Monday, April 27, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: Cuvée Grand Lancero

Last night the weather was perfect for enjoying a genuinely rare treat on my deck under a starlit sky - a Cuvée Grand Lancero. I say "rare," because these Cuvée cigars were made expressly for the European market. It was one of several gifted to me by my good friend J.T. Guagliardo of Cusano Cigars. I found it in the bottom of one of my humidors, where it's probably been for close to a year. (I liken my humidors to boxes of chocolates; I never know what I'm gonna get.)

Before I get to the review, let me add that with regard to my blog on Cleansing the palate before smoking a cigar, over the weekend I picked up a bottle of Bitter Lemon, and I must say that drinking it before I lit-up really did the trick. It was a little sweet, but the tanginess of the lemon juice wipes out the sugary taste pretty quickly, and my palate really felt "clean." I continued to drink it during the entire smoke.

Now for the cigar: Made in limited edition and individually numbered (mine was No.08290), the Cuvée Grand Lancero is rolled to 7" x 40. The blend is comprised of Honduran longfiller, Mexican binder, and a beautifully dark, even-toned Ecuadorian wrapper. (FYI - Cigar Aficionado featured it as their "Cigar of the Week" in April, 2007 with an outstanding "90" rating.)

The cap clipped off nicely and the pre-light had a good draw. Once lit, the smoke was creamy and medium-bodied with strong, sweet-woody flavors, and just a hint of coffee on the finish. However, the cigar was not sweet in a sugary way. The sweetness was more like that of fruit, which in this case, I'd have to say "cherry." So for me, the Cuvée Grand Lancero had a predominantly cherry wood flavor, which remained consistent until the end of the second act.

I should also mention that the aroma of this cigar was especially nice. It reminded me of the smell of a campfire with scents of leather and Spanish cedar mixed in. Plus, it ashed perfectly in little half-inch nuggets during my entire smoke.

During the last third, the cigar lost its "cherry" sweetness while taking on a more full-bodied dimension. The woody flavor became more robust, and the smoke was also much spicier. I let the cigar go out in the last inch-and-a-half because it was just starting to turn bitter, and I didn't want to ruin what was a very pleasurable experience.

Finally, I don't understand why more cigar smokers are into Lanceros. Maybe it's because the shape, admittedly, feels a little wimpy in the mouth. But regardless of its size, I can't imagine why anyone would want to avoid smoking any cigar this good.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cleansing the palate before smoking a cigar

This post was inspired by my good friend, Bill W., during a cigar store event at which we got to talking about cleansing the palate either before or between cigars.

Actually, it's a subject I've never really given much thought to, but according to Bill, many cigar smokers use Coke or water, while his trusty palate cleanser is a glass of Bitter Lemon.

Based on the tangy sorbet that's often served between courses at formal dinners and fine restaurants, it seems to make sense. This concept is also related to one of my favorite drinks with a cigar: tonic water with a splash of Rose's Lime Juice. I like drinking it when sampling a new cigar because I believe it helps cleanse the palate between puffs. The only detriment to tonic & lime juice is that it's also a bit sweet, which may affect the flavors of the cigar. For the most accurate cigar sampling, purified water is probably the best way to go.

It's been said that what you ate prior to smoking a cigar can affect the way the flavors lay on the palate. IOW, the same cigar can taste entirely different every time you smoke it, depending on what you had to eat beforehand. This raises the issue of whether or not you should cleanse your palate before lighting-up your cigar. I can't see how it could hurt, but I'd be willing to bet my humidor that most cigar smokers don't.

One thing I would definitely avoid is brushing your teeth, mouthwash, or mints before lighting up. Those things always leave a lingering aftertaste on the palate, and we all know how crappy fruit juice tastes after you brush your teeth. The more I think about it, the more the Bitter Lemon seens to make sense. I'm going to pick up a bottle next time I'm at the market, and I'll report back.

So, to cleanse or not to cleanse? That is the question. If you do, let me know by leaving a comment. Conversely, if you don't, let me know why, too.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: San Cristobal Clasico

We had our first really beautiful weekend in the Lehigh Valley, and this past Sunday I thought I'd try something new for me, so I took out a 5" x 50 San Cristobal Clasico that I had purchased about a month ago at the suggestion of a friend.

San Cristobal cigars are an Ashton creation made for them by, guess who?, Don José Pepin Garcia, and as puros go, are real beauties. Starting with the lush, perfectly even-toned Nicaraguan wrapper leaf, the cigar is adorned by one of the most attractive "old world" designed cigar bands, which features a colorful parrot. (My phone camera shot above doesn't do it justice. The wrapper was actually a couple of shades lighter in real life.)

Pre-light: The triple cap clipped-off (as I like it) in a perfectly round disc. The draw was excellent, and had I been blindfolded, I'd swear it was a Padrón Anniversary 1964 from its distinctive pre-light earthiness and cocoa & coffee bean essences.

The experience: Once lit however, the cigar took on a slightly different flavor character. The smoke was thick, ultra-creamy, and had a solid base of sweet, woody flavors with just a hint of cocoa in the mix, as well as in the aroma.

I paired it with a cup of coffee, which made a good match. Each draw was a creamy dream, but the flavor never varied from what I found to be a very appealing and enjoyable sweet, woody smoke from start to finish. I also wondered how this cigar would taste if paired with a really good single malt to counter some of the sweetness.

My gut tells me this is a much more complex cigar than I experienced because the smoke had something else going on in it that I just couldn't put my finger on in terms of flavor. Regardless, this cigar, and maybe it was just due to this particular shape, was a full-flavored, one-note aria, but it was sung like the late Luciano Pavarotti would have performed it in his prime.

The only downside to the cigar was the burn (see photo at left), but I blame that more on the wind conditions, since, when I turned the canoed side into the breeze, the cigar righted itself in the third act. The smoke was smooth as silk to the last half-inch, and due to it's perfect balance and lack of heavy spiciness, this is a cigar that even the novice can truly appreciate.

In a word: "par-excellence" and highly recommended.

~Gary Korb

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rediscovering great "lost cigars"

This week I had one of those little epiphanies that happen every so ofen. I've been going through this CAO 24 cigar sampler I bought about a month ago, It comes with six of the award-winning cigar manufacturer's finest line extensions in Robusto sizes: CAO Gold, Gold Maduro, CX2, CAO Maduro, Criollo, and Brazilia.

By now I've been through all six, but as I continue to smoke through the collection, there's one cigar in here I realized that I've overlooked since it's release, and it's really grown on me: the CAO Criollo Pato (shown). In the past I've smoked only a few CAO Criollos (in several sizes) and enjoyed them all, but now that I've been able to smoke several in succession I have a newfound appreciation for this particular blend.

This got me to thinking about other cigars that I've enjoyed, but only "toyed with," so to speak. As someone who works in the cigar business, there have been many excellent releases over the years that, as good as they were, just didn't "find an audience," as one colleague wrote to me during an email thread on this subject. As a result, I've been encouraged to try some 5-packs of these other "lost cigars" to rediscover them and see what I was missing.

Have you rediscovered any cigars you haven't smoked in a long time? If so, please leave a comment.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Tax Man Cometh. My cigar awaiteth.

It's finally here: Tax Day. Yuck. Time to 'fess up to the IRS and take your licks.

I filed my federal and state taxes back in January, but waited until last night to complete my local return. The reason? I knew I'd owe, and based on my local taxing authority's EIT rate of 1.5%, I knew it'd sting.

Yeah, I wasn't disappointed. But the good news is that it's over!

It's easy to equate a fine cigar with snapping photos - both are done on joyous occasions (Have you ever meet a funeral photographer?). But as I grow longer in the tooth, it occurs to me that few occasions in life call for a good cigar like Tax Day. For real.

I'm still deciding on what to smoke, but I have an Avo Compañero all lined up in my sights. What about you?

- Hayward Tenney

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On Obama's easing of travel restrictions to Cuba. Then what?

According to a report in today's New York Times, "President Obama demonstrated Monday that he was willing to open the door toward greater engagement with Cuba - but at this point, only a crack." The report added that "the announcement represents the most significant shift in United States policy toward Cuba in decades, and it is a reversal of the hard line taken by former President George W. Bush." Moreover, Mr. Obama, who is meeting later this week in Trinidad and Tobago with Latin American leaders, clearly wants to normalize relations with the estranged dictatorship. However, that's not enough for "El Former Presidente," Fidel Castro, who would rather see The President go the whole nine yards and lift the trade embargo altogether, which, in his words, would mean "real change."

Yesterday, as I listened to the pundits on the various cable news channels and talk radio, I got all sides of the story from Left to Right. Although there are still many exhiled Cubans and Cuban-Americans who oppose lifting the embargo, according to one talking head, Mr. Obama is basing his decision on the premise (perhaps the Whitehouse actually has solid poll data), that most Cubans living in the U.S. are tired of the embargo and are ready for change.

I support the President's decision, and starting with easing travel restrictions is a rational way to begin. My logic is based on what happened during the 1980's with President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev during "Glasnost." What eventually happened in Eastern Europe? "The Wall" came down.

Let the Cuban people get a little more of a taste of the West. Once the things that Cuban-Americans enjoy begin to trickle into Cuba, who knows? Maybe it will lead to another kind of "revolution," and the permanent lifting of the embargo.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Must a special cigar always be for a special occasion?

Cell phone RINGS: Bzzzzzzzzzzt...Bzzzzzzzzzzt...Bzzzzzzzzzzt…


"Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you!"

I immediately recognized the voice on the other end of the line: my Mom. She calls me every year to sing "Happy Birthday." After 29 years, it's a tradition that never ceases to put a smile on my face.

"Thanks Mom, but isn't tomorrow the 9th?"

We had a laugh about it, but it got me to thinking: Tomorrow is the day. What cigar will I smoke to celebrate?

I pondered it for a while, and felt a certain tension rising from my belly to my brain. This weekend we'll be hosting family at my house, primarily for Easter, but also in honor of Hayward's arrival on planet earth. Should I wait until then to smoke something truly spectacular?

I'm no millionaire, so while I savor an ultra-premium cigar from time to time, I can't afford one every day. But we're not promised tomorrow. When I become worm food, my collection of tobacco gems ain't going with me.

Many of us are cigar enthusiasts...some are hobbyists...some are borderline fetishists. Where do you rate? Is it smart to save "special" cigars for "special" times? Or is it a potential waste?

Please leave your thoughts with a comment.

- Hayward Tenney

Friday, April 3, 2009

Why I don't buy Cuban cigars

Sure, I've smoked Cuban cigars - guilty as charged - and have even enjoyed many of them, but I don't buy Cuban cigars. Actually the last time I bought Cuban cigars was about five years ago in Tijuana. They were Cohiba Robustos, and who even knows if they were genuine.

Let's face it, there is something to be said for Cuban cigars, but here's the rub: Whenever I speak to a cigar smokers who claim to buy Cuban cigars on a regular basis - they always have "a connection" - I tend to get this visceral reaction. Is it because I'm jealous that they can afford a $300 box of cigars? Maybe a little, but it's not about money. It's about principles. Sure, there are still some very fine cigars made in Cuba, and the Cuban soil and climate are perfect for growing prime leaf, but remember, the government makes the cigars, and we all know what happens when the government takes control of an industry. (Beware auto manufacturers.)

If you're a cigar smoker, they you're probably aware that many of the manufacturers of premium non-Cuban cigars are themselves Cuban expatriates. Moreover, the cigars are all produced from Cuban seed tobaccos. Families like the Perdomos, Olivas, Padróns, Toraños, Eiroas, Plasencias, the Carrillos, Quesadas - I could go on ad infinitum - have all been able to create some amazing cigars working with different soils in other countries. In many ways, the cigars created by the aforementioned are every bit as Cuban as a Havana Partagas Serie D or Montecristo No.2.

Using the skills that have been handed down for generations, these grandmasters working in Miami, Tampa, The Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua have worked their tails off, independently from scratch mind you, to exceed the standards of their native country and create the fine brands they are today.

When an American buys a box of Cuban cigars, I doubt they ever consider, or can even relate to, the brutality many of these same Cuban families have had to endure at the hands of Castro's goons, as illustrated in this quote taken directly from the Perdomo cigars website:

A quiet and peaceful man steadfastly opposed to Castro and the communist revolution, Silvio Perdomo was soon arrested in his own home and quickly tried and incarcerated in the notorious Isle of Pines prison where he endured his harshest treatment. Three years later he was transferred to La Cabana, a murky 18th century fortress overlooking Havana Bay. For the next 12 excruciating years, Silvio suffered through squalid conditions, torture and near-starvation at La Cabana and four other Cuban prisons. Nick, Sr. was also a target of the wrath and violence inherent in establishing Castro's "New Cuba." Ambushed by pro-Castro guerillas, he was shot and critically wounded - within view of the very home his father Silvio was arrested and abducted from.
José Oliva has often told me of his personal disdain for the Castro regime. David Blanco of Los Blancos Cigars once told me a story about a relative of his who, despite hating Castro, had an important job in the regime. One day he received a call from a friend telling him he was being set up for a "hit." In a heartbeat he was on the next boat to Miami, and had to send for his wife and children later. Can you imagine not even having time to say goodbye to your wife and children? There are countless untold stories of families enduring dishonor, oppression, strife, and death.

So when someone tells me about the great box of Cubans he just picked-up, I think of it as a slap in the face to these fine gentleman, and all that they have achieved since putting their families' homeland behind them. Just walk through any cigar store today and look at all the marvelous cigars the free market has created! I don't see the need to buy Cuban cigars. And anyone who actually believes that Cuban cigars are superior to all other handmade cigars, is seriously misguided.

I think its fair to say that many of the manufacturers would like to see the embargo lifted, if only to blend their cigars with Cuban tobacco. Maybe when that happens, I'll buy a Cuban cigar. But realistically, I'd say the Cubans have a lot of catching up to do first.

~ Gary Korb

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

March Fools

You'll recall the recent shameless marketing ploy of a certain cigar manufacturer. As if to outdo themselves, yesterday Gurkha exhumed the dead horse of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and mercilessly beat its rotting corpse.

"Gurkha Cigars is happy to announce that they too are part of oval office history," said Roy MacLaren, Vice President Sales and Marketing of Gurka…"Several inside sources have finally confirmed that Gurkha Cigars was indeed the cigar that was used between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. It was in fact the Grand Reserve Gurkha Cigar, which has been reported to be one of Bill Clinton’s favorite stogies!"

These guys have really taken to the notion of there being "no such thing as bad press." I don't know about you, but I can hardly imagine being more disinclined to smoke one of their cigars.

Various sources list the Grand Reserve as having debuted in 2004. If that's true, then it predated the affair by 7-9 years, making this "story" an early April Fools joke at best. But that's not even the point.

Look, Gurkha…you don't make terrible cigars. Some are even pretty decent. I don't know why you feel the need to sully your brand with these kinds of PR tactics. What I DO know is that good marketing is more than becoming a household name. Just ask Monica.

Do you find this as annoying as I do? Or am I reading too much into it? Please leave your thoughts with a comment.

- Hayward Tenney