Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Should cigar smokers be treated like drug addicts?

I recently received an email from a reader raising a question as to whether cigar smokers should be categorized as "smokers" or "non-smokers" when applying for a life insurance policy. Since cigar smokers don't inhale, my guess is that most don't consider themselves "smokers." Allegedly, cigars have a lower nicotine content, which is reduced via the fermenting and aging process. Moreover, the amount of nicotine ingested would also depend on how you smoke cigars, and how often. But how much nicotine really gets into your bloodstream? And is it fair to be relegated to the "smoker" category, translating to astronomically higher premiums?

The reader in question wrote that he was applying for a life insurance policy, and when asked about tobacco use, responded that he occasionally smokes a cigar. He was immediately told he'd be classified as a smoker, and that the policy required a saliva swab, which would find traces of nicotine within a year of use.

Several years ago, a friend of mine, and a pretty regular cigar smoker, applied for a life insurance policy. He told the agent he was a "non-smoker." Regardless, the agent said that blood and urinalysis were required.

When the lab called my friend to set up the test appointment, it was scheduled three weeks later because he would be traveling on business overseas. During that time period, he stopped smoking cigars, drank as much fruit juice and water as he could daily, and basically cleansed his system. He passed the urinalysis and blood test with flying colors. For the record, I am in no way endorsing his methodology. Besides, what worked for him may not work for someone else.

I related this to the reader, who responded that he was only applying for $100K, which required the swab. If he was applying for $200K or more, that would require blood and urine. The "accuracy" of a swab test finding traces of nicotine going back one year sounds dubious - but they do some pretty wild stuff on CSI - so I guess it's best to be prepared for anything these days.

This, among other things, gives me pause about insurance companies in general. The reader is most likely financially sound, and has the foresight to protect his family, but because he occasionally enjoys a cigar, he's made to feel like a drug addict.

Your thoughts?

~ Gary Korb

Monday, January 28, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: CAO Italia Positano & Diablo Caliente

I had the benefit of enjoying two good cigars this past weekend that I haven't smoked in a while.

The first was a CAO Italia Positano. This 6" x 50 Toro was exquisite to say the least. The main thing I remember about the CAO Italia cigars is their wonderful aroma, and the Positano immediately confirmed that entry in my memory bank. The smoke was dominated by a sweet, earthy flavor with a hint of sweet spice on the finish. As the cigar burned, the flavors began to caramelize nicely while increasing in depth and complexity.

Italia also has one of the most unique tobacco blends ever devised. A pristine, reddish-hued Honduran Habano-seed leaf is used for the wrapper. The binder is also Honduran Habano, and the fillers are from Nicaragua, Peru and Italy. The latter is a Cuban-seed tobacco grown in the Benevento wine-growing region of Italy. Soil plays an important part of a tobacco leaf's flavor, and the naturally sweet properties of this leaf give the blend a marvelous balance. I would classify the smoke as primarily medium in body, but full-flavored. The cigar's overall attributes - construction, smoothness, flavor and aroma - hit on all cylinders for me.

The second cigar was a Diablo Caliente. This 5" x 50 Robusto had a couple of things in common with the Italia. Like the Positano, it had a sweet, earthy character, but it did not have the depth of the Positano. Moreover, although Diablo cigars include the words "Tabacos Picantes" on the bands, I found the Caliente to be pretty light on the spice.

This cigar has a darker, toothier Ecuadorian Sumatra leaf with a Dominican-Nicaraguan longfiller blend, and a U.S. Connecticut binder. The smoke was primarily medium in body, and I attribute much of the sweetness to the wrapper. The cigar did take on more peppery flavor, but not until the final third of the cigar. That said, the cigar gives off a spicy aroma throughout the entire smoke, so I guess it depends on how you define "spicy." I enjoyed this cigar more for its smoothness and sweetness than anything else.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, January 25, 2008

A transparent little piece of cigar history

Yesterday I received a great question from a reader regarding the first use of cellophane wrappers on premium cigars.

He wrote: "I was told that the first or one of the first companies to use cellophane to wrap cigars was the cigar company of Jose Escalante & Company. They were the makers of the Corina cigars - 'Queen of the Mild Cigars.' Could you tell me if this is fact? I do know that they were one of the first to use cellophane wrappers, but I would like to know who began using the cellophane machines to wrap cigars?"

As I sat there, deep in thought, rubbing my chin, I decided to try one of my best resources, Mr. Richard Carleton Hacker, author of The Ultimate Cigar Book. Mr. Hacker is one of the world's leading authorities on premium cigars, and although the book is currently out of print, copies may still be found at some tobacconists and on the internet. It's a must have for anyone interested in the history, production and enjoyment of handmade premium cigars.

According to Mr. Hacker, "Julius Caesar Newman of the J.C. Newman cigar company was the first to cello cigars. [They] started during The Depression."

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cleaning Your Cigar Cutter

So I'm in my office with Hayward, our new Famous Smoke Shop copywriter, and he asks me if I ever clean my cigar cutter. "Sure," I said. Apparently, his XiKAR Xi1 cigar cutter was getting a bit sticky, and he wanted to know what I use. Almost simultaneously, we agreed this would be a good topic for a posting, so here goes.

First, let's take a look at what gums up your cigar cutter. It's usually due to the oils in the tobacco, which, over time, collect on the surface above the blade and eventually cause the cutter to stick. The blades themselves usually remain sharp, and some so-called "self-sharpening" cutters usually do a good job at keeping the edge in tune.

If you're a chomper, like some guys I know, you're not only cutting off the cap, but more often you're cutting off the slimy, chewed-up glob that's been in your mouth. That's sure to leave a mess of residue on the cutter's surface over time.

I have a couple of XiKAR cigar cutters myself, and I know it's time to clean them when the sides don't open evenly. Same goes for the standard double blade, two-finger cutter; it tends to stick when you pull it apart.

Someone once suggested I use sewing machine oil to un-stick my cutter. It's odorless, colorless, and it's what barbers use to keep their buzz clippers from sticking; a few drops here and there, then wipe off any excess oil with a tissue or soft cloth. I think this may help if you have a metal cutter that's a bit tight in the first place, but it won't remove any tars in terms of cleaning the piece.

Here's my solution: Rubbing alcohol cuts through tar like a hot knife melts butter. By simply applying some alcohol to a tissue or a soft cloth, you can wipe the residue off your cigar cutter and be back in business. You just have to be careful not to nip your finger tips during the process. I use what I call the "detailing" method. I start with the soft cloth. Then I daub a Q-Tip with alcohol to get into those tight little spots the cloth can't reach.

What's your method? Send me your comments and let's compare notes.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, January 21, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Cuvée Rouge Robusto

This past Saturday I found myself smoking cigars at Famous Smoke Shop with the usual group of regulars. I finally decided it was time to smoke a cigar I'd been procrastinating on - the Cuvée Rouge Robusto. It was a sample I picked-up at the RTDA 2007 Show in Houston, and I'd been hearing some excellent word-of-mouth about these cigars ever since, so I figured, there's no better time than the present.

I was seated on the couch next to "John D.," and as I began clipping the cigar, John told me he'd had several Cuvée Rouge and enjoyed them all. He added that the Rouge was one of the closest cigars to a Cuban he's had. I kept that in mind, and proceeded to light up.

If you're not familiar with Cuvée cigars, they're a luxury cigar series produced in four line extensions: Cuvée Grand 2006, Cuvée Blanc, Cuvée Rouge and Cuvée No.151. The Rouge is a Dominican puro capped in a Sun Grown Dominican wrapper with a Olor Dominicano binder. The filler is a blend of Criollo '98, Piloto Cubano, and Olor Dominicano. The Cuvée cigars website describes the Rouge as "Medium to full in body. Deep, rich, and spicy with a potent finish."

My Robusto clipped and lit perfectly. It was nicely packed, but I felt the draw was a little too loose for comfort. As described, the body was medium to full and the smoke was quite spicy, particularly at the beginning, then rounding out some after the first inch. Flavor-wise, I felt the cigar was dominated by a strong woody flavor, somewhat dry, and it did have a "potent," spicy finish. So, the cigar lived up to its advertising, but for the most part it was too spicy for my taste.

Was it close to a Cuban? Well, in a way. But if I had to compare it, I'd say it was like a Partagas D4 with a 427 V8. To the cigar's credit, in the final act - the last 2 inches - it suddenly came together and turned into a much more complex and flavorful cigar. IOW - too little, too late. So the jury remains out, and for now I'll categorize the Cuvée Rouge Robusto as a "try again."

~ Gary Korb

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bursting Cigar Syndrome

A few weeks ago, I was enjoying some cigars at Famous Smoke Shop with a few of the regulars in the retail store. Among the good fellows who stop in each weekend is "John D." On this particular day, Mr. D. brought up an interesting topic: the problem of bursting cigars. He said that when he smokes cigars in the 54 to 60-ring range, they often tend to burst on him, and asked if I had any thoughts on the subject. I suggested that maybe the RH in his humidor was on the high side, but he said his box consistently averaged at around 70%.

My take on why wide ring cigars tend to burst sometimes is that since there's so much more tobacco in the cigar, it tends to get pretty juicy in there. Combine that with the heat inside the cigar and the "steam" needs to escape somewhere. If there's a weak spot along the way, that's where it's going to pop. Certainly, an over-humidified cigar would tend to make the bursting scenario that much more likely to happen.

John nodded, but then he came up with a very interesting angle, which became the motivation for this posting. He said that when he removed the band from the cigar first, the cigar didn't burst. His theory being, as the cigar began to expand from the heat, the ring was restricting it in such a way that the cigar had no other option but to split. Frankly, I never thought of that, and it seems entirely logical. Remove the band, ease the flow of smoke.

Truth be told, I've had this happen with cigars that were already unbanded, since I tend to remove the band early on when I smoke. It actually happened to me this morning, and it was a pretty decent cigar, too.

So, I think John D's solution has merit, but I think there are other factors that may be attributed to bursting: The overall quality of the cigar, its moisture content, and the type or thickness of the wrapper, to name a few. I'd also add that how often or hard you draw on the cigar would be a contributing factor, since it has a direct effect on the amount of heat the cigar produces.

I'm curious if anyone has their own theories or remedies with regard to "BCS" (Bursting Cigar Syndrome). If you do, please add your comments.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

First cigar out of the box?

By Gary Korb

If you're like most cigar smokers, when you purchase a box of cigars, be it at your local cigar store, or by mail-order, you probably open it up and smoke one right away. I've often seen customers who buy cigars at Famous Smoke Shop do this in the Retail Store right at the cash register. The reason I bring this up is, sometimes that first cigar doesn’t always live up to its expectations, and I'm wondering if anyone else has also found this to be the case?

I suppose the question is: Should you dive-in right away, or give the cigars a few days, even weeks, to "settle?" I admit, it's hard to resist, especially when you order by mail and you're practically foaming at the mouth to light-up your latest purchase.

Another reason I bring this up is because some mail order customers have written to me saying that the first cigar was disappointing, whereas a couple weeks later the cigars smoked beautifully.

My theory is that there are a couple of factors in play: First, it depends on the conditions the cigars were stored prior to shipping. Secondly, you have the effects on shipping them; the travel time in the plane and/or truck, which, depending on the weather, etc. can sometimes affect the taste or burn of the cigar.

Believe me, it takes a lot of restraint to keep from firing up that first one out of the box, especially if it's a brand you're trying for the first time. But I've found that cigars taste better when left to recover from jet lag, or "truck lag" for at least a few days. Moreover, a fellow co-worker once told me they never smoke the first cigar before letting it settle for at least a week.

Since I have a decent amount of aged stock readily available on a daily basis, there's really no reason to smoke that first new cigar right away, and I'm certain most cigar smokers are in a similar position. But I have to admit that curiosity often wins out, my cutter and lighter poised for action within seconds after opening the box.

Your thoughts?

Monday, January 14, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: How Triumph trumped my Avo XO

By Gary Korb

Interestingly enough, today's post is the perfect follow-up to my previous "Cigar Catastrophes" post. Last Friday night, my wife and I took a ride down to New Hope, PA to visit some close friends we hadn't seen in a very long time. My friend (whom I shall refer to as "B"), retired early and is now a full-time musician. Since B was playing with a new band, our plans included seeing him play at a local eatery and micro brewery called The Triumph Brewing Company. Nice place. Friendly atmosphere, good home-grown beers, and pretty decent food.

Since the bar is on the Pennsy side of the Delaware River, smoking is permitted. I came prepared to enjoy the food and music with an Avo XO Intermezzo. I even brought an extra for B, because he's the one who turned me on to the XO series. A wonderful cigar. Creamy, medium-bodied, and very flavorful with a fantastic aroma.

So there we are - my wife, B, his wife, and me. I noticed that most of the people around us were smoking cigarettes, B included. We have our dinner and drinks. We're all feeling good, and it's time for the band to start playing; so B exits and heads for the stage. I light up my XO.

I'm about a quarter-of-an-inch into it when a young fellow comes over and very politely says, "Excuse me Sir, but we do not permit cigar smoking in here." Aghast at this comment, I say, "Are you SERIOUS?" "Yes," he replied, "We only allow cigarette smoking in here." "But cigarette smoke stinks!," I retorted, not wanting to seem too impertinent. Then I stuck the cigar in his face, waved it under his nose and said, "Smell that! Now doesn't that smell better than cigarettes?" "Well, yes, but I'm afraid that's our policy," he said, maintaining his composure. OK, I knew I wasn't going to win this one, and so I had no choice but to begrudgingly put the cigar out. In other words, "NO SOUP FOR YOU!"

Here's where the real disaster comes in: I decided that since I couldn't smoke my cigar, I'd pacify myself by chomping on it. Since I didn't want to suck on a cigar with ash on it, my next move was to cut off the ashed end. But as the cutter clamped down on the foot of the cigar, the wrapper just broke up into pieces, exposing the binder below and completely ruining the cigar altogether. That was it for me as I tossed the mess into the ashtray.

So, if you're ever in New Hope, and just want to enjoy some good beer, food, and music, I recommend the Triumph Brewing Company. But leave your cigars at home. If you want to have a cigar, I think Havana on Main Street might be more accommodating.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Cigar Catastrophes and other Disasters

By Gary Korb

We've all had 'em. Those times when we were enjoying one of our favorite cigars and then, S**T!, something really nasty happened to it. What inspired me to bring up this subject was a posting titled, "Cigar Disasters" by "jaycarla" at back in October of last year. It was one of those items I was saving, and forgot about until I did some New Year's cleaning-up of my folders. There are some real doozies there, too.

Here's one of my more memorable disasters:

Two years ago, over Labor Day Weekend, my wife and I were in The Hamptons with my friend Jon and his wife visiting a local winery. Also joining us were Jon's parents. As we began an afternoon of wine tasting on the winery's scenic outdoor patio, Jon, his Dad, and I lit up our cigars and partook. I was smoking an Ashton. About halfway through my cigar the manager of the winery came over, politely asked us to put out our cigars, and we obliged.

Normally, when you put a cigar out, you just put it down and let it go out by itself. So, even though they were in the ashtray, the cigars continued to smoke for while, and mine in particular. In an effort to stop the cigar burning, Jon's Mom, a cigarette smoker, not a cigar smoker, took my cigar and hastily snubbed it out like a Marlboro. Because I was looking elsewhere at the time, I didn't see her do it. But I did hear Jon say, "Gary, my Mom just smashed your Ashton." So my Ashton quickly became a "Smashton."

If you want to read about more cigar misadventures, read all of the Cigar Disasters. The postings are pretty much done by now, but you can still add your own stogie calamity. I did.

Monday, January 7, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Reevaluating the Rocky Patel Sun Grown Selection

By Gary Korb

I recently split a box of Rocky Patel Honduran Classic Toro Maduros with Hayward, my new office roomie. As part of the deal, we also got four free Rocky Patel Sun Grown Robustos. Well, until this past weekend, I had pretty much begged-off on the RP Sun Grown, because I felt they'd become too spicy for me.

If I may digress for a moment: When the Rocky Patel Sun Grown cigars were introduced in 2004, I took to them immediately. Rich, smooth, medium-bodied, extremely flavorful, and very aromatic. A "right-in-the-pocket" cigar. About a year later, I remember smoking one and found it to be much more full-bodied and considerably spicier, too, which was not to my liking. I love spicy food; hot wings, Tai food, Texas chili, Indian curry dishes, you-name-it, but not my cigars. Ironic, ain't it? Moreover, after mentioning my surprise to someone from Rocky Patel Cigars, they told me the blend had been cranked-up a notch. This didn't surprise me, because Rocky has a rep for making outstanding full-bodied fare. OK, fine, and I left it at that. However, you may remember that I was impressed with the Sun Grown Sixty in my blog of August 20th. 2007. I chalked that experience up to the extra width of that cigar.

So I arrive at the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store, head down the hall to my office to choose a cigar from my office stash, and I decide I'll give one of those free Sun Grown Robustos a go. Well, I fired that number up, and I gotta tell you, it was shear delight. The smoke was cool, earthy, creamy-smooth, fantastically aromatic, and not spicy in the least. If anything, it was more on the sweet side. Plus, it burned perfectly with a nice little round cherry right down to the bone. I mentioned this to one of the guys, and he commented that maybe my palate has changed. I admitted that I do have a higher tolerance for the spicy stuff than I used to, so, point taken, but this cigar was really splendid. It hit on all cylinders and gave a me a whole new perspective on this selection that I'd been ignoring all this time. So, as I said back in August, "I guess I have a greater appreciation for the Sun Grown line than I thought."

Moral of the story: Don't completely write-off a cigar you may not have enjoyed in the past. Give it another whirl, or try a different size in the line. Things change.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Smokin' with my Dad

By Gary Korb

There were several "weekend" cigars worth mentioning that I had the pleasure of smoking over both the Christmas and New Year's Eve weekends. One of the more outstanding cigars was the famed Padron 1926 40th Anniversary Torpedo that I relished with a pot of French-pressed Nicaraguan coffee. Now that's a double treat! This sexy cigar was dark, ultra-rich, and surprisingly not as spicy as I expected. In short, a completely indescribable experience. Others included the spicy 601 Red Habano Robusto, and a Camacho Select Robusto, to name a couple of other very satisfying cigars.

The Saturday that preceded New Year's Eve was particularly enjoyable, not so much due to the cigar I smoked, but to the company. It was a sunny day and about 50º, so I stoked up the fire pit on the patio and called my friend Richard From Up The Street to join me. That weekend my parents were also visiting, and as I was adding a log to the fire, my Dad came out to see what was up, so I offered him a cigar...

First, a little back-story: My Dad, who's now 77 years young, was once a pack-a-day cigarette smoker who quit cold turkey at about the time I was in my senior year of high school. However, at about the same time, he went through a short-lived cigar-smoking period. (My grandfather, his Dad, was a dedicated, full-time cigar smoker.) I remember Dad bringing home boxes of Cuesta-Rey cigars. He never bought a humidor, though. Somehow he was under the impression keeping the cigars in the fridge would keep them fresh. Of course, I didn't know then what I know now, and maybe his cigar habit was short-lived because they all dried-out on him. Frankly, I never asked why he quit, but it probably had more to do with my Mom complaining about the smoke in the house than anything else.

...To my surprise, Dad quickly agreed, so I ran in the house and pulled out a well-aged Arturo Fuente 858 Flor Fina Natural, one of my personal faves. (Hey, we're talkin' my Dad, here.) I figured he'd take to it because it was a good smooth, mild cigar - and he did; so much, that he asked me to send him a 5-pack. Richard, who happens to be Canadian, brought along one of his Cubans (darn Canadians! ;-) and his flask of cognac, while I settled down with an Avo 787 Robusto and a bottle of Dow's Boardroom Reserve Port. The Avo 787 was a delight; rich and creamy with a predominately woody flavor.

So there we were, the three of us soaking up the heat of the fire and what remained of the afternoon sun's rays, enjoying our cigars. But more importantly, I got to do something I've never done with my father - sharing good cigars together. I can only hope I'll get to do it again, and soon.