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.