Friday, October 31, 2008

Retro-Smoke: Partagas Black Label Piramide

Just a few days ago I had a real "oldie but goodie:" a Partagas Black Label Piramide. Remember when these first came out in 2001? They were among the new crop of "full-bodied" cigars the manufacturers were starting to market, and I remember them being pretty strong and spicy at the time. Now, almost seven years later, this 6" x 60 black beauty seemed rather tame to my palate, but still had plenty of juicy flavor.

The Partagas Black Label Piramide is one of the most popular and highly rated in the line, and its ebony-cast, sun-grown Connecticut Habano leaf is beautiful to behold. At the core of the cigar are Dominican Piloto Cubano and Nicaraguan Ligero filler tobaccos with a Dominican La Vega Especial binder.

For the most part the cigar smoked smoothly, dominated by a well-rounded mix of deep earthy, woody flavors with just a trickle of espresso, and a stunning aroma. The only problem I had was with the draw. I had to chop a considerable amount of the head, which resulted in about a 32 ring opening. Even then the draw was a little stiff, but the cigar burned well, exposing a nice round cherry, when ashed. At about two inches in, the cigar finally loosened up and hit on all cylinders from that point on.

In 2001 I would have recommended this cigar to only the most experienced cigar smoker. However, by today's standards, although they still pack a nice punch, I would say this cigar will appeal to newer cigar smokers who want to move to a full-flavored, yet non-overpowering dark cigar.

Which reminds me: despite their jet-black color, Partagas Black Label cigars are not Maduros. The wrapper is darkened naturally by leaving it on the plant 50% longer than usual, a process called "medio tiempo" which results in a richer-tasting and sweeter leaf, like a Maduro, but is actually a "dark natural" leaf.

Enjoy, and send me your comments on this cigar if you like.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is it finally time for a short smoke?

I don't know about where you live, but last night in to the Lehigh Valley we had rain, hurricane-like wind gusts, and bone chilling temps. IOW, it's frickin' COLD out there!

So, I got to wondering, this could signal the end of the long outdoor smoke this year for cigar smokers in the Northern regions of the country, and time to take out the little cigars. To make matters worse, I miss my chiminea, which isn't allowed on the deck of my new condo. Fortunately, I do have a tin of Panter Dessert, which comes in mighty handy at times like these. They have a nice light coffee flavor and aroma, but they're very small (2 7/8" x 25) and usually burn my fingers near the end.

Truth be told, I'm really not a big fan of little cigars. IMO, they just don't add-up to the flavor and enjoyment of my usual Toro, but in fairness I have found a few short smokes that come mighty close to the big guns. Assuming I had no choice other than a small cigar, here are few of my top picks under a 40 ring:

Padrón Corticos (4½" x 35): Very rich in taste, with all that earthy Padrón coffee & cocoa bean essence.

Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 Juniors (4" x 38): A lot of bang for a short smoke, and these also come very close to the large Vintage line. The 1990 Maduro are also a good small cigar pick.

Famous Exclusive Minis (4" x 30): Relatively new at Famous Smoke Shop, but the size is perfect for a short smoke, and they're quite flavorful. Plus, you get 50 in a box, so you can really stretch 'em out.

Arturo Fuente Cubanitos (4¼" x 32): A little classic that's nutty and rich in flavor.

Avo Puritos (4" x 30): A nice little winter alternative with lots of smooth, creamy flavor.

CAO Italia Piccolos (4" x 38): Complex in flavor and very aromatic. The 38 ring helps a lot.

Those are just a sampling, and I should also mention that most of the cigars I cited are made by hand. The best advice I could give you would be to pick the small cigar that you know you'll have time for. When it's really cold the wider ring gauge small cigars smoke much longer, so be prepared. If you just want to get a fix for somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, go for the Panters I mentioned above, or take a look at little cigars from Winterman's Café Crème line and Al Capone. If you want a little more luxury, the Davidoff Club, Demi Tasse, and Mini cigarillos are quite nice.

Just about all of the major manufacturers make a small cigar these days, so as you would do with traditional-size cigars, experiment. You'll find the little cigar that'll keep you warm during the winter stretch.

Any other suggestions? Please leave your comments.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Not!

Many of you have come to expect reading "My Weekend Cigar" on Mondays, and so I thank you for your interest. However, this weekend I went "smokeless." Having recently divorced my wife (hey, s**t happens), I spent the entire weekend moving to my new digs. The place has a great terrace for enjoying a good cigar, and yesterday was an ideal day to do so, but I was so whipped from being up until the wee hours of the morning getting the place organized, I never got around to lighting up.

But, so as not to entirely disappoint you, I can recommend the cigar I'm actually finishing up now as I hastily type away at my PC this morning. I'm smoking a Perdomo Remainders Maduro box-pressed Toro. At $29.99 a bundle, they were pretty hard to resist.

Now, although I have no hard evidence, I also have a sneaking suspicion that these "box pressed" Maduros may be the original Maduros that Perdomo once made for CAO, which would make them at least 7 years old. The smoke is sweet, robust, yet medium-bodied, and very woody in flavor. This is my 5th from the bundle, and every so far one has been excellent, although some have been milder than others.

The only thing that points to these possibly being the old CAO Maduros is that the cigars are now more round than box-pressed -at least the bundle I got. And since it would require a lot of time for them to return to their original shape, that's my logic.

Either way, they're still very nice, and a great deal. Enjoy them with a good cup of coffee in the morning, as I am, to get your day started. And until next Monday…

...Happy smokes!

~ Gary Korb

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: It's my party and I'll smoke if I want to

Since yesterday was my birthday, I wanted to celebrate it with a very special cigar. Want to guess which cigar it was? If you said a Padrón 1964 Anniversary, you'd be right. In fact it was a Padrón 1964 Anniversary Exclusivo Maduro. Sure, there were plenty of goodies in my humidor to choose from, but there's just something about the Padrón Anniversary 1964. What's also interesting is, it seems that when I ask other cigar smokers what they would smoke for their birthday, so many of them say Padrón 1964.

As usual, I was joined by my good friend, Richard-from-up-the-street. It was a clear, but nippy 45-degree night, so I built a fire in my chiminea and we were actually quite comfortable. I treated Richard to a Gran Habano Habano #3 Robusto, which he relished and paired with a flask of cognac he brought with him.

I don't know what it is about the Padrón 1964, particularly in the Maduro wrappers, but IMO, their flavor is simply amazing. Factor in the dark, oily wrappers and they look like candy bars. The pre-light flavor on the Exclusivo reminded me of something like a mocha-chocolate malted. The cigar was perfectly packed, pressed, and once lit, every "chocolaty-malty" puff was smooth, sweet, and riddled with all those other wonderfully earthy Padrón flavors.

I took my time with it, letting it rest so I didn't over-puff and turn the cigar bitter. This cigar feels good in your mouth, too. The wrapper and the way it's packed gives it a nice chewy texture. I paired it with a cup of hot cocoa spiked with a little Kahlúa, which turned out to be a really good match. The cigar burned and ashed perfectly all the way down to about a half-inch, when I just couldn't hold on any longer.

What more can I say? This cigar's reputation precedes itself. Sure, there are plenty of awesome "birthday cigars" out there to be had. But if you've got a birthday or special occasion coming up, go with the Exclusivo Maduro or any of the Padrón 1964 Anniversary Maduro cigars. They're really worth it, and you'll be glad you did.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, October 17, 2008

Retro-Smoke: Oliva Master Blends 2 Churchill

Earlier this week I alluded to the cigar I'm writing about today: The Oliva Master Blends 2 Churchill. I've had this cigar in my humidor for about three years, and must admit that I was a bit sad at the thought of lighting it up, since it was not only my last, but maybe one of the last of these cigars on earth. Since Oliva only made these in limited edition, they've become extremely elusive.

Introduced in 2005, the "OMB2" has been my personal favorite among all three Oliva Master Blends selections. Like the OMB1 and OMB3, the Master Blends 2 cigars have rare, estate vintage Nicaraguan Habano tobaccos, but the OMB2 wrapper has a flawless, Ecuadorian sun-grown Sumatra wrapper marked with the laser engraved tattoo under the arch in the band. (For some reason, they didn't do this for the OMB3.) The cigar, which measures 7" x 50, also had a semi-box-pressed, oval-like shape to it.

OK, enough back story. Here's the 411 on the smoke: It was one of the best cigars I've smoked all year. The cigar was very firm; no soft spots whatsoever, yet drew easily and lit evenly. You could also tell it had been rolled perfectly, because the Ligero was dead center, forming an extremely firm cone as the cigar burned. Speaking of which, the cigar burned perfectly, too, resulting in long, fine, grey flannel ashes, and an exquisite aroma.

The smoke was medium-bodied for the most part through the first two thirds. Rich flavors of dark tobacco, sweet cedar, nutmeg, and a delicate note of cinnamon dominated throughout. The cigar gained in strength and spiciness during the last third, ending with a savory, full-bodied finale. I paired it with my usual Taylor Fladgate Reserve 2001 Port, and it was a match made in heaven.

If you can get your hands on the Oliva Master Blends 2 Churchill, or one of these cigars in any size, do it. Make sure you buy a box so you can enjoy them over time, too. I can tell you from this experience, that with at least three years more aging on them, they're a great investment.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why Churchill's most famous photo had no cigar

Ready for a little cigar history today? Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be "no cigar" history. In a column I read last month titled, "No reason to scowl" by John Sewell in The Ottawa Citizen, a reader wrote that he had inherited a black-and-white portrait of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill from his late grandfather that was signed by the photographer, Yousuf Karsh. The reader also mentioned that his grandfather had served for Canada during WWII, and that in 1945 Churchill came to Ottawa to address his grandfather's division heads at a luncheon. After paying tribute to their efforts, Mr. Churchill presented each of them with one of the signed portraits.

According to Mr. Sewell, "This is the photo that put Yousuf Karsh on the map and some argue it's the best portrait of anyone ever taken."

The story behind how this portrait came to be is as interesting as the portrait itself. At the time, Churchill was not in the mood to have his picture taken and Karsh was told he would only give him two minutes of his time. While Karsh set up the lights and camera, Churchill, as usual, smoked a cigar. Then, to Sir Winston's surprise, Karsh snatched the cigar away from him and snapped the shot. The result was the now famous portrait shown here.

"The intense scowl on Churchill's face may have been all about the cigar, but it also offered a glimpse into the depth of character and conviction that helped win the war," wrote Mr. Sewell.

And that's the way it was.

Oh, by the way, Mr. Sewell also estimated the value of the portrait at about $10,000.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Cubao No.1

It was such a beautiful October weekend here in the Lehigh Valley, I got to smoke a lot of good cigars (one which I'm saving to report on later this week), but since I can only pick one for this column, I'm going with the Cubao No.1. I got the sample from Patrick Vivalo and Eddie Ortega of E/O Brands, who were visiting Famous Smoke Shop for a 601 Cigars in-store event this past Saturday. The company recently introduced Cubao Cigars in July at the IPCPR show in Las Vegas, and my only experience with the cigar until this weekend, was the Cuban Corona they were handing out at the show. I remember enjoying the cigar a lot, but as it often goes at the trade show, I didn't have a chance to finish it.

However, Saturday night permitted me to enjoy the entire experience, and I was more comfortable with the Double Corona-sized No.1, which weighs-in a 7 1/8 x 49. Like its 601 cousins, Cubao is made by Don José Pepin Garcia, and the No.1 just received a "92" rating in the October 7 issue of Cigar Insider.

The Ecuadorian Sumatra Oscuro wrapper is not almost black in color like most "oscuro" wrappers. It's more bronze in color with a lush, smooth-looking patina. The cap shaved-off cleanly, the cigar drew perfectly, and the pre-smoke flavor was spicy (as advertised) and very woody.

Once lit, the first few puffs were very spicy. It stayed that way for about the first three-quarters-of-an-inch, then suddenly rounded out to a predominantly dark, woody flavor with a long finish. I remember the Cuban Corona at the show being much spicier and for a longer period of time, too. So here again, size and length make a difference. I paired the cigar with a bottle of Luna de Luna Red Merlot/Cabernet, which Patrick selected, and it really complemented the cigar well.

The cigar remained well-balanced through the last act, and although it was not a very complex cigar in terms of flavor, I liked where it locked-in and the consistency it maintained during the entire smoke.

Is it a "92?" I think more experienced cigar smokers will agree it's definitely in the ballpark. What I can tell you is I enjoyed it immensely. For you new cigar smokers, you may want to hold-off a while on the Cubao, but if you like spicy, full-bodied Nicaraguan cigars, go for it.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Reviving dry cigars kept in a factory cigar box

I was going through a list of past "advice" columns this morning when I found this lil' nugget. I updated it a bit and hope you find it useful:

If you store your cigars in their factory boxes and they're starting to dry out, here's a really good way to revive them. Note that if the cigars are very dry they will be difficult to revive satisfactorily. The key is, if moisture can escape from a cigar, it can also be replaced, but it takes patience.

One of the simplest methods is to place the entire box inside a plastic bag. Be sure the bag is not completely closed because you have to have a little air flow in there. It helps to place a sponge dampened with distilled water or 50/50 solution in the bag, too. (You can also use a small humidifier.) The idea here is to allow slow absorption of moisture, preventing the cigars from getting too much humidity too soon. If you "shock" the cigars by adding too much moisture at once they can actually burst - the last thing you want to do to pricey primos. This can take several weeks to over a month. Rotate the cigars every few days bringing them from the bottom of the box to the top. Keep this up continuously and in about three to four weeks you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

If you don't have a cigar box, you can use a sealable plastic container. Put the dry cigars in the container and seal it shut for the first two days. This will trap any moisture still left in the cigars. On the third day, add a clean piece of sponge or a small humidifier dampened with distilled water. But here again, you run the risk of bursting, so be sure not to over-saturate the sponge (or humdifier) and to keep the lid propped open in one corner to allow a little bit of air flow.

When cigars lose a lot of their moisture, they can also lose a lot of their bouquet, so don't be surprised if the cigar doesn't taste as good even after it's been refreshed. The key to all of this is, whether you're reviving cigars in their original factory box or in a cigar humidor, cigars lose moisture slowly, therefore, they need to regain it slowly.

Once again, be patient and never resort to drastic measures to revive your cigars or you'll ruin them permanently.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, October 6, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Famous Private Selection Nicaraguan Corojo Churchill

A few months ago I started getting flurry of positive emails about the Famous Private Selection Nicaraguan Corojo cigars. I attributed this to some good "word-of-mouth" postings on several cigar community sites. Then, about a month ago, my office roomie, Hayward, picked up a box of Churchills (7" x 50) on sale and gave me one. While picking through my humidor this weekend, my eye caught sight of it, and since I hadn't smoked one in quite a while, I figured it would make a good subject for today's posting.

Handmade at Tabacalera Tropical in Nicaragua, these "puro" cigars have a blend of robust Nicaraguan Cuban-seed Ligero longfiller tobaccos rolled in Nicaraguan Cuban-seed Corojo wrapper. Famous Smoke Shop lists them as "full-bodied," but to my palate, they were closer to medium-bodied cigar with a "full flavor" profile.

The cigar showed signs of good overall construction, with just one little soft spot about two inches below the head, and the cap clipped off neatly. The pre-lit flavor was leathery, nutty and earthy, with an easy draw. Once lit, the cigar offered-up a smooth, creamy and well-balanced smoke dominated by flavors of sweet cedar and nutmeg laced with notes of white pepper.

During the last third, some of this cigar's spicier elements became a little more prevalent, but over the course of entire smoke, the cigar didn't change all that much. However, I liked the primarily "earthy" and dark tobacco flavor of this particular cigar, so I give it high marks for consistency. It also went well with my glass of Port. On the other hand, it did turn bitter in the last inch, but having smoked extremely well through those first six inches, I'd say that's pretty darn good.

If you read the reviews for Famous Private Selection Nicaraguan Corojo on their website, they're quite mixed, but there are hardly any comments for this size. Therefore, if you want to take a shot with this blend, I suggest starting with the Churchill. For the money, they're a good buy and they age-up well over time.

~ Gary Korb

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A sincere "thanks" for another great night at the Metropolitan Society cigar club

Last night I had the pleasure once again of being the "guest of honor" at The Metropolitan Society cigar club in Fairfield, NJ. I came with Famous Smoke Shop co-copywriter, Hayward Tenney to present the members with Conuco cigars (one of my current favorite Famous house brands), for their monthly dinner meeting.

It was Hayward's first experience, and he was totally blown-away by the set-up of the club, from the comfy chairs, to the wide screen TVs, to the gaming tables, to the "La Cubana Room," which looks and feels like you're dining in pre-revolutionary Cuba. Much has already been written about the club in several widely read cigar magazines, and you can learn a lot more if you visit their website. There's truly no other cigar club like it, and even Rocky Patel, who has been a guest himself on more than one occasion, has sung the Club's praises.

Also in attendance was another guest, Mike Lemongello, who has been collecting cigar bands since the early 1960's. He brought several cigar boxes overflowing with bands - many from vintage Cuban cigars - for any other band collectors in the room to take for themselves. He said he had something like 7,000 cigar bands, and these were the doubles. (And I thought I had a big collection.)

After handing out the Conuco cigars and Famous Smoke Shop cigar catalogs, Metropolitan Society president, George Koodray, had a surprise for Hayward and me; we were made "honorary members" and given Metropolitan Society polo shirts, which I'm wearing right now. We were completely taken aback, and felt like we really belonged, too. I even volunteered to collect money and split tickets for the raffles. Hey, new members gotta pay their dues, right?

So on behalf of myself, Hayward, and most of all, Famous Smoke Shop, from whom the club buys a lot of cigars, thanks to George, Nick, Benn, Rich, Pasqual, and all of the other members we had the pleasure of meeting last night for everything. We look forward to visiting you all again very soon.

~ Gary Korb