger than it is.) The smoke is extremely smooth, perfectly-balanced, and full-flavored without the heaviness of a full-bodied cigar."

I recently got around to smoking the Perdomo Habano Toro Corojo and was equally impressed, but found it a little spicier.

If you'd like to learn even more about these stunning cigars from the man himself, check out the video of Nick Perdomo, who described the Perdomo Habano to me at the RTDA last month.

Check 'em out, and after you've had one, please write in and let me know what you thought.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: Don Lino 1989 Robusto

by Gary Korb

This weekend I had the pleasure of smoking a sample of something that should be arriving in stores in the not-too-distant future: The Don Lino 1989 Robusto. The cigar was well-packed and embellished with a rich-looking, embossed red and gold band. The outer wrapper was a beautifully silky, even toned Ecuadorian Connecticut leaf that was virtually flawless. The smoke was equally silky with a wonderfully rich, creamy, medium-bodied flavor that was nutty, toasty and naturally sweet. The smoke also had an excellent balance of flavors. Very consistent, never turning bitter or hot, and I smoked as much of it as I could short of burning my thumb. A very impressive cigar. Stay tuned for this one. If you're not a regular smoker of Don Lino cigars, I think you will be soon.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Plasencia Reserva Organica Cigars Meet “The Mets”


By Gary Korb

On Wednesday evening, September 5, I made what was now my third cigar presentation to The Metropolitan Society cigar club in Fairfield, NJ on behalf of Famous Smoke Shop. The cigars I chose for this occasion were the Plasencia Reserva Organica selection. I've been wanting to present these cigars to an impartial group of avid cigar smokers for a long time, and The Metropolitan Society's monthly cigar dinner provided the ideal setting.

When I got to the club with a box of 100 Plasencia Reserva Organica Robustos (including a load of Famous Smoke Shop catalogs), I was greeted by Metropolitan Society Treasurer, Ben Amoruso, who was seated behind a poker table checking-off names of the members as they arrived (see above photo) . To my surprise and delight, on the table were two open boxes of cigars: Olor Nicaragua and Olor Classic, both of which are brands exclusive Famous Smoke Shop. As is the custom for the monthly Society dinner meetings, as each member signs in they're entitled to their choice of a mild or full-flavored cigar. With my box now on the table, I joined Ben by handing out the Plasencia's and catalogs.

The dinner started promptly at 7:00 PM, and many of the members were already toking on their PRO Robustos. After the group had been served dinner, club President, Dan McCarthy, took care of all required club business, then he introduced me and I did my spiel. During my presentation I asked for a show of hands among those who had been smoking the cigars and asked for their honest take with a thumbs-up or down. Fortunately, it was almost unanimously thumbs-up. Were they just being nice because I was there? I don't want to assume anything, but I did receive a number of one-to-one compliments from many of them on the cigars later that evening.

In case you're not familiar with The Plasencia Reserva Organica cigars, they are Nicaraguan puros created by Nestor Plasencia Jr., in which the tobaccos are grown under "certified organic" conditions. The smoke is mild to medium in body with a rich, cedar-aged flavor that finishes with a very pure, natural flavor on the palate.

All-in-all, in was a wonderful evening, so at this juncture I'd like to thank Nestor Plasencia Jr., my boss, Arthur Zaretsky, and Famous Smoke Shop GM, Hal Odzic, for providing the cigars, as well as the following Metropolitan Society Board members: Dan McCarthy, Bob Lesnick, Ben Amoruso, Rich Camy, John Cito, and George Koodray, who helped make it all possible, and all the other Metro Society members I had the pleasure to meet. I look forward to doing it again next year.

(Middle photo, L-R) Metropolitan Society VP, Bob Lesnick, President, Dan McCarthy, and Yours Truly

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: Lighting up for Labor Day

By Gary Korb

My Labor Day plans included spending the entire weekend with my wife and boys at my parent's house at the Jersey Shore, and concluded with a Labor Day Monday Bar-B-Q at my brother's house, much closer to home, which also helped beat the hellish New Jersey Labor Day traffic.

For the three day weekend, I came very prepared. Arriving late Friday night, I loaded my Csonka Valet with 12 cigars, and here's how things panned out.

Saturday morning I started out at the pool with a Los Blancos Criollo. This is their cigar with the green band. The smoke was smooth, creamy and flavorful with a rich, nutty taste. During the afternoon I had a Camacho Select Robusto. A great-tasting, full-flavored cigar with plenty of spice on the finish.

Saturday night I didn't get the chance to smoke a cigar. We went to a nightclub in Sea Bright, NJ called "ELEMENTS the lounge," but as you New Jerseyans already know, smoking indoors is a no-no. I also got to meet Elements' manager, Dimitri who happens to be an avid cigar smoker and looks like he belongs in the cast of Entourage. I just happened to have my travel case and a Famous Smoke Shop catalog in the car, so I brought them in. I asked Dimitri what he likes to smoke, and the first cigar he mentioned was Avo XO. Just his luck, I happened to have an Avo XO Intermezzo on me and gladly handed it to him along with the catalog. During our conversation, he told me he had never had a Rocky Patel cigar. I shot him a quick glance of amazement, but he was in luck again as I handed him a Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 Toro. "If you've never had a Rocky Patel cigar, then this is probably the best cigar to start with," I said. Dimitri was very grateful and in turn, treated my wife and I to a couple of drinks. He's got a great place. If you're ever down the shore, stop in and check it out.

Sunday morning it was a Perdomo Reserve Champagne R. What a great cigar. Rich, earthy and creamy with a nice little kick to it. I spent the afternoon on the beach with a Famous Nicaraguan 3000 Torpedo. This cigar had been in my humidor quite a while. They were a bit too strong out of the bundle when I bought them, but the cigar had mellowed somewhat while maintaining that nice kick of dark spicy tobacco flavor with a quiet little note of sweetness on the finish. It held up really well under the windy beach conditions, too.

Sunday night I lit-up a Graycliff Espresso President out on the terrace. Man did that cigar live up to its rep. Spicy, spicy, spicy! I had it with a small glass of Lemoncello over ice. Talk about a heady experience. I think this cigar would have been better paired with an espresso, but I might not have gotten any sleep. It was very flavorful, but I think I'm more partial to the fairly milder Graycliff Professional series.

Finally, Monday at the Bar-B-Q, I kicked back with a Partagas Cifuentes Winter Blend Enero. I just love this chunky, creamy-smoking Dominican puro, which is now getting harder to find. The cigar is perfectly balanced with toasty, cedary flavors, naturally sweet, moderately spicy, and very aromatic. What a great way to wrap up a sunny and not-too-hot holiday weekend.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Retro Smoke: Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 Toro

By Gary Korb

If you ever wanted proof that a great premium cigar just about always lives up to its reputation, then I submit the Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 Toro as evidence. Although this cigar has always remained high on my list of favorites, I'm usually distracted by smoking sample blends, or new cigars, so I don't get to this cigar as often as I'd like.

However, the other night, I dipped into a stash of Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 Toros that I picked up almost one year ago. I was joined out on the deck by my good neighbor, Richard, who brought a Plasencia Reserva Organica Corona that coincidentally had been sitting in his humidor for about the same amount of time. I paired my cigar with what remained of my bottle of Cockburn's Special Reserve Port, while Richard had his trusty flask of cognac.

Now I've had enough "fresh-out-of-the-box" Rocky Patel Vintage '92's to know that this cigar is primarily full-flavored with a medium body. The smoke is a smooth and creamy brew of earthy, and sweet cedary flavors that harmonize on the palate with notes of coffee, cocoa and nutmeg. One year later, the cigar had mellowed into a what I would describe as a "softer" smoke in which the flavors were even more honeyed and unified. Richard noddded that his home-aged cigar was also noticeably more mellifluous.

I smoked the cigar down the bone, and every aspect of it held up beautifully. Perhaps even more so in this case, because the RPV '92 Toro has always been one of the most consistent cigars for me. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record (is there such a thing anymore?), thanks to that extra year of home aging, I can confidently call it "Old Faithful."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Famous Smoke Shop Goes YouTube!


By Gary Korb

Good news for you cigar-smoking YouTube.com fans. We've now got our own Famous Smoke Shop YouTube page. I'm sort of new to this, so I'm not sure if the page has the right "look" yet, but the videos play, and I guess that's the main thing.

So far, I've posted the following three videos: Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley Cigars talking about the two new frontmarks in their MAXX cigars series (click on his photo above to watch that video.) Nick Perdomo talking about the new Perdomo Habano Corojo and Maduro cigars. Both of those videos were taken at the recent RTDA 2007 Trade Show & Convention in Houston. I also posted a video of Christopher Mey from Rocky Patel Cigars that was taken in the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store where he describes the Rocky Patel Rosado cigars. Chris also did three others, which I'll have posted in the days ahead.

I've also got much more video from RTDA to post, but at least this is a start. Please feel free to subscribe to the Famous Smoke Shop YouTube page, send in your comments, etc.. If you've got a YouTube video of yourself smoking and reviewing a cigar, send me the link and I'll share it on our page. Plus, if you have any YouTube tips for me, send me an email.

Finally, you'll get the best resolution if you click the smaller viewer icon in the lower right-hand comer of the player window.

Enjoy, and happy viewing. Here's another example, just for fun...

Monday, August 27, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: The Vice, the Moon, and the Spider

By Gary Korb

Last weekend it was rain. This weekend the heat came on, and a sticky steamy heat it was, too. But by Sunday night, the weather had cooled down, and I sat out on my deck by the light of an almost full moon for one of the most relaxing cigar experiences I've enjoyed in quite some time. The cigar was the new MAXX by Alec Bradley "Vice" sample I received at the recent RTDA show. I had planned on smoking it last weekend, so soupy weather or not, I was determined to smoke this very tempting-looking, ample-sized cigar.

The MAXX Vice weighs in at a formidable 6½" x 62, but unlike the rest of the MAXX line, the cigar is box-pressed and comes in a luxurious, multi-tray humdior cabinet of 50 cigars. What's nice about that is, the box-press makes the extra-wide ring gauge much more manageable. And speaking of weight, this cigar has quite a bit of heft to it. It was perfectly packed; no soft spots, and the wrapper was drop-dead gorgeous. Perfectly tanned to an even, dark chocolate color, and the rectangular shape made it look even more like a candy bar.

The pre-light taste was extremely enticing. It was basically earthy with hints of nuts, cocoa and coffee. So I repaired to the deck with a glass of Cockburn's Special Reserve Port, which I thought would make a good pairing, settled into my chair, and fired-up.

The cigar lit perfectly and had a perfect draw. Gobs of thick creamy smoke came through the head with a rich, woody-earthy character dominated by a hazelnut flavor on a long finish. In-between sips of Port I eased back in the chair and looked at the moon rising above the trees. Every puff was full-flavored and exceptionally creamy.

Then something from the corner of my eye caught my attention in the flickering light of my tiki torch. From the tree that stands in front of my deck I saw a spider silently weaving his web for the night's catch. He was a sizeable little devil, too. He would drop down out of sight. A few moments later he would crawl back up to the branch he was working from. Then on his way back down, he would traverse left and right like a floating sailboat quickly changing tack as his deadly net began to take shape. I found this little miracle of nature under the moon & stars both entertaining and even more relaxing as I puffed away on my Vice.

It was just about at the end of the first third that the flavors really came alive. One thing I like to do sometimes, especially with a complex cigar like this, is to just hold the cigar between my teeth and let the smoke rise up toward my nose. A little smoke also swirls into the mouth, and between the aroma and the flavor in the smoke you can really "taste" those subtle nuances. In addition to the earthy, hazelnut flavor, I detected notes of almond, cocoa, coffee, white pepper, anise, and a little whiff of caramel. I should add that although I would classify the cigar as full-bodied, the smoke, was consistent in flavor and strength all the way to the end and was never overpowering.

An hour and a half and two glasses of Port later, I had put a very stressful week behind me and came back in the house extremely satisfied - just in time to catch the new episode of Entourage. Meanwhile, the spider kept diligently working away.

So here again, have another winner from Alec Bradley, a promising young cigar company that continues to top itself each year. Which reminds me; you may want to check out the new Alec Bradley Cigars website. They did a great job on that, too.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Retro-Smoke: Perdomo Lot 23 Toro Connecticut


By Gary Korb

This cigar doesn't really qualify as a "retro-smoke," since it's not an older brand, but I just had to get this one in. Actually, the Perdomo Lot 23 cigars were released late last year, and quickly became one of my favorites after sampling the Belicoso. (Try the Perdomo Lot 23 in the Maduro if you really wantto taste something sublime.)

Anyway, I had purchased a box of Perdomo Lot 23 Toros back in January, and to my unexpected disappointment, found them to be unusually bitter. Now I know the kind of painstaking care Nick Perdomo and his team puts into their cigars, and rarely, if ever, have I had a problem with any of their lines.

After smoking three cigars with the same results, I thought about returning them, but my gut-check told me they just needed time and to give them the benefit of the doubt. So, I stowed them away, out of sight in the bottom of the humidor, and left them alone. That was one of the smartest decisions I ever made.

Almost eight months later, as I was rummaging through my humidor last week, I picked one out to bring into work for my afternoon smoke. Whoa baby! What a difference all that time made. The cigar was rich, creamy-smooth and very flavorful with no trace of bitterness whatsoever, proving once again that home aging can make a marked difference.

If it's a brand you're already familiar with, then you know how the cigar is supposed to taste. All too often in cases where cigars taste "off," there's a knee-jerk reaction, and cigar smokers are hasty to fill out the return label. That's not to say that the odd and truly "bad box" doesn't come along every now and then, but I had faith in this Perdomo cigar that had proven its consistency to me in the past.

The moral of the story: Sometimes you have to wait for instant gratification.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reevaluating the Cigar Cutter


By Gary Korb

Everyday I get emails asking for suggestions about all sorts of cigar smoking-related subjects, but rarely do I get asked for suggestions about what cigar cutter to use. I suppose cigar cutters, like cigars, fall under the "personal preference" category. I think it's also fair to assume that most cigar smokers have more than one cutter, and probably more than one type of cutter at that.

The most popular cigar cutter is the double blade guillotine, because it's neat and can handle just about every cigar made. Of course, if you smoke really wide ring cigars like 54 and higher, you could run into some problems. XiKAR cutters, known for their patented "teardrop" shape, are one of the few that are made to accommodate a 54 ring vitola, and they even claim that, "Depending on how much cap you cut, they will cut up to a 58 ring gauge cigar." If the cigar is really big, like a 60 ring, you might be able to squeeze it into a 54-ring cutter. Otherwise, you may have to opt for a good pair of cigar scissors. Lately, I've been using a pair of XiKAR MTX scissors, and they cover all the bases.

Then you have the double blade cutters that are closed on one side. The cigar is placed in the "hole" at a depth of about 1/16 of an inch, or thereabouts. When the blades come together the result is a perfectly-straight cut. I like this type of cutter, but once the blades get dull, they can be a disaster. Secondly, if you're a chewer, or want to cut back the ashed end of your cigar before relighting it, you're out of luck. Moreover, if the cigar's cap isn't applied well, the preset depth can sometimes cause unraveling problems.

I had an Avo punch cutter that I loved until I decided to put it on my key ring. Somehow it slipped off the ring in a supermarket parking lot and fell into a black hole. The punch is a nice way to go, but the blade really has to be ultra sharp. The aforementioned Avo is made from a solid, round stainless Swiss blade, so the cuts are not only sharp, but neat. The drawbacks I've found in using punch cutters are that sometimes the cigar wrapper can crack from the pressure, plus I seem to get more flavor from the cigar when the entire cap is exposed, so I really don't miss the punch all that much.

A few days ago I purchased a V-cutter, which was actually the inspiration for this blog. I have a decent number of tapered head cigars, and I really like the effect of the V-cut in the head. There's no guessing, and you usually get a pretty decent draw. I can't tell you how many times I've had to re-clip a Pyramid to get it to draw well, clipped it crooked, or clipped it too far, and, well...there goes another junker. I've even been using it on some of my round headed cigars. Even though it only clips part of the head, like the punch, the vertical shape of the cut tends to widen during the smoke, so there's not as much loss of flavor.

Why didn't I mention single blade guillotine cutters? Because IMHO, most of them are cheaply-made, clumsy, and basically suck.

Monday, August 20, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: Rocky Patel Sun Grown Torpedo




By Gary Korb


Since it rained in the Lehigh Valley on Sunday, I'm glad it was nice enough on Saturday to enjoy at least one cigar over the weekend. It was a real doozy, too. A Rocky Patel Sun Grown Selection Torpedo. I happened to smoke it sort of by accident. Or, you could say I was in the right place at the right time.

When I was at RTDA in Houston a few weeks ago, I spoke to Christopher Mey (sales rep for Rocky Patel Cigars) about a trip he was planning to visit the Famous Smoke Shop retail store in Easton, PA on August 18. Chris was going to be on vacation that week and would be bringing a friend with him from New Jersey to introduce him to the shop. We decided that while Chris was in the shop I'd shoot some videos of him talking about some of the Rocky Patel exclusives that Famous carries, which include the Rocky Patel Rosado, Cuban Blend, American Market Selection and Honduran Classic.

Chris didn't come empty-handed. He brought some Rocky Patel Sun Grown Torpedos with him. After we shot the videos, he offered me one of the cigars. My past experience with this blend has been that they're a bit much for me, which is why I prefer the more medium-bodied Rosado blend. But for some reason, in the wider ring sizes the Sun Grown seem to really turn the trick for me.

At 6¼" long, fanning out to a 52-ring, the smoke was rich, smooth, perfectly-balanced, nicely spicy, and not overpowering in the least. The empirical evidence for my "wide ring theory" comes from having also smoked the Rocky Patel Sun Grown "Sixty," which I also find to be an exceptional smoke. Come to think of it, the Sun Grown Toro is mighty fine, also. Hmmm…I guess I have a greater appreciation for the Sun Grown line than I thought. And so it goes.

Thanks Chris for taking time out to do the videos, and for that very enjoyable cigar.