Friday, March 27, 2009

What's your desert island cigar?

A few months ago, a co-worker sent me a link to a cigar forum thread titled "What is your desert island smoke?" It turned out the thread was not about cigars at all, but pipe tobacco. I'm sure this topic has been covered for premium cigars elsewhere, but a cursory Googling didn't yield many results. So, assuming this topic has not been covered ad nauseum, I thought I'd chime-in.

Since most cigar smokers are also collectors, I'd find it hard to believe that they would be able to single out one specific cigar, unless they were staring down the barrel of a gun.

Violent imagery aside, I'm not sure if I could select just one cigar. I think I speak for most cigar smokers when I say that I have too many favorites. Because I often choose a cigar based on the time of day, or more often, my mood, I've got my favorite mild cigars, medium-bodied cigars, and full-bodied cigars. What's even more frustrating is, if I mentioned the one cigar I would take with me, I'd insult the other cigar manufacturers I work with.

I will say this much: If I could only take one cigar, it would be a medium-bodied, but very full-flavored cigar with a sweet, nutty-woody base, earthy essences, and notes of coffee, caramel and cocoa on the finish. It would probably be blended with Honduran and Nicaraguan tobaccos, too.

That brings me back to you. If you suddenly decided to disappear from civilization, what ONE cigar would you bring? To be fair, make it a box; you're going to be gone awhile. Please let me know with a comment. And unless you know how to make a fire, don't forget the lighter fluid.

~ Gary Korb

Thursday, March 26, 2009

3...2...1...Fire!

I just got out of a meeting where, on the conference table, stood a Blazer Spitfire torch lighter. Picking it up, I figured out the locking action, and in short order, decided on a good topic for today's blog.

Well all know there are tons of cigar lighter manufacturers out there who cater to premium cigar smokers with torch lighters - Blazer, Vector, XiKAR...even Zippo got in on the action with Blu. With no shortage of options available, what do you base your purchase on?

Ever the pragmatist, I think one of the most important criteria is the number of flames the torch produces. The most common options are single-, double-, and triple-flame torches. Each has particular advantages and disadvantages.

  • Single-flame torches provide phenomenal accuracy for touch-ups, but can take a while to light up a bigger ring cigar.
  • Triple-flame torches are great for lighting up those fat ring gauge cigars, but lack in accuracy, and gobble fuel at an alarming rate.
  • Dual-flame torches provide a reasonably accurate flame, and reasonable lighting power.

As I'm really leaning towards smaller-ring cigars these days, I'm finding more and more that a single-flame torch suits my needs. Even with larger-ring cigars, a lighter like the aforementioned Blazer Spitfire or my old Rocky Patel desktop lighter seem to do a good enough job.

As for a portable single-flame torch? Well, I’m in the market for one. Any suggestions?

How many flames do you prefer and why? Please leave your thoughts with a comment.

- Hayward Tenney

Monday, March 23, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: Kristoff Criollo Torpedo


A few weeks ago, I was in the Famous Smoke Shop cigar store and noticed something new on one of the display cases: Kristoff cigars. I had read about these cigars, and discovered they received some very respectable tasting scores, but never had the pleasure. Since they arrived, a lot of the FSS store customers were trying them out and spoke very highly of them, so this weekend it was my turn.

John D., one of our regulars who shares a similar palate to mine (IOW, we like a lot of the same cigars), highly recommended the Kristoff Criollo Torpedo, so I purchased one last week and finally had a chance to relax with it yesterday.

Made in the Dominican Republic, the Kristoff Criollo Torpedo is rolled to 6 1/8" x 52, and a very handsome cigar to look at, too. The blend consists of Dominican Olor and Cuban-seed Nicaraguan tobaccos wrapped in a buttery-smooth Nicaraguan Habano Criollo wrapper leaf with a semi-shaggy foot. (The tobacco is not hanging loose; it's tucked under the foot.) The cigar was well packed, and I used a V-cutter to clip it. The pre-light flavors were somewhat woody and nutty.

Once lit, the cigar took nicely, exposing a clean burn. The smoke at this stage was rather mild and predominantly "woody" in flavor. I found the smoke to be very mellow, and so smooth that I didn't even need to drink anything with it for at least the first few inches. The flavor was highly consistent through the first half with a base of wood and nut flavors, a hint of almond, and just a trace of sweetness on the finish. During one drag I tasted a note of anise, but for the most part the cigar did not gain much in the way of strength, which made it extremely enjoyable.

During the second half, it turned into what I would call a "solid medium-bodied cigar that's extremely mellow." I should also note here that this cigar displayed one of the best ashes I've seen. It was firm, and when tapped-off revealed a beautiful oval-shaped cherry. Although the woodiness intensified a little, the smoke did not exhibit any additional flavors.

Overall, it was quite enjoyable. I only drank spring water while smoking it, but I would have preferred to smoke it with a good Port, my usual favorite. However, I like drinking water with a new cigar, since it allows me to better assess the flavors in the cigar.

The Kristoff Criollo Torpedo gets high marks from me, and I look forward to trying the other cigars in the Kristoff line, particularly the Ligero and Maduro selections.

Thanks John. You picked another winner.

If you've smoked a Kristoff cigar, please share your opinion by leaving a comment below.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gestalt and cigars? What the hell is gestalt?

I was recently discussing the word "gestalt" with Famous Smoke Shop owner, Arthur Zaretsky, during my lunch hour. Since I'm fluent in German, I was well aware of the literal definition, "form, or shape," but the English counterpoint is infinitely more fascinating.

In English, "gestalt" is the idea that things are greater than the sum of their parts. Walking back to my desk from the break room, I couldn’t help but ponder how, on so many levels, this concept applies to premium cigars.

A premium cigar comprises longfiller, binder, and wrapper tobaccos. Smoke them separately, and you taste those specific components. But when well-rolled in the right proportions, those same components render a fundamentally different experience.

Widen your focus to consider presentation. Most cigar smokers I know care more about a cigar's flavor, aroma, and burning qualities than its packaging, and rightfully so. But what about breaking the seal of an attractive box and observing the elegantly understated treasures within? A bundle could never whet my appetite like that!

Now zoom out to include drink pairing. A cigar you may normally enjoy suddenly attains new complexities when juxtaposed with a beverage. Zoom out another level…does it get any better than punctuating a delicious, well-prepared meal with a fine handmade cigar and digestive? Only if you take an even bigger perspective and consider the added joy of good company.

My wife must often wonder what it is I like so much about cigars. It's all of these things, but so much more. In a word, it's the Gestalt. What about you?

- Hayward Tenney

Monday, March 16, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: Davidoff Maduro Robusto


At last summer's IPCPR show in Las Vegas, I was fortunate enough to receive a "preview" sample of the Davidoff Maduro Robusto, and so, I felt it was about time I review it.

It's hard to find visible flaws when it comes to Davidoff cigars, and the 5" x 52 Maduro Robusto was no exception. What's unique about this cigar is that Henke Kelner chose to use a Cuban seed Nicaraguan leaf sun-grown in the Jalapa Valley to create a dark, velvety "natural" Maduro, while the core comprises a blend of perfectly-aged Dominican longfillers and San Vicente binder.

The cigar was very well packed with virtually no soft spots, and when clipped, the cap popped off cleanly leaving the shoulders intact. The pre-light taste was somewhat sweet and woody with an excellent draw. I toasted the foot as delicately as I could. The tobacco took evenly to the flame, and off we went as I paired it with a glass of Taylor Fladgate Reserve Port.

The smoke was thick, creamy, highly aromatic, and mild at the start with a sweet, cedar wood flavor base. I expected the smoke to be more robust, but the eight months in my humidor could have mellowed it out some. For the most part, the cigar continued to smoke smoothly and gradually picked up in flavor as it burned.

The Port complemented the cigar perfectly, but it wasn't until the 2½-inch mark that the cigar showed its true colors. The second half offered significantly more sweetness and cedar flavor, while I also attribute a much "earthier" dimension at this point to the Jalapa wrapper. It was like someone had suddenly turned on the lights. The smoke was more robust, while maintaining a medium-bodied strength, and the sweetness continued to build right down to the last inch-and-a-half, when I finally let the cigar expire gracefully.

Although this was not a complex cigar IMO, I like naturally sweet cigars, and Mr. Kelner did a terrific job on this Maduro Robusto. It's a wonderful mix of sweetness, rich woody essences and dark tobacco. Maduro lovers, take note!

If you've had an experience with this cigar, please compare notes with me by leaving a comment.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, March 13, 2009

Does "over-lighting" your cigar lead to a bad burn?

I've found that if I have a hard time lighting a cigar from the start, the cigar will often burn funny.

Thing is, some cigars just don't toast-up all that well. You may find this particularly true with cigars that have a lot of Ligero tobacco in the filler. That's because Ligero is predominantly oily.

I usually try to get the best burn possible before puffing; blowing on the foot until it's entirely glowing red. In some cases, when the glow settles, you can still see some black tobacco. At this point you have a few choices: Hit it again with the cigar lighter, keep blowing, or start puffing and hope that it takes.

I suppose it depends what kind of mood you're in, but I often give-up and opt for the puff, sometimes alternating between puffing and blowing again on the foot. But even if that gets the cigar going, I find that in some cases the cigar will start to canoe after the first inch or so.

Could this phenomenon be called "over-lighting?"

Traditionally speaking, premium cigars should be lit as gently and slowly as possible. It could be the cigar is somewhat over-humidified, too. I know that some cigar smokers prefer to age their stronger cigars at RH levels closer to 65%. Perhaps this is the reason.

I'd sure like to hear about your experiences with this "phenomenon," so please leave a comment.

~G.K.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spring has sprung for cigars! Well, almost.

Last weekend, most of the country savored a nice little taste of Spring. Temps in my neighborhood soared as high as 70ยบ on Saturday, melting both the prior week's snow and my herf crew's resistance to cold weather.

The weekend included some quality deck time, replete with BBQ, cold beer, and of course, a few premium cigars.

Things have cooled back down to a reasonable level, but the message is clear: the check is in the mail. Soon enough we'll be spending plenty of time with friends and family, basking in warm weather, taking in great food, libations, and cigars...and there is just nothing finer, in this man's humble opinion.

Please share your thoughts with a comment.

- Hayward Tenney

Friday, March 6, 2009

Biting the bullet

Here's one for you. I recently began an email relationship with a reader who originally wrote to me for advice on how to re-humidify some cigars he felt were drying-out. I gave him the 411, yadda-yadda-yadda, and at the end of one of his replies he wrote:

"P.S. I have given up on all cutters. I now prefer to bite off the cap. Maybe that is just a personal preference but I find that it gives me a better “opening taste” after I light it up."

Over the years, I've written dozens of articles on the different types of cigar cutters, their advantages and disadvantages, how to properly clip cigars, etc., and have often received comments from readers about their preferred choice of cutter and their personal clipping techniques. To that end, I have maintained the philosophy that when it comes to the myriad aspects of enjoying premium cigars, "to each his own."

Personally, I'm partial to using a double-blade cutter, and basically "circumcise" the cap (no jokes, please) by rotating the cigar as I clamp the blades together. I've found that this technique helps "pop" the cap off in a near perfect circle, while leaving enough tobacco around the shoulders to prevent the wrapper from unraveling.

That said, I have to admit that during some rare instances, I have bitten the cap off my cigar. However, it didn't necessarily give me a better "opening taste." More often then not, I ended up spitting out pieces of tobacco. Well, maybe I'm just not cut out for biting cigars.

What I'm driving at is, I wonder how many regular cigar smokers opt for their teeth in lieu of a cutter? If you do, or know someone who does, please leave a comment. I'd be curious to know why and what the advantages are, if any.

~ G.K.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: God of Fire Don Carlos 2006

Just over a month ago, Keith Park of Prometheus International was paying a visit to Famous Smoke Shop and he was generous enough to hand me a God of Fire Don Carlos 2006, a special, limited edition selection made exclusively by Arturo Fuente. As he handed it to me, I told him that I'd never had a God of Fire (gasp!), so I would be happy to include it in one of "My Weekend Cigar" reviews - and away we go!

Now, these two year-aged cigars rolled to 5¼" x 50 ain't exactly cheapos. A box of 10 will cost you around $190, so you can appreciate my glee in getting one gratis. The God of Fire Don Carlos 2006 sports an Ecuadorian wrapper leaf cured to a gorgeous, brick-hued patina that encases an all-Dominican filler & binder tobacco blend. The cigar was perfectly packed and the cap clipped off in a neat little disc. The pre-light flavor was earthy, woody, and leathery with no trace of spiciness, and drew effortlessly.

The foot lit evenly across and the smoke remained in-line with the pre-lit flavor; just a lot more earthy and leathery, with notes of sweet cedar, oak, and in terms of texture, extremely creamy. I paired the cigar with a bottle of spring water because I wanted to make sure I tasted as much of the flavors in the cigar as possible, and I was glad I did.

As the cigar burned past the first inch, it hedged a little off-track, but quickly righted itself. By the halfway point, an appealing nutty flavor began to creep in. Up to this point, the cigar was very consistent in terms of it's character and strength, which I would have to classify as full-bodied, but not in the overpowering sense.

By the third act, I detected a little grassiness and a note of tea in the smoke, but it did not detract from the predominantly woody and leathery flavors that lingered on the palate. If anything, it just made the cigar that much more interesting.

This was quite a "sophisticated" cigar, and I can only imagine now how well it would be complemented by a glass of The Macallan or a very fine vintage Port.

I smoked the cigar down to about an inch, and it held up beautifully. Here again, we have another cigar that's worth the investment for those very special occasions.

For more information on these cigars, visit the God Of Fire website, and thanks once again to Keith Park for turning me on to this rare and wonderful treat.

~ Gary Korb