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...

video

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.

Friday, August 17, 2007

New cigars at RTDA 2007: So far, so good

By Gary Korb

It's been just over week since the Retail Tobacco Dealers Association trade show and convention left Houston, and I spent the better part of this week trying to sample as many new cigars as possible in time for our August CigarAdvisor newsletter. I would like to have done more, and will in time, but just deciding which cigars to start with was agonizing enough. So, eyes closed, I reached into my bag, and what follows are my mini-reviews of what came out.

Perdomo Habano Maduro Toro (5½" x 54) - 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.

Camacho Triple Maduro Rothschild (4¾" x 50) - Christian Eiroa and his crew just love making bold tasting cigars, and their Triple Maduro line is no exception. The cigar was well-packed and hefty for a Rothie, and the Maduro wrapper is top-shelf. Early on, the smoke was hearty with a burly, dark-roasted aroma and a hint of sweetness. Toward the end of the first third it became much spicier, and eventually rounded out to a strong woody-earthy flavor. It wasn't overpowering while I was smoking it, which is why I enjoyed it; afterwards was when it really hit me.

Gran Habano La Gran Fuma Churchill (7" x 50) - I've been a big fan of the Gran Habano line for some time now, so I was eager to try this new mixed-filler "La Gran Fuma" selection from G.R. Tabacaleras. It has a rustic, oily, copper-hued wrapper. The cigar was well packed; no soft spots. The pre-lit taste was mild, and once lit, the smoke was mellow with an appealing sweetness and hints of caramel and nutmeg on the finish. The cigar drew easily offering a consistently mild to medium bodied smoke with a fragrant aroma. It went well paired with my morning coffee, too. Congrats to Guillermo Rico on this pleasant addition to his other fine G.R. selections.

Indian Tabac 10th Anniversary Toro (6½ x 52) - A good looking, oily cigar with a milk-chocolate colored, albeit somewhat veiny, wrapper leaf. The cigar was evenly packed and had an excellent pre-light draw and taste. The smoke was medium bodied, quite creamy and very smooth with Rocky Patel's signature combo of earthiness and sweet tobacco flavors. The cigar had a nice rich aroma, and smoked for well over an hour. Another good job from "the Rock."

Davidoff Puro Dominicano Robusto (5¼" x 50) - This is Davidoff's first cigar made with an all-Dominican leaf blend, and it's a stunner, too. The wrapper is exquisitely dark, and mouthwatering. Actually, the wrapper was applied so seamlessly, I couldn't see in which direction it was rolled. It had a great draw and the first few hits were creamy and spicy with a wonderfully sweet, floral aroma. Passing the smoke through my nose it was much spicier, but it wasn't overwhelming at all on the palate. In short: a complex, full-flavored cigar with gobs of thick creamy smoke. Thank you Mr. Kelner.

Much more to come in the days and weeks ahead. Please stay tuned…

Monday, August 13, 2007

My Weekend Cigar: Stradivarius Under the Stars


By Gary Korb

One of the most talked-about new cigars at RTDA was the "Stradivarius de los Maestros," a new three frontmark series from General Cigar. Stradivarius was created by a select team of tobacco "virtuosos" specially chosen by General Cigar president and master blender, Daniel Núñez, to create an extraordinary premium cigar. (At an average of $32/cigar SRP the price is extraordinary, too.)

Stradivarius consists of a specially selected, Dominican, Nicaraguan and Mexican leaf filler blend, a two year, tercio-aged Dominican Havana seed binder, and a pristine Connecticut Shade wrapper that General Cigar has had in their reserves for almost 15 years. The samples that were given out at the show were the 6 ¾” x 43 Lonsdale, which is the cigar I smoked last night under what I thought would be ideal conditions - and they were.

Every year over one million people descend on the little town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for "Musikfest," a 10 day-long music festival where you can hear just about every genre of music from obscure singer-songwriters to world-renown pop-stars. The festival closes on Sunday night with a spectacular fireworks display which I thought would be the perfect opportunity to "tune-up" my Strad'.

The wrapper color was light brown and even in tone throughout with an appealing copper-like patina. The cap popped-off in a perfect little circle and the cigar drew perfectly. The foot lit evenly across and the first few puffs, were soft, smooth and creamy with a wonderful aroma. The cigar also had one of the best ashes I've ever seen, hanging on for almost 2½ inches. The cigar was mild and mellow with a slightly nutty taste and a hint of nutmeg on the finish.

If I had to compare this new cigar with another fine Núñez creation, it would probably be the Macanudo Vintage 2000 series. As the cigar burned toward the center it improved in flavor, yet maintained its mellow character. I nubbed it, and between the rockets red glare and the glow of my Stradivarius, it made for a most harmonious evening.

Note: The word from General is that Stradivarius will be available in the U.S. in time for this year's Holiday season, which will also make it an ideal gift item.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

RTDA Houston 2007 - Postscript

By Gary Korb

Last night as I was flying back from Houston I was thinking about the trade show, and since yesterday was a short show day (the RTDA wraps at 1:00 PM on the last day), between getting some last-minute information, saying goodbyes, and getting home at 2:00 AM, I had no time to post. But I digress.

During the flight, as I was trying to formulate what more cover on the show, I realized that most of the show information is already available online. CigarCyclopedia.com is one of the best at covering the show, and of course you have the two major cigar zines, SMOKE magazine and Cigar Aficionado. Plus, there's a new kid on the block, Cigar Press magazine, which debuted its premiere issue at the show. There's not much in the way of content on their website just yet, but the first issue looks really good and has some excellent articles.

So instead of rehashing what many of you reading this have likely already gleaned, I'd like to take the opportunity here to state what I personally took away from the show.

I think the camaraderie that takes place at the show is what impresses me most. To be able to just sit down and chat with people like Jose, Carlos, and Gilberto Oliva, Nick Perdomo, Rocky Patel, Jonathan Drew (Estate), George Padron, Alan Rubin (Alec Bradley), Avo Uvezian, Joe Cusano, Tim Ozgener (CAO), Jose Blanco (La Aurora), Enrico Garzaroli (Graycliff), Aleli Calso (Troya Clásico), Tony Borhani (Bahia), Charlie Toraño, Nestor Plasencia, and so many others from factories big and small - and not necessarily talk about business - is a wonderful thing. We're a big-little business with a very special clientele, and we ALL have one common goal: give our customers a few moments of pleasure and relaxation in a crazy, ever-changing world.

As I reported earlier in the week, the show was under attended, and the pending SCHIP tax on cigars did put somewhat of a damper on things, but for the most part it didn't seem to affect the mood of most of the people I spoke with. As Nick Perdomo told me, "I'm moving forward. I've got a business to run."

When I got in to work today, most of my coworkers wanted to know about the parties. All I can say is, they were all well-planned, entertaining, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. The best party of the show really was the "party" that took place in the lobby of the Hilton where a throng of attendees convened nightly to smoke and enjoy each other's company as I described above.

I think what most cigar smokers who read this and similar blogs really want to know about are the new cigars and how they taste. So going forward, I plan to dump out my bag of goodies, start smoking, and begin reporting on them as soon as possible.

I also plan to post a lot more pictures from RTDA 2007 on the site, too. Most of them will give you a much better impression than all the words I can muster. One of the reasons I haven't shown more of them to this point is because I just didn't have time to edit them all and report on the show. So please accept my apologies, but I assure you it will be worth the wait. (I'll also be doing my annual "Girls of the RTDA" pictorial.)

I also got to shoot some short videos with several of the manufacturers, which I need to edit and hope to get them posted by the end of next week.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the people at the show who were gracious enough to make time for me when they could have been writing orders. Many I have already mentioned above, but it would take up way too much space to name them all, and in most cases I'll be thanking them personally. (I've got your business cards folks, so look for my emails in the days ahead. ;-) If I missed you, I apologize. I'm sure we'll be in touch in the months ahead, and of course, there's always next year in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

RTDA Diary - Tuesday, August 7, 2007

"Too many cigars and not enough time" is the theme for today. I really hit the mother lode as far as getting samples of many of the new premium cigars that Famous Smoke Shop will be carrying in the months ahead. My original plan for today was to get to the show early, do a few meet 'n greets, pick up some samples and get back to the hotel in time to fire a few up and write my impressions. Well, the "best laid plans," as they say, and that didn't happen. So I asked myself, is it better to spend a little more time at the show on day two to cover more ground in order to have more to report when I return, or duck out and not get to see as many people tomorrow, which is the shortest day of the show. Well, I opted for the former, and promise I'll make it up to you when I get back and have more quality time to really savor these new cigars. Besides, I have enough material for weeks, maybe even months. That said, there's still plenty to report on starting with yesterday afternoon.

My first stop was to the Troya cigars (Lignum2) booth to see my good friend Aleli Calso. Their new star is the Troya Clasico made by Don Jose Pepin Garcia, which Aleli reports is doing quite well. I've already reviewed this cigar which debuted eariler this year, so if you missed it and like the Pepin blends, this is one of his best.

Right next door was the 787 Lounge, a/k/a the "Avo Lounge," where Avo Uvezian, now 78 years young, was performing with a small jazz ensemble. The Avo 787 (from Davidoff) is Mr. Uvezian's latest "anniversary" release, blended by none other than his long time partner, Hendrik Kelner. The cigars combine select Dominican tobaccos with a unique blend of Piloto Ligero and Seco leaves from San Vicente, Olor, and a specially fermented Piloto leaf, all bound in a San Vicente binder, and finished with an Ecuadorian sun-grown Connecticut seed wrapper. The cigars are made in limited edition in three frontmarks: a 6"x54 Toro, 5 7/8"x50 Perfecto, and a 5¼"x52 Robusto. I smoked the Perfecto and it was exquisite. The smoke was creamy and woody starting out a little peppery with a moderately long finish. But as it smoked down it rounded out well with an appealingly sweet and spicy character. As an interesting aside, Avo later told me he was particularly fond of the Toro.

I also stopped by the Cusano Cigars booth, where Joe Ciasano introduced me to their new Cuvée selection (pronounced, "kew-vay"). This up-market selection is made in three versions. The Cuvée Blanc, features a Peruvian and Dominican filler recipe garnished in a gorgeous, golden Connecticut wrapper. The Cuvée Rouge is a Dominican puro with a sun grown wrapper leaf. It looks like more Dominican puros are finally starting to catch up to Honduras and Nicaragua. (There's another very special Dominican puro I'll get to in my next report.) The third Cuvée is a Nicaraguan cigar, but at this time the company is not ready to reveal the blend. Fair enough, so stay tuned for that one. All of the cigars are presented in the same four frontmarks: a 7"x57 Salomon, a 7"x50 Churchill, a 6¼"x54 Toro , and a 5"x50 Robusto. The buzz is that the Rouge has already earned a 9.4 rating in SMOKE magazine.

At the Rocky Patel Cigars booth, he's introduced two "10th Anniversary cigars: The Rocky Patel "Decade 10th Anniversary" and the "Indian Tabac 10th Anniversary." The company line on the Rocky Patel Decade is a "rich, powerful and complex" cigar with two "secret leaves," one of which is the wrapper. The Indian Tabac 10th Anniversary is a full-bodied blend that's "peppery and sweet on the palate" and recommended for after dinner.

Rocky has also gotten behind the Nicarao cigars, which will be reintroduced with a new and improved blend in an upcoming Famous Smoke Shop catalog. Two other cigars from Rocky that will be exclusive to Famous Smoke Shop are Conuco and Cruz Real. Look for more on those three cigars in the weeks ahead.

Finally, after a two year wait, Toraño has introduced their eagerly-awaited Reserva Decadéncia, a mild Nicaraguan cigar blended with the flavor of Wilson Creek Winery's award-winning Decadéncia chocolate Port. I've had the Port, and if the cigar is anything like what's in the bottle, you're in for a real treat. They've also introduced the popular Casa Toraño in a naturally sweet-tasting Maduro selection.

Altadis U.S.A. has introduced another extension to their famed Romeo y Julieta series, the Romeo y Julieta Habana Reserve – a medium to full-bodied cigar produced in Honduras. The blend consists of Honduran & Nicaraguan filler, Nicaraguan binder, and a Nicaraguan wrapper. As a big fan of Honduran-Nicaraguan blends, I'm looking forward to getting my nicotine stained fingers on these beauties.

I'll have more to come in the days ahead on new cigars from Davidoff, Drew Estate, Cuesta Rey, General Cigar, Puros Indios, Perdomo, Tony Borhani, Gran Habano, and others, but I did want to mention a couple of cigars I had the opportunity to sample last night and earlier today.

CAO cigars handed out the new CAO America at their party last night. I was really itching to try this cigar and I must say I was very impressed. The smoke was creamy, nutty, somewhat complex, and sweet on the finish. The cigar also looks great. The pinstripe wrapping which is comprised of a Connecticut Shade and a Connecticut Broadleaf is spot-on perfect. The cigar lit and burned beautifully, had no trace of harshness, and offered a wonderful balance of flavors that improved even more as it smoked. IMO, another must-try from a company that's just been amazingly consistent from day one.

In the General Cigar booth today, I tried the new Helix Mocha . (There's so much new stuff from General, it will take another couple of days to wade through it, and I do plan to report on their new Stradivarius cigar in greater detail, too.) The Helix Mocha was quite mild with an appetizing cocoa-coffee flavor. The cap was a little too sweet for me at first, but after a few minutes it's hardly noticeable. If you like flavor-infused cigars that aren't overpowering, this one's for you. The infusion process is done twice, so the tobaccos really soak up the flavor. The result is a cigar that doesn't taste like it's been dipped in some flavoring goo, but more like it's naturally part of the leaf.

Finally today, I tried the Alec Bradley MAXX "Nano." I don't usually smoke smaller cigars, but at 4"x46, this one was just right, especially with the cup of espresso I had with it. The smoke starts out spicy, then rounds out nicely to a very smooth, woody flavor with sweet-earthy notes. Pass some of the smoke through your nose and you'll appreciate the complexities of this new addition even more. FYI- Alec Bradley prez, Alan Rubin, told me he felt the MAXX line needed something else, and the smaller Nano, when compared to it's big – and I mean BIG brothers - fills the gap perfectly. If you don't have a lot of time for a big cigar and want plenty of flavor, this is it.

More to come...

~G.K.

Monday, August 6, 2007

RTDA Diary - Monday, August 6, 2007

My assignment for yesterday was to walk every aisle of the show, take pictures and get the overall "vibe." The show seems much lighter in attendance this year. The show is also more spread out, but you don’t have the din you usually have at past shows. IOW, you can talk to people without screaming at them. Sometimes it seems more like a librarian convention than a cigar smoker’s convention.

I walked the entire show from aisle 100 through 2600. All the usual suspects were decked out and ready to show their wares: CAO, Atladis, Perdomo, Fuente, Oliva, SAG, Camacho, Rocky Patel, Davidoff, and General Cigar, as far as the "extra-large" booths go. Every year General cigar gives away a car. This year it's a red corvette.

Speaking of booths, Drew Estate has done it again in creating one of the most attractive and interesting booths at the show. They’re one of the few companies who do a different theme each year. This year the theme was Coney Island. You’ll have to see the pictures to see what I’m talking about, but the other nice thing about the Drew Estate Booth this year is how roomy it is. Handmade wooden picnic tables and benches were made just for the show. Each bench also has the name of one of their brands carved into it, like ACID, Java, Natural, etc. Very cool. One of the newest additions is a limited edition cigar, the Liga Privada No.9. I gave this good-looking, dark cigar a try. It starts out quite spicy then rounds out to a more medium-bodied smoke with a strong woody flavor. I'm still partial to the Chateau Real from last year, but we'll see how the Privada No. 9 works out.

Alec Bradley has also shown growth in their booth. Last year, you could barely fit a couple of people at their espresso bar. This year it looks more like a full-blown café, and they've got much more real estate as well. They’re also introducing MAXX “The Vice” an attractive, 6 ½" x 62 box-pressed cigar, and the Nano, the smallest frontmark in the line at 4" x 46. As a huge fan of the MAXX line, I intend to give the Vice a test drive as soon as possible, and will report on it then.

In the La Aurora booth, they were featuring their new Barrel Aged cigar. It has a nice dark wrapper, and looks like it might pack somewhat of a kick. More on that one once I've had a chance to smoke it, too.

As always, there were plenty of accessories, including various new-fangled lighters. Zippo is debuting a way overdue torch lighter called Zippo Blu, and I'm looking forward to finding out more about it later today.

Last night we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Jose, Gilberto Jr., and Carlos Oliva, where I learned a lot from Gilberto about how they select the tobaccos for their cigars. I don't have time to get into it here, but I can say that they have some of the highest quality standards in the industry. It's no wonder their cigars are so consistent.

Afterwards, we repaired to the lobby to smoke the new Oliva V. This is one helluva cigar. It's well-packed, draws perfectly, and the wrapper is seamless and oily with a dark-reddish patina. It has kick, but in the Oliva tradition, it's not overpowering. I smoked mine without anything to drink, too, and it was fine. The smoke is very rich, earthy and full-flavored. Moreover, the ash burns razor sharp and is incredibly firm. My sample held on for about an inch-and-a-half. Hal's took the record at well over two inches, and Jeff Brown, our retail store manager took a shot of it for proof. I think this is going to be a very positive addition to the Oliva Cigar Family line, and will be embraced by the full-bodied smokers. Jeff tells me that we are already in the process of scheduling an in-store tasting event for Oliva V. More on that as it develops.

The evening ended at the General Cigar party at The Warehouse. On the way out, all of the guests were given a fully-loaded gift bag which included the new Stradivarius cigar presented in a cedar coffin. There's been some brew-ha-ha about this luxury-priced cigar, so I'll give it a smoke and taste for myself, but it could be a "wait-and-see" as to how many retailers will respond to it.

~G.K.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

SCHIP Passes in House, Senate votes next

In my continuing efforts to keep you up-to-date on the SCHIP legistlation status, here's the latest message from the Cigar Association of America:

The House of Representatives last night passed the SCHIP legislation by a vote of 225-202 (see attached roll call vote). As we informed you yesterday, that bill (H.R. 3162) includes a change in the proposed large cigar tax rate -- from 44.63% to 33% for five years and nine months, then increasing to 40% on October 1, 2013. The cap remains the same -- $1 per cigar. There were no changes made in the tax rates on cigarettes and other tobacco products. The floor stocks provision continues to apply to cigarettes only. Note that the closeness of the vote indicates that the House will not be able to override a Presidential veto.

Debate continues in the Senate where Senators Bill Nelson (Dem., FL) and Lamar Alexander (Rep., TN) have introduced an amendment which would lower the proposed $10 per cigar tax cap to $3. We understand they have been working with the Senate Finance Committee staff on this issue and, as a result, we expect the amendment to be approved. The full Senate is expected to approve the SCHIP legislation this week. The floor stocks provision continues to apply to all tobacco products although, considering that the federal excise tax on large cigars is a percentage of the manufacturer's sales price and is incorporated in that price, it is hard to see how a distributor or retailer would know how much the manufacturer paid in federal excise taxes. Even if the final Senate vote indicates that the Senate can override a Presidential veto, the veto will still be upheld in the House.

Click the link to read The House vote in Acrobat Reader.

~G.K.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Bush offers hope on SCHIP, but cigar smokers must keep the pressure on

By Gary Korb

I'll start with some good news. The President will veto S. 1893 – Children's Health Insurance Reauthorization Act of 2007 in its current form. Following are some of the highlights contained in the "Statement Of Administration Policy" which was sent to the Senate on July 30th.

However, the Administration's statement should not dissuade you from continuing to write to your Senators - and even more importantly at this stage - your Congressmen. The quickest and easiest way to do so is by going through the RTDA.org.

(From Statement Of Administration Policy, dated July 30, 2007)
"The bill discourages States from efficiently managing their allotments by increasing SCHIP allotments at a growth rate well above their projected spending and by creating new funding sources in addition to State allotments. The legislation would create two new funds that appear to encourage States to overspend their budgets. The legislation purposefully sets excessive and unnecessary allotment levels that are designed to spill over into the new 'Incentive Fund...'

The bill is inconsistent with the principle of choice for American consumers and instead goes too far in federalizing health care. A competitive private market for health insurance is better policy than a government-run system that would mean lower quality, longer lines, and fewer options for patients and their doctors. S. 1893 would cause millions of individuals to drop their private insurance in order to be involved with a government insurance plan. Many of the gains in SCHIP under this legislation will be offset by losses in private health insurance coverage because the proposed SCHIP expansion targets families at income levels where most children already have private health insurance coverage. As a result, the true net increase in coverage for children is estimated to be between 40 and 50 percent of the increase in enrollment levels under SCHIP. As a result, the cost per each newly insured individual under the bill would be $3,950 in 2012 in combined Federal and State spending. The Administration is deeply concerned that S.1893 will result in the expenditure of billions of dollars that will merely replace what otherwise would have been spent by families meeting their own obligations to care for their children..."

Here's the key statement...
"The Administration also strongly opposes the proposed tax increases contained in the legislation. The use of tax increases to fund spending increases is undesirable and inadvisable. The Administration is concerned about the negative impact on State budgets from the loss of direct revenue and the uncertain impact this may have on States and bondholders in relation to the tobacco Master Settlement Agreements."

Finally, again, don't be complacent - keep the heat on. Moreover, in an email I received from a Famous Smoke Shop customer, he emphasized: "[Generic] email is treated as junk, with their contents not read or tallied. You need to inform your friends and customers to email their Senators [and Congressmen] DIRECTLY. The email addresses are simply, http:/senator'slastname.senate.gov, and http:/congressman'slastname.house.gov. If people are serious about this, they need to make their sure their communications are heard and counted."

Click the link to read the entire Statement Of Administration Policy in Acrobat Reader.