Friday, April 30, 2010

The Cigar Advisor cigar blog has moved



Dear CigarAdvisor Readers,

The CigarAdvisor cigar blog has moved. You can now find the blogs, "How to" guides, feature articles, videos, and tons of other information about premium cigars by going directly to CigarAdvisor.com.


It's been fun posting here, but I think you'll find this a significant change for the better.

Please also like us on our Cigar Advisor Facebook page, where you'll find even more articles, pictures, posts, and comments from our fans. You can also follow us on our CigarAdvisor Twitter page.

Please update your bookmarks accordingly, and thank you for staying with us.

Happy smokes,

Gary Korb
Executive Editor
CigarAdvisor.com

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Arturo Fuente Hemingway Signature


I picked up a 5-pack of Hemingway Signature cigars several years ago, smoked three of them, and placed the remaining two in one of my humidors. Yesterday, while searching for something to smoke, I wound up digging a little deeper than usual and voila!, there they were. It's been way too long, I thought, so off we went to the comfy chair with a mug of coffee and watched the ballgame.

This is one of my all-time favorite cigars and it did not disappoint. The Cameroon wrapper had darkened some and the cigar was well-packed. Although I would categorize the Hemingway Signature as "mild," by the last couple of inches it was stoking pretty well up in the medium-body range.

Upon lighting there's that marvelous shot of sweet tobacco that rides along an effortless draw. Living up to it's "perfecto" shape classification, the burn was clean, and the balance was dead center.

This is not a complex cigar, but it is amazingly consistent. The smoke offers a creamy base of sweet wood with a prevalent nutmeg flavor and a wonderful aroma. I also like its 6" x 47 dimensions, which are similar to another one of my favorite Arturo Fuente cigars, the 8-5-8 Flor Fina. (Try 'em in the Maduro!)

A good friend of mine once told me how much he enjoys the Hemingway Signature in the morning. I agree, and it really pairs well with coffee, too. But these cigars are great just about any time. Moreover, if you're just getting into smoking premium cigars, I recommend this cigar as a special treat. You'll see what I mean.

One last thing I noticed that some of you more experienced readers may already know. When I got down to those last couple of inches I let the cigar rest a little longer than usual. This allows the cigar to cool down and it helped keep it from becoming bitter, making it all that more enjoyable.

Try to make sure you always have a few Hemingway cigars in your collection. Considering their pedigree and popularity, the prices are pretty reasonable.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, April 23, 2010

Exploding cigar theory: Why some cigar wrappers split on you

I received a recent email from a reader asking, "What causes the wrapper to crack about an inch above the burn after I smoke half of it?" Although, thankfully, it doesn't happen on all cigars, if you're an avid cigar smoker, this has probably happened to you every so often.

One of the causes of this phenomenon is usually due to extra moisture in the cigar, which can result from having a higher than usual relative humidity in your cigar humidor, say, 72-75% or higher.

When the soup heats up the steam has nowhere to go but through the seams in the wrapper leaf, which, in turn, causes it to crack or split.

Another cause of wrapper splitting is drawing too often and/or too hard on your cigars. By doing so, you create more juices in the pipe and get the same results. A symptom related to this is a poor draw, which will cause you to draw harder on the cigar. In these cases, try using a cigar poker in the head and foot to loosen up the cause. If you're smoking a figurado (a tapered or pointed head cigar), it may help to shave a little more off the head.

Suffice it to say, by keeping your humidor at an average of 68% RH in a range of 65% - 70%, you can help keep the moisture level in your cigars at bay and avoid smoking an "exploding" cigar.

~ G.K.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Meanwhile...the Cuban cigar debate rages on

Recently I befriended a BOTL who, to say the least, is very passionate about cigars. As a result, we've had some great email exchanges over the past month. During a recent conversation about comparing Nicaraguan cigars to Cuban cigars, he offered the following opinion:

The new smokes coming out of Cuba are pretty frickin' great. The one thing they have over many Nicaraguans is a super harmonious blend. In a good Cuban cigar, all the flavor elements melt together like butter. Some Nics come close, like the El Centurion, LFD Double Press, Perdomo Cuban Parejo, Lot 23 and Champagne, Illusione, (but with a very Nic/Honduran flavor), and others.

I'm not saying Cubans are better than Nics, because that's a generalization that doesn't hold up. Some Cuban cigars are great while others suck, and the same goes for Nics. My current favorite cigar is the El Centurion, a Nic. Last night I smoked a [Cuban] RyJ Small Churchill. It was rated by CA (I don't often agree with their ratings) at 93 (I think). I didn't like it at all. That blend had little harmony to it. But the [Cuban] Hoyo de Monterrey and the Diplomatico have mouthwatering blends. It's funny how two cigars that use virtually the same tobacco can be so different. Well, not different in the sense that all Cubans share a common flavor component, but that the blends make it or break it for me.


Bottom line is, I'm not endorsing Cubans over Nicaraguans, just suggesting you try a great cigar that happens to be Cuban.

* * *
Actually, I have had many excellent Cuban cigars. Thing is, 1) I'm quite satisfied with the cigars coming out of other countries - there are still plenty of those I haven't gotten around to smoking yet - and 2) I'm just not willing to pay the Cuban prices.

Looking at it from the state of the industry, I believe the Cubans once did and in many cases still do produce some phenomenal cigars. Cuba may have set the standard for cigars as France has done for wines, but competitively speaking, they've pretty much all but lost the race.

That said, let's rewind a generation or two. Thanks to Fidel Castro, some of the best cigar producing families left the island. Add to that the imbecilic embargo. Now, give the Cuban emigrants in Nicaragua, The Dominican, and Honduras time enough to cultivate the land, develop great tobacco and, this may sound like a stretch, but if you think about it, Cubans are still making great cigars - just not in Cuba. (Also, conspicuous by its absence, my friend above neglected to mention Padron cigars.)

On the other hand, no ardent cigar smoker should be denied the experience of being able to smoke a good cigar regardless of it's origin. The best thing that could happen to both Cuba and the cigar business would be dropping the embargo.

~ G.K.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cigars: The gifts that keep on giving


I recently made a new friend online who has been sharing his cigar smoking experiences with me. He's been writing to me, asking if I smoked this cigar or that cigar, and in some cases I've answered "no." So, in his enthusiasm for me to share his experience with these cigars he offered to send me some. This is not the first time this has happened, but it's happened often enough that I felt it was finally time to touch upon this subject. Certainly, many of you reading this can relate.

About two weeks ago his package arrived and the cigars were very enjoyable. In return, I will be sending him a little care package from my stash.

What I'm driving at is, part of the overall experience of enjoying premium cigars is the willingness to share, so I came up with a new rule:
When a cigar smoker is offered good cigars from a fellow cigar smoker, he should gladly accept, and is ethically obligated to reciprocate.
Not only have I seen examples of this practice on the cigar community websites, but here in the office, when someone buys a box of cigars or a box of samples comes in, we usually share the wealth or make a trade, especially if someone hasn't had that particular cigar. Even in the cigar store, when someone wins a box of cigars during an event, the winner will often share his good fortune with the other patrons.

We recently hired a new employee who, before getting the job didn't smoke cigars on a regular basis, and I look forward to seeing the smile on his face when he tells me, "Hey, that cigar was really nice."

There's nothing more satisfying than turning someone on to something you enjoy, and so much the better when your opinions of the cigar are in-sync. But even when the giftee is not as gung-ho over the cigar as you, discussing why also makes for good conversation.

So, let's keep paying it forward, and in that spirit cigars will be always be the gifts that keep on giving.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, March 29, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Tabacos Baez Serie H Famosos

John Gonzalez of El Rey De Los Habanos stopped by the Famous Smoke Shop retail store this weekend for an in-store event, and one of the featured cigars was their new Tabacos Baez Serie H cigars. Using a Nicaraguan Cuban seed filler & binder blend as found in the original Connecticut wrapper selection, this blend features a lush Habano wrapper leaf offering a similarly medium-bodied smoke without the spicy-peppery finish found in many of Don Pepin's signature cigars.

For this review I was fortunate to have smoked two of the Tabacos Baez Serie H Famosos, which are rolled a 5" x 50 Robusto shape, and I'm glad I did. The first, which I smoked Friday night after having already smoked three cigars prior, I found somewhat lacking and a lot spicier than advertised. However, all of its other attributes were on par, from the excellent rolling and draw, to the firm ash and burn. What really got my attention was the second Famosos I smoked the next day after giving my palate a well-needed rest (see photo).

The cap clipped off in a perfect circle and the pre-light had that appealing earthy-nutty "Padron-like" cold draw. When lit, the nutty flavor came right through with lots of creamy smoke.

I also have to laud this cigar for its consistency. Throughout the entire smoke the cigar remained in the medium-body range with a rich, nutty base. The Habano wrapper gives this cigar a more full-flavored character, and flavors of nuts, sweet spice, wood and earthiness were all perfectly balanced with a note of coffee bean in the mix. There was no pepperiness to be found anywhere in this sample.

The only negative was the second cigar had some burn issues due to some dark tobacco leaf that was rolled to one side. To its credit though, the cigar never turned bitter even after several touch-ups, and I smoked it down to the last inch.

Suffice it to say, for those who are still getting into premium cigars and curious about trying a Don Pepin cigar, I recommend they start with this particular Tabacos Baez blend. The Habano wrappers offer plenty of flavor while the smoke never becomes too strong or spicy.

Scores:
Appearance - 9
Construction - 9
Draw - 9
Burn - 7
Aroma - 8
Flavor - 8
Balance - 9
Total Score: 8.4

~ Gary Korb

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: La Flor Dominicana Air Bender


This has got to be one of the most frustrating cigar reviews I've ever written.

First of all, I received two La Flor Dominicana Air Bender cigars from a co-worker that attended the ProCigar Festival last month in the Dominican Republic. Secondly, I'm not sure if the Air Bender I reviewed was the "Guerrero" at 6¼" x 54, or the "Maestro" at 5½" x 52, because my sample measured 6" x 52 which is somewhere between both of them. The band only says "Air Bender," so I can't say exactly which model the cigar actually was. Whatever, the blend is the same and the sizes are so close, for the purposes of this review it probably doesn't matter that much. Finally, as a big fan of La Flor Dominicana cigars, I was expecting something a lot different than what I experienced. So, with that long-winded preface behind me, let's get to the cigar.

The appearance of the Air Bender was stunning. The Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, which has been used on some other La Flor models, glistened with a dark, oily sheen. The all Dominican filler & binder tobaccos were perfectly packed from top to bottom. The cap clipped cleanly and the cold draw had a strong flavor of molasses with a little nutmeg in the mix.

Once lit, the smoke offered a redolent floral character, and the first few puffs had some peppery spice, but that faded quickly. The taste, however, was bittersweet with a spicy, caramel-like flavor squeaking in through the first inch. But as the cigar turned the corner into the second inch it faded to a bland, woody taste.

Time-out. I thought if I paired it with a sweet Port, that might help bring out some of the lost flavor. My friend Richard, who I smoked with on his deck yesterday, suggested Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine 2006 from Canada. I enjoyed it immensely, but it really didn't help the cigar improve.

By the middle of the second act I couldn't help but notice that one of the best attributes of this cigar was the ash (see photo). It held on for almost three inches before hitting the deck. At this point I was getting a weak, spicy-cedary flavor with some nuttiness on the finish. The only sweetness at all was coming from the wine. In the meantime, I kept remarking to Richard that the cigar had no flavor.

Suffice it to say, I smoked the cigar down to about an inch; after all, I didn't want to give up, but by the end I was utterly nonplussed.

To be fair, before writing this review I researched some other reviews of these cigars to see if I was crazy. Most commented on the early spiciness of the Air Bender, the caramel notes, the nutty-woody flavors, particularly in the last act, etc. However, I found a Stogie.com video review of the Air Bender "Matatan" (5"x 50) by Brian Hewitt and Rich Meade. Sho'nuf, Brian and I had the exact same experience (I believe he called the cigar "wishy-washy"), while Rich found a lot more flavors in his sample.

So, the jury's out until I smoke the second one. In the meantime, if you've already partaken, please share your La Flor Dominicana Air Bender experience with me by leaving a comment.

~ Gary Korb

Friday, March 19, 2010

Do it to me one more time: the "morning after" cigar


In terms of the relationship they have with their smokers, cigars rarely get more than a one night stand. Of course, there are exceptions to everything, so, I decided to follow-up on a survey question I ran that asked, "Have you ever put down an unfinished cigar, then finished smoking it the next day?" Since the results were evenly split, I thought I'd give it a try and see how a good cigar would taste the morning after.

The first question was, what cigar do I use to put to the test? My criteria were, it had to be a fairly popular cigar, full-flavored, and somewhat on the pricey side. I decided to go with the Alec Bradley Tempus Genesis, a 5½" x 42 Corona which retails for about $6.25 a cigar.

I lit-up the cigar, and if you haven't had the pleasure, this is one helluva smoke. Everything was going perfectly - the flavor, aroma, the burn. At about the halfway point, regretfully, I let the cigar go out and left it in a saddle on the ashtray overnight.

The following day I picked up the cigar and it was still fairly supple. Instead of just relighting the cigar as-is, I carefully cleaned all of the ash out of the foot with a toothpick, so all that was left was some charred tobacco. I was tempted to clip the cigar back for some fresher tobacco but I thought that would be cheating.

I lit up, and to my surprise, the cigar picked up right where we left off. Not only were all the wonderful flavors and aromas still intact, the burn was as perfect as the night before, leaving a long, firm ash in its wake (see photo at left). I ended up smoking the cigar down to the last inch with no bitterness.

Conclusions: Was it the cigar? Did I just get lucky? I don't know, but I have to give credit to the fine construction of this cigar, and that would include the Honduran Trojes wrapper that's used for Tempus. I'm sure there are other cigars out there that hold up just as well. If you know of any from your own experience, please leave a comment. I don't know if I would make this practice a habit, but it was fun to see what would happen.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, March 8, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Cain F

Sam Leccia, known for his groundbreaking nub cigars and Cain cigars, came by the Famous Smoke Shop retail store last Friday night for the weekly Happy Hour. I hadn't seen him since the IPCPR show in New Orleans last summer, and let me tell you, when Sam does an in-store cigar event, he goes all out. He doesn't do the fly-by meet n' greet; he sets up shop with his own rolling table, plays inspirational "rock 'n roll" music, and rolls cigars. (I have some related photos I'll be putting up on the Cigar Advisor Facebook page soon.) So let's get to the review of the Cain F which Sam was also promoting at the event.

As you may or may not know, the Oliva Cain cigars series are called a "straight ligero." This means that at least 75% of the filler core is Ligero, the strongest tobacco. If you remember my cigar reviews of the Cain Habano and Cain Maduro, they both scored 9.0 and 9.2 respectively. The Cain F however is a horse of a different color. And my god, what a horse. A powerful thoroughbred with plenty of speed and more impressive than the Maduro in many respects.

For starters, the Nicaraguan wrapper Sam uses on this 5" x 50 Robusto is flawlessly even in its dark brown color and beautifully oily. Underneath resides a blend of 25% Condega Ligero, 25% Jalapa Ligero, and 32% Esteli Ligero - a total of 82% Ligero - with the latter being the most potent of the trio. The binder is also a Nicaraguan leaf.

After clipping, the cigar drew very easily. It had a nutty-woody cold draw with some peppery elements. The thick Nicaraguan wrapper made the cigar a little chewier, too. Due to the unusually warm weekend I smoked my Cain F outside and I paired it with a glass of Gnarly Head Cabernet Sauvignon. The berry and oaky flavors of the wine made a nice match, too.

Like its Cain brothers, once the F got going it was incredibly smooth. I tasted a very earthy smoke with dense, oak-like woody flavors, nuts, a smidgen of anise, and plenty of spice, but other than that note on the cold draw, it wasn't peppery. I even read a few Cain F reviews before writing this to compare notes. The other reviewers concurred it was very spicy in the peppery sense, especially in the first few puffs. I had a similar experience, however, although it turned out to be a very heady cigar, it wasn't continuously peppery, which turns me off.

Also impressive was the ash. The photo of the first ash really doesn't do it justice, because it hung on for two full inches before it crashed. The second ash held out for another inch-plus. I think I only ashed the cigar a total of three times.

Perhaps it was because I smoked it outside, but in addition to the woody, nutty and spicy flavors, lots of floral notes wafted about. (Has anyone else noticed this when smoking a cigar outside?)

In conclusion, simply amazing and highly recommended. If you like very heady and complex cigars, get a Cain F in your hands soon.

Scores
Appearance: 9
Construction: 10
Burn: 10
Draw 9
Flavor 9
Aroma 9
Balance: 9
Total Score: 9.2

~ Gary Korb

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An inconvenient truth about my new cigar humidor


A few weeks ago I posted a video on how to setup and season a new humidor. The humidor was a Bally IV glass top model; a decent, affordably-priced box. Since I recorded that video, the humidor has been keeping a consistent 68% RH and the cigars are in good shape.

During the video I commented that because the humidor had a glass top, the humidifier had to be placed on the bottom, rather than under the lid, which brings us to today's subject.

The stock humidifier for this humidor is a standard, large, rectangular green foam model. It sits in a block of Spanish cedar that has vents cut into both sides to allow the moist air to escape. (Note that the humidifier is only vented on one side.) The block is made to fit firmly between the front and back walls. You can place the humidifier anywhere along the bottom, but the logical place seems to be flush against either the right or left wall with the open side of the humidifier facing out towards the cigars. Put in the cigars, forget about it, and see you later. So far so good, right? (See above photo) Then what's wrong with that picture?

This brings us to the crux of this story which was due to either an oversight on my part, or to an oversight by the manufacturer. (The humidor comes with no set-up instructions.)

A few days ago it was time to check the humidifier. It was still pretty damp so I left it alone.

While I was in there, I decided to move a few cigars around. That's when I discovered the inconvenient truth. A rare La Gloria Cubana Reserva Figurado which had been touching the housing was wet and swollen. The cigar above it, a Davidoff Special R was a little better, but very soft. This was totally unacceptable.


Once the sinking feeling in my gut subsided, the only solution I could think of was to reverse the position of the humidifier and point it towards the wall. But that presented the problem of getting the air to circulate. Therefore, the housing would have to be moved away from the wall to permit proper air flow. (See the open space in the non-shaded area at left.)

It cost me some space, but it seems this is the only logical way to place the humidifier in this type of situation without ruining your cigars.

What I want to know is, has anyone else found themselves in a similar situation and how did you deal with it?

~Gary Korb

P.S. Check out my video on how to setup and season a new cigar humidor.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Illusione "888 Necessary & Sufficient"


You would think that a cigar smoker with all my industry connections and so-called "experience" would have smoked at least a few Dion Giolito Illusione cigars by now. However, I'm embarrassed to admit I never smoked one until this past Sunday, and I have my good pal and coworker Hayward Tenney to thank for it. He offered one of his Illusione "888 Necessary & Sufficient" to me in trade. In turn, I gave him a Winston Churchill "Marrakesh."

Before I write my glowing review, let me get the downside out of the way. Despite the wonderful flavor this cigar produced from its 6¾" foot down to the 1-inch nub, I had to do about six touch-ups. This surprised me since the draw was effortless and the packing was firm all the way up. I have to give this cigar the benefit of the doubt as it could have been a result of my office humidor, which for some reason has been showing average RH levels of 78% the past week or so.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get to the cigar: From the perfect cut of the cap, to the earthy pre-light draw, to the first few puffs, this cigar was dead-on delicious. The smoke was ultra-smooth, creamy, and perfectly balanced. The flavors were primarily earthy and toasty with nutty accents, subtle spicy notes, and an appealing sweet tobacco taste on the tongue. Plus, despite all those touch-ups, the flavors never wavered which speaks volumes about the integrity of this cigar.

Since I'm now adding the Illusione "888 Necessary & Sufficient" cigars to my all-time favorites list, I'm now sorry I never took the time to meet and greet Mr. Giolito at last year's IPCPR show, or even at prior shows.

Thanks Dion, and thank YOU Hayward. It was the perfect ending to a great weekend.

If you'd like to chime-in on your Illusione cigar experiences, please do.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Avo Limited Edition LE2010


Last week our good friend Tom Smith from Davidoff cigars stopped by to host a special sampling preview dinner for the upcoming Avo Limited Edition 2010 cigars. I didn't make it to the dinner, but Arthur did, and he saved a couple of unbanded samples for Hayward and me.

First, the back story: The Avo LE10 is advertised as a "Super-Robusto" format, rolled to 5½" x 55. The blend consists of unspecified full-bodied Ligero longfillers and a Mexican-grown Sumatra binder seamlessly rolled in a dark Ecuadorian sun-grown wrapper.

Hayward got a head start on me and sent me his tasting notes. I hid them to prevent tainting my opinion and wrote the following review. Compare how our notes differed and you'll see just how subjective sampling cigars really is.

As is usually the case with Avo LE releases, the cigar was a sight to behold. The wrapper glistened with a dark, chocolately sheen that was especially oily and leathery. Held under the nose it offered an extra sweet grassy aroma.

The cap cut perfectly and I tasted a caramely-spicy flavor on the pre-light. The cigar was very fresh which made it little softer and chewier, too.

I paired the cigar with spring water. It lit-up nice and evenly. The first few puffs were a little grassy as some Avo cigars tend to be early on. The next few puffs had a hot shot of pepper in them. The smoke quickly smoothed out to a predominantly medium-bodied flavor with notes of black pepper and anise on the finish.

At about an inch-and-a-half the flavors and strength changed up dramatically. Still very creamy, but a more spicy-peppery flavor began seeping in. Shortly after that, woody flavors of sweet cedar and oak emerged. The grassiness was still lingering somewhere down in the mix.

Just passed the first third, this was one of the strongest Avos I've had in a while, even for this series. At the halfway point the smoke was starting to get into my nervous system; my hands were beginning to sweat and the smoke was still very peppery on the finish.

During the final act the smoke presented myriad wood, coffee, and cocoa notes, while remaining very peppery and potent. Several minutes after putting it down I felt it in my gut. It's been a while since a cigar did that to me.

Hayward's Notes
1st Third: Spicy, peppery beginning. Medium-bodied, slight woody undertone

2nd Third: Minty notes on the finish develop into rich, chocolaty flavors. Deep, earthy baseline. Pleasant, room-filling aroma of sweet, toasty coconut. Pepper dies down a little. Strength increases to medium-full plus. Complex as hell.

Last Third: Dark fruit notes, like cherry. Pepper is back. A whiff of ammonia is gone as quickly as it arrived, announcing the arrival of leathery notes. Full-bodied now, with thick, billowing smoke. Woody notes become very apparent.

And so it goes. If you love strong cigars look out for the Avo LE10's when they officially release on Avo's 84th birthday, March 22nd, 2010.

~ G.K.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Mi Barrio El Puro

Yesterday, before heading to Famous Smoke Shop to watch the Superbowl, I decided to bring a special cigar with me for the occasion. It was a Mi Barrio El Puro that I received about two years ago when these scrumptious Don Jose Pepin Garcia-made cigars debuted. If this 7½" x 52 cigar was a football player it would be a linebacker. But rather than personify this cigar with corny metaphors, let's get down to the nitty-gritty.

Every now and then I come across what I call a "perfect cigar," and the Mi Barrio El Puro falls into that category. Everything about this cigar was so good it virtually justified the $250.99/box price. (If I ever hit the lottery, this will be one of my first purchases.)

The blend is composed of rare Nicaraguan Esteli and Jalapa tobaccos rolled in dark, oily Nicaraguan Habano wrappers. I can also see why these are made in limited edition. The appearance of the cigar is stunning enough; nary a spec of discoloration and packed to the gills with all that rich, dark tobacco.

Considering its size I was expecting this cigar to be a lot more potent, but it wasn't peppery-spicy like some of Pepin's more popular cigars. On the contrary, it was ultra-smooth, oozed gobs of thick, creamy smoke, and was surprisingly sweet. (Perhaps it was the extra two years of aging in my humidor.) Moreover, every puff was brimming with sweet, woody flavors; and I mean every puff, from end-to-end. Mixed in were some leathery notes, but all-in-all, a primarily sweet cigar.

The ash was firm and burned cleanly revealing a nice round cherry when tapped. The cigar also didn't have a chance to go out, so there was no relight issue. The aroma was also rich enough to break through the effluvium of all the other cigars in the room. Additionally, the balance never wavered off of dead center. Suffice it to say, this cigar didn't skip a beat from the start of the 2nd quarter of the game to well into the 4th.

I should also add that I paired the last third of the cigar with a glass of Ron Zacapa Centenario Rum, aged 23 yrs. Factor in the length of the cigar, the fullness of its smoke, plus the rum, and you could say I was feeling pretty good by the time I left the 1½-inch stub in the ashtray (see photo).

In closing, the Mi Barrio El Puro is going on my all-time best list. I can imagine that only the best Cuban cigars during Havana's golden age could rattle this cigar, and frankly I don't care. Viva that these cigars are legal, that's all.

All I can add is, like many cigars of this caliber, you really have to experience it for yourself to fully appreciate its splendor. If you've smoked any of the Mi Barrio cigars, please leave a comment, and feel free to mention your Superbowl cigar, too.

~ Gary Korb

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What does Famous Smoke Shop have in common with the top 25 best cigars of the year?


I can't take all the credit for this blog. Not only the idea, but the facts come courtesy of Famous Smoke Shop special projects manager, Jeff Brown, who came into my office last week with a copy of Cigar Aficionado's "Top 25 Cigars of the Year."

Jeff tosses the magazine on my desk and sits down. With his hands pressed together, he leans forward, turns toward me with an inquisitive look and asks, "What does Famous Smoke Shop have in common with these cigars?"

"I don't know, but you're going to tell me, right?"

"Of the three manufacturers who appear at least four times in the top 25, A. Fuente, My Father Cigars, and Raices Cubanas, two of them are making new cigars exclusively for us."

As I peruse the list, I see what he's talking about.

My Father Cigars, Inc. (Nos. 3, 6, 18, and 25): Home to Don Pepin Garcia Cigars, not only did My Father Cigars produce the Famous 70th Pvt. Sel. Anniversary by Garcia Family cigars, but they are also producing the new Maroma Fuerte, Siboney Reserve, and the soon to be released Famous Signature Series by Garcia.

Fabrica de Tobacos Raices Cubanas S. de R.L. (Nos. 16, 19, 21, and 22): They're making the soon to be released Famous Value Line Honduran #400, the next edition of Famous Smoke Shop's VSL (Viso/Seco/Ligero) series, and a new Bayamo cigars line.

But wait - there's more. You can't count out Plasencia's Segovia Cigar Factory in Nicaragua (Nos. 12 & 24). They already make dozens of cigars for Famous Smoke Shop including last year's Famous Pvt. Sel. 70th Anniversary by Plasencia cigars and Nesticos.

Then there's Tabacalera La Flor (No. 13), Litto Gomez's factory, which is also going to be making a Famous Signature Series cigar.

Finally, Rocky Patel's El Paraiso Factory took the No.8 spot. El Paraiso also produces Famous' Conuco cigars, Rocky Patel Rosado and American Market Selection cigars.

Still don't believe these house brands stack up to the better-known labels? You ought to try some of these cigars. As for the die-hard cynics, I wonder what cigar goes well with crow pot pie?

~ G.K.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Kinky Friedman "Kinkycristo"


Yesterday I stopped by the Famous Smoke Shop cigar store to have a smoke and watch the first of the two NFL division championship football games. Before I head for the store, I go through this ridiculous process of choosing "what would be a good cigar for today?" I must inspect at least a dozen or more cigars from each of my three humidors until I've found the right one. Sometimes too much choice can be a problem.

Let's see: A big game. I'll need a fat, long-smoking cigar; something with a lot of flavor, but I'm not in the mood for a full-bodied cigar. Whoa! I forgot I had this gorgeous Kinky Friedman Kinkycristo, a 6 ¼" x 54 Torpedo modeled after the famous Montecristo No.2 cigars. The blend consists of a very delicate Honduran Habano wrapper rolled around Honduran and Nicaraguan longfiller tobaccos with a Costa Rican binder.

Unfortunately, the wrapper had a few little tears, probably from being moved around too much. Otherwise, the cigar seemed fine, so I plucked it out and off I went.

Once I got settled-in, the draw was effortless with a sweet, earthy, herbal pre-light flavor and the cigar lit-up well. I paired it with a bottle of Calypso Mango lemonade (my first bottle - and not bad, either).

The cigar produced plenty of thick, creamy smoke. The flavors were evident from the start: notes of nutmeg, almond, cocoa and coffee with an equally redolent aroma, like a big chewy candy bar.

I had some burn problems due to the tears in the wrapper, but I can't fault the cigar. Even so, each puff was delicious and smooth right down the the nub. Having come in just before the end of the first half of the Jets-Colts game, the cigar lasted the entire second half.

I've been a big fan of the Kinky Friedman cigars ever since they washed-up on our Famous Smoke Shop shores last year, and I can't recommend them highly enough. OK, they're a little pricey. But for a rich-tasting, complex, and quality-made smoke they're hard to beat, and well worth a try.

Although the Jets let me down, my Kinkycristo didn't.

~ G.K.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

An allegorical glimpse of Haiti

Today I want to digress from the usual cigars-oriented content.

Several months ago I began reading the "Memory of Fire" trilogy, Eduardo Galeano's fictionalized history of Latin America. Beginning with Columbus's discovery of what is now Haiti, year-by-year it meanders through five centuries of what might best be described as perpetual turmoil.

Although Mr. Galeano and I are worlds apart politically, I admire him as a writer. His ability to paint such vivid murals with a modicum of words is astounding to say the least. I began reading the book, 1) because I've always enjoyed reading South American authors, and 2) having met so many Latin American people in the cigar business over the years, I wanted to gain a better understanding of their cultural backgrounds and histories.

"Memory of Fire" is an intoxicating read, but due to its breadth, it's hard to explain. This excerpt from the Publisher's Weekly editorial on Amazon.com efficiently sums it up: "In this Uruguayan journalist's epic tapestry, stitched together from hundreds of historical cameos, the destinies of North and South America are darkly linked...As Galeano replays the obscenities and horrors of modern history, he lays bare the fractured soul of Latin America."

Written in short, pithy, and beautifully lyrical chapters or "scenes," Galeano jumps around a lot. One moment you're in Mexico, the next in Brazil, then Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Nicaragua etc., including the island nations of Cuba, The Dominican Republic and Haiti, which brings me to today's post.

A few days ago, I read the following chapter from the third volume, Century of the Wind, which covers the 20th century from 1900 to 1984. Although the scene takes place in 1943, from an allegorical perspective, it offers a menacing snapshot of Haiti today:

1943: Mount Rouis
A Little Grain of Salt
In a bar, surrounded by kids with bloated bellies and skeletal dogs, Hector Hyppolite paints gods with a brush of hens' feathers. Saint John the Baptist turns up in the evenings and helps him.

Hyppolite portrays the gods who paint through his hand. These Haitian gods, painted and painters, live simultaneously on earth and in heaven and hell: Capable of good and evil, they offer their children vengeance and solace
.

Not all have come from Africa. Some were born here, like Baron Samedi, god of solemn stride, master of poisons and graves, his blackness enhanced by top hat and cane. That poison should kill and the dead rest in peace depends on Baron Samedi. He turns many dead into zombies and condemns them to slave labor.


Zombies -- dead people who walk or live ones who have lost their souls -- have a look of hopeless stupidity. But in no time they can escape and recover their lost lives, their stolen souls. One little gram of salt is enough to awaken them. And how could salt be lacking in the home of the slaves who defeated Napoleon and founded freedom in America?

© 1986 by Eduardo Galeano
Think about it.

~ G.K.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Rocky Patel 1961 Toro

Last weekend I joined the regulars in the Famous Smoke Shop cigar store for a Rocky Patel Cigars event. One of the featured cigars was one of Rocky's latest creations, the 1961 series, which he introduced at IPCPR New Orleans last year. Rocky's production manager, Shawn Bussler was kind enough to treat me to a Rocky Patel 1961 Toro which weighs-in at 6" x 52. And it really has some weight, too, being very solidly packed, while allowing an easy draw.

The first thing you notice is the striking black, white and red two-piece band, but it's the dark, oily Ecuadorian Habano wrapper that gives these cigars their panache. The aroma of the wrapper leaf alone is enough to make your mouth water.

The cap clipped-off easily and the pre-light flavor was sweet and spicy on the tongue. Looking at the foot you can see an ample amount of Ligero (the core is all Nicaraguan with an Honduran binder). It took a little longer to toast-up as a result, but once it got going that wonderful aroma revealed all of its redolent beauty.

The first few puffs were quite peppery (cayenne comes to mind) and earthy with a subtle nuttiness and sweet wood flavor on the finish. Now THIS is a full-bodied cigar.

During the second act, the pepper rounded out and more of the nutty-woody flavors began to take over with some leathery notes sneaking into the finish. The cigar remained pretty consistent into the last third building somewhat more in strength, so I strongly recommend you take your time with this cigar and let it smoke itself somewhat to prevent it from becoming too overpowering, or worse, bitter and tarry. It's very complex, and you'll want to savor every puff.

This is an ideal after-dinner cigar for relaxing with a long-aged single malt or even a sweet Port as a counterpoint to the spicy tobacco flavors. And here's a little cigar trivia for you: 1961 was the year Rocky was born, hence, the source of the name.

Highly recommended, especially if you've got a well-educated palate.

Scores:
Appearance - 10
Construction - 9
Draw - 9
Burn - 9
Aroma - 10
Flavor - 9
Balance - 9
Total Score: 9.2

~ G.K.

Monday, January 4, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Famous Private Selection 70th Anniversary by Rocky Patel Robusto


There was a lot of chatter on Facebook, the cigar community sites, Twitter, et. al. last week about what cigar smokers were going to smoke on New Years Eve, or New Years Day. Several customers in the store also asked me what I was planning on enjoying, and to my surprise, it wasn't the cigar I ended up smoking. Of course, if you read the title to this blog you already know, and to tell the truth, I don't know if I could've come up with anything better.

It all started at about 4:00 P.M. on Thursday, Dec. 31. One of my coworkers had just picked up a box of Famous Private Selection 70th Anniversary by Rocky Patel Robusto and was kind enough to hand me not one, but two! Interestingly enough, this is one of the few Famous 70th Anniversary cigars I had not smoked in its final version. That was reason enough to go for it.

Now I know there's always the risk of sounding like a shill when I review a cigar made expressly for Famous Smoke Shop, but damn if this wasn't one of the best cigars I smoked all year, and you can think whatever you like. (If I had smoked it sooner I probably would have mentioned it in Our Most Impressive Cigars of 2009 article.)

Rocky's cigars seem to improve year after year, and it looks like there's no ceiling in sight. This limited edition 70th Anniversary selection offers an extra-long-aged longfiller blend of various Nicaraguan tobaccos, a Honduran binder and a gorgeous Ecuadorian-grown Cuban seed wrapper leaf that adds a lot of flavor to this full-bodied blend. If that sounds a bit cryptic, blame Rocky; I think he wanted to keep the Famous 70th by Rocky Patel cigars blend in his designer suit pocket. Moreover, just today read the following applicable quote by Rocky in a recent online cigar review: "I don’t make a blend and give it to 10 people - I trust my palate and I know what I’m looking for." (Why am I not surprised?)

From the first puff this cigar was right in my wheelhouse. The smoke was intensely aromatic and flavorful; rife with earthiness, sweet spices (nutmeg, for sure) all underscored by a rich woodiness. Each puff was amazingly creamy, easy, and every bit as flavorful as the one before. The ash was very firm with a clean burn, too. I paired it with a glass of Tawny Port, which made a great match, as well.

I let the cigar rest between puffs. There was no way I wanted it to get tarry or bitter and it paid-off. Even by the last third the cigar remained smooth and creamy and glowing with caramelized flavors. If you like complex flavor, there's plenty here for you. I'll stop there, only to add that I hope your first cigar of the New Year was as enjoyable as was mine. Now I can't wait to try the other one.

Scores:
Appearance - 9
Construction - 9
Draw - 9
Burn - 9
Aroma - 9
Flavor - 9
Balance - 9
Total Score: 9.0

Feel free to chime in on your New Years cigar.

~ Gary Korb