Monday, June 29, 2009

Famous Cigar Expo '09 Wrap-up

In spite of the rain which pre-empted the boxing match that was scheduled for Friday night's VIP ticket holder festivities, Famous Smoke Shop's Cigar Expo 2009 got off to a great start and never looked back until the lights were finally shut-off at 9:00 PM on Saturday.

At around 4:00 PM Friday afternoon, Miami Cigars set-up shop in the Famous Smoke Shop Retail store where customers and guests alike could enjoy a cold bottle of Presidente Beer and choose from the company's latest selections, including the new Nestor Miranda Special Selection Ruky, La Aurora Barrel Aged, 1495, plus Cubao cigars from E/O brands, whom they now also distribute. Miami Cigars execs, Rene Castañeda and Jose Blanco were in-store to host the event and greet guests.

By six P.M. most of the vendors had arrived, among who included Nick Perdomo, Avo Uvezian, Jorge Padron, Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley Cigars (who brought his son Alec to help out), David Blanco of Los Blancos Cigars, Joe Chiusano of Cusano Cigars, Dylan Austin of Camacho Cigars, Nestor Plasencia, Abraham Shafir of Tamboril, Michael Cellucci of Drew Estate, Pete Johnson (Tatuaje), George Rico of Gran Habano, Gene Emond of Graycliff Cigars, Eddie Ortega of E/O brands, Nimish Desai of Rocky Patel Cigars, Keith Sparacio, Seanna Tobin and Micheal Giannini, of General Cigar, Rich Perelman of, Gene Arganese, Abe Flores (Flor De Gonzalez), Tim Swail of Humidipak, Victor Vitale (The Cigar Agency), and Heather Phillips of Heavenly Cigars.

Although the exhibition boxing didn't happen due to safety reasons (the mat was too wet from the rain earlier), the lingerie show by Bare Elegance in Bethlehem, PA went off without a hitch.

On Saturday the weather was perfect: mostly sunny, warm and breezy. Don Jose Pepin Garcia came with a small posse which included his lovely daughter Janny. Also in attendance were Jon Huber and Paul Spence of CAO Cigars who brought the custom, "Lady Liberty" bike made by Sucker Punch Sally's, Brenda Doyle of XiKAR, Inc., Manuel Quesada of Fonseca, Casa Magna, et. al., Ernesto Perez Carrillo and his son Ernesto Jr., and Brad Mayo of Jameson Cigars. Kinky Friedman and "Little Jewford" of Kinky Friedman Cigars made their debut, as did Roberto Alonso of Flor de Gonzalez (who brought their own roller), while Altadis U.S.A. brought back former Playboy Playmate, Shannon James, to sign photos. Other vendors included Oliva Cigars, Kristoff Cigars, Vector lighters, Carlos Toraño cigars, John Hay Cigars, and Avalon Cigars.

My apologies to those I may have unintentionally omitted, along with a HUGE thank you to ALL the vendors who took time out from their busy pre-IPCPR show schedules to attend.

Overall, the guests were delighted with the event, many of whom had attended in previous years, citing that this was the best Ciga Expo yet. The food, provided by Gennaro's Restaurant in Easton, PA was delicious and served in a timely manner, while several micro breweries poured their own special beers. Music was provided by DJ Frank Pulli, plus a live band, "Tower Suite," who were kind enough to let Nick Perdomo (drums), Abe Flores (bass), and myself (keys) the chance to jam on a couple of tunes. Drew Estate Cigars sponsored a casino tent where guests could play poker, blackjack, roulette, etc. and win chips to trade-in for Drew Estate cigars.

Lots of trips to the Dominican Republic and Honduras were given away, including a trip to Nick Perdomo's factory in Esteli, where the winners will also get to stay in his home. Dozens of other raffle prizes were given away courtesy of practically every manufacturer who showed-up. There was also a box provided for cigar donations to the troops which, thankfully, looked pretty well stocked.

Special thanks to Brian Hewitt and Walt White of who were among some of the cigar community reporters in attendance. They've recorded a video with a candid wrap-up of Cigar Expo in which "yours truly" briefly appears slightly punch-drunk from too much sun, too many cigars, and too little sleep.

I've also got some video from the event that I'll be editing over the next couple of days, so keep your eyes peeled for that. In the meantime, you can see all the great photos taken by Famous Smoke Shop's own Joe Ledva and Bill Miller.

If you were at the Cigar Expo and want to leave a comment, please do.

So, until next year's Cigar Expo, adios amigos!

~ Gary Korb

Friday, June 26, 2009

Meeting your makers

This weekend marks the start of the year's friendliest herf: Famous Smoke Shop's Cigar Expo 2009. Dozens of the world's foremost cigar manufacturers will be there to hand out their finest offerings as over 450 cigar smokers converge at the leading online cigar retailer's Easton, PA headquarters. Food, fun, a little fantasy, and plenty of thick blue cigar smoke will ensue during the course of the 12-hour event.

There's also something to be said for getting to meet the cigar manufacturers in-person. It puts a face to many of the cigars we know and love, giving us an added sense of appreciation for them, too.

Speaking for myself, when manufacturer execs come to our offices for a meeting, or when their sales reps host an in-store event, I always gain a little more admiration for their company.

Every premium handmade cigar is unique in its own way, and from what I've seen over the years, they're all made with love. There's no better way to understand this than by talking to the makers, almost all of whom are of Cuban descent and have skillfully carried on the traditions handed down to them through previous generations, among which include their own unique blending secrets.

Let's face it, ardent cigar smokers are also big fans. In a lot of cases, just being handed a cigar by Rocky Patel, Nick Perdomo, Jonathan Drew, Pepin Garcia, Avo Uvezian, Jose Blanco, or Jorge Padron - to list of some of the big cats - is enough to enjoy their cigars all that much more, not to mention getting to converse with them, too. And let's not forget about the boutique cigar makers, like Pete Johnson (Tatuaje), Espinosa/Ortega (601, Cubao, Mi Barrio), Alec Bradley (Tempus, Maxx), Cusano (Cuvee), Jesus Fuego, Pinar Del Rio, and the like, who may have an even more dedicated fan base. In both cases, I've even seen cigar smokers ask for their autographs!

But all that's cool. Because after all, as cigar smokers we're a very special group of individuals, and we couldn't have this wonderful sense of community if it weren't for the cigar makers. So even if you're not attending the Famous Cigar Expo this weekend, the next time you have the chance, get out there and meet your maker.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: Tatuaje Havana VI Nobles

As many of you fathers and sons hopefully did yesterday, I enjoyed a Father's Day cigar with my brother during a break in the insufferable rain that's plagued the northeast these past few weeks. My brother lit-up CAO Criollo Pato, while I partook of a Tatuaje Havana VI Nobles I purchased as part of a Tatuaje Robusto variety sampler. The blend consists of an all-Nicaraguan blend with an attractive and oily Colorado-hued wrapper. The triple cap is superb and clipped-off perfectly, followed by a nice, easy draw.

Pairing it up with a glass of Smoking Loon Pinot Noir, the pre-light had that wonderful earthy-cocoa flavor I normally associate with Padron cigars. But once lit, it was nothing like that at all.

ACT I: The cigar started out with a smooth, medium-bodied character. The smoke was especially creamy with a mostly earthy-woody flavor underpinned by some toasty-nutty notes.

ACT II: By the 2-inch mark the cigar had changed-up to a much more full-bodied smoke. The core flavors were still there, but now heavier and spicier with a note of sweetness in the mix. Another impressive feature of this cigar was the burn. The ash was firm, flawless, and held on for at least an inch between ashing.

ACT III: In the final two inches, the cigar held-up nicely even after an unexpected re-light. The spiciness picked-up somewhat, but the smoke remained creamy, woody and spicy with that little glimmer of sweetness. Not a complex cigar IMO, but really solid, and left me wanting more, though I might opt for a single malt on the next go-round.

The Tatuaje Havana VI cigars have been compared to the classic Cuban cigars in flavor, and I can see now where that comparison comes from. Highly recommended for the full-bodied fan.

Appearance: 9
Construction: 10
Burn: 9
Draw: 9
Aroma: 8
Flavor: 9
Final Score: 9.0

If you've smoked any of the Tatuaje Havana VI cigars, please leave a comment to compare notes.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Legend of "Ugly Coyote" cigars

In the mood for a good yarn? Then gather 'round for a tall tale about some new cigars.

It all started back in the late 1860's. The Civil War was over. Many Americans were heading West where the women were loose, the land was cheap, and the promise of "The American Dream" awaited anyone who could survive the journey. Along the way, men smoked long, thin cigars that they rolled themselves.

As the legend goes, one night while the wagons were circled, a man known as "Big Buck" Doyle was on watch and tending to the campfire. As Buck leaned over to light-up one of his cigars, from out of nowhere a big coyote jumped on him. Buck went for his knife, but before he could put his blade into the beast, the coyote snatched the cigar out of his mouth and ran off.

Alarmed by the scuffle, some of the other men came running out to see if Buck was alright. After Buck explained what happened, one of men said, "You're lucky, my friend. That could 'a been one ugly mess."

"One thing's for sure," said Buck, "That was one ugly coyote," and from then on, he began calling his cigars "Ugly Coyote."

* * *

Sold exclusively at Famous Smoke Shop, Ugly Coyote cigars are modeled after the highly popular Backwoods cheroots. Handmade in Honduras with all-natural imported tobaccos, and rolled to a 4½" x 32 shape with a bushy foot, they're available in pouches of eight cigars or boxes of 10 pouches (80 cigars). The smoke has a naturally sweet, woody flavor and aroma offering a mild, relaxing alternative to Backwoods with much higher quality at a much lower price.

If you're a Backwoods smoker and looking for something new, these rustic looking stogies are well worth checking out.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: Rocky Patel Edge Lite Toro

Yesterday I took my two sons down the shore (that's what we Jersey folks call "the beach") to stay with my parents for a week of fun. Since I like sitting and watching the waves with a good cigar, I brought one that I haven't smoked in quite a while. It was a Rocky Patel Edge Lite Toro that must have been in my humidor for at least a couple of years.

The cigar was in excellent condition. The Connecticut wrapper had darkened some and was still oily. With the easterly ocean breeze blowing right at me I only got half the cigar lit. That said, the cigar showed-off its excellent construction, as within a few minutes it was burning perfectly. Moreover, despite the breeze, the ash burned so firmly it held up almost two inches before it gave in to the wind (see my cell phone photo at right).

Although this cigar is supposed to be a milder version of the Rocky Patel Edge cigars, the smoke was abnormally peppery and strong. I've had enough of these cigars in the past to note that I didn't remember them being so spicy. In any event, I paired it with a bottle of Poland Spring water, relaxing on the sand, and enjoying its sweet aroma as I watched my boys build a sand castle. Ah, the joys of Fatherhood.

Overall, the smoke was dominated by a strong woody flavor with a hefty dollop of black and red pepper from start to finish. I smoked it down to about the two-inch mark, by which time the wind had begun to reek havoc with the wrapper.

Although I've enjoyed this cigar in the past and recommended it often, this particular Edge Lite left me wanting. My faith in Rocky's consistency over the years, especially with his Edge lines, caused me to think that maybe it was just an oddball.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cigar Review: Nestor Miranda 20th Anniversary "Danno" Habano Rosado

By Gary Korb

In honor of National Nestor Miranda Cigar Day, I felt it only appropriate to I post my review of The Nestor Miranda 20th Anniversary "Danno." As you know, I've reviewed the mainline Nestor Miranda Special Selection cigars in recent months, and they've become one of my new faves. But this specially blended 20th Anniversary model, which celebrates Miami Cigar's 20th year in business, is in a class by itself.

Named for Nestor Miranda's late son, Daniel, the Danno was "re-blended and 'tweaked'" by Señor Miranda and Pepin Garcia. It's rolled to one size, a voluptuous 7" x 56, and presented in boxes of 20 cigars. Limited to only 1,000 boxes each per wrapper version (the cigar is also offered in a Habano Oscuro wrapper), it's only available for sale in local neighborhood cigar stores.

ACT I: The cigar is beautiful to look at and firmly packed throughout. Capped with a Cuban-style pigtail, the wrapper is flawless and sports an oily, even-toned, dark-reddish patina. The cap sliced-off neatly, and the cold draw was unhindered offering earthy, dark tobacco notes. This is one chewy mouthful of a cigar, too.

Once lit, the smoke was thick, creamy, and medium bodied. As the cold draw predicted, the cigar served up a base of dark, earthy-woody flavors laced with a fruity sweetness and light peppery notes on the finish.

ACT II: The smoke began to build in strength and spiciness, while retaining its underlying sweetness and creamy texture. The burn to this point was razor sharp, and the ash firm, tapping off in one-inch nuggets. This was where most of the meat was, and each puff was as flavorful as the one that preceded it.

ACT III: The smoke was now at its peak, shifting into a potent mix of wood, raisins, and a healthy dose of black pepper. I smoked it down to just under an inch. Though the Danno was a very "heady" smoke, it never became uncomfortably overpowering.

Overall, a highly consistent, bold-tasting luxury-class cigar that more experienced palates will appreciate. In a word: Exquisite.

Nestor Miranda 20th Anniversary "Danno" Habano Rosado
Size/Strength: 7 x 56 / Full
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano Rosado
Filler: Nicaraguan
Binder: Nicaraguan
Appearance: 10
Construction: 10
Burn: 9
Draw: 9
Aroma: 9
Flavor: 9
Final Score: 9.3

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: Famous 70th Anniversary Garcia Family Robusto

After a fun-filled weekend spent with my two sons, last night I finally got to kick back and enjoy a new cigar on my deck as I watched the moon rise in a ball of blazing orange. The cigar is one of newest 70th Anniversary releases to arrive at Famous Smoke Shop: The Famous 70th Garcia Family cigars series. The "family" the label refers to is that of Don Jose Pepin Garcia. The cigars are made at his factory in Nicaragua with an all-Nicaraguan filler & binder blend deftly rolled in a dark Nicaraguan Habano Rosado Oscuro wrapper.

Many of you know I work for Famous Smoke Shop, so you can take this critique with the proverbial "grain of salt" if you like. But whether you choose to take my word or not, this cigar was one helluva smoke.

Act I: The construction was first-rate: densely packed; a flawless wrapper with barely noticeable veins, and a dark, chocolately patina. When lit, I detected a strong floral aroma. I've noticed this at times when I smoke outdoors. Maybe because the air was heavy with fresh Spring flowers and pollen (I'm just guessing), but it was very appealing. Here, in the first stage, the smoke also had a pleasant herbal character and wasn't as spicy as expected. As it continued to smoke into the first inch, I picked up a strong woody flavor laced with a fruity sweetness, similar to cherries, and some spicy notes. Not a peppery spice, something more exotic that was hard to identify. All I know is I liked it.

Act II: At this point the cigar had a familiarity to it; was similar in flavor and strength to the Nestor Miranda Special Selection Robusto I smoked a couple of weeks ago, which is also made by Pepin. The wrappers are similar, too, which may account for the coincidence, but the 70th Garcia Family Robusto had a much deeper and darker tobacco flavor. So, if you've had any of the NMSS, I suggest comparing them for yourself.

Act III: The smoke shifted to stronger wood and spice flavors and was more peppery, too, while the fruity element had all but ceased. At about the one-an-a-half-inch mark I noticed it starting to turn a bit, but kept it going to about three-quarters-of-an-inch before putting it down.

As full-flavored cigars go, it hit on all cylinders. I would also like to smoke this cigar again after about six months of home aging and compare. I have a good feeling it will improve dramatically.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cigar Ash Paranoia

How many times has this happened to you? You notice your cigar has a nice length of ash extending from it. You think about tapping it off, but first you gently nudge it against the side of the ashtray. Resistance. Good! You proceed to take your next puff, then...PLUNK!...the ash is lying in your lap trailed by a powdery wake of black, white and gray.

I liken this phenomenon to riding a bike. Ride it often enough and at some point you're going to fall off. Same thing with cigars. Smoke enough of them, and you're inevitably going to get "ashed."

This got me wondering whether cigar smokers who like to let the ash go as long as possible are the "risk takers," while those who who've been ashed one too many times are the "protectors," ashing their cigars more frequently for fear of soiling themselves. Perhaps the latter group has developed "cigar ash paranoia," thus, becoming "ashophobics."

I believe the relaxation that comes from smoking a good cigar should be held accountable. You get so caught up in the routine of reaching for the cigar and bringing it toward you (perhaps you're in mid-conversation at the time), that you just don't realize how long the ash has become and...PLUNK!

In any event, although it's messy and somewhat humiliating, ashing yourself is no biggie. I've seen it happen to the best. So, take some advice from an old song: just pick yourself up; dust yourself off, and start all over again.

If you can relate, please leave a comment.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, June 1, 2009

My Weekend Cigar: CAO America Potomac and MX2 Box-Press

This past Saturday, the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store had an in-store event with CAO Cigars. As usual, their regional sales rep, Paul Spence was on-hand to promote the lines and answer customer questions. The last time Paul was here he was kind enough to give me a preview sample of their CAO LX2 cigars. This time, he handed me a cigar that will be debuting at the upcoming IPCPR Trade Show in New Orleans, August 8-12: a CAO MX2 "Box-Press." I'll get to that beauty in a minute, but first I want to talk about the CAO America Potomac I smoked in the store that day.

I could have had my pick of the litter that day, but I chose the CAO America Potomac because I hadn't had one in a very long time, and am I glad I did. This was what I call "a perfect smoke," in every way: construction, burn and flavor. The cigar was well-packed and lit perfectly, too. The smoke was medium to full-bodied with a rich, earthy and naturally-sweet flavor. Many cigars tend to taste very woody, but this smoke was very creamy and more herbal in character. You could tell how well the cigar was rolled by the ash, which formed a perfect cone around the Ligero that was in the dead center of the cigar. I paired the cigar with a cup of coffee and savored it down to a finger-burning three-quarters-of-an-inch. This was really a marvelously flavorful and multidimensional cigar that I'm glad I returned to; I believe I'll be smoking these a lot more often in the future, too.

Now on to the CAO MX2 cigars Box-Press (see my cell-phone photo below). If a cigar ever looked like a candy bar, this was it. The Maduro wrapper glistened with mouthwatering goodness. The cigar is also double-banded. It sports the die cut MX2 band, plus a second silver band that simply says "box-press." My sample was cut to a Robusto size.

The cap clipped off neatly and lit perfectly across. I smoked it out on my deck Sunday night under the stars with a glass of Canada Dry Bitter Lemon. Not only did this cigar LOOK like a chocolate bar, but the flavor was also intensely chocolately. The smoke was thick, creamy and medium-bodied with gobs of natural sweetness, earthiness, and chocolate with a trace of woodiness in the mix. The flavor was also remarkably consistent, too. Even more remarkable was the firmness of the ash on this cigar. I did something I've rarely done with the cigar, too: I stood it on its ash and it held up for second or two. Considering it was very windy, that was good enough for me. (If I had given it a chance, I think the ash would have held-on for almost the entire length of the cigar!)

During the second act, the cigar gained in strength and pulled somewhat of a reversal. The flavor was now more woody laced with chocolate and developed a more spicy edge as well. I smoked it down to just over an inch. I had been puffing on it a lot and sensed it might turn bitter. Overall, a superbly flavorful smoke - nice and chewy, too - and I'm looking forward to smoking another at the show for comparison.

For those of you who prefer a box-press shape, as CAO did with their Italia Box-Press (another personal fave), IMO the upcoming MX2 Box-Press is the bomb.

~ Gary Korb