Monday, March 31, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Robusto

There are some cigars that I classify as "a perfect cigar," and the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Robusto I smoked this past Sunday is one of them. I had bought a Don Carlos Robusto 5-pack from Famous Smoke Shop about a year and a half ago, and found the last two remaining cigars at the bottom of my humidor in which I keep my rarest cigars. I figured by now they had to be mighty fine, and as expected, did not disappoint.

I often refer to Fuente Don Carlos cigars as "the original OpusX," because they were created by Don Carlos Fuente Sr. The cigars are made with rare, vintage tobaccos aged up to 10 years, and sport flawless African Cameroon wrappers. Although they don't posses the full-body and complexity of Carlito's Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars, I've found them to be more consistent in construction and flavor, much more available, and a lot more realistic in price. The Don Carlos Robusto sells for about $8.50 a cigar, and it's worth every cent.

Coincidentally, I smoked it in the Famous Retail Store with a mug of organically-grown Nicaraguan coffee while watching what could also be considered "a perfect movie" - The Godfather Part I - so I got to enjoy two "classics" simultaneously.

The cap clipped off in a perfect little disk, while the foot lit perfectly evenly across, and quickly, too, which prevented any unnecessary tars from collecting up-front. With all that extra aging time, the smoke was marvelously mellow and creamy, dominated by a sweet, woody, cedar-aged flavor and aroma. The ashes rolled off in firm little 1-inch nuggets exposing a perfectly-formed cone. The smoke never increased in strength or turned bitter, even down to the last three-quarters-of-an-inch.

This was a real finger burner that I will not soon forget.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Toasting and lighting perfecto cigars with multi-flame torch lighters

If your cigar lighter of choice happens to be a double or triple jet torch model, here's a neat little tip for lighting perfecto-tipped cigars.

Because the foot on most perfecto cigars is so narrow, you risk scorching the wrapper leaf behind the foot the cigar when toasting it with a double or triple flame torch lighter. To avoid this calamity, instead of torching the foot "head-on," as you might with a wide-ring cigar, gently "brush" the foot of the cigar against the side of one of the jets. This will allow the foot to toast evenly without harming the wrapper.

Once the foot begins to glow evenly, you usually don't have to do much more than blow on it to complete the lighting process.

This technique also works nicely on small and café cigars.

Monday, March 24, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Avo Limited Edition 2008 Tesoro

In conjunction with the official release date of the highly anticipated Avo L.E. '08 Tesoro, I had the good fortune to smoke this cigar on a sunny Easter Sunday afternoon out on my deck with a glass of Dow's Boardroom Porto Reserve Tawny. As usual, I was joined by my good friend, Richard From Up The Street, who partook of a Romeo y Julieta Havana with Rémy Martin. But before I get into my commentary, I'd like to wish a belated Happy Birthday to Avo Uvezian who turned 82 this past Saturday.

As I mentioned in my blog of March 14th, the 5¾" x 50 Avo L.E. '08 Tesoro is seamlessly rolled in an Ecuadorian Sun Grown wrapper that shimmers with a gorgeous blonde hue from head to foot. The capped popped off perfectly and the pre-light draw tasted like fresh baked bread seasoned with nutmeg. It was so tasty I just let it hang in my mouth and savored it for a few minutes.

Once lit, Richard commented on the volume of creamy smoke that emanated from the cigar. The cigar also took on an entirely different dimension from its pre-light state. The smoke was medium to full in body, very smooth, and dominated by strong oak and cedar wood flavors with a splash of spice on the finish. The cigar wasn't as complex as I expected, but it was very consistent.

Over the course of an hour and fifteen minutes I smoked the cigar down to about an inch-and-a-half, and the Porto served as a sweet counterpoint to all those deep, dark woody flavors. The cigar burned perfectly, too, as the ashes dropped-off in firm, one-inch-plus nuggets that exposed a perfectly round-headed cone.

If I have but one criticism of this cigar, it's that my sample seemed a bit "young." IMO, several more months of aging would have helped round out some bitterness I encountered in the third act. That said, I still recommend the Avo LE '08 Tesoro as a "must try," and if I can get my hands on another, I'll tuck it away for a while and come back to it with a follow-up review.

Since all Avo Anniversary cigars are made in very limited edition, I advise picking up some singles or a box sooner rather than later. Note also that they are sold only in B&M cigar stores.

Finally, I'd also like to hear from anyone else who's had a chance to smoke the new Avo L.E. '08 Tesoro.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pairing Cigars with Port

Today was one of those days. I was at a loss for ideas on cigar topics to write about, so I started searching the web and came across an archived Blogcritics Magazine article by Jennifer Jordan on the finer points of Port wine. As the senior editor at Savor Each Glass, Ms. Jordan has also been gracious enough to let me post some of her articles on

Of all the alcoholic beverages I prefer to have with a good cigar, Port ranks first, and "JJ" does a great job telling the story behind Port and its many varieties. Perhaps you'll have a newfound appreciation for this marvelous nectar and choose it next time you light up your favorite cigar.

So without further adieu, here's...
Cigars and Port: A Couple of Luxuries

Cigars and alcohol have been a dynamic duo for thousands of years. From scotch and a Montecristo to brandy and a H. Upmann, they have been escorting each other to weddings, galas, and celebrations all over the world.

Though there are shelves of alcohol that go well with cigars, there is one that smokers often overlook: Port wine. Sitting in the back of a wine cellar simply waiting for someone to drink in its glory, port wine knows it is important when it comes to cigars...
Continue reading Cigars and Port: A Couple of Luxuries

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Help! I'm drowning in cigar bands

I've got this insatiable habit of saving the cigar bands from practically every cigar I've ever smoked. I know I'm not alone here, since I've heard from other cigar smokers who do the same thing. I mean you can't help but love the detail that goes into some of these bands, and I've also been planning on writing a feature article on the subject at some point.

At first I just saved the fancy ones - those with a lot of gold embossing and interesting symbols. But eventually I began saving all of them regardless of their design, and even if I already have more than one of the same band. The only exceptions are torn bands which go right into the wastebasket. I've lost a couple of good ones that way.

I think what encouraged me to continue saving cigar bands was my wife, an artist, who said that one day she would make me a collage of all my cigar bands in the shape of a giant cigar. I guess I wanted to make sure she had plenty of material to work with.

Just the other day I was putting a band in one of three cigar boxes I keep my bands in. There must be at least a few hundred in that box alone. I couldn't help say to myself, "My God, did I really smoke all those cigars?!"

Then there's an envelope I keep on my desk at the office. It's one of those big old yellow "Inter-Department Delivery" envelopes with the lined spaces for writing-in the names you pass it on to and the red lace for sealing it. Does anyone still use those envelopes? I thought email replaced them. But I digress. There must be close to 1,500 bands in there alone!

Do I have a favorite band? It's hard to say. I guess my current favorite band is the one that dons the Perdomo Habano cigars. Placed against those dark, oily wrappers, it's truly elegant, to say the least. Some of the most artful cigar bands are the Plasencia Reserva Organica, La Vieja Habana, La Unica Cameroon, and the La Aroma de Cuba, to name a few. CAO also has some great-looking bands on their cigars.

Do you find it as hard to toss cigar bands away I as do? Do you have a particular favorite? After all, they are nice little pieces of artwork in and of themselves. Just curious.

Monday, March 17, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Gran Habano #5 Corojo Lancero

This past Saturday, George Rico, Vice President of Gran Habano cigars, paid a visit to the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store for a cigar tasting event. I'm a big fan of this fine Honduran label, and can't begin to count how many cigar smokers I've turned on the their Gran Habano #1 Connecticut cigars.

Gran Habano also produces three other premium selections: Gran Habano #3 Habano cigars, Gran Habano #5 Corojo cigars, and the highly-rated Gran Habano 3 Siglos cigars. I've found all of their cigars to be full-flavored and consistently well-made. Moreover, their wrapper leaf is first-rate, especially on the darker cigars like the Gran Habano #3 Habano and #5 Corojo - rich in color and deliciously oily.

During the event, George was kind enough to give me a sample of a new frontmark that's been added to their Gran Habano #5 Corojo selection. It's a 7½" x 40 Lancero. (See above photo of us at the store, with me holding the cigar.) I don't usually smoke thin cigars, but George told me the Lancero size is coming back in popularity.

The Gran Habano #5 Corojo Lancero has a Cuban-style pigtail cap, and if it didn't have the Gran Habano band on it, you'd swear it just stepped off the boat from Havana. The Corojo wrapper was thick, dark, and oily. The first act was quite spicy, but about two inches down it rounded-out to a very smooth, full-bodied smoke. Perfectly balanced flavors of sweet tobacco, earth, cedar, and pepper dominated, and the cigar improved even more so in the final third. Due to its complexity, it's actually a hard cigar to describe. All I know is I enjoyed it immensely, and in spite of its kick, the cigar was never overpowering.

Thanks to George for giving me the opportunity to preview this svelte and heady little beauty that will be arriving at retail cigar stores within the next few weeks.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Avo Uvezian to start national tour for new L.E. '08 Tesoro cigars

Among the best experiences I've had since I started working in the cigar business has been the opportunity to meet some really wonderful people. One of them is none other than Avo Uvezian, who turns 82 years young on March 22nd. Coincidentally, I started in the business in 2001, the same year Avo introduced his first Limited Edition Anniversary cigar, the "Avo 75."

Next week, in conjunction with a national tour of exclusive dinners, Avo will debut his latest opus, the L.E. '08 Tesoro. The new cigars are blended with Dominican-grown Piloto, Olor and San Vicente tobaccos, wrapped in an Ecuadorian sun-grown leaf, and rolled to 5¾" x 50. Presented in a box of 20, the band has been placed at the foot, and the cigars are positioned "head down" in the box. (Look for my review of the Avo L.E. '08 Tesoro in "My Weekend Cigar" blog on Monday, March 24th.)

I first learned about Avo cigars during the mid-1990's cigar boom. I was working in the video business and a co-worker turned me on to the brand. Needless to say, it was love at first light. So you can imagine my anticipation when I had the chance to interview him at my first RTDA show in 2002. Since then, each year Avo has been gracious enough to spend some quality time with me, and because we're also both musicians, we've formed a bond that goes beyond our mutual love for fine cigars.

Avo has had a fascinating life, too. He was born in Lebanon in 1926. As a young man he trained professionally as a musician, which led him to The Julliard School of Music in New York City. From there he went on to play with some of the top jazz musicians in the world. Today, Avo has his own jazz festival, The Avo Sessions, held annually in Basel, Switzerland. During the early 1980's Avo lived in Puerto Rico and performed in his own restaurant where he would smoke cigars made especially for him. Those first "Avo cigars" also marked the beginning of his relationship with master blender, Hendrik Kelner, and as they say, the rest is history.

The Avo dinners will commence on March 20th in Lake Mary, FL and move on to select cities across the U.S. through April 30th. So on that note, I'm pleased to announce that Avo will be making a special stop at the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store in Easton, PA on Friday, March 28th from 2:00 - 3:30 P.M. Attendees will not only have the chance to meet and greet Avo, but he'll also be autographing boxes of Avo cigars. I'm even bringing my keyboard so Avo can entertain us. Maybe he'll teach me a few new licks, too. If you live anywhere near the Lehigh Valley of western NJ/eastern PA, make the time to stop by the store. For more information on his appearance you can call 610-559-8800, or view the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store calendar.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kudos to Kinky

It's nice to see someone on "cable TV's most watched news program" holding a big fat cigar. I'm talking about the recent appearances by musician, songwriter, politician, cigar enthusiast, and entrepreneur, Kinky Friedman, who has become a regular guest on The O'Reilly Factor. Even if you're not a fan of Mr. O'Reilly, it's worth tuning in to hear Kinky's straight from the hip political analysis. And as a cigar smoker, it's even more fun watching him wave an unlit, 5¾" x 60 Kinky Friedman "Governor" as he responds to O'Reilly's observations.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kinky at the RTDA last year in Houston (see photo above), and he was a true gentleman. So, in return for promoting premium cigars to the nation in prime-time, I thought I'd give Kinky a well-deserved plug.

Kinky Friedman Cigars are handmade in Honduras with a medium-bodied blend of Honduran and Nicaraguan tobaccos, Costa Rican binder, and an exquisite Honduran-grown Habano wrapper. (Kinky was also kind enough to give me a sample of his "Kinkycristo," a 6¼" x 54 Torpedo, and it tastes as good as it looks.)

But there's more to Kinky's notoriety than his music or his bids for Governor of Texas. He's also dedicated himself to the adoption and care of abandoned and abused animals. Kinky even created "Kinky's Select" cigars, a private label from which sales proceeds go to support his Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch in Medina, TX. Moreover, Kinky and his band, The Texas Jewboys, have toured extensively to help raise money for the ranch.

Will Kinky ever make it to the Governor's mansion in Austin? Who knows? But if he ever runs for President, you can be pretty sure he'll stand up for the rights of cigar smokers. Now that's a platform I can support.

Monday, March 10, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Plasencia Reserva Organica Robusto

This weekend I had a cigar that I had been home-aging since last October, and once again I proved that sometimes all it just takes is a little extra patience to get what you expect from a good cigar.

The cigar in question: The Plasencia Reserva Organica Robusto. This is one of my personal favorites, and if you've never smoked a "certified" organically grown and cured cigar, this Nicaraguan puro line is really something to behold. The organic process is fascinating in and of itself, and the result is a very pure, and naturally sweet tasting cigar with an equally sweet aroma.

When I received the cigars last year (a 5-pack), after lighting up the first one I immediately noticed it was a little "green." The taste was somewhat bitter and the odor a little musty, too. For such a high-quality cigar, this was certainly the exception, and caught me off-guard to say the least, since I happen to know the care and the quality of the tobaccos that go into making it. All that aside, I kept my faith in the blend and decided to let them stew a little longer.

Five months in the humidor later, the cigar had shed it musty aroma for that sweet, hay-like scent you find in most cigars when you run the wrapper under your nose. I paired it with a cup of Brazilian coffee made in my French press - it makes the best coffee!

Once lit, the smoke was smooth and creamy dominated by a sweet cedar flavor with a trace of nutmeg on the finish. I just let the cigar smoke itself, puffing about once a minute, and it just got better with each drag. The cigar smoked for about 1½ hours and I didn't want it to end. I smoked it down to about an inch and there was no trace of bitterness even at that point. The coffee really complemented the flavors, too.

Moral of the story: Even with the best cigars you can end up with an occasional crapper, but sometimes, as in that song by Depeche Mode, you just have to "reach out and touch faith."

Friday, March 7, 2008

A "solution" for unraveling cigar wrappers? Maybe.

Nothing is more frustrating than having your cigar unravel on you. About a week ago in my office, I had a cigar that began to unravel at just below the midpoint. The wrapper was only sticking up a little bit at first, but as the cigar burned it began to unfurl even more. I thought about wetting it with saliva, which I believe is the most common method used to get the wrapper back down, but instead I let the cigar go out and tried something a little different.

I grabbed my bottle of 50/50 humidification solution (50% distilled water and 50% polygylcol). The polygylcol makes the solution a little slick and oily. That's the key. I spread some solution on the wrapper leaf with my finger and the wrapper adhered to the cigar. I kept my eye on it for about 15 minutes. It was almost dry, and it looked like it was holding together with better results than plain distilled water or good ol' fashioned spit.

Now for the acid test - the relight. Surprisingly, the wrapper leaf stayed in place and let me smoke past the break point. I'm not certain this "cure" will work in every case, especially if the leaf has unraveled more than halfway around the cigar, but it seemed to do the trick for this minor instance.

I have also seen a wrapper repair kit advertised. It's a little bottle of pure vegetable glue (the same type of glue cigar rollers apply to a cigar's wrapper cap), with a brush that's attached to the bottle cap.

Has anyone ever tried this product or the method I described using 50/50? If so, let me know if it worked for you, or if you have a better remedy.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Coping with cigar aftertaste: No cure in sight for "chronic ashtray mouth"

Here's one for you. Thinking I might have a solution, I got an email from a relatively new cigar smoker who was concerned about the taste left in his mouth after smoking. He was quite clear that he wasn't referring to "the finish," but the taste that remained on his palate long after the cigar was out, which he described as "a liquefied-tar taste" that made his mouth feel like it had "been used as the ashtray."

"I have read many blogs and forums, offering various reactions from 'during, drink coffee,' to 'afterwards, drink something citrusy like Schweppes Bitter Lemon or tonic water,' to 'embrace your cigar-breath - get used to it!'," he wrote. Apparently, he tried all of the above with little or no relief, and added that it may have to do with how taste buds vary from person to person. (I'm also inclined to believe it has more to do with physiology.)

In my reply I told him that I've experienced "ashtray mouth" myself on occasion, but most often I'm just trying to get rid of the taste of a bad cigar. I've tried everything from drinking lemonade, to mints, to chocolate bars, to rinsing with mouthwash. Mouthwash actually seems to work pretty well, but not the Scope or Listermint kind. I like Tom's of Maine. It's natural, has no alcohol, and leaves a nice fresh taste in your mouth. I also use a tongue scraper each night after brushing (there's an image for you), but by then, any trace of tobacco taste from earlier in the day is usually already gone.

My office roommate and co-copywriter, Hayward says, "Just plain eat something. Chewing spearmint gum also does the trick for me."

Although there may be no cure for cigar smokers who suffer from chronic ashtray mouth, at least there are some ways to alleviate it.

Your thoughts?

Monday, March 3, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Conuco Robusto

Last Friday I took advantage of a "buy-one-get-one-free" deal on the Conuco Robusto that was being offered in the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store. This exclusive new Famous boutique selection was an instant hit with me when the cigars first arrived from Rocky Patel's operation in El Paraiso, Honduras, and having not smoked a Conuco in a couple of months, I was overdue.

Fortunately, the weather warmed up enough on Sunday to smoke outside. We were having a birthday party for one of my nephews, so my brother and I partook on his deck as he cooked the hamburgers and hotdogs. My brother paired his Arturo Fuente 8-5-8 Flor Fina Maduro with a glass of McClellan's 12 year old single malt, while I had a vodka with my Conuco.

Beyond the inherent quality of this cigar, what really blows me away about these Conucos are their natural sweetness and complexity. The blend itself is an epicurean delight. You've got Honduran and Costa Rican Ligero, plus Nicaraguan Viso and Panamanian Seco leaves for the filler. The binder is a Nicaraguan Seco, and the whole stack is rolled in a dark, oily Honduran-grown Habano wrapper.

Building in strength from a medium to full-bodied cigar, the flavor is non-stop from start to finish. Dominated by sweet, woody flavors, notes of coffee, cocoa, and nutmeg presented themselves in varying degrees throughout the smoke. Yet, as robust as it became in flavor, it never overpowered me. Moreover, this 5" x 50 cigar was so well-packed, it smoked for a almost two hours.

As I was finishing my Conuco Robusto, I thought about how you sometimes walk into a cigar store and the manager isn't necessarily smoking a Fuente, or a Padron, or a CAO. Instead he's smoking one of the cigars sold exclusively in his store; not so much for advertising purposes, but because he likes it so much it's become his everyday cigar of choice. If I was the manager of the cigar store, you'd most certainly find me smoking a Conuco.