Friday, August 28, 2009

Some thoughts on the 601 Habano Oscuro Tronco and beyond

As I was leaving the office last Friday to start a well-deserved vacation week, I stopped into the Famous Smoke Shop retail store to see what was happening. There's usually a good crowd in the store on Friday night. Under the flat screen TV is a PC that's usually showing the special deal on CigarMonster.com. Out of curiosity, I took a peak at the page and saw a 5-pack of 601 Habano Oscuro Tronco on sale for $19.95. It was hard to resist, and according to the Cigar Monster countdown clock I had less than two minutes to make a decision before it reverted to the regular $27.36 price. My gut said, "Go for it!" and next thing I know, store manager Dave Zayas is ringing me up.

I decided to smoke one of those cigars last night. It had been a long time since I'd had a 601 Habano Oscuro (a.k.a. "601 Green"). After last night's affair with this marvelous cigar, I've added the 601 Habano Oscuro Tronco (5" x 52) to my all-time favorite cigars list. From start to finish, this cigar chugged along dense with dark, chewy, complex flavors. It's really a cigar you have to experience yourself to fully appreciate. I'd also place it among Don Pepin Garcia's best cigars. I also concluded that each cigar Pepin creates is like a song. They all have a common thread stylistically, yet each blend is totally unique in its own rite. I don't think the cigar business has seen such a prolific pair of hands in quite some time, if ever.

That said, I really didn't plan on getting into a cigar review today. Instead, I wanted to point out something that crossed my mind last night as I was relaxing with my cigar. I was thinking that the 601 brand is going to be around for a very long time. Then I started to think about the company who produces them, E/O Brands. I think E/O is a good example of the kind of cigar producer with whom the current and next generation of cigar smokers are now beginning to align themselves.

I'm reminded of what happened in the movie business when independent filmmakers began producing more popular movies than the big studios, giving us edgy directors like Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez for starters.

This similar trend in the cigar business may be attributed to "directors" like Pete Johnson (Tatuaje), and more recently, Dion Giolito with his Illusione cigars. Moreover, I think Sam Leccia (nub, Cain) can also be counted among those "indies" who's stars have also risen.

Some other companies to consider are Alec Bradley, who's been free-rolling since releasing their highly-acclaimed Tempus cigars a couple of years ago. I also feel that Drew Estate's time has come in the traditional-blend cigar market. They've been working their Liga Privada No.9 cigars line slowly and steadily, and it's earned a well-deserved place among the finer limited editions.

So, is this the beginning of the end of the established, BIG cigar company brands? Will more new cigar smokers opt for the more unique rather than the conventional? Will brands like Macanudo, Partagas, Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann, et. al., eventually be forced to fold up their tents? Certainly some interesting questions to consider, and I welcome your comments.

~ Gary Korb

Thursday, August 20, 2009

IPCPR 2009: One week later

It's now been a week since the 77th annual IPCPR convention closed its doors. I brought home plenty of new cigars to review, but that's a given. As I spent most of this week editing the three hours of video Hayward Tenney and I shot in New Orleans, I thought I'd share what else I took home from the show.

According to most of the manufacturers I met, although the show was under-attended, orders were strong. This being my 7th show, I couldn't help but notice that the hall was quieter, the aisles roomier and there were only a handful of exhibitors who had noticeably large crowds.

Although I didn't do a video interview with Jose Oliva of Oliva Cigars, as I have in the past, I spoke with him about nub cigars creator, Sam Leccia's new blend, Cain cigars. Referred to as a "straight ligero," Cain is rolled with 25% Estelí ligero, 27% Condega ligero and 30% Jalapa ligero for a grand total of 82%. Jose explained that no cigar can be entirely of Ligero. If so, it wouldn't burn, there must be at least 20% of other tobaccos which have better combustion properties to help the ligero along.

Another lesson I learned came from Jose Blanco of La Aurora Cigars concerning the making of Lanceros. The secret to rolling a good Lancero is the placement of the ligero. Because the cigar is so thin, the roller must place the ligero precisely in the center of the roll to achieve the proper flavor and burn.

Kinky Friedman is always a trip. In the Kinky Cigars booth, Kinky talked about making another run for Governor,. He believes the market should determine where one can smoke, not the government, and if elected, he'll fight for smokers' rights and try to restore some sanity with regard to our fundamental constitutional freedoms that are being stripped away by overly officious officials.

The latter issue was the most ubiquitous among all of the manufacturers I spoke to. Premium cigar smokers make up a very small portion of smokers overall, which means they have to speak that much louder. Most of the manufacturers survived SCHIP (this time), but the day-by-day domino effect of smoking bans being passed in virtually every state remains the biggest threat of all. Nick Perdomo reminded me that Perdomo Cigars is the only manufacturer who actually lowered his prices in spite of the SCHIP tax. It's seems to be paying off, too, as most of his cigars are now priced within most consumers' "comfort zone."

One of the highlights for me was doing a video interview with Jose Pepin Garcia. When you see the video interview you'll have a better understanding of why Pepin's cigars are in such high demand. His passion for tobacco is nothing short of Zen-like. In spite of his success Pepin remains ever the humble tabaquero because he's focused solely on blending great cigars.

Another cigar family made its debut this year, the EP Carrillo selection from former La Gloria Cubana creator Ernesto Carrillo. I've have spoken to Ernesto many times over the years, and he's always gracious. Just as impressive were his new business partners, his son and daughter Ernie Jr. and Lissette, respectively. They're both bright and talented (Lissette is a Columbia Law School alum), and I have every confidence they'll carry on the tradition and honor of the Carrillo name.

On our last night in New Orleans, our group had dinner with Yadi Gonzalez-Vargas and Roberto Alonso of Flor de Gonzalez Cigars. I mention this not only because they are two of the nicest people I've met recently in this business, but I finally had a chance to try the "official cocktail" of New Orleans, The Sazerac. It was a bit too sweet for me, and unfortunately I couldn't smoke a cigar with it in the restaurant, but at least I had "the experience."

My apologies to those with whom I didn't have the chance to spend more time, such as Jorge Padron of Padron cigars, Jon Huber of CAO Cigars, Charlie Toraño of Toraño Cigars, Christian Eiroa of Camacho Cigars, Manolo Quesada, Gene Arganese, Avo Uvezian, Pete Johnson, Dion Giolito of Illusione Cigars (who I would have liked to get to know better), Chris McCalla, legislative director of IPCPR, and Gary J. Arzt, who was covering the show as we were, but we just couldn't seem to find each other. Thanks also to Rich Perelman and Pat Harris of Cigarcylopedia.com for letting Hayward and I chill-out in their booth for some well-needed downtime.

Finally, I want to thank all of the manufacturers we spoke to for taking the time to grant interviews with us, not to mention Rocky Patel, Cusano Cigars, and Drew Estate who also treated us to some fine New Orleans cuisine during our visit. Special thanks to Catherine Llibre, Executive Director of ProCigar, and master blender, Hendrik Kelner, who granted us a video interview about the annual ProCigar Festival, and the organization's commitment to preserving the high standards of cigar making in the Dominican Republic.

And so another IPCPR show fades into a haze of blue smoke…

~ Gary Korb

Thursday, August 13, 2009

IPCPR New Orleans 2009 Wrap-Up


By Hayward Tenney

I attended my first-ever IPCPR show this year in New Orleans, and I must confess my sheer amazement. Sure, I tried to play it all cool in the weeks approaching the show, but nothing could prepare me for what would ensue.

Working in the business has been a joyride, but meeting these manufacturers face-to-face is easily among my favorite all-time cigar experiences.

Most of these guys are the salt of the earth; I am humbled by their graciousness, both with their time and their cigars. Perhaps most evident is the universal passion they share.

I made note of a few facts along the way, which I will now share with you. Enjoy!

Fact: NOTHING inspires camaraderie like good food, a stiff drink, and fine cigars.

Fact: I stand 6' 2", and I am seriously dwarfed by Dion Giolito of Illusione cigars.

Fact: Sam Leccia of NUB cigars (and soon Cain cigars) fame is among the most innovative people I've ever met in this business, or any.

Fact: Kinky Friedman and Little Jewford are funny as all hell.

Fact: Don Jose Pepin Garcia's eyes light up like Christmas trees when you ask him about tobacco.

Fact: Jose Oliva and Nick Perdomo's business acumen is surpassed only by their dedication to quality tobacco and craftsmanship.

Fact: Besides making wonderful cigars, Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley cigars is impossibly charismatic.

Fact: Abe Flores and Juan Rodriguez of Pinar del Rio cigars know how to throw a party.

Fact: The fine folks of Rocky Patel cigars, Drew Estate cigars, and Flor de Gonzalez cigars understand that the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach.

Fact: Eddie Ortega and Erik Espinosa of EO Brands (601 cigars, Cubao cigars) are more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Fact: Nestor Miranda could well be the world's most interesting man.

These are the facts, and they cannot be disputed.

Friday, August 7, 2009

CigarMonster.com invades New Orleans!


Starting Saturday, August 8, CigarMonster.com will be running "Show-Stopper" cigar specials throughout the day, every day, during the annual IPCPR Convention and International Trade Show, which runs through Wednesday, August 12. The Cigar-Deal-A-Day site has even created a special an IPCPR New Orleans-themed Cigar Monster graphic just for the show (shown).

The Show-Stopper specials will be coordinated with our IPCPR reportage via the CigarAdvisor.com website. Famous Smoke Shop merchandiser, Humberto Gonzalez, will be "programming" many of the specials on-the-spot, depending on where Hayward and I are during the show.

If we're with Pepin Garcia, for example, we'll contact Humberto and he'll post a killer CigarMonster deal on something like the Famous 70th Anniversary Garcia Family cigars. The same goes for many of the other manufacturers we meet during the show.

In the meantime, online specials will be running all day long on dozens of other major premium cigars including 601, ACID, Alec Bradley, Arganese, Rocky Patel, Camacho, La Aurora, Oliva, Perdomo, Cusano, Plasencia, Famous exclusive brands, and far too many more to mention.

Check out these monster-size deals by logging on to the CigarAdvisor.com home page or by going directly to CigarMonster.com. You can also follow Cigar Monster on Twitter.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, August 3, 2009

How I saved my first cigar humidor


My first cigar humidor was a Diamond Crown by Reed & Barton. It was a 25 count box which set me back about $150. The cigar store owner was kind enough to knock $25 off the $175 shelf price, since I was also buying a large quantity of cigars, and some other accessories. The humidor came with a CREDO humidifier and an analog hygrometer, and I kept the box on the mantle of the fireplace in my first house. It always kept the cigars fresh year-round, even in the summer, when it got pretty warm in that old, pre-central-air-conditioned house. By the time I moved from that house to my second house the box was pretty well seasoned. I was also ready for a bigger humidor. I still have that Diamond Crown cigar humidor, and here's why:

Once I got the bigger humidor, I kept it at home and moved my old Diamond Crown to the office for stashing my everyday cigars, sample cigars, and a few special favorites. One thing I hadn't known about when I bought that first cigar humidor was that the lid should close on a cushion of air, which mine never did. However, based on its shallow bottom and heavy lid, I don't think that was ever possible, yet it never gave me a problem until several years later, by which time I had also replaced the original CREDO with a green foam humidifier. The humidity level was always too low no matter how many times I refilled the humidifier. Since I go through cigars rather quickly at the office, it didn't seem to matter all that much, but it gnawed at me. How could such a well-made humidor fail? I finally decided to move the humidor into the Famous Smoke Shop warehouse where I knew the conditions were perfect. I left the Diamond Crown humidor in there for over three years, which gave it a pretty good seasoning to say the least. But once I returned it to my office it began leaking again. I tried the dollar test and it failed miserably. Let me be clear: I'm not knocking the Diamond Crown humidors. Believe me, they're among the best made in the world. I blame it more on the basic design and the years of wear and tear on the hinges.

By this time, XiKAR had released their new crystal-based humidifiers and I wanted to see if their humidifiers could help save my old humidor. After all, the box had sentimental value, and I didn't want to put it back in the warehouse where I couldn't see it. Well, sure 'nuf, within a day after putting in the XiKAR humidifier, the box was percolating away nicely at a comfortable 66% RH with a room temp of about 73-degrees - a good balance. When the temperature goes down, the RH goes up accordingly and vice versa. IOW, the product lived up to its advertising.

So what does this all mean? Over the years, I've received a lot of emails from readers who have had problems balancing the conditions in their humidors with green foam humidifiers. I'm now convinced that the crystal type humidifiers are the are the most dependable, not to mention the most convenient way to humidify your cigars (extra large and cabinet-type humidors notwithstanding).

For the record: I'm not saying they're the ideal solution, especially if you have a serious leak in your humidor. Different humidors present different circumstances in terms of dealing with their particular biospheres. Plus, in fairness to CREDO, their unit, which had more of a clay-like material in it, did a better job than the green foam, but although it had a good run, it eventually became clogged after several years.

Generally speaking, I believe using a crystal-type humidifier will fare much better for you in the long run, and the green foam type humidifiers will eventually share the same fate as the Dodo bird.

~ Gary Korb