Friday, February 29, 2008

Want to smoke your cigars hassle-free? You've come to the right place

You want to kick-back and relax with a good cigar, but the question is, where are you going to smoke it? Unless you have the freedom to smoke in your house, or there's a cigar lounge close by, there aren't that many options these days.

But what if there was a place you could smoke that was worth driving a few extra miles to get to? Or what if you were planning a trip to a particular city and wanted to know what establishments permitted cigar smoking?

Enter CigarPlaces.com, your online guide to cigar-friendly places to smoke.

I learned about CigarPlaces.com a few days ago when I received an email from a young gentleman named Chris who came up with the idea.

"I've been feeling the pain of having fewer and fewer places to have a cigar, even in Michigan," wrote Chris. "So I decided to use what I know about the web to try to make it easier for people to find a place to enjoy a cigar."

Chris created an interactive map that lets you easily search for a cigar-friendly locale, not just in the U.S., but anywhere in the world. You can search the list alphabetically, or simply type in a city & state or country. Plus, the site allows users to add places they know of that permit cigar smoking. (Of course, I couldn't resist adding the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store in Easton, PA.)

"I created CigarPlaces.com not just because I believe strongly in our right to do something that we enjoy, but also because cigar lounges, cigar bars, and cigar-friendly restaurants are difficult to search for," added Chris. "And because of the way search engines work, searching on the words "cigar lounge" on a site like Google Maps, does not return very extensive results."

Since its debut, the site has been very well-received. 46 locations were added on second day alone. If you'd like to add a cigar-friendly restaurant, lounge, store, casino, you-name-it, visit CigarPlaces.com and let the world know.

After all, as "brothers of the leaf" it's our duty to help each other out.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Thank you for smoking (and listening)

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of conducting a "Cigars 101" discussion group at the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store here in Easton, PA. It was a real treat for me, but more importantly, I want to thank everyone who showed up for participating. It was also nice to see some new faces in the store.

Although we had some yummy Royal Jamaica Gold Belicosos to hand out, the first thing I asked everyone to do was choose a cigar that they would really like to try. Some took advantage of the Royal Jamaica Golds, some had brought their own, and some made a purchase. My cigar of choice was a Perdomo Habano Maduro Toro, and I was pleased to see one of the guests follow suit by getting one for himself. Perdomo cigars won the day, too. There were several Habanos, and another guest brought a Perdomo Lot 23 Connecticut.

I also took a show of hands to see if the participants tasted the flavors described as what I call "Cigar Aficionado speak" when they smoke, and most of them said they did.

Here are some of the other things that came out of the discussion: First, it was unanimous that we all smoke premium cigars to relax. Secondly, we learned that cigars really do taste better when you don't touch the flame to the foot when lighting-up. We also agreed that removing the cellos from your cigar improves the aging process.

Another topic that came up was relighting. If you have to relight a third time, you're pushing your luck on the cigar keeping its flavor. Moreover, once the cigar starts to taste funky, put it out. It's really not worth trying to suck every penny out of your purchase if the cigar tastes crappy.

With regard to cigar cutters, the consensus was that punch cutters can inhibit the flavor of a cigar, and may even cause some cigars to burst since the smoke doesn't flow as freely through the head.

Finally, we learned that there are so many good quality cigars available to choose from, you don't have to spend a lot of moolah to get an enjoyable cigar.

So, keeping in mind that smoking premium cigars is entirely subjective, there's always something new you can learn regardless of how much experience you have.

Monday, February 25, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Fuente Fuente OpusX Robusto


When the kitten's away, the mice do play. This past weekend my lovely and talented wife, a decorative painter, spent the weekend in New York City working at a client's posh East Side apartment. So, having little to do on Saturday night, I called Richard From Up The Street to join me for a cigar at my house.

Instead of consigning ourselves to the basement, we smoked upstairs in the patio room where we could stretch out and enjoy our cigars in comfy chairs. We set up a two-way fan to vent the smoke out a nearby window, turned on my Living Air ionizer, and away we went.

Richard brought a Puros Indios Maxima '03 Corona Larga, and I broke out a cigar I haven't had in a very long time, a Fuente Fuente OpusX Robusto. Richard paired his cigar up with Remy Martin, I with a bottle of Dow's Boardroom Porto Tawny Reserve.

Honestly, I haven't had much luck with OpusX cigars in the past. For some reason they've all burned lousy. But this Robusto burned perfectly, producing a firm ash that tapped-off to expose a uniform, semi-conical cherry.

The first couple of puffs were uncomfortably spicy, but the cigar rounded out beautifully into a smooth and creamy smoke dominated by a deep woody flavor with a great aroma. Along the way, savory little bursts of more complex flavors presented themselves. The cigar smoked for well over an hour, and complemented by the sweet and fruity bouquet of the Port, it was a match made in heaven.

With an experience like that it's easy to see why the OpusX is so coveted, but I still believe they're overrated. Try an Oliva Serie V if you want to know what I'm talking about; they're more easily obtainable, too.

Afterwards, I let the Living Air run overnight. When my wife came home the next day, she noticed the ionizer and said, "What's that thing doing up here?" I gave her the straight story, and she admitted there wasn't a trace of smoke odor.

Suffice it to say, no problemo amigos.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Why smoking cigars for a living isn't always fun

I'm among the lucky few who actually look forward to going to work every morning: I have a short, traffic-free commute. I can dress casually. I get to write about cigars. But best of all, I get to smoke cigars all day long and get paid for it.

Like most of the big cigar retailers, at Famous Smoke Shop we get a ton of sample cigars to smoke. For the purposes of this posting, I'm not referring to samples of new cigars we receive from the top manufacturers. Instead, I want to focus on two other sources.

The first are "house brands." Because Famous carries a lot of exclusive labels, we're always sampling cigars from the factories we've contracted. I don't think more than a day goes by without our general manager dropping a sample cigar or two on my desk for evaluation. And since he codes them, I have no idea what I'm smoking or where it's from until afterwards, so it truly is a blind tasting. Some samples are great, while others are "thumbs-down." But even if the sample doesn't pass the mustard, the upside is that we can have the factory tweak the blend to get it where we want it.

The second category is where it gets dicey. We're constantly barraged by various "boutique" manufacturers who want us to carry their cigars. So, at any given time, our buyer has at least half a dozen cigar boxes or bundles in his office for evaluation from who knows where. Since most of them are unsolicited samples, he hands them out for us to smoke lest they rot on his desk.

Admittedly there are a few winners, but there are plenty of bona fide dog rockets, too. Once I smoked an impossibly dark Maduro whose wrapper stained my fingertips and lips a dark rusty color. I looked like a clown who'd just been processed for a DUI. We now refer to such cigars as "Faux-scuro." (Props to Hayward for coining that one.)

Then just two days ago, we got some cigars that actually did have a "leathery" flavor, but more like old, worn-out shoe leather. It had a putrid aroma, too. Try to imagine a lineman's cleats with the sweaty socks left inside.

So, like any job, mine has its ups and downs. Fortunately, most of the cigars I smoke are of my own choosing, but even with a lot of the crap-ola I have to wade through, I wouldn't trade this gig for the world.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Maybe leaving the cellos on some cigars is better

I've always been a proponent of removing the cello wrappers from your cigars before placing them in your humidor. In fact, whether or not to leave the cellos on cigars is the most frequently asked question I get.

Being a traditionalist, I usually recommend removing the cellos, but I often add that it doesn't hurt to leave cellos on a few cigars for the following reasons:
1. To compare the flavor of the cigars with and without cello during home aging.
2. In case you want to take the cigar on the road and don't have a cigar travel case.
3. To keep cigars with more delicate wrappers from tearing while fishing for a cigar.

Today, I begrudgingly focus on reason #3. I recently came into two boxes of double perfectos (my favorite shape) from a very highly-respected manufacturer. One box I opened, the other is still sealed and stored away. As usual, I began removing the little zeppelins from their cello wrappers to place them in the humidor. As I began moving them about, I found that the wrappers on some of them were tearing at the foot.

Since I tend to be finicky about how and where I place my cigars in my humidor, I blame no one but myself. Plus, when removing my cigars from the cello, I often push them out by squeezing from the head-end of the cello wrapper. I believe this technique also caused some of the cigars to tear as they slipped out of the cello. Ouch! There goes another $5. Fortunately, some of the tears are small enough to be salvageable.

Another cello removal technique, which is probably safer, is to pull up the little cello fold at the head end, rip it, and very carefully peel it down. Usually, the cello will begin to open up like a pea pod, and the cigar can easily be plucked out.

Suffice it to say, in the case of my precious double perfectos, I think I'm going to leave the cellos on the next box, or at least just open the ends. I'm certainly going to be more patient from now on when removing them. Lesson learned.

Your thoughts?

Monday, February 18, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Panter Mignon Dessert

This was not exactly a great weekend for my weekend cigars. Too cold to go outside, and unable to get down to the cigar store because I was on "kids watch" all Saturday and Sunday, I wasn't able to light-up a sizable cigar. However, where there's a will, there's a way, and it's for occasions just like this that I often keep little cigars on hand.

The little cigars in this case were from a tin of Panter Mignon Dessert cigars that I keep in my basement music studio. I prefer not to smoke down there, because of all the equipment, but the Panters are good for about 15 minutes, and they don't stink things up too much in that time period.

Panter Mignon Dessert aren't just little cigars, they're tiny cigars; not exactly my size preference in the small cigars category, but they are mighty handy in a pinch. I once also had to resort to them when I was at a local bar that permitted cigarettes, but not cigars. Fortunately, these innocuous little treats didn't raise the ire of the management.

At 2 7/8" x 25, the Panter Mignon Dessert is even smaller than your average cigarette, and due to their diminutive dimensions I sometimes have to keep from inhaling. They have this delicate coffee scent when you open the tin. The smoke itself is very mild and creamy. It doesn't have a coffee flavor, but there is a faint hint of it in the aroma. Actually, there's more aroma than flavor in these cigarillos, and aroma is always a plus with me.

I've never been much of a small cigar smoker, but I do get a craving every now and then for a Padron Cortico, a Rock Patel Junior, a Plasencia Reserva Organica Nestico, or a CAO Gold Karat, all of which have ring gauges in the mid to upper 30's, and feel more like "real" cigars. Thing is, after I smoke one, I immediately want another. I suppose that's one of the reasons I have a big problem with little cigars.

Your thoughts?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lighting cigars: lighter fluid vs. butane

Several weeks ago, I posted a question in the CigarAdvisor.com Q&A about Zippo lighters, which use lighter fluid as opposed to butane. In his question the writer states, "I've read that this type of lighter taints the flavor of cigars."

In my reply, I wrote: "True, there is an 'oily' emission from the flame that may affect the flavor of the cigar, but I often wonder how much this really impacts the taste over the entire course of the smoke...You might as well try it once and taste for yourself."

So, being in possession of a Zippo model myself, I decided to take my own advice and give it a whirl. I love this lighter. It's a chrome "Lady Luck" model, which sports a bikini-clad brunette standing in front of five playing cards that comprise a Royal Flush in Spades. I bought it more for fun because I collect kitschy objects, but since I prefer torch lighters, I never used it to light my cigars.

I filled the lighter with Zippo Premium Lighter Fluid. The can states: "Clean Burning/Improved Ignition/Low Odor." When flicked, the lighter does emanate a slight odor, but it's more noticeable in small spaces, like a car.

The main difference was it took much longer to toast the cigar, and perhaps this is where any fumes might enter the shaft and mingle with the filler leaves. However, I lit up several cigars with my Zippo, and frankly, I didn't taste anything funky in the cigar. Plus, I surmised there was "truth in advertising" with regard to this more refined blend of lighter fluid.

For now, I think I'll stick with my torch lighters, mainly because they're just more efficient and hold up better under windy conditions. But as far as lighter fluid vs. butane is concerned, I don't think there's all that much to be concerned about.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A smoking jacket: wear it if you got it

A couple of days ago, there was a very interesting article about the smoking jacket on CigarCyclopedia.com. "There isn’t a lot of literature on the smoking jacket out today," writes Rich Perelman, "but digging a little deeper reveals that the item probably originated in England and had its heyday in the last half of the 1800s up until perhaps World War I."

True. The smoking jacket is one of those "cigar accessories" to which cigar smokers today give little or no thought. Perhaps it is a bit old fashioned, and as such has gone the way of the Fedora, which most American men wore as a standard part of their wardrobe until the early 1960's. Turn on the Turner Classic Movies channel and you'll see what I mean.

I tend to associate smoking jackets with actors like the late David Niven, or Hugh Hefner. The latter also reminds me of a classic "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode where Larry David (an avid cigar smoker, himself), mixes up Hef's geniune Roselli smoking jacket with an identical looking jacket that belongs to Larry's father. Hilarity and mayhem ensue.

According to the article, the secret to a garment that will keep the smoke off your clothes is silk. I'm inclined to agree. Every night when I return home from work, I'm greeted by my lovely wife with a kiss and the words, "You stink!" I suppose this is because I wear a Famous Smoke Shop sweatshirt over my clothes to help keep the smoke odor off my shirt. It's made of cotton, which the article notes is a "no-no," as are wool and polyester.

Hayward, my office-roomie and co-copywriter, wears a wool sport jacket and claims it keeps the stink off of his clothes. I have to admit, that on days where I've worn a sport jacket it seems my shirt doesn't smell as bad. Maybe it has to do with having a loose outer layer of clothing that isn't sticking to you like a sweatshirt.

So, is anyone wearing a smoking jacket these days?

Monday, February 11, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Caridad Connecticut & Caridad Sumatra


Today, I not only get to talk about my weekend cigar, I get to introduce a new cigar brand: Caridad. Well, Caridad is not exactly "new" in terms of the name. Famous Smoke Shop has been selling Caridad in its former bundle configuration for years. Quite honestly, it was not the brightest star in Famous's constellation of premium bundles.

But things change. Caridad cigars have been made-over into an affordable boxed selection offered in two wrapper choices - Connecticut and Sumatra - given new collars, and show a marked improvement in construction. Both versions are blended with Dominican Cuban-seed longfiller, and presented in boxes of 25 cigars and 5-pack samplers.

I sat down yesterday afternoon with a Caridad Sumatra Robusto and a Caridad Connecticut Robusto. I started with the Sumatra, which is a new blend, altogether. The cigar had a somewhat salty taste to it. The cap clipped-off nicely and the cigar drew easily. The foot lit evenly, and as the cigar burned down, formed a decently firm ash that held on for about an inch-and-a-half, and tapped off to expose a perfect cone. I'll get to the flavor in a moment.

The Connecticut is an upgraded version of the original bundle. Its cap was also well formed, popped-off neatly, and the cigar drew well. The wrapper did not have the salty aspect I found in the Sumatra. The cigar burned well, though the ash was not as firm.

Both cigars have an extremely mild and smooth flavor. The Sumatra was woody; earthier than the Connecticut, and a little flinty-tasting in spots, yet did not remain salty. The Connecticut was also woody, but toastier than the Sumatra, and suggested a note of sweetness on the finish. Just for fun, I smoked both cigars again this morning with coffee, and they faired much better than with the beer I had yesterday.

Frankly, I wouldn't recommend Caridad to anyone who has been smoking cigars for a while. But for those who are new to premium cigars, they'd make a good "starter cigar."

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Tale of Two Cigar Stores

It was the best of times, it was the best of times...

When I want to go out and have a cigar on the weekend, especially this time of year, I can usually be found smoking cigars at Famous Smoke Shop. But recently I spent a Sunday afternoon at a neighborhood cigar store just down the road from my house. I'd been wanting to check it out for a while, but loyalty prevented me from stepping over the threshold. However, my friend Richard From Up The Street had been bugging me to go, so off we went. The store had an impressive inventory, and the smoking area was roomy and comfortable.

After a little browsing, we took out our cigars and settled in the lounge among some of the store's "regulars." They were eager to welcome us to their little corner of the world as we chatted, sipped espresso, and smoked. I asked two of the guys what they were smoking. Their cigars of choice that day were a Perdomo Habano Corojo and a Perdomo Lot 23. Later another fellow joined us. He told me he was smoking a Rocky Patel "Edge Counterfeit." I couldn’t resist asking him if he'd ever smoked a Rocky Patel Factory Select Corojo, since the cigars are similar. He replied "No," but he did say that he loved the Rocky Patel Cuban Blend cigars. Well, hearing that alone made the trip worthwhile.

We spent the better part of two hours there, and these guys who didn't know us from Adam were courteous and made us feel right at home. This cordial attitude confirmed my belief that most, if not all premium cigar smokers, are members of a unique fraternal order where a shared appreciation for fine cigars makes for instant bonding. Even better is, the only hazing in this fraternity is the haze of smoke encircling you.

So, all you need is a location and any given number of cigar smokers. They could be from anywhere in the world and it wouldn't matter one bit, would it? To paraphrase Mr. Dickens, it is a far, far better thing that we do, and a far, far better rest than we have ever known.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

La Aurora Cigars Bows Informative New Website

I received an email this morning from Tabacalera Aurora (one of my favorite Dominican cigar makers) calling my attention to the debut of La Aurora's new company website.

According to Rene Castañeda of Miami Cigar, distributor for La Aurora Cigars, "We have included all the information about our products and some history background. We expect this site to be a great tool for every cigar smoker."

I checked out the site, and it's pretty slick. The colorfully designed home page loads mostly above the fold, and provides a fast and easy way to find out information on their cigars, including, La Aurora Preferidos, Cien Años, Aurora 1495 Series, León Jimenes, La Aurora (Classic), and Leoninos, among others. Also at the top of the page is a short list of news & events. Below the top section are graphical links to retailers of La Aurora resellers worldwide, a link to their most highly-rated cigars, and a link to the fascinating history of the company.

There's also an informative page describing the tobacco growing and curing process that's presented in an uncluttered, easy-to-follow manner.

Under "News & Events," you'll find information on the new Aurora Connoisseur Collection which offers the Aurora 1495 series in a variety of four different wrappers: Connecticut, Cameroon, Brazilian, and Corojo. The original blend has an Ecuadorian wrapper. The concept behind the Connoisseur Collection is to illustrate just how different wrappers affect the same blend. (I'll be writing up a review of the entire Collection in the coming weeks. I started with the Connecticut yesterday, and all I'll say for now is, there is a difference.) There's also an announcement about the new León Jimenes 300 Series, which should be hitting retail store shelves shortly.

To learn more about this family-owned business that started in 1903, visit the La Aurora cigars website.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, February 4, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Winston Churchill Marrakesh


Yesterday, I took a ride on the "Marrakesh Express." More specifically, The "Marrakesh" from Davidoff of Geneva's new Winston Churchill® Cigars selection. I was so confident the New York Giants were going to win Super Bowl XLII, I decided to celebrate early. So, a couple of hours before the game I fired it up.

The Winston Churchill Marrakesh is a beautiful cigar to look at. Rolled to a 6" x 50 Toro shape, the sun-grown Ecuadorian wrapper is flawless with an inviting, oily sheen. The cigar is double banded - the top band has the Winston Churchill Cigars logo; the second is labeled with the name of the frontmark. As a rule, Davidoff does not disclose specific blend information, but the tobaccos used in the Winston Churchill selection are all Cuban-seed Dominican, Peruvian, Nicaraguan, and Ecuadorian.

The cap clipped off in a perfect circle and the pre-lit taste was mellow and woody. The cigar lit and burned perfectly leaving a long, firm ash and a fantastic aroma in its wake. The smoke itself was creamy and toasty, dominated by a rich woody flavor, with traces of nuts and sweet spice on the finish. Although I expected the cigar to me more full-bodied, it struck my palate as dead center medium in strength. If pressed to compare it to another cigar, I'd say it was surprisingly similar to the Davidoff-produced Avo XO.

Only one thing went awry during the entire hour it took me to finish it. As careful as I was in removing the second band, a little piece of wrapper leaf came off with it (see my earlier blog on cigar bands that stick to the wrapper). The wrapper began to break-up like a pot hole on a city street. Yet despite this, the cigar continued to burn perfectly past the torn section. Now that says something about the quality and integrity of this cigar. Like Sir Winston himself, the cigar did not "give in." Moreover, the final act revealed much more depth of flavor, overshadowing the aforementioned Avo XO, and I smoked it down to the nub.

Since the Winston Churchill cigars have only recently started to appear at retail cigar stores, I'm curious if anyone else has had the chance to smoke one. If so, please leave a comment.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, February 1, 2008

Premium cigar pet peeve: Cigar bands that stick to the wrapper

About a month ago I had an interesting tête-à-tête with my friend Ken about how when you remove the cigar band, sometimes a piece of the wrapper comes off with it, too. It went something like this:

KEN: You know what I hate? Cigar bands that stick to the wrapper. When I spend $2 to $5 per stick, the least I should expect is a band that's easily removed. It also seems to be happening more often with a number of premium cigars. IMO, the manufacturers go to great pains to roll their cigars properly, but fail miserably when affixing the bands to the cigar.

GARY: Agreed. Nothing's more frustrating than peeling the band off a $5 or $10 cigar only to find the wrapper peeling along with it. You're the first to bring this up. Maybe most guys don't mention it because it really doesn't happen that often; or, they just leave their bands on anyway, so how would they know.

KEN: I like to smoke the cigar down to about one inch, and with the size of some of the bands, it's impossible to smoke more than 2/3 its length before burning into the band. I've also tried rolling the cigar between my fingers at the band, but it doesn't help when the glue is attached to the wrapper.

GARY: Sure, if the cigar's a winner, I like to make it a finger burner, too. But even though I prefer to remove the band early on, I usually let the heat from the cigar loosen the glue as the cigar burns closer to the band. It seems to work most of the time; keyword, "most." Only on occasion have I burned the band, but because I wasn't paying attention.

KEN: I wish companies like Famous Smoke Shop and others would bring this problem to the attention of the manufacturers and demand that they fix it.

GARY: Since you mention it, I once had a problem with a box of Gran Habano #1 Toros. I contacted the manufacturer and they said they'd look into it. Knowing the integrity of the company, I'm confident they did so. I also think that they use too much glue on the Avo cigars. I guess it's because they use a heavier paper. It's not so much getting the band off, but getting under the glue to peel the tail of the band.

KEN: Perhaps you should run a survey and see how many customers have experienced similar problems with their premiums.

GARY: (To readers) OK. Your thoughts?