Friday, May 30, 2008

Cigarettes vs. cigars: No comparison, baby!

By Gary Korb

Many moons ago, back in my college days, I picked-up the nasty habit of smoking cigarettes from a friend who lived in my dorm; menthols were my preference. I was also into smoking a pipe at that time. I used to buy my pipe tobacco from this great little tobacco shop. They had a big humidor stacked floor to ceiling with all the best premium cigars. At the time, I had no interest in cigars. I guess I thought a pipe was cooler. Boy oh boy. How does that song go? If I only knew then, what I know now.

Anyway, back to cigarettes. Even though I smoked them pretty regularly for a while, I was never totally hooked. I'd get a bad cold, would have to stop smoking, and usually quit altogether without missing them at all. Later on, when I was in a band, I got back into them. Peer pressure I suppose, since most of the guys in the band also smoked cigarettes. My guitars even have little black burn scars on their peg heads as a reminder of my old habit. (I used to place the cigarette between the low E string and the peg head to hold it in place.)

Some years later, after I discovered the wonderful world of cigars, I never looked back at a pack of cigarettes. Just the thought of sucking in that rancid smoke made my stomach queasy.

Of course, some old habits die hard, and having recently gone through a little personal trauma, I picked up the habit again to ease my stress. I've only been smoking a few cigarettes per day, because that's about as many as I can stand, and I'm pretty sure this will be my last pack.

Now the reason I bring this up is because I think the cigarettes are having a negative effect on my palate when it comes to enjoying my cigars. It seems that when I light up a good cigar these days, they taste flat and bitter.

Now I know that there are many cigar smokers out there who smoke cigars and cigarettes, cigars and pipes, or a combination of all three. So my question is, if you're a member of the group who smokes both cigars and cigarettes, and you prefer cigars, do you feel that the cigarettes prohibit your palate from picking-up the flavor nuances of the tobaccos in your cigars?

For me, it's one of the reasons I've decided to drop the cigarettes for good. I just love the flavors in premium cigars too much to ever want to go back. After all, my palate is my livelihood.

Lesson learned. Your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cigars: Fact & Fiction

By Gary Korb

This week I received emails about two creative people who have recently released original works that relate to the cigar industry.

The first was from Russell Griffin, an award-winning, independent filmmaker who has directed a documentary titled, "Los Tabaqueros." Mr. Griffin has an impressive resume, having directed both narrative and documentary films and TV commercials.

"Los Tabaqueros" is a short documentary about how premium hand rolled cigars are made and the passion the cigar makers (a/k/a "tabaqueros") put into their work.

"We focused our lenses on a small shop in perhaps the most famous cigar locale in America: Miami's Calle Ocho (8th Street)," writes Mr. Griffin. "How each type of leaf has a different purpose and why the 'tabaquero' chooses certain leaves to create unique flavor profiles."

Curious? You might want to check out the Los Tabaqueros trailer.

The second email was about a newly-released book by Lydia M. Kordalewski titled, Inside the Humidor. I have to admit that when I first glanced at this title, I thought it was a book about how to care for your cigars. But it's actually a work of fiction.

Inside the Humidor traces the tragedies and triumphs of four generations of the Sharkey family (not exactly the most Spanish sounding of surnames), who come from the Canary Islands to settle in Cuba during the late 1800's, and eventually control the cigar industry. Julio Sharkey opts out of Castro's Revolution and flees to Miami with his family and grandfather's humidor by way of the Dominican Republic in search of the American dream. In Florida, Julio rebuilds his cigar dynasty for his three sons to inherit. From there, the story chronicles the fate each son chooses for himself, among which include the good, the bad, and the ugly.

More details about the plot of Inside the Humidor can be found on the book's website.

I haven't seen "Los Tabaqueros" in its entirety, nor have I read Inside The Humidor; I'm just your humble reporter letting you know that they're out there. But since both Mr. Griffin and Ms. Kordalewski put a lot of effort into their respective works, I felt they deserved a little attention.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Are you a "tipper" or a "tapper?"

By Gary Korb

Last week, I sent out the May newsletter. Each issue includes a cigar survey that's posted on the home page. This month's question was: Do you feel long, firm ashes are an indication of a cigar's quality?

Which brings me to today's topic. It's based on a comment I received about the survey question from a reader who wrote:
Regarding the long ash being indicative of a cigar's quality, I'd sooner express that the burning of a cigar is at its optimum when that long ash is of a proper color. My favorites are renowned in their ability to extend a solid column of white ash until tipped gently, not tapping as "those paper smokers" do. Tipped refers to gently touching the end of the column to an ashtray...if it wants to disconnect, it will.
What jumped out at me in the comment was this act of "tipping" vs. "tapping" the cigar's ash. So, I began wondering: "Am I a 'tipper' or a 'tapper'?" because how I ash my cigar is one of those things I never really paid much attention to.

Depending on the situation, I'm probably a little bit of both. If I have a good long firm ash going I test its mettle by gently nudging it against the side of the ashtray. If it resists I let it ride. I keep doing this until eventually, the ash either breaks off on its own, or it just tips off into the bowl. Sometimes before tipping, I lightly twirl the column against the side of the bowl to remove the flaky outer layer and reveal the rigid inner core.

On the other hand, with cigars whose ashes tend to be lighter or flakier I find myself tapping the ash off like one would do with a cigarette.

However, upon further observation, it seems that I most often tip the ash off. I also think there's something inherently aesthetic about the act of gently breaking off the ash and watching it come to rest at its final destination.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Arganese and La Gloria Cubana cigar events at Famous Smoke Shop

Today I'm doing a friend a favor. I promised Jeff Brown, manager of the Famous Smoke Shop retail store, that I'd plug a couple of upcoming cigar events for him, so here goes:

Arganese Cigars Party with Free Beer
Saturday, May. 17, 2008, 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Arganese cigars have been getting a lot of attention lately. Last month, I even wrote a blog about Arganese Cigars. Nice smokes, too.

But don’t just take my word for it. If you happen to be in the vicinity of Pennsylvania's verdant Lehigh Valley you can try some yourself this Saturday, May 17. If you stop in you'll get to meet 'n greet Gene Arganese himself AND the lovely "Alina," one of Gene's most popular spokesmodels.

And what's a good cigar without a refreshing libation to go with it, right? So in addition to the in-store only specials on Arganese cigars, guests can also enjoy samples of Jimmy ("Margaritaville") Buffet’s Land Shark Lager, courtesy of Allentown Beverages. It's a pretty decent light-tasting beer. If you like Corona, then you'll probably like Land Shark, too. This event, which also includes free food and drawings for raffle prizes, should be pretty hot.

I should also mention that Gene Arganese will also be appearing at Famous Smoke Shop's Cigar Expo 2008 & BBQ on June 7th & 8th. The Saturday gig is sold-out, but there are still some tickets left for Sunday, June 8th.

La Gloria Cubana Dominoes Event & Cookout with Free Beer
Saturday, May. 24, 2008, 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm
If you plan on being in the Lehigh Valley over Memorial Day weekend, kick off the summer with an in-store event that's going to be loads of fun. La Gloria Cubana Cigars is helping Famous Smoke Shop host its first-ever Dominoes event. Reps from La Gloria Cubana will be on-hand to teach you the game while you savor some of the best premium cigars made in both The Dominican Republic and Miami.

In addition to the dominoes event, store manager Jeff Brown will be cookin' up burgers and dogs on the grill for everyone; just don't expect him to be wearing his "Kiss The Cook" apron. Other refreshments will include free samples of the new Bud Light Lime, courtesy of Allentown Beverages, plus there will be the usual in-store only specials on La Gloria Cubana cigars and drawings for raffle prizes.

For more information on these events, you can visit the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store web page or call 610-559-8800. The store is located at 1100 Conroy Place in Easton (Forks Twp.), PA

Monday, May 12, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Perdomo Estate Selección Vintage 1991 Nobleza

Yesterday afternoon, while my wife was enjoying a restful Mother's Day, I was out on the patio enjoying a cigar that I've been keeping an eye on in my humidor for quite a while - a Perdomo Estate Selección Vintage 1991 Nobleza. I figured if my wife deserves a special day, I deserve a special cigar, and if there's one thing I love (besides my beautiful wife), it's a cigar that lives up to its reputation.

First a little back-story. All of the Perdomo Selection Estate Selección Vintage 1991 cigars are filled with tobaccos from a rare Cuban-seed tobacco grown in Esteli, Nicaragua. Although most of the cigars in the line feature Connecticut and Maduro wrappers, there are two sizes presented in tubos that are wrapped in a genuine, first-grade African Cameroon wrapper: The 6" x 54 Maestro and the 5 5/8" x 48 Nobleza.

Everything about the Nobleza was exquisite. It started out a little spicy, but quickly rounded-out to a smooth and creamy smoke that was rich in flavor, perfectly balanced, and gave off one of the sweetest aromas ever to grace my olfactory senses.

The flavors were predominantly "woody." I picked up traces of oak, sweet cedar and a hint of white pepper. As the cigar smoked the flavors become much more intricate. The strength, which I would classify as medium to full in flavor, did not increase in intensity, but in complexity. I literally smoked it down to a half inch, and if I could have gone further I would have. (I think I enjoyed this cigar even more than the Perdomo Edicion de Silvio I smoked awhile back.)

Because of its unique flavor characteristics. I found the Nobleza to be one of those rare cigars that's difficult to describe. IOW, you really have to smoke it yourself to fully appreciate it. It was so right-on-the-money in every category - from the construction and burn, to the flavor, finish and aroma - if I had to rate it, I'd probably give it a "95."

At around $113/box, they may not fit every cigar smoker's budget, but fortunately, the Nobleza tubos are also available in a 3-pack. If you're looking for a superb "special occasion" cigar the Perdomo ESV '91 Nobleza is well worth the investment.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Would you like some Cuban tobacco in your cigar?

A recent posting titled Why Not Cuban Tobaccco on got me thinking about a subject that's been on my mind as well. Let's assume the Cuban embargo is lifted in the not-too-distant future. Will manufacturers in The Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua begin buying Cuban leaf and add it to cigars sold in the U.S.?

I suggest you read the whole posting, but it begins with a question from a reader who refers to an article that stated there will be a bigger demand for Cuban tobacco than Cuban cigars if the embargo is ended.

Manufacturers in South America are not affected by the embargo, so they could use Cuban tobacco in their blends, but they aren't, which raised the following question: "Can't they use it for cigars sold in the European and Asian markets?" CigarCyclopedia offers following cogent reply:

In fact, the major producers of cigars in the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua do not use Cuban leaf in their blends today, even though they could for sales in countries other than the U.S. There are good reasons for this. If such producers used Cuban leaf in cigars sold in Great Britain, what would the position of U.S. Customs be for cigars shipped to the U.S. from England? And if such cigars were made under the same brand name as cigars made for the U.S., would there be trouble with American customs to allow any of these cigars into the U.S.? Would U.S. Customs force the manufacturer to prove that Cuban leaf wasn’t in their cigars? It’s too much trouble to bother with.
So as long as the embargo remains in place, major cigar manufacturers outside of Cuba will continue making cigars without Cuban leaf. And judging by the quality of the cigars now being made in The DR, Honduras and Nicaragua, it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference. Of course, that's not to say that blenders wouldn't mind being able to use prime Cuban leaf to create even more interesting blends.

So consider the following, because maybe we'll get the chance to smoke such a cigar in our lifetime.

...wouldn’t you be interested in trying a new cigar from Macanudo or Arturo Fuente or Camacho that was made with Cuban leaf? That’s what cigar makers are thinking about now as they monitor the changes in the Cuban regime under Raul Castro and what might happen under a new American President in 2009. We have been told, repeatedly, that those meetings are ongoing...and getting more intense.
Finally, in case you didn’t know, before the embargo U.S. Connecticut tobacco was a staple of Cuban cigars. True!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Who really holds the record for the world's longest cigar?

By Gary Korb

Whether you disagree with their form of government, or the ceaseless Cuban embargo, the Cuban people are among the proudest in the world, especially when it comes to making premium cigars.

Yesterday on, I posted a story out of Havana about Jose "Cueto" Castelar, the 64 year-old Cuban cigar roller who was attempting to roll a 65 foot (20 meter) cigar to capture his fourth Guinness world record.

According to the article, "Castelar's previous record-setting cigars measured 11.04 meters (36.2 feet), in 2001, 14.86 meters (48.75 feet), in 2003, and 20.41 meters (66.9 feet), in 2005."

But it was no surprise to Gary Manelski at that the writer (who is not credited) neglected to mention that the world's longest cigar was actually a Cuban cigar roller from Tampa, Florida.

In an effort to set the record straight (you'll pardon the expression), Gary sent me an email, some of which I'd like to share with you. He wrote:

"The world's longest cigar (101 feet) was rolled by Tampa's own Wally Reyes at the Cigar Heritage Festival back in November 2006. I know because I was there, and captured it on video."

Gary also pointed me to a November 2006 article he wrote titled, Longest Cigar in the World. In it he notes that the 2005 record was a 66-foot cigar rolled in Cuba. This would be the cigar credited to Señor Castelar. Then he goes on to report that the 2006 winner was Wally Reyes of Gonzalez Habano Cigar Company in Tampa who rolled a "smokable" 101 ft. long cigar.

By implying that Jose Castelar rolled the longest cigar, was the Havana article merely Cuban propaganda? Perhaps. Gary claims the information in the article was not true, and I'm sure he can back it up.

In the end, it was all for naught, since it was reported today in a Telegraph U.K. article titled Close But No Giant Cuban Cigar, that Jose Castelar didn't make the record book. Moreover, both he and Wally were surpassed by Puerto Rican cigar roller, Patricio Pena whose 2007 record still stands at 41.2m (135 feet).

Thanks Gary. And if anyone else wants to weigh-in on this, please do.

World Record Update! (5/16/2008)
Well, I'm sure most of you reading this have heard the news by now, but according to a Reuters article published on May 9, it looks like Jose "Cueto" Castelar did it afterall:

HAVANA (Reuters) - With music, dancing and rum, Cubans celebrated on Friday the likely return of a record they consider rightfully theirs -- the world's longest cigar.

At just over 148 feet 9 inches, the thick stogie stretched like a long brown snake through a room and out its front and back windows at El Morro, the old Spanish fort overlooking Havana Bay.

British diplomat Chris Stimpson made the official measurement, which he said would be sent to the Guinness World Records in London for confirmation.

Cuban rolls cigar said to be world's longest

Monday, May 5, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Graycliff Profesionale PG

By Gary Korb

Yesterday afternoon turned out to be picture perfect for smoking a good cigar; warm and breezy with plenty of sunshine. So, I decided to go with something a little extra special from my humidor, a Graycliff (Blue) Profesionale PG.

Some cigar smokers tend to shy away from Graycliff selections because, let's face it, they ain't cheap. But they truly are very special cigars, and if you ever wanted to spoil yourself for an hour or more, you're very likely to find them well worth the investment.

Graycliff prides themselves on the fact that their cigars only the rarest, most select tobaccos in some of the most unique combinations, too. Plus they're rolled in limited quantity by a very limited number of master rollers. Altogether, you have cigars that are extremely high in quality and consistency.

I've had a couple of Graycliff Profesionale cigars in the past in other sizes, but not the PG, a 5¼" x 50 Robusto. This cigar dons a flawless Indonesian wrapper with a blend consisting of tobaccos from The Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Nicaragua. (Graycliff prefers not to be too specific about the tobaccos used in their blends.)

I decided to smoke the cigar with a Sleeman Honey Brown Lager. I don't normally drink beer with a cigar, but I had a feeling this particular brew would make a nice combo, and I was right.

The cap clipped perfectly and the cold draw was somewhat nutty with a note of sweetness. Once lit, the smoke drew smooth as silk and was creamy as freshly-churned butter. The flavor was primarily toasty, nutty, and slightly earthy with just the right amount of sweetness.

If I had to compare the Graycliff Blue PG to another fine cigar, I would probably say the Arturo Fuente Hemingway Signature, but the Graycliff had more going for it in terms of depth. Moreover, the semi-sweet, malty flavor of the lager complimented an appealing bready quality I also found in the smoke. The finish left my palate a little dry, but the flavors were so perfectly balanced the smoke never varied, even down to the one-half inch stub I left in the ashtray.

As some of the best medium-bodied cigars go, this one was truly a joy to behold.

For what it's worth, I also noticed that Famous Smoke Shop is currently offering free shipping on all boxes of Graycliff cigars.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Retro-Smoke: Cusano 18 Paired Maduro Robusto

By Gary Korb

I thought I'd start out today by giving you a little teaser. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to receive a preview of a new limited edition eight cigar Cusano Cigars sampler that's scheduled to arrive in cigar stores within the next several weeks. This one's a doozy, too. Presented in all Robusto sizes, it includes one each of the Cusano 18 Double Connecticut and Paired Maduro, a Corojo 1997, plus all three versions of their luxurious Cuvée blends, and two brand new cigars which I'm not at liberty to announce at this time. So keep your eyes peeled for that one.

Looking at the box, my eye was attracted to the Cusano 18 Paired Maduro, mainly because I hadn't smoked one in a while, and I figured it would make a good subject for today's Retro-Smoke.

Like all Cusano Cigars, the Paired 18 Maduro is blended with multiple wrapper leaves. The outer leaf is a oily, even toned, dark chocolate-hued, U.S. Connecticut Broadleaf. At the core is a Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper leaf, a 1985-vintage Dominican Oro wrapper leaf, and a Dominican San Vicente binder. The pre-lit flavor (a/k/a the "cold taste") was primarily woody with a hint of sweetness.

The cigar toasted and lit perfectly as burly, semi-sweet-smelling smoke wafted about me. The cigar started out smooth and creamy with light cedary flavors, some sweetness, and hints of black pepper. As the cigar entered the second act, the peppery elements had amplified; the smoke was spicier, but the sweet and woody elements persisted, keeping the pepper in check, and the cigar blossomed into a luscious, full-flavored smoke. All the flavors were so well-balanced, and the smoke so smooth throughout, that I puffed it to the point where I literally burned the first knuckle of my left index finger. TRUE!

In all honesty, I didn't remember my last Cusano 18 Paired Maduro with as much enthusiasm, but this cigar was truly stunning. Definitely a "must smoke" for the die-hard maduro cigar smoker.