Monday, September 29, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Nestor Miranda Special Selection "Intermezzo" by Don Pepin Garcia

About two weeks ago I received a "care package" from my good friend, Rene Castaneda, Managing Director and National Sales Manager of Miami Cigar & Company. Inside were several Rothschild-size cigars and a note asking for feedback on this new Nestor Miranda Special Selection blended by Don José Pepin Garcia. The cigars were named "Intermezzo" and measured 4½" x 50.

I've been singing the praises of the Nestor Miranda Special Selection cigars since their release. The blend was originally made by STC, makers of Gran Habano cigars, which I've also highly endorsed, so it was no surprise I took to the NMSS so positively. Of course, when I read that the cigars would now be made by Don Pepin, my eyes couldn't help but widen a little.

For comparison purposes, here's what I wrote about the STC-made Nestor Miranda Special Selection Robusto in "My Weekend Cigar" posting of September 8:

"…remarkably smooth with a predominantly toasty-earthy character. Thick, creamy smoke spreads rich, nutty flavors on the palate with dash of nutmeg and a sweet note of caramel on the finish...As the cigar entered the final act, it developed a more full-flavored and spicier taste, but the overall toastiness of the smoke kept it at bay."

Now to the Nestor Miranda Special Selection "Intermezzo" by Don Pepin. With Don Pepin's reputation for creating bold, spicy cigars, I expected the Intermezzo to be a completely different animal, much more full-bodied and spicier. But after lighting it up it was remarkably similar in character to the STC version. The smoke was smooth, medium-bodied, earthy, and sweet, with little or no trace of pepper on the finish. The cigar burned perfectly, too. I did notice one difference: the flavor was somewhat "darker," not as "toasty" or "nutty" as the original blend, particularly in the final act. However, I enjoyed this cigar immensely, and pleased that Pepin didn't tweak it too much.

Suffice it to say, "the Pepin touch" will give the Nestor Miranda Special Selection some added prestige among the aficionati, while keeping those who already like this blend satisfied. Good job!

~ Gary Korb

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: León Jimenes 300 Series Robusto - what a difference a year makes

I finally had a chance to do something I've always wanted to do with a cigar. Compare two different versions of the same cigar. In this case it was the León Jimenes 300 Series Robusto from last year (2007) and the 2008 release that was reintroduced at the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association show this past July.

I remember posting a video of José Blanco talking about the León Jimenes 300 from last year's RTDA Show in Houston. (The León Jimenes 300 Series Robusto was officially introduced in 2006 as a "teaser" to get consumer feedback on the blend.) The name comes from the cigars being aged for 300 days as opposed to the usual 90 to 180 day period. This cigar also sports a gorgeous, dark Cameroon wrapper. José told me last year that were holding off on releasing the cigars, not for flavor reasons, but because they were unhappy with the packaging, which was a silver and black color scheme with similar flat-printed bands. I thought they looked pretty nice, myself. Of course, he gave me some samples, and believe it or not, I never got around to trying them!

At this year's show, José handed me two more LJ Series 300 Robustos in the new blue and gold packaging with embossed blue and gold bands. The bands are wider, too, and like the previous black and silver version, feature the L-J initials flanked by two lions. Sure, they look more elegant, but how do they taste?

As a fan of good Cameroon cigars, I was eager to try the 2008 "300." Note that the cigars were now aged almost two full years. The wrapper had a nice even tone with a slightly oily patina, and hardly any noticeable veins. The cigar had a somewhat salty taste at the start, which became more woody as the cigar burned. The aroma was good, but a little on the heavy side. For the most part, the flavor in the first half left a bitter, peppery taste on the back of my throat and had a dry finish. However, in the second half the cigar rounded out nicely, and ended up scoring well in terms of fullness of flavor, the burn, draw, and quality of the ash.

I'm also glad José gave me two, because the second Robusto was a charm. No saltiness, the draw was not as loose, and the smoke was much more consistent throughout. In both cases, this wasn't a "sweet" Cameroon, but it did provide a solid, spicy, full-bodied smoke with plenty of earthy-woody flavors. The aroma was also not as "heavy" in the second cigar.

Shortly after smoking these cigars, I found the two León Jimenes (2006-'07) 300 Robustos in a box I had stashed in the warehouse. These cigars also had a nice woody character but the flavor was lighter; the wrappers were a bit lighter in color, too. Maybe they did tweak the blend a little? Of course, these cigars were now three years old, which could account for them being a bit milder. Who knows, but when I compared my tasting notes, the current León Jimenes 300 Series won the day in terms of wrapper color, overall strength, burn, fullness of flavor, and consistency.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Another look at the "salt test" for calibrating cigar humidor hygrometers

One cogent piece of advice that's given with regard to properly calibrating hygrometers for cigar humidors is the use of the "salt test." Without getting into the science behind why it works, the test is designed to produce 75% RH in a controlled environment. For those of you who haven't discovered this by now, here's the recipe:

Ingredients: Table salt, a clear, Ziploc-type sandwich bag, a soda bottle cap (or other small container), distilled water, hygrometer.

Place about a teaspoon of salt in the bottle cap and drip just enough distilled water on the salt to get it wet. If done right, it should have a thick, pasty consistency, not watery. Place the cap and the hygrometer face-up in the baggie, so you can read it.

Seal the baggie, but leave a little air inside, and let it sit for at least 6 hours. By that time, the hygrometer should read exactly 75%. Whatever number it's off by, just use the calibration screw on the back of the unit to adjust it accordingly.
So why do I bring this up? Well, I recently received an email from my good friend Bill W., a civilian engineer with the U.S. Army, who had this to say about the salt test:

"After over forty years of smoking cigars and over thirty years of working in calibration labs, although the "salt test" is a perfectly valid procedure to verify a hydrometers reading, it should ONLY be used on analog hygrometers. The electronics in digital hydrometers cannot stand up to the highly corrosive atmosphere the test creates. (It eventually affects analog units over time, too.) The Reference Level has standards, but they are expensive and require training to use and read correctly. I would suggest using a Boveda Calibrating Pack. For about five bucks the average user can not get an easier to use or more accurate standard. It also takes the guess work out of the salt test for those who maybe new to it, and it's a lot less messy."

Your thoughts?

~ Gary Korb

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Rocky Patel Decade Short Robusto (Special Edition)

On Friday night, September 12, Famous Smoke hosted a Rocky Patel cigar dinner at Silver Creek C.C. here in the Lehigh Valley. Rocky Patel and Nimesh Desai of Rocky Patel Cigars were both in attendance, as well as about 65 other cigar enthusiasts, some of whom came from as far as Chicago. It was a classy affair that featured great food and Rocky Patel cigars, one of which was a special, limited edition "Short Robusto" made exclusively for the event.

Prior to the dinner I enjoyed one of my all-time favorites, a Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 Churchill. After dinner, Port was served and I decided to give the Decade Short Robusto a try. I have to admit it was the right choice; the cigar not only paired perfectly with the Port, but despite its 4" x 54 dimensions, it burned perfectly for about an hour and I wound up finishing it with a cup of coffee which, was also a nice match.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Rocky Patel Decade selection, this box-pressed blend features a silky, dark Sumatra wrapper, but the filler and binder remain a secret, so I can't shed much more light on the guts of these cigars. (According to information cards that Rocky handed out, the wrapper on the Short Robusto was also a "secret.") However, I can say that the cigar lived up to its advertising, as well its 91-95 range Cigar Aficionado scores.

The smoke was full-bodied, and loaded with dark, earthy complex flavors, yet was in no way overpowering. Each puff was smooth, creamy, well-balanced, and finished with a note of sweetness on the palate, making it a very enjoyable after dinner treat. I smoked it down to about 3/4 of an inch, and it never turned sour either.

Due to the limited edition of the Rocky Patel Decade selection, they are only sold in retail stores. Moreover, the Decade Short Robusto is only available in the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store. I'm also told that there are less than 20 boxes left, and when they're sold out, they may be gone for good. I know I'd sure like to get my fingers around another one.

If you've smoked any of the Rocky Patel Decade cigars, I'd like to read your comments, too.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, September 12, 2008

DANGER: High Humidity!

I received an email this week from a reader who told me he can't seem to keep the humidity in his humidor under 77% to 79% RH.

"I use a humidity controlling liquid and distilled water. Will this excess humidity harm my cigars? I have always been under the impression that the 68% - 72% humidity range is ideal, and your cigars will age well and last indefinitely."

If you can relate to the above scenario, you've got a problem, or you're going to have one at some point. Assuming the average temperature in the humidor is around 70 degrees, your cigars are going to smoke more like a ShamWOW! than a cigar. If your humidity levels are running as high as 77% or higher, you risk mold and possibly hatching of tobacco beetle eggs.

One thing that contributes to high RH levels is oversaturation of your humidifier. You may be recharging the device too often, or you're using too much solution (a.k.a. polyglycol) and/or distilled water when it comes time to recharge your humidifier. My cigar humidors are now well-seasoned enough that most of the time I only need to add a little squirt of a 20% solution to 80% distilled water mix I made up. So if you're completely soaking the humidifier each time you recharge, you may be overdoing it.

In recent years, the 70/70 "ideal" standard has had some holes punched in it. Your cigars will fare much better at an average relative humidity of more like 67%. Even at that number, some cigars can be overly moist, but try not to stray too much farther down from the "norm" than 65%.

If your RH is running well over 70%, remove your humidifier/s from your humidor/s until the RH has had time to dip. Let the humidifiers dry out some, too. (You can even leave the lid up for several hours to help it along.) Note how long it takes to get the RH down to about 67%, and see how long it stays that at around that mark. Check a few of your cigars every day by giving them a little pinch to see how supple they are. Once the RH hits 64%, replace the humidifier/s and try to keep the RH at an average of about 66-67%.

Your cigars will age better and last longer at a cooler temperature and lower humidity, more like 65º/65 RH as opposed to 70º/70 RH.

~Gary Korb

ShamWOW!® is a registered trademark of Shamwow, Inc.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why age your cigars after they arrive?

Here's an "age old" question for you (perhaps "age new" question would be a better term for the purposes of this post). I have often been asked why aging your cigars after purchasing them, whether it be at a neighborhood cigar store or by mail, is a common practice. One particular reader recently brought up the following good point:

"When I buy cigars, there is often a date on the box or pack that I assume is when they arrived at [the] store. These dates would indicate that the smokes have been stored (or aged) in what I assume is [a] perfectly controlled warehouse [or humidor] for months or even years before they arrive at my door. If this is the case why is it further advisable to leave them in my somewhat questionably controlled humidor before lighting up?"

Actually, the date noted on the box, at least those that show a stamped date, is the date the cigars were packaged at the factory. (Just about every phase of the growing, curing, rolling, aging, and packaging process is carefully recorded at the factory.) However, some cigar retailers place a dated-coded sticker on each cigar box to note when the inventory was received.

When the cigars are shipped from the factory, they are presumably "ready to smoke," and in most cases, they are. It depends on the cigar, too. Certainly, there's no harm in letting your cigars age further even after they arrive at your home "x" number of months/years later, since the longer a good cigar is allowed to age, often the better it will smoke. I almost always save at least three to five cigars from a given box to extra age in my humidor, while I forge ahead and smoke the majority on a regular basis.

Case in point. I just received a CAO Brazilia Samba from a friend who told me it was aging in its cello in his humidor for 4½ years. As he was handing it to me he also told me that the wrapper had darkened further over time, and that the spiciness in the cigar had quelled considerably.

Moreover, it helps to let the cigars "settle" for a short time, say, at least a week in your humidor after they arrive, because in the case of mail order cigars, travel conditions can sometimes affect the "state" of the cigars. I did a blog a while back on "First cigar out of the box?" in which I indicated that it's hard for most cigar smokers to resist opening the newly-arrived package and firing one up. If it tastes great, more power to you. If it burns a little funny or tastes a little "green" then they may need a little more time. As always, you have to judge the cigars on a box-by-box basis.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Nestor Miranda Special Selection Robusto

I was fighting off a cold or some kind of funky allergy for the better part of last week, so I had to abstain from cigar smoking until yesterday evening when I felt better and reached for a Nestor Miranda Special Selection Robusto (5½" x 54). Unfortunately, there's not that much information available about these cigars online other than some spotty reviews. Even Miami Cigar, who distributes these cigars, shows nada right now on their website, but I can tell you this about the blend: The cigars are made with attractive Nicaraguan Maduro wrappers and binders with a core of Nicaraguan and Costa Rican tobaccos.

Truth be told, I've had several of these cigars since I received my first samples earlier this year. They've all been consistently flavorful, well-balanced, and medium to full-bodied in strength, depending on the shape, and have actually become a new favorite of mine, too. I stress the shape because about two weeks ago I smoked one of the Lanceros I received at IPCPR show in Las Vegas back in July, and there was quite a contrast to the Robusto I smoked last night.

The Nestor Miranda Special Selection Robusto is remarkably smooth with a predominantly toasty-earthy character. Thick, creamy smoke spreads rich, nutty flavors on the palate with dash of nutmeg and a sweet note of caramel on the finish. The draw and burn were both exceptional as well. I smoked it with a glass of tonic water and fresh-squeezed lime juice. As the cigar entered the final act, it developed a more full-flavored and spicier taste, but the overall toastiness of the smoke kept it at bay.

Compared to the Nestor Miranda Special Selection Lancero (7½" x 38) I smoked couple of weeks ago, the Robusto was relatively mild. That cigar, although equally smooth and with similar flavor properties, had a lot more punch to it.

It's tough to decide on which cigar I enjoyed more, but IMO the Robusto, perhaps due to its having a greater amount of tobacco, had more complexity to it. I have another Lancero left, so the jury's still out on that one. But this having been my third Robusto, I can empirically attest to this cigar being especially satisfying.

Please feel free to comment if you've smoked any of the Nestor Miranda Special Selection cigars. I'd like to get your thoughts.

~ Gary Korb

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Perdomo2 Limited Edition 2008 Torpedo Maduro

I've been dying to write about this cigar since Monday, but my schedule's been so hectic this week, every time I sit down to get started, I get interrupted. Finally, I stole some time to tell you about this wonderful reprise from Tabacalera Perdomo, the newly blended Perdomo2 Limited Edition 2008 Torpedo Maduro. It was a sample given to me at this year's IPCPR trade show in Las Vegas.

Permit me to start with the following three words: WOW! WOW! WOW! This 5¼" x 54 box-pressed figurado sports a beautifully dark wrapper with a luscious, mouthwatering patina. (Note that the Perdomo2 yellow bands are the Maduro and the red bands are the Natural.) The cigars are made with all Nicaraguan-grown tobaccos, but the page on the Perdomo Cigars website doesn’t state in what regions the tobaccos are grown. Personally, I don't care.

Now, I hate to make comparisons between two highly-respected cigar makers in cases like this, but the pre-light draw tasted almost identical to a Padrón Anniversary 1964 Series Maduro. Once lit, the cigar also tasted very much like the aforementioned classic, but quickly took on an identity of its own. Gobs of earthy, caramelized flavors including espresso, dark chocolate, nutmeg, aged oak, sweet cedar and a multitude of other wonderful flavors melted on the palate like butter and never let up. The smoke, though robust, was especially smooth and creamy.

I paired this cigar with a glass of Taylor Fladgate Reserve 2001 Port. The cigar drew and burned perfectly throughout, and when I laid it down in the ashtray to rest between puffs, I loved watching the smoke travel out through the head in slow motion. I let this cigar smoke itself, too. This is one cigar you don't want to rush or turn bitter on you from over-smoking.

If you love dark, complex, full-flavored cigars, get one of these in your hands. I'm sure all of the yellow band sizes are just as succulent, but now I'm even more curious about the Red Natural version. (Time to make a phone call.) Kudos to Nick Perdomo and his amazing team on the Perdomo2 Limited Edition 2008 cigars. Thanks for bringing these back.

Comments pro and con from anyone who's had a chance to try these cigars are always welcome.

~ Gary Korb