Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cigars and Cold Weather (or, A Recipe for a Smoky Garage)

If you read the blog last week, you'll recall the pair of Padrón 80th Anniversary Maduros all lined up for me and my brother tonight. I've just learned that a third BOTL will be joining in the festivities, even contributing a few premium cigars to boot.

"The more, the merrier," gushes my inner jolly old elf.

Not so fast you chubby, red-cheeked bastard. What you failed to consider were the logistics of enjoying a cold-weather cigar in the garage. Here's the facts:

1. It's detached, so the missus will be happy (or at least content)
2. A couple oil-filled space heaters will ensure our comfort
3. It's lacking any kind of smoke mitigation system

Wait…what? Three dudes smoking cigars in a warm garage that…lacks ventilation? This is akin to being served your favorite drink, only to find you have to slurp it up from a puddle on the bar. I'll make a few predictions:

1. One of the garage doors will have to be cracked to allow smoke to escape
2. Cold weather will creep in, rendering the heaters practically useless
3. We'll be too schnockered to notice
4. I'll make a New Year's Resolution to get a ventilation system, then forget all about it once the weather warms up

C'est la vie, I guess. Any suggestions?

- Hayward Tenney

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Famous “Wise Buys” Story

By Humberto Gonzalez

It all started one day in July when I was getting re-acquainted with the Famous Smoke Shop modus operandi after a long "hiatus," for lack of a better term. I was flipping through the pages of the Famous cigar catalog when I realized it hadn't changed very much since the last time I occupied an office here. I stared at the wall and pondered what could be done to make the catalog, and my existence, more useful. I also needed to justify the humongous salary with stock options, benefits, and company car I was granted when Arthur begged me to come back. After skimming back and forth through the Famous pages eight or nine times, I had an epiphany that hit me like a ton of bricks.

Famous Smoke Shop owns a boatload of private labels, all of which are made by some key people in this wild and wonderful cigar business. Along with those private labels, we also sell branded products we don't make any money on because every Tom, Dick and Harry cigar store, clambering for that oh so precious consumer, keeps driving the price down to ridiculously unattractive margins. I mean, who can stay in business on such meager profits?

I said to myself "I can make a difference. I can turn the tide on all this and get out of the rat race by helping Famous sell cigars the other guys don't have!" Yes. I had a plan. But how? How do I get someone to try our products when seasoned cigar smokers mostly smoke something with a name? How can I get a self-respecting cigar smoker to savor the Cameroon goodness from our newly acquired CAO CX2 cigars selection? What need I do to get the average Joe cigar smoker to light up a Conuco without the subliminal reminder to fill the gas tank? In what way will I unveil the secret behind the newly introduced La Floridita Limited Edition? In short, what do I have to do to put our cigars in their mouths? Hmmm. . ."I'VE GOT IT!!" I yelled. "I'll pair up our cigars with some of those hoity toity 'name brands' at virtually little or no extra cost!!" I was so proud of myself I had to announce it to the world. I leapt off my cardboard box (shaped to resemble the leather reclining massage office chair I requested), and pranced through the hallways, singing four octaves above my normal range of tone-deafness, reciting my latest stroke of brilliance. People looked excited, even as they covered their ears to the painful shrieks of my vocal chords. But a short phrase from somewhere off in the distance quickly silenced my enthusiasm. . ."What are you going to call it?". . .(sigh).

I returned to my desk, dejected and emasculated, trying to regain my composure, held back the tears and went back to the beginning. Near desperation, I opened up Microsoft Outlook® and, hailing every Famous employee in the system, asked them to come up with a name. Something catchy, unique, simple, sexy. . .After 3 hours and 473 crappy suggestions, my inbox lit up with the name to end all names; the Mona Lisa of cigar-related marketing. . ."Wise Buys," submitted by one of our employees who works from her home in Texas. (A chord sung by an angelic choir rises in unison - AAAAHH!) I loved it, the company loved it. We found our niche. With that, I sat down and brainstormed with Hayward, one of our copywriters extraordinaire, who has proved to be as masterful with paper and pen as he is with a knife and fork.

We sat in the same room for what seemed like days. Ordered Chinese food and ate out of the containers with chop sticks, like in the movies. Had a big fight, made-up, and discovered what had been right under our collective noses the entire eight minutes we were together. In concert we chanted "Let's give this thing a mob theme!" We looked up every possible reference to mob and wise guy culture we could find and realized we would never run out of possibilities while utterly enjoying every cigar and every last bit of prose we wrote to entertain and supply our loyal public.

Gentlemen (and ladies), we offer you the Famous Wise Buys - Branded products (Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Macanudo, Rocky Patel, etc.) paired with our very own private label cigars (CX2, La Campina, Conuco, etc.) Manufactured by "made men," at reasonable "try me now" prices, we've even gone so far as to inform our audience about an interesting and deadly underworld. Enjoy our offahs. . .You simply can't refuse them. . .And don't worry about buying too many. . .we'll simply make more.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday cigar cheers (and some good advice)

By Hayward Tenney

"Happy Holidays?" That's what you get when "political correctness" trumps common sense. Here's the bottom line: it's December 24th, I endured a tempest of ice and freezing rain to get to work this morning, and frankly, I'd rather be at home with my family. In short, I feel I've earned the right say "Merry Christmas." There, was that so hard?

Something about this season crosses all belief systems. A certain je ne sais quoi uniting us all, regardless of religious convictions. Something that lifts our spirits and renews us for the work of the year ahead. I speak, of course, about making merry with fine cigars.

Rest assured, I've got a couple of doozies lined up for the next week or so. And while I'm not here to brag, I will say it culminates New Year's Eve with a pair of Padrón 1926 80th Anniversary Maduros, one for me and one for my brother. But it's not just the cigar, or the occasion, or the company - it's more than the sum of those.

What I’m getting at is this: Whatever your beliefs, most of us will enjoy some R&R this time of year. Slow down and really relish every moment you have with your family. Eat, drink, and be merry. And above all, punctuate it all with the finest cigars in your humidor!

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Cuba Aliados 75th Anniversary Fuerte Limited "Miami" Edition Valentino Reserva Maduro

It's that time of year, and a few surprise packages have already arrived on my desk. The cigar of note for today is the new Cuba Aliados 75th Anniversary Fuerte Limited "Miami" Edition Valentino Reserva Maduro. Now there's a mouthful. I smoked it immediately last Friday when the box of cigars arrived from my friend Frank Santos of Reyes Family Cigars. So in the spirit of the Holidays, I shared the box with several coworkers along with a few lucky Famous Smoke Shop retail store customers who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The Valentino Reserva Maduro is a 7" x 50 Churchill with a very dark, yet rustic Habano wrapper. The filler is Nicaraguan and Dominican with an Ecuadorian Sumatra binder. The cigars are also presented in cedar sleeves (not shown in the photo here) with words LIMITED "MIAMI" EDITION printed on them. The red and white bands also clearly indicate they are the "Miami" edition. Yes, these are the same cigars that would normally be rolled in Honduras, but I'm conjecturing that this edition was done to pay tribute to the great city of Miami and the wonderful rolling talent still found there. Underneath the box is a color photo of the Miami factory showing Rolando Reyes with his hand on the shoulder of a cigar store Indian. (Very cool.)

I probably should have let the box settle for a while, but I was pretty excited about smoking one of these, so here's my take:

The pre-light flavor was reminiscent of red wine, but once lit, the base flavors were that of dark, sweet tobacco with some earthy elements, and a very peppery finish. The cigar burned well, emitting a sweet aroma as thick, creamy smoke oozed out of the head. The smoke was robust, yet very smooth, and as the cigar smoked down it bloomed nicely in flavor. To it's credit, the cigar also remained consistent through at least four re-lights. In short, I would classify it a full-bodied and having somewhat of a "vintage" Cuban-like profile.

I'm also looking forward to seeing how these cigars will smoke in about another month or two in my humidor. In the meantime, keep your eyes pealed for these at your local cigar store.

Special thanks to Frank and the staff at Reyes Family Cigars.

~Gary Korb

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Mild" vs. "Medium" vs. "Full cigars"...What are you afraid of?

By Humberto P. Gonzalez

Today's blog was written by my good friend and coworker, Humberto Gonzalez. This is also the first article by other cigar experts & enthusiasts who will now be contributing to this blog. Enjoy the read. - G.K.

This question has plagued me as of late. As the self proclaimed "sampler guru" of Famous Smoke Shop, I am charged with the task of putting together exciting and affordable, unadvertised "phone-only" deals for our call-center staff to introduce to their customers, among other things. Some of the latest versions of these sampler deals include "The Muscle" and the "Jet Black," both containing some respectably fuller flavored cigars. Although many of our customers seem to be enjoying them, a sizable number of our phone-in customers wouldn't touch the offer with a ten foot match. It appears people associate strength with harshness. Being a seasoned cigar smoker myself, this issue has become a pet peeve of mine (Believe me. I have many.) So let me set the record straight. There’s nothing to fear.

I was a road cigar salesman for a few years before coming back to Famous this past July. In my travels, I learned many things from a variety of interesting and knowledgeable people in the industry. One of those things is that there is a distinction between full body and full flavor. It was a concept I did not understand until a few respected cigar manufacturers cleared it up for me. They explained that strong, "kick-ass" cigars are probably not meant to be that way. By virtue of a variety of fermenting and aging mistakes, stronger cigars end up being harsh and sometimes unpalatable.

Cigar smokers characterize such cigars as "strong" or "full." (I could name a few branded examples but wouldn’t want my in-box flooded with hate mail.) They also went on to tell me that a properly constructed cigar, from start to finish, should never be so overwhelmingly strong as to get you dizzy or develop a cold sweat. After all, a cigar is supposed to be a refined instrument for the purposes of relaxation and enjoyment. Not something for the masochistic.

I've seen many people on the streets actually relish in a "stronger is better" attitude, like they have something to prove by being able to endure the punishment that an improperly fermented ligero leaf has to inflict. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that from an individual point of view, but it sends a negative message to many new cigar smokers. So, they stay away from some real gems that could prove to be a newly found favorite.

For the sake of making the distinction, a full-flavored cigar, on the other hand, means its ingredients are fermented and blended in a manner which amplifies the taste experience you may expect from a mild or medium-bodied cigar. Well cultivated, cured, and processed tobaccos blended properly will usually yield a smooth, satisfying experience. A full-bodied cigar really has nothing to do with the cigar's strength. It has more to do with the amount of smoke it produces. I think most cigar smokers will agree that more smoke equals greater pleasure.

The bottom line is this: If you’ve shied away from stronger cigars because you fear their effects, don’t be. You may be missing out on a very pleasant experience. I'll continue to create cigar samplers that display the full spectrum of strengths and flavors for you smokers. In time, I'm sure you’ll understand what I'm talking about. So go on, add a little spice to your life.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Perdomo 10th Anniversary Cuban Criollo Robusto

This weekend I had the chance to get my hands on a cigar that I've been curious about ever since the IPCPR show last July when Perdomo Cigars debuted their 10th Anniversary Series. The cigar in question is the 10th Anniversary Cuban Criollo Robusto, and it did not disappoint.

Fortunately, I had the chance to smoke it in the retail store during a Perdomo Cigars in-store event with other customers, so we could compare notes.

Appearance and pre-light: The cigar had a seamless, buttery smooth Criollo wrapper that's made even more attractive by the large, copper & gold band. The cigar, which weighs-in at 5" x 54 with an all Nicaraguan tobacco filler & binder blend, was firm with no apparent soft spots. When I clipped the cap, it came off in a perfect little disc, exposing just the right amount of tobacco at the head. The draw was scary easy, too.

Light-up: I made sure to toast the cigar as gently as possible and it lit perfectly across once I blew on the foot. From the first draw, the smoke was creamy, smooth, well-balanced, and offered a fine aroma.

The smoke: As I smoked this cigar, I found it impressively complex, and tried to put my finger on just what flavors were going on in there. The more dominant flavors were that of sweet cedar and oak, with a rich, earthy character, while the finish left a trace white pepper on the palate with a suggestion of almonds. I would classify the smoke as medium-bodied/full flavored, because as the cigar continued to smoke into its second half the flavors improved dramatically while staying on an even keel into the final act.

And here was another nice little surprise. I was getting down to the nub and the cigar was just starting to "turn." So I perched it on the holder to let it go out naturally. As I continued to talk to my friend Bill, one of our regular customers, out of habit I reached for the stub and took another drag. Incredibly, the bitterness was gone! That lasted a few more puffs, but by then (about half an inch) the cigar was pretty much all she wrote.

I now have a newfound fondness for Criollo wrapper leaf, and the Perdomo 10th Anniversary Cuban Criollo Robusto might even make my "Top-10 Best Cigars of the Year." Another great job by Nick Perdomo Jr. and his team that I would highly recommend to smokers of every experience.

If you've had any of the Perdomo 10th Anniversary Cuban Criollo cigars, please leave your comments.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pet peeve: When the wrapper leaf is damaged after removing the cigar band

I've got a bone to pick, and maybe you can relate. When I smoke a cigar, I usually remove the band early on. This practice is a point of contention among some cigar smokers, but I'm so deep into the habit, I do it almost subconsciously.

What sucks the wind out of my sail is when I remove the band and a piece of wrapper leaf comes off with it. I've noticed this happening much more lately, and with cigars of every class - even when I let the cigar smoke down a bit to let the heat soften the glue on the band. I found this particularly common with one brand that I'm very fond of. It seems to happen more with Connecticut wrapped cigars, whose wrappers tend to be naturally delicate. Finally, I mentioned it to someone at the company who told me I wasn't the first to bring it up, and they were working on it.

Having now ruined many a good cigar, these days I'm almost afraid to remove the band until the cigar has burned down to within a millimeter of it. Even then, you can't be sure whether the band will come off with a negligible little patch of wrapper, or result in the cigar unraveling like a cheap wool sweater.

Then there are some bands that don't come off at all. I found this evident with Avo bands. They use a heavy stock for their bands, and the ends are glued so well it's almost impossible to get your finger underneath to pry them apart. But to their credit, I don't remember damaging a wrapper leaf while removing the band on an Avo.

So I've developed the following conspiracy theory: The manufacturers intentionally apply the bands with extra glue. Then, after the wrapper leaf has torn on several cigars, you give up and are forced to leave the bands on. This way you help the manufacturer advertise their brand when you're among other cigar smokers. Brilliant, huh?

Or, as Larry David might say, "Pretty good. Pretty, pretty good."

~ Gary Korb

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Two great cigar gifts in one for the holidays

If you're looking for something extra special for that "extra-special cigar smoker," Famous Smoke Shop has just announced a great offer on El Centurion cigars, a stunning Nicaraguan puro from the gifted hands of Don José Pepin Garcia. This limited edition, luxury-class selection is offered in three sizes: Guerreros (a 5″ x 50 Robusto), Emperadores (a 5½" x 52 Belicoso), and Gladiadores (a 6.5″x 52 Toro, shown here).

From now through December 31, 2008, anyone who purchases a box of El Centurion will also receive a free Famous Smoke Shop Holiday Gift Package - a $153.77 value that comes with the following items:
  • Sao Paolo Humidor (holds 50 cigars)
  • 10-inch round ashtray (blue)
  • Boveda 72% Humidity Pack
  • CC 3000 stainless steel cigar cutter
  • Nibo Space 6 chrome triple-flame cigar lighter
El Centurion is a limited edition, premium cigar selection expertly handcrafted with a three-year-aged blend of all Nicaraguan-grown, Cuban seed Criollo '98 and Corojo '99 leaves capped by a savory Nicaraguan Habano wrapper. The smoke is medium to full in body offering rich, woody and black pepper flavors throughout.

Only 850 boxes in each size were produced, making this Don Pepin masterpiece a very rare treat. Add the free Holiday Gift Package, plus free shipping, and you've got one sweetheart of a gift set designed for the ultimate cigar aficionado.

To learn more about this special holiday offer, visit the El Centurion cigars page on the Famous Smoke Shop website. Phone orders can be placed by calling 1-800-672-5544.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Filipe Gregorio (Art of?) Power Figurado

This weekend, our company held its annual Holiday party and it was a real blast. IMO, our best Holiday party to-date. During the day, most of the guys I work with were talking about the "special" cigars they were bringing to smoke that night. I remember bringing an OpusX to my first company party and it burned crappy, making it a total waste of time and money. From then on, I began bringing good cigars, but not necessarily expensive cigars. It wasn’t because that first OpusX was a dud; I've had some might good ones since then. It's more because I tend to get distracted talking to people, the cigar goes out, and by the third relight, it's done.

Maybe it was peer pressure, but by the end of the day, I began to think twice about bringing a "special cigar" to the party. So I went into the back where I keep my private stash and found a cigar that I hadn't yet tried, a Felipe Gregorio Power from a sampler that was sent to me by a business associate. This was some cigar, too. It looked to be about 6" x 60, but after checking the Felipe Gregorio website to get more information, it didn't show up on their "Power Cigars" page. This cigar had a beautiful Cuban-style pigtail that was tied with a thin black piece of Oscuro tobacco with a similar Oscuro "band" at the base of the foot. At first, I thought the thin black band at the foot was paper, and almost began peeling it off with my finger.

After a little more digging on the Felipe Gregorio website, I found out this cigar was more likely from their "Art of Power" cigar series, because the box of cigars in the picture shown (see above) looked exactly like the one I smoked. I think it's the "Antonius," but the lettering on the box just wasn't clear enough to make out, so I'm guessing, because that's what it looked like it to my eye.

The blends listed for the respective series didn't exactly match-up either, but the copy says the blend for the Art of Power is "the same blend of the 91 Cigar Aficionado rated Power." That would be a dark, pre-embargo Pelo de Oro seed wrapper grown in Costa Rica, Nicaraguan Piloto Cubano filler, and an Habano 92 Nicaraguan binder. The blend cited on the "Art of Power" cigars page shows Nicaraguan Piloto Cubano filler and Dominican Piloto Cubano binder, plus two other wrapper shades. Are you as confused as I am, right now?

Just from the size of this cigar and the bold black word "Power" on the band is enough to make you think this is going to be one killer of a smoke. Although definitely a full-bodied cigar, to my surprise, the smoke was not overly spicy or overpowering. (Maybe this was the blend with the Dominican Piloto Cubano tobacco). It had a very appealing, dark, earthy tobacco flavor with some nice sweetness to it, and it went well with my vodka and tonic.

I had relatively no burn problems with the cigar. It drew well and the flavors remained consistent, becoming much more caramelized and complex in the last act. Fortunately, I only had to relight it once. I smoked it down to about an inch, when it just got too juicy and started to turn bitter.

Overall, a marvelously robust cigar with lots of meat to sink your teeth into and plenty of flavor. A very enjoyable and memorable smoke that I can highly recommend for full-bodied fans.

If you've had any of the Felipe Gregorio Power or Art of Power cigars, please leave a comment.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, December 5, 2008

Retro Smoke: ACID Kuba Kuba

Last Friday the Famous Smoke Shop retail store was hosting their regular afternoon gig with Lehigh Valley's ESPN Radio station at 1230 & 1320 on the AM dial. Also there was Michael Cellucci, Vice President of Sales for Drew Estate Cigars, who was doing a promotion for ACID cigars.

Not being a regular ACID cigar smoker, it had been a while since I smoked one, which I mentioned to Michael in passing. So, he asked me if I'd like one, and not being one to turn down a free cigar, I asked if he could spare a Kuba Kuba, and in return, I'd review it on this page.

At 5" x 54, the ACID Kuba Kuba has a nice heft to it and a distinctive pre-light spicy aroma. The cap clipped off cleanly and the draw was effortless. It has a sweetened Sumatra wrapper, and once lit, the cigar virtually explodes with abundant aromas of cloves, anise, and an arousing bouquet of other herbal and spice essences. The smoke is thick, creamy, and medium in body with a well-rounded, earthy-spicy flavor. But for the most part, you just sort of let yourself dissolve into all those marvelous aromas swirling about you.

For those of you who haven't had ACID cigars, or have evaded them because you're under the impression that they're flavored, which they're not, all I can say is, this is truly a unique premium cigar smoking experience that's hard to describe. You have to experience it for yourself, and I think every cigar smoker should try an ACID at least once.

As one regular ACID cigar smoker opined to me recently, "You smoke them more for the aromas than for the flavors," and now I also understand why the Kuba Kuba is at the top of the ACID food chain.

Thanks Michael.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The ideal "Divorce Cigar"

I'm not in the habit of revealing certain aspects of my personal life on these pages, but yesterday I received a letter from my lawyer with a copy of my divorce decree. Yes, "yours truly" is now FREE! Case closed.

So I got to thinking, what would be a good "Divorce Cigar?" You have your wedding cigars, new baby cigars, "that big promotion" cigars, etc. After all, cigars are meant to be enjoyed with life's greatest moments. OK, let’s get real. Divorce is not on this list of life's greatest moments, but according to just about all the divorced men I spoke to since I joined "The 51-Percenters Club," it was one of the happiest days of their life. And now that I have closure, I'm actually feeling pretty good, myself.

The question is, WHICH cigar do I choose to celebrate my emancipation? Hayward suggested I reach for a Padrón 1926 or 80th Anniversary, but I told him I've already had them. Since this is a new phase in my life, I was thinking more along the lines of a cigar that I've never smoked. There are several Pete Johnson creations I haven't tried, so I thought maybe an El Triunfador Lancero, or one of the better La Flor Dominicana Double Ligeros. Perhaps a Gurkha that I've missed, or an Oliva V Maduro would be appropriate. Come to think of it, I just received a rare Arturo Fuente 8-5-8 Flor Fina Sun Grown from a friend. I also have a rare Davidoff Diademas back at the new ranch. Hmmm...

This is a tough decision, and I really want it to be special, so I'm opening up the comment box below. Tell me what you think would be the ideal divorce cigar by leaving a comment or shoot me an email. In the meantime, I'll start building a list. Once I make my decision, I'll post a review of it.

~ Gary

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Cugine (by Arganese) Robusto Connecticut

This past Saturday, I finally had the opportunity to sample the new Cugine Cigars, the creation of actor, author, and chef, Joseph R. Gannascoli, and Gene Arganese of Arganese Cigars. As I wrote in my preview of their northeast debut in-store event at Famous Smoke Shop ("'Il Cugine' is Coming!"), Cugine cigars are blended with prime Dominican longfillers and Honduran Sumatra-seed binder rolled in a milder Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, or a more full-bodied Brazilian-seed Maduro wrapper grown in Ecuador.

The store was packed to the gills with customers who wanted to meet Joe and try his new cigars. Joe also came armed with photos from The Sopranos™ for autographing, a stack of his A Meal to Die For books, and bottles of his own brand of pasta sauce, or "gravy" as my former Italian in-laws preferred to call it.

Right now Cugine cigars are available in only two sizes: Torpedo and Robusto. I started with the Robusto in the Connecticut wrapper (see my sample shown). The wrapper was smooth and buttery, and the cigar was well-packed. The cap, which is a Cuban-style "triple cap," sliced off perfectly and the pre-light draw was excellent.

The cigar lit well, and the smoke was smooth, creamy and medium-bodied, dominated by sweet, woody flavors with just a trace of nutmeg on the finish. It was also impressively consistent and well-balanced through the last act, where I smoked it down to about an inch. So if it's a naturally sweet, rich-tasting cigar that appeals to you, then I highly recommend the Cugine Connecticut. Moreover, the cigar burned for well over an hour without a relight.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to smoke the Cugine Maduro, which I hope to smoke this week, but many of the customers I spoke on Saturday were smoking it. What I gathered from their opinions was the Maduro had lots of flavor, starting out very spicy, then rounding out to a more well-balanced, full-bodied smoke with a sweet and spicy character.

Although Cugine cigars will be presented in boxes, if you want to try some Cugine cigars, Famous Smoke Shop has a limited number of specially-made, pre-box release bundles available on their website.

A lot of celebrities have come out with their own cigars over the years, most of which have failed, because you can't sell a cigar on an actor's or an athlete's name alone. From what I tasted, Gene and Joe did a nice job, and this cigar has real potential. If Mr. Gannascoli and Gene get out there and pound the pavement by promoting it as a fine, premium cigar, and not a "celebrity cigar" they've got a great shot at becoming the exception to the rule.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Don Lino Africa Kifaro

This weekend I reached for a cigar I haven't smoked in quite a while which caused me to ask myself, "Self, why haven't you smoked more of these?" I think it must have been that when I smoked the Don Lino Africa during its 2003 debut, then the revised-blend one year later, I didn't give either a fair shake. Then about two week's ago I got my hands on several different sizes and decided to give them a long overdue second chance. I started with the Don Lino Africa Kifaro, the 6¼ x 52 Belicoso in the series.

First of all, the Nicaraguan Habano wrappers on these cigars are beautifully dark and oily, and this particular stick was especially even in tone and neatly rolled. I'm usually a bit nervous about large figurados due to burn and draw problems I've experienced in the past, but fortunately the cigar drew nicely, both pre-light and after.

Once the cigar got going, it burned well through most of the first act, until it started to tilt slightly. However, the smoke itself made up for this minor discrepancy. The blend is very diverse, using Nicaraguan, Mexican, Dominican and African tobaccos, and the smoke had a predominantly semi-sweet, woody flavor that I would classify as "Cubanesque," with a pleasant hint of chocolate in the mix in the first act. During the second act, some peppery notes began to present themselves, which complemented some of the cigar's sweeter aspects.

By the third act, the cigar had blossomed into a smooth, full-bodied and much more complex smoke that remained consistently well-balanced to its conclusion at just below the 2-inch mark. Unfortunately, the burn never straightened out completely, but in fairness, I did note one of the filler leaves was giving it some resistance most of the way.

To summarize, this was a very enjoyable cigar that I could confidently recommend. I'm looking forward to smoking the other Don Lino Africa sizes I picked-up. Perhaps they'll display an even more varied flavor profile, so stay tuned...

~ Gary Korb

Friday, November 21, 2008

Does the cigar make the experience, or does the experience make the cigar?

The other day, I was talking with one of my coworkers, Humberto Gonzalez, about what some of the most memorable cigars we've ever smoked when he raised a very interesting question: What made the cigar so memorable - the cigar itself, or the conditions in which you smoked it? Humberto ascribes more credit to the conditions (IOW, the environment) rather than the cigar, and I'm inclined to agree.

Due to the nature of my job, I get to smoke a lot of great cigars in the office. And although I've enjoyed many of them for their high quality and great flavor, it's just not the same as smoking them at home on the deck with a good friend, or slouching in a cigar store lounge chair with fellow BOTLs. In fact, I often toss some of the best cigars in my briefcase to smoke at home because I know I'll enjoy them more without a computer monitor flickering in front of me, or being interrupted by a riptide of emails.

"It was at the 2005 RTDA Trade Show in New Orleans," said Humberto. "I had a fantastic meal with some good friends at Emeril's, and afterwards we moved to the lobby to smoke cigars. I had a Padilla Miami 8/11 Salomon on me and lit it up. We kicked back, relaxed, and it turned into one of the most phenomenal experiences I'd ever had. Having a brilliantly crafted cigar after a brilliantly crafted meal, everything just sort of came together. You could say it was the best "blending" of experiences."

I recently wrote about a similar experience I had with an Oliva Master Blends No.2. Although it was more a review of the cigar, it was also an experience I like to call "a perfect cigar." In my case, as it was for Humberto, the conditions were ideal. The kids were inside playing Rock Band on the Wii, the weather was perfect, I was with my good friend, Richard-from-up-the-street, we had good libations to pair with our cigars, and the conversation was pleasant. But it was the cigar that tied-it all together, making it one of the most memorable cigar experiences for me.

A good cigar is always a good cigar. But when a good cigar dovetails with a special place and time, it becomes a great cigar.

Your thoughts?

~ Gary Korb

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Il Cugine" is coming!

A few months ago I wrote about meeting actor Joe Gannascoli, aka "Vito" of The Sopranos fame, when we had Gene Arganese at Famous Smoke Shop for an Arganese Cigars in-store event. Even before that, I reported from the IPCPR show in Vegas that I had met Joe in the Arganese Cigars booth, where, at the time he was promoting his upcoming Cugine Cigars selection. (I even got some video of Joe on the Famous Smoke Shop YouTube channel.)

Well, the cigars will soon be arriving at cigar stores across the country, and although I haven't yet had the pleasure of personally sampling a Cugine, I did learn that Gene and Joe will be returning to Famous Smoke Shop in Easton, PA on Saturday, November 29 from 12-5:00 P.M. to kick-off their new collaboration. Moreover, this will be the first time the cigar is available in the North East.

During that last Arganese in-store, I spent well over an hour chatting with Joe about the cast and writers on The Sopranos, his book, A Meal to Die For, movies we like, and some roles he's done since he got wacked in the last season of The Sopranos. Fortunately, Joe is one of those actors who hasn't been affected by his success, and I felt like I was speaking to an old friend. IOW, he's a regular guy.

The Cugine blend consists of Dominican longfillers with a Honduran Sumatra-seed binder, and will available in two wrappers - a mild Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper and a full-bodied Maduro wrapper. The sizes so far are a 6 7/8" Torpedo and a 5" x 50 Robusto.

Now, for those of you who don't know what "cugine" means, there are several definitions. The common translation from Italian is "cousin." However, another definition, which may be closer to what people think of when they see Mr. Gannascoli is, "a young ambitious gangster who wants to climb the ranks of power," or "a young tough guy looking to be made." Whether that's what Mr. Gannascoli had in mind when he came up with the name is irrelevant. Let's see how the cigar tastes.

If anyone has already had a Cugine cigar, please feel free to leave a comment.

~ Gary Korb

P.S. You can find more information on Joe Gannascoli at his website,

Friday, November 14, 2008

A night of good Port and fine cigars

This past Wednesday night I attended a Port wine and cigar tasting party sponsored by Gary's Wine & Marketplace in Wayne, N.J. (No relation to moi.) Held at Jamie's Restaurant in Clifton, NJ, Gary's supplied the Ports, and the cigars were provided by Tony Santana of The Cigar Vault in Nutley, NJ. Tony, who is of Cuban descent, also markets his own Santana line of premium cigars which are produced in the Dominican Republic. He's also a roller, and I when I stepped through the door, he was working his chaveta on a Santana Cabinet Robusto.

A little later, Tony and I got a chance to talk. I told him I was in the business, yadda, yadda, yadda, and he handed me an EXM Santana Cabinet Toro Maduro, which I paired with a sample of Graham's Six Grapes Port NV, which had a nice, fruity bouquet. The cigar was well-packed and offered a rich and well-balanced woody flavor with a note of sweetness in the mix. It picked up in spiciness in the third act, but overall, the cigar was medium-bodied with a pleasantly round finish. (FYI - this cigar received a 9.1 rating in SMOKE magazine.)

Also interesting was how the cigar paired with different Ports. Once I had finished the Six Grapes, I moved on to a sample of Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny NV, which had a little more bite to it. It reminded me of the Offley Tawny Reserve I've had on past occasions. Nice and smooth. Unfortunately, I didn't get to sample all five of the Ports, but I kept the list. So, if you're also partial to Port, here are the remaining three featured choices to assuage your curiosity:

  • Smith Woodhouse Late Bottle Vintage 1995
  • Blandy's Alvada NV
  • Blandy's 5 Year Old Sercial NV

Before I left, Tony handed me a sampler with some of his other blends, so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank him publicly and wish him continued success. Thanks also to Gary's Wine & Marketplace for inviting me. I look forward to doing it again soon. Perhaps next time with cigars from Famous Smoke Shop.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, November 10, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: CAO LX2 Robusto

This past Saturday, we held a CAO Cigars and XiKAR cigar accessories event in the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store. The place was jammed and both companies were showcasing their finest wares. Even though they will not be arriving at retail for several weeks, in honor of the occasion, I decided to smoke my CAO LX2 (Ligero times 2) Robusto sample, which I've been saving since the IPCPR Show in Las Vegas, this past July.

When I asked Paul Spence, the CAO sales rep, if he thought I should consider smoking something else under the circumstances, he said, "Don't worry about it. It'll give 'em something to look forward to."

So, I lit up the coffee-colored, 5" x 48 vitola, which dons two bands; the top band has the CAO LX2 logo featuring a crown, while the second, butterfly-shaped band has the words, "Fortaleza Tres" on it, which translates to "three strengths." (I'm looking into what that's all about). The blend consists of a toothy Nicaraguan wrapper, Honduran binder, and two different ligero filler tobaccos - one from the Dominican Republic, and one from Nicaragua, which is grown on the 140-acre Pueblo Nuevo farm in Condega.

The pre-light draw was excellent with a woody-leathery flavor. By putting my tongue up against the head I could taste the spicy leaves. Once lit, waves of peppery spice broke over my palate. This is pretty much what I expected. At about the 1-inch mark the cigar rounded out nicely, taking on a dark, woody character with a mix of pepper and earthy sweetness on the finish.

As the cigar continued to smoke, by the second act, the stronger peppery aspects had all but faded, leaving what I considered a very smooth, medium to full-bodied, "Cubanesque" smoke dominated by deep, woody flavors with a hint of semi-sweet cocoa. The overall construction, burn and balance were top-flight, and although the LX2 was not a "complex" smoke, the flavors remained consistent down to the last inch, when I finally left it in the ashtray to expire gracefully.

This cigar would have been great with a good Tawny Port or 12 year-old single malt, and Paul agreed with a smile. I enjoyed the cigar, and highly recommend the LX2 once they hit the shelves, so keep your eyes and ears open. I also look forward to having another with one of the spirits mentioned above.

~ Gary Korb

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Will President Obama be "cigar friendly?"

Now that America has spoken by electing Barack Obama its 44th president, there's no doubt "change" is in the cards. All sorts of questions have arisen since he made his victory speech. Will he continue to lean "left" as he did in the Senate, or will he rule more as a "centrist?" Will he raise taxes on small businesses? Will he push through a national health care program? And so on, and so on…

My question, and primarily because my job depends on it, is will our new president-elect lend an ear to the plight of American cigar smokers? During their campaigns, both Obama and McCain vowed they would stand up to the "special interest" lobbies. That always made me a little queasy because "big tobacco" and a few other groups such as the IPCPR (International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers), the CRA (Cigar Rights of America), and the CAA (Cigar Association of America) are all we have to defend our rights to enjoy one of life's very special pleasures.

I know dozens of cigar smokers who smoke only one or two cigars a week. They may not be the majority, but they really look forward to that cigar, if only to escape the worries of the world in a cloud of smoke for an hour or two. I would hate see them lose that very special quality time.

Obama's selection of Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff is already making me nervous. Emanuel is the No. 4 ranking Democrat in the House. His record shows that he leans stridently to the left, and has allegedly never reached across the aisle, so we may be in for one heck of fight. Certainly SCHIP will pass with flying colors when it comes around again.

On the other hand, with President-elect Obama's open-mindedness on foreign policy, we may finally see the Cuban embargo lifted. That would certainly be the catalyst to a second "cigar boom," but what good will it do if an "embargo" is placed on smoking altogether?

As cigar smokers, we’re all adults, and we know the risks tobacco presents. Even Mr. Obama has been a cigarette smoker and partaken of the occasional cigar. So if he wants to earn my vote in 2012, I hope he'll think long and hard about how much he enjoyed those cigars before he signs any legislation that will adversely affect the rights of good, hardworking, tax-paying Americans.

Your thoughts?

~ Gary Korb

Monday, November 3, 2008

What's politics got to do with it?

I have to admit, sometimes I can't help but get a little peeved with the way some people respond to the most nugacious things when it comes to politics. Without a doubt, millions of Americans are stridently zealous in their political views, but sometimes it gets carried to the point of absurdity.

On the eve of what may be the most significant election days in several generations, I call your attention to a phone call I received this morning from one of the Famous Smoke Shop call center operators. It seems that several customers were offended by the "cigar quote of the week" I chose for this week's sale on Arganese Cameroon cigars. One customer even asked to be removed from our mailing list altogether if we didn't remove it.

The quote was from an article titled, "Bill & Barack: Smoking Buddies?" by Rick Klein of ABC News. As always, it had do to with cigar smoking, NOT politics. However, since it was accompanied by a picture of Barack Obama, some customers took this as some sort of endorsement for him. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The main reason I ran it was because the email would arrive the day before election day and I wanted something that tied the election to cigars, period.

In June, I ran a cigar quote from an article in titled, "John McCain Has Long-Ago Connection To New London," in which the writer related a humorous anecdote from John McCain's book about the Senator's father and a cigar.

Look, I realize there are many of you who are passionate about the candidate of your choice, and I respect that. Personally, I'm still undecided. Regardless of who you plan to vote for, I think it's fair to say that every American voter wants what's best for the country. Will the winner deliver the goods? That remains to be seen, but let's not let politics get in the way of our enjoyment of good cigars.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, October 31, 2008

Retro-Smoke: Partagas Black Label Piramide

Just a few days ago I had a real "oldie but goodie:" a Partagas Black Label Piramide. Remember when these first came out in 2001? They were among the new crop of "full-bodied" cigars the manufacturers were starting to market, and I remember them being pretty strong and spicy at the time. Now, almost seven years later, this 6" x 60 black beauty seemed rather tame to my palate, but still had plenty of juicy flavor.

The Partagas Black Label Piramide is one of the most popular and highly rated in the line, and its ebony-cast, sun-grown Connecticut Habano leaf is beautiful to behold. At the core of the cigar are Dominican Piloto Cubano and Nicaraguan Ligero filler tobaccos with a Dominican La Vega Especial binder.

For the most part the cigar smoked smoothly, dominated by a well-rounded mix of deep earthy, woody flavors with just a trickle of espresso, and a stunning aroma. The only problem I had was with the draw. I had to chop a considerable amount of the head, which resulted in about a 32 ring opening. Even then the draw was a little stiff, but the cigar burned well, exposing a nice round cherry, when ashed. At about two inches in, the cigar finally loosened up and hit on all cylinders from that point on.

In 2001 I would have recommended this cigar to only the most experienced cigar smoker. However, by today's standards, although they still pack a nice punch, I would say this cigar will appeal to newer cigar smokers who want to move to a full-flavored, yet non-overpowering dark cigar.

Which reminds me: despite their jet-black color, Partagas Black Label cigars are not Maduros. The wrapper is darkened naturally by leaving it on the plant 50% longer than usual, a process called "medio tiempo" which results in a richer-tasting and sweeter leaf, like a Maduro, but is actually a "dark natural" leaf.

Enjoy, and send me your comments on this cigar if you like.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is it finally time for a short smoke?

I don't know about where you live, but last night in to the Lehigh Valley we had rain, hurricane-like wind gusts, and bone chilling temps. IOW, it's frickin' COLD out there!

So, I got to wondering, this could signal the end of the long outdoor smoke this year for cigar smokers in the Northern regions of the country, and time to take out the little cigars. To make matters worse, I miss my chiminea, which isn't allowed on the deck of my new condo. Fortunately, I do have a tin of Panter Dessert, which comes in mighty handy at times like these. They have a nice light coffee flavor and aroma, but they're very small (2 7/8" x 25) and usually burn my fingers near the end.

Truth be told, I'm really not a big fan of little cigars. IMO, they just don't add-up to the flavor and enjoyment of my usual Toro, but in fairness I have found a few short smokes that come mighty close to the big guns. Assuming I had no choice other than a small cigar, here are few of my top picks under a 40 ring:

Padrón Corticos (4½" x 35): Very rich in taste, with all that earthy Padrón coffee & cocoa bean essence.

Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 Juniors (4" x 38): A lot of bang for a short smoke, and these also come very close to the large Vintage line. The 1990 Maduro are also a good small cigar pick.

Famous Exclusive Minis (4" x 30): Relatively new at Famous Smoke Shop, but the size is perfect for a short smoke, and they're quite flavorful. Plus, you get 50 in a box, so you can really stretch 'em out.

Arturo Fuente Cubanitos (4¼" x 32): A little classic that's nutty and rich in flavor.

Avo Puritos (4" x 30): A nice little winter alternative with lots of smooth, creamy flavor.

CAO Italia Piccolos (4" x 38): Complex in flavor and very aromatic. The 38 ring helps a lot.

Those are just a sampling, and I should also mention that most of the cigars I cited are made by hand. The best advice I could give you would be to pick the small cigar that you know you'll have time for. When it's really cold the wider ring gauge small cigars smoke much longer, so be prepared. If you just want to get a fix for somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, go for the Panters I mentioned above, or take a look at little cigars from Winterman's Café Crème line and Al Capone. If you want a little more luxury, the Davidoff Club, Demi Tasse, and Mini cigarillos are quite nice.

Just about all of the major manufacturers make a small cigar these days, so as you would do with traditional-size cigars, experiment. You'll find the little cigar that'll keep you warm during the winter stretch.

Any other suggestions? Please leave your comments.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Not!

Many of you have come to expect reading "My Weekend Cigar" on Mondays, and so I thank you for your interest. However, this weekend I went "smokeless." Having recently divorced my wife (hey, s**t happens), I spent the entire weekend moving to my new digs. The place has a great terrace for enjoying a good cigar, and yesterday was an ideal day to do so, but I was so whipped from being up until the wee hours of the morning getting the place organized, I never got around to lighting up.

But, so as not to entirely disappoint you, I can recommend the cigar I'm actually finishing up now as I hastily type away at my PC this morning. I'm smoking a Perdomo Remainders Maduro box-pressed Toro. At $29.99 a bundle, they were pretty hard to resist.

Now, although I have no hard evidence, I also have a sneaking suspicion that these "box pressed" Maduros may be the original Maduros that Perdomo once made for CAO, which would make them at least 7 years old. The smoke is sweet, robust, yet medium-bodied, and very woody in flavor. This is my 5th from the bundle, and every so far one has been excellent, although some have been milder than others.

The only thing that points to these possibly being the old CAO Maduros is that the cigars are now more round than box-pressed -at least the bundle I got. And since it would require a lot of time for them to return to their original shape, that's my logic.

Either way, they're still very nice, and a great deal. Enjoy them with a good cup of coffee in the morning, as I am, to get your day started. And until next Monday…

...Happy smokes!

~ Gary Korb

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: It's my party and I'll smoke if I want to

Since yesterday was my birthday, I wanted to celebrate it with a very special cigar. Want to guess which cigar it was? If you said a Padrón 1964 Anniversary, you'd be right. In fact it was a Padrón 1964 Anniversary Exclusivo Maduro. Sure, there were plenty of goodies in my humidor to choose from, but there's just something about the Padrón Anniversary 1964. What's also interesting is, it seems that when I ask other cigar smokers what they would smoke for their birthday, so many of them say Padrón 1964.

As usual, I was joined by my good friend, Richard-from-up-the-street. It was a clear, but nippy 45-degree night, so I built a fire in my chiminea and we were actually quite comfortable. I treated Richard to a Gran Habano Habano #3 Robusto, which he relished and paired with a flask of cognac he brought with him.

I don't know what it is about the Padrón 1964, particularly in the Maduro wrappers, but IMO, their flavor is simply amazing. Factor in the dark, oily wrappers and they look like candy bars. The pre-light flavor on the Exclusivo reminded me of something like a mocha-chocolate malted. The cigar was perfectly packed, pressed, and once lit, every "chocolaty-malty" puff was smooth, sweet, and riddled with all those other wonderfully earthy Padrón flavors.

I took my time with it, letting it rest so I didn't over-puff and turn the cigar bitter. This cigar feels good in your mouth, too. The wrapper and the way it's packed gives it a nice chewy texture. I paired it with a cup of hot cocoa spiked with a little Kahlúa, which turned out to be a really good match. The cigar burned and ashed perfectly all the way down to about a half-inch, when I just couldn't hold on any longer.

What more can I say? This cigar's reputation precedes itself. Sure, there are plenty of awesome "birthday cigars" out there to be had. But if you've got a birthday or special occasion coming up, go with the Exclusivo Maduro or any of the Padrón 1964 Anniversary Maduro cigars. They're really worth it, and you'll be glad you did.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, October 17, 2008

Retro-Smoke: Oliva Master Blends 2 Churchill

Earlier this week I alluded to the cigar I'm writing about today: The Oliva Master Blends 2 Churchill. I've had this cigar in my humidor for about three years, and must admit that I was a bit sad at the thought of lighting it up, since it was not only my last, but maybe one of the last of these cigars on earth. Since Oliva only made these in limited edition, they've become extremely elusive.

Introduced in 2005, the "OMB2" has been my personal favorite among all three Oliva Master Blends selections. Like the OMB1 and OMB3, the Master Blends 2 cigars have rare, estate vintage Nicaraguan Habano tobaccos, but the OMB2 wrapper has a flawless, Ecuadorian sun-grown Sumatra wrapper marked with the laser engraved tattoo under the arch in the band. (For some reason, they didn't do this for the OMB3.) The cigar, which measures 7" x 50, also had a semi-box-pressed, oval-like shape to it.

OK, enough back story. Here's the 411 on the smoke: It was one of the best cigars I've smoked all year. The cigar was very firm; no soft spots whatsoever, yet drew easily and lit evenly. You could also tell it had been rolled perfectly, because the Ligero was dead center, forming an extremely firm cone as the cigar burned. Speaking of which, the cigar burned perfectly, too, resulting in long, fine, grey flannel ashes, and an exquisite aroma.

The smoke was medium-bodied for the most part through the first two thirds. Rich flavors of dark tobacco, sweet cedar, nutmeg, and a delicate note of cinnamon dominated throughout. The cigar gained in strength and spiciness during the last third, ending with a savory, full-bodied finale. I paired it with my usual Taylor Fladgate Reserve 2001 Port, and it was a match made in heaven.

If you can get your hands on the Oliva Master Blends 2 Churchill, or one of these cigars in any size, do it. Make sure you buy a box so you can enjoy them over time, too. I can tell you from this experience, that with at least three years more aging on them, they're a great investment.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why Churchill's most famous photo had no cigar

Ready for a little cigar history today? Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be "no cigar" history. In a column I read last month titled, "No reason to scowl" by John Sewell in The Ottawa Citizen, a reader wrote that he had inherited a black-and-white portrait of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill from his late grandfather that was signed by the photographer, Yousuf Karsh. The reader also mentioned that his grandfather had served for Canada during WWII, and that in 1945 Churchill came to Ottawa to address his grandfather's division heads at a luncheon. After paying tribute to their efforts, Mr. Churchill presented each of them with one of the signed portraits.

According to Mr. Sewell, "This is the photo that put Yousuf Karsh on the map and some argue it's the best portrait of anyone ever taken."

The story behind how this portrait came to be is as interesting as the portrait itself. At the time, Churchill was not in the mood to have his picture taken and Karsh was told he would only give him two minutes of his time. While Karsh set up the lights and camera, Churchill, as usual, smoked a cigar. Then, to Sir Winston's surprise, Karsh snatched the cigar away from him and snapped the shot. The result was the now famous portrait shown here.

"The intense scowl on Churchill's face may have been all about the cigar, but it also offered a glimpse into the depth of character and conviction that helped win the war," wrote Mr. Sewell.

And that's the way it was.

Oh, by the way, Mr. Sewell also estimated the value of the portrait at about $10,000.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Cubao No.1

It was such a beautiful October weekend here in the Lehigh Valley, I got to smoke a lot of good cigars (one which I'm saving to report on later this week), but since I can only pick one for this column, I'm going with the Cubao No.1. I got the sample from Patrick Vivalo and Eddie Ortega of E/O Brands, who were visiting Famous Smoke Shop for a 601 Cigars in-store event this past Saturday. The company recently introduced Cubao Cigars in July at the IPCPR show in Las Vegas, and my only experience with the cigar until this weekend, was the Cuban Corona they were handing out at the show. I remember enjoying the cigar a lot, but as it often goes at the trade show, I didn't have a chance to finish it.

However, Saturday night permitted me to enjoy the entire experience, and I was more comfortable with the Double Corona-sized No.1, which weighs-in a 7 1/8 x 49. Like its 601 cousins, Cubao is made by Don José Pepin Garcia, and the No.1 just received a "92" rating in the October 7 issue of Cigar Insider.

The Ecuadorian Sumatra Oscuro wrapper is not almost black in color like most "oscuro" wrappers. It's more bronze in color with a lush, smooth-looking patina. The cap shaved-off cleanly, the cigar drew perfectly, and the pre-smoke flavor was spicy (as advertised) and very woody.

Once lit, the first few puffs were very spicy. It stayed that way for about the first three-quarters-of-an-inch, then suddenly rounded out to a predominantly dark, woody flavor with a long finish. I remember the Cuban Corona at the show being much spicier and for a longer period of time, too. So here again, size and length make a difference. I paired the cigar with a bottle of Luna de Luna Red Merlot/Cabernet, which Patrick selected, and it really complemented the cigar well.

The cigar remained well-balanced through the last act, and although it was not a very complex cigar in terms of flavor, I liked where it locked-in and the consistency it maintained during the entire smoke.

Is it a "92?" I think more experienced cigar smokers will agree it's definitely in the ballpark. What I can tell you is I enjoyed it immensely. For you new cigar smokers, you may want to hold-off a while on the Cubao, but if you like spicy, full-bodied Nicaraguan cigars, go for it.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Reviving dry cigars kept in a factory cigar box

I was going through a list of past "advice" columns this morning when I found this lil' nugget. I updated it a bit and hope you find it useful:

If you store your cigars in their factory boxes and they're starting to dry out, here's a really good way to revive them. Note that if the cigars are very dry they will be difficult to revive satisfactorily. The key is, if moisture can escape from a cigar, it can also be replaced, but it takes patience.

One of the simplest methods is to place the entire box inside a plastic bag. Be sure the bag is not completely closed because you have to have a little air flow in there. It helps to place a sponge dampened with distilled water or 50/50 solution in the bag, too. (You can also use a small humidifier.) The idea here is to allow slow absorption of moisture, preventing the cigars from getting too much humidity too soon. If you "shock" the cigars by adding too much moisture at once they can actually burst - the last thing you want to do to pricey primos. This can take several weeks to over a month. Rotate the cigars every few days bringing them from the bottom of the box to the top. Keep this up continuously and in about three to four weeks you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

If you don't have a cigar box, you can use a sealable plastic container. Put the dry cigars in the container and seal it shut for the first two days. This will trap any moisture still left in the cigars. On the third day, add a clean piece of sponge or a small humidifier dampened with distilled water. But here again, you run the risk of bursting, so be sure not to over-saturate the sponge (or humdifier) and to keep the lid propped open in one corner to allow a little bit of air flow.

When cigars lose a lot of their moisture, they can also lose a lot of their bouquet, so don't be surprised if the cigar doesn't taste as good even after it's been refreshed. The key to all of this is, whether you're reviving cigars in their original factory box or in a cigar humidor, cigars lose moisture slowly, therefore, they need to regain it slowly.

Once again, be patient and never resort to drastic measures to revive your cigars or you'll ruin them permanently.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, October 6, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Famous Private Selection Nicaraguan Corojo Churchill

A few months ago I started getting flurry of positive emails about the Famous Private Selection Nicaraguan Corojo cigars. I attributed this to some good "word-of-mouth" postings on several cigar community sites. Then, about a month ago, my office roomie, Hayward, picked up a box of Churchills (7" x 50) on sale and gave me one. While picking through my humidor this weekend, my eye caught sight of it, and since I hadn't smoked one in quite a while, I figured it would make a good subject for today's posting.

Handmade at Tabacalera Tropical in Nicaragua, these "puro" cigars have a blend of robust Nicaraguan Cuban-seed Ligero longfiller tobaccos rolled in Nicaraguan Cuban-seed Corojo wrapper. Famous Smoke Shop lists them as "full-bodied," but to my palate, they were closer to medium-bodied cigar with a "full flavor" profile.

The cigar showed signs of good overall construction, with just one little soft spot about two inches below the head, and the cap clipped off neatly. The pre-lit flavor was leathery, nutty and earthy, with an easy draw. Once lit, the cigar offered-up a smooth, creamy and well-balanced smoke dominated by flavors of sweet cedar and nutmeg laced with notes of white pepper.

During the last third, some of this cigar's spicier elements became a little more prevalent, but over the course of entire smoke, the cigar didn't change all that much. However, I liked the primarily "earthy" and dark tobacco flavor of this particular cigar, so I give it high marks for consistency. It also went well with my glass of Port. On the other hand, it did turn bitter in the last inch, but having smoked extremely well through those first six inches, I'd say that's pretty darn good.

If you read the reviews for Famous Private Selection Nicaraguan Corojo on their website, they're quite mixed, but there are hardly any comments for this size. Therefore, if you want to take a shot with this blend, I suggest starting with the Churchill. For the money, they're a good buy and they age-up well over time.

~ Gary Korb

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A sincere "thanks" for another great night at the Metropolitan Society cigar club

Last night I had the pleasure once again of being the "guest of honor" at The Metropolitan Society cigar club in Fairfield, NJ. I came with Famous Smoke Shop co-copywriter, Hayward Tenney to present the members with Conuco cigars (one of my current favorite Famous house brands), for their monthly dinner meeting.

It was Hayward's first experience, and he was totally blown-away by the set-up of the club, from the comfy chairs, to the wide screen TVs, to the gaming tables, to the "La Cubana Room," which looks and feels like you're dining in pre-revolutionary Cuba. Much has already been written about the club in several widely read cigar magazines, and you can learn a lot more if you visit their website. There's truly no other cigar club like it, and even Rocky Patel, who has been a guest himself on more than one occasion, has sung the Club's praises.

Also in attendance was another guest, Mike Lemongello, who has been collecting cigar bands since the early 1960's. He brought several cigar boxes overflowing with bands - many from vintage Cuban cigars - for any other band collectors in the room to take for themselves. He said he had something like 7,000 cigar bands, and these were the doubles. (And I thought I had a big collection.)

After handing out the Conuco cigars and Famous Smoke Shop cigar catalogs, Metropolitan Society president, George Koodray, had a surprise for Hayward and me; we were made "honorary members" and given Metropolitan Society polo shirts, which I'm wearing right now. We were completely taken aback, and felt like we really belonged, too. I even volunteered to collect money and split tickets for the raffles. Hey, new members gotta pay their dues, right?

So on behalf of myself, Hayward, and most of all, Famous Smoke Shop, from whom the club buys a lot of cigars, thanks to George, Nick, Benn, Rich, Pasqual, and all of the other members we had the pleasure of meeting last night for everything. We look forward to visiting you all again very soon.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Nestor Miranda Special Selection "Intermezzo" by Don Pepin Garcia

About two weeks ago I received a "care package" from my good friend, Rene Castaneda, Managing Director and National Sales Manager of Miami Cigar & Company. Inside were several Rothschild-size cigars and a note asking for feedback on this new Nestor Miranda Special Selection blended by Don José Pepin Garcia. The cigars were named "Intermezzo" and measured 4½" x 50.

I've been singing the praises of the Nestor Miranda Special Selection cigars since their release. The blend was originally made by STC, makers of Gran Habano cigars, which I've also highly endorsed, so it was no surprise I took to the NMSS so positively. Of course, when I read that the cigars would now be made by Don Pepin, my eyes couldn't help but widen a little.

For comparison purposes, here's what I wrote about the STC-made Nestor Miranda Special Selection Robusto in "My Weekend Cigar" posting of September 8:

"…remarkably smooth with a predominantly toasty-earthy character. Thick, creamy smoke spreads rich, nutty flavors on the palate with dash of nutmeg and a sweet note of caramel on the finish...As the cigar entered the final act, it developed a more full-flavored and spicier taste, but the overall toastiness of the smoke kept it at bay."

Now to the Nestor Miranda Special Selection "Intermezzo" by Don Pepin. With Don Pepin's reputation for creating bold, spicy cigars, I expected the Intermezzo to be a completely different animal, much more full-bodied and spicier. But after lighting it up it was remarkably similar in character to the STC version. The smoke was smooth, medium-bodied, earthy, and sweet, with little or no trace of pepper on the finish. The cigar burned perfectly, too. I did notice one difference: the flavor was somewhat "darker," not as "toasty" or "nutty" as the original blend, particularly in the final act. However, I enjoyed this cigar immensely, and pleased that Pepin didn't tweak it too much.

Suffice it to say, "the Pepin touch" will give the Nestor Miranda Special Selection some added prestige among the aficionati, while keeping those who already like this blend satisfied. Good job!

~ Gary Korb

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: León Jimenes 300 Series Robusto - what a difference a year makes

I finally had a chance to do something I've always wanted to do with a cigar. Compare two different versions of the same cigar. In this case it was the León Jimenes 300 Series Robusto from last year (2007) and the 2008 release that was reintroduced at the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association show this past July.

I remember posting a video of José Blanco talking about the León Jimenes 300 from last year's RTDA Show in Houston. (The León Jimenes 300 Series Robusto was officially introduced in 2006 as a "teaser" to get consumer feedback on the blend.) The name comes from the cigars being aged for 300 days as opposed to the usual 90 to 180 day period. This cigar also sports a gorgeous, dark Cameroon wrapper. José told me last year that were holding off on releasing the cigars, not for flavor reasons, but because they were unhappy with the packaging, which was a silver and black color scheme with similar flat-printed bands. I thought they looked pretty nice, myself. Of course, he gave me some samples, and believe it or not, I never got around to trying them!

At this year's show, José handed me two more LJ Series 300 Robustos in the new blue and gold packaging with embossed blue and gold bands. The bands are wider, too, and like the previous black and silver version, feature the L-J initials flanked by two lions. Sure, they look more elegant, but how do they taste?

As a fan of good Cameroon cigars, I was eager to try the 2008 "300." Note that the cigars were now aged almost two full years. The wrapper had a nice even tone with a slightly oily patina, and hardly any noticeable veins. The cigar had a somewhat salty taste at the start, which became more woody as the cigar burned. The aroma was good, but a little on the heavy side. For the most part, the flavor in the first half left a bitter, peppery taste on the back of my throat and had a dry finish. However, in the second half the cigar rounded out nicely, and ended up scoring well in terms of fullness of flavor, the burn, draw, and quality of the ash.

I'm also glad José gave me two, because the second Robusto was a charm. No saltiness, the draw was not as loose, and the smoke was much more consistent throughout. In both cases, this wasn't a "sweet" Cameroon, but it did provide a solid, spicy, full-bodied smoke with plenty of earthy-woody flavors. The aroma was also not as "heavy" in the second cigar.

Shortly after smoking these cigars, I found the two León Jimenes (2006-'07) 300 Robustos in a box I had stashed in the warehouse. These cigars also had a nice woody character but the flavor was lighter; the wrappers were a bit lighter in color, too. Maybe they did tweak the blend a little? Of course, these cigars were now three years old, which could account for them being a bit milder. Who knows, but when I compared my tasting notes, the current León Jimenes 300 Series won the day in terms of wrapper color, overall strength, burn, fullness of flavor, and consistency.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Another look at the "salt test" for calibrating cigar humidor hygrometers

One cogent piece of advice that's given with regard to properly calibrating hygrometers for cigar humidors is the use of the "salt test." Without getting into the science behind why it works, the test is designed to produce 75% RH in a controlled environment. For those of you who haven't discovered this by now, here's the recipe:

Ingredients: Table salt, a clear, Ziploc-type sandwich bag, a soda bottle cap (or other small container), distilled water, hygrometer.

Place about a teaspoon of salt in the bottle cap and drip just enough distilled water on the salt to get it wet. If done right, it should have a thick, pasty consistency, not watery. Place the cap and the hygrometer face-up in the baggie, so you can read it.

Seal the baggie, but leave a little air inside, and let it sit for at least 6 hours. By that time, the hygrometer should read exactly 75%. Whatever number it's off by, just use the calibration screw on the back of the unit to adjust it accordingly.
So why do I bring this up? Well, I recently received an email from my good friend Bill W., a civilian engineer with the U.S. Army, who had this to say about the salt test:

"After over forty years of smoking cigars and over thirty years of working in calibration labs, although the "salt test" is a perfectly valid procedure to verify a hydrometers reading, it should ONLY be used on analog hygrometers. The electronics in digital hydrometers cannot stand up to the highly corrosive atmosphere the test creates. (It eventually affects analog units over time, too.) The Reference Level has standards, but they are expensive and require training to use and read correctly. I would suggest using a Boveda Calibrating Pack. For about five bucks the average user can not get an easier to use or more accurate standard. It also takes the guess work out of the salt test for those who maybe new to it, and it's a lot less messy."

Your thoughts?

~ Gary Korb

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Rocky Patel Decade Short Robusto (Special Edition)

On Friday night, September 12, Famous Smoke hosted a Rocky Patel cigar dinner at Silver Creek C.C. here in the Lehigh Valley. Rocky Patel and Nimesh Desai of Rocky Patel Cigars were both in attendance, as well as about 65 other cigar enthusiasts, some of whom came from as far as Chicago. It was a classy affair that featured great food and Rocky Patel cigars, one of which was a special, limited edition "Short Robusto" made exclusively for the event.

Prior to the dinner I enjoyed one of my all-time favorites, a Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 Churchill. After dinner, Port was served and I decided to give the Decade Short Robusto a try. I have to admit it was the right choice; the cigar not only paired perfectly with the Port, but despite its 4" x 54 dimensions, it burned perfectly for about an hour and I wound up finishing it with a cup of coffee which, was also a nice match.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Rocky Patel Decade selection, this box-pressed blend features a silky, dark Sumatra wrapper, but the filler and binder remain a secret, so I can't shed much more light on the guts of these cigars. (According to information cards that Rocky handed out, the wrapper on the Short Robusto was also a "secret.") However, I can say that the cigar lived up to its advertising, as well its 91-95 range Cigar Aficionado scores.

The smoke was full-bodied, and loaded with dark, earthy complex flavors, yet was in no way overpowering. Each puff was smooth, creamy, well-balanced, and finished with a note of sweetness on the palate, making it a very enjoyable after dinner treat. I smoked it down to about 3/4 of an inch, and it never turned sour either.

Due to the limited edition of the Rocky Patel Decade selection, they are only sold in retail stores. Moreover, the Decade Short Robusto is only available in the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store. I'm also told that there are less than 20 boxes left, and when they're sold out, they may be gone for good. I know I'd sure like to get my fingers around another one.

If you've smoked any of the Rocky Patel Decade cigars, I'd like to read your comments, too.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, September 12, 2008

DANGER: High Humidity!

I received an email this week from a reader who told me he can't seem to keep the humidity in his humidor under 77% to 79% RH.

"I use a humidity controlling liquid and distilled water. Will this excess humidity harm my cigars? I have always been under the impression that the 68% - 72% humidity range is ideal, and your cigars will age well and last indefinitely."

If you can relate to the above scenario, you've got a problem, or you're going to have one at some point. Assuming the average temperature in the humidor is around 70 degrees, your cigars are going to smoke more like a ShamWOW! than a cigar. If your humidity levels are running as high as 77% or higher, you risk mold and possibly hatching of tobacco beetle eggs.

One thing that contributes to high RH levels is oversaturation of your humidifier. You may be recharging the device too often, or you're using too much solution (a.k.a. polyglycol) and/or distilled water when it comes time to recharge your humidifier. My cigar humidors are now well-seasoned enough that most of the time I only need to add a little squirt of a 20% solution to 80% distilled water mix I made up. So if you're completely soaking the humidifier each time you recharge, you may be overdoing it.

In recent years, the 70/70 "ideal" standard has had some holes punched in it. Your cigars will fare much better at an average relative humidity of more like 67%. Even at that number, some cigars can be overly moist, but try not to stray too much farther down from the "norm" than 65%.

If your RH is running well over 70%, remove your humidifier/s from your humidor/s until the RH has had time to dip. Let the humidifiers dry out some, too. (You can even leave the lid up for several hours to help it along.) Note how long it takes to get the RH down to about 67%, and see how long it stays that at around that mark. Check a few of your cigars every day by giving them a little pinch to see how supple they are. Once the RH hits 64%, replace the humidifier/s and try to keep the RH at an average of about 66-67%.

Your cigars will age better and last longer at a cooler temperature and lower humidity, more like 65º/65 RH as opposed to 70º/70 RH.

~Gary Korb

ShamWOW!® is a registered trademark of Shamwow, Inc.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why age your cigars after they arrive?

Here's an "age old" question for you (perhaps "age new" question would be a better term for the purposes of this post). I have often been asked why aging your cigars after purchasing them, whether it be at a neighborhood cigar store or by mail, is a common practice. One particular reader recently brought up the following good point:

"When I buy cigars, there is often a date on the box or pack that I assume is when they arrived at [the] store. These dates would indicate that the smokes have been stored (or aged) in what I assume is [a] perfectly controlled warehouse [or humidor] for months or even years before they arrive at my door. If this is the case why is it further advisable to leave them in my somewhat questionably controlled humidor before lighting up?"

Actually, the date noted on the box, at least those that show a stamped date, is the date the cigars were packaged at the factory. (Just about every phase of the growing, curing, rolling, aging, and packaging process is carefully recorded at the factory.) However, some cigar retailers place a dated-coded sticker on each cigar box to note when the inventory was received.

When the cigars are shipped from the factory, they are presumably "ready to smoke," and in most cases, they are. It depends on the cigar, too. Certainly, there's no harm in letting your cigars age further even after they arrive at your home "x" number of months/years later, since the longer a good cigar is allowed to age, often the better it will smoke. I almost always save at least three to five cigars from a given box to extra age in my humidor, while I forge ahead and smoke the majority on a regular basis.

Case in point. I just received a CAO Brazilia Samba from a friend who told me it was aging in its cello in his humidor for 4½ years. As he was handing it to me he also told me that the wrapper had darkened further over time, and that the spiciness in the cigar had quelled considerably.

Moreover, it helps to let the cigars "settle" for a short time, say, at least a week in your humidor after they arrive, because in the case of mail order cigars, travel conditions can sometimes affect the "state" of the cigars. I did a blog a while back on "First cigar out of the box?" in which I indicated that it's hard for most cigar smokers to resist opening the newly-arrived package and firing one up. If it tastes great, more power to you. If it burns a little funny or tastes a little "green" then they may need a little more time. As always, you have to judge the cigars on a box-by-box basis.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Nestor Miranda Special Selection Robusto

I was fighting off a cold or some kind of funky allergy for the better part of last week, so I had to abstain from cigar smoking until yesterday evening when I felt better and reached for a Nestor Miranda Special Selection Robusto (5½" x 54). Unfortunately, there's not that much information available about these cigars online other than some spotty reviews. Even Miami Cigar, who distributes these cigars, shows nada right now on their website, but I can tell you this about the blend: The cigars are made with attractive Nicaraguan Maduro wrappers and binders with a core of Nicaraguan and Costa Rican tobaccos.

Truth be told, I've had several of these cigars since I received my first samples earlier this year. They've all been consistently flavorful, well-balanced, and medium to full-bodied in strength, depending on the shape, and have actually become a new favorite of mine, too. I stress the shape because about two weeks ago I smoked one of the Lanceros I received at IPCPR show in Las Vegas back in July, and there was quite a contrast to the Robusto I smoked last night.

The Nestor Miranda Special Selection Robusto is remarkably smooth with a predominantly toasty-earthy character. Thick, creamy smoke spreads rich, nutty flavors on the palate with dash of nutmeg and a sweet note of caramel on the finish. The draw and burn were both exceptional as well. I smoked it with a glass of tonic water and fresh-squeezed lime juice. As the cigar entered the final act, it developed a more full-flavored and spicier taste, but the overall toastiness of the smoke kept it at bay.

Compared to the Nestor Miranda Special Selection Lancero (7½" x 38) I smoked couple of weeks ago, the Robusto was relatively mild. That cigar, although equally smooth and with similar flavor properties, had a lot more punch to it.

It's tough to decide on which cigar I enjoyed more, but IMO the Robusto, perhaps due to its having a greater amount of tobacco, had more complexity to it. I have another Lancero left, so the jury's still out on that one. But this having been my third Robusto, I can empirically attest to this cigar being especially satisfying.

Please feel free to comment if you've smoked any of the Nestor Miranda Special Selection cigars. I'd like to get your thoughts.

~ Gary Korb