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. ;-)