Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Brain dead" cigar smokers? Come on, really now.

For years, online cigar retailers have tried to land your business by sending emails that use everything from photos of giant cigars to witty wordsmanship. With regard to the latter, one of the best has often been a certain, very popular discount cigar outlet that's known primarily by its founder's initials. (Yes, I give credit where due.) But I have to take umbrage with several lines of copy that appeared in a recent email from this particular retailer:

"Boutique cigars are theoretically limited production cigars made by people no one ever heard of before, and fabricated from tobaccos no one knew existed before. In other words, they're cigars that are targeted for brain dead people who happen to have money to burn."

I find this language insulting, not only to the tens of thousands of cigar smokers who enjoy "boutique" cigars on a regular basis, but to the dozens of fine manufacturers who produce them. Moreover, some of the top-rated cigars on the charts come from such factories, and IMO, this kind of "salesmanship" crosses the line.

It's the Don José Pepin Garcias, Jesus Fuegos, Alan Rubins, Rocky Patels, Gene Arganeses, Mike Cusanos, Abe Floreses, Abdel Fernandezes, and so many others who have kept the cigar business interesting and flourishing, to say the least. Would you call Orlando and Jorge Padrón boutique cigar makers? Based on their niche and limited production, I'd count them in.

If customers of the aforementioned manufacturers are all "brain dead," it just proves that they're a lot smarter than they're getting credit for.

Keep supporting your favorite boutique cigar brands. With all due respect, there's a lot more to premium cigars than Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta. But then, you already knew that.

Your thoughts?

~ G.K.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Living Deep

If you live in the Northeast, you already know about the wall of wintry weather this area slammed into late last night. We got between 5" and 6" at my house. Sleet & freezing rain persist as I type this.

My wife's a teacher, so she's enjoying a Snow Day at home with our 15-month old son. It was no small task leaving them this morning, but my conscience insisted: "You drive a 4x4 SUV. Others will make the commute in lesser-equipped vehicles. There is no excuse for calling out."

Anticipating a long ride, I reached for a Rocky Patel Junior natural on my way out the door - a tasty 20 or 30 minute petite corona to enjoy with my coffee. But before I ever had a chance to light it, I almost bit the big one.

When an 18-wheeler swerved in front of me to avoid a spinning-out car, I quickly downshifted into drive 2, then drive 1, engine-braking to avoid a similar spinout. But given my momentum, there was no way to avoid hitting the tractor trailer, so I ditched the car into the snow-covered grass median.

Whoa.

Head? Check. Hands? Check. Arms? Legs? Feet? Check. Everything where it's supposed to be, except the Pathfinder. But it's okay - I've avoided any damage to myself or my vehicle.

Friends, I've never been so excited to fire up a cigar. After calling home to shed some nerves, I reflected on how it all might have ended. It's not enough to be careful. Thoreau strove to "live deep and suck the marrow out of life." Today I recommit myself to the same, my family beside me, and a fine cigar in my hand.

Please share your thoughts with a comment.

- Hayward Tenney

Monday, January 26, 2009

Is "cigar fasting" a good thing?

I don't know about you, but if you're a daily cigar smoker, do you ever "Jones" over not having one if you can't smoke for a day or two, or more? The reason I bring this up is, since I'm now with my two sons every other weekend, I refrain from smoking cigars for obvious reasons. (Maybe that will change when the weather is warmer and I can go out on the deck.) As an everyday cigar smoker, I thought I'd miss not having a cigar for a couple of days, but I don't. Perhaps it's because the three of us keep pretty busy most of the time, so I'm not thinking about cigars that much.

However, on Monday, I can't wait to light-up. That Monday morning cigar usually tastes pretty good, too. If there's any advantage to this change in my lifestyle, I suppose it's that my palate gets a bit of a rest. The other scenario that applies is when I get that rare cold.

I've also noticed that this "fasting" concept works in my "alter ego" music life. If I practice every night, I continue to improve as a musician. But if I give my hands some rest from the piano and the guitar for a few days, my skills seem somewhat sharper when I return to practicing. (Other musicians I know have concurred with me on this.)

If I could, I would probably smoke cigars every day without interruption. On the other hand, many health-conscious people believe that regular meal fasting is good for your health, so maybe "cigar fasting" is good for you, too.

Your thoughts?

~G.K.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Retro Smoke: Rafael Gonzalez Robusto


A few weeks ago, I picked up a box of Vueltabajo Toro, and with it came a free 9-cigar sampler. One of the sampler cigars was a Raphael Gonzalez Robusto, a delightful little stick that I hadn't smoked in many a moon.

I was looking for a good morning cigar to have with my coffee and fired it up. I'm happy to report that this cigar has remained consistent through the years in terms of its construction, burn and flavor. The wrapper is buttery in appearance and silky to the touch. The smoke was creamy, nutty, earthy and laced with notes of sweet cedar and nutmeg on the finish. A perfect mate to my morning jo with a sweet aroma, to boot.

The blend consists of Honduran, Dominican and Nicaraguan tobaccos rolled in a perfectly-cured U.S. Connecticut shade wrapper. The cigar burned clean, and although it's listed as a "medium-bodied" cigar, experienced palates will most likely consider it a mild smoke. At least it was to moi. Even more impressive was that it never turned bitter on me, making it just as enjoyable through the last inch as it was in the early and middle stages.

Coincidentally, I received an email this morning from a reader who was just getting into cigars, and asked for some good recommendations, so I included the Rafael Gonzalez Robusto among my suggestions. Not only is it a great "starter cigar," it's a trusty change of pace from the heavier fare that seasoned cigar smokers are more often drawn to.

If you've smoked a Rafael Gonzalez Robusto and want to compare notes, please leave a comment.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Peas and carrots

Some things were just meant to go together: Saturday morning and cartoons. Peanut butter and jelly. Football and beer. To that list, I humbly submit the following:

Cigars and XiKAR cutters.

At risk of sounding like an advertorial, here's the story. About a year ago, before the anti-smoking Nazis' influence came to full fruition, I was at a bar with some pals in Lancaster, PA. In my circle I’m the "cigar guy," so it was my great pleasure to share some primo sticks alongside our many and various libations. With last call upon us, we stumbled into a cab playing Charlie Daniels on the radio and made our way home. As we belted out "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" at the top of our lungs, it occurred to me that this had been a very fun night, indeed.

Inspecting my pockets the following morning, I winced at finding nada where my XiKAR Xi3 Tech cutter was supposed to be. Though not cheap, this cutter had been the most reliable accessory I ever had the pleasure of owning: In short, the lovechild of form and function, with its bead blasted stainless titanium finish, teardrop profile, and rubberized grip. Its smooth cutting action made the clipping ritual a true pleasure. (Sigh)

Friends, I told you that to tell you this: I've been reunited with the beloved Xi3 Tech. Not the same one, naturally - some sticky-fingered jerk is running around Lancaster with that one - but with her exact likeness. I can barely subdue my excitement…in fact, I think I'll clip a cigar now, to be smoked in her honor.

Life is good.

What's your must-have cigar accessory? Let me know by leaving a comment.

- Hayward Tenney

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A solution for sticky cigar bands

Last December, I posted my "pet peeve" about cigar bands that can damage the wrapper leaf when they're removed. Today, as I was going through some old emails, I found this solution sent to me by Christopher in North Carolina, and I thought it was worth sharing.
- G.K.

I always remove the band prior to smoking as well as removing the cap. Here is a simple technique to solve the problem:

Holding the cigar between your thumb and fingers, keep slight pressure on the band joint with your thumb. Then, using an Exacto with a curved blade, slice at the joint going top to bottom with blade pressure against your thumb (no, you won't cut yourself), all the while keeping pressure against the cigar with your thumb. This will ensure that if the band is glued to the wrapper you won't tear it.

When you have gotten past the other end of the band, it will release. If the tail of the band is glued to the wrapper, the challenge is to minimize the damage. Cutting backwards, or against the band tail will do the trick. I recommend practicing on "every day" cigars until you have an understanding of this. Then you'll have the confidence to approach all sticks.

When cutting, if you have paper separation in the band, pull it all the way around. This will also reduce the amount of paper you need to release it. Remember, sharp tools do sharp work, so don't be afraid to use the blade between the wrapper and the back of the band.

I've demonstrated this to so many guys, because they are always curious as to how I achieve a successful de-banding, and why I go through the pains I do. My track record is 99.9%. With minimum skill and maximum patience anyone can do it.
- Christopher

Friday, January 16, 2009

Keeping promises on two fine boutique cigars

A while back I promised two fine cigar makers that I'd review their cigars in this forum, and since I'm way overdue, I finally wanted to make good on them.

Last year I received a sampler package of Kinky Friedman Cigars, which included all five of his selections: The Governor (5¾" x 60), Kinkycristo (6¼" x 54 Torpedo), The Willie (6" x 48), Texas Jewboy (6" x 56 Torpedo), and Utopian (6" x 52).

The blend for all the frontmarks consists of an Honduran Habano Cuban-seed wrapper with a Honduran-Nicaraguan longfiller blend, and a Costa Rican binder.

All of the cigars were medium-bodied, full-flavored, and smoked wonderfully. I enjoyed them all so much, it was really hard to decide which one I like best, but I seemed to lean most toward the super-sized "Governor." The smoke was exceptionally smooth, creamy, earthy with subtle notes of spice and some coffee essences on the finish. The aroma was also outstanding on these cigars. If I had to compare them to a "more popular" brand, I'd have to say Padrón.

The Kinky Friedman line also not your typical "celebrity" cigar line. Kinky is a serious cigar smoker who seems to know as much, if not more, about making good cigars as he does about music and Texas politics - and all of the cigars are made with outstanding quality. If you're in the market for a good boutique cigar, I highly recommend them as a "must smoke." Additionally, a portion of Kinky's cigar profits to benefit his Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch.

* * *
Last year I also received a "care package" from Avalon Cigars. Located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, Avalon Cigars are another boutique brand well worth trying. They offer several line extensions that include Juke, Hellhound, Numbers, and White. My sampler was comprised of only the Juke and Numbers Series. They also have some of the neatest packaging I've seen, too.

Named after their ring gauges, the Numbers Series are limited edition cigars rolled in Miami FL. Most of the sizes have Cameroon wrappers (one of my favorites) in Oscuro and Natural, with one frontmark offering a more full-bodied blend capped with a Brazilian Maduro wrapper. All of the cigars were full-flavored, well-balanced, very smooth and had an appealing spiciness to them. The construction was also first-rate.

The Juke series also has a lot to offer. I was treated to the Juke Blue and Red Toros (6" x 50), both of which are box-pressed, and I enjoyed them tremendously. (They also make a Juke Ebony). The Juke Blue features a Maduro wrapper had a leathery pre-light flavor and offered a rich-tasting woody-earthy smoke. It reminded me a lot of the Rocky Patel Olde World Reserve Maduro.

The Juke Red had a lot of similarities to the Rocky Patel Sun Grown. It offers a Rosado wrapper and I found it much fuller and spicier character. Lots of earthy, woody and peppery notes.

So there you have it: Two fine, premium, boutique selections for those of you who want to stray off the beaten path every once in a while. Kinky's cigars have been around for a while now, and Avalon shows great promise. Looks like the South is rising again!

If you've had a chance to try any of these cigars, please leave your comments. I'd like to know what you thought.

~ Gary Korb

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"SCHARE" Tactics

As 2008 ended, the panic button went off about the proposed SCHIP tax. This bit of legislation floating around the halls of congress had sparked much controversy over imminent price increases on premium cigars in the near future. Widespread rumors foretold of the federal government taxing the cigar industry out of business with astronomically draconian tariffs to the tune of anywhere from 50 cents to $3.00 per cigar. There was also news of a "floor tax" on existing inventory sitting on every retailer’s shelf. If any of these rumors had been true, there would have been good reason for concern. But the truth is they were only rumors; scare tactics perpetrated by people with much to gain by spreading them.

In truth, no one knew for sure what the final version of this legislation would look like until a few days ago. All we knew was that a bill had been agreed upon calling for a 50+% tax with a 40 to 50 cent CAP per cigar. The industry, as a whole, would rather have seen a lesser amount (or nothing at all), but will not fall off the face of the earth with these numbers. There was NO FLOOR TAX and NO SET DATE for anything to go into effect. Anyone saying otherwise was selling more than cigars and should be ashamed of profiteering on a matter that should have been taken far more seriously.

Charlie Rangel, Representative from the 15th Congressional District and head of the Committee on Ways and Means, has probably the largest Dominican constituency in the US (Harlem and Washington Heights) and showed cause for concern over how a large cigar tax would affect the Dominican Republic's economy. Together with some of our lobbyists, he was instrumental in brokering a reasonable compromise.

And that is what we ended up with. The US House of Representatives will cast their votes today on this bill, which did finally rear its ugly head on Tuesday - long after all the hype started.

Reading the whole thing will make your head spin. If you want the nitty-gritty on how it affects cigar pricing, go to section 701 on page #271. This is a change in the import tax. It used to be 20.719% of the import price with a cap of $48.75 per thousand (approx 5 cents a cigar) and has been changed to 52.4% with a cap of 40 cents a cigar ($400 per thousand!). In short, we (industry importers), can expect an increase of 35 cents per cigar when it arrives at port. While it may not affect the premium cigar business too drastically, the bundle and little cigar businesses (Macanudo Ascots, Agio, and just about anything in a small pack or tin) will be devastated after April 1st. HR2, a.k.a. SCHIP, is expected to pass quickly with little or no change; the senate may take longer.

A word of advice: if it's cheap cigars or tins you crave, buy them now and buy plenty. Just don’t fall for the fanfare from people who should know better than to make an entire industry run for cover.

- Humberto Gonzalez

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's in a cigar's name?

Have you ever enjoyed a cigar totally blind, with no clue as to its origin? Does it add to the experience? I humbly submit to you, dear reader, it most certainly does.

Recently, a flood of unnamed, un-banded cigars has washed over Famous headquarters. Having spent time repping various boutique brands, one of our Famous tribe is swimming in cigars at home. In an effort to thin out the herd, he's taken to playing "Cigar Claus" at around 8:30 every morning.

Sometimes he recalls the manufacturer, and sometimes he doesn't. Frankly, I find myself partial to the latter scenario. No name means no expectations going in; no need to judge it against other cigars made by that manufacturer; no compulsive mental cataloging of the experience, to be hauled out another day like some "fish this big" story.

No, with all that cerebral static silenced, my attention focuses like a laser beam on the reason I started smoking premium cigars in the first place: pure, unadulterated pleasure.

Don't get me wrong...I'm not going to go home and remove all the bands from my stash. But let it be said that there's nothing like the enjoyment of an unidentified cigar to remind us of why we all started smoking cigars.

Here's a hint: it has nothing to do with Fuente Fuente OpusX, Padrón, Pepin, or Tatuaje.

- Hayward Tenney

Monday, January 12, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: Fonseca Cubano Viso Fuerte Toro

On my way back home from visiting family in New Jersey yesterday, I stopped by the Famous Smoke Shop cigar store for a smoke and watch the remainder of the NY Giants/Philadelphia Eagles playoff game. My cigar of choice was one I'd been meaning to get to since the IPCPR Show back in July of last year: The Fonseca Cubano Viso Fuerte Toro (6" x 54). Having grown-up in the New York Metro area, our house was a "Giants" house, so, the best part of the game for me was the cigar.

I've always been a big fan of Fonseca cigars in all their line extensions, and have the utmost respect for their creator, Manuel Quesada, so I was really looking forward to this follow-up to their Cubano Limitado cigars series. The blend consists of Dominican and U.S. Connecticut-broadleaf longfillers, Dominican Cuban seed binder, a Cuban-seed binder from the Dominican Republic and a dark, Honduran-grown Criollo Viso wrapper.

Pre-light: Cap clipped-nicely and offered an easy draw with a very woody flavor.

Light-up: The cigar lit well and burned fairly clean. The first few draws were very smooth and predominantly woody with a hint of spice on a surprisingly short finish, and a very appealing aroma.

First half: Primarily dark, woody flavors prevailed with accents of roasted nuts and leathery notes along the way, with just a subtle hint of sweetness in the mix. I mentioned this to one of the customers who had previously smoked the cigar, and he confirmed my findings, adding that he detected more "oak wood" flavors with a note of almond on the finish.

Second half: The cigar started juicing-up in strength and spiciness. I was smoking it with a mug of coffee, which made a good combo, but I think a vintage Port might have offered a better contrast of flavors. The cigar smoked for well over an hour, too, without a relight. Approaching the last 2-inches, the pepper was coming on strong, and having had little to eat, I was also getting a little heady from the cigar. I finally put it down at about the 1½-inch mark.

Overall, this was an excellent medium to full-bodied cigar that I would recommend to cigar smokers who like robust, spicy cigars. Just one caveat: These cigars are not for sale online. At this time they are only available at local cigar stores.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, January 9, 2009

Clipping your cigar in its cellophane wrapper

So I'm in the cigar store last week, and I'm just about to remove the cellophane to clip my cigar when my friend Bill W. says, "Hold on, let me show you something." Bill takes my cigar, opens his trusty XiKAR titanium cutter, lays it on the table, places the cigar's head in the hole, and clamps the blades closed. "There you go," he says. Then he slips the cigar out of its cello and hands it to me.

"Nice cut," I say. "I've never seen that before."

"Really?" said, Bill. "Someone showed me that a long time ago, and I do it all the time. It's supposed to help give you a cleaner cut while also keeping you from overcutting the cap."

Personally, I like my method of working the blades just under the "skull" of the cap to try removing it in a perfect circle, but it's always fun to learn something new.

So, here’s my question: Is anyone else familiar with this "cellophane on" method of clipping cigars? If so, please leave a comment.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Much Ado About Nubbing

How's the line from that Burns poem go? "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry," I think. Given that my grandiose New Year's cigar plans didn't include provisions against Mr. Murphy and his insidious Law, I should have foreseen the utterly absurd comedy of errors that would ensue. A brief timeline of events:

7:49 - My bro shows up with his family. We immediately turn on the oil-filled radiators to get the garage nice and toasty.
8:14 - The fuse(s?) in the garage blow
8:32 - We arrive at Lowe's to find it's closed. Luckily, the grocery store carries the fuses I need.
8:50 - The fuses are replaced, but no f!@#ing juice!?!?

Combined with sub-zero wind-chills, this sudden lack of power in the man cave forced us to forego our New Year's cigars. No big deal, there's always tomorrow or the next day to enjoy a cigar, right?

Right…

Instead, I would up with a terrible cold, sleeping 16 hours Saturday. As if I couldn't feel worse, it occurred to me on Sunday that I probably just tripped the breaker for the garage. Sure enough, we could've had our cigars after all.

It's now Wednesday, and after an illness-induced, weeklong cigar hiatus, I'm finally feeling healthy enough to indulge. Here's hoping your New Year began as seamlessly as the Padilla Miami 8 & 11 Churchill I'm enjoying. Did you smoke anything good?

-Hayward Tenney

Monday, January 5, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: El Triunfador Lanceros by Pete Johnson

I finally got to have my "official" New Year's cigar this weekend. If you remember, this was also going to be my "divorce cigar," and I wanted it to be a cigar that I had never smoked before. I did receive several good suggestions, and one person actually sent me an OpusX Chili Pepper, which was extremely tempting, but I've had OpusX's, so I put that one away in my "special reserve" humi.

I was also seriously considering a Diamond Crown Figurado No.6, which I originally thought was a "Maximus" until I rechecked the band. Since I haven't had either, I figured I'd go for the No.6, but a couple of the guys around here kept pushing the El Triunfador Lanceros by Pete Johnson since they're very rare, and in their opinion, amazingly good.

So I'm in the cigar store on Saturday, searching the cases for the "ideal" candidate, and David behind the counter convinces me to go with the 7½" x 38 El Triunfador. This certainly was an impressive cigar. The color of the wrapper was a dark even color throughout and well packed. I clipped off the little pigtail and the pre-light draw was sort of a mix of roasted nuts and a note of coffee.

I paired the cigar with a mug of dark roasted Costa Rican coffee. Once lit, the cigar was incredibly creamy from the get-go and remained so throughout the entire smoke. What impressed me even more in some ways was the cigar's aroma. It was equally creamy, brimming with essences of coffee and cocoa. The cigar burned razor-clean, and ashed in perfect little light grey nuggets at about a centimeter each in length.

The predominant flavors were earthy, woody and nutty with little ripples of sweetness along the journey. Once passed the halfway mark, the cigar amped-up in flavor and some peppery flavors emerged, but it remained well-balanced and never overpowered me. I smoked the cigar down to just below half an inch.

So did it live up to its rep? Yes, but even though it was well-intentioned, I wish that it hadn't come with so much hype. After I finished the cigar, David, always the salesman said, "You have to smoke a couple of them to really appreciate them. They get better each time."

If you like rich, full-flavored Nicaraguan cigars with an exceptionally creamy bouquet, this cigar is a treat, and well worth the $9.00 I paid for it. Even if you aren't a fan of Lanceros, the El Triunfador is worth stepping outside of your regular shape to smoke.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, January 2, 2009

How I spent my New Year's vacation

I was on vacation from last Saturday, Dec. 27 through yesterday, and if you thought I spent the better part of it smoking some great cigars, you'd be wrong. That's why I didn’t have "My Weekend Cigar" posted, as per usual, this week.

Saturday, I was in my old, now "non-smoking" state of New Jersey to play a gig, which took place in the smoke-free bar. And I had no time between sets to have even a "short smoke."

On Sunday, I picked up my sons, and they spent the better part of the week and New Year's eve with me. I promised my landlord I wouldn't smoke cigars in the apartment, plus I don't like to smoke around my kids, so that prevented me from lighting up.

By New Year's eve I was really jones'n for a cigar. I spent the night with the kids at my brother's house. My brother and I usually have a good cigar together, but with a mean temperature of 21º, 60mph gusts, and -15º wind chills, that was out of the question. I was really looking forward to having my New Year's Eve and my "divorce cigar" that I wrote about recently, too.

Well, enough about that. The boys are back now with mom, and I'm back in the office enjoying a Perdomo Patriarch Maduro "Corona Extra" as I write this. Ahhh!...

I can comment on one cigar I did have shortly before I left for my vacay. Although they're not yet in stock, I had a Robusto sample of the upcoming Famous Smoke Shop 70th Anniversary cigars by Padrón, and it was quite a smoke. Reminded me very much of Padron's own Anniversary selection. So keep your eyes peeled for those in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, I hope you all enjoyed some good New Year's cigars, and I'm now working on my "Best Cigars of 2008" list. If you'd like to share some of your New Year's cigar experiences, please leave a comment.

~ Gary Korb