Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cigars and Cold Weather (or, A Recipe for a Smoky Garage)

If you read the blog last week, you'll recall the pair of Padrón 80th Anniversary Maduros all lined up for me and my brother tonight. I've just learned that a third BOTL will be joining in the festivities, even contributing a few premium cigars to boot.

"The more, the merrier," gushes my inner jolly old elf.

Not so fast you chubby, red-cheeked bastard. What you failed to consider were the logistics of enjoying a cold-weather cigar in the garage. Here's the facts:

1. It's detached, so the missus will be happy (or at least content)
2. A couple oil-filled space heaters will ensure our comfort
3. It's lacking any kind of smoke mitigation system

Wait…what? Three dudes smoking cigars in a warm garage that…lacks ventilation? This is akin to being served your favorite drink, only to find you have to slurp it up from a puddle on the bar. I'll make a few predictions:

1. One of the garage doors will have to be cracked to allow smoke to escape
2. Cold weather will creep in, rendering the heaters practically useless
3. We'll be too schnockered to notice
4. I'll make a New Year's Resolution to get a ventilation system, then forget all about it once the weather warms up

C'est la vie, I guess. Any suggestions?

- Hayward Tenney

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Famous “Wise Buys” Story

By Humberto Gonzalez

It all started one day in July when I was getting re-acquainted with the Famous Smoke Shop modus operandi after a long "hiatus," for lack of a better term. I was flipping through the pages of the Famous cigar catalog when I realized it hadn't changed very much since the last time I occupied an office here. I stared at the wall and pondered what could be done to make the catalog, and my existence, more useful. I also needed to justify the humongous salary with stock options, benefits, and company car I was granted when Arthur begged me to come back. After skimming back and forth through the Famous pages eight or nine times, I had an epiphany that hit me like a ton of bricks.

Famous Smoke Shop owns a boatload of private labels, all of which are made by some key people in this wild and wonderful cigar business. Along with those private labels, we also sell branded products we don't make any money on because every Tom, Dick and Harry cigar store, clambering for that oh so precious consumer, keeps driving the price down to ridiculously unattractive margins. I mean, who can stay in business on such meager profits?

I said to myself "I can make a difference. I can turn the tide on all this and get out of the rat race by helping Famous sell cigars the other guys don't have!" Yes. I had a plan. But how? How do I get someone to try our products when seasoned cigar smokers mostly smoke something with a name? How can I get a self-respecting cigar smoker to savor the Cameroon goodness from our newly acquired CAO CX2 cigars selection? What need I do to get the average Joe cigar smoker to light up a Conuco without the subliminal reminder to fill the gas tank? In what way will I unveil the secret behind the newly introduced La Floridita Limited Edition? In short, what do I have to do to put our cigars in their mouths? Hmmm. . ."I'VE GOT IT!!" I yelled. "I'll pair up our cigars with some of those hoity toity 'name brands' at virtually little or no extra cost!!" I was so proud of myself I had to announce it to the world. I leapt off my cardboard box (shaped to resemble the leather reclining massage office chair I requested), and pranced through the hallways, singing four octaves above my normal range of tone-deafness, reciting my latest stroke of brilliance. People looked excited, even as they covered their ears to the painful shrieks of my vocal chords. But a short phrase from somewhere off in the distance quickly silenced my enthusiasm. . ."What are you going to call it?". . .(sigh).

I returned to my desk, dejected and emasculated, trying to regain my composure, held back the tears and went back to the beginning. Near desperation, I opened up Microsoft Outlook® and, hailing every Famous employee in the system, asked them to come up with a name. Something catchy, unique, simple, sexy. . .After 3 hours and 473 crappy suggestions, my inbox lit up with the name to end all names; the Mona Lisa of cigar-related marketing. . ."Wise Buys," submitted by one of our employees who works from her home in Texas. (A chord sung by an angelic choir rises in unison - AAAAHH!) I loved it, the company loved it. We found our niche. With that, I sat down and brainstormed with Hayward, one of our copywriters extraordinaire, who has proved to be as masterful with paper and pen as he is with a knife and fork.

We sat in the same room for what seemed like days. Ordered Chinese food and ate out of the containers with chop sticks, like in the movies. Had a big fight, made-up, and discovered what had been right under our collective noses the entire eight minutes we were together. In concert we chanted "Let's give this thing a mob theme!" We looked up every possible reference to mob and wise guy culture we could find and realized we would never run out of possibilities while utterly enjoying every cigar and every last bit of prose we wrote to entertain and supply our loyal public.

Gentlemen (and ladies), we offer you the Famous Wise Buys - Branded products (Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Macanudo, Rocky Patel, etc.) paired with our very own private label cigars (CX2, La Campina, Conuco, etc.) Manufactured by "made men," at reasonable "try me now" prices, we've even gone so far as to inform our audience about an interesting and deadly underworld. Enjoy our offahs. . .You simply can't refuse them. . .And don't worry about buying too many. . .we'll simply make more.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday cigar cheers (and some good advice)

By Hayward Tenney

"Happy Holidays?" That's what you get when "political correctness" trumps common sense. Here's the bottom line: it's December 24th, I endured a tempest of ice and freezing rain to get to work this morning, and frankly, I'd rather be at home with my family. In short, I feel I've earned the right say "Merry Christmas." There, was that so hard?

Something about this season crosses all belief systems. A certain je ne sais quoi uniting us all, regardless of religious convictions. Something that lifts our spirits and renews us for the work of the year ahead. I speak, of course, about making merry with fine cigars.

Rest assured, I've got a couple of doozies lined up for the next week or so. And while I'm not here to brag, I will say it culminates New Year's Eve with a pair of Padrón 1926 80th Anniversary Maduros, one for me and one for my brother. But it's not just the cigar, or the occasion, or the company - it's more than the sum of those.

What I’m getting at is this: Whatever your beliefs, most of us will enjoy some R&R this time of year. Slow down and really relish every moment you have with your family. Eat, drink, and be merry. And above all, punctuate it all with the finest cigars in your humidor!

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Cuba Aliados 75th Anniversary Fuerte Limited "Miami" Edition Valentino Reserva Maduro

It's that time of year, and a few surprise packages have already arrived on my desk. The cigar of note for today is the new Cuba Aliados 75th Anniversary Fuerte Limited "Miami" Edition Valentino Reserva Maduro. Now there's a mouthful. I smoked it immediately last Friday when the box of cigars arrived from my friend Frank Santos of Reyes Family Cigars. So in the spirit of the Holidays, I shared the box with several coworkers along with a few lucky Famous Smoke Shop retail store customers who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The Valentino Reserva Maduro is a 7" x 50 Churchill with a very dark, yet rustic Habano wrapper. The filler is Nicaraguan and Dominican with an Ecuadorian Sumatra binder. The cigars are also presented in cedar sleeves (not shown in the photo here) with words LIMITED "MIAMI" EDITION printed on them. The red and white bands also clearly indicate they are the "Miami" edition. Yes, these are the same cigars that would normally be rolled in Honduras, but I'm conjecturing that this edition was done to pay tribute to the great city of Miami and the wonderful rolling talent still found there. Underneath the box is a color photo of the Miami factory showing Rolando Reyes with his hand on the shoulder of a cigar store Indian. (Very cool.)

I probably should have let the box settle for a while, but I was pretty excited about smoking one of these, so here's my take:

The pre-light flavor was reminiscent of red wine, but once lit, the base flavors were that of dark, sweet tobacco with some earthy elements, and a very peppery finish. The cigar burned well, emitting a sweet aroma as thick, creamy smoke oozed out of the head. The smoke was robust, yet very smooth, and as the cigar smoked down it bloomed nicely in flavor. To it's credit, the cigar also remained consistent through at least four re-lights. In short, I would classify it a full-bodied and having somewhat of a "vintage" Cuban-like profile.

I'm also looking forward to seeing how these cigars will smoke in about another month or two in my humidor. In the meantime, keep your eyes pealed for these at your local cigar store.

Special thanks to Frank and the staff at Reyes Family Cigars.

~Gary Korb

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Mild" vs. "Medium" vs. "Full cigars"...What are you afraid of?

By Humberto P. Gonzalez

Today's blog was written by my good friend and coworker, Humberto Gonzalez. This is also the first article by other cigar experts & enthusiasts who will now be contributing to this blog. Enjoy the read. - G.K.

This question has plagued me as of late. As the self proclaimed "sampler guru" of Famous Smoke Shop, I am charged with the task of putting together exciting and affordable, unadvertised "phone-only" deals for our call-center staff to introduce to their customers, among other things. Some of the latest versions of these sampler deals include "The Muscle" and the "Jet Black," both containing some respectably fuller flavored cigars. Although many of our customers seem to be enjoying them, a sizable number of our phone-in customers wouldn't touch the offer with a ten foot match. It appears people associate strength with harshness. Being a seasoned cigar smoker myself, this issue has become a pet peeve of mine (Believe me. I have many.) So let me set the record straight. There’s nothing to fear.

I was a road cigar salesman for a few years before coming back to Famous this past July. In my travels, I learned many things from a variety of interesting and knowledgeable people in the industry. One of those things is that there is a distinction between full body and full flavor. It was a concept I did not understand until a few respected cigar manufacturers cleared it up for me. They explained that strong, "kick-ass" cigars are probably not meant to be that way. By virtue of a variety of fermenting and aging mistakes, stronger cigars end up being harsh and sometimes unpalatable.

Cigar smokers characterize such cigars as "strong" or "full." (I could name a few branded examples but wouldn’t want my in-box flooded with hate mail.) They also went on to tell me that a properly constructed cigar, from start to finish, should never be so overwhelmingly strong as to get you dizzy or develop a cold sweat. After all, a cigar is supposed to be a refined instrument for the purposes of relaxation and enjoyment. Not something for the masochistic.

I've seen many people on the streets actually relish in a "stronger is better" attitude, like they have something to prove by being able to endure the punishment that an improperly fermented ligero leaf has to inflict. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that from an individual point of view, but it sends a negative message to many new cigar smokers. So, they stay away from some real gems that could prove to be a newly found favorite.

For the sake of making the distinction, a full-flavored cigar, on the other hand, means its ingredients are fermented and blended in a manner which amplifies the taste experience you may expect from a mild or medium-bodied cigar. Well cultivated, cured, and processed tobaccos blended properly will usually yield a smooth, satisfying experience. A full-bodied cigar really has nothing to do with the cigar's strength. It has more to do with the amount of smoke it produces. I think most cigar smokers will agree that more smoke equals greater pleasure.

The bottom line is this: If you’ve shied away from stronger cigars because you fear their effects, don’t be. You may be missing out on a very pleasant experience. I'll continue to create cigar samplers that display the full spectrum of strengths and flavors for you smokers. In time, I'm sure you’ll understand what I'm talking about. So go on, add a little spice to your life.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Perdomo 10th Anniversary Cuban Criollo Robusto

This weekend I had the chance to get my hands on a cigar that I've been curious about ever since the IPCPR show last July when Perdomo Cigars debuted their 10th Anniversary Series. The cigar in question is the 10th Anniversary Cuban Criollo Robusto, and it did not disappoint.

Fortunately, I had the chance to smoke it in the retail store during a Perdomo Cigars in-store event with other customers, so we could compare notes.

Appearance and pre-light: The cigar had a seamless, buttery smooth Criollo wrapper that's made even more attractive by the large, copper & gold band. The cigar, which weighs-in at 5" x 54 with an all Nicaraguan tobacco filler & binder blend, was firm with no apparent soft spots. When I clipped the cap, it came off in a perfect little disc, exposing just the right amount of tobacco at the head. The draw was scary easy, too.

Light-up: I made sure to toast the cigar as gently as possible and it lit perfectly across once I blew on the foot. From the first draw, the smoke was creamy, smooth, well-balanced, and offered a fine aroma.

The smoke: As I smoked this cigar, I found it impressively complex, and tried to put my finger on just what flavors were going on in there. The more dominant flavors were that of sweet cedar and oak, with a rich, earthy character, while the finish left a trace white pepper on the palate with a suggestion of almonds. I would classify the smoke as medium-bodied/full flavored, because as the cigar continued to smoke into its second half the flavors improved dramatically while staying on an even keel into the final act.

And here was another nice little surprise. I was getting down to the nub and the cigar was just starting to "turn." So I perched it on the holder to let it go out naturally. As I continued to talk to my friend Bill, one of our regular customers, out of habit I reached for the stub and took another drag. Incredibly, the bitterness was gone! That lasted a few more puffs, but by then (about half an inch) the cigar was pretty much all she wrote.

I now have a newfound fondness for Criollo wrapper leaf, and the Perdomo 10th Anniversary Cuban Criollo Robusto might even make my "Top-10 Best Cigars of the Year." Another great job by Nick Perdomo Jr. and his team that I would highly recommend to smokers of every experience.

If you've had any of the Perdomo 10th Anniversary Cuban Criollo cigars, please leave your comments.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pet peeve: When the wrapper leaf is damaged after removing the cigar band

I've got a bone to pick, and maybe you can relate. When I smoke a cigar, I usually remove the band early on. This practice is a point of contention among some cigar smokers, but I'm so deep into the habit, I do it almost subconsciously.

What sucks the wind out of my sail is when I remove the band and a piece of wrapper leaf comes off with it. I've noticed this happening much more lately, and with cigars of every class - even when I let the cigar smoke down a bit to let the heat soften the glue on the band. I found this particularly common with one brand that I'm very fond of. It seems to happen more with Connecticut wrapped cigars, whose wrappers tend to be naturally delicate. Finally, I mentioned it to someone at the company who told me I wasn't the first to bring it up, and they were working on it.

Having now ruined many a good cigar, these days I'm almost afraid to remove the band until the cigar has burned down to within a millimeter of it. Even then, you can't be sure whether the band will come off with a negligible little patch of wrapper, or result in the cigar unraveling like a cheap wool sweater.

Then there are some bands that don't come off at all. I found this evident with Avo bands. They use a heavy stock for their bands, and the ends are glued so well it's almost impossible to get your finger underneath to pry them apart. But to their credit, I don't remember damaging a wrapper leaf while removing the band on an Avo.

So I've developed the following conspiracy theory: The manufacturers intentionally apply the bands with extra glue. Then, after the wrapper leaf has torn on several cigars, you give up and are forced to leave the bands on. This way you help the manufacturer advertise their brand when you're among other cigar smokers. Brilliant, huh?

Or, as Larry David might say, "Pretty good. Pretty, pretty good."

~ Gary Korb

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Two great cigar gifts in one for the holidays

If you're looking for something extra special for that "extra-special cigar smoker," Famous Smoke Shop has just announced a great offer on El Centurion cigars, a stunning Nicaraguan puro from the gifted hands of Don José Pepin Garcia. This limited edition, luxury-class selection is offered in three sizes: Guerreros (a 5″ x 50 Robusto), Emperadores (a 5½" x 52 Belicoso), and Gladiadores (a 6.5″x 52 Toro, shown here).

From now through December 31, 2008, anyone who purchases a box of El Centurion will also receive a free Famous Smoke Shop Holiday Gift Package - a $153.77 value that comes with the following items:
  • Sao Paolo Humidor (holds 50 cigars)
  • 10-inch round ashtray (blue)
  • Boveda 72% Humidity Pack
  • CC 3000 stainless steel cigar cutter
  • Nibo Space 6 chrome triple-flame cigar lighter
El Centurion is a limited edition, premium cigar selection expertly handcrafted with a three-year-aged blend of all Nicaraguan-grown, Cuban seed Criollo '98 and Corojo '99 leaves capped by a savory Nicaraguan Habano wrapper. The smoke is medium to full in body offering rich, woody and black pepper flavors throughout.

Only 850 boxes in each size were produced, making this Don Pepin masterpiece a very rare treat. Add the free Holiday Gift Package, plus free shipping, and you've got one sweetheart of a gift set designed for the ultimate cigar aficionado.

To learn more about this special holiday offer, visit the El Centurion cigars page on the Famous Smoke Shop website. Phone orders can be placed by calling 1-800-672-5544.

Monday, December 8, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Filipe Gregorio (Art of?) Power Figurado

This weekend, our company held its annual Holiday party and it was a real blast. IMO, our best Holiday party to-date. During the day, most of the guys I work with were talking about the "special" cigars they were bringing to smoke that night. I remember bringing an OpusX to my first company party and it burned crappy, making it a total waste of time and money. From then on, I began bringing good cigars, but not necessarily expensive cigars. It wasn’t because that first OpusX was a dud; I've had some might good ones since then. It's more because I tend to get distracted talking to people, the cigar goes out, and by the third relight, it's done.

Maybe it was peer pressure, but by the end of the day, I began to think twice about bringing a "special cigar" to the party. So I went into the back where I keep my private stash and found a cigar that I hadn't yet tried, a Felipe Gregorio Power from a sampler that was sent to me by a business associate. This was some cigar, too. It looked to be about 6" x 60, but after checking the Felipe Gregorio website to get more information, it didn't show up on their "Power Cigars" page. This cigar had a beautiful Cuban-style pigtail that was tied with a thin black piece of Oscuro tobacco with a similar Oscuro "band" at the base of the foot. At first, I thought the thin black band at the foot was paper, and almost began peeling it off with my finger.

After a little more digging on the Felipe Gregorio website, I found out this cigar was more likely from their "Art of Power" cigar series, because the box of cigars in the picture shown (see above) looked exactly like the one I smoked. I think it's the "Antonius," but the lettering on the box just wasn't clear enough to make out, so I'm guessing, because that's what it looked like it to my eye.

The blends listed for the respective series didn't exactly match-up either, but the copy says the blend for the Art of Power is "the same blend of the 91 Cigar Aficionado rated Power." That would be a dark, pre-embargo Pelo de Oro seed wrapper grown in Costa Rica, Nicaraguan Piloto Cubano filler, and an Habano 92 Nicaraguan binder. The blend cited on the "Art of Power" cigars page shows Nicaraguan Piloto Cubano filler and Dominican Piloto Cubano binder, plus two other wrapper shades. Are you as confused as I am, right now?

Just from the size of this cigar and the bold black word "Power" on the band is enough to make you think this is going to be one killer of a smoke. Although definitely a full-bodied cigar, to my surprise, the smoke was not overly spicy or overpowering. (Maybe this was the blend with the Dominican Piloto Cubano tobacco). It had a very appealing, dark, earthy tobacco flavor with some nice sweetness to it, and it went well with my vodka and tonic.

I had relatively no burn problems with the cigar. It drew well and the flavors remained consistent, becoming much more caramelized and complex in the last act. Fortunately, I only had to relight it once. I smoked it down to about an inch, when it just got too juicy and started to turn bitter.

Overall, a marvelously robust cigar with lots of meat to sink your teeth into and plenty of flavor. A very enjoyable and memorable smoke that I can highly recommend for full-bodied fans.

If you've had any of the Felipe Gregorio Power or Art of Power cigars, please leave a comment.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, December 5, 2008

Retro Smoke: ACID Kuba Kuba

Last Friday the Famous Smoke Shop retail store was hosting their regular afternoon gig with Lehigh Valley's ESPN Radio station at 1230 & 1320 on the AM dial. Also there was Michael Cellucci, Vice President of Sales for Drew Estate Cigars, who was doing a promotion for ACID cigars.

Not being a regular ACID cigar smoker, it had been a while since I smoked one, which I mentioned to Michael in passing. So, he asked me if I'd like one, and not being one to turn down a free cigar, I asked if he could spare a Kuba Kuba, and in return, I'd review it on this page.

At 5" x 54, the ACID Kuba Kuba has a nice heft to it and a distinctive pre-light spicy aroma. The cap clipped off cleanly and the draw was effortless. It has a sweetened Sumatra wrapper, and once lit, the cigar virtually explodes with abundant aromas of cloves, anise, and an arousing bouquet of other herbal and spice essences. The smoke is thick, creamy, and medium in body with a well-rounded, earthy-spicy flavor. But for the most part, you just sort of let yourself dissolve into all those marvelous aromas swirling about you.

For those of you who haven't had ACID cigars, or have evaded them because you're under the impression that they're flavored, which they're not, all I can say is, this is truly a unique premium cigar smoking experience that's hard to describe. You have to experience it for yourself, and I think every cigar smoker should try an ACID at least once.

As one regular ACID cigar smoker opined to me recently, "You smoke them more for the aromas than for the flavors," and now I also understand why the Kuba Kuba is at the top of the ACID food chain.

Thanks Michael.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The ideal "Divorce Cigar"

I'm not in the habit of revealing certain aspects of my personal life on these pages, but yesterday I received a letter from my lawyer with a copy of my divorce decree. Yes, "yours truly" is now FREE! Case closed.

So I got to thinking, what would be a good "Divorce Cigar?" You have your wedding cigars, new baby cigars, "that big promotion" cigars, etc. After all, cigars are meant to be enjoyed with life's greatest moments. OK, let’s get real. Divorce is not on this list of life's greatest moments, but according to just about all the divorced men I spoke to since I joined "The 51-Percenters Club," it was one of the happiest days of their life. And now that I have closure, I'm actually feeling pretty good, myself.

The question is, WHICH cigar do I choose to celebrate my emancipation? Hayward suggested I reach for a Padrón 1926 or 80th Anniversary, but I told him I've already had them. Since this is a new phase in my life, I was thinking more along the lines of a cigar that I've never smoked. There are several Pete Johnson creations I haven't tried, so I thought maybe an El Triunfador Lancero, or one of the better La Flor Dominicana Double Ligeros. Perhaps a Gurkha that I've missed, or an Oliva V Maduro would be appropriate. Come to think of it, I just received a rare Arturo Fuente 8-5-8 Flor Fina Sun Grown from a friend. I also have a rare Davidoff Diademas back at the new ranch. Hmmm...

This is a tough decision, and I really want it to be special, so I'm opening up the comment box below. Tell me what you think would be the ideal divorce cigar by leaving a comment or shoot me an email. In the meantime, I'll start building a list. Once I make my decision, I'll post a review of it.

~ Gary

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Cugine (by Arganese) Robusto Connecticut

This past Saturday, I finally had the opportunity to sample the new Cugine Cigars, the creation of actor, author, and chef, Joseph R. Gannascoli, and Gene Arganese of Arganese Cigars. As I wrote in my preview of their northeast debut in-store event at Famous Smoke Shop ("'Il Cugine' is Coming!"), Cugine cigars are blended with prime Dominican longfillers and Honduran Sumatra-seed binder rolled in a milder Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, or a more full-bodied Brazilian-seed Maduro wrapper grown in Ecuador.

The store was packed to the gills with customers who wanted to meet Joe and try his new cigars. Joe also came armed with photos from The Sopranos™ for autographing, a stack of his A Meal to Die For books, and bottles of his own brand of pasta sauce, or "gravy" as my former Italian in-laws preferred to call it.

Right now Cugine cigars are available in only two sizes: Torpedo and Robusto. I started with the Robusto in the Connecticut wrapper (see my sample shown). The wrapper was smooth and buttery, and the cigar was well-packed. The cap, which is a Cuban-style "triple cap," sliced off perfectly and the pre-light draw was excellent.

The cigar lit well, and the smoke was smooth, creamy and medium-bodied, dominated by sweet, woody flavors with just a trace of nutmeg on the finish. It was also impressively consistent and well-balanced through the last act, where I smoked it down to about an inch. So if it's a naturally sweet, rich-tasting cigar that appeals to you, then I highly recommend the Cugine Connecticut. Moreover, the cigar burned for well over an hour without a relight.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to smoke the Cugine Maduro, which I hope to smoke this week, but many of the customers I spoke on Saturday were smoking it. What I gathered from their opinions was the Maduro had lots of flavor, starting out very spicy, then rounding out to a more well-balanced, full-bodied smoke with a sweet and spicy character.

Although Cugine cigars will be presented in boxes, if you want to try some Cugine cigars, Famous Smoke Shop has a limited number of specially-made, pre-box release bundles available on their website.

A lot of celebrities have come out with their own cigars over the years, most of which have failed, because you can't sell a cigar on an actor's or an athlete's name alone. From what I tasted, Gene and Joe did a nice job, and this cigar has real potential. If Mr. Gannascoli and Gene get out there and pound the pavement by promoting it as a fine, premium cigar, and not a "celebrity cigar" they've got a great shot at becoming the exception to the rule.

~ Gary Korb