If you think a sharp knife is dangerous, just try using a dull one. We've all been there: you're in the kitchen chopping tomatoes or butterflying a steak, when you notice that the knife isn't cutting as cleanly as it used to. "No big deal," you think, and grab the honing steel from the butcher's block.
Sooner or later, though, the steel fails to improve your knife's edge, and you find yourself assuming improper technique in order to gain more leverage. With all that extra pressure exerted on the blade, a slip or miscalculation could cost you a finger or worse.
Because knife sharpening is an extremely broad topic, I'll limit my remarks to stainless steel kitchen knives. And let's be honest, if you own and regularly use carbon steel kitchen or other classes of knives, you probably already know how to properly sharpen and care for them.
Back to our kitchen scenario: what is a frustrated cook to do with his dull stainless steel blades, when steeling them no longer works? Sharpen them, of course!
The first thing to understand is the difference between sharpening and steeling. Sharpening is the process of removing metal from the blade, thus creating a new edge. There are several different kinds of edges, also called "grinds," but in the case of kitchen knives, it's typically a "saber grind." This grind's bevel begins about halfway down both sides of the blade, which then angle to form a "V" shape.
Steeling, on the other hand does not actually remove material, but rather serves to restore the integrity of the blade by removing microscopic bends and folds along its edge. Steeling should be done with every use of your knife, while sharpening is done less frequently.
To sharpen a stainless steel, you'll need a whetstone or other abrasive designed for the purpose. Whetstones come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and grits, but generally, they'll be two-sided, with a coarse grit on one side, and a fine grit on the other.
Place your dry whetstone on a paper towel to keep it in place. Using two hands, then run one side of the blade against the stone at a 22 1/2 degree angle (half a 45 degree angle) 10 times. Forward or backwards doesn't matter, as long as you're consistent.
When you're done, flip it over, and do the same thing on the other side of the blade, ensuring that you hold the 22 1/2 degree angle.
After working both sides of the blade, it's time to turn the whetstone over and sharpen the blade on the finer grit. Repeat the same steps as above, making certain to hold a consistent angle.
Next is steeling the blade. Start by holding the steel against a cutting board. Then run then entire length of the blade ten times across the steel, maintaining a constant 22 1/2 degree angle (remember, it's just half of a 45 degree angle). Do the same on the other side of the blade. Once finished, rinse it well to remove any residual metal particles.
If you haven't sharpened your knife, you may need to repeat the process. Once you have a good, sharp edge, you'll be amazed at how much easier and safer cutting is.*MORE
What is a humidor? Breaking it down to its most basic components, it's a humidified box or cabinet designed to keep premium handmade cigars fresh for an indefinite period of time. Of course, there are humidors and there are humidors. When you envision a humidor, you probably think of the traditional wooden box with Spanish cedar walls, a humidifier of some sort, and a hygrometer. Moreover, a traditional humidor can run anywhere from $49.95 to $4,995.00.
There's also another alternative: the "Coolerdor." It's not as pretty as your traditional humidor, but it does a great job of keeping your cigars fresh for a fraction of the price of even the cheapest humidor, which you wouldn't want to buy anyway.
Though I can't say when the first coolerdor was made, I can tell you that there are thousands of them being used by cigar smokers, maybe tens of thousands, for any number of reasons: from the low cost of making one, to a reliable unit that can sustain your overstock cigars.
So, let's get into how to make a coolerdor. As you would before buying any humidor, you have to decide how much room you'll need to hold your cigars. You should also take into account if you'll be storing loose (or single) cigars, boxed cigars, or a combination of the two.
The term "coolerdor" speaks to a humidor made from a beer cooler, but you can also use a plastic storage bin (a.k.a. a "Tupperdor"). A beer cooler offers a better seal and insulation, but a storage bin will do the job just as well. Here's what you'll need:
A large beer cooler or plastic storage bin/tub.
A humidifier designed to humidify about 250 cigars (preferably a crystal-based model).
A digital hygrometer to keep tabs on your temperature and humidity.
A calibration kit to ensure the hygrometer is accurate.
Distilled water for filling and refilling the humidifier.
Optional: Empty Spanish cedar cigar boxes for holding single cigars (with or without a lid), or Spanish cedar strips (in case you want to line the interior of your 'dor like a traditional cigar humidor.)
Once you have all the parts, you set up your coolerdor pretty much as you would a traditional humidor.
Calibrate the hygrometer with a good calibration kit (I recommend Boveda.) This will take up to 6 hours, so do that first.
Completely fill the humidifier with distilled water and make sure all of the water has been absorbed.
Affix the humidifier in the center of the 'dor's lid. (Note that depending on the size of your coolerdor you may need more than one humidifier.)
Place the hygrometer in the spot of your choosing: a corner under the lid, one of the walls of the box, on the bottom, or on top of one of the cigar boxes, but not too close to the humidifier.
Place your cigar boxes, sealed, open, or closed in the 'dor, put on the lid, and you're done. (Hint: After adding your cigars, try moving it around every few days and take readings before you decide where you want it to be permanently situated.)
Check the humidifier and hygrometer regularly, and recharge your humidifier as needed.
One advantage to making a coolerdor is that no pre-seasoning is required, which can take days with a traditional humidor. You can also store your cigars in their factory boxes, creating a mini-warehouse of sorts for your stash. This also helps keep the cigars insulated.
As a traditionalist, I keep my loose cigars in traditional, wooden, cedar-lined humidors. Extra boxes are placed in my coolerdor and eventually moved to one of my humidors as room allows. Come to think of it, the cigars I keep in the coolerdor are probably just as fresh, if not more so than the cigars I keep in my humidors. If I had known about making my coolerdor sooner, I would only need one humidor instead of five! *MORE
As you continue to clip your cigars with the same cigar cutter, after a while you may notice one or all of the following:
The caps are beginning to shred instead of slicing-off cleanly
The cutter doesn't open and close as smoothly as it used to
The cutter is starting to build up some brownish gunk on the blades.
If you think that tossing it in the trash can is the solution, whoa, not so fast! All your cutter may need a good cleaning. Even if you use a cheapo, freebie cigar cutter, a decent cleaning will help improve its performance. It's easy to do, works on every type of cutter, including scissors, and takes about five minutes. All you need are cotton swabs, rubbing alcohol, and some graphite lubricant.
Daub a swab with rubbing alcohol and carefully rub all of the metal surfaces on the cutter. Any tars on the blades will come right up. If the swab gets too dirty, use a fresh swab and continue.
Use a dry swab to absorb any leftover alcohol and complete the cleaning.
Do the above as many times as it takes to get all the gunk off the blade/s.
Place a very small amount of graphite lubricant on both sides of the blade/s and begin opening and closing the cutter. You will notice a marked improvement in movement.
Wipe off any excess lube with a clean cotton swab.
For cigar smokers who use Xikar "X-type" cutters: Because the blades are so sharp on these cutters it takes a long time for them to dull, so cleaning is usually the most you have to do. With the bottom of the cutter (the narrow end) facing up, apply a very small amount of graphite oil where the blades are held together by the hex screw. You can also apply a little bit of lube under the open/close button. You'll notice that the cutter now opens much more quickly. This method can also be used for similarly designed cigar cutters.
Finally, in case you were a little sloppy, make sure you have completely removed all traces of lubricant on any of the exposed areas of the cutter. That's pretty much it. You may have just saved yourself from having to purchase a new cutter. Instead, use that money to pick up a few good cigars. *MORE
It’s like a horror movie:
“Hello? Honey? Is anyone home? Helloooo? Nice, house to myself.”
Nobody is home, so you take this opportunity to smoke a cigar in peace. You walk down a dimly lit hallway, floorboards creaking with every slow, unsuspecting step you take. You round the corner and you see it on the counter. Your humidor; sitting there like the golden idol on the pedestal in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. You creep towards it, mouth watering for the perfect cigar. The cigar you’ve been waiting all day to have. Placing your hands on your sacred humidor, you flip open the lid, reach your hand in and grab your treat. But what is this? A hole? And another! What is this? Holes are riddled throughout your cigar! You drop to your knees and let out a scream: “WHYYYYYY?!?!”
Pretty tragic story, right? I know, I should be a screen writer. I had you on the edge of your seat, admit it. Anyway, this is the handiwork of the dastardly cigar beetle - and it can be a real nuisance to any cigar smoker or collector. It can turn your entire inventory of hundreds of cigars to a pile of broken tobacco leaves if you have enough of them to terrorize you. The worst part is it is hard to inspect for cigar beetles and their eggs at the manufacturing plants simply because they can be hard to see. One beetle that is carrying eggs, or just a few eggs on a tobacco leaf, can turn into dozens; thus wreaking havoc if they hatch. This is when it becomes a tragedy: once you introduce those beetles to your humidor, they can multiply and destroy your collection.
So what happens when you meet this tiny foe? Well, fear not, as your cigars can be protected during a possible break-in through freezing. That’s right, freezing your cigars will kill off any beetles that may do harm to your cigars. This is how I usually go about the process: first, identify which cigars are damaged. If they are still in the cellophane, your other cigars are 99% safe from beetles because it is hard for beetles to escape the sealed plastic. Simply throw the affected cigars away and keep the ones that look fine. However, we always recommend, especially if the cigars have been removed from their cellophane and have been introduced to your humidor, to toss any infested cigars, and freeze the remaining.
To do this, place all of your cigars from your humidor in an air tight bag, preferably a sandwich bag, and try to remove most of the air from the bag. Place the bag in your refrigerator and let it sit for at least 4 hours. From there, move the bag to a freezer and let it sit for no less than 8 hours (overnight). It is recommended to let them sit in the freezer for a full day just to make sure all the beetles are dead. After this time, transfer them back to a refrigerator for a couple more hours to start warming them up, and then bring them to room temperature. It takes a long time simply because you must gradually cool down and then warm up the cigars to prevent swelling and cracking of the cigars.
At this point, your cigars are good to go, but you do need to make sure your humidor is safe as well. You should never freeze your humidor because it is obviously designed to hold water. If you freeze it, the water will certainly freeze and can crack and warp the wood, rendering your humidor useless. The best way to protect your humidor it to vacuum out any excess tobacco leaves and debris, and then wipe down your humidor with a cloth dampened with distilled water to clean it. As long as you make sure there is no debris, there should not be any more cigar beetles.
The best way to deal with cigar beetles though is to simply take preventative measures against them by following the 70-70 rule. Do not allow your humidor to reach over 70% humidity and 70 degrees. If you’re at or above 70% humidity, once your humidor temperature reaches 75 degrees or higher you begin to run the risk of beetle eggs hatching. By keeping your humidor at the sweet spot of around 67% humidity and out of direct sunlight at room temperature, you should not experience this problem. *MORE
Highland Games athletes – alsoknown as “heavies,” or “throwers” - are some of the strongest and most agile men in the world. Meet Myles Wetzel, a Highland Games athlete: a blend of strongman, track athlete and weight lifter. “We must be able to throw large, heavy objects a long ways - and be crazy enough to try.” If this sounds like you, he has a few tips for you – along with a few warnings – before you decide to step onto the field of honor. Maybe you’ve heard about us. In some circles we are known as “heavies,” in some others as “throwers;” and to still others, we are simply known as Highland Games athletes. Regardless of the name, we are some of the strongest and most agile men in the world.
A Highland games athlete is a blend of strongman, track athlete and weight lifter. We must be able to throw large, heavy objects a long ways - and be crazy enough to try. The timid, weak and frail need not apply. Most of the athletes in my sport are very large, powerful men. There are exceptions to every rule, but not many in this sport. You have to be big to move big things fast and far. While I am about 6'4", 290 pounds, in this sport there are even larger: my buddy Jumbo is 6’7 and a “lean” 340 pounds. And although I have broken the Alabama and Florida records in the deadlift, going over 700 pounds, that merely qualifies you to play in this crowd. Five hundred-fifty pound front squats, 400 inclines - while being able to dunk a basketball - are the norm. So if you’re planning on stepping on the field of honor and tossing something, you have to be more than strong: you have to be fast, explosive strong.
Perhaps you have seen the world’s strongest men competitions on TV; well, we are their cousins, the world’s most agile strongmen. Some of the athletes try to cross over, but it is just a daunting task to be proficient in 7 events at one time. I’d like to tell you about them, and what I do to prepare for each one. The Highland games date back hundreds of years to Scotland. The clans had battled enough and realized that they were losing all the best warriors to settle their arguments; so they came up with a sporting way to decide a victor without death. Today, the games have evolved into 7 heavy events, and combine a mixture of movement, strength, power, and coordination to determine the overall best athlete. We no longer compete to settle arguments, but for prizes, money and honor. Stone Throw
The first event in the games is the stone throw. One legend has it that at a game in Scotland, the athletes could not find a stone of the proper size, so they threw a cannon ball. This event has since evolved into the modern shot put that is now an Olympic event. But in the Highland Games, there was no such evolution; we still use a stone that is at least 16 pounds, although many times they are much heavier. When training for this event, I like to have a big incline bench press. I'm not confident unless I am blasting up over 350 pounds, but I have done well over 400. I then have to harness that strength and use it to launch that stone. Yes, I have already had my rotator cuff reattached and my labrum sewn back into one piece - I am on a first name basis with my orthopedist. This is a big boy sport. Fifty-Six Pounds - Distance
After the stone throw, we get the 56-pound weight for distance. This is simply a block of steel with a ring attached to it for a handle. Nobody is ever ready to pick up this imposing beast and try to dance with it. The athlete will spin like he has a discus and toss the implement. The best can manage over 45 feet; the average person, less than 10. Most intelligent people pick it up and set it down, muttering as they walk away. Big is the order of the day here; you just don’t play with something this big without some serious hind end. There is nothing in the world like this event, and nothing in your workout can prepare you for it.
A word to the wise: keep your health insurance paid up if you think you're ready to rumble with the 56. This bad boy cost me a year with a torn quadriceps. Twenty-Eight Pounds - Distance
The third event is a 28-pound weight throw—very similar to the 56 toss, but half the weight. The goal is to see who is still strong, as well as fast. Distances over 90 feet are seen here by the big guns. After you dance with the 56, a measly 28 feels like a walk in the park. This is where all my footwork drills pay off. I have to have fast feet and get speed in order to make the weight fly. A big guy who lumbers around just won’t cut it. Scottish Hammer
The final event of the morning is the Scottish hammer, which is a 22–pound weight attached to the end of a 50-inch stick. The feet remain stationary, making this event a test of the athlete's core and upper body strength.
With his back to the field, the athlete grips the implement with two hands. He winds it around and around his body to gain momentum, and then hoists it up and over his left shoulder using just his abdominals, shoulders and arms.
Try to imagine it: while holding this 22-pound weight-on-a-stick, you must stay relaxed enough to let your arms hang long and loose. Gaining speed with each wind, you explode with power to drive it over a hundred feet. That’s right, we're going to make 22 pounds fly over a hundred feet, all while keeping our feet firmly planted on the ground.
This event is truly the core workout from hell: I tore my hamstring so badly that it bruised all the way into my shoe. Recharge...for the Caber Toss
After the morning's events, the boys get to sit down to have lunch and rest. We are provided drinks and some light fare, but this is no time to sit and eat big and get lethargic. The crowds are now really gathering, as they know that after lunch, it is caber time–that big telephone pole-looking implement that is the signature event of the games. The big men warm back up again and prepare to perform an athletic feat with a tree which, until recently, was in someone’s yard. Usually a cedar, the big guys will use a caber that is about 20 feet long; it has the small end smoothed out for the athletes' hands. With the limbs and bark shaved off, it can weigh up to 150 pounds.
Do you remember all those times they told you to lift with your legs, not your back? Well, this is where we break that rule. Athletes lift the caber from the bottom, balance it on end, and then run and toss it forward into the air, end-over-end, for accuracy. This is not a distance or height event; instead, we are trying to make the caber go straight up and over when we turn it. If the stick falls to one side or the other, it is less than perfection, and judged accordingly. Expect to pay the price, as your chiropractor will be soon be a familiar face to you. A lower back operation and 12 epidurals are proof that this one wore on me a little. Nothing could prepare me for trying to run with a tree, but loving to deadlift helped. It is an amazing thing to have pulled over 700 pounds in the dead and still feel like you don’t have enough power.
Completing the day are the two height events. Both are contested on what looks like football goalposts, except that the cross bar is adjustable. The Sheaf
We toss the sheaf first - an event evolved from the days when we filled the barn with hay. This sheaf is a 16-pound burlap bag filled with twine. The athlete first sticks that bag with a 3-tine pitchfork, then uses his lower back and torso to toss it up and over the bar. Our technique takes years to perfect, and requires a relationship with the fork (I love my fork, and it loves me back by making that bag go up and over the bar).
I have really come to relish this event, holding the world record in every age group as a Master. To train, I use some Olympic lifting—snatches earn you the quick, explosive power needed here. But be warned: many a bicep tendon has left for the day in the sheaf. I have suffered several partial tears myself, turning my entire arm purple. Fifty-Six Pounds - Height
The last event of the day is the 56 for height. That same block of steel from this morning is now going to be contested to see how high we can throw it. By the time I get to this event, I have been on the field for hours. I am running on fumes and have to go up against gravity with the brute again. The weight never changes, it is always the same, brutal 56 pounds. This is a pure display of lower back mojo and power. With one hand, athletes let the implement swing down between their legs. Then, using their lower back and shoulders, they launch it up and over the bar.
Squatting 700+ pounds took me up well over 16 feet in this event. You'd better be big and you'd better be nasty strong, because bold talk and bravado are not going to make this thing fly high. Poseurs can stay safely to the side. You can imagine the lower back and hamstring maladies that come with this fun: the posterior chain will be taxed for every ounce of power in the tank. As the spectators fade away, the evening creeps in. I begin to decompress and unwind from the day. There was so much living done in those eight hours, it takes a long time to go over it all. I love that time.
I start to relax and the pain of each event begins to set in like rigor mortis. Bags of ice are strapped to my body as I quietly revel in the glory and honor of a day well-fought. I am feeling great and terrible at the same time. Alone with just my thoughts and hurt, I ask myself, “So you wanted to be a Highland Games athlete?” The Tally
With the day now complete, the points are added up and the places, announced. The winner gets a weapon of death: a sword worthy of Conan is awarded in honor of this day to one lucky and hard-working contestant.
Not many men in this world win a Highland Games day (let alone one event), but I can tell you this: I don’t care what is happening anywhere in the world; for that moment, you’re a king. It is rare air, and to be celebrated and digested.*MORE
On October 18, 2007, my wife and two kids were enjoying a meal around the kitchen table like it was any other Thursday. I, on the other hand, was glued to CSPAN-LIVE counting votes and praying that the handmade cigar industry would survive. The moment was surreal: whether it knew it or not, my federal government was threatening to destroy my business, an industry rooted in tradition and passion, and the simple joy of smoking a great cigar. On October 18, 2007, my wife and two kids were enjoying a meal around the kitchen table like it was any other Thursday. I, on the other hand, was glued to CSPAN-LIVE counting votes and praying that the handmade cigar industry would survive. The moment was surreal: whether it knew it or not, my federal government was threatening to destroy my business, an industry rooted in tradition and passion, and the simple joy of smoking a great cigar.
The measure being voted on was an attempted override of the President’s veto of a bill called SCHIP (States Children Health Insurance Program), a state-based health insurance program for children of families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.
The proposed expansion of this federal program was funded, in part, by a draconian increase on the excise tax of handmade cigars. The tax would increase from the then-current maximum of $0.05 per cigar to an inconceivably astronomical maximum of $10.00 per cigar. Yes, you read that correctly—that's a 20,000% increase! If the veto were overridden, the handmade cigar industry would likely collapse. Estimates by industry experts projected that production would be cut by at least 50%, and that many small- to medium-sized manufacturers and distributors would likely go out of business. In addition, retail tobacconists across the country would likely close in large numbers.
By the end of the family meal, the veto override failed by just 15 votes. Out of almost 435 votes, we “won” the vote by just 15. While the handmade cigar industry survived this Pearl Harbor-style attack by our own federal government, the government has been waging war on us ever since. The cigar industry was accustomed to fighting legislative battles at the state and municipal level. We were not remotely prepared for the onslaught from the federal government. The SCHIP bill was eventually pushed back until the Obama administration took over in 2009. Just a few weeks after inauguration of the President, SCHIP became law with a cap of $0.41 per cigar. While it was much more favorable than the original $10.00 cap, the cigar industry nevertheless sustained a 700% tax increase. To put this in perspective, under the previous regime, if a distributor had 100,000 cigars in inventory, it would have to pay the federal government a $5,000 floor tax ($0.05 per cigar) to store the cigars in its warehouse. Under the new SCHIP, the distributor now had to pay the federal government $41,000 ($0.41 per cigar) to store those same cigars. For those of us making a living in the industry, SCHIP changed everything. While it is not my intention to get political in this article, it is only fair to say that I am from the conservative end of the spectrum. However, as we in the cigar industry became more engaged in the federal lobbying effort, it became clear that we needed friends from both sides of the aisle. As some of my colleagues can attest, warming up to this concept was no easy feat for me.
One such bipartisan outreach came when a group of conservative Cuban-Americans met with Representative Charlie Rangel (D), the then-Chairman of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, at a home in Coral Gables, Florida. Offering him our support so that he could assist us with our federal tax challenges was completely alien to me, and Representative Rangel was quite blunt. He told us that our taxes would be going up no matter what we did. If we got organized as an industry, he said, we may be able to keep the tax at a livable rate. In our political culture today, “lobbying” or “lobbyists” are routinely painted as the primary source of all evil in Washington. Time and again we hear politicians of both parties deride lobbyists or “special interests.” Newsflash: Representatives and Senators need lobbyists to educate them on the impact of their decisions. I will never forget the initial reaction of various politicians when the $10.00 SCHIP tax was first proposed. The politicians thought that only rich people smoked handmade cigars. They literally said that cigar smokers could afford to pay $10.00 extra for a handmade cigar. They were beyond ignorant about our industry. Their portrayal of cigar smokers was an old and tired stereotype. It became abundantly clear that a massive educational process (a/k/a lobbying) would be needed at the federal level. When the SCHIP dust settled in early 2009, it felt like the handmade cigar industry had narrowly escaped its demise. However, shame on us for not being ready; just four years earlier, at the end of 2004, the federal government had telegraphed its views on cigars and its willingness to tax us unfairly with the "Tobacco Quota Buyout."
Since the days of FDR’s New Deal, the federal government had enforced a tobacco production quota in the United States in order to raise the price of tobacco above the market level. The government's arbitrary “support price” was maintained by allocating production quotas among individual farms based proportionately on their history of producing tobacco. In other words, they artificially limited the supply by increasing the price. Fast forward to the 21st century and the sales of U.S.-grown tobacco had declined sharply. Thus, a decision was made to end the quota system in 2005. In so doing, the government decided to compensate the quota holders to the tune of $10 billion over ten years. Guess where the money comes from? Answer: Assessments (a/k/a taxes) on manufacturers and importers of tobacco products marketed in the U.S., including handmade cigars. As if that were not bad enough, here’s the real kicker: none of us in the handmade cigar business ever used or benefited from the tobacco grown in the United States!
Both SCHIP and the Tobacco Quota Buyout included federal taxes on handmade premium cigars and we had absolutely nothing to do with the issues being addressed in the legislation. Children’s health is not affected by handmade cigars, and children don’t smoke handmade cigars. When is the last time you caught your teenager or young child smoking a stogie? It doesn’t happen. Regardless of the anti-tobacco propaganda, we in the handmade cigar business do not target or appeal to children, nor do we tolerate any underage smoking. SCHIP is up for renewal at the end of 2013. Thus, we are gearing up for another existential tax fight in 2013. The Tobacco Quota Buyout is consistently allocating a larger share of the yearly payments to the cigar category which in turn raises our taxes. On a yearly basis, we are fighting massive tobacco tax increases at the state level. New York is now at 75% of the wholesale price, Minnesota is at 70%, and Colorado is at 40%, just to name a few. For those of us who enjoy a good cigar, Taxmaggedon (to borrow a phrase) is real and can crush our industry. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and doing business in several countries outside the U.S. When you travel to places like Canada, the U.K., and Australia, you catch a glimpse of what the cigar industry could look like in this country. Each of those countries has exorbitant tax rates on cigars. In Canada, for instance, one of our cigars that sells for $7.00 in Florida (a non-tobacco tax State) will sell anywhere from $15-$18.00 in Canada. Cigars in these high-tax countries are enjoyed only by the very well-off, and even they are particular about how often they can smoke such a high-priced product.
Taxes are not nearly the only threat to our industry. We have the federal regulatory threat of the FDA as well as myriad state and municipal smoking bans throughout the country. However, taxing handmade cigars at a punitive level has the potential to destroy our industry overnight. Four years ago, 15 votes was the difference between life and death for the cigar industry. How long can we survive on this razor’s edge? I’m lucky enough to be the fourth generation of my family in the handmade cigar industry. Today, I have a fourteen year old son and an eleven year old daughter who would like to work with their father in this industry that I love. I’m sure many of you look forward to the day when your son or daughter becomes an adult and can share a special moment with you enjoying a good cigar. To make sure this happens, we have to fight for what we are passionate about.
I hope that all cigar smokers will unite with us in the industry and take the fight wherever it’s needed. In the meantime, Make Time to Burn. *MORE
Even after an accident that left him partially paralyzed, my dad never wanted us to grow up afraid of anything. Whether flying an airplane, developing cigar blends, or striking out on my own, this lesson, more than any other, has defined me as a person and as a cigar maker. My earliest childhood memory is from November 18th, 1976. It was my mother’s birthday, and I was just over four years old, living in Danlí, Honduras.
Our house was a perfect two-story shoebox, surrounded by fields and out-buildings. Inside sat my father, tying his bootlaces at the edge of his bed. He wore his blue jeans and a white V-neck T-shirt. I crawled onto his back and pressed my head between his thick, black hair and sinewy shoulders.
Our next door neighbors were Estelo Padrón–truly the greatest manufacturer I will ever know–and Nestor Plasencia, a major cigar figure in both Nicaragua and Honduras.
After completing my MBA I moved back into this very room. Memories washed over me with the resonant certainty of ocean waves: the constant squelching of the VHF radio, the Zenith TV remote I'd smell incessantly, Topo Gigio singing the Good Night song before the station went off-air...
My father never overate and was always extremely active, with the lean physique of a working man. Unlike me, desserts are not his poison–only Flor de Caña rum, that is his poison! "Where are you going?"
"To the jungle!" he replied, standing up and setting me back down on the bed.
He tucked a .38 revolver into his back pocket and left the room for work. It was to be the only time I would clearly remember him walking: less than a year later, he survived an airplane accident that fractured his back, leaving him partially paralyzed.
I remember the day of the accident exactly as it happened; I believe it was September 20th, 1977. My sister and I had just returned from school. We received a call from our Tía Karime that he had suffered an accident and then we turned on the radio and heard the news. I was jumping up and down on the bed thinking how cool it must have been to jump out with a parachute. At just 5 years old, I did not grasp the seriousness of the matter.
You cannot take anything for granted in Honduras: Danlí is a very poor town, and large cats prowl the jungle freely.
Years later, I caught my father smiling in his sleep. I asked him about it, and he told me that he dreamt he was flying. Isn't that incredible?
The school, “Escuela San Luis,” is still there today. Back then our schedule was 8-12, then 2-4. It was great because we would get to nap–a ritual we still maintain today with office hours.
Tía is Spanish for "Aunt." At the time, my father was growing over 1,600 acres of a Connecticut seed variety named "Moonlight." The strain was popular for green-colored Candela wrappers, and used primarily for Bering cigars, a popular brand during the 1960s and 70s. The farms were in the Jamastran and TalangaValleys. His days were long, beginning around 4:30 AM.
After checking the pilones in the bodegas just behind our house, he'd fly to all four different farms on a daily basis.
The Jamastran, Talanga, and Tegucigalpa farms formed an equilateral triangle consisting of three 50 mile legs, as the crow flies. The dirt roads at the time were long and treacherous, plagued by mud slides and myriad other obstacles. Driving any of these legs would normally take four solid hours; the Cessna 185 Skywagon cut each leg to a mere 25 minutes.
Prior to being aged, dark air-cured cigar tobacco is carefully-sorted and arranged into piles called pilones. Moisture and pressure within the pilones generate heat, causing a natural process of fermentation during which the tobacco releases ammonia and other undesirable compounds. The result is tobacco that is palatable to smoke.
This is what we call the warehouses where the tobacco is fermented. Ater checking the pilones in the bodegas just behind our house, he'd fly to all four different farms on a daily basis. In order to land, we'd have to call ahead by radio to make sure the workers blocked off the highway. On one particularly rainy day, we were forced to land on a soccer field. The landing was fine, but when we took off, we had to ask the players to give us a push. The propeller sprayed those poor guys with mud from head to toe. While admittedly funny from our perspective, the players thought it was hilarious, and actually lined up to give us a push the next time.
There was a whole collection of airplanes for long trips, short trips, and crop dusting. I loved walking around the hangars and sitting inside the airplanes, which included three yellow Piper Pawnee crop dusters. On several occasions I would ride just behind the pilot’s seat while he would dust. I would even go with him from one farm to another. The only permission needed was a simple call on the radio from the pilot:
“Don Julio, the kid is in the airplane again, is he allowed to go up with me?”
My father would always agree. Even after his accident, he did not want us to grow up afraid of anything.
Besides the Cessna and Pipers, our fleet included an Aero Commander 690 A (turboprop) and Shrike 500 Commander (twin piston). Both were used for longer trips, mostly we had them because my father became the Central American dealer for them. On other days, we'd happen to catch the airplane landing. After asking the pilot to stop, we'd lay flat on the wings and hold on as tight as we could while he taxied back to the hanger.
My love of flying is tied closely to those experiences, although I must admit that I took my first lessons partly out of rebellion. Still, I came to enjoy it more that I could have expected, and immediately found a connection with my father.
Looking back on those days now, growing up tobacco was completely nuts- I mean, can you imagine a five or six year old just hopping on a plane like that?- But I loved it. My father was always fearless and aggressive. He was also tough and old fashioned: no matter what the complication or weather, he always found a way to make it home for dinner at 7:00pm and in bed by 8:00pm
My father did not want us to grow up afraid of anything.
My cousin Generoso "Genito," Eiroa was my idol growing up, and the inspiration for this and many other crazy stunts.
I still make it a point to buzz over the farm in Honduras just to make him upset. The last time I did it, the local battalion sent a squad over with trucks and everything trying to locate where i had dropped the drugs. My father was not happy at all about this one! Today we only grow Criollo '98 and the authentic criollo seed. At 75, he still spends his days checking pilones and visiting the farms all day long. The roads are better now, and the farming is limited only to Jamastran. The seeds, too, have changed. Today we only grow Criollo '98 and the Authentic Corojo Seed.
This is the example he set for me; it's an example I draw on frequently with my own children. Today, I am the one that has carried him on my back on more than one occasion. I don't carry a .38, but I do fly airplanes to visit a different kind of jungle. We land on runways though, not highways, and as much as I try, I cannot convince my wife to allow the boys to hop on any random crop dusting trips. At the time, my father was growing over 1,00 acres of a Connecticut seed variety named "moonlight."*MORE
The path to success is littered with good ideas. Make sure yours doesn’t get stranded there, too. Xikar co-founder, Kurt van Keppel, has a series of tips and tests for the budding entrepreneur: does it solve the “why” of buy? Does the market show a demand for it? Did you test it on a focus group? Would your product make it on “Shark Tank?” And most importantly, are you willing to sacrifice for success? Everyone has great business ideas. Each time you think, "Why can't I?" or "Wouldn't it be cool if?..." you might be pregnant with a good product or business idea. Fifteen years ago, I thought, "Wouldn't it be easier if I squeeze my cigar cutter closed with my palm rather than my finger tips?" And if that cutter had a pivot point, wouldn't that leverage make the cut even more powerful? Those questions defined a problem, which our Xi cutter solved. Fortunately, many others agreed with the solution, even if they didn't know they had a problem (thank you)! It's best if the solution is unique, even patentable, since those lend immediate market interest and protection. When the product isn't unique, it must at least have a unique meaning, or "position" in the consumer's mind. For example, think about pocket knives, which have been around for hundreds of years. Yet the new position created by tactical knives like Spyderco reinvigorated the entire category.
But the road to success is littered with good, unique solutions. In today's competitive marketplace, products must carry competitive protection, a suit of armor. Great service is one such protection (low price is another). That, and because "do unto others" is part of our essence, which is why we have a lifetime warranty on our products. Entrepreneurs should solve the "why" of buy - and not just the "what." In order for an idea to become a business, the solution it provides must have an appeal that others are willing to pay for. The great show, "Shark Tank" explores exactly that - and in my opinion, does a great service to inventors participating and watching - because it dramatically demonstrates the tough judgment of the market. Many inventors fall in love with an idea never stopping to consider whether others might be equally attracted. They ought to ask themselves and others, "Would this make it on Shark Tank?" XIKAR is fortunate to receive product inventors' ideas, and some, like our Ashtray Can, have obvious appeal. This product quickly passed our review process, then moved to an accelerated launch, and now provides the inventor a nice royalty (if you have a new product idea, please send me an email). Others like the "Monica" cutter didn't pass. If you are old enough to remember Monica Lewinsky, you can imagine why! The key to understandin the market for your solution is to test it.
The test should be unbiased, as close to the marketplace as possible. If you don't have a product, discuss the "problem," with friends, acquaintances, even strangers. (I don't suggest discussing your solution at this stage. While very, very few people have the ability or low morals to seal steal your idea, this phase is still young enough that, if that happens, they could potentially get it to market before you). Record their responses, and mold your solution according to those responsible in a way that feels logical to you. We did exactly this when in 2003 we decided to enter the lighter market. We made the assumption that lighters are just like cars: moving parts, with an engine that burns fuel. Cars also have a warranty. That warranty, however, is usually limited by certain terms and conditions, based upon the expected performance and longevity of its individual components. So we asked specific questions surrounding problems with lighters and their warranties. XIKAR already had a solution in our lifetime warranty, but needed to know if our solution was also unique – and as it turned out, it was! “XIKAR for Life” is the position that gave our first lighters unique meaning. Even with very positive responses, the test isn't over. Simply put, the marketplace is by far the best test. It is the shark tank. Show your first prototype to a group of your target consumer. What do they think of it? How much would they pay for it? Feel free to describe the features of it, but be careful to stay clear of selling the advantages and benefits - you can't be there to make every sale! And since you can't, you want unbiased feedback before investing any more funds. Early in our business life, we would take a product to market at this stage. And if response was positive, we would then go into full production; since demand during the cigar boom was so high, we were very anxious to get the sales. Fortunately, we didn't make many mistakes. For instance, I can surely say that our endeavor into pocketknives led to some beautiful product and taught us volumes about blade and handle materials, edge grinds, and even introduced us to some current vendors. However, deeper research would have revealed that gentlemen's knives were on the wane, particularly after 9/11. Deeper serious study might have gained the same knowledge without the financial side track.
Today, we take one further test step - we order a "sample run" of sufficient units to test in a dozen stores around the country. This real, live test takes place with our standard retail package and in-store advertising. It therefore tells us all we need to know - whether a consumer sees the same solution we envision. Our Ashtray Can, and more recently, our Vitara lighter, passed the test. On the other hand, a lighter and a cutter we thought would pass didn't. Congratulations! Your solution (and invention) is now a product. The market responded and demands the product. Are you in business? Maybe. The answer really depends on your financial situation and skills related to running the business you want to be in. Prior to XIKAR, my career experience included sales and marketing management, and new product launches for several top consumer products companies. Scott's [Scott Almsberger, XIKAR co-founder and Chief Design Officer] included sales, relationship management, factory management and of course a lot of product design. We were well suited to start and run XIKAR on our own. Had we not been good candidates for our own jobs, I'm not sure that would have stopped us - so please heed this warning I have come to realize: inventing a product and running a business are completely different. Getting a new product to market carries both financial and business risk (a lot more on that in a later article). Inventors who are not prepared for both stand to lose their finances and their market space as the business overwhelms them, and the market competitors pass them by. Business startups can be boot-strapped. We did it with a unique, patented product in a marketplace that was booming at the time. And, I gave up my salary and home (moved my wife, two young children and two beagles in with my mother in law) for two years. I like to say that not all entrepreneurs have to give everything up, but they have to be ready to! Partnerships with existing brand marketers and distributors provide a great alternative for most entrepreneurs to launch their products and enjoy immediate market penetration. Sales and profits that correspond with that far outweigh the startup years of a solo effort. Sure, the inventor gives up a portion of the profit. But often the economics are still better for the speed of profits and the lack of risk.
We are constantly looking for new products, as are all the other distributors in our trade, and in every trade! Consumers walk into cigar shops and say, "What's new?" I walk into a cigar shop, and the owner (always) says, "What's new?" The Ashtray Can inventor is a great example of how well this can work. I recently saw an invention that will be perfectly suited for the checkout at Wal-Mart, grocery and other big chains. The inventor is a salesman in a tech company, and a mutual friend suggested him to me. So, I passed him to a buddy whose company sells to Wal-Mart, Target and grocery stores, and I think they are both going to make a lot of money on this deal! In my case, I was compelled by a new product solution to take to market. I was compelled to start a business because I was "a good employee, but not very good at working for someone else." If this sounds familiar, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. I hope you have a great product idea, and get it to market. Or, I hope you have a great solution, and let me, or another company know about it!
- Kurt van Keppel*MORE
The Mustang was red hot, and Chevrolet counter punched with the Camaro. But 1967 brought an all-new Plymouth Barracuda designed to outswim its rivals in the ever-expanding muscle car pond. Not the fastest, or the most collectable Barracuda by today’s standards...though what it is often forgotten is the ‘Cuda’s styling appeal and its monstrous victories in super stock drag racing. After all, what kind of car comes with a sticker that says, “not for use on public roads”? The Plymouth Barracuda – arguably, America’s first pony car - was introduced on April 1, 1964. Actually a rebadged, high-performance Valiant, Barracuda beat the Ford Falcon-based Mustang to market by two weeks; but even with the head start, the initial Barracuda was not exactly a glorious statement of Chrysler’s muscle car performance history. Then 1967 brought an all-new Barracuda designed to outswim and tangle with rivals in the expanding muscle car pond. This second of three generations of Barracuda was still not the fastest, nor is it considered the most collectable Barracuda in 2013. Generation 2 of the Barracuda is often forgotten despite both its styling appeal and monstrous victories in super stock drag racing. Like Ford’s Mustang, three distinct body styles were introduced for the 1967 model year: a notchback coupe, a fastback and a convertible. But in contrast to Mustang (and Camaro), the Barracuda utilized European design cues. More important to auto enthusiasts was Chrysler’s decision to expand the width of the engine compartment by two inches; this room was crucial for squeezing in Mopar's top of the line 383 V8, and was now the perfect opportunity to up the high performance game. For 1967, only 1,841 383-equipped race derived Formula S Barracudas were delivered, complete with redline tires. A split-back bench seat was standard, with buckets optional. The Rallye gauges package included a 150-mph speedometer; a combination gauge for engine temperature, oil pressure, fuel level and amps; and a choice of a clock, a tachometer, or a vacuum gauge labeled "Performance Indicator.” Hop in, and you discover plenty of room for what was supposed to be a compact: The flat, low-slung buckets allow easy ingress and egress and outstanding headroom, but won't help a bit in corners. Insert the key teeth-up into the ignition, and twist. The reduction starter makes a racket; once that's quelled, you're left with a lopey idle different in character than Ford or GM, sounding plenty aggressive. Punching the throttle, it is a blast to make that Performance Indicator vacuum gauge jump. The ultimate 1968 Barracuda was the mating of the second generation body with the famed 426 Hemi engine. Right off the dealer lot, the Super Stock fish could cover the quarter mile in the 10’s. Chrysler made approximately 50 fastback Barracudas for Super Stock drag racing. Built in conjunction with Hurst Performance, they featured lightweight items such as Chemcor side glass, fiberglass front fenders, scooped hood, and lightweight seats. An included sticker indicated that the car was not for use on public roads.
Rumors are once again flying about the possible return of the fast fish; this time badged “SRT Barracuda” for the 2015 model year. This time, it looks like they may actually be true. There's tremendous promise lurking in the engine bay.
Cup your hand under the shifter, thumb the button, and pull back into “D” - big-block torque renders acceleration in the Barracuda absolutely effortless. Unlike older cars, the Barracuda seeks to hardwire itself into your cerebral cortex--just think of a speed and you're practically there. It feels ready for a midnight cross-desert blast to the far-flung locale of your choice. *MORE
Estelí, Nicaragua: 4:45 AM. The air is crisp, the sky clear, and the sun has just begun to reveal itself. Nick Perdomo Jr. takes in the breathtaking view of the horizon as he walks through one of his tobacco fields. Imbued with pastel shades of blue, grey and pink, the cloud cover hangs over the lower part of the mountains like a long silky blanket just barely touching the valley below. It's the middle of the tobacco growing season, and Nick has come out to see how his beautiful, rich tobacco plants are doing... Estelí, Nicaragua: 4:45 AM. The air is crisp, the sky clear, and the sun has just begun to reveal itself. Nick Perdomo Jr. takes in the breathtaking view of the horizon as he walks through one of his tobacco fields. Imbued with pastel shades of blue, grey and pink, the cloud cover hangs over the lower part of the mountains like a long silky blanket just barely touching the valley below. It's the middle of the tobacco growing season, and Nick has come out to see how his beautiful, rich tobacco plants are doing. The fertile black soil contrasts beautifully against the vibrant green tobacco leaves that surround him. He lights a cigar and smiles as he watches the leaves rise up towards the sun. Welcome to the world of Perdomo Cigars. Nick Perdomo and his father Nick Sr., worked together for 14 years building a completely vertical cigar manufacturing company that prides itself, not only in making the finest premium handmade cigars in the world, but a true family business. "I loved my Dad," said Nick "He was, and still is, my hero. It was an absolute joy to work with him,"
In the beginning...
It all started in February of 1998. The day was typically hot and sunny in Estelí. I was sitting in my office with my late dad, Nick Sr., at an old wooden table sampling cigars, and they wouldn't burn. One after the other, these things were like fire suits. Frustrated, I looked at my Dad and said, "That's it. I'm tired of it. We're going to do this ourselves." He looked back at me with his big brown eyes and agreed that it was a great idea. We were buying most of our tobacco from brokers at that time, and this one particular broker did me wrong; about $300,000 wrong. It was his tobacco that we used to make the fire-proof cigars. After some investigation we found out that they used pure nitrogen in the ground to accelerate the growth of the leaf. Believe me, things like this are not unusual in this business. There are some really great brokers out there, but then there are a few that aren't really great either.
Take fermentation for example. You can ferment the leaf as much as you want, but once the tobacco stops heating up, the cellular structure is completely fermented. At that point, you hit the wall. Tobacco must be properly cured, aged, and fermented, and in the end should blend perfectly. With all that nitrogen they used in that brokered tobacco, there was no way those cigars would ever smoke right. And that's when I said, "Enough, we can't continue doing this." It was time for our company to control its own destiny. Looking back on it now, I feel like I should thank this guy. It was a hard lesson, but it's what would fundamentally change Perdomo Cigars for the better in the late 1990's. Starting-off on the right foot
My philosophy is, if you're going to do something, you might as well go full bore, which is pretty much how we've done everything.
The first thing we did was start looking for good grounds to plant. I wasn't interested in buying a couple of acres, or doing a little plot thing. So, I calculated how much tobacco we needed to take us within 12 to 14 months of production. For the tobacco we didn't grow, we would deal only with the most highly reputable brokers we had been working with for years. Today, 95% of the tobacco used in our cigars is grown solely by us. We only broker a little Connecticut shade wrapper. In 1999, we finally found 14 acres of good land in Pueblo Nuevo, just north of Estelí in the Condega region, but we didn't begin growing tobacco until later that year. The advantages of having three fertile valleys
Before I get into how we developed our farm in Estelí, I want to tell you about the geography of Nicaragua, and why it's so ideal for growing tobacco.
The valleys in Nicaragua are all fertile, and each serves a different purpose. What's sets Nicaragua apart from any other country (outside of Cuba before 1959), is that the regions are so far apart, they produce different types of tobacco with their own distinctive flavors. Estelí is known for its great "strength" tobacco. It's high in the valley, about 2800 ft., so you have tons of sun exposure and very thick, coarse grounds that are pitch black with soil that's dense and cakey. It's ideal for Ligero, Viso, heavy binders and heavy sun grown wrappers. Estelí can only produce a limited amount of wrapper though, because the region has a tendency for high velocity winds, especially in January and February, which is the middle of the growing season. All that aside, the final product consists of the most tasty, powerful fillers; there lies the secret behind great Nicaraguan tobacco, and why it distinguishes itself way ahead of Honduran, Dominican, and even Cuban tobacco, for that matter. From there you head north and go further down the valley about 500 ft into the Condega region. The atmosphere is entirely different. It has lots of cloud cover, and the soil is very coarse, semi-cakey, and highly mineral laden. As a result, it produces leaves with a thinner texture and power, but not nearly as much power as Estelí, making it ideal for binders and sun grown wrappers. 95% of the tobacco in Perdomo cigars is grown exclusively on Perdomo's farms.
Continuing north for about an-hour-and-a-half, you enter the Jalapa valley. By now you've dropped down to about 2000 ft. The soil there is a very thin, sandy loam, much like you would find in Cuba. The tobacco leaves are reddish and produce more of an aromatic, sweet tobacco. If I gave you a hand of tobacco grown in Jalapa and told you to smell it, you'd notice that it smells like fresh honey-wheat bread. A hand from Estelí would smell very strong, while a hand from Condega would have a little of both, strength and sweetness. That's the beauty of Nicaraguan tobacco. All I can add to that is, when God said, "I'm going to produce cigar tobacco," it wasn't Cuba, it was Nicaragua. The old man and the seed
Now that the pieces were beginning to fall into place, I needed to learn about growing tobacco. I knew the art and culture of it; after all, I grew up in it…
I remember walking with my father through the dusky curing barns, the rich, powerful aromas of the pilones, the honey-like aroma of tobacco aging in old oak casks. Sometimes my father would grab a hand of fermented tobacco, spread it apart and have me stick my face in it. All of those earthy, robust and sweet aromas hitting you at once. It's exhilarating. I can still hear the clattering of the rollers in the factory, heads tilted downward as their chavetas cut perfect arcs across each delicate wrapper leaf. …I needed to learn more about the science of growing tobacco, so we hired an agronomist who still works for us today. A big part of his job was taking soil samples from all over the farm to a testing lab he worked with in Honduras. Through him I learned a lot about soil, minerals, ph balance, etc.
In 2003, we hired Aristides Garcia as our Pre-Industry Manager. At the time he was already retired, but having been a good friend of my Dad and uncle back in Cuba, Aristides jumped at the chance to work with us in Nicaragua. His knowledge of tobacco cultivation spans 67 years, and as the person in charge of all our fermentation, leaf classification, and aging, Aristides manages over 400 workers. In my opinion, Aristides is the best man in the world growing tobacco; not only from a seed standpoint, but from an agronomy standpoint. Whether it's curing, sorting, selection, fermentation, whatever, this guy is amazing. He even looks like an old tobacco man with his straw hat, creased, sun-tanned face, and a cigar perpetually in his mouth. At 83 years-old, he smokes 20 cigars a day, he can raise a 100 pound bale of tobacco over his head, and between all of his duties, he probably walks about 10 miles a day. One of the more entertaining things about Aristides is he says "ALABAO" a lot. That's his word, "ALABAO Chico!" He says it almost every other word. It's a well-known Cuban expression for "WOW!" If you ask him something like, "Aristides, how's the tobacco today," or "How's everything going?" he'll say "ALABAO!" That's actually how we came up with the name for our Perdomo Alabao cigars.
Born in Pinar del Rio, Cuba in 1931, Aristides was raised on a tobacco farm, and learned everything he knows about the agricultural process from his father. By the time he was 20, Aristides was one of Cuba's leading specialists in crop management. Later on, the Cuban government appointed him as the Director of tobacco agricultural and processing operations in San Juan y Martinez, San Luis, and Pinar del Rio. What I love about Aristides is, he's an open book. Next to my Dad, I've probably learned more about tobacco from him than anyone. If I were to bring someone down and tell him, "This is my friend 'so-and-so.' He's going to be staying here for two months," Aristides would teach you everything he knew from when he was a kid all the way on. Most older tobacco people have a lot of knowledge, but they tend to be closed-minded; they don't want to teach people, and he has. But I'm not fooling myself. After all, he's 83 years old and in great shape, but he's not going to be around forever. So, what we've done is build a team of knowledgeable people who are learning from him every day. As great as Aristides is, we have a lot of outstanding people behind him; so when he finally decides to retire, we'll be in good shape with the people he's mentored, and the company can continue to move forward. If you build it, the tobacco will cure
Eventually, I decided to build my first curing barns, but I wanted to do something entirely different. I was going to build them on my own property. People thought I was out of my mind, but the logic was, we could load the tobacco on a truck and bring it into the barn where we could monitor it 24 hours a day. We built three barns, each capable of storing a very large amount of crop. The barns are 85ft wide by 130ft long covering over three acres of land. I think they may be the biggest curing barns in Central America.
After our first season we grew a fantastic crop of tobacco. Not only was it a fantastic first crop, it burned fantastic, it tasted good, it was consistent, and I said, "This is awesome, this is what we have to keep doing."
Next month, I'll tell you more about what we do in order to grow those fantastic crops.*MORE
Coming to you in June’s Cigar Advisor…we take a stroll through Tampa’s Ybor City, knock back a few mojitos, hit the tobacco fields with Nick Perdomo, get your cigar it’s own twitter feed, keep your iPad from sucking, learn some survival skills and get you swinging good enough to get a spot on the PGA tour. Say “please.”*MORE
Established in 1968 by Cuban émigrés, Juan Francisco Bermejo and Simon Camacho, Joya de Nicaragua was originally founded under the name Nicaraguan Cigars S.A. Today the company is headed by Nicaraguan native, Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca, Ph.D. Working with him is Sr. Vice President, José Blanco, former president of La Aurora Cigars. During the past five years Joya has made some significant changes for the better. Cigar Advisor Editor, Gary Korb, spoke with both gentlemen about the company's past and the keys to their robust revival. Joya de Nicaragua Cigars have the distinction of being the very first cigar factory in Nicaragua. Established in 1968, the company has dedicated itself to the art of producing many of the world's most celebrated handcrafted cigars for over 40 years. Among them are the critically-acclaimed Joya De Nicaragua® Antaño 1970, Dark Corojo, and CyB (short for "Cuenca & Blanco"). The latter is the first cigar from JdN CEO, Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca, and Sr. Vice President, José Blanco, who joined the company in August of 2011. To gain a better understanding of how Joya de Nicaragua has remained at the top of a highly competitive industry, I spoke to both men about the company's past, present and future. But first, the Joya de Nicaragua back story
The original company was established in 1968 by Cuban émigrés, Juan Francisco Bermejo and Simon Camacho. Bermejo was a tobacco grower and broker who emigrated to Honduras 1961, and the first to grow Cuban seed Corojo in Honduran soil. By 1966 Bermejo was growing Cuban seed tobacco in Nicaragua for export to the U.S. Meanwhile, Camacho, who opened Miami's first cigar factory, was making cigars using tobacco brokered through Bermejo.
By 1968, Bermejo and Camacho had partnered-up and founded Nicaraguan Cigars S.A. In 1970 the company trademarked the name Joya De Nicaragua, and released its first cigar, the Joya De Nicaragua Corona. Between 1968 and 1979, the factory was producing nine million cigars per year, almost all of which were sold in the U.S.
Despite years of political upheaval, a socialist regime, a U.S. embargo, and a war between the Sandinistas and the Contras, the Joya de Nicaragua brand managed to survive with their bottom line virtually unscathed. But it wasn't until 1994, when Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca bought the company that the brand truly became an international success. Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca on Joya de Nicaragua, then and now
JdN's owner and CEO, Dr. Alejandro Martinez Cuenca, is a native of Nicaragua who holds Fullbright scholarships from the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of South Carolina, and a Ph.D in Economics from Vanderbilt University.
"Initially, I started my professional career as a Professor of Economics for graduate students in a Regional Business school, doing consulting work for many Central American businesses and Institutions. In the 1980´s I was the Nicaraguan Minister of Trade, and later became Minister of Budgeting and Planning. In the 1990's I decided to enter into various businesses and in 1994 bought Joya de Nicaragua where I have remained ever since."
As to whether anyone was making cigars in Nicaragua prior to the Cuban Revolution, Dr, Cuenca added, "Cigars have existed in this country since before 1492. When Cristobal Colon[Christopher Columbus] arrived at our coasts he found the native Indians smoking simple tobacco rolled in the form of a cigar." Suffice it to say, making cigars has been a fundamental part of native Nicaraguan culture for centuries. "They would make their own cigar with a variety of tobacco called “Chilcagre,” a home-grown type of native tobacco," said Cuenca. "But the first recognized cigar manufacturing operation in Nicaragua started in 1968 with Joya de Nicaragua.
During that same decade, the Somoza administration was already feeling pressure from the Sandinistas, who eventually deposed him in 1979. After taking power, the party was officially known as the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional or FSLN, and established a Council of State in May of 1980. At the time, U.S. president Jimmy Carter tried to work with the new Socialist regime, but with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, he thought it was in the country's best interest to help remove the Sandinistas from power. In January of 1981, Reagan suspended all aid to Nicaragua and sanctioned support of the Contras under the assertion that the Soviets and the Cubans were arming FSLN guerillas in El Salvador.
"Due to the U.S. embargo of Nicaragua, in 1984, production of Joya was taken over by Nestor Plasencia in Honduras, but it was a different cigar," said Dr. Cuenca. Nevertheless, the strategy worked. This way, the cigars could still be exported to the US market as a product "manufactured in Central America." Prior to Dr. Cuenca's purchase in 1994, Joya de Nicaragua wasn't organized like most corporations. There was no president; instead, the company was run by several figureheads. Moreover, due to the company being so loosely structured, there were many hurdles to jump. Fortunately, the cigar boom in the U.S. was reaching its peak, and the brand continued to amass strong sales. That being said, were it not for Dr. Cuenca's expertise in business and economics, the company may not have survived the aftermath of the boom.
"During those early years many indescribable events happened," said Dr. Cuenca. "But they are parts of the past. In my view, the only purpose they serve is the gaining of experience that we now enjoy in the present. We are not only the jewel of Nicaragua, we have become the spirit of Nicaragua." It wasn't until 2002 with the release of the Antaño 1970 that JdN had its first major breakthrough under the direction of Dr. Cuenca. Over 10 years later, the series remains one of the top cash cows in the JdN portfolio, and is considered by many cigars smokers to be a classic. In terms of the development of the Antaño 1970 blend and why it became an instant hit Dr. Cuenca explains:
"I wanted to create a cigar that was different from anything else that had ever been smoked during the previous boom years. I wanted to make a cigar that would indubitably show the differences between smoking a medium-body cigar, versus a full body strength, while at the same time offering the full-flavored enjoyment of smoking an authentic puro made from tobaccos of the same origin - all of which are very rich in flavours and tones. The reason it continues to be successful is because consumers took to it immediately and the blend hasn't changed. More importantly, it represented a turning point in the evolution of the cigar industry; especially for Nicaraguan cigars. That is our Antaños!"
Many years before the success of the Antaño 1970 puro, Joya de Nicaragua made cigars with tobaccos from different countries, but the essence of Joya's recognition has been the authenticity that comes from working exclusively with Nicaraguan tobaccos. On the other hand, that exclusivity turned the corner in 2011 when José Blanco joined the company. "We diverted from what had become our puro tradition when we decided to blend a cigar with five different tobacco origins, which is how the CyB selection was created," said Cuenca.
Speaking of Joya de Nicaragua's CyB selection, it was one of the most talked-about cigars of the 2012 IPCPR Trade Show and strong sales followed immediately upon its release. As more Nicaraguan cigars continue to accrue rave reviews from the premium cigar media and consumers, it's not a big leap to suggest that Nicaraguan cigars may have finally eclipsed Cuban cigars in quality, consistency and popularity. Dr. Cuenca agrees.
"It comes from the innate human desire for creativity and passion; the individual effort pushing evolution and linking it with our belief that nothing is static; and nothing is more dynamic and changing than manufacturing cigars. But it is also our self commitment to always look for the better! Those ingredients have been matched in our decision to work with Drew Estate. Since then we have had more exposure, and their creative thinking has had a big influence in the way we think about things." In a move to increase market share, especially in the United States, in January of 2008, Joya de Nicaragua announced that they had dropped their current distributor to work with Drew Estate.
"We felt it was imperative to introduce changes in our marketing and distribution strategies," said Dr. Cuenca. "Joya De Nicaragua is an exemplary Nicaraguan puro that has earned a privileged place with experienced cigar smokers. The task before us now is to have it achieve a market presence which is consistent not only with its value, but more importantly, its soul."
It was clear to Dr. Cuenca that Drew Estate understood his specific vision of the future for the brand.
"The fact that they had their own in-house sales force and marketing department were also important ingredients," he added. "The most obvious factor is the success they've already achieved by increasing our market share within the highly competitive U.S. marketplace." In August of 2011, Joya de Nicaragua, S.A. appointed José Blanco, former director of La Aurora Cigars, as its Senior Vice President. With over 30 years of marketing, public relations, and tobacco-blending experience he is primarily responsible for JdN's overall brand and blend development.
During his youth, the naturally outgoing Blanco began his career in the tobacco business by sorting tobacco on his father’s farm, and by the age of 16, he was smoking cigars on a regular basis.
In 1982 Blanco was hired by Empresa León Jimenes and spent the next 18 years in its core beer and cigarette divisions. By 1999 he was working in the company's premium cigar division, La Aurora S.A. His expertise in tobacco was crucial to the development of the company's Cien Años, Aurora 107, and 1495 Series. Señor Blanco retired from La Aurora S.A. in June of 2011, but it was short-lived. His passion for working with tobacco was so strong that when his good friend, Dr. Cuenca offered him the opportunity for them to work together, he couldn't resist "I have always been a fan of Nicaraguan tobacco, and while seeing a fast growing popularity in Nicaraguan cigars, the offer drew my attention," said Blanco. "After having had the privilege of working for a family-owned company at La Aurora, it felt great to be working for another family-owned company at Joya de Nicaragua. Furthermore, I saw growth potential for the brand, and from a business point of view, it was very attractive."
Blanco's chief responsibilities are threefold: Developing new line extensions by using tobaccos of different origins; to be more involved in social media as a marketing-tool; widen the company's distribution channels to find new markets and attract more customers.
When it was announced that Dr. Martinez Cuenca and José Blanco would be releasing a new brand which they both had a hand in blending, anticipation was high. It would also mark the beginning of a different profile for the company; a Joya de Nicaragua cigar made with tobaccos from countries other than Nicaragua. "The idea behind the CyB brand was the start of a collaboration between two cigar-lovers with different Central American origins - one Dominican, one Nicaraguan, said Blanco. "Using that concept, we would blend it using tobaccos grown in our native countries, respectively, as well as other countries such as Peru and Ecuador."
In his position as Senior Vice President, Blanco is both an administrator and a blender. When asked if he enjoys wearing one hat over another he says, "It's 50/50. I love blending and creating with great passion, but I also love being with people, doing events, seminars and the like. Ultimately (and personally), it all goes back to the blends I have created."
In terms of marketing strategy, Blanco believes there are a number of tactics that lead to success. Among the most important of these include the availability of the product as much as the availability of the face behind it. "Working directly with our customers and consumers, hosting events, having a strong social media presence, and being open-minded to new ideas; today, all of these things contribute greatly to good marketing and image growth," says Blanco. "Even though the brand is very important, a lot of consumers today want to see the person behind the brand, be it through in-store events or interacting with cigar smokers on Facebook and Twitter."
In addition to his duties at Joya de Nicaragua, Señor Blanco is one of a number of cigar industry professionals who, with help from Cigar Rights of America, have been especially outspoken about the very real possibility of tobacco becoming regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. When asked whether CRA's crusade would play a part in JdN's marketing, Blanco, who is never one to mince words said, "From a marketing standpoint it's a separate issue. I have always been and always will be outspoken and active with regard to federal regulation of tobacco. That includes smoking rights, taxation, and the involvement of FDA regulations. I do this as much for Joya as I do for the entire industry, as well as for our love for cigars, which is why I say it's a separate issue. Smoking premium cigars is not about health, it's about rights." Even with the impending threat of FDA regulation, as Señor Blanco looks into his crystal ball, he sees an even more profitable future for the Nicaraguan cigar industry as a whole.
"Without a doubt, in the last five years Nicaragua has been the fastest growing country in the industry," said Blanco. "And I believe that this popularity will stay strong and that it will grow into further markets outside of the US. I am also sure that Joya will keep growing as well, which it has already proven."*MORE
Our monthly travel maven, Rocky Patel, takes you on a virtual tour of New Orleans, as he points out the best hotels, eateries, clubs, and more in "The Big Easy.” As Rocky says, "One of the things that makes New Orleans such a fascinating city is that you can have as many as 20 different sensory experiences in one night." One of the best things about being a premium cigar manufacturer is that I get to do a lot of traveling. It's gotten to the point where I think I spend more time in an airline seat than I do in my bed. This month I'll share my impressions of New Orleans - a vibrant and colorful city with a great mix of culture, music, food, and history.
New Orleans has always been one of my favorite cities for its history and variety of cultures. All of this is evidenced by the city's people, cordial hospitality, music, and food - making it one of the most unique communities in the United States.
One of the things that makes New Orleans such a fascinating city is that you can have as many as 20 different sensory experiences in one night. You can casually wander from club to club, starting with a great rock band at The Famous Door, to a traditional jazz ensemble at The Spotted Cat, to a quiet little place where you might find someone playing solo piano, or accompanied by a guitar player.
Even if you've never visited New Orleans, you've probably heard of Bourbon Street. Because of its popularity, Bourbon Street is where you'll find most of the tourists hanging out. But Bourbon Street isn't the only place where the action is. Even more exciting, in my opinion, is Magazine Street; that's where the locals hangout. Located on the other side of Bourbon, Magazine is where you'll find art galleries, little, out of the way dive bars, some of the best local food and drink, plus every type of music from rock, to country, to jazz and everything in-between.
If you're a cigar smoker like me, New Orleans is one of the few American cities where many of the bars still permit smoking. The Ritz Carleton
921 Canal Street | New Orleans, LA 70112 (504) 524-1331
The Ritz Carleton is a very old and ornate hotel with a marvelous old world atmosphere. The lobbies are immense, while the rooms are spacious and beautifully appointed. One of the best restaurants in the Ritz is the M. Bistro. The food is spectacular, and among the M. Bistro's must-try specialties are their famous Rabbit Confit, Frogs Legs, and my personal favorite, Cajun Eggs Benedict. Hotel Monteleone
214 Royal Street | New Orleans, Louisiana 70130-2201
(504) 523 3341 or 1-866-338-4684 (toll-free)
Located just south of Bourbon Street, the Monteleone is one of the most unique luxury hotels in the city. Having recently completed a $70 million renovation, the hotel is stellar, from the cavernous marble-laden halls to the plush décor of the suites.
One of my favorite places to relax with a cigar in the Monteleone is at the Carousel Bar. Instead of tables, seating takes place on a completely refurbished antique carousel, garishly decorated with Mardi Gras masques. But the piece de resistance is, while you're enjoying a fine drink and a cigar, the bar revolves slowly giving you a continuous panoramic view of the room. The best way to describe it is, you feel like you're celebrating Mardi Gras inside a luxury hotel. In addition to the Carousel Bar, the Monteleone also offers a rooftop bar that's ideal for smoking and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter from a bird's-eye view. Magazine Street
Not everything that happens in NOLA happens on Bourbon Street. Located on the other side of Bourban, Magazine is where you'll find art galleries, little, out-of-the-way bars, some of the best local food and drink, plus every type of music from rock, to country, to jazz and everything in between.
209 Bourbon Street , New Orleans , LA 70130
Galatiore's is the ideal place for the truly ardent gourmet. Founded by Jean Galatoire in 1905, the recipes have been in the family for generations, dating back to the Galatiore's village of Pardies, France. The restaurant also has the atmosphere of a French family restaurant, and the service is beyond reproach.
If you like Pate de Foie Gras, Galatiore's has the best I've had anywhere - even in Paris. They offer several different types of Foie Gras and a modest selection of sauces to go with them. Other specialties that set Galatiore's apart are the Cajun Oysters en Brochette with pickled relish, their famed Oysters Rockefeller, and Trout Meunière.
The restaurant has two dining areas. They take reservations for the upstairs dining room, but if you want to eat downstairs, it's first come, first serve, no exceptions. 301 Tchoupitoulas St. | New Orleans, LA 70130 504.299.9777
Another one of the best eateries in the city where you'll find both authentic and esoteric Louisiana cuisine. Located in a 19th century French-Creole building in New Orleans’ central business district, the restaurant was created by world renown chef, John Besh, a native of New Orleans, and has three elaborately decorated dining rooms: the main dining room, lit by crystal chandeliers, a two-story wine room, and the Gravier room which offers a more intimate setting.
Some of the more popular specialties include Foie Gras Au Torchon with apple marmalade, hazelnut Florentine, and toasted brioche; Fried P&J Oysters with blue cheese, ranch, warm bacon and mizuna; Breaded Trout Pontchartrain with jumbo lump crab, wild mushrooms, and sauce hollandaise, and their 48 Hour Braised Shortrib with smoked apple and celeriac, roasted turnips and chanterelles.
This is high-end formal dining at its best, making for a true gourmet experience for ultimate foodies. 2 Poydras Street | New Orleans, LA 70130 (504) 584-3911
If you've never had barbequed oysters, you're in for a real treat at Drago's. Founded by Drago and Klara Cvitanovich in 1969, Drago's offers great seafood in a casual, family-style atmosphere at a reasonable price.
The restaurant's motto is "Home of the Original Charbroiled Oysters." The house specialty, they charbroil grill the oysters in their shells until blackened. Prepared using a garlic, butter and herb sauce with Parmesan and Romano cheese, the flavors are to die for. I just love watching the butter bubbling on top of the oysters when they're served. Squeeze some lime on them and it's one of the most decadent and savory things you've ever tasted. The Faubourg Marigny district, Frenchman Street in particular, has a nightlife scene all its own. It is also one of the most picturesque sections of the city. Originally an 18th century plantation owned by a wealthy Creole, the property was subdivided in 1806, and today the district has a very European look and feel. Old banks and local stores now serve as homes, and warehouses along the riverfront are now used by artisits and musicians as studios and performance venues. Cochon
930 Tchoupitoulas Street | New Orleans, LA 70130
For reservations online: http://www.cochonrestaurant.com/reservations/
If you want to try some of the most eclectic Cajun cuisine, add Cochon to your "must-try" restaurant list. The atmosphere is more casual and relaxed. Popular among the young and hip crowd, Cochon has a great bar scene, but it's the food that's absolutely amazing; it's a carnivore's heaven.
Their specialty is serving just about every kind of meat imaginable. I call it "eclectic fusion with Creole touches." There's plenty to choose from on the menu, too, such as Fried Alligator with Chili Garlic Aioli; Cane syrup Glazed Pork Cheeks with Mushrooms & Roasted Corn Grits; Mustard Crusted Ham Hock with Herb & Rice Salad, Catfish Courtbouillonand; and Pork & Black Eyed Pea Gumbo, to name a few. Acme Oyster House
French Quarter Location: 724 Iberville Street | New Orleans, LA 70130 504.522.5973
For a very traditional taste of New Orleans, the Acme Oyster House. You can kick back in a causal atmosphere enjoying buckets of oysters, cooked or raw, with a pitcher of beer. They're also known for their red beans and rice, seafood gumbo, crawfish puppies, jambalaya, large selection of Po-Boy sandwiches, and more. The Dark Side
The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum and Voodoo Authentica can both be found in the heart of the French Quarter.
At the Museum you can learn about all THREE kinds of zombies, obtain your very own gris-gris love potion to help win over the object of your affection or even join a tour of the famous, haunted St. Louis Cemetery #1 (a.k.a the City of the Dead) including the tomb of New Orleans' most renowned practicioner of the Voodoo arts, Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau.
Voodoo Authentica Cultural Center and Collection holds an annual VoodooFest on Halloween, celebrating the history and culture of Voodoo while educating and entertaining visitors. House of Blues New Orleans Foundation Room
225 Decatur St. | New Orleans, LA70130
Foundation Room Lounge | (504) 310–4999 Ext. 32301
Hidden above The House of Blues nightclub, the Foundation Room is one of the most eclectic rooms in the world. It's more like a spa for the mind, than a nightclub. The décor is heavily Asian influenced; a mixture of Tibetan templedécor and furniture lined with rich vibrant fabrics from the Rajasthan region of India and one of the largest collections of original artwork. You're surrounded by rich purples, reds, and orange colors. It's really like stepping into another world.
There are plenty of soft, cushiony chairs, couches, and pillows to sink into; wood carvings accent the walls. Suffice it to say, The Foundation Room has a very Zen-Karmic-Buddhist vibe to it. It's rich, decadent, and you feel like you’re in an ancient mountaintop monastery somewhere in a remote part of Asia smoking a cigar. What the Foundation Room offers most of all is sheer serenity. If you want to hear the band, there's a small corridor that leads you to The House of Blues' balcony where you can look down over the entire club and watch the band, people dancing, drinking, having fun. It's quite a departure from the tranquility of The Foundation Room. Pat O'Brien's
718 St. Peter St. | New Orleans, La, 70116
1-800-597-4823 | 504-525-4823
Another famous landmark where tons of fun await you such as sing-a-longs, dancing, and college fight songs. Another thing that sets this New Orleans landmark apart from other cities is their Piano Lounge. Most of the songs performed are oldies rock 'n roll, classic rock, Top 40, R&B and country. The players also take requests. Make sure you squeeze Pat O'Brien's into your vacation schedule; it'll serve you memories for years to come. Be sure to venture away from the tourist areas. Check out the artsy and eclectic shops, bars, restaurants and people on Magazine Street and the Faubourg Marigny district.
The best time of year to visit New Orleans is when the weather is more comfortable. February and March are particularly good months to visit, especially if you want to partake in Mardi Gras. October and November are the other two best months to visit. It's just one of those fabulous towns where you can never run out of things to do. Moreover, it's one of the few cities that offers a lot of places where you can light up and enjoy your favorite cigars.*MORE
Benji Menendez – hailing from a lineage of legendary tobacco growers, and now a master blender for General Cigar – is the “Iron Chef” of tobacco. “It’s like developing a recipe,” he says. “You have to know the components before you can make the recipe and deliver the flavor you’re targeting. And once you decide what flavor you want, whether it’s a strong cigar, one that’s mild and aromatic, or something in between, then you are ready to start.” And that’s before we’ve even planted anything. So much has been said of cigar blending over the years, and when speaking about blending, many people have made it sound like a very simple process. While I am no expert at all things, not even after this, my 60th year in the cigar business, having grown up in Cuba on a tobacco farm, and watching my grandfather, father and uncles tend to the tobacco, i can tell you a thing or two about blending. It starts with the soil. THis is very important and very seldom spoken about when it comes to blending. Take this for example: Cuba has only 100 sq kilometers of the soil that makes up the gold standard for growing tobacco. One hundred square kilometers is relatively small when compared to the size of CUba; however, just as with wine, there are very specific growing regions for tobacco. Not all of the soil in California is optimal for cultivating wine grapes, just as not all soils in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Connecticut USA, Indonesia, Brazil, and other well-known tobacco-growing countries is ideal for tobacco. Sure, soil can be improved through fertalization, but it's the original, natural content of the soil that is so important. Some people believe that Cuban seed tobacco bears the characteristics of Cuban tobacco. That is not true. Cuban seed only gives a certain look to a cigar; it is the soil content that drives the flavor of the tobacco. So before you can even think about the types of tobacco you want to use in your blend, you have to start with the soil. Since the tobacco's flavor comes from the soil, you have to analyze the soil before you even think about planting. Without getting too detailed, in order for tobacco to thrive and deliver what we want it to, we have to have the right balance of acidity and pH. If the soil is too acidic, the tobacco will not absorb the nutrients. When the plant does not absorb the nutrients, it llacks flavor. Fertilizer can be and is often used to improve the soil, but the soil cannot be made tobacco-friendly with just fertilizer. The soil has to be in the range of what's ideal for tobacco before it can be used. Anyone who has tried to grow tobacco in the U.S. in their own yard can attest to this. With tobacco, you have to be on top of it every day. Another very important aspect of tobacco blending comes into play before the process even begins. YOu may have a beautiful crop in the field but you can quickly ruin it by using improper processing, fermentation, and aging methods. With tobacco, you have to be in top of it every day. I often say that a cigar is a living thing before you light it. Just as you would not leave a child to grow on his own without caring for him, tobacco requires your full attention. Bringing all of the tobacco's componants to a perfect fruition through processing, fermentation and aging is required before you can even begin to develop a great blend. It's the secrets and techniques that are handed down that contribute greatly to the tobacco's flavor. Now that we've ensured we're working with tobacco from fertile soil that has just the right balance between pH and acidity, and once the tobacco is meticulously aged, fermented and processed, we can move onto blending. I like to say blending is like developing a recipie. YOu have to know the components first before you can make the recipe and deliver the flavor you're targeting. Once you decide what flavor you want, whether it's a strong cigar, one that's mild and aromatic, or something between, then you are ready to start. People who blend tobacco have a knowledge base and a palate that they call upon when developing blends, just as a chef does when developing a recipe. Knowing the flavor profiles and strength of many varieties of tobacco is where it starts, but you still have to taste each tobacco individually. We traditionally pull a few leaves of the same tobacco together and smoke that single component to determine the overall taste. It's like we're confirming what our experience already tells us. This dosen't mean that we will stay with that exact tobacco for the blend, bit it provides a good jumping-off point. Once we decide on the type of tobacco we want to use, there is plenty of room for refinement. We play around with it. We use more or less of it, choose a leaf that's higher or lower on the plant. THe lower leaf on the plant, the less strength; the higher the leaf's positioning, the stronger it is. There are some excellent wrapper, binder and filler tobaccos but just as with cooking, some ingredients don't work together. With tobacco, there are some types that fight with each other and create a bad taste, so blending and refining is very important. To say that there are a great many variables and that there's a lot of trial and error in blending is an understatement. Don't forget that in blending there are three componants: wrapper, binder, and filler. My opinion is that weapper accounts for 60 percent of the taste. The remaining 40 percent comes from the combination of the filler and binder, so we have to marry all of the components together. Don't get me wrong: I am not the only person who develops our blends. Not by any stretch. I'm part of a team, and I'm proud of our team; they are great people, with great knowledge and I really enjoy working with them. The experience and the passion that our team brings to the table is, I believe, the best in the business. Once we arrive at a blend we like, we make several cigars of that same blend with those components and smoke them randomly. This is where a lot of people have seen me write directly on the cigar, because I don't want to know what I'm smoking- I want a completely blind test for myself. Afterwards, I choose all the cigars I like and narrow it down to select what I believe is the best of the blends. Taste is subjective, so we don't allow the opinions of just the people on my team to dictate the flavor of our new cigars. We have people in all areas of our company, tried and true cigar lovers that sample our blends and provide us with feedback. We often take it a step further by sending samples to members of our consumer testing panel to determine what they like about a particular blend. It's a matter of preference. Whenever I give someone a blend to test, I don't like an absolute "yes or no," on a cigar. This doesn't give me any information. Instead, I want to know what the person likes or dislikes specifically because otherwise, I cannot come up with a cigar that pleases them. We all have different palates. I drink scotch; others like gin or rum. It doesn't make anyone right or wrong, it's a matter of preference. This is why it's important for us to call upon our resources in developing our blends. When we get to the final stages, we either continue to make slight refinements, or we continue to test-smoke what we believe to be the final blend. Make no mistake about it; when we test blends, especially when it comes down to selecting the final blend, there are a lot of people with great opinions and lots of experience, and oftentimes, they clash. We've had many a heated argument about new blends, but until we reach a unanimous conclusion, we do not consider a blend to be final. Many people are surprised to hear that at General Cigar, we're democratic when it comes to finalizing our blends. Being privileged to work in a business that is still driven by passion and artisty allows us to take out time and agree on a blend before we share it with our retailos and consumers. Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way.*MORE
As far back as the silent film era, movies defined the good guys from the bad guys by the color of their hats. Today's movie bad guys are a lot more colorful. For example, no list of cigar-smoking bad guys would be complete without including one of the biggest badasses of all: Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant who becomes Miami's leading drug lord. Brian DePalma's 1983 crime classic is loaded with sex, drugs, violence, not to mention Tony's love for fine cigars. Unfortunately for Tony, greed is not good... 10. "Forrest Bondurant" - Lawless (Tim Hardy) - Talk about badasses! In director John Hillcoat's 2012 film, Tim Hardy ("Bane" in The Dark Knight Rises) plays Forrest Bondurant, the vicious cigar-chomping leader of a violent bootleggin' clan somewhere in downtown rural Virginia circa the 1920's. The film is so thick with blood and guts, it's hard to tell who's worse; Bondurant's outlaw gang or the sadistic lawman, Special Deputy Charles Rakes (Guy Pierce.) 9. "Logan" - X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman)
As we saw in 2000's X-Men, James Howlett (Howl-ett get it?), better known as "Wolverine," a.k.a. "Logan," is a serious cigar smoker. One scene in Origins (2009)
takes place at the Weapons X Project lab in which Logan, lying on a steel table, will undergo his metamorphosis. During this process, a flashback of Logan's life through a number of war scenes includes the D-Day invasion at NormandyBeach. As the American soldiers swarm out of the landing craft, Howlett (in close-up) stuffs a fat cigar in his mouth. Well, at least Wolverine doesn't have to buy a cigar cutter. 8. "Frank Lucas" - American Gangster (Denzel Washington) - Denzel showed us just how badass he can be in Training Day. In Ridley Scott's American Gangster (2007), Washington, as Frank Lucas, reaches new heights of badass and power as a cigar-smoking, heroin-importing kingpin from Harlem with an exceptional Vietnamese connection. Lucas may love his cigars as much as he loves his profits…nah! 7. "Tommy Devito" - Goodfellas (Joe Pesci)
Some actors were just born to be badasses. In Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990), Joe Pesci plays the hot-headed Tommy Devito, Henry Hill's partner in crime, who longs to be a "made man" in a leading New York Mafia crime family. Tommy has an explosive violent streak, and when he isn't brutalizing someone, he enjoys Italian food, whiskey, cheap women, and smoking cigars. For his role, Pesci received an Oscar for "Best Supporting Actor." 6. Brigadier General "Jack Ripper"- Dr. Strangelove (Sterling Hayden)
Stanley Kubrick's 1964 masterpiece features one of the craziest badasses of all time. I mean, when a deranged, cigar-smoking Brigadier General, aptly named "Jack Ripper," turns a .50 caliber machine gun on his own men believing they're Russians pretending to be Americans, that's badass! The screenplay by 1960's bestselling author, Terry Southern, is one of the best satires on the Cold War ever set to film. 5. Hellboy (Ron Perlman): - It would seem to make sense that a badass like Hellboy, a good-guy demon rescued from the Nazis who fights against the forces of evil, would have a penchant for cigars. For one, it doesn't take him long to light-up. This first-installment of the film (released in 2004) offers plenty of action and smoke. Besides, what better way to celebrate saving the world from rebellious hideous creatures than with a good cigar? 4. "Captain Steven Hiller" - Independence Day (Will Smith)
Directed by Roland Emmerich. 1996. Will Smith plays a maverick Air Force pilot who has several confrontations with the aliens. Many of his lines are funny, too. After successfully completing his final mission and returning safely to Earth, Hiller lights up a big cigar, holds it out and says: "This is our victory dance." Then, referring to the cigar, he adds: " Not until the fat lady sings." David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) replies. Mm. Fat Lady. I gotcha." 3. Major "Dutch" Schaefer - Predator (Arnold Schwarzenegger)
Schwarzenegger's reputation as an avid cigar smoker precedes him. But any excuse to clench a cigar between his teeth in a movie is fine with him, like his character "Dutch" in 1987's Predator. Hired by the CIA, the cigar-smoking Major leads a special ops team into the heart of a Central American jungle to rescue the survivors of a helicopter crash. They find no survivors, but soon enough, something very alien, sinister and vicious eventually finds them. Mayhem and violence ensue. 2. "Blondie" - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Clint Eastwood)
One of most famous cinematic badass images comes from Sergio Leone's 1966 "spaghetti western," The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Clint Eastwood underplays Blondie to the hilt, and that little stogie in the corner of his mouth makes him look that much more intimidating. The cigars he smoked in the film were Parodis, which are still very popular in Italy. It's also been rumoured that Eastwood hated the taste of them. 1. "Tony Montana" - Scarface (Al Pacino)
How could you make a list of cigar-smoking badasses without including one of the biggest badasses of all: Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant who becomes Miami's leading drug lord. Brian DePalma's 1983 crime classic is loaded with sex, drugs, violence, not to mention Tony's love for fine cigars. Unfortunately for Tony, greed is not good.*MORE
In 1963, just before signing the Cuban embargo order, president John F. Kennedy snatches up all the Cuban cigars he can find in Washington. 20 years later two master thieves pull-off a heist in which some of their priceless booty reveals some very unexpected surprises. “Stanius, you’d better come see this.”
Stanius set the president’s speech aside. There was a gathering commotion just outside the young writer’s office and he followed the worried crowd of White House staffers into the lounge where Walter Cronkite addressed the nation on black and white television.
“This is Walter Cronkite in our newsroom and there has been an attempt, as perhaps you know now, on the life of President Kennedy. He was wounded in an automobile driving from Dallas Airport into downtown Dallas, along with Governor Connelly of Texas. They’ve been taken to Parkland Hospital there, where their condition is as yet unknown…” The spectators gasped. Stanius glanced around the room and saw shocked, frozen faces. Pale hands covered awestruck mouths. Tears welled, heads shook in disbelief. Hands were clasped in prayer. Telephones rang, tears began to fall. And this was his chance. Amid the chaos that was to ensue, this was his one and only chance.
Stanius disappeared from the room and headed down the hall for the president’s study. President Kennedy wounded, Stanius heard Cronkite’s voice again. Taken to the hospital, his condition yet unknown. Sweat beaded on the speechwriter’s forehead as he rounded a corner and slipped into the president’s study. He hoped the president would survive. Mr. Kennedy was a good man with nice children and a friendly wife and he had always been fair to Stanius. And even if Mr. Kennedy did survive, the White House would soon be filled with panic and uncertainty. And the most uncertain time would be now. Thus, it was probably the only opportunity for Stanius to get his hands on JFK’s prized cigars.
Stanius knew exactly where they were; he had often been invited to share a stogie with the president during those late night speech-writing touchups. As he slipped into the study he went for the oak desk’s lower left-hand drawer. He knew the story. Salinger goes to every tobacconist in Washington, D.C. the day before the president signs the order for the embargo and returns with 1,200 Cuban cigars. JFK went through those cigars faster than Stanius went through coffee – and as one of the U.S. President’s speechwriters, Stanius went through a lot of coffee. But JFK still had one left in that box in his drawer. The last of his stash that he was saving for a special occasion.
As Stanius knelt to open the door, he heard the voices of two men approaching so he paused, tried to think of an excuse for why he was in the study. A moment passed and the voices moved urgently down the corridor, leaving Stanius alone in the study. He opened the drawer and found the cigar box. Inside was the last of Jack’s Cuban cigars, but also a little surprise, something Stanius didn’t know existed – a gift from Che Guevara. On top was a note from the shaggy revolutionary: Since I have no greeting card, I have to write. Since to write to an enemy is difficult, I limit myself to extending my hand – Che.
Stanius always thought the Cuban leaders were a bunch of weirdoes with their fatigues and beards but for some reason Kennedy had kept Guevara’s gift. This would be worth much more than he had calculated – a healthy payday to be sure. Stanius closed the box, hurried back to his office, stashed it in his briefcase and then returned to the crowded lounge. No one noticed he had been absent.
Cronkite was still on TV, “From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1 pm Central Standard Time. 2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.” The room gasped, people turned and embrace each other and tears were shed for many days. 20 years later: 1983 Like Santa Claus holding a child’s wish list, Tercero checked the prizes item by item. An authentic Babe Ruth game jersey from the mid 1920’s, a pistol used by Teddy Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War, a Fedora Humphrey Bogart wore in Casablanca, a rare unpublished Hemingway manuscript, and a pair of unused tickets from the Titanic.
Tercero folded the list and gazed through the van window at the mansion across the street. “Quite a collection of precious American bullshit.” He chuckled. Americans were so proud of their pop culture and their nostalgia that they were willing to spend millions of dollars to own these pieces of what they would call ‘history.’
Redding flipped through the paperwork he had compiled: newspaper articles, auction house disclosures, tracking sheets from his own reconnaissance. “Add to Sternhardt’s list: a pair of high heels worn by Marilyn Monroe. Sternhardt paid $30,000 for them at the Surdyk’s auction last month.”
Tercero scoffed, inhaled the last of his cigarette and flicked the butt out the window. “Enough to feed five children for years and he spends it on a pair of women’s shoes.”
“They’re very nice shoes.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
Tercero and Redding had been tracking auction activity for years and had pinpointed Russell Sternhardt as one of the most active buyers of memorabilia. According to newspaper articles compiled by Redding, Sternhardt didn’t care where the items came from — auctions, museums, the black market — and he kept his collection in his mansion so he could show off his plunder to his elite friends and associates. And now Tercero believed they had chosen the perfect night to pounce.
The two thieves slumped in their seats until Sternhardt’s limousine passed. Redding eyed Tercero as the Cuban sat up, peered into the rearview mirror and started driving the van the opposite direction. Redding knew Tercero was some kind of Cuban ex-military and the third son of his family, hence the nickname Tercero. Redding didn’t even know the man’s real name. But he was pragmatic, organized and courageous. Bold. That was how Redding would describe this heist on the Sternhardt mansion: bold.
As Tercero drove the van around one corner, then another, he considered his partner. Redding had some Hispanic blood but Tercero didn’t know how much. He was some kind of a computer data thief. A master researcher, Redding knew how to access people’s personal information and exploit it for financial benefit or blackmail. He seemed to have some kind of official government training, but Tercero was not sure which government. They met years ago as petty thieves, and had been working together ever since.
Railroad tracks ran through the woods about a half mile from the mansion and that’s where Tercero parked. The night was dark and cold. There would be frost in the morning, but no snow. The ground was still dry, so it would be an easy walk.
“Get the duffel bag,” Tercero pointed towards the back of the van as he hopped out. He hung the strap of his own small black bag over his shoulder. Both men wore black gloves, black shirts and pants, black shoes. No need to darken their faces – there was little chance anyone would see them up close. And they both carried pistols, just in case.
The roof of the mansion was just in sight over the tree line but they weren’t headed there. Instead Redding pointed them to a small, abandoned brick building near the tracks, just a hundred yards from Sternhardt’s castle.
“It was supposedly some kind of depot back in the 30’s,” Redding explained as they walked to the building Railroad tracks ran through the woods about a half mile from the mansion and that's where Tercero parked. The windows had been sealed with concrete and the wooden door bolted shut with a cast iron brace. Tercero and Redding knelt in front of the door and Tercero produced a small, custom-built, battery-powered saw from his bag. He went to work on the brace as Redding paced around the building watching for any movement from the road, the trees, the air. The night was quiet, except for the gentle buzzing of Tercero’s saw.
“I’m in!” Tercero finally announced and Redding helped him slide the metal brace from the doorway. They shoved the wooden door open and entered the musty brick house. Tercero turned on his flashlight and scanned the small empty room. In the shadows, something moved.
“Rats,” Tercero muttered as a pair of black rodents scurried across the room and disappeared into a corner. Tercero thought he heard one of them hiss before he ignored the animals and shined his light through the rest of the room. “Looks like nothing more than a small, friendly train stop.”
Redding scoffed. “It’s not going to be right here in front of you.” He pointed to a wooden counter near the back of the shack, sitting beside a round, iron wood-burning stove. “There.” They walked behind the counter and right beside the stove Redding shined his light on a small metal trapdoor. He pulled the handle, then harder, and harder still until the door opened and revealed a cold, black hole in the ground.
Redding and Tercero smiled at each other.
“¡Puerta de oro coño!” Exclaimed Tercero as he shined his light into the hole and found the stone steps that lead down to the cavern.
Cold, dark, dry and endless. They pointed their lights down the long tunnel and started walking. “This is where they used to come in?” Tercero asked.
“That’s what my research said. They’d enter through the depot, speak the password to whoever waited at the counter and they’d be allowed entry into the secret tunnel.” “Old power lines running along the ceiling,” Tercero pointed with his light. “Must have had electric lamps down here to light their way.”
“They were classy people, despite their devious ways.”
“Yes, classy people can be quite devious.”
They traveled along the tunnel for a hundred yards until they reached a doorway. “There was probably another guard here,” Redding explained. “And a different password.”
“Well, speak the password and let us in before I freeze to death!”
Redding smiled. “It might be easier than that.” He tried the doorknob, the door opened. When the thieves stepped through the threshold and shone their lights, their jaws dropped. They stood frozen in shock at the sight before them.
Tercero stepped into the room and said to Redding, “Not at all what I was expecting.”
Sternhardt purchased the mansion in early 1950, just before the ‘I Like Ike’ years. The previous owner had been wealthy beyond imagination, a giant of industry and commerce. He had built the mansion in the 20’s and during Prohibition had used the guest house as a portal to an underground speakeasy.
“This is where many a privileged man came to get zozzled,” said Redding.
“Literally, an underground speakeasy,” Tercero observed as he scanned the dank, concrete basement with his flashlight. He imagined the camaraderie and bullshit that must have flown in this room. A stone bar lined one side of the room and behind it a cloudy mirror hung on the wall, decorated with a dusty American flag. Old bottles of bourbon and cider lined the bar and stools were overturned on the floor or lined against the side wall. The treasures in this room alone could be worth thousands. Near the bar, a stone staircase led to the ceiling where another trap door marked the entrance to the mansion’s guest house. “There!” Redding pointed Tercero to the stairs. Tercero popped the trapdoor and climbed into a small, dark alcove.
“What did your blueprints say to do next?” he called down to Redding, who looked up to him from the stairs. The previous owner had been wealthy beyond imagination, a giant of industry and commerce. He had built the mansion in the 20s and during Prohibition had used the guest house as a portal to an underground speakeasy. Tercero did as he was told, testing each wall until one budged slightly. He put his shoulder into it and the door slowly creaked open, spilling moonlight into the alcove from the room he was about to enter. Tercero peered into the crack and saw the door opened into the closet of a small bedroom. The closet doors were opened and Tercero could see the moon through the bedroom window. He stepped inside and waited quietly for Redding to join him.
“Shhhhh,” Tercero whispered. “Stand silent for a moment and make sure no one is here.”
“No one is here,” Redding insisted. “I’ve been casing this place for months, tracking Sternhardt’s routine nearly down to the minute. Tonight he meets with his investor group at 8:15 before heading to the Piedmont Lounge downtown for cigars and booze. He won’t be back until after midnight and his staff is dismissed at nine. He has no guests so the house should be empty, and the caretaker leaves with his dog every night at seven. We have almost three hours to work with.”
“We won’t need nearly that long,” Tercero said as they emerged from the closet and inspected the room. It was a small guest bedroom with a modest dresser, a small nightstand and a queen size bed. A substandard guestroom for such a large mansion, thought Tercero as he turned off his flashlight. The house was dark and they navigated using the dim moonlight.
Redding didn’t see the small table just outside the bedroom door and when he bumped into it, he knocked a row of books to the floor where they landed with a few cluttered slaps. Outside in the night, a dog barked. Tercero and Redding instinctively crouched to the floor and prepared to retreat back to the secret doorway but a moment later the dog stopped barking. Redding replaced the books and the men continued.
Soon they reached the guest house’s foyer where the front door opened to a covered brick walkway that led to the mansion. From here it was a straight walk to the mansion’s kitchen entrance. It was the only unobstructed entry into a castle surrounded by a 12 foot stone wall topped with electric wire and an army of security cameras. The secret underground tunnel was the only way in or out and Redding had studied old blueprints of the mansion along with newspaper articles detailing the existence of the Prohibition-era speakeasy.
Tercero opened the guest house door and walked into the night. He touched the pistol in his pocket and wondered what happened to that dog as they crouched and jogged across the walkway and stopped outside the kitchen door. A glass window allowed them to glimpse inside the dark house.
“How do we make our final entrance into the mansion?” Redding asked.
“We’re burglars. How do burglars normally enter a house?”
Redding shrugged. He hadn’t thought about this part of the plan.
Tercero removed a hand towel from his bag.
“Always carry a towel,” Tercero explained. “It’s the world’s most useful item.” He folded the towel and held it against the glass window. “You can use it as a pillow or to dry yourself off if you get wet. It can carry things, or be used as a bandage.” He made a fist and punched the towel, shattering the glass. “Or in this case,” he reached through the hole and unlocked the door, “as a spare key.” Tercero opened the guest house door and walked into the night. He touched the pistol in his pocket and wondered what happened to that dog as they crouched and jogged across the walkway and stopped outside the kitchen door. Tercero shook the glass pieces off his towel, folded it and placed it back in his bag as Redding grinned and admired Tercero’s ingenuity. “I’m going to remember that one!”
Headlights suddenly illuminated the walkway. Tercero and Redding fell to the ground and crawled behind the hedge that surrounded the mansion. Where is that dog? Tercero wondered as the headlights approached the guest house. Perhaps Redding had misunderstood Sternhardt’s schedule. Perhaps the millionaire was simply not feeling well and was returning home early. As a car approached the mansion, Tercero considered aborting the heist, scurrying back to the guest house and disappearing into the secret door.
He was worried that if they tried to leave now, the barking dog would return and give away their position. Tercero reached into his pocket and removed his pistol, a .45 automatic with his initials “AS” carved into the butt. But the car stopped just before it reached the mansion, and the driver’s door opened. “Harold!” a man’s voice called. “Harold! Come here!”
Tercero heard the dog yelp and from the shadows, the furry critter bounded toward the car and jumped into the front seat. The driver’s door closed, the car turned around and drove away, its headlights disappearing into the night and leaving Tercero and Redding alone in the dark.
Tercero put his gun away and turned to Redding, “I don’t know what that was about but it was too close.”
“Looks like the caretaker forgot his dog.”
“As long as there are no more surprises we should be able to finish this operation in less than thirty minutes. Let’s go.” Baseball was so popular in Cuba that Tercero remembered a time when Castro, as Comandante, took batting practice during a national game while dressed in his signature fatigues. Tercero had always appreciated the complexities of baseball and the utter impossibilities that unfolded throughout a season but it was not until he held a Babe Ruth game jersey in his hand that he understood the true power of the game. There was something about the dirt on the jersey, the faded pinstripes, the faint odor of sweat that made it seem...magical.
“We can’t linger,” Redding reminded him as they gathered the artifacts in Sternhardt’s collection. The top floor of the mansion was arranged like a museum, with a vast library of books on one end, a seemingly endless wall of literature, and a collection of rare American artifacts on the other side. The Ruth jersey, the Bogart hat, the Hemingway script, the Titanic tickets. It was all there, just as Redding had predicted. Sternhardt had been hitting all the major auctions and amassing this institution of Americana and now it was all in the hands of Tercero.
The Teddy Roosevelt pistol, a pair of Elvis cufflinks, and a box of cigars. Tercero recognized the box as the H. Upmann brand from his home country. He opened it and looked inside to see a neat arrangement of cigars, fairly well preserved, and a small note.
“I’ll be damned,” Tercero flashed the note to Redding. “A message from Ernesto Guevara himself to JFK. This must have served as Sternhardt’s certificate of authenticity.” He folded the note and along with a handful of the cigars stuck it in his pocket as a memento.
Beside the fireplace in a glass trophy case stood an attractive bolt-action rifle with shiny polished wood and glistening hardware. Tercero stood before the rifle, not believing his eyes. “That’s a Dragunov SVD, a high-power Russian-made sniper rifle. Haven’t seen one of those since...1963.” Tercero retired in Key West with one last Kennedy cigar. He kept a small cottage next to the beach and sat on his patio with one of his island's cigars and reflected on his years. He opened the case and took the rifle, adding it to their loot.
“Let’s get out of here, Tercero. We’re cutting it close.”
They made off with the entire collection and leaving behind nothing but a broken window and a few footprints. Sternhardt returned to his home just after midnight but by then it was too late. Two days later his entire collection was offloaded for millions to a European billionaire who went by the name Jean. Redding took his share and retired to South America, never to see Tercero again.
Jean soon dispersed the collection, negotiating top dollar for the individual pieces and making a fortune in the process. The Bogart hat went to a Saudi oil tycoon who was a huge fan of American movies, the Hemingway script to a museum in the Soviet Union. The Ruth jersey he gave as a gift to his father-in-law, who loved all things sports, and the Roosevelt pistol Jean kept for himself, hanging it in a frame in his office.
Not being a cigar smoker and having no use for the old box of Cuban cigars, Jean gave them to his pregnant sister’s husband Rudy, a boorish American, in his opinion. Upon the birth of the child, Rudy passed the cigars out to his buddies with “It’s a Boy!” ribbons tied to them.
Tercero retired to Key West with one last Kennedy cigar. He kept a small cottage near the beach and sat on his patio with one of his island’s cigars and reflected on his years. Long ago he had been hired by Castro to do one of the world’s most difficult jobs but once the mission was complete, the heat became overwhelming. Tercero defected, became a thief, retired and finally had a chance to sit and enjoy something he had dearly missed since being away from Cuba. Sternhardt’s artifacts had funded his retirement and except for a single cigar, Tercero kept only one other memento of his days in the underworld: the Dragunov SVD sniper rifle. When he first saw that rifle in Sternhardt’s mansion Tercero knew instantly it was something special. He had used a similar rifle during a high-risk, history-altering operation in 1963.
After he took the Dragunov home from Sternhardt’s and had a chance to look it over he noticed two letters carved on the rifle’s stock: AS. Antonio Sandoval, Tercero’s given name. This was Tercero’s rifle, the exact one he had used during his most famous mission in 1963, when he shot JFK from the grassy knoll in Dallas. No telling how that Oswald kid was involved, but it had been the perfect cover for Tercero, who considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. He puffed his cigar, savored the sunny weather, and this reunion with his memorable rifle.*MORE
Retrohaling is the process of expelling smoke so that it passes through the nasal cavity and past the olfactory receptors on its way out of your body. To call it “exhaling” or “blowing” smoke out through the nose is misleading because cigarette smokers also exhale smoke through the nose. The confusion arises because exhaling is the opposite of inhaling. And yet, most cigar smokers do not (and should not) inhale cigar smoke. Retrohaling bypasses the lungs completely... Retrohaling* is the process of expelling smoke so that it passes through the nasal cavity and past the olfactory receptors on its way out of your body. To call it “exhaling” or “blowing” smoke out through the nose is misleading because cigarette smokers also exhale smoke through the nose. The confusion arises because exhaling is the opposite of inhaling. And yet, most cigar smokers do not (and should not) inhale cigar smoke. Retrohaling bypasses the lungs completely.
What it is retrohaling?
Cigar makers have long noted that the flavors in a cigar change dramatically when smoke is expelled through the nose as compared to the normal practice of releasing it through the mouth. Just as food cannot be fully appreciated without its aroma, neither can a cigar display all its wonderful nuances without the interplay between the senses of taste and smell. I have heard the president of one cigar company say that, “Unless you have blown smoke out through your nose while smoking a cigar, you have never really tasted the cigar.” There is plenty of science to back up this assertion. Retronasal olfaction refers to sensations that arise from aromas that travel through the back of the throat into the nasal cavity. Channeling smoke up through the nasal cavity and expelling it through the nose bathes the olfactory receptors and drastically increases the number of aroma particles reaching the olfactory nerves.
Through retrohaling, cigar smokers can exploit this little known secret to provide themselves with a much fuller experience of a premium hand made cigar.
How to retrohale
To retrohale cigar smoke you first need to draw the smoke into your mouth, then close your mouth. With the smoke in your mouth and while holding your breath, open your throat and let the pressure in your lungs force the smoke out through your nose. It may help to use your diaphragm muscle to help you channel the air from your mouth through your nasal passage. To visualize this experience, pretend you are submerged under water. While underwater, you are holding your breath and you want to let some of the air out of your lungs. You simply allow the pressure in your lungs to push air out of your lungs through your nose.
Developing this technique usually takes a bit of practice. Until you get the hang of it, it may help to blow out most of the smoke from your mouth (70-80%) before closing your mouth and attempting to open up the back of your throat to retrohale the remaining smoke. Will retrohaling work for everyone?
Even if the technique of retrohaling is mastered perfectly, the amount of influence it will have on the flavor of a cigar will vary from person to person. For some cigar smokers, retrohaling will totally change the flavor of a cigar, while for others, it will have much less of an effect on flavor and may lead to only subtle differences. These variances are due to the structural differences of the organs of taste and smell from individual to individual. Should I retrohale every cigar?
Unless you are a very experienced cigar smoker and have a lot of practice retrohaling, I would not recommend retrohaling on full-bodied cigars. The smoke from strong cigars can irritate your nasal mucosa leading to a very unpleasant, almost painful sensation during retrohaling. (Think of wasabi in your nose and you’ll get the idea!) I would recommend retrohaling mild or medium cigars first, and if you enjoy that and do not feel any irritation, then try it with a stronger cigar.
I personally retrohale every cigar, even full-bodied ones, but I will often moderate the amount of smoke that I retrohale. On full-bodied cigars, I blow out most of the smoke through my mouth and retrohale only the last bit. Is retrohaling harmful to my nasal cavity?
If you are disposed to irritations of the nasal cavity such as allergies or sinus infections, I would recommend caution in trying to retrohale. If your nasal mucosa is overly sensitive, retrohaling may be very unpleasant and lead to further irritation.
Cigar smoking is not without risk; however, cigar smoke should be no more risky to the mucous membranes of the nose than to those in the mouth. The body’s mucous membranes are part of the immune system and serve to maintain the health of the underlying structures. Conclusion
Retrohaling is the key to experiencing all that a cigar has to offer. Once mastered, retrohaling can open up a wide world of pleasurable flavors and aromas to the cigar smoker and enhance the enjoyment of a hand made cigar.
* In 2007, I coined the term retrohale to clearly identify and distinguish this practice and to provide a basis for understanding how the process works. The term retrohale* is a contraction of two terms: retronasal olfaction and exhale.
About the Author
David "Doc" Diaz is the publisher and the editor of Stogie Fresh Cigar Publications. He has served as an educator, researcher and writer and has taught in the Health Education and Health Science field for over 30 years. He possesses an earned doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Doc is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT), having received this certification from the Tobacconist University and is a member and Ambassador of Cigar Rights of America (CRA). *MORE
It’s the age-old puzzle that seems to have no solution - or at best a solution so elusive, so intangible, that most capsize at some stage of the attempt at capturing the un-capturable; the healthy and committed form of “adult” relationship. Matt Booth puts on his therapist hat and dispenses wisdom o’ love that may (or may not) keep the flame alive: “Stand by your man. Stand by your woman. Stand behind your Shetland pony. Whatever the case may be, don’t let the doubt monster rattle the very foundation that your relationship stands upon: faith.” Ahh yess… The age old puzzle that seems to have no solution - or at best a solution so elusive, so intangible, that most capsize at some stage of the attempt at capturing the un-capturable; the healthy and committed form of “adult” relationship. These aforementioned experiences have ultimately given me the skill set necessary to face the most treacherous of ill-footed terrain one can ever face – not only the dating world, but the world where men and women must coexist, cohabitate, and see out the last of their days together in unity and in hopes that they will be the exception to the rule – they will be a successful love story. In the coming months I will share with you some of my personal experiences – both lived and observed during my travels throughout this life that have helped me mold my methods, shape my tactics and hone my woodshed of mental and emotional implements for dealing and coping with such challenges to a razor sharp edge. The key element that eludes most of us when it comes to interpersonal relationships is that it’s just not that complicated. Scrape away all the bullshit and fodder and you are oftentimes left with simplicity. One plus one equals two type ish. People over-complicate, over-think, over-stress and in one fell swoop undermine the hope of ever having healthy interaction with their significant other. It matters not if you are married or dating, into man-on-man (ehhh?) or a lady that enjoys the ladies... HOLLA!
Perhaps you find your comforts in hooves and meaty hindquarters of barnyard animals (send pics but don't call). Or maybe you're the old fashioned type for the 2012 - just a lonely boy/girl looking for a lonely boy/girl to romance, copulate and ultimately settle down with. Reguardless of your immediate disposition or preferance, there is someone (or something) out there for all of us.
Knock down that hurdle of confusion in this race against ourselves and keep it simple- I assure you breakthroughs are ahead, should you impliment this tactic. Anal. You want it, she doesn’t – is this the end of the road for you two lovebirds? Oh wait! Maybe it’s time to compromise! Yes, finding a common ground between yourself and your partner can ultimately mean the difference between long-term bliss and someone getting their head sawed the eff off. It has been said that one does not have a true agreement until both parties are equally dissatisfied; and that’s just it, that is compromise. Get comfortable with being slightly uncomfortable and give a bit more than you would like to. So, maybe not straight to anal, but perhaps a thumb where no thumb has ever gone before – it’s a start and you just might learn something new about yourselves. Perhaps you’ll find that you’re a freak unleashed and ready to pull out all the stops. Perhaps, via this new experience that you have been so open-minded in trying, your partner discovers that what was once so enticing is no longer of such interest and you both move on to less brown pastures. You learn together, you grow together - all while experiencing new things and earning a greater level of respect and love for one another through the vehicle of compromise! My man George Michael said “you gotta have faith” – and I couldn’t agree more. Faith TO each other and faith IN each other will see you through both the brightest times and the darkest of days. Ultimate physical commitment to your mate is the one thing that, when broken, can never be repaired. No amount of scotch tape and Prada bags will ever mend the laceration that infidelity leaves behind. Now, when i say faith in each other- both go hand in hand. Many a partner has fallen victim to a lack of faith in their mate; and actions based on that lack of faith have just as often ultimately led to the undoing of that relationship. Stand by your man, stand by your woman, stand behind your shetland pony whatever the case may be, don't let the double monster rattle the very foundation that your relationship stands upon- faith. Has your partner ever come through the door after a long day of work with a bouquet of flowers in hand and asked you to pee on them? No matter if you say tomato or you say tomah-to, a mutual respect between yourself and your partner allows you to both call it how you see it and accept the way your significant other sees it as well. When you have a valid foundation of respect with your partner you can accomplish anything together. Remember that request to get peed on from earlier? To some, and possibly even you, this may seem like a bit of a stretch; however, when tow consenting adults who care for one another more than anything in the world commence to peeing on each other and whatever further acts of sexual depravity they can imagine, they do so without risk of eroding the integrity of their relationship because when you respect someone, you pee on them- that's love! Now, if you run around peeing on people-that's some other shit. The crucial element that must be in your modern day relationship wheelhouse if there is ever to be any hope of long-term survival is respect! My people, my brethren, my constituents – my brothers and sisters of the leaf: in the coming months I will bear all to you in an up front and candid manner. Potentially not meant for prime time. Potentially not meant to be said out loud in ear-shot of your mom. Whatever the case may be, my intention here is to bring light to and make light of the candy cane wonderland of relationships and relations (if you know what I’m sayin’ y’all) in an attempt to achieve a higher level of understanding, or simply just an understanding and, in some cases, get someone out of sleeping on the couch for an evening, a week – or even worse. It is my hope that through our meetings here, new doors will be opened, communication and relations may be revitalized (when and where necessary) and perhaps someone will actually get peed on (romantically of course). My approach may be a bit on the unconventional side, but if you have the intestinal fortitude to look beyond my method of delivery and see my messages for what they are, you will find a good deal of strong advice brimming from the top of my seemingly fiendish rhetoric. We will cover the cornerstones of successful relationship(s); delve into some freakish tales of both the lightweight and hardcore variety. I will find time to conduct a live broadcast in a bubble bath tub via Al Gore’s internets (ok, maybe that’s too much?) and…maybe, just maybe, we can save someone’s relationship by sparking up some conversation, communication and, of course, a little bit of copulation. Until the next…*MORE
History and smoking traditions have both dictated that cigars be paired exclusively with darker spirits: cognac, whisky, bourbon and scotch; even coffees and fine wines have gotten more respect as ideal cigar match-ups than tequila – especially an un-aged blanco. M.A. Morales, tequila guru, is here to call bullshit on all that and dare you to try something different. We’ve sampled his advice – and knowing what we know now, recommend you do the same. What does a cloistered tequila journalist do when his bourbon, whisky and rum drinking buddies finally invite him to a cigar pairing get together?
He brings his favorite blanco tequila and a selection of Nicaraguan cigars, of course!
I can hear you now
“Aren’t you supposed to take a pricey añejo or something? That’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight!”
Before you choke on your stogie in uncontrollable laughter, hear me out. For decades, smoking traditions have dictated that cigars be paired exclusively with darker spirits—cognac, sherry, whisky, bourbon, brandy, scotch, you name it.
Even coffee, espressos and fine wines have gotten more respect as ideal cigar match-ups than tequilas, let alone un-aged blanco tequilas.
But, as Pepe Cantu, the outspoken owner of the famed J & J Habanos in Cabo San Lucas once told me, “In the islands, it’s about rum and cigars. In the UK, it’s about scotch and cigars. In the US, it’s about bourbon and cigars. And in Mexico, it’s about tequila and cigars.” Before I go into why blancos are by far the most dynamic of all the different tequila expressions to pair with cigars, let me give you the lowdown on why coupling your favorite sticks with aged tequilas is almost a no-brainer.
Aged Tequilas Are Easy
By 1974, in a stroke of marketing genius, Casa Herradura invented the reposado category by doing the unexpected: resting tequila in used whisky barrels. But not just any barrels. Specifically, Jack Daniels barrels.
The result was tequila with a perfect balance of wood, fruit and spice notes to attract a segment of the market that they were missing—the Jack Daniels whisky drinking American public. It was such a hit that other distilleries soon followed suit.
Ironically, in 2007, Brown-Forman, one of the largest marketers and producers of wine and spirits in the US and the owners of Jack Daniels, bought Casa Herradura for an estimated $776 million. Since the 70’s and on into the early 90’s, once tequila’s official normas (the Mexican government’s rules and regulations of tequila production) were introduced, savvy and daring distillers have rested tequila in all sorts and sizes of barrels, from new and used to cognac and sherry. They’ve experimented with the length and time tequila is rested and some brands have even exceeded industry standards.
In 2006, while the normas formally recognized the Extra Añejo category, Herradura was once again the frontrunner having produced the legendary Selección Suprema years before. The fact is, reposados, añejos and now the extra añejo luxury category have long enjoyed a torrid and clandestine affair with cigars. With the myriad of flavor profiles and spectrum of subtleties from brand to brand, you can literally choose any aged tequila expression and your favorite corona or Churchill and have a ball. Whether you’re enjoying your first Cuban or settling in for a lively round of poker with the boys, reposados, añejos and extra añejos will always make you look good and heighten any cigar experience.
But, a blanco?
With just a little prep time, teaming up a blanco tequila with just the right cigar is a cinch.
As with any type of pairing, decide what you want to accomplish. Do you want to complement the cigar with the blanco’s particular characteristics, or…
Will opposites attract? Tequila is one of the most highly regulated spirits in the world. Because of constant innovations in agriculture and processing, and improvements in quality and flavor from advancements in distillation, acquiring a taste for un-aged tequilas is much easier now than, say, twenty years ago.
You’ll discover that a blanco tequila at a cigar pairing party is like a ninja at a gunfight
No one will suspect its awesomeness! Suggested Pairings *MORE
Award-winning photojournalist, Hope Dooner, takes you on a trip to Havana, Cuba. Filled with striking images of Havana life, the photographs were captured in two visits to the island nation; the first in 1998, and the second in 2012. See how much, if anything, has changed in 14 years as you discover the faces and places of what was once one of the world's most beautiful cities, and in some ways, still is. "Ivan"
Ivan introduced himself while puffing on this enormous cigar.
I noticed Irene from across the alley when her smile caught my eye. She seemed so kind and peaceful; her face glowed. She welcomed me to Havana and told me her name.
Theodore was my bicycle taxi driver. I like the way the taxi's mirror frames Theodore and his hip-looking sunglasses.
William was one of the happiest people I met in Havana. He was carrying a huge sack in one hand and boxes in the other.
Hope Dooner gets a freindly hug from one of her Cuban Subjects. "Flowers"
This lady seemed so content as she greeted passers-by, while sitting on some well-worn steps.
This red taxi is a great example of how the Cubans keep their cars. American cars from the 1940's and 50's are passed from one generation to the next, and rarely sold. Since no American cars or parts have been available to Cubans since the embargo, they have adapted household items to fix these vintage cars. One man was proud to tell me that he had dishwasher parts in his car! "Blue Door Alley"
This alley as such a treat. I love the colorful doors and the sunlight bouncing off the buildings.
From my hotel, I had a view of a busy street. I quickly grabbed my camera to get the car in motion. “Ancient Arches”
Even though the paint is chipping and the building is in disrepair, the arches recall the elegance of Havana's past.
I snapped this image while looking out of my hotel window. I especially liked the man’s arm resting on the window. Hope returned to Havana in January 2012, and upon her arrival, she discovered that her most famous subject, "Graciela," was still sitting in her doorway. Her eye for subjects and detail is evident as Hope takes you on a virtual tour of this stunning, yet sadly impoverished city that was once called "the Las Vegas" of the Caribbean.
This essay includes striking images of Havana life captured in both of Hope's visits. What is perhaps the most fascinating aspect about these photographs is, although many of them are separated by 14 years, it's evident that little, if anything, in Havana has changed. *MORE
Finding a smoke-friendly place isn’t easy – even in our nation’s capitol, where many a political deal has been cutover a fine cigar. Cigar Advisor’s personal ambassador & concierge, Rocky Patel, has done the legwork for you: the best places to stay…must-visit restaurants for Italian, Med Fusion and Indian eats…and the “virtual wonderland of booze” that are the top-notch bars in D.C. Grab a reservation and see why there never seems to be a recession in Washington. Working with Cigar Rights of America for the past several years, I've been able to spend a lot of time in one of my favorite cities, Washington, DC. What I love about Washington, besides its rich history, diverse architecture, and grand-scale memorials, is how the city has drawn people from all over the world, creating a wonderful melting pot of cultures. You almost can't avoid meeting people from all walks of life. Regardless of which party is in power, there never seems to be a recession in Washington, so it's always vibrant and full of energy. Washingtonians tend to dine out regularly, or relax over cocktails at the end of the day, often at some of the world's finest hotels, restaurants and bars. It's also a great city for cigar smokers. This month, I'll be sharing some of those places with you. Here are my keys to the city: HOTELS
Hotel Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square
806 15th Street NW, WashingtonDC, 20005
For reservations, contact: 202-730-8800
When in Washington, DC, one of my favorite places to stay is The Hotel Sofitel on Lafayette Square. Just a stone's throw to The White House, the Sofitel is a four-star hotel built inside a beautifully renovated structure originally built in 1880. The design is art deco meets modern chic contemporary, and the service is among the best anywhere.
If you like traditional French Cuisine or fusion, the ICI Urban Bistro is for you. The Bistro also has an outside patio where you can smoke cigars. If you want to stray outside the walls of the Sofitel, you're only a short walk from several other eateries in the neighborhood with open air terraces. The W Washington D.C.
515 15th Street NW
F St. Between 14th & 15th Street, Washington, D.C.20004
Contact: (202) 661-2400
One of the other hotels I frequent when in Washington is the W, right next to the White House. The W is the oldest hotel in Washington, and where a lot of "power players" like senators, congressmen and lobbyists stay and meet.
The style is Italian Renaissance meets hip contemporary. Besides spacious rooms, extra-comfy beds and first-class service, the W also has breathtaking rooftop views of The White House and other landmarks, especially at night. One of the places from which you can enjoy those views is the P.O.V. rooftop bar. The P.O.V. also has a beautiful outdoor terrace where you can soak in the sights and sounds of the city. Note, however, that smoking is not permitted on the terrace or anywhere inside the hotel. Hotel Palomar
2121 P Street, NW, Washington DC 20037
Reservations: (877) 866-3070
If you're into artsy and hip, I recommend the Palomar in Dupont Circle. The Palomar is a new boutique luxury hotel that encapsulates the multicultural and cosmopolitan nature of the city. It's close to Washington's best cultural and historic sites, as well as the restaurants, art galleries, museums, and night spots in Dupont Circle. You're also within walking distance of the GeorgetownUniversity scene, where you'll find plenty of great clubs, restaurants, and boutiques.
Staying at the Palomar is like living in an art museum. Wherever you go in the hotel, you're surrounded by contemporary art and sculpture. The rooms are ornate with European detail, and they have the most comfortable beds.
The sundeck and pool are absolutely gorgeous. Bar service is available, plus you'll find cabanas, plenty of comfortable lounge chairs, and a heated pool. The fitness center is also located on the sundeck and has just about every type of exercise equipment imaginable. Since the sundeck is outside, you can relax by the pool with a cigar and a drink. RESTAURANTS
Moby Dick House of Kabob (Georgetown)
1070 31st St NW (between N Canal St & Blues Aly) Washington, DC 20007 http://www.mobysonline.com/
Call for reservations: 202-333-4400
I love this little hole-in-the-wall place that serves amazing Persian and other Middle Eastern food. Since kabobs are their specialty, I suggest the Kabob-E Kubideh, made with ground sirloin, grated onion, and Moby's exotic seasonings over rice. Add some fresh-squeezed lime, and it's awesome. Make sure you also order some Moostakhiar, a delicious yogurt and shallots sauce. It goes great with the rice and is simply phenomenal.
Another favorite of mine is the Khoresht Gheymeh Bademjan. Made with sautéed eggplant, yellow peas, chunks of beef, onion, tomato sauce, and exotic spices, the mixture is then braised and served with basmati rice.
I also suggest the Ghormeh Sabzi, which is a variety of greens that are stewed for a day and a half with chunks of veal and beef. Fresh cilantro, parsley, leeks and exotic spices are added, then it's braised and served with steamed basmati rice. You will be stuffed!
Everything at Moby Dick is cooked to order, the portions are big, and the prices are very reasonable. I highly recommend it for lunch. Absolutely a must-go when in D.C. Café Milano (Georgetown)
3251 Prospect Street, NW
(between N Potomac St & N Wisconsin Ave)
For reservations: (202) 333-6183
Café Milano serves absolutely fantastic Italian food in the heart of Georgetown. It's also a hotspot for celebrities. You'll see everyone from foreign dignitaries, to TV news people, to actors, congressmen and senators, even cabinet members. The last time I was at Milano, I saw former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, hanging out smoking a cigar with some congressmen.
When the weather is good, you can dine outside on one of two patios and enjoy a cigar. They have a great bar in the main dining room, too, well-stocked and spacious. The walls are covered with a variety of artwork, and the ceiling is painted with a giant map of the Washington Metro subway route.
As for the menu, I highly recommend the Veal Milanese for dinner. The veal chop is pounded and breaded in the Milanese tradition, and served with baby arugula and cherry tomato salad.
The best thing about Milano is you can sit back, relax and enjoy some of the finest Italian food anywhere. Every customer is given equal attention and service. So, even if you're not a celebrity, you'll be treated like one. Neyla (Georgetown)
3206 N. Street NW
For reservations call: 202-333.6353
For some of the most excellent Mediterranean food, check out Neyla, another "hot spot" in Georgetown for foodies. The decor is inspired by Romanesque Mediterranean villas--you'll feel like you're dining as the guest of a great Arab Sheik. There is also a beautiful outdoor seating area.
The beauty of Neyla is that they serve everything from Shawarma and Falafel to a great selection of mixed-grill offerings. What makes Neyla's menu so unique is its fusion of Arab, Turkish, Egyptian, Greek and French Mediterranean cultures. Everything is perfectly marinated, charcoal grilled, filled with tons of flavor, and exquisitely presented. The portions are ample and the prices, reasonable. Rasika (Penn Quarter)
633 D Street, NWWashington, DC20004
For reservations call: 202.637.1222
If there's one type of cuisine I know, it's Indian. So, when I’m in Washington, I always try to get in at least one meal at Rasika, in the Penn Quarter district. It's one of the best Modern Fusion Indian restaurants in the country; maybe even the best. Rasika has an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs prepare and grill their specialties. For dining, you have a choice of their main dining room, a community table, or a private room. Rasika also has a very comfortable bar and lounge area.
The name Rasika comes from a Sanskrit word that means, "flavors." If I could sum up Rasika in one word it would be, "fabulous!" You'll find everything from Lobster Patia to Chicken Tikka Masala, to a marvelous selection of vegetarian dishes, homemade chutneys, breads and more. There's a must-do dish called Palak Chaat. Chaat is the most popular street food in Delhi and Bombay. Rasika takes a very novel approach, using crispy baby spinach, sweet yogurt, tamarind sauce and date sauce served over little crispy fried noodles. It's one of their signature dishes, and it will blow your mind with all of the different flavors.
Another favorite of mine are the Tandoori Lamb Chops. They're marinated in yogurt with 18 different spices including mace, cardamom, cashews, (cashews aren’t a spice) and ginger for 27 hours, then grilled. They melt in your mouth like butter. If lamb isn’t your thing, order the Chicken Makhani, which is first broiled, then marinated, grilled, and simmered in a tomato sauce with fenugreek. Try it with their Naan bread. It's absolutely fantastic.
If you want to dine at Rasika you absolutely must make a reservation; otherwise it will be almost impossible to get in. That's how hot this restaurant is. NIGHTCLUBS/BARS
Shelly's Back Room
1331 F Street NW, Washington, DC20004 http://www.shellysbackroom.com/
Phone: (202) 737- 3003
There are cigar bars, and then there are cigar bars. Shelly's Back Room (just a short walk from Rasika) is the only true cigar bar in Washington, D.C. Unlike other "cigar-friendly" bars in D.C., where they have a space cordoned-off for smoking, you can smoke anywhere in Shelly's.
Shelly's Back Room has a very traditional "old world" feel about it. There's plenty of wood, murals of Cuban life, low-key lighting, soft, comfortable couches and chairs that you can sink into, a fully-stocked bar and humidor, eight HD TVs, plus a state-of-the-art air filtration system. Lockers are also available for club members.
The menu at Shelly's offers a wide variety of reasonably-priced "bar food" such as burgers, wings, sausages, nachos, soups, salads and similar fare, plus pricier entrees like Angus NY Strip, Bacon-wrapped Shrimp, and Blackened Chicken Pasta.
If you're looking for the perfect atmosphere to relax and enjoy cigars, Shelly's Back Room is a must-do experience. Jack Rose Dining Saloon
2007 18th St NW, Washington, DC20009
Jack Rose Dining Saloon is located in the Adams Morgan district. You'll find a great menu and a number of rooms for dining and/or private events. Nicknamed "The Temple of Whiskey," the Dining Saloon bar stocks 1,400 different types of liquor. Among their 500 single malt scotches are rarities like Bruichladdich 1984 and Tullibardine 1993. You'll also find practically every variety of whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, and tequila imaginable. Add their extensive wine list, plus dozens of draft beers, and you've got a virtual wonderland of booze.
Jack Rose also has a Tiki Bar and two cigar-friendly areas: an Open-Air Terrace and "The Prohibition Room," which is located in the basement of the Saloon. The Prohibition Room's décor evokes the old prohibition-era speakeasies, and even has its own back-alley entrance.
The food is primarily American Contemporary with a reasonably-priced menu that ranges from Roasted Quail, to House Smoked Trout, to Pepper NY Strip steak, Pennsylvania Pork Chop, Roasted Chicken and more. Old Ebbitt Grill
675 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C.20005
http://www.ebbitt.com/main/home.cfm (can’t open this link)
The Old Ebbitt Grill is located near the White House, and is one of the most unique bars in the city, especially if you want to soak up some Washington history. Founded in 1856, it's one of the oldest bars in the country with the look and feel of an old library. Among its more notable guests over the years are past presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, John Harding and Teddy Roosevelt. Like the Café Milano, it's not unusual to see politicians, Washington insiders, news people, and celebrities in the Old Ebbitt.
In 1983, it was moved to what was once the old B.F. Keith's Theatre. The décor is Victorian with old, dark mahogany and velvet booths, while the bars are marble, brass and beveled glass. Some of the artifacts from the original location are still in place, like antique beer steins, a walrus head that allegedly was one of Teddy Roosevelt's hunting trophies, and wooden bears imported by Alexander Hamilton for his private bar.
In addition to the 19th century atmosphere, Old Ebbitt is also famous for its annual Oyster Riot, always held on the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving. It's so popular you have to buy tickets to get in.
The dress is casual and the food is classic American with a difference. All of the produce used is grown locally, so everything--including the meats--is extremely fresh and very high in quality. Washington DC is great year round, but the best time to visit is in the sspring when the cherry blossoms begin to bloom. The weather is warm enough to hop around many of the bars and restaurants that have outdoor seating, and you can smoke cigars while strolling past such landmarks at the Capital, the White House, the Smithsonian, and the beautiful memorials. I also find Washington;s mix of old-meets-new refreshing. If you've never had a chance to see our nation's capitol in-person, add it to your "must visit," vacation list.*MORE
Q. What does "Cuban Sandwich" mean when referring to cigars? I have done internet searches and came up with nothing but recipes.- Brian Buck A. For the answer to this question, I contacted one of my most knowledgeable resources, Rich Perelman at Cigarcyclopedia.com, who wrote:
"Every maker I have heard discuss sandwich-style cigars talks about a combination of short (NOT chopped) or medium-fill pieces inside some long-filler. That's where the term "mixed fill" comes from: short/medium and long-filler in the same cigar. The sandwich part, comes, I am told, from the method by which the short/medium fill pieces are placed in the middle of long-fill leaves like a hot dog resting inside a (long-filler) bun. Then the long-fill leaves are closed over and secured by the long-filler binder."
Actually, there are some really good Cuban Sandwich cigars out there, like the Arturo Fuente Curly Head cigar, Maroma cigars, and Spirit of Cuba cigars, to name a few.*MORE
Aaron Eckhart smokes cigars because they don’t alter personalities in the same way drinking alcohol does.
The actor loves cigars and is happy to admit they are his one vice. He would never consider smoking cigarettes because he believes they make people neurotic and alcohol had such a profound effect on his personality he was never a big fan of it. “By the third drink, you're all different people. With a cigar you're the same person from the start to the end. Whereas with drink and drugs you're either fighting or stealing each other's girlfriends or hating yourself. That was my alcohol experience,” he laughed to British newspaper The Guardian.
Aaron indulges in several cigars a day, although he recognises it’s a habit which polarises people. The star insists that most people learn to love them if they are around them enough, claiming women he has dated have even ended up smoking them themselves...Story continues at belfasttelegraph.co.uk...*MORE
At what point does a “Boutique Cigar Company” lose its roots and become a “Corporate Cigar Company”? Jonathan Drew answers that the same way he answers, “When does a person become old?” It’s defined in the person’s heart, their attitude and, in this case, perception. Go behind the scenes of Drew Estate Nicaragua & Cigar Safari for a look at how they do things: much differently. Most of my previous column (“Fuck Making The List, Make The Legend”) addressed the eighteen-year struggle of Drew Estate, as well as a tidbit about my personal history since our start at the World Trade Center in New York City.
In writing this second column for Cigar Advisor, I figured that it would be interesting to address why I still view Drew Estate as a “Boutique” premium cigar company, even though we have become one of the largest in the world, currently producing 92,000 hand rolled cigars per day, every day… One of the things that I cherish the most about my career of cigar making is spending time in Nicaragua with the full Drew Estate and Cigar Safari team. Since 1996, I have put my heart into that country and its people, and I never could have imagined how much they would have given back in return. Not only has Nicaragua become the home to Drew Estate, but it has become home to me personally as well. Throughout the years, I have spent close to 80% of my time there, and when you spend that much time in one place, believe me - you get to know it well. Attending various Cigar Safari trips with all sorts of veteran and newbie cigar smokers has become an important part of my life, as I will explain. Cigar Safari is a tour that we run for consumers in which we take them to Nicaragua to see the sights, experience the culture, and live the world of tobacco. The trip is four days, three nights, and during each tour I get to spend significant one-on-one time with everyone attending. I truly cherish these moments, as they allow me to unwind, get to know new cigar advocates, get feedback on how we’re doing as a company, and learn what Drew Estate can do to make the cigar smoking experience better for everyone throughout the world. If you’ve traveled with anyone before, especially to a new country, you know how much of a bonding experience that can provide. Imagine being able to show your new acquaintances something so near and dear to your heart, and something you’ve literally poured 100% of your blood, sweat, and tears into for almost twenty years. My heart swells with pride every single time I see the reactions of the attendees to our main Rolling Floor when they see it for the first time. The energy in that space is truly unparalleled; thousands of bodies moving perfectly in sync with one another, creating something so integral to our existence as a company… EPIC. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting our factory, you know what I’m talking about. I truly believe that the Drew Estate Rolling Floor is unlike any other in the world, not just within Nicaragua. Much of this has to do with the unique Drew Estate workforce and creative departments, such as the 5,000 sq ft “Subculture Studios”, made up of 36 graffiti artists who know how to get berserk with a spray can. On the Drew Estate Production Floor, we prefer to hire people with little to no experience. We have an extremely specific method that we use when producing cigars and we find that people who have prior experience rolling with a different method tend to fall back into old habits, even with extensive training. Can you imagine the amount of muscle memory that becomes ingrained in your brain when you roll 250 to 300 cigars per day? Those habits are next to impossible to break, which is why we hire employees who are fresh to rolling, then train them for years as they reach their respected potential. Not everyone becomes a Liga Privada team member, trust me. I think this is a major part of the reason our rolling floor has such a special energy, because the “Rolleros” and “Buncheros” are extremely unique... well, also, don’t forget the music that we blast all day long… ha ha ha. Another aspect of Drew Estate Nicaragua that I am very proud of is the paternal manner in which we treat our employees at every level of the workforce. While rolling, our staff is allowed to listen to their own music, talk to their friends, and generally enjoy themselves while they make beautiful cigars, of course. Again, there is a vibe and aura at our factory that is very unique, which everyone notices when visiting us on a Safari tour. Paying the highest wages to our workers, along with providing healthcare and other benefits such as life insurance, creates a “team relationship” that grows each day among the people who “actually make the cigars”. We are not talking salesmen here (no disrespect of course, but salesmen and marketing people don’t roll cigars, factory employees do!). I have surrounded myself with talented young professionals who have become my personal friends throughout my eighteen years in Nicaragua. I’m going to talk about a few of them below but, with over 1,450 employees at our factory, I’m definitely not addressing everyone in this article. First, I have to talk about Fat Boy, my man Jessi “Victims” Flores. Jessi has been with Drew Estate Nicaragua since 1999, after we met each other at a gas station when his fat ass jumped out of a shadow. We both had a passion for tobacco, hip-hop, graffiti, art, and all things Nicaragua. We soon combined these interests to concoct Subculture Studios, a graffiti-based art studio attached to our factory in Nicaragua (it was actually a tattoo shop in the center of Managua first). Because of the work of Jessi, Subculture Studios, and the 36 full time graffiti artists, we were recently recognized for our design work by receiving the “Outstanding Art” award for 2012 from Cigar Journal Magazine. Our Executive Director of Tobaccos and Production, known as the “Chief of the Broadleafs”, Nicholas Melillo, has been with the company for ten years now and has been a major asset in bringing our company to our current level of expertise and quality. Nick, an Italian kid from Connecticut, has been instrumental in creating blends to categorically change the traditional cigar market. Nick also manages all of our tobacco buying (somewhere in the “spend” neighborhood of 15 to 20 million USD yearly at this point), and has been made responsible for securing enough raw leaf to keep our operations running smoothly into the future. He is absolutely essential to our success as a company, as is Manuel Rubio and Jessenia Moncada, who we will discuss in a future article. In regards to Cigar Safari, one of the most important characters of them all is Pedro Gomez. Pedro is our Cigar Safari tour guide and, if any of you have been on a Cigar Safari, you know Pedro well! He’s become a bit of a legend over the years, as he seems to know EVERYONE in Nicaragua. In fact, I’ve heard Pedro addressed as the Mayor of Estelí (the city where our factory is located in Nicaragua) more than once by Cigar Safari attendees. Some Nicaraguans sincerely think that he may one day actually become Nicaragua’s president! Pedro will be moving to the U.S.A. in June 2013 to help lead our Events Department, visiting stores and final consumers who have gotten to know him over the past six years. This brings me to the beginning and the end. At what point does a “Boutique Cigar Company” lose its roots and become a “Corporate Cigar Company”? The answer is the same as the question, “When does a person become old?” The answer is defined in the person’s heart, their attitude and, in this case, in the market’s perception, quite honestly.
I never want to see Drew Estate as anything other than a “Boutique Cigar Company”, a company of innovation, a company not afraid to take risk, and most of all, a company who is made up of Hommies who keep it Local and Loco.*MORE
Jazz music has gone through many stages and evolutions during it's rich history. The genre features a wide variety of different styles and variations, and is enoyed by millions. A pure art form that remains best suited to the live setting of small, smoky clubs, the live experience cannot be replaced by technolgoical advancement. Lost in today’s world of pop songs and endless remakes is, perhaps, one of the purest representations of music in the world: Jazz. The word is actually a blanket term that is used to broadly describe a variety of distinctive styles: Bebop, Big Band Swing, Avant-Garde, Acid, Punk and Smooth are just a few of the iterations of the jazz family. While newcomers to the genre may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of variety, it is important to realize that all jazz styles have common threads. Improvisation, syncopation (a variety of off-beat rhythms), and blue notes are the pillars of most jazz music you will hear. If it sounds a little confusing, that’s because jazz itself is a style of music that was never meant to be pinned down in one definition. And that is the essence and beauty of jazz. Perhaps one of the best quotes about the genre is by the great jazzman Louis Armstrong: “What we play is life.” Though sometimes disputed, most purists believe that the origins of jazz are rooted in the black communities in the early 20th century Southern United States. The music was born out of an amalgamation of African, European and American musical traditions. The coming of the Jazz Age really announced the genre to the general population. Jazz sprouted up in many places: churches, at community gatherings, and even salons as other influences like Afro-Cuban rhythmic motifs were brought in from Havana and New Orleans. Like the makeup of the United States, jazz is a true melting pot of influences. The decadence and new values of the Roaring ‘20s were perfectly portrayed by two popular musicians of the era: Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson. (Call out: quick bios) Jazz became a sort of “rebel music” that polarized the young generation from the old. Gone were the days of restrictive, conservative music; improvisation and dance tunes were now prevalent throughout the land. From there, the evolution of jazz was so sudden and quick that it became hard to pin down; dozens of off-shoots began to be heard across the country. The snowball effect was incredible - Jazz became representative of a million different dialects and experiences that were unique to the musicians playing the notes themselves. In 1956, a young trumpeter named Miles Davis recorded a couple of tracks with noted producer Gil Evans and released the seminal album The Birth of the Cool. The title wasn’t just an important-sounding name; The Birth of the Cool is widely appreciated as one of the pioneer recordings of the cool jazz era. Davis and Evans would go on to be one of the most prolific pairings in the history of music. The birth of Cool Jazz, the break from up-tempo swing and decadence that had marked the genre prior, was a reflection of what were now more somber times. And that’s one of the true beauties of jazz. It evolves and adopts the themes of the day; it is a true reflection of the era. The Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s was responsible for a larger focus on African-style compositions. The 80s were marked with a style that was more akin to the funk and hip-hop music genres that were gaining in popularity. Other, more obscure styles like acid and punk jazz also came about. After almost a century of existence, jazz had already morphed into a beautiful myriad of styles that was already too deep to define. Today, the jazz world remains an avant-garde musical construction: the use of electronic instruments and similar influences are very evident in modern jazz recordings. Many are of the opinion that jazz is still best seen live at a club. The experience of seeing a band that is so completely in sync with one another - while improvising most of the notes - is truly something to behold. Jazz clubs are found throughout the country with each one offering a completely unique flavor. Jazz is expressionist art at its finest; a truly unique genre that will evolve for years to come. *MORE
Q: About a month ago I purchased a box of Arturo Fuente Hemingway Signature cigars. I just lit-up the first one and noticed a bead of almost clear brown liquid, about the size of straight pin head, about one quarter of an inch from the burn. As the burn drew closer to the liquid, suddenly two sprouts shot straight up. They had an off-white color and were about one eighth of an inch long; they looked like the leaves of a tulip flower. Whoa! That put an end to that cigar, which cost over $6. Any idea what might have happened?- Dan N. in Portland, MI A: This is probably one of the most bizarre stories I've read in a long time. As far as the bead of liquid, I've smoked some cigars in which some of the juice from the tobacco would appear due to a small hole or crack in the wrapper. But this sprout thing sounds more like the liquid was actually water. Let me check with a friend of mine who is a Certified Master Tobacconist; maybe he'll know.So I forwarded Dan's message to Jorge Armenteros at Tobacconist University and here's what he replied:WTF?! Would love to have seen that...never heard of such a thing, but in the last year I have found [chewing] gum and what looked like a cigarette filter in a cigar. Two very prominent brands! So bad for business!
Many years ago, I found a chicken feather in the head of a cigar. Eeeee! Suffice it to say that if Jorge doesn't know, I doubt anyone else does. My hypothesis is - so don't take this as gospel - somehow a seed got into the bunch. There may have been just enough moisture for the seed to take root inside the cigar. When the ash got to the seedling, the heat opened up a space for the sprout to...sprout! I only wish you had taken a picture of it.Better luck with your future smokes, but for the record, I've never had a problem with most Arturo Fuente cigars, especially the Hemingway line, so go figure...this is one for the books. Let me know if it happens again, and get the shot!*MORE
What happens when we put three cigars in the ring to fight it out? We have a Battle! Three sticks enter, one stick leaves with the championship belt in its weight class…or in this month’s case, wrapper type: Cameroon, Connecticut, Corojo and Sumatra. And we need your help to pick the winners. Grab the details on how you do it, plus our Judge’s Club sampler – the best deal on cigars you’ll see all month. If you've been swiping through Cigar Advisor looking for those "ratings" screens full of inflated numbers, slanted cigar reviews and stupid phrases like "pleasant subset" or "humble notes"- you're out of luck. We don't do that here. Instead, we give you the facts on each stick and leave the review to readers like you. How did we pick the cigars for The Battle? We just happen to like 'em for one reason or another. As for the descriptions, we're going off of what flavors the fillers have, what taste the wrappers have, and so on...and a little bit of personal experience too. So we pick a few smokes, lay them out in a particular set of categories and let them fight it out.
For the reviews, that's where you come in - each of these cigars go into the Judges Club Sampler.
[More on that coming up.]
For this Battle, we're telling the tale of the tape by wrapper leaf: Cameroon, Connecticut, Corojo and Sumatra. Four totally different looks, feels, tastes and aromas; but because an honest fighter doesn't box outside his weight class, we've put them into a four of pugilism's more popular divisions. Now, we're not going to give you the rope-a-dope and tell you that just because one cigar is in a particular weight class, that it doesn't have skills - it just means that it's...different. The same way heavyweights rely on punching power, and lightweights rely on speed. Different- and every one of these smokes can go to the distance. Read on - you just might find a new sparring partner in this month's Battle. Get in the ring! Judge's Club
You be the judge- and pick the winners!
Each month, we roll all of our Battle competitors into one sweet cigar sampler called the "Judge’s Club," for you to try out and rank yourself, right here at Cigar Advisor. That's right- we don't just rank 'em, you do. And as with any good Battle, there can be only one... so based on your own personal experience with the cigar, all we ask is for you to choose the king of the hill from each group. Think of it as throwing your bet down on one competitor in a no-holds barres, 3-way cape match- out of the three cigars in each category, it's up to you to pick the winner.
We've made it incredibly easy and affordable for you to get in the ring with these smokes right now: order this month's "Judge's Club," sampler to get all twelve sticks for only $49.99! That's a BIG SAVINGS off the regular price, plus we'll even throw in free shipping on any and all of your orders from Cigar Advisor for the next 30 days!
Ready for your voice to be heard? hit the "Buy This Sampler," button now- and YOU be the judge! George Foreman once said Roy Jones, Jr. “hits like a heavyweight and moves like a lightweight.” So it is with Serie G…presented in mostly box-pressed shapes, each cigar is a blend of Nicaraguan Habano longfillers and binders. Medium body puts Serie G in our Middleweight class, but be warned – like Jones, it never throws a haymaker.
“Among the best of all time.” It’s said of both Arturo Fuente cigars and Felix Trinidad, one of the best Puerto Rican fighters in history. Fuente are handmade in the time-honored family tradition, and have become legend for their Dominican tobaccos – which offer a quick jab sequence as tight an in-your-face as Tito’s.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler had the highest KO % of all middleweight champions, ever – and one of the best chins in boxing history. Partagas has over 150 years of tradition originating in their native Cuba – and a rock-solid blend of Dominican Cuban-seed & Mexican fillers, making it an amazingly consistent cigar. Neither is to be taken lightly. It’s the Julio Cesar Chavez of this group – known for outstanding punching power and the relentless stalking of his opponents. Champagne is a flurry of complex flavors and smoke that ends nice and smooth…like a picture-perfect right hook.
Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini was a champ with a whirlwind punching style. Avo Classic cigars have that same one-two punch of curing and aging to provide a consistent, mild to medium-bodied Dominican filler smoke that burns clean through all 15 rounds.
Like Floyd Mayweather Jr. in his lightweight days: a world title holder thanks to the jab and a solid right. Blended with Dominican fillers, a set-up jab of Mexican binders and U.S. Connecticut shade wrapper, Macanudo Café is a true contender as well. And as Mayweather is to boxing, you don’t have a conversation about cigars without Macanudo. The Edge is the Larry Holmes of Corojo…one of the greatest heavyweights of all time; it’s a whole new dimension in full-bodied cigars. And the Edge, just like the Easton Assassin’s left jab, has one of the most potent weapons in the cigar world: potent all-Ligero long-fillers.
Camacho Corojo cigars are fully-aged cigars with a distinctive 'Havana-like' flavor – so we can best compare them to heavyweight Joe Louis. Louis had a reputation as an honest, hardworking fighter; and Camacho is an honest, hardworking cigar made from genuine, first-generation Cuban seed (‘97 vintage) Corojo leaf grown in Honduras. It’s a robust, yet smooth experience…just like a Joe Louis fight
The first all box-pressed selection from Alec Bradley, and their most muscular to-date – this cigar is Smokin’ Joe Frazier. Made in Honduras, the blend’s Honduran and Nicaraguan longfillers bob and weave the palate. Prensado is as potent a smoke as Frazier’s left hook, his knockout weapon of choice; and both have been Undisputed World Heavyweight Champions. Just like Sugar Ray Leonard, Romeo y Julieta 1875 is a name known in every house. They’re also both known for being smooth, with excellent balance – and finishing with a left hook. In Sugar Ray’s case, it got him Olympic boxing gold; in RyJ’s, it’s the cedar-aged Dominican longfiller tobacco that will leave you with a standing 8-count.
If you were to sum up Manny Pacquiao in one word – it’s “aggressive.” Same with Serie R cigars…robust, power-packed smokes with a full-bodied, no-nonsense blend of Nicaraguan Ligero and Dominican Olor. Just like stepping into the ring with Pacquiao, it’s only for the more experienced who can go the distance.
Acid Kuba Kuba – the “Golden Boy” of ACID cigars, and still the best-selling in their 'blue label' series. Both have a relaxed style, and among the most flavorful, too: De La Hoya being chosen a perennial “Fighter of the Year,” and Kuba Kuba the choice of legions of fans in and out of the Battle ring. Judges Club Sampler
You Be The Judge!
Each month we'll roll out a sweet new "Judges Club" sampler for your smoking enjoyment. Try them out and come right back here to Cigar Advisor and let everyone know what you think. Four categories, three cigars in each and you are the judge. You get all twelve sticks for $49.99 and FREE SHIPPING on all of your Cigar Advisor orders for 30 days! It's easy...
Buy 'Em / Smoke 'Em / Pick Your Winners!*MORE
Many cigar lovers are well-acquainted with cigars from the “Big 3,” i.e. Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. Mexico, on the other hand, has suffered a less-than-stellar reputation. As Lucas Woith explains, tough import restrictions and tariffs on tobacco in Mexico once limited most manufacturers to producing puros, or cigars made entirely of Mexican tobacco. Today that story is changing, as evidenced by the tobaccos and cigars being produced there. For years, American cigar enthusiasts have been familiar with cigars from the “Big 3” countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. Casual cigar smokers rarely take the time to research where their cigar actually comes from, but one of the amazing things about the cigar industry is having the opportunity to try cigars that blend together tobacco from different regions and countries in perfect harmony, creating just the right flavor. Cigar enthusiasts who delve deeper soon realize there are many other countries which produce cigar tobacco. While tobacco is grown as far north as Canada and as far south as New Zealand, the best cigar tobacco comes from the regions between the Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer. Countries such as Ecuador, Cameroon, Colombia, Brazil, and the United States provide tobaccos of varying flavors, adding greatly to the composition of many premium cigars. Among cigar- and cigar tobacco-producing nations, Mexico has suffered a less-than-stellar reputation. Until the mid-1990s, tough import restrictions and tariffs on tobacco in Mexico limited most manufacturers to producing puros, or cigars made entirely of Mexican tobacco. While it was not illegal to import tobacco to be used in cigar production, Mexican laws made it both costly and difficult to do so; applicants were required to supply exhaustive information to the Department of Agriculture on the tobacco crop, down to what types of fertilizers and pesticides were used. The process sometimes took up to six months, and many companies simply chose not to bother.
1994's North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) eased restrictions somewhat, and companies such as A. Turrent took advantage. Still, difficulties persist even today, as explained by Nancy Hernandez, Exports Manager for Mexico's Puros Santa Clara:
We recently imported tobacco from Nicaragua and had to take several steps, including registering the shipment with the government, obtaining permits, and being on a special list of allowed importers, called the ‘Padron de Importadores.
Puros Santa Clara's brands include Capa Flor, Madrigal, and Veracruz, among others.
Despite the time-consuming import process, the quality and reputation of Mexican cigars have benefitted greatly. That's not to say that its tobacco isn't also world-class. The San Andreas region of Mexico, located in the southeastern part of the country on the Gulf, boasts some of the finest soil in the world for tobacco production. Enriched by the region's volcanoes, the soil yields leaf that is tough and is used by a number of cigar makers as a binder for maduro cigars. The Romeo y Julieta Viejo employs a Mexican wrapper, and is one worth trying for all cigar enthusiasts. Other brands such as Montecristo, Gispert, and Saint Luis Rey use Mexican wrappers on their cigars. The La Aroma De Cuba Mi Amor, produced in Nicaragua by Don Pepin Garcia, also uses a Mexican wrapper, and has earned nearly universal praise.
While it has also long been rumored that Padrón uses a Mexican wrapper on their 1000s and Anniversary series, the company has gone on record as saying that this is categorically not true. Mexico’s tobacco history extends back to the Mayans, who used to smoke tobacco in pipes, as well as in loosely-rolled bundles resembling a primitive cigar. Today there exist dozens of cigar makers in Mexico. Some still use nothing but Mexican tobacco in their cigars; others blend tobacco from various countries together. Brands such as A. Turrent, Te Amo, Mito de San Andreas, and Julio Cesar all either produce cigars in Mexico, or use Mexican tobacco extensively in their blends.
The A. Turrent Puro Corojo is made in Nicaragua but uses Mexican tobacco in the filler as well as for the binder. Contrary to the name, it is not a true puro, but it is a fantastic cigar that showcases the flavor and strength of Mexican tobacco very well. Of the companies that actually produce their cigars in Mexico, the most well known is probably Te Amo. Known throughout 1970s New York City as the “cab driver’s cigar,” it is commonly overlooked due to its reputation as a cheap cigar. Te Amo Cigars are made in Mexico by the Turrent family, one of the oldest families in the cigar industry. They have consistently produced some of the best tobacco in the world, and the leaf used for the Te Amo is no exception. These are quality cigars that have a great price point and are perfect to enjoy while playing a round of golf or working in the yard. Mexican tobacco and cigars are some of the hidden gems of the cigar industry and hopefully, before long, people will venture out of their comfort zones and try something different. That’s one of the best things about being a cigar lover: trying something new, something different, something that you may have never heard of, and falling in love with it. It happens every day in the cigar world.
A number of online retailers utilize Mexican-made cigars as exclusive house-blend cigars. They are cheaper than Dominican, Honduran, or Nicaraguan cigars, but offer great consistency and flavor, appealing to a wide range of cigar enthusiasts. Mexican tobacco and cigars are some of the hidden gems of the cigar industry and hopefully, before long, people will venture out of their comfort zones and try something different. That’s one of the best things about being a cigar lover: trying something new, something different, something that you may have never heard of, and falling in love with it. It happens every day in the cigar world.
We all have those friends who say, “I only smoke Cubans,” or “I only smoke Dominicans”. These people are missing out big time. Today, country of origin matters less than ever. What truly matters is the quality of the tobacco, the blend, and the construction. For your friends who have a strong allegiance to one country of origin or another, try a test. Get a Te Amo cigar, take off the band, and have them smoke it. If they have an open mind, they’ll likely enjoy it and be amazed when they find out where it’s made, as well as its price point. Despite the constant battle with cigar taxes, smoking bans, and FDA regulation, there has never been a better time to be a cigar enthusiast. With so many great brands and blends coming out these days, it’s hard to keep up. Try something new, and you just may discover a new favorite!*MORE
Minneapolis, MN -- President Obama’s proposal to impose the largest increase in the federal cigarette tax in the history of the country to fund preschool programs is unfair and ironic, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) said in a response to the President’s budget unveiled today.
“For the President to target a minority of adult Americans with this massive tax increase to pay for the extension of preschool programs nationwide is unfair and ironic,” said Tom Briant, executive director of NATO. “With the Centers for Disease Control reporting that 29 percent of all smokers have incomes below the poverty level, it is ironic that the President’s proposal would seek to nearly double cigarette and tobacco taxes that fall more heavily on lower income Americans to fund expanded access to prekindergarten programs for all four-year-old children from families with low to moderate incomes.” The proposal unveiled by the President today nearly doubles the current federal cigarette tax from $1.01 per pack to $1.95 per pack, increases taxes on other tobacco products such as cigars, roll-your-own tobacco, pipe tobacco and smokeless tobacco about the same proportion and indexes the taxes for inflation after 2014.“With cigarette sales declining year to year, the stability of this funding source is unreliable and therefore will likely not produce the $78 billion dollars the President needs to fund the preschool education program over the next decade. If pre-school education is important to the President, a better, more stable source of funding should be identified because the country can no longer depend on tobacco taxes to solve the country’s problems,” said Briant.
Four years ago in 2009, President Obama signed into law what was then the single-largest increase in the federal cigarette and tobacco tax rates in the history of America. At that time, the federal cigarette tax was increased by $.62 per pack from $.39 to $1.01 per pack. According to a 2012 Federal Trade Commission report on cigarette sales in 2009 and 2010, cigarette sales declined 10 percent nationwide in 2009, the year the federal tax increase went into effect, followed by another 3 percent decrease in cigarette sales in 2010. Based on the historical cigarette sales decline in 2009 and 2010, the new higher tax increase on cigarettes announced today could result in even larger declines in cigarette sales.
These proposed increases in the cigarette and tobacco tax rates will, if passed into law, seriously impact retailers that sell tobacco products, said Briant. “For specialty tobacco stores that sell primarily tobacco and tobacco-related products, a sales decline greater than what occurred in 2009 to 2010 would be destructive to their businesses and result in store closures and employees losing their jobs. For convenience stores that rely on 35 to 40 percent of their in-store sales from tobacco products, these higher taxes would also spell sales losses and job curtailment,” Briant said.
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NATO is the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, a national retail trade association that focuses exclusively on local, state and federal tobacco legislation.*MORE
BASEL, SW -- Inspired by Zino Davidoff’s pioneering spirit, we at Davidoff Cigars have made it our mission to bring the modern aficionado a variety of taste experiences and cigar smoking pleasures. Our experts, led by master blender Hendrik “Henke” Kelner, unceasingly explore every opportunity to create new and diverse ways of ensuring time spent enjoying each and every Davidoff cigar is time beautifully filled.
For this challenge, Henke and his team embarked on a worldwide search for tobaccos that would enable us to create a unique cigar. The search landed in the tobacco fields of Nicaragua. Preparing, curing and aging this tobacco for 10 years with the unique expertise of Davidoff craftsmen in the Dominican Republic allowed us time to ‘tame’ the wilder tendencies of Nicaraguan tobacco and deliver a blend with intensity and excitement and all the refined sophistication you would expect from Davidoff.
The new ‘Davidoff Nicaragua’ line will come in three sizes: Toro (5 ½ inches by 50 ring), Robusto (5 by 50) and Short Corona (3 ¾ by 46), and the blend combines a 10-year old, Havana-seed wrapper with a binder from Jalapa and a filler blend of tobaccos from EstelÃ, Condega and the volcanic region of Ometepe. ‘Davidoff Nicaragua’ will only be available in limited quantities per year.
“This is a major step, for us to expand to a new territory” says Davidoff CEO Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard. “I wanted to develop products that were not necessarily origin-specific or rigidly tied down to one specific place. Davidoff is a brand, not a territory.”
In summary, a PURO Nicaragua with Davidoff’s signature sophistication running through it – for those who share our passion for exploration and for filling their time beautifully.# # #*MORE
MIAMI, FL -- The sixth annual Studio Tobac World Tour 2013 kicked off last week in Tampa, Florida with the first of many great events. Bryan “The Show” Scholle, driving the Studio Tobac Ford Raptor SVT, made the first stop of this nationwide tour that will run through November and include stops at more than eighty retailers across the country.
Each stop on the 2013 World Tour will include live cigar-rolling demonstrations with custom hand rolled premium cigars. Studio Tobac will also have branded lighters, cutters and other limited-edition items available free with the purchase of Studio Tobac cigars. And at each event consumers can enter a drawing for a box of Cain F 5 x 43, which are only available at the event. But the most interesting offering is the limited 2013 Studio Tobac Cigar sampler that is only available at the Studio Tobac World tour events. It will contain six unreleased Studio Tobac prototype cigars, and will be available free with a box purchase of either of the Studio Tobac brands; Nub and Cain.
This year’s sampler contains the following cigars:- Nub Daytona 460- Cain F 5 x 50- Padilla Studio Tobac Figurado- CTP-013 Toro (A prototype cigar that has not yet been released.)- SGP-013 Toro (A second prototype cigar not yet released to the general public.)- Cain FF Lancero
Director of Operations, Dave Wagner, stated that these samplers boxes will not be available for purchase except on event days during the 2013 World Tour. In past years only selected cigars from the sampler boxes have gone into production after the prototype release, so some of these cigars may never again be shared with the public. In the past, many consumers have made multiple purchases at the events to ensure they have a supply of these one-time only cigars.
For a complete listing of all 2013 event visit www.studiotobac.com.
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Studio Tobac is a division of the Oliva Family of Cigars that has produced their own cigars since 1995. Every process of cigar making (growing and manufacturing in Esteli, Nicaragua; sales and marketing in Miami, FL) is directly supervised by a member of the Oliva family. Oliva takes pride in crafting cigars with uncompromising quality and exceptional value. These cigars are some of the highest rated in the industry. For more information please go to: www.olivacigar.com*MORE
In life there’s always give and take – but do you find yourself giving, and never taking? Then there’s a ho afoot… Matt Booth, our partner in relationship advice, has returned to tell you (in no uncertain terms, naturally) that it’s time to man up – take your wallet back, and make way for a new no. 1. And if that partner isn’t much of a partner, get a dog. Do you need to be needed?
Does your internal hunger to help the less-than-capable override every one of your naturally-embedded internal safe guards for self preservation? Can you not help yourself to reach out and enable- to provide shelter, to nourish, to cater and coddle the weaker links in life?
Are you the one that somehow, due to your own core issues, or simple lack if self-respect of feelings of self-worth, impose upon yourself the responsibility to become the caretaker for those that, for whatever reason, will not take care of themselves?
If you are consumed by the overwhelming need and wanton lust to save another that is undoubtedly not worth saving - you, my freind, just might be an individual that I, and many others refer to as none other than...
"Captain Save - A - Ho" Do you need to be needed?
My dear brothers and sisters of the leaf, in this installment I will delve into the treacherous terrain which is the psychological landscape of a one Captain Save a Ho. I will then identify components of this individual’s behavior and attempt to offer some critical advice for those exhibiting behavior patterns consistent with the save-a-ho complex. My hope is that through my work here we can make a difference in at least one person’s life. I will do my best to expose, both, this phenomenon and those that are victims of no one but themselves, and why it is that they do what they do – save ho's. Ho. [h?h] –a derogatory term for a woman – abbreviation for (hooker)
For our purposes: The individual known as the “savee”
Captain. [káp-tin] –an officer ranking in most armies above first lieutenant and below a major.
For our purposes: The individual known as the “saver”
The first order of business is to identify the personality type I am referring to as the ho. Note that I have not affiliated a specific gender to the role of the ho, because in this saga, the ho, my precious little unicorns, is non-gender specific. The ho is the individual – male or female - that seeks a caretaker versus caring for themselves. Also note that I would never be so brazen as to suggest that a person that TRULY needs help or requires a little assistance would be ho-listed. The ho is the individual – male or female - that seeks a caretaker versus caring for themselves. Also note that I would never be so brazen as to suggest that a person that TRULY needs help or requires a little assistance would be ho-listed. When dealing with the save-a-ho mentality, the ho is an individual that sustains life via the attachment to another person, not unlike a parasite affixes itself to a host. This ho will draw from their host (or Captain) support, advantage, or the like, without giving anything useful or proper in return. Now that the nature of our ho subject has been further expanded upon, let us shift the gears and focus to our Captain. Oh Captain, my Captain – do you work in the healthcare field? Do you take care of everyone else, and conveniently forget to take care of yourself? Do you have a “partner” that never reaches for their wallet or purse when the check comes at the end of a meal? Have you potentially created a life in which you will not be able to retire when you initially planned due to a ransacked life savings? The individual that is our Captain (host) gives all: mental, emotional and spiritual energy topped-off with two cherries and a thick coat of frosting called “financial support.” Our Captain is forever investing him or herself into the appeasement of the-black-hole-esque personality of the ho. Never satisfied, never satiated – and surely never employed at a level that this individual could ever dream of making a valid and balanced contribution to the team effort, which any partnership is supposed to be. As my man Rob Base says, “It takes two,” and in this scenario his timeless words could never ring with more truth. Our Captain seeks out a partner that appears to need saving. Not only will our beloved Captain choose a ho as their life partner, the Captain will undoubtedly continue on with this ho person long past the point that it is rudely apparent that the ho is a detriment to our Captain’s very future. It will be far more likely that some outside life event will have to shake this ho from our Captain’s tree – rather than the Captain shaking lose this filthy vermin known as “the ho” on their own accord. As with any other form of addiction, the first step in the right direction is acceptance. Captain, you must accept that you are not the savior of the downtrodden – nor are you the champion of the disenfranchised. You are a hard working and life-loving individual that deserves an equal as a partner in the realm of relationships – not a parasite. Start listening to rap music.
Get in touch with your inner E-40 (don’t go overboard in the beginning, lest you may kill a ho). Study the works of the illustrious Bishop Don “Magic” Juan. Strengthen your pimp hand until, when held above your head with your hand like a knife, this blade of justice becomes the spear tip of your recovery. You don’t simply need to break ho's, mind you, you need to break the habit of keeping them. Instead of looking for romance on Facebook, hit up “so-and-so” that works (note I said WORKS) in the accounting department, or an old friend that is a self-starter and an entrepreneur. Adopt a beautiful little Chihuahua and make the dog number one, not your ho. The bond you build with your new furry little friend will strengthen and blossom on a daily basis, and every bit of energy that is focused on your new partner in crime will weaken the tractor beam-like hold the ho has on you. In time walking away from your destructive relationship will not only no longer seem impossible, it will seem impossible not to walk away.
The most difficult step is the first step in a new direction. Choose yourself (and of course your dog) over a ho; it may seem overwhelming now, but trust in the process and you will quickly be able to sever ties, move forward and move on. In the beginning, there were hunters and there were gatherers. All members of society contributed and carried their own weight or were left behind to perish. Advancements in modern society have brought us a great many luxuries. Luxuries ranging from advancements in medical technologies to methods of travel from short trips, international flights, and even space travel. As a strong cross section of humanity has grown along with these advancements, another segment of humankind has taken the route of the bottom feeder - parasitical life forms that sustain their existence by ho-ing off those that are producers and providers. Rather than do for one's self, these ho's seek out a Captain that will have them and commence to being had. So, when you find yourself reaching in to that wallet for someone that opts out of doing for one's self, take a minute to reflect on today’s lesson. Find a partner that is truly worthy of your companionship; one with whom you can share the great saga of your romance – not someone whose saga is based on the romancing of time, energy, and most importantly, monetary units from your control to theirs. Captain Save a Ho, it is time to retire those stripes and break the chains of your co-dependent cycle.
Until the next...*MORE
A hat says a lot about a man. Take George “Stormy” Kromer: semi-pro ball player, and he hung off the side of full-speed steam locomotives. That’s honest-to-gawd baller right there, son. So much so, he has a hat named for him. Think you can pull that off? Or walk in the shoes – and fedoras – of the Rat Pack? Maybe…get fitted with CA’s hat guide and we’ll give you an infusion of style. George Washington crossed the Delaware in the Bicorne, Pilgrims have been immortalized in the Capotain and your graduation ceremony wouldn’t have been the same without the Mortarboard. Whether you’re marching into battle, exploring a new world or formally entering adulthood, there is a good chance a hat is atop your head. Your choice in hat can make a statement - it is an accessory that can make or break any outfit. And before you throw one on for a night on the town, you’ll want to be sure it’s the right choice. With Spring in full form and Summer on the horizon, it is time to dust off the old cap and even look into the purchase of something new. It is an accessory that is often overlooked but can really top-off any outfit. With the variety of hats out there, it is important to find the right one for you. Don’t force it; your choice of hat should fit your style, personality and appearance. Take, for example, the fedora. Many attempt it, but few can pull it off properly. Once a go-to for women in the late 19th century, the fedora eventually transitioned into fashion for middle class men around the 1920’s. Fedoras are characterized by the crease or “pinch” in the front, a teardrop crown and a 360 degree brim commonly under tucked with the chosen fabric. This style of hat was the choice cap for Frank Sinatra and accompanied Indiana Jones on each adventure. It was an accessory to suits for many years; but after the 1950’s, it dropped off in popularity. Worn correctly today, it is a great summer hat that can bring a formal touch to any activity, including relaxing. By pairing the fedora with khaki shorts and a nice pair of loafers, you can bring a touch of class to the most casual of summer wear. Felt is the most common fabric used in its construction, though a straw fedora will do the trick in the warm Summer months. Regardless of what you’re wearing along with it, the fedora always looks good when sported with confidence. Not to be confused with the fedora, another great choice in “formal turned casual” hat is the Pork Pie. This style can be distinguished by its flat top, 360 degree creased crown and short brim. They grew in popularity during the Silent Film Era and eventually found their way onto hat racks around the country. It was the choice hat for Dean Martin, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright. A pork pie is great for casual settings and really is a unique choice. When looking to purchase a pork pie for the Spring, make sure it is lightweight. If not straw, look for eyelet holes on either side of the hat: this will allow for breathability so that it can be worn comfortably, regardless of the environment you are in. While fedoras and pork pies still remain relevant options, this next hat is rarely seen in the wild. It is a hat that carries a lot of tradition and is most commonly worn ceremoniously at sailing events around the country. It’s the boater cap, and it’s in a league all its own. Very few can properly pull off the boater - but with a fresh pressed suit, a cane and a good tune to whistle you might be on your way. The boater was made for the summer months, as straw is the most common ingredient in its build. The larger 3” plus brim helps keep the noon day sun off your face and the straw material allows your head to ventilate on even the warmest of days. The style carries with it both tradition and prestige, rarely being seen as everyday attire. Throw one on for yourself, however, and you may find it fits just right. Spring time isn’t always butterflies and blue skies, and on certain days you’ll need to be ready for the elements. For outdoor activities, consider throwing on a Stormy Kromer. More commonly seen in the northern Midwest, this brand/style of hat is identified by the ear flaps that are tied in the front. Stormy Kromers come in many different fabrics, with the most common being wool. However, for the Spring/Summer you’ll want to look into their line of waxed cotton and cord caps. These hats were developed to fit snug atop your head, providing you protection from winds and rain. The hats were developed in the early 20th century by the wife of George “Stormy” Kromer, semi-pro baseball stud turned railway engineer. He found himself losing his best ball caps too often, especially while hanging out the side of a locomotive tearing through the Plains. His wife took the initiative of tying flaps on his ball cap, eventually turning the idea into a business. Today, the Stormy Kromer hat adorns sportsmen’s heads around the country and is a great choice when hitting the great outdoors, rain or shine. No, we didn’t forget: the Ball cap.
Snug, worn, tried and true. You can’t speak on hats without discussing the most important hat on the rack, the trusty ball cap. It can represent pride for a hometown team, show the sweat you put into a weekend’s to-do list and, most importantly, wear the scars of years of wear through thick and thin. Although there may be a few in your collection, every man should have “the one.” The ball cap we know today has kept its basic shape since its first appearance on the diamond in the mid-19th century. It’s an American tradition, one that every man should celebrate.*MORE
By Gary Korb
Earlier this week we broke the story of the upcoming action-thriller, Operation Smokescreen, featuring starring performances by top cigar industry names like Rocky Patel, Nick Perdomo, Jonathan Drew, Charlie Toraño, Christian Eiroa and others. If you missed it, here's a quick synopsis: A deadly necrovirus that originated in Cuba now threatens to permanently devour the tobacco fields in all of Central America. The word is out, and the race is on for a handful of powerful tobacco growers to keep their farms alive by finding the "anti-virus"- the only force that can stop the process. Hand-picked by a powerful "Mystery Man," some manufacturers have agreed to work together, while others have decided that it’s in their best interest to see their fellow growers' losses. Matters are complicated by a rogue faction within the CIA who wants in for their own reasons. A double-cross among the growers, torture, murder, and mayhem ensue, all in the effort to obtain the serum and thwart the plague before the necrovirus becomes unstoppable.
CigarAdvisor.com has now secured behind the scenes photos from Operation Smokescreen’s Facebook page, detailing the making of the film:
Click here to see more…
This just in!The stars of Operation Smokescreen have come together to offer a prize package to tie in with the movie: Operation Sweepstakes! Each man behind his brand has autographed boxes of some of his best cigars and accessories, and put them together for 5 lucky winners to bring home a haul worth over $1,500. View the Operation Smokescreen trailer and don’t miss the opportunity to win big today!# # #*MORE
FLORIDA OUTDOOR SMOKING BILLS SLOWING DOWN...
Indicators are telling us that the legislation to allow local governments to enact outdoor smoking restrictions in Florida is coming to an end for 2013 – but they’ll be back.
Committees with purview over SB 258 and HB 439 are not scheduled to meet again this year, and the opposition, namely Florida State Senator Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, are waving the white flag for this year, noting of his effort to allow for such outdoor smoking ordinances, “If it’s not dead, it’s on life support in the House.” Senator Bradley has vowed to renew his efforts, and to search for compromise next year. That’s why we cannot stop talking to our state legislators when they leave the state capitol. CRA thanks all of the Florida membership for the calls and emails made to legislators, reinforcing the work of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, Cigar Association of America, and even non-cigar groups, such as the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association that questioned Florida having a ‘patchwork’ of local ordinances with which to contend. This issue in Florida, will not go away. Let’s keep the pressure against such legislation on, throughout the year.Massachusetts Tax Increase – A New Battle in BostonWe were still celebrating the news that Boston Mayor Tom Menino was not running for reelection, when word started to flow about a new tax increase proposal in the state house.
Governor Deval Patrick is proposing an increase in cigar taxes by as much as 10%, as a part of a $1.9 billion package for roads and education. The thirst for your tax dollars is unquenchable. The additional disturbing part of this equation is that the leadership of the legislature is supporting Governor Patrick. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray are introducing the measure.
Contact your members of the Massachusetts legislature, TODAY! Say “No More Taxes on My Cigars!”
On a more positive note, CRA is very pleased that Boston Mayor Tom Menino has announced that he is not seeking reelection. Mayor Menino spearheaded the effort with the Board of Health to ban outdoor smoking on restaurant patios, along with a ‘sunset’ on the very existence of Boston’s great cigar bars. That issue needs to be revisited with a new administration.H.R. 792 Advances in the U.S. House of RepresentativesWith each passing week since being filed on February 15, H.R. 792 gains strength in Congress, sending a clear message to the FDA: This government has higher priorities than regulating cigars!
Now, 41 members of the U.S. House of Representatives from nineteen states and both sides of the political aisle have come together as co-sponsors, joining the bi-partisan support of Rep. Bill Posey, R-Florida, and Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Florida. And on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue...There are rumblings that the Obama Administration may be proposing a fresh new round of tax increases, and this time on your cigars! Now, the President may want new cigar taxes to go for education programs. SCHIP just wasn’t enough. Fortunately, that’s why there are three branches of government, and such a proposal should meet with strong resistance in the House of Representatives, and hopefully the Senate, as well.
Members of Congress from Florida, Tennessee, Iowa, Colorado, Oklahoma, California, Missouri, Virginia, Nevada, North Carolina, Minnesota, West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas, Arkansas and New York have already signed on the line, telling the FDA to stay out of your home and shop humidor.* * **MORE
Country of Origin: NicaraguaSize: 7 x 54Strength: MediumWrapper: U.S. Connecticut-seed (Honduran Talanga Valley Shade grown)Filler & Binder: Nicaraguan (various regions)Presentation: Presented in boxes of 20 and SinglesLocation smoked: OfficePaired with: Spring water
Construction and Overall Appearance: Pristine. A lovely, Honduran-grown Connecticut wrapper with an attractive Colorado hue, and a very silky feel. The cigar was well-packed, and comes in a cedar sleeve appointed with a green silk ribbon. Draw: Perfect.Pre-light flavor: Sweet and toasty.
Toasting & Light: Excellent. Triple cap clipped-off easily and in a near perfect disc. The foot took completely in about 5 seconds. The first puff was very creamy, woody, and nutty in flavor. Lots of thick, creamy smoke, too.
Base flavors: Roasted nuts and sweet cedar.
Retrohale: Picked up a sweet woodiness and a nip of light pepper.
Aroma: Excellent. Very rich and savory.
Burn / Ash Quality: Ultra-clean with a soft, grey & black stippled ash. First ash dropped-off at about 1/2 an inch, leaving a perfect cherry. As for the remainder of the cigar, I haven't had a cigar that burned this well in a while. Just about every ash revealed a nice cone when tapped.
Balance of flavors: Excellent.
Consistency: Very good.General Observations: I was really impressed with this cigar. Looks like the Blancos went all-out here. The smoke was sweet, nutty, and creamy smooth. I liked the silkiness of the wrapper leaf, too. Some wrappers are described as "silky," but this one really feels like silk. The cigar was more mild than I expected at first, but by the end it was a solid medium-bodied smoke. This cigar put out a lot of smoke, too. One interesting observation was that, in the middle of smoking this cigar, I had to do a phone interview with someone, and I left the cigar in the ashtray saddle. The interview took about 20 minutes. When I came back to my desk, the cigar was still lit! During the last act, the flavors settled into a primarily woody character, while the retrohale turned somewhat sweeter with hardly any palate feedback.Summary: This Double Corona smoked smoothly and maintained a consistent body and character pretty much through the cigar's entire length. In the last two inches it got a little hot and bitter, but some extra rest in the saddle took off the edge. Then, at 7" x 54, this is a lot of cigar, so you would expect it to get juicy. What made this cigar complex for me was the combination of the flavors in the smoke and aroma. Very well done. After discovering how much I liked the Connecticut Shade, I'm looking forward to smoking the Lancaster, Pa. Broadleaf Maduro version. Note: Blanco Liga Exclusivo de Familia cigars are sold primarily in retail tobacco stores.Rating: ????
=============== Rating scale ? = Fair to Middling ?? = Good ??? = Very impressive ???? = Excellent ????? = Spectacular!*MORE
BY MANUEL RUEDA | ABC NEWS/UNIVISION
Cuba has accused the U.S. of allowing American companies to "blatantly steal" some of the island's most important brand names, following a court decision over the famous Cohiba cigar brand.
Cigars carrying the name of this well-known brand, which was created in Cuba in the 1960s, have been sold in the U.S. since 1981 by General Cigar Co., an American company based in Richmond, Virginia. But General Cigar's "Cohibas" are actually manufactured in the Dominican Republic and have no relation to the original Cuban-made Cohibas. The Cuban Cohibas are manufactured in Havana by Cuba Tabaco, a company owned by the Cuban government, but they cannot be sold in the United States because of the five-decades-old trade embargo against Cuba.Story continues at ABC News|Univision...*MORE
Miami, FL -- Drew Estate Inc. announced today the impending release of Kentucky Fire Cured Cigars,an extension to the MUWAT brand also to be produced at the Joya de Nicaragua factory. In development for over 2.5 years, this extension to the MUWAT line of premium cigars was inspired during a trip to the Dominican Republic where Jonathan Drew and Steve Saka were visiting the Universal Leaf tobacco pre-industry facility. “I remember it as if it were yesterday” states JD. “Fritz Bossert (President of Universal Leaf), Steve Saka and I were smoking Liga Privada T52s in the fermentation area when I noticed a pilon of Kentucky Fired Cured tobacco. We took the wrapper off the T52 and placed a thick Kentucky Fire Cured leaf in its place. The taste and aroma were simply amazing, but there was just one huge problem – the cigar would not burn properly, and is one of the reasons of the lengthy process it took to get 'KFC' to market.”Nicholas Melillo, Executive Vice President of International Operations, was tasked with working on a solution to the burn issue in conjunction with Fritz Bossert, experimenting with using the fire cured leaf in the wrapper leaf position as well as using limited amounts as part of the filler.
Six months later we were already producing blends and sharing samples with good friends throughout the cigar industry, while keeping the project completely quiet.“In February 2011 we had the pleasure of smoking some of these early samples on the Corona CigarCo.’s Cigar Safari tour," says Jeff Borysiewicz founder & owner of Corona Cigar Co. "My group really enjoyed the aroma and flavor profile and kept asking JD when this product would be ready to market. He kept me waiting until December 2012, when we smoked more KFC samples at my lake house during the Christmas holiday. They’ve really come a long way and we look forward to the release.”“The My Uzi Weighs A Ton brand was the first true collaboration between Drew Estate and Joya de Nicaragua," says Michael Cellucci, President of Drew Estate."The fact that JD wanted to bring the ”MUWAT” franchise under the flag of Subculture Studios is a reflection of his love of working with other talented cigar makers. Subculture Studios is more than just a graffiti factory in Nicaragua, it is a 'mental space' that JD and Jessi Flores have cultivated throughout the years and reveals innovation, raw talent and creativity that you find throughout all of Drew Estate at every level.” There is a lot we have experimented with and all shall be revealed in short order, but for now here is a little quote from Nicholas Melillo, Chief of the Broadleafs.
“First off, Kentucky Fire Cured is from a stalk-cut tobacco. The initial firing of KFC is done at low heat between 100 F to 115 F degrees and maintained until the color reaches solid brown. Once color is set temperatures increase to 120F- 130F to completely cure down the midrib of the leaf and darken. Once the midrib is dried the temperature will be reduced and the smoke maximized with saw dust to finish the leaf. When KFC hits your olfactory nerve you know it! "MUWAT Kentucky Fire Cured will be Available in three sizes: 6 x 52 “Just a Friend”, 5 x 56 “Fat Molly” and a 4 x 46 “Chunky” in the familiar MUWAT craft paper bundle. Americana style graphics adorn these new packs.“Kentucky Fire Cured is not something new to the world of tobacco, as it has been grown for over 200 years. Easily compared to the smokey taste attributed to a peaty scotch, the KFC picks up nuances of the roasted hickory, oak or maple wood that makes you say 'Damn, that’s tasty,'” expels Jonathan Drew."In addition to the fire cured tobaccos of Kentucky and Dark Fire Cured of Virginia, we are finishing the two year project of our fire cured tobaccos from another country which DE will not disclose until a time closer to the actual release of the brand. I’ll just say this: they don’t speak English, Italian or Spanish in this region of the world.”* * **MORE
Q: This weekend, while recharging my humidor, I found a small beetle crawling along the inner lip of my box. I haven't been able to find any holes in my cigars, but I am at a loss of what to do next. I read online that freezing the cigars should solve it, but how should I go about this without damaging my cigars?- Cassio in Long Island City, NY A: Freezing won't damage your cigars if you do it right. Don't take chances with beetles. You may not see holes now, but to be safe follow these instructions:
CAREFULLY place all of your remaining cigars in a Ziploc-type FREEZER bag.Try to get as much air out of the bag as possible first.Place the cigars in the freezer overnight.In the morning move them to the fridge. You want a SLOW thaw.
By evening you can take them out of the fridge, but don't place them back in the humidor until you're certain it's been disinfected.*MORE
What does a woman want? Oh, buddy - that question has retired many of our brothers to life’s marital scrap heap. Lucky for you, we found someone to give you a hand – but it’s going to cost you. This Mother’s Day, remember that you may be buying for 2: your wife and your mom. (Note: you won’t get off easy by just buying 2 of something.) Use our guidance and guarantee your happiness (wife)…and your inheritance (mom). And for God’s sakes, include a card. What does a woman want? That seemingly simple question has discombobulated and frustrated mankind ever since Adam wondered what to give Eve in return for the apple she re-gifted from that snake in the Garden of Eden. Sigmund Freud posed the same question in the presaging what modern day shrinks call couples counseling. But even Siggie, who archly opined that "SOMETIMES A CIGAR IS JUST A CIGAR," wasn't able to supply viable answers. Now comes mother's day the annual occasion when we men are called upon to honor and attempt to satisfy the most important women in our lives: the mothers who brought us into this world and the mothers who've born our children. Short of engaging in a life-or-death battle to protect your loved ones, can there be anything more vexing or more excruciating than trying to come up with Mother's Day gifts that are not rejected and then returned for stuff you never, ever would have guessed they wanted? We don't pretend to have solved this eternal dilemma, but we do have several suggestions based on firsthand interviews with actual mothers. They range from totally outrageous gifts that cost a fortune to (relatively) inexpensive but still elegant items and an offering that costs nothing in monetary terms-although yes, there's a catch that we'll elaborate upon later.
Just try to remember the age-old adage that, "it's the thought that counts"- and the inextricably related admonition that if you believe that for a nanosecond, you're up a creek without and Adam's apple or a premium tobacco leaf to cover your family jewels. Nothing says, "I love you, mom," like a yacht with her name on it, a gift with namesake permanence since seagoing superstition holds its bad luck to change a craft's christened name. Does "Mom" Like to Travel?
You don't have to shell out $100 million for a boeing 757 like Donald Trump's.
Get her an intimate, small lear jet that seats four and retails for just $3 million.
If that's too pricey until the economy recovers, treat mom to a trip free from airport security hassles on a mid-sized jet with charter prices starting at only $2,550 an hour. Diamonds are a "Mom's" best friend...and some of them are actually affordable.
Show mom just how much you love her. Slip this Harry Winston marquise diamond and platinum trinket on her digit for only $75,000.
While you're at Harry Winston's you could also nab her this diamond-encrusted, 18K Gold dome ring for a mere $24,500.
Alphabet letter engraved charms from Helen Ficalora for $50. Just make sure the engraved initial matches "Mom's" or she'll spell your name with the 16th, 18th, 9th, 3rd, and 11th letters of the alphabet. Fast and fancy cars aren't just toys for boys; they can give "Mom" a thrill, too.
Yes, we know you lust for something like a $2.4 million Bugatti Veyron. Just remember, this is for "Mom".
Perhaps a $1.85 million Aston Martin One-77 is more her speed.
Mom'll probably prefer a quieter ride like a Bentley Continental GT which starts at around $280,000. Bentleys come with four-wheel drive so she won't have to call AAA to pull her out of snow or beach sand. If "Mom" isn't really into high-ticket boats, planes or cars, give her something only "Fur" her.
How about a brown mink short coat by Jean Paul Gaultier for $13,354?
Or give her something you can both get into (figuratively of not literally) like a Sexy Black Bordelle Sub Angela dress for $1,095.
Then just bowl her over with a Louis Vuitton Monogram bowling bag purse for only $2,545. Your undivided attention as promised, here's a gift that won't cost you a single dime, though it may take a priceless toll on your mind and soul. Come on, just give it to her. Or try anyway. It only has to be for a singular Sunday that is Mother's Day, but if you really want to score points, attempt to do it for the entire weekend. According to our interviews with real mothers, your undivided attention is what a woman really wants. *MORE
Nick Perdomo continues his series on tobacco farming in Nicaragua. In this month's chapter, he describes some of the old and new methods Perdomo Cigars uses to ensure their seedlings grow into strong, healthy tobacco plants with leaves that are rich in flavor. From using oxen for plowing, to high-tech computers for soil analysis, and state-of-the-art planting machines, Nick says," We apply the older standards…but if new techniques can help us do things better, I'm all over it." One of the biggest keys to Perdomo and who we are is combining old world traditions with the most modern technology that's effective. It's not a slogan, it's the truth. Last month, in Part 1 I wrote about why we decided to start growing our own crops, how we found the right fields, hired the most knowledgeable people, and what we did to store and cure our tobacco. In this chapter, I will describe some of the methods we use to ensure our seedling will grow into strong, healthy tobacco plants that are rich in flavor, plus ground preparation, fertilization, and planting. Preparing the ground, once you've got the most fertile farmland, the soil must be prepared for growing rich and premium cigar tobacco. In the old days, you would look at the ground and say, "This soil looks really rich, so that's where we'll plant." Today, we do soil analysis by taking plugs of soil from all over the farm so we can see exactly what's in it. The ground has to be extremely fertile, yet as naturally fertile as the Nicaragua soil is, you can have a piece of ground that's totally different from a piece of ground as little as three feet away. Every year, before we begin to grow we have meetings with the people from Bayer who show us what new products and techniques they have to help us grow even better crops. When it comes to combating diseases, everything changes annually. Right now there's a virus in Nicaragua that mainly attacks tomatoes, but it has done a lot of damage to tobacco.
It truncates the leaves; in other words, it won't let them grow any more than a certain amount. It's similar to Black Shank, but it doesn't attack the roots, it attacks the leaves. A lot of growers have had severe damage as a result, but Bayer has a new application that combats it. It's so effective that, in the 80's, if you had blue mold your crops would be ravished and you'd lose them all. Today if you get blue mold, you can treat it quite easily. One of the keys to smart tobacco farming is knowing when your crops are vulnerable to blue mold. First you look at the atmospheric conditions. If you see that the sky is a little overcast with variable winds, that means the sun is going to take a while to come out. We call those "blue mold days." Yes, because blue mold spores travel by wind, they can attack the plants in as little as those few hours before the sun breaks through. So, you apply the Bayer product for seven days straight, and the blue mold never gets to the plant. Thinking back to the days when my Father was planting his crops, it's amazing how things have changed. Of course, we still use a lot of traditional farming methods, but today we also rely heavily on technology. The computer that thinks it’s a tobacco plant. We have two labs we work with in Central America. As they develop new processes for analyzing soil, scientists from the laboratories will visit the farm and show us some bigger and better things we can do. With today's technology we now have these soil analysis pods that we stick in the ground. The pods are actually tiny computers that pretend to be a tobacco plant. Each pod sits in the ground for 120 days and absorbs nutrients from the ground. After the data has been analyzed, you get a punch card that tells you exactly how much nitrogen, potassium, boron, and any other elements are in the ground, including which elements the soil absorbs. The benefit of this device is, you know exactly how many parts-per-million you need to put in your fertilizer. So if your formula is 12-12-6 and the plant is only grabbing eight parts of potassium, then four parts of potassium are being washed away in the ground. Some people will tell you it's not a big deal, because the minerals will stay in the ground, but they won't; they'll just wash into the hard pan (the ground below the rich topsoil) every time, because we are going to let the ground rest and we are not going to grow tobacco again there for at least another year. That's also why we let our fields rest for one year before replanting. At that time the hard pan has to be broken up because it's very rich in nutrients. Normally, about 36 inches is where you hit this very fertile hard pan, which has to be broken up with row plows. In Jalapa you hit the pan at about 24 inches. So, you have to dig somewhere between 24 and 36 inches. Depending on which valley we are growing on, we work the rich organic dirt up all the way up to some four-inch row plows, so the grounds are thoroughly prepared from the bottom all the way to the very top. Why oxen make the best tractors. Because the grounds in Nicaragua are so rich and hard, when it's time to dig the trenches for planting we go "old school" by using oxen instead of tractors. If you use a tractor to do it, even though it has finer teeth for digging in, tractors can weigh anywhere from 2,800 to 4,000 pounds. So what happens? Due to the weight of the tractor, the soil gets compacted down again. The result is that when the tobacco grows between the furrows, it can't get the nutrients it needs and also has trouble growing because the ground cannot have any compaction. It has to be sifted, so when the water comes in, it drains. On that note, we don't apply water using sprinklers; we have tubes running on the ground. So if the soil is compacted, the water can't get to the roots. By using a pair of oxen for sifting, between the two animals, including the yokes, you're talking about 1,800 pounds at best, plus the sifter only has three teeth. This is how it's been done for about 100 years. Additionally, the operator that works with the oxen is a master. He can control them with just two fingers on the rope, and they even know not to step on the plants. We have a number of oxen we keep on the farm so we can rotate them; this way they're never overworked. A lot of people use oxen because they can't afford a tractor, but in the end, the oxen do a much better job. This is one case in which technology takes a back seat to tradition. Sowing the seeds of love, when you have an operation like ours, in the morning you can go either to the farm or the seedbeds. If you choose the seedbeds, you walk through the greenhouses. Each greenhouse is about 40ft wide by 120ft long. You see those little green seedlings, and they're beautiful, and you think to yourself, one day they'll produce some great-tasting tobacco. In order to ensure that we have strong, healthy plants, we start with the finest grade seeds. We use a seed cleaner to clean the tobacco seeds and separate them into three grades; A Grade (large), B grade (medium), and C grade (small). We only use the A grade seed as they have the best characteristics to grow strong, healthy tobacco plants. We also use the best materials and the most modern technology when we plant these seeds. We start with a nutrient rich organic soil which is blended especially for the finest premium tobacco plants. This soil is put into our growing trays which have 96 deposits, which hold exactly 96 plants. Our seeder machine uses a vacuum system to pick up exactly 96 seeds at a time and then it places them into our growing trays. This machine is an incredible resource, giving us the precision and accuracy we need to manipulate and protect each tobacco seed. This is a fascinating and critical process as each tobacco seed is smaller than a grain of pepper. Once each tray has been seeded, they are put into our greenhouses. Our greenhouses are built with special material to control the amount of sunlight that is filtered in as well as to protect the plants from any molds, funguses, or air born infections. We use a hi-tech watering system in our greenhouse which uses micro-processors to create a fine mist, almost a cloud, which creates the perfect environment for these seeds to germinate and develop into strong, healthy seedlings.
We monitor each plant closely and all of the plants with the same growth rate will be separated and prepared to be transplanted in to the fields. Timing is of course everything, as we have each field prepared and ready for these strong healthy seedlings. Our team does a fantastic job in coordinating our greenhouse operation with our field operations. No margin for error, we have to be constantly aware of the climatic conditions, sicknesses, infections, over-watering, and we do our best to keep them to a minimum. The reality is, you can't grow crops without people, and people will eventually make mistakes. For this reason alone you have to be so pinpoint accurate that every step must be done at the exact time, in a very specific manner, or the plant will die. There's no margin for error. We utilize a laser-like approach, and because almost everything is done manually, it's a lot of work. We have a strict calendar of work that is done daily under the strictest of guidance by team Perdomo and it’s experts. Take the furrows around our plants, for example; they're wet, yet no water ever touches the plants, only its roots. We build these little tributaries, block them, fill them with water, then let them drain on their own. You'll never see us directly water the plants. We have someone who makes sure that everything is done right. For example, say one plant somehow came out; he makes sure it gets put back in the ground. To me it's beautiful being out in these fields on these 20, 30 and 40 acre farms, plus, we have a farm in Jalapa that's about 130 sq. acres. For someone who grows corn, it may not seem like a lot of acreage, but for tobacco it's perfect, and we're one of the largest in Central America. The transplanting machine from outer space. In the old days, when it was time for transplanting the seedlings in the ground, we would take a piece of wood cut to 12 inches, lay it down, and hand plant a seedling. The plants were separated by flipping that piece of wood over and over so the plants were equidistant from each other. It's still done that way in many parts of Nicaragua, so despite all the new technology, the old things still work. However, as well as they work, the old methods often take more time, and extra time can be inefficient. Even the old manual transplanters have their drawbacks. These machines have a wheel, and the wheel has a little clip on it. The operator sits in a chair and places the plant in the clip, as the wheel turns it places the plant in the ground. The downside is the clip can often pinch the stem of the plant. If it rips the stem, it's like getting a cut on your skin. Once it's torn, it's open to infection, so if that happens, or the stem is pinched too hard, you're essentially damaging the plant before it even gets a chance to grow. I figured, there had to be a better way. If there was a machine that could do the transplanting with virtually no harm to the plants, that would save us a lot of time, energy and can move our men to other important jobs on the farms or curing houses. So, after a little research I found a company that manufactured just such a machine. It wasn't cheap, but man, it's been a Godsend.
When the transplanter arrived, it came in a 40 foot container, in pieces. Like a giant erector set, you have to build it, then tractor it out to the field. It's big, shiny and red, and the local people looked at it like it was some kind of alien spaceship. To test it we decided to use it on uncultivated virgin land. That meant we would have to clear a new field by knocking everything down ourselves. Fortunately, my Dad who also did some construction work back in the day, had some bulldozers and front-end loaders. But even they weren't enough. We had guys with machetes cutting through the thatch. Let me tell, you, it's a jungle out there. Special props go to our V.P, Arthur Kemper, for working with the manufacturer on this huge project! Once the machine was built it was time to give it a test drive. It exceeded my expectations. The machine will transplant 240 plants a minute and do eight acres a day. Additionally, the machine opens up the ground, while at the same time adds water, algaecide and fertilizer, then covers it back up. Before we had the machine, you'd have to have 180 men to do the same job. With this machine you only need eight people. The other benefit is that it frees up 172 people, which means I can move them into other divisions of labor. Because there's so much you have to do, hanging the tobacco, sorting it, stringing it, etc., having all these extra workers available saves a lot of valuable time. Instead of having them punch transplanting holes in the ground, they can be working in the curing house or on fermentation. It's amazing how much more efficient this machine has made us. I remember my competitors saying it couldn't be done because the ground was too thick, but it worked. So, it can be done. Plus, you get a much more vibrant plant because it has no stress and no manipulation by human hands. You have to keep in mind that when you touch a plant, if you have bacteria on your hands, that bacteria is passed on to the plant. That's another way blue mold and Black Shank are passed. By using the transplanting machine the technique is about as antiseptic as it gets.
As I noted earlier, it's not all done with modern technology. We apply the older standards, as well -- not only to tobacco, but to making cigars, like the traditional techniques that you learned from your family. But if new techniques can help us do things better, I'm all over it.
In my next installment, I'll get more into the growing, aging and blending process.*MORE
Christian Eiroa recently spoke with a relative newcomer to the cigar industry who proudly proclaimed, "nobody knows more about cigars and tobaccos than I do." Join Christian as he talks tobacco, bravado, the infinite scope of tobacco knowledge, and reverence for the true guajiros who risked everything to develop and cultivate a tobacco business in Central America. A few months ago I was chatting with a relatively new arrival into our business (let’s call him “Juanito”). Juanito was kind enough to share with me the following: “Did you know that nobody knows more about cigars and tobacco than I do?”
This was a very bold statement from somebody in his mid-40’s. To be honest, I did not know how to react. The business I grew up in was full of men and women who always said, “You learn something about tobacco every day.” I am talking about 80 year-olds who were priming tobacco at 12 years of age back in Cuba because they needed to help out. True guajiroa that have had a fascination for this leaf for generations, and were more than happy to share their discoveries in the spirit of improving the industry. After hearing Juanito's claim, I tried to be as polite as I could, and simply told him that perhaps it was not a good idea for him to embarrass himself that way. Sadly, there was not enough time to tell him the stories from the great men who truly knew about this business, and are still learning every day. One story that stands out in particular is of the late Rolando Reyes Sr. At 85 years old, he was asked about the depth of his tobacco knowledge. He sat back and pondered the question for two minutes before replying, “Today, I think I know as much about tobacco as I will ever know”. Notice he did not say he knew everything about tobacco, only that he may not learn anything else. Now that I think about it, I let Juanito off way too easy! I should have taken the time to ask him if he knew about or had heard of those who built this industry. Men who had lost everything and had to start fresh when there was neither a tobacco nor cigar industry in Central America. People like Angel Oliva and Tino Argudin. How about Angel Perez and Frank Llaneza? Maybe he has read up on Stanford Newman and Edgar Cullman Sr. How much would it be worth to sit down with Rolando Reyes or Danielito Rodriguez for just five minutes? I wonder if he has called Estelo Padron lately just to ask him a simple question about cigars, or how many times he has called Carlos Fuente Sr. or Jr. for advice. Tino Argudin and Angel Oliva were the ones responsible for bringing the leaf business to Nicaragua and Honduras. After they discovered these Central American regions, men in their early 20’s like Danielito Rodriguez, Generoso Eiroa, and my father, Julio Eiroa went down as adventurers, never knowing they would be blazing a trail we would all still be riding 50 years later. They just figured they would go down to Central America and do they only thing they knew how to do. What about Angel Perez who developed and grows the Connecticut shade wrapper variety from Ecuador that is now used by 90% of the cigar industry? Yes, 90 %! He changed the game and displaced the Connecticut River Valley! Then you have Frank Llaneza who, together with Estelo Padron, was the first to prove that the Honduran work force was capable of making some of the best cigars in the world. What they built in that factory in Honduras was the model I used to develop our company. It was the model I used to transform our cigar factory into the cleanest in the world, earning a certification from Bayer. The same principles of discipline I use still today, and which will be a part of me forever. On the cigar side, you had Cullman Sr., Newman Sr., and Theo Folz, who paved the way for cigars and transitioned them through the decades. They helped shape the landscape you see today from something as simple and detailed as the round cap on cigars to the way cigars were presented as a premium product instead of something you smoke while cutting your lawn. It was Cullman Sr. who first began to try to separate Premium Cigars from Machine Made Cigars thirty years before the CRA took this fight to Washington, D.C. Even today the technologies are evolving in all aspects of the process, from developing superior seeds to starting off the seedbeds in trays to transplanting by machine, irrigating with the drip system to using the most ecologically-sound products we can find. Then you have the climate-controlled barns, fermentation rooms, and factories, not to mention freezing tobacco and cigars, thereby eliminating the need to fumigate. All developments passed on by the previous group of tobacco people. I wonder if Juanito even knows that these transitions have occurred and why. I have been in this business all of my life and my father still teaches me something new every day, just as I have been able to teach him a thing or two. I still do not feel comfortable with what I know because there is just so much to learn, it never ends! Just now I am learning more and more about moisture and controlled climates in the factories in our Wynwood factory in Miami and the Aladino Factory in Danli. What I wouldn’t give to have grown up in the 60’s and 70’s when these guys were starting fresh and be a part of that…scratch that, what I wouldn’t give to sit with my friend and mentor Rolando Reyes Sr. for just five minutes and ask him 20 questions! I miss my time with Rolando Reyes the most! A true friend and in my opinion, along with Estelo Padron, the best manufacturers we will ever see. They had such a passion for cigars that it is indescribable. Not once did I ever hear them mention the words “business” or “money”. They only wanted to talk about cigars, tobacco and factories. These people do not exist anymore and I miss them. I find it hard today to have a conversation with anybody where you can talk about the purity of cigars. I would love to have seen Danielito Rodriguez in his prime, the single most uncelebrated hero of our business. His grandfather developed the authentic Corojo Seed in their farm Sta. Inez del Corojo. He is the one who then took this seed to Nicaragua and years later, after leaving Nicaragua, shared this seed with my father. My biggest wish of all would be to have witnessed my father and my godfather, Sabino Plasencia, checking pilones at 4:30 in the morning and following the process of tobacco.
The next time you hear somebody making outrageous claims like my dear friend Juanito, feel free to ask him what Rolando Sr. would say about his “knowledge” of tobacco.*MORE
Memorial Day is upon us this month; and instead of just hitting the backyard barbecues, we asked Gunnery Sgt. Nick “the Cigar Marine” Popaditch to tell us what honor means to him - and what it looks like on the battlefield. Honor is very real at 0400; and it can come in some of the forms you’d least expect. Read what Gunny has to say, so you’re prepared for your 0400 moment. Military service carries many trade-offs. Possibly I was just fortunate, but in my case the good outweighed the bad. I served in the Marine Corps for sixteen years and when I walked away from my last formation, I had a smile on my face. People often talk about the horrors of war, but there is another side to this. At the low points of circumstance, the enormity of the human spirit and soul are found.
My perception was changed in Fallujah, Iraq back in 2004. Although history records the great battles there, prior to that there was a time of tenuous peace. Serving on the streets of that city, I met brave Iraqis, volunteers in a bold experiment, a nascent Arab democracy sprouting in the Middle East. Untrained, poorly equipped, and in small numbers they stepped forward to take up the cause in their bizarre new post-Saddam nation. These good people amazed and inspired me. This underperforming band of men was often the recipient of worldwide criticism, jeer, and scorn, but to me they were reminders. They were a living example of the price of freedom. I served in the Marines during the Persian Gulf War, and now in the Iraq War. The wars of my generation had always been fought on foreign shores. American freedom had never been won or lost in my wars; rather, it had been protected and ensured. I never felt a direct connection of my service to my freedom, right or wrong. On those Iraqi streets I saw men standing up and fighting for a freedom they hadn’t yet attained. Many would die for a liberty they would never experience during their lives.
It was there I realized similar battles had been fought in my own nation long before my birth. My own freedom was purchased with the blood of patriots who stood against long odds. American history, for me, came alive in Iraq. Watching these Iraqis instilled within me an incredible sense of American pride and patriotism that lingers still. I had never known a day in my life that was the Iraqi daily reality, and now my nation stood beside this quest of others for their freedom. The fragile calm in Fallujah came to an end when four American contractors were killed, their dead bodies savaged, burned, and hung for public display in the Jolan District. Marines encircled the city and prepared to attack. The new Iraqi army mustered what they could, which at that time was not much. Their presence was more symbolic than real. An intense urban fight was looming, and it was no place for amateurs.
When most people speak of characteristics like honor, courage, and commitment, they do so in vague generalities as if these qualities are intangible, untouchable, and immeasurable. When I was younger and new to the Fleet Marine Force, a tank gunner named Corporal Gus Laskaris shared a piece of wisdom with me. “Values, character, and leadership are easy when they are intangible. It’s easy to speak about them and fake them,” explained Laskaris. “But at zero four-hundred [4:00 a.m.], honor is very measurable. Challenge and adversity quickly separates the placebo from the real-deal.” Fallujah means many different things to those who fought there. To me it was a test of two nations, one an emerging proud nation facing an uphill fight for its own freedom, and the other the leader of the free world doing its best to help the former. This was the sort of test that offered a choice. For those on the ground, character was measured and tested on every block. I commanded an M1A1 main battle tank in that fight. I was about 36 hours into the assault and had already shot through two combat loads of ammunition. I was commanding the lead tank, and my crew had severely hurt the enemy. The street ahead narrowed. Enemy fighters were all around, but we held the advantage. A tank tips almost any scale. We were approaching an intersection when I took my loader, Lance Corporal Alex Hernandez, off of his machine gun and ordered him into his hatch beneath the tank’s protective armor. I hunkered down, anticipating almost certain fire from the flanks as we entered the intersection. As the tank crept forward, its weaker side-armor slowly exposed itself to potential ambush. The openness of the intersection also improved my ability to acquire and kill enemy targets, which was the reason my tank and my crew were there. An insurgent stood and took a slow, well-aimed RPG shot at the side of my tank. The hissing round trailed into the side of the tank and exploded without penetrating. I commanded my driver, Lance Corporal Christopher Frias, to stop the tank so I could fire a well-aimed burst from my machine gun. At that moment I heard a second snake hiss—the signature of an RPG cutting through the air. The second rocket struck me, blew my helmet apart, and sent shards of shrapnel into my head and neck. My legs collapsed beneath me and I fell into the tank’s turret. Blind and deaf, though still conscious, I reached for my second in command, Corporal Ryan Chambers, the tank’s gunner. Chambers was no longer in his crew position. I reached for Hernandez, but he was no longer inside the tank. Both Marines had made the choice to expose themselves to man the two machine guns atop the tank. I felt the tank lurch forward again. Although I could not see or hear it, my crew was continuing to fight the enemy. Blindness also prevented me from seeing that both Chambers and Hernandez had been wounded by the same round that nearly killed me. The top of the tank was on fire. An attack is like a one-way street: bottlenecks endanger lives. Since we were the lead tank, the Corpsmen were behind us. Unable to reverse course, we had no choice but to go forward to get to them. Frias, who was young enough to have been at his senior prom the year prior, got us there.
I was pulled from the tank and put on the ground to receive first-aid. Two Navy Corpsmen applied pressure dressings to numerous holes in my head and neck. They had stabilized me for transport when I felt my body being pressure covered, as if I was being buried. “We’re under mortar fire, Gunny,” a Corpsmean informed me. They had piled their own body armor and helmets on top of me, leaving them exposed. I never learned their names. Although my involvement was over, the fight for Fallujah continued. Many Marines would give their lives before it was over. I would never see my Iraqi allies again. It is a safe bet that most of them were killed in pursuit of the freedom they never witnessed. Large numbers of our enemy were killed, though no doubt some are even now enjoying a freedom they actively fought to prevent. Honor is not about a balance sheet. It is not inherited or awarded to members of the winning team or taken from the losers. Honor is earned at Corporal Laskaris’ 0400 moment. What did you do when doing the right thing was the hardest thing to do? There has always been a 0400 moment. It is always with us, and it isn’t exclusive to combat. Each day we make choices in our lives and are surrounded by others making them, too. When your 0400 moment arrived, what choice did you make? When the next one comes, what choice will you make?
Honor is indeed measurable, tangible, and close enough to touch.*MORE
Racing – there’s nothing more ‘merica. Whether it’s tailgating with beers and brats, or brie and burgundy in the luxury box - everyone hits the Brickyard to witness 33 cars doing 225 mph. And the race is just half the spectacle. We’ve saved you a seat inside the world’s largest sporting venue, for the world’s largest single-day spectator sporting event: the Indy 500. The simple facts about the Indianapolis 500 are enough to catch the eye and entice the mind. It’s the world’s largest single-day spectator sporting event, with nearly 300,000 fans pouring into the grandstands encircling the famous “Brickyard” the Sunday of every Memorial Day weekend.
It’s staged at the largest sporting venue in the world, with more than 250,000 permanent seats. That’s seven times the size of Fenway Park. More than three times bigger than the Superdome. The infield at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is 253 acres, big enough to fit Yankee Stadium, the Roman Colosseum, the Rose Bowl and Vatican City. And the race has taken place every year since 1911 except for America’s participation in world wars in 1917-18 and 1942-45. The “500” is 101 years old, 23 years older than The Masters and 56 years older than the Super Bowl. But there’s something far bigger than numbers. Something more impressive than the 225-mph speeds that turbo-charged Indy cars reach in the Indianapolis 500, covering the distance of more than a football field per second.
The Indianapolis 500 transcends sport and remains a singular American experience for fans for one reason: It’s been around for more than a century, yet it still exudes hip vitality. Few events fuse a bedrock respect of decades-old tradition and an exciting, fresh sense of possibility every year like “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Only at Indianapolis on Memorial Day weekend will fans from Generation Y sing along reverently with Jim “Gomer Pyle” Nabors, famous long before they were born, to the unofficial theme song of the race, “Back Home Again in Indiana,” just minutes after gyrating their bodies to a techno DJ in the Snake Pit party in the infield. It’s a race where a lone bugler playing “Taps” to honor fallen military heroes brings a heaving throng of 300,000 to eerie silence. Then just minutes later, that same crowd explodes into rapt cheers when a traditional command of “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!” brings a traditional field of 33 cars to spine-tingling internal combustion life for a three-hour, 500-mile thrill ride to a spot on the Borg-Warner Trophy and racing immortality. It’s a test bed where the first rearview mirror was used in a car, by the inaugural winner, Ray Harroun, in 1911. It also remains a laboratory for future automotive technological and safety innovations, such as biofuels and energy-absorbing crash barriers. The Indianapolis 500 is an ever-turning view of the kaleidoscope known as America. It’s beer and brats in the tailgate of a truck. It’s brie and burgundy in a luxury suite. It’s an octogenarian sitting in the grandstands next to a wide-eyed 7-year-old kid. It’s a toast of cocktails among reunited friends and a traditional chug of a glass bottle of milk by the race winner in Victory Lane.
There’s a reason why fans flock to Indianapolis every Memorial Day weekend, why tickets are passed down from generation to generation like high-octane heirlooms: It’s a colorful palette juxtaposition of power and partying, history and heroes, speed and sound.*MORE
Informed cigar smokers often want to know what tobaccos are in their favorite blends, but as Charlie Toraño argues, you're basically asking cigar makers to reveal their trade secrets. What's more, even knowing country of origin, seed, and priming of all the tobaccos in a blend, you still know less than you think about the blend. Charlie asks: is an oversupply of information limiting your cigar experience? Two years ago I decided to take the plunge and bought a fishing boat. My son and I had always enjoyed fishing off piers and lakes, but as he got older, I decided to buy a boat to go after some bigger game fish in the waters off of Southeast Florida. Our primary target was sailfish. As soon as sailfish season hit at the beginning of our so-called South Florida winter, we were ready to go. For some of you seasoned anglers, you know that “goggle eyes” are one of the best live baits to attract bigger fish. We found a local bait guy that would sell the goggle eyes right off his boat close to our inlet. I’ll never forget our first transaction as we took delivery of our dozen goggs. As I’m putting the bait into our live well, my son (12 years old at the time) innocently asks “where do you find the bait?” My buddies on the boat instantly burst out in laughter and the bait guy sarcastically answered that he finds bait in the ocean. Without knowing it, my son was asking the bait captain to reveal his trade secrets. The look on this guy’s face made it clear that no one had ever dared ask him such a question. After apologizing for my son’s in-artful question, it occurred to me that I’m asked to reveal our trade secrets just about every single day in the cigar business and, what’s worse, I happily comply. You can look at our website (shameless plug – torano.com), our marketing materials, media interviews, you name it; from every conceivable roof top, I, and almost all of my colleagues in the cigar business, are more than eager to loudly proclaim our trade secret cigar blends. After more than 15 years working in the cigar business, I believe this practice of sharing our blends is not only bad from the industry’s standpoint, but I believe that you, the cigar smoker, are unwittingly being cheated and hurt by this same information. Webster’s Dictionary has a great definition of the term blending. It says that blending is meant “to produce a harmonious effect.” In cigars, we strive to produce a harmonious smoke by taking different cigar leaves (wrappers, binders and fillers) that combine to create a unique smoking experience. The first, and arguably the most important part of distinguishing one brand from another, is the combination of leaves chosen in the blend. While the possible choices of tobacco leaves are not endless, they might as well be. Just think about the possible choices of filler tobacco from just one specific farm in Nicaragua. A tobacco plant can have anywhere from 6-8 primings. Each of these primings in the same plant will taste different. The lower primings will be thinner tobacco with less flavor and strength, and the upper primings will yield thicker tobacco with stronger and bolder flavors. In addition to differences within the same plant in the same farm, you also have different tastes between different farms in the same growing region. When you consider that each tobacco farm in the same region of the same country can yield different tastes, you can have dozens of slight variations of taste in just one region. Multiply these regions and farms throughout several countries and you get the gist of the vast amount of choices available. Thus, by any reasonable measure, the selection of each leaf made by each cigar blender should be a cigar maker’s best-kept secret. Which brings us to the core of the issue: why do you, the cigar smoker, want to know the blends and why do we tell you? Let’s start with the latter first. We, the cigar makers, tell you the blends because in truth we know we are actually revealing very little about what actually makes the cigar special. We are not telling you what farms we are growing in or buying the tobacco from; we are not detailing the primings we use of the various tobaccos; we are not revealing how we ferment the tobacco when we get it from the curing barns; we are not detailing the source of the water used in the fermentation process; we are not describing the aging process, the sorting, the aroma in the factory, the quality control etc. . . . . In sum, we are not telling you very much at all. To test my theory, let’s say I wanted to make a cigar like the Padron 1964 Series. What manufacturer wouldn’t want to have this great-selling blend? Here’s what the publications say: Wrapper: Nicaragua; Binder: Nicaragua; Filler: Nicaragua. Some go so far as to say the filler is from all three regions in Nicaragua (Esteli, Jalapa, and Condega). Very helpful so far. Can I make a cigar just like the Padron 1964 Series? The answer is a resounding NO! They have their own farms, their own methods, their own style. This is as it should be. It’s not about the so-called published blend. It’s all about the intangibles of each factory and brand that are important. So, the real question for you, the cigar smoker, is why do you want to know the blend? I understand that you want to know, at least generally, what you’re smoking. You want to feel informed and decisive about what you like and what you don’t like. However, I believe you are being cheated by the published blends when you decide that you don’t like certain types of tobacco and you base your opinion, in large part, on the published blends and the experience you may have had with a certain brand. In other words, instead of just deciding that you don’t like a particular brand/blend, you generalize the experience and decide, for example, that you don’t like any Cameroon blend. In my not-so-humble opinion, you're limiting yourself in this way. Instead, be willing to try different cigar brands even if they have tobacco that you believe you don’t like. As someone who has worked on countless private label blends over the years, there were many times when I didn’t tell the distributor the blend that we configured for them. I would simply tell them to smoke the cigars without any preconceived notions of the blend, experience the flavors, and tell us what they thought. Eventually, I would share what we had used in the blend. Time and time again our private label clients were blown away with a particular style of leaf we used because they thought they didn’t like that type of tobacco. Similarly, with our own Torano blends, we usually narrow a particular brand to two or three blends that we like. Then we blind test ourselves because we can also be influenced by knowing the blend. A quick story about blind tasting: My good friend Tim Ozgener (formerly of CAO) and I made a presentation in our Honduran factory to a well-known journalist in the cigar industry. We took some sample tobacco from all the different regions and countries that we had in our factory and laid them out on a big conference table. It looked like the United Nations of Tobacco. We made some small cigars (4 x 38s) that had wrapper, binder and filler all of the same region and country. For example, we had tobacco from Jamastran, Honduras and the 4 x 38 was pure Jamastran with no blend of any other tobacco. I remember that I had a brutal cold and could not smoke that day. Thus, I was the one presenting the journalist and Tim with the cigars to blind test. They were ranking the cigars in a best to worse and trying to guess the origin of the smoke. Trust me, these two guys know tobacco and have very good palates. But in the end, the results were surprising to all of us. The preconceived notions of what they and we thought would be the favorites, turned out to be very different when tasted blind. I’m not suggesting you go into a cigar retailer and blindly pick your cigar. No matter how hard we try, we are all influenced by a variety of factors as we make our consumer choices. I’m simply imploring (big word) you to have an open palate when it comes to trying new cigar blends, and for the love of Man, don’t ask your wife where she...*MORE
The three races that make up horse racing’s Triple Crown: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, have given us history just eleven times, and not since 1978 with Seattle Slew. There’s just one Crown, but each track has its own unique flavor – and party scene…and it’s not all mint juleps and fancy hats. Go from the betting window down to the wire with Cigar Advisor as we engage the Sport of Kings’ biggest month. Kentucky Derby
The stable area at Churchill Downs on Derby morning is a mix of chaos and calm. Writers and photographers swarm among the barns; visitors and guests mill with cups of coffee, trying to avoid being run over by a car, a golf cart, or a horse. Trainers and grooms stick to the usual morning routine, but they don’t fool anyone. By the end of the day, theirs will be either exultant joy or stinging disappointment. The early crowd —the first race goes off at 10:30--arrives ready to party. By post time for the main event--eight hours later--160,000 will cram into the behemoth that is Churchill Downs, built to accommodate this one day. For some, the imbibing will start early; they’ll head to the infield, where their only view of the race is on a screen. In the boxes and in the heftily-priced seats, in the section unabashedly called Millionaires’ Row, the celebrating is more sedate. Flutes of champagne are held in bejeweled hands; summer finery swings beneath lofty hats. The lucky and the wealthy enjoy coveted views of the whole track; those of more modest means, who have shelled out only $100 for a seat, hope to catch a fleeting glimpse of the horses as they fly by. More than a century of savvy marketing has made the Derby the most famous horse race in in America; for trainers, owners, and jockeys, winning it is the ultimate dream. It’s the one horse race to which people in this country pay attention, and after hours—if not months—of waiting, it’s over in two minutes.
For the winner, there is elation, but too little time to enjoy it. For in two weeks, Baltimore—and history—beckon. The Preakness
If anxiety is pervasive at the Derby, the pressure at the Pimlico Race Course lands on only one horse, one trainer: the ones who won two weeks ago. The other runners have nothing to lose, everything to gain, and the atmosphere at the stables is lighter than at Churchill. It’s hard to enjoy those pre-race days in Louisville, but easy to enjoy them in Baltimore. Historically, the revelry at the Preakness made the Derby look like a kindergartener’s birthday party: a liberal alcohol policy meant that racing fans literally rolled grocery carts full of booze to the infield. To call the atmosphere “debauched” would be kind.
In recent years, Pimlico has pulled back on that policy: BYOB is no longer the rule, but pay $20 and you can get your Preakness commemorative mug re-filled all day long. And to ensure that the environment doesn’t get too high-brow, Pimlico introduced Kegasus, the half-man, half-horse, shirtless and pierced-nipple-baring party animal who hangs out in the equine equivalent of a man cave in the infield. Over in the clubhouse and grandstand, Maryland hospitality is on full display. The Black-Eyed Susan is the signature drink, named for the Maryland state flower and the race for 3-year-old fillies that is run the day before the Preakness.
Each of the 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby will have his backers in the crowd; at Pimlico, the fans speak with nearly one voice, wanting the one thing that only the Preakness can deliver: a Triple Crown candidate. The Belmont Stakes
The tenor of the Belmont depends wholly on what happens at the Preakness. A Triple Crown on the line, and the Belmont Stakes is a world-class event, with turf journalists from around the world requesting credentials, and racing fans from around the country booking tickets. But if the Derby winner loses the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes, with its anachronistic mile-and-a-half distance, can be little more than a day at the races.
A Triple Crown bid means that more than 100,000 people will fill Belmont’s massive expanse; without it, the crowd will be half that.
With the infield off-limits—unlike the other two Triple Crown venues—carousers head to Belmont’s verdant, sprawling backyard, setting up picnics, arriving early to stake out precious real estate. The Belmont is called “the Test of the Champion”; a horse that would claim the first Triple Crown since Seattle Slew in 1978, and only the 11th ever, has to win three testing races in five weeks at distances he’s never run before - culminating in the marathon that is the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes. BelmontPark, less than 20 miles east of Manhattan, boasts the only track of that distance in the United States, and it’s a distance that modern horses rarely run.
The horses will break from the starting gate at the finish line; once around that majestic oval, two and half minutes, and history will be made…or more likely, it won’t. Since 1978, 11 horses have come to Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line, and hundreds of thousands people have flocked to Belmont hoping to see history. They’ve all gone home disappointed. *MORE
Imagine looking back through family photos 20 or 30 years from now, and ask yourself this question: What do I want to see? Do you want to see yourself drinking an Angel Tears IPA, wearing Crocs, Capri pants and a Scooby Doo t-shirt? Or do you want to see something timeless and classic?
From our politicians to the things we consume, I think we're starving for authenticity in everything. The irony is, the more I look around, the more I see silliness overtaking substance. A couple of short generations ago, men smoked well, dressed well, ate well, and imbibed well as a matter of course. Now these guys are the exception, unless you count these conspicuously-coiffed hipsters who cross-post "selfies" and food pictures to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. (#yolo #swag) I blame marketers.
Marketing used to position products as something substantial. It affirmed our cultural values of independence, determination, and the value of hard work. And what do we have now? The message outweighs the product! (Super Bowl commercials, anyone?) In this throwaway age of reality TV, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle, we're being marketed to so hard that the anti-marketing has become the marketing.
It didn't hurt that products were once made with pride by companies that were invested in more than their bottom line. Branding was relevant to the product and to the value it offered. Packaging was designed to enhance a product; it was shorthand for a level of quality that's difficult to achieve in a Chinese factory. You want an example? Let's look at beer: here's a traditionally-male product (no offense, ladies—just an observation) whose marketing has come to embrace all kinds of silliness. It used to take years to develop a successful brand; now we've got fly-by-night companies shoveling new shit onto the market like every other month.
The Germans must be laughing their asses off at us. Sure, there are some craft brewers doing it right, but mostly I look at craft beer packaging, and it's like they pulled these goofy-ass brand names out of a book of Mad Libs. Seriously...this is the best you can do? This is putting your best foot forward? When did beer become like the comic book industry? You're a grown man, excited about scoring a growler of scratch brew because the hop ratio was 5% different.
"But you can really taste the difference! lol #craftbrewrules"
By sheer volume, craft brewers aren't even the chief offenders. Look at the biggest names: Budweiser, Miller, Coors, etc. Their ads typically cast men as irresponsible idiots concerned only with eating, drinking beer, and fucking...not that there is anything inherently wrong these things, but how many times do these messages have to be repeated before "manhood" is replaced by "perpetual boyhood?" Hint: It's already happening. This "loveable idiot" figure amounts to a cultural assault on what it means to be a man. And like the hair bands and Flock of Seagulls haircuts of the 80's, some things should go away. Compare this with how whisky is marketed. I don't think you'd be rolling up in Scotland with some of this silly bullshit; they'd go William Wallace on you. Scotch packaging is regal...it's badass. It looks like you're getting something serious; you know you're going to sit down and partake in a ritualized, masculine experience. Even Canadian whiskies have respectable marketing. There was a Canadian Club ad campaign a few years back, "Damn Right Your Dad Drank It." You know why? Because he was a fucking pimp, that's why. He wasn't duped by corny focus-group marketing; he drank it because he had unpretentious tastes, and it tasted good. Other ads from the series included these gems: "Your Mom Wasn't Your Dad's First," "Your Dad Was Not a Metrosexual" and "Your Dad Never Got a Pedicure." Solid, all around.
For that matter, how about Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man in the World" campaign? Now THERE'S a legit brand identity. We all aspire to be that refined, older gentleman someday. Where is THAT in craft beer, instead of goofy names? It's not just beer, either. I see more and more silliness popping up everywhere, even in the cigar business. To me, it detracts from the product, and cheapens the experience. This is something you're going to spend good money on, put in your mouth, and hopefully enjoy. Do you want goofiness, or do you want something serious?
Look, we're not painting the Sistine Chapel—this is not high art. And don't misunderstand me; many of these products have evolved tremendously over the decades. Still, is it too much to ask that marketers and manufacturers take some pride in their products? Our fathers actually believed that they could achieve something in this country. I know I still do, and I hope you do too, but I'll tell you this: over the years, I've seen American optimism undermined by cynicism. It's like we don't believe in America anymore.
Remember the family pictures I mentioned that you’ll be looking at in 20 years? What you see then depends on the choices you make and the attitude you carry yourself with now. Let's trade-in "disposable" for "substantial," "trendy" for "timeless," and "bullshit" for "authenticity." *MORE
/r/cigars Redditor and Leaf and Flame co-founder Russ Page takes excessive verbosity to task in this exposé of flowery cigar reviews. After deconstructing the art and science of reviewing cigars, he proposes a methodical approach for tasting cigars that's equally applicable to wine, scotch, cheese...pretty much anything else you put in your mouth, actually. Apricots, 60% cocoa, 85% cocoa, dill, espresso beans, fresh fennel, mesquite, persimmons, sea salt, curry powder and cloves.
These are 11 out of an astonishing 49 flavors that a reviewer was able to discern from a boutique cigar blend released in 2011...before the cigar was even lit. I wish I could report that cigar manufacturers subsequently head-hunted this reviewer and his gifted palate, and that he now blends some of the most sought-after cigars in the Northern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be telling the truth. The truth is that there is a fundamental flaw when it comes to the written review: ANYBODY can light up a cigar, jump on a computer, and write one. Since the fidelity of cigar reviewers is rarely challenged, it is up to the reader to decide for himself whether the review is credible or an unreasonable fabrication (like the aforementioned farce).
It is easy to become overwhelmed when reading a review of a cigar. The descriptions of the flavors, the portrayal of how the cigar is constructed, and the combination of a number of statistics presented is a lot to process. Even after taking all of this into account, we still need to determine whether there is any truth behind what we are reading. The greatest way to understand a cigar review is to make sense of your own palate, or sense of taste. As a cigar smoker, you should become comfortable comprehending three levels of flavor assessment and "mouth feel," which are inherent in every human being.
The first level is simple, and covers the broad spectrum of flavor profile in three separate areas: mild-bodied, medium-bodied, and full-bodied. Mild-bodied cigars are delicate on the palate with the least flavor, while full-bodied cigars are very flavorful and tend to be the most complex; medium-bodied cigars reside between the two. The second level consists of the basic taste types; sweet, spicy, sour, bitter, savory, and metallic. These flavors exist amongst the three different bodies from the first level, but vary in intensity. While still considered a basic flavor set, determining if a cigar is spicy, bitter, or even sweet will assist in divining more complex nuances in flavor and aroma.
Before moving on to the third level of flavors, consider mouth feel, which consists of calcium, coolness, hotness, dryness, fattiness, heartiness, and numbness. These physical sensations inform the perception of taste, and help cigar smokers understand how flavor coats the palate. While the average cigar smoker may feel unable to extract these nuances, they are available to anyone with a working mouth and an open mind. The third level is the final level of flavors, and includes some of the more esoteric descriptors found in reviews and on flavor wheels, such as chocolate, coffee, leather, grass, dirt, pepper, fruits and a variety of other flavors. At this level, flavors are pulled from memory and experience, and are unique to the person perceiving them. You may taste a hint of black coffee that you pick up at Starbucks weekday mornings, or the apple in a parfait that was served post-Thanksgiving dinner three years ago. As you are able to get past the parts of smoking a cigar that can overwhelm an undeveloped palate, you begin to appreciate the cigar more, and the beauty of the blends reveals itself to your senses.
This brings me back to that outlandish cigar review introduced at the beginning of the article. Just with the simple act of smelling the cigar’s wrapper, the reviewer described in detail over 11 different flavors he could sense and 37 more from licking the wrapper. But why over complicate the review of a cigar?
It can be as simple as the writer wanting to appear impressive, and leading you to believe that he is the foremost expert on cigar tasting. Dogs' sense of smell is 1,000 to 10,000 times more powerful than humans', but even they would find it difficult to differentiate between 75%, 80%, and 85% cocoa, all while picking up an additional nine flavors; and yet we are supposed to believe that the reviewer has superhuman olfactory perception? This isn’t to discredit those reviewers who have a legitimately complex tasting vocabulary. While this one particular reviewer took it entirely too far, there are reviewers who can articulate the flavors of a cigar very well—so well in fact, not only can they assess the cigar while smoking it, but are able to recall common flavors in previous cigars they have smoked. A skilled reviewer can detect changes in strength and body throughout the smoking experience, and see through the major flavors to determine the subtleties that might elude an average cigar smoker.
Push yourself to understand the complexities of your palate, and then find a reviewer with a similar palate who is able to portray flavors that are relatable to your own repertoire. It may take some time, but there are talented and often underrated reviewers that will help you expand your knowledge of cigars and their flavors.*MORE
When we first boarded the boat, we noticed fresh welding marks on the cages: sharks had damaged the cages on an earlier trip (gulp). Our objective was to observe these massive predators from the safety of shark diving cages, photographing them in their natural element. Looking out, we couldn’t see anything…until a massive rush from below: a Great White Shark the size of a small bus rocketed from the deep making a close pass to the side of the cage as it torpedoed to the surface! We had journeyed to Mexico’s GuadalupeIsland, a barren, desolate and virtually uninhabited island some 150 miles off the BajaPeninsula in search of adventure. We were here to see one of nature’s supreme predators, the Great White Shark. The air hung still over the island with lazy indifference. Hot, humid, bright, languid…the scene above the water was in stark contrast to what was happening below the surface. Our hearts were beating and we had that strange lump-in-the-throat sense of nervous anticipation…our turn in the shark cage was next! Our objective was to observe these massive predators from the safety of shark diving cages, photographing them in their natural element. After 22 hours of cruising south from San Diego, we spotted the dome shaped island jutting up from the horizon and peeking out from a shroud of grey clouds. As the boat approached, we immediately gained a sense of the wild nature of Guadalupe: the thundering sound of waves pounding against the rocky shore on the northernmost point of the island, a strong wind blew from the west and a stream of clouds, created from the rapid ascent of warm air along the steep slopes of the island, tumbled off the highest peaks and across the open Pacific. Even with the din of the boat engines, we could hear the raucous barking of the resident populations of Northern Elephant Seals and Guadalupe Fur Seals as we motored towards the safe anchorage of PrisonBeach. Soon enough, it was time to jump in. From inside the cage, a sense of comfort enveloped us as we peered into the clear pacific water. Clouds of small baitfish swirled around the cage, eager to snap up morsels of food from the chum being thrown in the water. We waited.
Suddenly, someone in the adjacent cage began banging on the metal bars: A shark! Our heads swiveled frantically as we peered into the blue searching for the animal we had come so far to see. Looking out, we couldn’t see anything…until a massive rush from below: A Great White Shark the size of a small bus rocketed from the deep making a close pass to the side of the cage as it torpedoed to the surface! The action was just getting started. And for the next three days, we spent hours in the cages watching these massive, beautiful, terrifying creatures patrol the waters around our boat and the cages. On TV, these sharks are often shown in super-slow motion, giving the viewer a chance to linger over the sublime beauty of these creatures. In reality, these animals are fast. And big! From the surface, they look large and shadowy dark. Underwater, they swim with an air of malevolent confidence. One of the most striking aspects to these perfectly formed creatures is their girth…these are not the sleek, torpedo shaped sharks we have seen in other parts of the world. Rather, they are hefty and their girth is a testament to their power. When striking at prey, they are swift and the slashing and tearing they do is most impressive. The jaws are filled with dozens of triangular teeth, arrayed in a nightmarish pattern optimized for the efficient cutting of flesh. Underwater, we could hear the crunch of the jaws as they bit into the large tuna being offered as bait. The sharks ranged in size from 12 feet to 15 feet in length and they weighed upwards of 3,000 pounds. Massive, impressive, formidable animals, they are the true apex predator in this section of ocean. While these sharks generally feed on large, ocean going fish such as tuna, they come to this island to feed on the seals that live here. Indeed, we witnessed the dramatic, and swift, killing of a large Elephant Seal by a 14-foot Great White Shark in the early hours of dusk one night after completing a successful day of underwater photography. With each dive, our sense of appreciation for nature’s supreme predator grew. When we were in the cage, we were awestruck, our senses heightened and our focus solely on the action in front of us. When we were onboard the boat, we couldn’t stop talking about what we had seen and we couldn’t wait to get back in the water. Evenings were spent reviewing images, telling stories and watching videos. And on our last day, our last dive in the cage, we were acutely aware of the special experience that was now almost behind us. We savored the final few glimpses of the sharks; we soaked in one last moment in the water and pushed the trigger on our cameras one final time. Emerging from the cage into the sultry late summer air we each had big grins on our faces. Our adventure was a success, better than we had imagined. And we couldn’t wait to get home to tell people about our encounters with the world’s most dangerous shark…and how much we had fallen in love with them. That was yesterday. Today, with the weather calm, the diving was well underway.
Shortly after breakfast, the rotations in the cages began. Diving with Great White Sharks at Guadalupe involves carefully practiced procedures: sturdy cages are attached to the stern of the boat and teams of eager divers enter for a 45 minute turn hoping to see these magnificent creatures up close and personal. Air is supplied from the surface using hookah hoses and each cage has two escape hatches, one on each side of the cage just in case the action gets too dangerous: with large open view ports for photographers, it is possible for sharks to become somewhat wedged in the cage.
Indeed, back in San Diego when we first boarded the boat, we noticed fresh welding marks on the cages: sharks had damaged the cages on an earlier trip. Gulp!*MORE
Good design is more than just making something "look nice." It's substance benefiting from style. Good design is also honest: it makes a promise, and then delivers. But above all, good design informs the good life. Don't believe me? Let me ask you this: have you ever stood next to an exotic sports car? I recently had the opportunity to do exactly that during a racing experience with Miami Exotic Auto Racing.
It is an experience I recommend to anyone with a driver's license and a pulse. In 2004, I launched a boutique cigar company that focuses on the small-scale, artisan blending of tobaccos using old school craftsmanship. What you may not know is that my background is actually in design.
In fact, you couldsay that design defines my perspective on everything, including cigars. When I create a cigar blend, for example, the process is often parallel, with the tobaccos and branding elements informing each other until they synergize into a singularity of form and function.
You see, good design is more than just making something "look nice." It's substance benefiting from style. It is enjoying your cigar in quiet solitude, with the moment heightened by the aesthetics of the band and box. Good design is also honest: it makes a promise, and then delivers. It's the way a top-shelf Scotch or wine label commands your attention, persuading you to discover the pleasures hidden within.
Above all, good design informs the good life: fashion, architecture, interior design, dining—these things transcend clothing, shelter, and sustenance. They form a backdrop for the life well-lived.
Don't believe me? Let me ask you this: have you ever stood next to an exotic sports car?
"Think design doesn't matter? Which would you rather drive?" Exotic Auto Racing Experience
I recently had the opportunity to do exactly that during a racing experience with Miami Exotic Auto Racing. [It is an experience I recommend to anyone with a driver's license and a pulse.]
I arrived at the track anxious to get behind the wheel, only to be redirected to a classroom. "Safety first," they said, and after some instruction on traction, cornering, braking—basically the physics of high speed driving—I have to admit that they were right. There is a lot more to driving fast than stomping on the accelerator.
With certificate in hand, it was finally time to meet the cars: a Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4 Superleggera, a Ferrari 430, and an Audi R8 5.2 FSI quattro. As a car guy and lover of the good life, I was excited. But as a designer, I was beside myself. First Impressions
In nature, forms with curves tend to be more feminine, while streamlined forms are "built for speed." These cars defined the intersection of curvy and streamlined...sexy and aggressive, at the same time. As I walked onto the track, it hit me: these cars look fast without moving.
Each of the cars shares a mid-engine layout which places the engine behind the cabin, ahead of the rear axle—basically, in the back seat. This functional measure results in superior balance and handling, as well as improvements in acceleration and braking, while allowing for a more aerodynamically-sound front end. But there's more to looking fast than a sculpted hood. From their sleek lines to their oversized wheels and brakes, to the vents, spoilers, air dams, and diffusers that channel air through, into, and around the car, everything about the designs says, "Behold: I am mind-numbingly fast."
And yet despite their similarities, each car promises (and delivers) something totally different. Lamborghini LP 570-4 Gallardo Superleggera
The Lambo's angular body bears one of the most recognizable logos in the world, Lamborghini's Raging Bull—fitting, given the sensation of pure, unrestricted power that overcomes the driver.
The Superleggera is outfitted with carbon fiber, making it the lightest road-going model in the range. Its 5.2-liter V10 is capable of 562 horsepower at 8500 RPM, easily achieving 60 mph in 3.4 seconds
When idle, the engine growls like a caged beast; hit the throttle, and it becomes visceral, raw, and downright menacing. I was literally taken aback by the Lambo's power; it seemed somehow impossible that a car this substantial could so effortlessly pin me against my seat. The Lamborghini is not a luxury car so much as an over-the-top street-legal racer. With a suede dash and bold use of color, its interior was by far the loudest of the three. Its steeply-angled windshield lends a dramatic look, while allowing room for its enormous wheels (if impeding visibility somewhat).
Still, for a car costing roughly a quarter million dollars, I was surprised by how sparse the interior actually was—it didn't even have power seats! But by eliminating the weight associated with the typical "bells and whistles," the designers and engineers realized an incremental performance gain. This process is by no means limited to the interior, and each such revision nets a cumulative gain in performance. Ferrari F430
While the cavallino rampante (prancing horse) design has been used since antiquity, it is most synonymous with Italian supercar manufacturer Ferrari. Here again, the car delivered an experience on par with the promise of its branding: a well-bred juxtaposition of power and agility.
Even this entry-level Ferrari looks less "extreme muscle car" and more "tactical strike fighter." Stepping into the cockpit, the dash was dominated by the tachometer, an obvious nod to Ferrari's racing heritage. Though modern, it retained an air of its classic history, right down to the superb stitching detail. A lighter, more compact design overall than the Lambo, Ferrari's 4.3-liter 483 horsepower V8 takes full advantage of the car's improbably low center of gravity.
Driving a car with this much power requires more management than a gearshift, pedals and a steering wheel. Ferrari really shined here by employing two technologies borrowed from its single-seat F1 racers: an electronic differential (E-Diff),as well as a steering wheel-mounted commutator switch, which allows the driver to select from a number of different handling presets. Both are world-firsts in a production car.
The result is a car that was as exhilarating around the turns as it was on the straight-aways, where I managed a quarter mile in less than 12 seconds. Talk about blowing your hair back! Audi R8 5.2 FSI quattro
When you think "supercar," you may not think "Audi." I know I didn't. But that all changed with the R8, which was easily the biggest surprise of the three.
Many are unaware that the four rings in the Audi logo represent four companies that merged to form the company. This collaborative spirit is apparent in the heavily-edited design of the R8 and other Audi models.
The R8 looks conspicuously different from the Lambo or Ferrari. That's not to say that it's unimpressive, because it definitely looks the part. But if Ferrari's design is rooted in its racing pedigree and Lamborghini's in sculpture, then the R8 is a rocket ship disguised as a luxury coupé. The R8's interior also differentiated itself from the rest of the pack. This was not the spartan cabin of the Lambo or the Ferrari; instead, it had many of the creature comforts you'd expect from an upscale luxury car, including comfortable power seats.
Any lingering doubts I had disappeared when I got it onto the track. As I hit the throttle, the 5.2-liter V10 roared to life like a fucking jet engine. With 525 horses screaming at over 8000 RPM, it was every bit a high-performance machine. All that power was capably managed by Audi's legendary quattro all-wheel drive system, which dynamically adjusts power to the wheels with the best traction. In short, you would have to try pretty hard to lose control of the car.
All in all, I found the Audi understated, but all-business. This is the supercar to get for "ever day." Zen through High Speed
The concentration required to safely operate these machines at speed is positively liberating. When you're doing 140 mph or better around the track, you're not thinking about your girlfriend bitching at you, or paying your bills, or what you're going to have for dinner. Instead, the adrenaline and g-forces working on your body force you to focus all of your energies on the task at hand.
And after leaving the track, you are fundamentally changed for the better. Although I will admit some disappointment getting back into my car, stepping away from my day-to-day life and into these supercars really put things into perspective.
Finding a way to clear your head is a Good Life imperative, and how you choose to do it is entirely up to you. But whether it's a Ferrari or a cigar, the experience will be enhanced because of design. *MORE
The Tabacalera de Garcia factory stands as a powerful fortress in the lush La Romana region of the beautiful Dominican Republic. And each week, the Grupo de Maestros file into a well-lit room inside the factory. It is cozy and unassuming, with an intimate feel; a war room of sorts. Once inside, these men undertake a very specific process to ensure that their cigars remain amongst the industry’s elite: the taste test. We’ve saved you a seat at the Maestros’ table to join in on this weekly meeting of cigar geniuses. The Tabacalera de Garcia factory stands as a powerful fortress in the lush La Romana region of the beautiful Dominican Republic. It is home of some of the best, and most renowned cigar brands, including Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, and H. Upmann.
If there is a Heaven on Earth for cigar enthusiasts, this may very well be it. Tabacalera de Garcia's Grupo de Maestros are simultaneously geniouses of their craft and the kind of men who are more than willing to share their love for tobacco with anyone and everyone.
They are the next evolution of artisans, seamlessly marrying their artistic conceptualization of cigars to flawless hand-made production. They are the best in the business and are well-deserving of the title of "maestro," - or master. Every team needs a captain, and for the Tabacalera de Garcia, Javier Elmudesi is the man at the helm of this epic ship. He is the factory manager, a tall man whose booming voice echoes throughout any room he is in. But the moment he shakes your hand, you immediately feel at ease. Javier speaks highly of his team at the factory, praising them for their experience and ideas in blending and conceptualization.
"Everyone can get together to smoke and share ideas. It is a helpful tool that we have in the factory," says Elmudesi. "For us, it's a very important part of the business. They not only provide quality control, they also help us with the development of the new blends." But each week these six men undertake a process to ensure that their cigars remain among the industy's elite. It is the taste test, a meeting of the venerable maestros where they will endevor to create some of the best cigars in the industry.
The Grupo de Maestros file into a comfortable, well-lit room inside the factory, a "war room," of sorts. It is unassuming, yet with a feel of intimacy; coffee, water, and other refreshments line a small table at the back of the room. They seat themselves at a long wooden table. A few of the Maestros sport guayabera shirts with their cigar brands emblazoned upon them, with the pride of an athlete wearing their team's jersey. Each man prepares himself, bringing out papers, some laying their eyeglasses on the table. Trays filled with freshly made, unbanded cigars are passed around. They choose a stick from the trays and examine it thoroughly. They feel the wrapper with their fingertips, inhale the aroma of fresh tobacco, take a cold draw. Each man begins the smoke with his own unique ritual.
One may use a guillotine cutter, another simply takes the cap off with a quick flick of a fingernail and lights his cigar.
In the beginning the mood is light. As the smoking continues it will become more intense. Focused. Silent. Each Maestro takes his first draw allowing the smoke to flow slowly from his mouth, the notes of the cigar settling on his palate. When the clouds of smoke billow through the room, the men begin to debate the cigar in hand. They talk about the cigar's burn.
They look for imperfections: longitudinal fissures, tunneling, and flakey ash are unacceptable. They hold the cigar upright to keep the ash from falling. They use keen eyes to look for the slightest defect in the cigar's burn line. Each Maestro is given a turn to talk about his likes and dislikes of the particular blend in question. All opinions are valued equally here, reguardless of seniority.
Though each Maestro has particular tastes (for example: Candido Rosario, the production manager, is quite fond of a strong cigar), they are all focused on creating the best cigar for their consumers. They put aside their personal preferences to make a cigar that their customers will love. During this dialogue, comparisons to the cigar are never made, as Maestros are focused solely on the cigar they hold in their hand. Uniformity from ash to wrapper is the hallmark of superior quality that can only be achieved through high standards and supreme craftsmanship. This is what the Maestros hope to discover with each new cigar. Nestor Rodriguez, the factory's Manager of Tobacco Operations, finds beauty in the percision of the process each cigar goes through.
"The perfect cigar is that to which you carefully apply all of our processes." The smoke begins to clear, the tasting session nears its end. Each man now satisfied with the discussion, finishes his notes. Those notes are then collected and compiled, the details to be analyzed and applied for the next tasting. From an outsider;s perspective, these sessions may seem mysterious, even wondrous; but for the Grupo de Maestros, it is just another day's work.
Many cigars have been born in this room. The Maestros sit, smoking, talking like the old friends they are, and work to create some of the best products consumers smoke today. The Montecristo Epic, for example, is a creation of which the Maestros are particularly proud: "Well-balanced," and "Strong," are just a couple of the terms the Maestros use to describe their prized cigar. Their cigars are consistently judged among the industry's best.
And because the Maestros are responsible for the development and creation of so many, their passion for the creative process is on display in their tasting sessions. Their dedication to the process is one they take personally.
Cadido Rosario sumes up the importance of their work with one simple scentance: "You tend to look at (the cigar) like your child."*MORE
Al Capone knew his way around a bottle of liquor – after all, he stood at the helm of one of the country’s most successful bootlegging rings during Prohibition. But one bottle, in particular, was his favorite: straight from the stills in the farmlands of Templeton, Iowa, Scarface loved a taste of homegrown Rye. Belly up to the bar with us and get a taste of Templeton Rye – just like Capone did. The man made decisions. He was always one step ahead of the guy next to him. He was a burly man who could be laughing with you at one moment and have you begging for mercy the next. The whispers of his exploits gave him a presence that made him stand out in a room full of people. From state to state he was running a syndicate at a level that few have ever been able to replicate. He was a father, a brother and a criminal.
If there was one man that knew his way around a bottle of liquor it was Al Capone. This notorious gangster ran an empire, standing at the helm of one of the country’s most successful bootlegging rings, stretching from New York to San Francisco. His venture in the 1920’s kept law enforcement on their toes as Prohibition was in full force. Chicago was his home base but in order to stay ahead of the Feds, he had a significant number of hideouts around the Midwest. His group of street-hardened thugs were slinging liquor from state to state, taking orders from the man who came to be known as Scarface. The decisions Capone made on a day-to-day basis kept him out of reach of law enforcement. With the Feds watching, his every word was carefully chosen; every move was planned and every decision was with purpose. In the life of a gangster like Al Capone, decisions got him to the top. Out of all these decisions, there was one he made often that was easy for him: “What’ll you have to drink?”
If you were Al Capone, it was a bronze elixir that was formulated in the farmlands of Iowa–a fiery concoction that kept an entire town afloat during America’s darkest hours. His drink of choice came from a community that took pride in a recipe they held close to their hearts. The drink was homegrown Rye and the community was Templeton, Iowa. The man had control over a liquor trade that gave him access to any spirit he desired. But rather than sipping on exotic rums, gin infused cocktails or handcrafted vodkas, it was the Iowa based whiskey that he came to enjoy most.
Al Capone is often associated with big city crime sprees, underground speakeasies and suited-up gangsters, a far cry from the farm lands of Iowa, in the heart of the Midwest. It is here that “The Good Stuff” was being produced and, with the help of Al Capone, distributed all around the country. Between the lift of Prohibition and the fall of Al Capone to tax evasion in 1931, Templeton Rye’s distribution dwindled, but the recipe remained. In 2006, Templeton Rye was re-born and began bottling “The Good Stuff” legally for the first time. This revival offers the opportunity for you to drink like Capone; to savor the taste of that spicy rye on your tongue and the tingle in your sinuses, and to feel the calmness Capone must have as he settled into a hideout away from the gunfire, federal agents and life on the run.
On a scale from one to manly, whiskey in its various forms tends to fall towards the latter. When you order a whiskey, you often expect a form of Bourbon or Sour Mash to be placed in your hands. Rye whiskey has a very distinct taste that is instantly noticed with the first sip. With rye (grass grain) as the dominant ingredient, it provides a sharp flavor as soon as it hits the palate. A quick whiff of the glass instantly clears your head and warms your cheeks. A straight shot is like placing small embers of pepper and oak spice on your tongue, and instantly dousing them for a smooth ride down the hatch. This blend of whiskey is not for the faint of heart as each sip stings your taste buds, but the smooth finish and long lasting flavor makes it the perfect gentleman’s choice in any situation. With its revival, Templeton Rye has put backwoods stills and smuggled barrels in its past. Today you can get your hands on a bottle whose contents are formulated in a modern day environment, using the Prohibition Era recipe. Any man should know that the “quality over quantity” approach applies to many aspects of life, especially when it comes to his drink choices. With market shares to be gained and customers to win, small batch distilleries rely on the quality and uniqueness of their product. Templeton Rye balances bold flavor with that same peppery nip found in traditional rye whiskies. There is no doubt that any spirit is to be first tasted with a dry pull. By taking it straight, you are able to get the full body of the whiskey, allowing you to taste each note and feel each ingredient. Of course, a night of straight shooting often ends before it begins. A man should never be afraid of a proper cocktail. With the lifestyle that Al Capone was living, there is a good chance he may have prefered it neat. Templeton Rye offers enough flavor to do so, but a night on the town may call for something more practical. If you're going to order the right whiskey, it's important to properly order the right drink. A proper cocktail is a great way to enjoy your rye. Of course, if Al Capone saw you shake his rye and add a cherry on top, you’d likely earn the glare of a man you didn’t want to mess with.
Al Capone’s rise and fall has been summoned to the history books but his drink of choice lives on. Templeton Rye’s resurrection from an underground enterprise to a top-shelf brand allows you the opportunity to drink like Capone. He was a man who knew what he wanted, taking pride in his work and in his drink. The strength of a good rye made it a go-to for Al Capone; give it a shot, and you, too may find Rye Whiskey to be your new drink of choice.*MORE
"Trout don't live in ugly places." Standing thigh deep in rushing, cold water with a good cigar, fly rod in hand, and watching animals and scenery along the stream is as close to heaven on earth as a person can get. Read our fly fishing primer, and get prepared for the outdoor excursion of a lifetime. With tips for the beginner, and good reminders for old pros, pick and pack your rod & reel – you just might bring back a trophy trout from your next fishing trip. One benefit of fishing for trout and salmon is the often-quoted fact that "trout don't live in ugly places." It's true, trout and salmon exist in some of the most beautiful parts of the country. A peaceful day on the stream is difficult to surpass; it is often a choice between fishing and taking photographs. Standing thigh deep in rushing, cold water with a good cigar, fly rod in hand, and watching animals and scenery along the stream is as close to heaven on earth as a person can get. Some of my fondest outdoor memories have occurred on rivers and streams.
Fly fishing is one of the most rewarding and intriguing sports imaginable. Sure, casting requires good coordination and patience, but the investment of time pays great dividends in enjoyment. There is something almost spiritual about the whole experience—perhaps it is the artistry of casting, or the beautiful environments involved, but it resounds deep within the soul of the participant. For the uninitiated or fly-curious, the sport entails casting a fly—basically a hook tied to resemble an insect using fur, feather, tinsel, or other materials—in the most realistic way possible, thus making the fish think that it is a live insect. Sight-casting to a nice fish is very intense; when the fish strikes and I set the hook, an electric jolt runs up the line and I feel the exultation that is unique to the sport. All my cares in the world disappear, and I am in a special place, not only physically, but in my mind.
As a fly tyer, I have learned a great deal about insects and what particular characteristics of a fly will trigger strikes from fish. I encourage fly fishermen to learn to tie flies as they advance in skill level. It will give them a more complete perspective on the sport. Norman McLean's book A River Runs Through It immortalizes the sport of fly fishing and weaves a tale of young boys learning to cast. The father's advice of moving the rod from 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock is good advice, but that is only part of the story. The mechanics of casting involve learning the timing required in order to allow the line to completely extend on the forward and back casts.
Beginning casters may need to watch the back cast when learning. They should start by shaking the leader and a few feet of fly line onto the water in front of them. The rod is moved backward briskly and the line and leader will follow the tip of the rod. As the caster watches, the line will begin to straighten out behind them. The forward cast should not begin until the line is relatively straight. If it begins too soon, the leader will snap like a whip and the fly may be snapped off due to centrifugal force. If the forward cast is too late, the leader/line will drop, snagging the ground, or momentum will be lost. The correct technique delivers a tight loop during the cast. Keeping a tight loop when casting is usually desirable for several reasons: a tight loop is less affected by the wind, while allowing the caster to be more accurate. An open loop is affected by the wind, and is therefore less accurate.
When the proper rhythm is maintained, release more line on each rod movement until it will reach the desired target area. Proper casting is not only attained through the power generated by the arm, but also by the energy stored in the rod as it bends, or "loads." As time progresses, the caster will begin to feel the loading of the rod and will not have to look back as he casts, but can instead concentrate on the target area. Proper timing enables easier casting by leveraging the power of the rod: as the weight of the extended line loads the rod, it transfers energy into the line and leader, much as an archer's bow stores and transfers energy to an arrow. As you learn more about fly fishing, you will develop necessary skills such as "reading the water.” The knowledge of where to find fish and how to catch them is learned by experience, but you can speed up the process by reading instructional material by reliable fly fishermen, or by fishing with a mentor. Trout will find “holding water” near the current that may bring insects near them, but they will take refuge behind a rock, a dip in the bottom contour or any feature that slows the current. They do this to conserve energy.
Learn to spot productive "seams" where swift currents meet slower water, and eddies that are likely places to find fish holding. The current may rush by a curvature or indention in the bank and create an eddy that curves back upstream. This circular movement catches dead or dying insects that are drifting on the surface of the water. Trout will be sipping them daintily from the surface. It is not unusual to be surprised by casting to a dimple in an eddy that appears to be caused by a diminutive trout, only to hook a nice fish. They learn to expend a minimum of energy in the pursuit of vulnerable prey. Lastly, don't overlook the use of fly rods for warm water species. We have found that fishing from a kayak with a fly rod is a great way to catch bass and bream. Fishing secluded ponds that require us to pack in our kayaks and gear is a blast with “popping bugs.” The best bet is to use medium-sized bugs. These will attract large bream, and bass will also respond to them. Of course, if you are going for lunker bass only, you can opt for larger bugs or streamers. Sidebar # 1
Excellent fly fishing equipment is available in a wide range of prices today. One of my fishing friends said, "When the quality of my equipment begins to affect the success of my fishing, I will invest in more expensive equipment." I have to differ with his opinion.
You should invest in the best equipment that you can afford or are willing to purchase. Superior equipment will add to your enjoyment by making casting easier; it will hold up to wear better and will also have a better warranty.
The number one item to consider is the rod. A poor rod will make learning to cast much harder and less enjoyable. A good choice is a medium to fast action graphite rod. Purists may choose bamboo, but it is expensive and the action is usually much slower. Slow action is okay for light dry fly fishing; but a faster action will handle a much wider range of fly weights.
A five weight rod is a good weight for all-around fishing. It will handle trout, panfish and even bass. If you will be going after salmon or stripers, you might need to step up to an 8 to 10 weight rod. Rods lighter than 5 weight require more finesse and skill, and excel for smaller trout such as native brook trout in eastern streams.
Reels are available in regular and wide arbor models. The wide arbor has a wider spool and large diameter spindle. This causes less "line memory," especially on cold days. Purchase a reel with adjustable drag. That way, when a fish runs, you can remove your hand from the reel handle and just let the drag wear the fish down. When it tires, you can begin to take in line with the reel.
Lines are designated by the same numbering systems as the rods. Select a line of the same weight class as your rod. If you are fishing short distances on small streams, using a line one weight heavier than your rod might be advantageous. This will load the rod quicker and make casting easier.
Other necessary equipment includes waders, fly boxes, a fly vest, an assortment of flies and a net. A good fly shop will assist you in selecting the necessary items. Regardless of where you choose to fish, you will find that fly fishing offers a great opportunity for relaxed fishing as opposed to some of the faster-paced techniques in use today. It also leads you to some of the most scenic places on earth. The fresh scent of evergreens, the gurgle of the rapids, the intimate glimpses of wildlife, the view of the sun setting over the water with a range of mountains in the background and the opportunity to catch some fish—it just doesn't get any better. *MORE