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.

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 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.

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.