Friday, August 29, 2008

Cuban cigars vs. Non-Cuban cigars

I was cleaning up my email folder this morning and found an old message from a customer who was new to premium cigars at the time, asking me about how good Cuban cigars really are. "I realize that the tobaccos in most cigars that I purchase are of Cuban seed, and the difference is the soil that they are grown in," he wrote. "Is this true?"

I know this subject has been covered ad-infinitum, but here's my 2¢.

Although the vast majority of cigars I've smoked are made outside of Cuba, I've had my share, and in my opinion, by today's standards Cuban cigars are not necessarily better, just different. A better way to put it would be that Cuba is to premium cigars what France is to premium wines; a benchmark or standard.

Most of the great cigar makers working outside of Cuba are Cuban exiles; at least most of the patriarchs who are still working. Their standards (and family blending secrets) are based on what they were taught by their Cuban forefathers, and have done a fantastic job at creating cigars in the DR, Honduras, and Nicaragua that rival and often exceed their Cuban counterparts. So, it's really a matter of taste.

Secondly, Cuban cigars are comprised of all Cuban-grown tobaccos using wrappers of the Corojo variety which were developed in the 1940's and like Connecticut leaf is shade-grown. You may notice that many Cuban cigars, at least the better ones, have a similar color range and glossiness to them? There is a unqiue flavor and character in good Cuban cigars, and if you can get your hands on, say, a Cuban Partagas Serie D No.4, then you'll know what I mean. But there are dozens of non-Cubans that blow the doors off many of them. Just take a look at the success CAO cigars have had outscoring Cuban cigars in vertical brand tastings reported in magazines like Cigar Aficionado.

Cuba does have an advantage with regard to its climate and the soil in its most fertile regions, like the far western Vuelta Abajo region in Pinar del Rio and the Partidos region which lies southwest of Havana, not to mention the tradition of fine cigar making that continues with the current generation of Cuban cigar blenders.

Cuban seed that was brought into the other Caribbean nations is used in almost all non-Cuban cigars for obvious reasons. It's the key to maintaining that seminal "Cuban flavor" in the tobacco, but it's the soil and curing process that have the most affect on the flavor. Cigar makers of Cuban ancestry like the Fuentes, Padróns, Toraños, Plasencias, and Eiroas (Camacho), Ernesto Perez-Carrillo (La Gloria Cubana), Manuel Quesada (Fonseca), Jose "Pepin" Garcia, and Jesus Fuego (the list goes on), knew how to work the soil in their adopted countries and have produced some of the finest cigars in the world.

I've smoked many non-Cuban-made cigars that come pretty darn close to "true" Cubans, but when it comes to genuine Havanas compared to premium cigars made outside of Cuba, it's always going to be apples vs. oranges.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An historical note on the Rothschild cigar

Last week I got an email from a woman complaining about a spelling mistake on the Famous Smoke Shop website. I wasn't all that surprised since, with the gazillion words I write each week, there're sure to be a couple of misspelled words here and there. I've received similar messages in the past, and as always, fix the error immediately. The word in contention this time was "Rothschild." Somehow I shifted the "s" and spelled it "Rothchilds."
"The cigars are R-O-T-H-S-C-H-I-L-D. I would be very happy if you would please be more careful with the spelling of this name. The surname ROTHCHILDS is Irish Protestant and not connected with the cigars. Please consider other people and boost your sales by correctly spelling your merchandise for sale."
With thanks,
Fiona
Well, I didn't want to make any waves with all due respect to the Irish Protestants, so I thanked Fiona for the grammar lesson, and even though I figured her as a non-cigar smoker I felt obliged to give her a little history lesson on the origins of the Rothschild cigar. To be perfectly (and embarrassingly) honest, I told her the cigar was named by Zino Davidoff for Baron Philippe de Rothschild, until I realized that it was the Zino Mouton Cadet cigars that Zino made for him to compliment the Baron's Mouton Cadet wines. (I'm definitely working too hard.) The origin of the name actually goes back a lot further than that, so here's the emmis according to a passage I found in The Ultimate Cigar Book by Richard Carleton Hacker:
During the 1880's, London financier, Leopold de Rothschild instructed the famous Hoyo de Monterrey factory in Havana to make a short cigar with a large ring size so thathe could enjoy the richest flavor possible without have to take the time smoke a full-length cigar.
Although Mr. Hacker cites the "classic Rothschild" as being 4½ x 52, more often they're rolled to a 4½ x 49 or 50 ring. Even the current Honduran-made Hoyo de Monterrey Rothschild cigars are rolled to 4½ x 50, and interestingly enough, the name is spelled "Rothschilds" on the box.

Moreover, in the cigar industry the name has been spelled all kinds of different ways: "Rothschild," "Rothchild," "Rothchilds," "Rothschilde," "Rothschildes," "Rothchilde," etc. However it's spelled, it's done at the discretion of the manufacturer. Far be it from me to tell them how to spell it. But experienced cigar smokers all know the Rothschild cigar, regardless of how it's spelled.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, August 25, 2008

My weekend cigar: Arganese CL3 Robusto and ML3 Torpedo

This past Saturday (August 23), we had a phenomenal turn-out for the Arganese Cigars in-store tasting at Famous Smoke Shop. Gene Arganese was there featuring his new Arganese CL3 cigars and Arganese ML3 cigars. Gene also brought his friend Joe Gannascoli with him. You may know Mr. Gannascoli as "Vito Spatafore" from HBO's The Sopranos. While Gene was promoting his cigars, Joe was promoting his new cigar, "Cugine," which is also being made by Arganese, and is scheduled for release in October.

I had already sampled the CL3 and ML3 in the Robusto sizes at the IPCPR show in Las Vegas last month, and they really live up to their advertising. (See video of Gene Araganese talking about them at the show.) These cigars are definitely not for beginners. Both cigars were well made, drew easily and remained consistently full-bodied from end to end. During the event, I tried another CL3 Robusto and switched to the ML3 Torpedo to compare it against the ML3 Robusto.

Made with all Dominican wrapper, filler and binder, the CL3 is rolled in a dark brown Corojo wrapper, whereas the ML3 has an even darker Ecuadorian-grown Maduro leaf wrapper with an oily patina. The cigars are well-packed and get their name by having three times more Ligero tobaccos than normally found in premium cigars. IOW, no Seco, Viso, or Volado. Just Ligero, Ligero, Ligero.

The Corojo wrapper on CL3 has a nice silky feel to it. My Robusto sample was slightly mottled, but I thought it added a little character to the appearance. The pre-light flavor was very leathery and I didn't detect much of anything spicy. Due to the large amount of Ligero used, it did present some difficulty lighting, but once lit, this cigar gets right to the point. This is a spicy, "no nonsense" cigar. The smoke rounded out somewhat in the second half but continued to chug along with dark, woody, red pepper flavors on a long, but dry finish. The smoke was consistently peppery all the way through and I found the aroma very appealing. According to Gene, he was going for the flavor and strength found in the 1992-vintage Cuban Montecristos. Unfortunately, I couldn't make a personal comparison, but to that end, this cigar does have a more "traditional Cuban" flavor profile.

The Arganese ML3 Torpedo had a very distinctive hazelnut flavor on the pre-light. It started out smoother and more medium-bodied than the CL3, but didn't waste much time building into a full-bodied, peppery smoke with dark, earthy-woody flavors, a hearty aroma, and a long finish. This cigar was creamier, not as overpowering, and offered a little more complexity than the CL3. What's interesting was that some of the guests thought the ML3 was stronger.

I paired the cigars with a bottle of Victory Brewing Co.'s "Hop Devil" beer. This IPA is extremely "hoppy," so much so, that it actually overpowered the flavor of the cigars. (Several others agreed with me.) Fortunately, the ML3 Torpedo lasted longer than the beer, which gave me a chance to pair it up with something else.

That something else was a small glass of Matusalem Gran Reserva Rum. I had been sent a complementary bottle for review from the distributor and thought this event would be a great occasion to sample it. Needless to say, the Matusalem really complimented the flavors in the ML3. Others who were lucky enough to sample the rum agreed. It was very smooth, and had sort of a single malt scotch element to it, too. Look for a more detailed review of Matusalem Gran Reserva rum with some video I shot at the event in the near future.

In conclusion, if you've grown an appreciation for full-bodied, spicy cigars like Camacho and Don Pepin-made cigars, then I strongly recommend the Arganese CL3 and ML3.

~ Gary Korb

For more information, visit ArganeseCigars.com.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Clipping Figurado-shaped cigars

For some new cigar smokers, their first experience with "Torpedo," "Belicoso," "Pyramid," "Double Perfecto," and other tapered head cigars can be a little confusing. Do you clip it? Punch it? Bite it?

Generally referred to as "Figurados," one thing these attractive-looking cigars have in common is a tapered head, or a head that comes to a point. To that end (pun intended), here's my take on how to clip these cigars.

What you want to do is clip off just enough to keep the head pointed, but still give you a good draw. Start with clipping about a 1/4 of an inch using a standard single or double-blade guillotine cigar cutter. You can also use a one-sided double-blade cigar cutter. These are also referred to as "perfect cuts." They look and work just like a double-blade cutter, except they're closed on one side, giving you just enough depth to scalp the cap of the cigar. This type of cutter is effective for figurados because it permits you to literally "shave" the point down a little at a time until the draw is where you want it. It's a lot neater, too. (Hellboy could use a giant one of these for his horns.)

If you don't have a one-sided double-blade cutter, try "the table method." Using a single or double or blade cigar cutter, place the cutter flat on a tabletop. Open the blade/s, place the cigar in the middle so the head is resting on the table, then close the blade/s for a nice straight cut. If that doesn't do it for you, do it again. Usually no more than two or three snips is enough.

You can also use a V-cutter, which makes a triangular shaped wedge in the head of the cigar. Usually the depth of the cut is enough to get a decent draw, but I've found the above method works best, and gives you more control.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: CAO CX2 Toro


Another beautiful weekend in the Lehigh Valley allowed me to enjoy several fine cigars, among which included a cigar I haven't had in a while - a CAO CX2 Toro. It was the last one left in my humidor, and I suppose I was saving it for some special occasion. But Life is short, so I plucked it out of the box and thought, "What the heck."

What I find interesting about some cigars I haven't smoked in a long time is that I find myself gaining a whole new appreciation for them. The CAO CX2 Toro is a wonderful example, too. I'd even go so far as to say it's the ultimate medium-bodied "full-flavored" cigar. Once it gets going, there's no stopping this chewy, 6" x 54 flavor-fest. I'm partial to Cameroon wrapper, and since CAO CX2 cigars are made with a top grade Cameroon binder and wrapper that surround a blend of Nicaraguan and Colombian tobaccos, it makes the experience doubly nice.

The pre-light draw was effortless and predominantly leathery in flavor. But once lit the cigar took on an entirely different dimension. The smoke was creamy, earthy, and sweet from the start, and by the midpoint had bloomed into a fantastically complex smoke simmering with notes of sweet cedar, nutmeg, white pepper, caramel and a hint of dark chocolate on a long, luscious finish.

Just about everything about this cigar was on point; the balance of flavors, the evenness of the burn and firmness of the ash. During the third and final act, the cigar increased somewhat in strength, yet without enervating all those marvelous flavors. Without a doubt, one of CAO's most outstanding cigars, and a must-try if you have a yen for robust, multidimensional cigars.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, August 15, 2008

The truth about oily cigars

If you've ever wondered why some cigars look so shiny, the following will enlighten you.

In a recent email, the writer noted that while attending a herf at a local cigar store, one of the store's employees told him that 'many cigar makers use mineral oil to make the maduro wrapper dark and black, and whenever you see a really dark maduro wrapper, it's because they rub it with mineral oil.' Claiming he had never heard of this, he asked if it was true.

Although it's rumoured that some factories use ethylene glycol to make their cigars look oily, to get to the bottom of it we went to one the best sources, Jorge Padrón of Padrón Cigars.

"There are some manufacturers that use some sort of oil to give their cigars the "oily sheen" on the wrapper," said Jorge. "I am not sure what type of oil it is or how it is applied. Needless to say that Padron Cigars would never even consider doing something like this. Much has been talked about oily wrappers and how consumers should look upon this as a positive attribute of a cigar. At Padron we look at oily wrappers as wrappers that have not been fermented completely."

Humberto Gonzalez, a former sales rep for Jesus Fuego Cigars said, "I learned quite a bit about tobacco processing in my travels with Jesus Fuego, and Jesus concurs with Jorge. Shiny wrappers are attractive to the American eye because we, as Americans, love big shiny things. When I did cigar events, I made a point of schooling people into escaping that mindset and used Padron as the example. There is no such thing as a shiny, oily, Padron cigar; yet, they are at the top of their game."

Additionally, as Jorge points out above, during the fermentation process, the trick is to remove as much oil from the wrapper leaf as possible without enitrely drying it out.

Your thoughts?

~ Gary Korb

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Perdomo Habano Maduro Toro


Last week, Bethlehem, PA hosted its annual 10 day MusikFest, and if you're a Bethlehemian (I made that up. I'm not sure what Bethlehem residents call themselves; I'm from New Jersey.), it's almost "required" attendance. It's sort of The Olympics of music. You get to see singer/songwriters and bands from all over the world, while being overcharged for food, plus you drink a lot of beer. And since MusikFest is held outdoors, you also see a good number of people smoking cigars.

This past weekend I made my second trek down to "Fest" with my friend Richard-from-up-the-street, my two boys, a few other friends, and of course, we brought our cigars. Richard brought an Oliva Serie G Cameroon Corona, and I brought a Perdomo Habano Maduro Toro.

Perdomo Habano cigars have become one of my regular favorites, particularly in the Maduro wrapper. I love the evenly dark, oily patina of the wrapper and the cigar's 5½ x 54 dimensions. The cigar lit perfectly and drew well producing a thick, creamy, medium to full-bodied smoke dominated by earthy, woody flavors laced with an undercurrent of sweetness. As the cigar smoked toward the middle it picked up even more in flavor enhanced by subtle notes of dark chocolate and cocoa. It remained consistent all the way down the final inch, never turning harsh or bitter.

This is one sweet and robust cigar that I also recommend to newer cigar smokers who are looking to jump into a much more full-flavored cigar that won't overpower them.

~Gary Korb

Friday, August 8, 2008

Same cigars, different name

One thing you can't argue with when it comes to buying premium handmade cigars is that there's no shortage of choice. One way cigar smokers can help manage their budget and still enjoy the cigars, or more specifically, the blends they prefer, is by purchasing bundle cigars made by some of the major manufacturers.

This raises the following question I recently recieved from a reader:

"We all keep hearing about how most cigars are made in a small number of factories. We also hear that a ton of brands of cigars are really just the exact same cigars with a different name on them. Which ones are these and why? I want to know because I am tired of smoking cigars that cost a different price when they are actually the exact same cigar with a different name and band."
Here's the deal: In a lot of cases the cigars are simply overstock or seconds that are sold to a retailer without bands. The retailer names them so they can market them in their catalogs and on their websites. Another way this happens is, a company contracts with a factory to make "x" number of cigars. For some reason the company folds and the factory is now stuck with the cigars, so they need to move them out. Moreover, some factories overproduce product because they project sales will be higher on a particular brand. Unfortunately, sometimes that's just not the case.

A couple of good examples of this are Perdomo Remainders, Rocky Patel Factory Seconds, Private Stock (made by Davidoff) and the Alec Bradley Supervisor Selection. Note, too, that they're not always the "same cigar." Often, these cigars are the same blend but were rejected and put in the overstock lot because the wrappers weren't the right color, or the strength was a little "off," etc.

Realistically speaking, it's pretty hard to match them up cigar-for-cigar, but at least in the cases cited above, you know who made the cigars and that you're getting a good quality stick for the most part.

On the upside, in some cases, the cigars have been sitting around for years, so they've had a lot of extra aging time.

I hope that sheds some light on the situation.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Sparkling" cigars

Here's a good one. I recently received an email from a reader who wrote that sometimes when he lights up a cigar, he sees fine little sparks popping off what he refers to as the "ring of fire," or more specifically, where the lit area meets the unlit portion of the cigar.

"I see little bursts of spark almost popping off the outer edge of the cigar - almost seems like a sac of H2O or some type of fluid got evaporated. It's almost like there's a speck of a 'sparkler' (the size of a pin point) in the wrapper - and it "mini-pops" as the burning progresses down the cigar. Doesn't do anything to the burn or taste of the cigar; just an interesting occurrence to see these mini-sparks come off the edge of the cigar."

He added that the cigars are longfiller, not always the same brands, and the RH in his humidor is about 70-73%, which IMO is on the high side. He also noted that he lives in Hawaii, where the tropical climate can get pretty balmy. Not exactly a good combination.

The only time I've ever seen sparks come off the end of a cigar was when I was relighting one and blew through the cigar to kill-off some of the remaining tars. I've rarely, if ever smoked a good cigar that exhibited a "popping" burn. I do know this: When ever you burn any carbon-based fuel you create two things: Carbon dioxide and water. Just take a look at the tailpipe of your car. A better example may be when you burn a log in the fireplace that's a little too damp. It will crackle and steam. So the reader's noting of a sac of H2O or some type of fluid evaporating may have some weight to it. That would also coincide with my remark that his RH is on the high side. The more moisture in the cigar, the more C02 and water vapor you're going to create in the cigar. (I'm also working on a future article about this with regard to bursting cigars.)

According to an expert blender I forwarded this on to, he said that the reason could simply be the construction. He also agreed that it could be either the high humidity, or, the cigars were made with young tobacco, which could account for the sparkly burn.

If anyone else has had a similar experience, please share by leaving a comment.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, August 4, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Reyes Family Cigars Premier Maduro Perfecto

This weekend offered a good opportunity to starting digging into more of the new cigars I picked up at the IPCPR show last month in Las Vegas. One of them was the new Reyes Family Premier Selection Perfecto. In case you haven't been in the loop, the Reyes family produces Puros Indios cigars and Cuba Aliados cigars, and the "Reyes Family" brand now represents the company's flagship in three new blends created by Carlos Diez and Rolando Reyes.

The Reyes Family Premier cigars selection features Ecuadorian Sumatra Maduro wrappers with an all-Nicaraguan core of Condega & Jalapa longfillers and a nondescript binder leaf. The Perfecto, which weighs in at 5" x 56 is an attractive-looking cigar, and the tapered head is rolled open, so there's no need to clip it. Just light-up and go. The line is also distinguished by black, white and blue bands.

The pre-smoke had an earthy, woody flavor with an excellent draw. Once lit, the smoke oozed easily out of the tiny head and maintained much of its pre-light flavors. The smoke started out medium-bodied dominated by dark, woody tobacco flavors, and the wrapper did not have the "sweetness" associated with most Maduro wrappers, which I prefer. However, as it burned toward the fat section in the middle, the cigar took on a much fuller flavor while maintaining a good, even burn. The finish was somewhat on the dry side, and not all that complex, but overall, the Reyes Premier Perfecto was a smooth, full-flavored ride.

I also tried one other new offering from the Reyes Family Vintage cigars selection. It was a 6" x 46 "Corona," and this line is distinguished by black, white and green bands. I found this cigar much more flavorful than the Premier Maduro, and its aged cedar and nutmeg character reminded me a lot of the Puros Indios Maxima Reserve 2003 selection. Unfortunately, there's not much information on the Vintage line at this time, but keep your eyes peeled for them. All three Reyes Family cigars, which also include the Reyes Family Classic cigars (black, white and red bands) with a natural Ecuadorian Sumatra and a four-nation filler blend, should be hitting the cigar store shelves soon.

~Gary Korb

Friday, August 1, 2008

More tips on seasoning your cigar humidor

By Gary Korb

In my previous posting I referenced an email from a reader who had questions about charging the humidifier with 50/50 wetting solution. Here's another message that addresses the issue of getting the humidity in the cigar humidor up to speed and when to put your cigars in:

"I got a brand new humidor. I am seasoning it by putting a small jar of distilled water in it with the humidifier charged, and my hygrometer that I have calibrated. Once the humidity reaches 68% to 72% humidity it says that the wood should be seasoned. My question is, can I put my cigars into the humidor or do I have to wait? For now, my cigars are in a big zip-locked bag."
- D.W.
With regard to using a small jar or shot glass filled with distilled water, many cigar smokers have told me they use this method to season their cigar humidors. The thing is, you'll get better and faster results by using a fresh kitchen sponge soaked with distilled water. Make sure the sponge is completely soaked but not dripping.

Place a baggie on the bottom of your new humidor, and put the sponge on top of it to prevent excess leakage from the sponge into the base of the box.

Close the lid and you'll have a virtual rainforest in there within a couple of days. If the box has a rally good seal, the hygrometer will very likely read in the high 80's. Remove the sponge, and let the humidor settle down to 70%.

There's also another method for seasoning your humidor worth considering. Boveda, makers of the Humidipaks you find in boxes Arturo Fuente cigars and others, have an 84% Seasoning Pack that you drop into your new humidor. Just note that it takes about 10 days to fully season the box with the Humidipak.

Always keep the cigars in the bag until the humidor has reached an acceptable RH level. Otherwise, the cigars will be soggy as all hell.

Finally, once you put your cigars in the humidor, make sure you have enough room between them for air circulation. They don't have to all be in neat rows like the factory boxes. Let some cigars lie over each other to give them some breathing room.