Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Birds of a feather flock together (except in cold weather)

If you're like me, you have a group of co-herfers. When there's an impromptu herf to be had, you can count on this core group to be there with cigars and libations in tow.

Problem is my co-herfers are grizzly bears.

Okay, maybe not, but they DO hibernate from cigars in the winter. Even given the relative comfort of a garage, they are perfectly content to go literally weeks on end without enjoying so much as a small panatela.

Hitting up the local B&M is fine, but to be perfectly honest, I just prefer smoking outside. If that means I need to put on a layer or two and wear a hat & gloves, then so be it. A petite corona like the Rocky Patel Junior cigars or a Buenos Madurito takes about 20 minutes to smoke, just enough time to walk around the block (exercise I could use anyway).

Fortunately, I'm allowed to smoke cigars at work. So it's usually not an issue, unless I'm looking to punctuate a nice dinner with an equally nice after-dinner smoke.

How about you? Do you abstain in cold weather, or do you brave it? Do you spend more time in your local smoke shop? Share your winter strategy with a comment.

- Hayward Tenney

Monday, February 23, 2009

When a good cigar goes bad

So, you've just finished searched through your humidor for a special cigar, a pricey one, no doubt, too. You've got your libation picked out, your comfy chair, the HDTV, or a good read - whatever floats your boat when you want to relax with a good cigar.

Everything goes according to plan. The cap clips off perfectly; the cigar lights evenly; the smoke is thick, creamy and flavorful. You sit back and enjoy the ride. Suddenly, you hit a pot hole! The cigar is only a couple of inches in and it's burning unevenly. You study it. It's not that far off-line. You decide to pay more attention as you puff and rotate the cigar a little to help it burn more evenly. It'll straighten out eventually, you think. After all, it's a well-made cigar.

Another inch goes by. The cigar does begin to straighten out, but suddenly you notice the wrapper starts to come undone. Your stomach starts to knot-up a bit. I can't believe this is happening, you think. Well, at least it still tastes good. I'll ride it out.

You break off the loose wrapper leaf, but its to no avail. It just keeps unwinding. You continue smoking, but your mood is soured by the increasing problems. I've smoked these cigars numerous times and never had a problem with them, you think. Maybe it's my humidor conditions? Paranoia sets in. You put the cigar down, get out of your chair and go to the humidor. The humidity and temp are in range. You begin checking the cigars for suppleness, dryness. You get down to the bottom row, where you found the cigar you're smoking. It sure feels OK. Now you're thinking, Maybe I picked the odd funky stick. The rest can't possibly be like the one that busted on me. Or can they? Did I ruin a $100 box of cigars?

If this scenario sounds familiar, that's because I described a similar experience in one of my recent Retro-Smoke blogs. It's also one of the most frustrating experiences an ardent cigar smoker can have because it's often hard to tell whether the problem lies with the factory or with the cigar smoker.

Often, if it's the first time they've smoked the cigar, some cigar smokers tend to blame the retailer and ask for a return, even threatening to never buy from that retailer again. However, if it's a cigar has a consistent history of smoking well for you, it's more likely the conditions in your humidor than the retailer or the factory for that matter. On the other hand, even the best made cigars can turn sour for any number of reasons: from the odd lack of quality control at the factory level, simply the cigar itself, or to, yes, even improper storage on the part of the retailer.

So what can you do to prevent a good cigar from going bad? Not much, but here are a few tips that might help:

1. When your cigars arrive, open the box, take a few out and inspect them carefully. They should still be quite supple, even after their trip. If they feel only a little dry, they're probably fine and just need some time in the humi to "settle." The same goes if they feel a little too moist. As much as you may be dying to smoke that first cigar when they arrive, letting the cigars rest in your humidor for at least a week usually gets better results when you fire them up.

2. Try to keep the temperature and humidity in your cigar humidor as consistent as possible. Large fluctuations in temp and RH will negatively affect the cigar over time. It may look and feel OK, but remember, you're just skimming the surface. The problem could be coming from the filler tobaccos.

3. Rotate your cigars from bottom to top every couple of months. Unless you have a fan that circulates the air in your humidor, it's important that your cigars are not packed too tightly and that they get good circulation, which is why it helps to move them around. Most humidors have "dead zones" where moist air doesn't reach them.

The next time you have a good cigar that goes bad, don't jump to conclusions. The solution to the problem could be as simple as keeping a closer eye on your stash.

Your thoughts?

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beating cigar price & tax increases: A how-to

I count myself pathologically optimistic: While others bemoan winter's arctic freeze, I'm bundling up to try a new Petite Corona. Stuck in a traffic jam? Perfect - think I'll pop in this CD I've been meaning to check out. When life throws me lemons, I make Long Island Iced Tea. You get the point.

Unfortunately for cigar smokers, the good news has slowed to a trickle. Between our tattered economy, absurd anti-smoking legislation, manufacturers raising prices, and newly-minted cigar taxes, it's getting tough to maintain a positive outlook. Here's a guide for putting the pep back in your step.

1. House Brands
You're already familiar with superstar cigar manufacturers like CAO, Rocky Patel, Jesus Fuego, and Nick Perdomo. In addition to nationally branded lines, they also create budget-friendlier cigars exclusively for retailers. Some good examples that come to mind are the CAO CX2, Conuco (Rocky Patel), Royal Nicaraguan bundles (J. Fuego), or the Private Selection 70th Anniversary Edition Nick Perdomo created for Famous Smoke Shop.

2. Sign up for weekly email sales
These email-only cigar specials offer tons of bang-for-the-buck. While you won't want to pull the trigger on every one, you'll certainly have more options for saving money on top-quality smokes, plus freebies like matching boxes, free samplers, and free shipping.

3. Cigar AuctionsCigar auction websites are like "the eBays of cigars" and one of the best ways to get a great deal. You have to do a little extra work, but it's usually well worth it. Many bids often start at $1, but the key is to check back early and often on whatever you're bidding on.

4. One-Deal-A-Day cigar sitesThese sites are like "Woot" for cigars and often offer the biggest savings of all. The key here is you have to check the cigar deal-a-day websites every day, so it pays to bookmark them. You may not always find your "ideal" cigar there, but patience pays off in spades once you hit that hot item you'll been waiting for.

How do YOU plan on "beating the man?"

- Hayward Tenney

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: Davidoff Limited Edition 2007 "Puro Perfecto"

Last Friday I was given a very special new cigar, a Davidoff Limited Edition 2007 Puro Perfecto. At first glance I thought it was the Davidoff Special Series Short Perfecto (5" x 50), but this is actually a short, double perfecto version of the awesome Davidoff Ltd. Edition 2007 Robusto - an all Dominican tobacco blend - that debuted a couple of years ago (I still have a decent little cache left of those beauties). And speaking of beauties, since this is my favorite cigar shape, I was chomping at the bit to smoke it.

The Davidoff LE 2007 Puro Perfecto weighs-in at 4¼" x 48, and I was impressed with the even tone and silkiness of the wrapper, appropriately called a "Capa Dominicana." For some reason, I decided to V-cut the head, which worked well based on the proportions of the cap, and offered a very easy draw. The cold draw had a light flavor of cedar wood. I also lit the tip as lightly and carefully as possible, starting with a very narrow burn (I wanted to see just how "perfect" this cigar was going to burn). I paired the cigar with a mug of mocha-java and off I went.

The first act was surprisingly mild accompanied by Davidoff's trademark creaminess and inviting aroma. I thought this cigar would have a little more kick, but the coffee complemented the cigar well, and I let the cigar smoke itself. Each puff revealed a predominantly woody flavor laced with delicate hints of sweet spice.

As the cigar approached the 1½-inch mark, I noticed it was burning slightly off-track, but righted itself by the halfway point. It was also at about the halfway point that the cigar jazzed-up in body, while remaining especially creamy, and the sweet, woody flavors became much more prevalent. The ash was also relatively firm throughout leaving a nice little round cherry when ashed.

All-in-all, another fine and relaxing Davidoff cigar experience that turned into a literal finger-burner (see photo at left). Highly recommended if you want a very special, medium-bodied, yet full-flavored treat.

Props also to Tom G. Smith and Jeff Lee of Davidoff for the pleasant weekend surprise.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, February 13, 2009

Retro Smoke: CAO The Sopranos "Associate"

Last night, I went out with my friend Joe to see a two-man band called The Booletts at a local tavern here in The Lehigh Valley. We got lucky, too. No, not in that way (although we both developed a small crush on the barmaid). It's one of the few remaining watering holes in these parts that still permits smoking! Joe had his ciggies, and I brought a CAO The Sopranos "Associate" with me. I haven't had one of these 5" x 52 beauties in a quite a while, and they just get better with age, too. This one came from a box I emptied into my main humidor about three years ago.

The blend consists of a Nicaraguan, Dominican and Colombian longfiller core, Honduran binder, and a very delicate, dark Brazilian wrapper.

As I mentioned above, I took the cigar from my main humidor where the Associates were on the bottom row without cellos. As always, I pinched the cigar for freshness, inspected it for any flaws, and it looked perfectly fine. To protect it, I put it inside an old cedar-lined, Davidoff tube and went on my merry way.

The cigar lit up perfectly, and from the get-go just oozed with creamy dark, earthy flavors laced with notes of cocoa, coffee and caramel. I remember saying to Joe: "It's like drinking a thick mocha chocolate milkshake." The ash was hard as nails, and the cigar performed perfectly through the first act and well into the second. Then it happened...

I noticed that the wrapper was starting to unhinge, but not all that much, so I ignored it. However, as the cigar continued to burn it got a little worse; to the point where the wrapper leaf was sticking up, so I gently broke it off. It broke off cleanly, but the problem only worsened. Suddenly I found myself breaking off more of these fragile little pieces of wrapper. Eventually, the wrapper sprouted out all around and the cigar began to look like a blooming flower.

IMO, The Sopranos cigars are one of CAO's best, not only in how well they're built, but for their flavor, and I've never had a problem with any of them. Since I prefer to give the manufacturer the benefit of the doubt, this problem may have came from the cigar being on the bottom row of my humidor too long. I'm usually very good at rotating my cigars on a regular basis, but have been lax since I moved last October. It could also have come from several wide flucuations in RH I've noticed since the move, too.

However, the story does have a happy ending. No, not that kind of "happy ending" (did I mention the barmaid?). With just a couple of inches left to go, I peeled away all of the remaining wrapper and smoked the cigar on the binder. Believe it or not, it was still a great smoke! There are not too many cigars that can do that.

As soon as I got home, I moved all my remaining Associates to the top row and my confidence is high for next time.

If you'd like to share a similar experience, please leave a comment.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The most mind-numbing non-news story of '09?

Yesterday, Gurkha's $25,000 sponsorship offer to Michael Phelps was widely reported on the internet and elsewhere. While I'm uncertain where the story broke first, I finally read it on the towering brain trust that is (special thanks to my Twitter buddies).

In case you've been hibernating, here's the back-story: Phelps, at 23 years old, and the most decorated gold-medalist in Olympic history, turned up in a photo published in the British tabloids smoking pot [insert painfully obvious caloric-intake/munchies joke here].

After catching wind of the incident, Gurkha bogarted free publicity by offering Phelps a sponsorship contract. Given the magnitude of his current endorsement contracts, Phelps would be a fool to shill for Gurkha for a measly $25k. Obviously, this was a marketing ploy.

Gurkha's message to the public: Cannabis and cigars are related.

Really, Gurkha? Given the bad press cigar smokers are enduring with SCHIP, smoking bans and everything else, your Steve Miller brand-strategy is to align tokers and smokers?

Of course, reliable journalists they are, TMZ got the scoop with a piece titled, "Phelps Offered $25k to Blaze it Up."

Really, TMZ? "Blaze it up" is as deep as your bag o' puns goes? When is the last time a cigar smoker referred to "blazing one up?"

Look, I spare judgment on those who choose to indulge in "extra-curricular activities." As long as they're presenting no danger to others, it's their time and money as far as I'm concerned. But there is something to be said for irresponsible timing, an art form Gurkha seems to have mastered.

Furthermore, gossipy "news" outlets like TMZ represent the lowest common denominator of the American media landscape in my estimation. Every story they publish is another chink in the armor of American intellect, and an affront to good taste and good sense.

Gahhh! Enough of my ranting...what do YOU think?

- Hayward Tenney

Monday, February 9, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: La Riqueza No.4

Over the weekend, we had a wild and wacky in-store event with Tatuaje cigars creator Pete Johnson. It was also one of the best-attended events I've seen since in months; the store was packed to the rafters as attendees smoked Tatuaje, Cabaiguan, and Tatuaje Cojuno, among others. I also had the pleasure of officially meeting Mr. Johnson, and he was a pleasure to hangout with.

One of the featured brands was Pete's La Riqueza cigars, and I had the No.4, a 5" x 48 Robusto. Like all of Pete Johnson's lines, La Riqueza is made by Don José Pepin Garcia, and features a medium-bodied, all-Nicaraguan tobacco blend.

La Riqueza cigars are box-pressed and sport a rich-looking, oily wrapper leaf. The cigar was well-packed and the cap popped-off cleanly, offering an excellent draw with a pre-lit taste was mostly "woody."

Upon lighting, the smoke had a burly, spicy character to it that rounded out shortly after the first half-inch. Like its pre-lit taste, once the cigar got going, the smoke was predominantly woody in flavor, very smooth, and easy on the palate. I paired it with a bottle of Tommyknocker Jack Wacker Wheat Ale; not a very heavy beer, but IMO, it detracted from the flavor of the cigar. Next time, I will try pairing up the La Riqueza with a Port or a rich cup of coffee.

By the halfway point, the cigar began to take on a more full-flavored dimension while maintaining it's smooth, woody character with just a trace of roasted nuts on the finish.

This is not a complex cigar, but in summation, I found the La Riqueza No.4 rich in flavor, highly consistent, well-balanced with a clean burn, and extremely relaxing,; a good "starter" cigar for those who are curious about Pete Johnson's cigars.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bombing your brothers

As cigar smokers, we share a unique fraternal bond. That much is a given. When we convene to partake of the leaf, our differences melt in the warmth of brotherhood (and sisterhood - I didn't forget you, ladies!), leaving only the virtues of contentment, a life lived more deliberately, and astounding generosity...especially when it comes to bombing.

Bombing, you say?

Yes, bombing. Of the cigar variety.

We've all shared a few sticks with friends from our personal humidors. The digital age has simply updated this concept. The idea is to mail cigars to a friend you've made online, at a herf - wherever - with no expectation of receiving anything in return. It is an extraordinarily selfless act of kindness, unique to cigar smokers, that is invariably appreciated.

I will tell you this much: there's nothing like opening the mailbox after a rough day at work to find, nestled amongst your bills, a 5-pack of smokes you've never tried before. The realization that someone, from some distant place, took time out of his day to select, pack, and ship cigars is, in a word, humbling. Free cigars notwithstanding, it is its own special reward.

To everyone who has ever seen fit to obliterate my mailbox (you know who you are) - Thank you. To all my past, present & future targets - You're welcome. It was my pleasure.

Please share your thoughts with a comment.

- Hayward Tenney

Monday, February 2, 2009

Finally, a non-smoker who's sticking-up for smokers' rights

Today I'd like to focus your attention on an op/ed piece I found by Kyle Wrather, managing editor at The Reflector, the online student newspaper of Mississippi State University. Although Mr. Wrather is a self-proclaimed "non-smoker," he makes a good case for why society ought to lighten-up on those who choose to smoke cigarettes, or enjoy the relaxation of a good cigar or pipe.

Following are excerpts from Mr. Wrather's piece ttitled, "Society places too much heat on smokers," which I suggest you also read in its entirety:

...I'm not a smoker and have never had any desire to become one. But as a non-smoker, I sympathize with the smoker's cause. In today's world the average American smoker is demeaned, berated and treated like a second-class citizen. For example, Starkville's ban on smoking inside public establishments relegates local smokers to shiver in the rain and cold on rusty or wooden chairs...

...Not only are smokers people deserving of equal rights, they are patriots. Consider this: If Mississippi raises its tax on tobacco products to help fund our public education, then smokers are partly footing the bill for the education we as Mississippi State University students so eagerly seek. This could even be portrayed as promoting smoking on a state level...

...Many of our most prestigious and valued Americans have been smokers. Look at famed writers like Mark Twain, notable scientists like telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell and Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, who helped invent the atomic bomb, and famed actors like John Wayne or James Dean and the many ways they've contributed to our culture and lifestyle...

...President Barack Obama, on his campaign for office, took up the habit of smoking again, despite his previous attempts to quit.

This is not to say that we should try to imitate or emulate the smoking behaviors of these notable Americans, but we should remember that just because a person smokes, that does not mean they are below anyone else...

Regardless of their habits and origins, they all have one thing in common:...They're people just like you, me, John F. Kennedy, Popeye and Frank Sinatra.
Your thoughts?

~ G.K.