Thursday, June 28, 2007

Just what I'd expect from Jesus Fuego

Several months ago I was at a party where a good friend handed me a Jesus Fuego Gran Reserva No.1 Belicoso. I had heard talk of Jesus Fuego having gone out on his own, but this was the first time I had the chance to see the real deal.

In case you don't know who Jesus Fuego is, I first met him several years ago when he was blending for U.S. Tobacco. At that time they were making some excellent Honduran blends, including Don Tomás, Astral, and Helix. I even did an interview with him where he spoke about how developed the Talanga Cubano wrapper which is still used on the Olor Fuerte cigars. From there he went to work for Rocky Patel where he helped turn out some legendary blends like the Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 & 1992 cigars and the Olde World Reserve.

In short, he's probably one of the most talented cigar blenders working today, and equally as nice.

Fuego made the decision to step out and launch his own brand in December of 2006, so his cigars are still relatively new to the market. They're produced in two selections: Jesus Fuego "Natural" in a shade-grown Criollo wrapper, and the "Gran Reserva No.1" with a Corojo wrapper.

The 6" x 54 Gran Reserva No.1 Belicoso had one of the most gorgeous Corojo wrappers I've ever seen. Dark and oily with an attractive reddish patina. The smoke was thick, creamy and marvelously smooth. The flavor was predominant cedary and somewhat sweet with an appealing earthiness. I'm sticking my neck out here, but this cigar was as close to a classic Cuban as anything I've ever smoked, and maybe in some ways even better.

Of course, I expected a good cigar from Señor Fuego and I was not disappointed. I wish Jesus only the best, and look forward to seeing him in August at RTDA in Houston.

You can find more information on Jesus Fuego cigars at Cigahs.com.

Monday, June 25, 2007

It takes a kid

Although I'm really dating myself here, some of you reading this may remember the Art Linkletter Show. It was on TV in the afternoons, and I'd watch it after school. There was a segment called "Kids say the darndest things," which I believe Linkletter also published as a book and later produced as a TV series.

Mr. Linkletter would have a group of four or five kids, from about 6 to 9 years old, sitting in chairs on a riser so that they would be eye level with him. He would ask them questions about a variety of subjects, and they'd come up with cute answers, which almost always got a big laugh out of the audience. So what does this have to do with cigars?

The other day, I was out on the deck removing the band from a cigar. It was a big band with lots of gold on it. I think it was a Punch Magnum. My six-year-old likes to collect the bands, which he keeps in a little Ziploc bag. He and his big brother, my nine-year-old, were both on the deck at the time I removed the band in question.

"Here's another one for your collection," I said as I handed the little guy the band. At that point the nine-year-old said, "It looks just like a wrestling belt!"

All those years and hundreds of cigar bands later, not to mention being a one-time WWE fan myself, I never once looked at the bands in that regard. I guess it takes a kid to come up with something like that.

~ G.K.

Friday, June 22, 2007

New Jersey tobacco tax collected via out-of-state cigar store

Only in New Jersey. Earlier this week I received an email from a good friend and avid cigar smoker who lives in New Jersey. The subject of his message was "NJ Taxman coming after you?" I actually got a little nervous. Was this a joke? Apparently, he was in the Club Stogie All Cigar Lounge forum, when he stumbled upon a June 18 posting titled, "NJ Residents please read..."

The posting by FlyerFanX (a/k/a "FFX") begins: So at the end of April, I buy a cigar sampler from our Retailer Forum. Was very pleased with what I got and the price. No problems.
Saturday the mail comes, and there's a letter from NJ Tax Department. In a nutshell it says: On XX/XX/XXXX you purchased $90 worth of untaxed cigars from XXXXXXXX. You owe us $90 X 30% tobacco tax = $27 X .07 sales tax = $28.89....pay up sucker.
Anyone else ever get one of these lovely letters? And how the hell did they find out what I bought?


Later in the thread, a response comes from the proprietor of the cigar store, Blue Havana II, through which FFX purchased his cigars:

As FFX stated, I was the vendor. Tobacco taxes are not paid (or rebated) on out of state sales and I am required to file both a "Schedule C" in Georgia with the name of the purchaser and city, as well as the invoice, for all out of state sales. I have never heard of any states billing the consumer and wonder what it costs the state of NJ to go after this money (in this case, less than $30).
They also billed FFX for the sales tax. Has any else ever heard of a state go after intrastate sales tax on such a small amount?
In the future, I will make it clear that all taxes are the responsibility of the customer as all internet retailers do.

My friend was so intrigued by this, the next day he wrote to FFX for a copy of the letter, which in turn, he passed on to me.

Dear Taxpayer,

The Federal Government requires any entity or persons shipping cigarettes or tobacco products in interstate commerce to file a monthly report of all shipments to the receiving state's tax administrator. Information received by the State of New Jersey indicates that you are in receipt of untaxed cigars from Blue Havana II Cigars and Gifts.

New Jersey Statutes Annotated, N.J.S.A. 54:40B-1 et. seq. (Tobacco Product Tax) levies a 30% tax on every tobacco product and N.J.S.A 54:32B-1 et. seq. (Sales and Use Tax) levies a tax of 7% on the purchase price including the 30% tax.

The New Jersey Division of Taxation has determined that you are liable for the following tax amount based on the purchase listed below:

Date 4/30/2007
Description: Cigars $90.00
Tobacco product tax @ 30% $27.00
Amount subject to sales tax @ 7% $117.00

Tax Due $27.00
$ 8.19
Total Taxes to be remitted by the above named purchaser: $35.19

Please make your remittance payable to "State of New Jersey" and mail in the envelope provided along with a copy of this letter within (30) days of the date hereof. Failure to respond will result in the assessment of penalties and interest as provided by New Jersey statute.

Very truly yours,
Audit Services Branch
[Name], Technician, MIS
[Phone number]
Cigarette & Tobacco Products Tax


Since this person was just doing their job, I intentionally deleted their name and phone number from the letter.

Moreover, I don't know who to be upset with in this case; Georgia, who requires cigar stores to file the Schedule C, or New Jersey, who followed up on it. I suppose the best I can do is just pass it on as a warning to my fellow BOTLs. And so it goes.

~G.K.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Another thrilla at the 'zilla

Last month I had the opportunity to take part in one of the Thursday night chats at Cigarzilla.net. I guess I did OK, because they've decided to have me back for another chat this Thursday evening, June 21 at 8:00 P.M. CENTRAL time.

If you want to get an idea of what we talked about, see my blog, Chat-a-tat-tat, from May 4th.

I have no idea what we'll get into this week, but if you'd like to participate, please log on to Cigarzilla.net and sign-up. You may even win some cigars courtesy of Famous Smoke Shop.

If you can, please drop by and take part. Even if you can't join in, drop by the site anyway. They've got a great forum where you can discuss everything and anything "cigars."

Thanks to "tachammer," "LanShark," "roadgypsy," "Fletchman," and all the other Cigarzilla.net members for the return invitation. Hopefully, we'll have a bigger crowd on-hand this time, too.

~G.K.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A cool refreshing drink with cigars

By Gary Korb

I remember seeing a survey a few years back which reported that the number one drink preferred by cigar smokers was single malt scotch. I think Port was number two. I like a good drink with my cigar, too, especially Port, and sometimes I'll even have a beer, but I don't always want to have an alcoholic beverage when I smoke. I certainly can't have one at work when I'm smoking a cigar to review, so I usually just have a boring bottle of spring water.

Then, last month I came up with a terrific drink that goes great with a cigar, and it's non-alcoholic, too. I was headed for my deck, cigar in-hand, and I needed a drink to go with it. It was too early in the day for a hard drink, and I wasn't in the mood for a beer. Moreover, sodas like Pepsi, Sprite, root beer or ginger ale are usually too sweet and their flavors distract from the flavor of the cigar. My "usual" drink is a Stoli Citros & tonic with a wedge of lime, squeezed. So I decided to have just the tonic with lime, but I didn't have any limes. However, I did have a bottle of Rose's Lime Juice. When mixed properly you get just the right balance of tart and sweet, plus the effervescence of the tonic water makes the drink very refreshing.

Here's the recipe:
A high-ball glass filled with ice (crushed or cubed)
Pour in the tonic water of your choice (I prefer Schweppes)
Add a splash (or about a 1/2 oz.) of Rose's Lime Juice
Add a slice or wedge of lime for a little extra zing and color
One quick stir. The bubbles from the tonic disperse the lime juice naturally.

Basically, it's a "Lime Fizz" with tonic instead of soda water. You can add more or less lime juice and/or tonic to suit your taste, and you can even use a slice of lemon in lieu of the lime. The thing is, you don't want it too sweet. You can even swish the drink between puffs to clear the palate, sort of like a sorbet between courses.

That's it, and it's fantastic! Try it the next time you light-up your favorite cigar.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dave Blanco is alive and well...

...and coming to a cigar store near you. Back in April I posted a blog titled, Where in the world is Dave Blanco? In case you don't remember, David Blanco, with his father Cesar, are the manufacturers and distributors of Los Blancos cigars. I mentioned how I had met him in Nicaragua last December, how we hit it off, and was wondering why I hadn't heard from him.

Well, about three weeks ago I finally did hear from him, and he explained why he was incommunicado. Between four return trips to Nicaragua since December, he's been visiting cigar stores all over the country promoting his line. This guy really works the circuit. Moreover, Los Blancos cigars are sold only through cigar stores, not catalogs.

We finally got the chance to meet again last week after one of his tasting events in Allentown, PA. It was a beautiful night and we sat out on my deck and talked well past midnight while enjoying his cigars. I had a Los Blancos Sumatra. David said it was great with coffee, and he was right.

This morning I tried the Los Blancos Connecticut, which was equally stunning. I'm slowly working my way through the four-cigar sampler he gave me, and if the last two cigars are an example of what he can do, then I'm really looking forward to the Los Blancos Criollo and the Maduro. (David also turned me on to another cigar he makes called Primos. I was totally wowed by this dark, earthy cigar, but more on that another time.)

Suffice it to say, it was great seeing David again, and I look forward to spending more time with him at RTDA-Houston in August.

To find out when and where David Blanco will be showcasing his cigars near you, visit the Los Blancos Cigars Events page for a complete listing of cities and towns.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tony Soprano: Dead or Alive?

By Gary Korb

The news was all abuzz today with commentary on HBO's final episode of The Sopranos, so I figured I might as well chime in, too, even if I'm a little late to the plate. After all, the hit TV series has probably done more for premium cigars than any other show in the history of the medium. It even inspired its own brand - CAO The Sopranos.

I was just as perplexed as most of the other viewers who watched last night, most of whom felt the final episode just didn't pay off. Of course, I wasn't surprised either, since its creator, David Chase, likes to play with the audience, and as it sunk in, I grew to like the idea that he left it up to us to figure out what happened, or what will happen to Tony and his family. After all, he did tie up the loose ends with regard to A.J., Meadow, and Carmela.

On my ride to work this morning, while listening to my favorite morning radio show host, Michael Smerconish (an avid cigar smoker himself), he had on Alan Sepinwall of "Tony's newspaper of choice," The Star-Ledger, who wrote a terrific article on The Soprano's finale titled, "Don’t Stop Believing." He also announced it as his "must read of the day."

After that Mr. Smerconish opened the phones to his listeners, many of whom came up with some great analysis. After about six calls, mostly all cogent interpretations on what should'a, could'a, would'a happened, Smerconish said he would have to watch the last episode again. I second his emotion and would encourage everyone else who watched last night to do the same. Sometimes it's the little things we miss that drop a big clue as to what the writer and the director - both Mr. Chase in this case - wants to get across, even with regard to the selection of the background music.

One caller came up with a theory that I thought had some weight to it. That final close-up where Tony is looking at the camera and everything goes dark and silent, the caller said that was Tony getting whacked from Tony's perspective. Moreover, another caller alluded to an episode where Tony and Bobby Baccala are fishing and talking about what it's like to get hit, and Bobby says something to the effect that everything just goes black.

There were also other theories about the meaning of the cat, why the federal agent gave up Phil, whether the show would be continued in a full-length movie, and more.

The jury in my mind is still out until I re-watch the final episode. Any way you look at it, the series was a great ride, and if you feel Mr. Chase ripped you off in the final chapter, then too bad. Life's a bitch. Something Tony Soprano and his family knew all too well.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Cigar Review: Troya Clásico LIV Toro

A luxurious Nicaraguan puro blended by Jose "Pepin" Garcia. The wrapper had an appealing, dark-chocolate color with a lush, oily patina. Construction-wise, the cigar was neatly rolled and well-packed, which felt good in the hand.

The pre-lit draw was easy, earthy and somewhat peppery. Soon the cigar rounded out to a very well-balanced and complex smoke with earthy, woody and leathery flavors laced with a streak of sweetness. The cigar maintained its robust body from foot to head without becoming overpowering, too.

Another great job by "Pepin" Garcia that I feel will make Troya Clasico major contender in the full-bodied cigar market.

Read my detailed review and score of the Troya Clasico LIV Toro at CigarAdvisor.com.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Why it always pays to "go the extra mile"

Years ago, I worked for a software training company and became good friends with the head of the sales department. His name was Jeff. He was a great guy, and in his spare time he taught Catechism at his church. One day, we were out to lunch and he asked me to take a ride with him to a religious book store so he could pick up some books for his students. After he checked out, he handed me one of the books and told me to keep it. It was a small book with a blue cover. Sadly, I don't remember the name of the book, but I do remember its content, which had nothing to do with Catholicism, by the way. It was a collection of life lessons as told through the experiences of its "mysterious" author. One of the chapters was titled, "Go The Extra Mile." Like all of the other chapters, the lesson was simple: Go the extra mile and it will pay you back ten-fold. Since then, I've applied this wonderful lesson to my relationships with friends, family, and business associates, and it really works.

Shortly after I began working at Famous Smoke Shop six years ago, one of the first things I realized was, not just that we were competitive in terms of low prices for our premium cigars, but that we offered great customer service. In fact, whenever I'm talking to a customer service agent for a company I'm doing business with, I hold them to what I call "the Famous standard."

I could go on tooting our horn, but in lieu of that, I'd rather direct your attention to a blog written on June 3 by Thomas J. Gray Jr., a marketing consultant who writes on Internet Marketing at Gray emarketing solutions (www.gemsolv.com). Under the heading of "The Evolving Internet Marketer," in his blog titled, "Deepen the Connection between You and Your Customer," Mr. Gray describes his experience with Famous Smoke Shop, and how other online businesses can learn by following Famous's lead. There's also tons of other valuable information on improving your online business, so make it a point to visit.

I've already posted a personal thank you note to Mr. Gray under his column, but I wanted to go the extra mile by mentioning it here.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Back to Baccarat

by Gary Korb

If you follow the happenings on the CigarAdvisor.com website, you may recall that this past Sunday (June 3), Famous Smoke Shop co-hosted a golf outing with Camacho cigars at Whitetail Golf Club in Bath, PA. It was a smash success, too. All of the players had a great time, and though it rained later in the day, even that didn't dampen their sprits. But I digress.

In advance of the tournament, we were sent the cigars for putting into the gift bags: Camacho Select, Camacho Coyolar Puro and Baccarat Rothschild, all of which are made by the Eiroa family in the Jamastran valley of Honduras.

On Saturday (June 2), there was a Camacho cigars tasting in the Famous cigar store and I had the chance to smoke one of the Baccarat Rothschilds. I've always liked the Baccarat cigars for their mildness and sweet creamy taste, but I hadn't smoked one in a while. They tend to be popular with new cigar smokers, mostly for the reasons I just stated, plus they have these buttery wrappers that are incredibly inviting. The smoke was really delicious and relaxing, and even though it was mild in body the cigar also had plenty of flavor. It burned well with a firm grey ash and I liked it so much, I wondered why I don't smoke these cigars more often. (They're really good in the morning with coffee, too.)

Suffice it to say, the next day at the golf match that's all I smoked. I went through three Baccarat Rothschilds and each one was as good as the next. I guess what I'm leading up to is something I've touched on before. If there are any cigars you haven't smoked in a while that you remember as being very satisfying, go back to that cigar every now and again. With all the new cigars coming out each year, it's not surprising to discover that in moving on to the next best thing, we sometimes forget about the last best thing.