Commentary: Cigars and Baseball Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

27 Feb 2017

Wrigley Field

Baseball is back. And not a moment too soon. Sure, the MLB regular season doesn’t officially begin until April 2—highlighted by an Opening Night prime-time battle between my World Series Champion Chicago Cubs and the Cardinals—but, in case you didn’t notice, Spring Training games kicked off this weekend.

This week I’m taking a break from the Chicago winter to attend a few Cubs games in Arizona (in addition to playing a few rounds of golf, soaking up some much-needed sun, and firing up my fair share of cigars). I’m happy to say my family and I will be at Sloan Park to see the Cubs take on the White Sox and Angels. We can’t wait.

Most years, spring is the best time for Cubs fans—when hopes are high, everyone is in first place, and you just can’t help but wonder if “next year” is finally here. The feeling is a lot different this year as the Cubs look to defend their title (though, to be sure, expectations are still incredibly high).

The arrival of Spring Training also serves as an annual signal that a long winter is coming to an end. While here in Chicago we no doubt still have some tough weather ahead, the first sighting of the squad taking the field on TV is a symbol that a corner has finally been turned. They days get longer. The temperatures slowly but surely begin to rise. And, with any luck, those brief glimpses of sun start to become more frequent.

These changes also portend good news for the cigar enthusiast community. Winter’s end brings improved conditions for cigar smoking as well as cigar storage. Whether you like baseball or not, I think we can all get behind the fact that spring should be welcomed with open arms.

If you’re anything like me, though, you’re a devoted baseball fan and an appreciator of the complementary nature of cigars and America’s pastime. Baseball and cigars are such a wonderful pairing. Unlike faster-paced sports and sports that are played indoors or out in the cold, baseball is meant to take place outside under natural summer sunlight. Nowadays, most teams play most games under the lights. But when I think baseball, I think suntan lotion, floppy hats, peanuts, cold beer, and frosty malts at Wrigley.

I also think relaxation. While many criticize baseball for its lazy pauses between pitches, batters, and innings, I’ve always enjoyed those breaks. They give you the opportunity to study the game and have conversations with friends and family. Is this a hit-and-run scenario? Would the opposing manager consider a pitch-out with this count? How does this hitter fare against left-handers? Are they drawing the infield in to guard against a bunt, or are they staying at double-play depth? The answers to such questions are better pondered over premium tobacco.

That’s one of the reasons why, when I can’t be at Wrigley Field, I do most of my baseball watching at home. You’ll find me outside listening to the broadcast on the radio and/or watching the action live on my laptop via MLB TV. The atmosphere is perfect. Cigars are welcome and plentiful, and the beers are more modestly priced. And nothing pairs better with a Cubs win than a fine cigar.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Drew Estate

Quick Smoke: 2012 by Oscar Rebirth Edition Corojo Toro

26 Feb 2017

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

2012 RE - Oscar Corojo

This cigar commemorates Oscar Valladares’ first blend: 2012 by Oscar, introduced (you guessed it) in 2012. Last year’s re-release comes in three wrapper varieties: Connecticut, Maduro, and Corojo. I’m smoking the box-pressed Toro (6 x 52), which uses a Honduran-grown Corojo wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and Honduras. Lots of woody spice, bread, clove, and some slight sourness. It’s well-constructed and full-bodied. Nowhere near as excellent as The Oscar or Leaf by Oscar, but worth a try if you like Honduran cigars.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro Gordo

25 Feb 2017

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Gordo La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro

I lit this behemoth (6 x 58), a new line from La Palina, at the kickoff of an NFL playoff game and was still puffing well into halftime. It was an excellent smoke for the occasion. Starting with a burst of pepper, it added a toasty element after about a half inch. As the cigar burned, the pepper rose and fell while other flavors, including coffee and leather, came to the fore. The blend is an Ecuadorian Oscuro wrapper over Nicaraguan filler and binder, it’s rolled at A.J. Fernandez’s factory. I paid about $9.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: La Palina

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Bill Aims to Change FDA Predicate Date, New La Aurora, FDA Idiocy, and More

24 Feb 2017

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post our sampling of cigar news and other items of interest from the week. Below is our latest, which is the 519th in the series.

FDA-cigars-large

1) According to Cigar Aficionado, U.S. Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK) and Sanford Bishop (D-GA) have introduced a bill that would “change the predicate date of newly regulated tobacco products—including premium cigars—and provide a 21-month grace period for new products seeking FDA approval.” While the so-called Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTC)—the bill giving the FDA the power to regulate cigars—didn’t pass until June 2009, the legislation sets February 15, 2007 as the cutoff date for tobacco products to be grandfathered in as exempt from needing FDA approval before being sold or marketed in the United States. There were hopes the FDA would modify that date, but they did not. As a result, products introduced past that date will be subjected to the FDA approval process. “The bill, known as the ‘FDA Deeming Authority Clarification Act of 2017,’ would change the predicate date for premium cigars from February 15, 2007 to August 8, 2016, the day the FDA officially took over regulatory control of the cigar industry. The lawmakers have argued that makers of ‘newly deemed’ products have been unfairly required to ‘look back over nine years’ for grandfathered or ‘predicate brands’ that could be used for a Substantial Equivalence application.”

2) As a recent article points out, the FDA, the agency that now regulates handmade cigars, even has trouble applying common sense to food regulation. For example, “foods like nuts and avocados are incredibly healthy for you. However, thanks to the FDA standards, these healthy fats cannot be marketed to consumers as ‘healthy’ products.” Meanwhile, low-fat, but high-sugar, foods like Frosted Flakes cereal and Pop Tarts are considered healthier under the FDA’s definition.

3) La Aurora has announced a new line called ADN Dominicano, which features Andullo tobacco—a leaf that is “hard-to-work” and offers an “inspiring aroma and sweetness.” The rest of the blend includes filler tobaccos from Nicaragua, Pennsylvania, and the Cibao Valley of the Dominican Republic; a Cameroon binder; and a Cibao wrapper. Four vitolas will be available: Churchill, Gran Toro, Robusto, and Toro.

4) Famous Smoke Shop is expanding its exclusive Romeo y Julieta series with a new Habano-wrapped line called House of Verona, which will be available in five vitolas: Churchill, Robusto, Corona, Short Magnum, and Toro. Previous collaborations between Famous and the Altadis-made Romeo y Julieta brand include House of Montague and House of Capulet. Each House of Verona format will retail for about $5 apiece.

5) From the Archives: With another bill to protect cigar rights introduced (see item #1), now is a good time to revisit how to effectively advocate for your rights. Just taking the time to contact your legislators is step one, but once you’ve decided to do it, here are some suggestions for maximizing your effectiveness.

6) Deal of the Week: Mardi Gras is just around the corner, and this Mardi Gras sampler will load you up with ten good smokes for just $30: EPC NWC Selectos de Oro, La Aurora Connecticut Robusto, La Jugada Habano, Casa Magna, Alec Bradley Prensado, Recluse Draconian, Espinosa Alpha Dog, Wild Bunch Crazy Jack, La Palina Oscuro, and Asylum Dragon’s Milk. Act quickly. This deal is likely to sell out, and the cigars would otherwise run you almost $90.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Four Tips for Better Whiskey Drinking

22 Feb 2017

whiskey

Last week, my colleague dispensed with some myths about cigars. This week, I’m taking a torch to some whiskey myths and offering my best advice for enjoying whiskey.

Vanishing Value Whiskeys

Only a few years ago, I would easily say that, when it comes to value, bourbon and rye were a far better bargain than single malt scotch. I hate to say it, but that’s no longer the case. With rising prices and vanishing age statements prompted by high demand, American whiskey is no longer full of great value. Single malt has started to catch up to demand, at least at the entry level, but bourbon is a few years behind. Yes, you can still get a very decent, drinkable bottle for around $20, but if truly great value is what you seek, you are better off trying aged rum.

Proper Glassware

Want to improve your whiskey drinking experience? There are lots of silly gadgets out there. Whiskey stones, for example, don’t work all that well; I’m convinced people like them because they look cool. However, one whiskey accessory well worth the investment is a proper glass. There are quite a few specially-made glasses, and anything relatively small in size with a shape that concentrates aromas on the nose will work. My favorite, and the standard, is the Glencairn.

Ice, Cocktails… Whatever

There are some circles where adding anything more than a drop of pure spring water is sacrilege. On one hand, I mostly drink whiskey this way, and I do think you will get the truest sense of the spirit (the good and bad) by tasting neat. Still, never forget fine spirits are meant to be enjoyed, not merely sampled. So don’t be wasteful (for example, mixing Pappy Van Winkle with Coke). However, feel free to mix up a fine cocktail with a special whiskey or a few ice cubes if that’s how you’ll enjoy it the most. The type of people who hate on folks for enjoying their Booker’s with plenty of ice are they same folks who have a cabinet full of expensive bottles they collect and never drink.

Don’t Chase Unicorns

Speaking of Pappy, don’t go crazy searching for rare whiskey. The days are over when you could walk into an out-of-the-way liquor store and potentially find a bottle of Pappy or another rare, sought-after bourbon at or below retail price. Compared to what you can get for $50, I don’t see how you can justify spending five, ten, or twenty times that based on drinking experience alone, and I’ve opened more than a few bottles that are regularly bought and sold for that much. When it comes to finding the rare bourbons, you can spend hours and hundreds of dollars hoping and searching with no guarantee. If you really want to try them, though, your best bet is to find a well-stocked bar and just buy an ounce or two (albeit at the inflated prices) so you can say you’ve tried them, then go back to your bottle of Blanton’s.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: MBombay Gaaja Maduro Torpedo

21 Feb 2017

Gaaja Maduro

Since it was formally announced on July 1, 2016, MBombay’s Gaaja line has only had a single blend available in a single vitola: a Toro, which I reviewed (and thoroughly enjoyed) last summer. That changed earlier this month when a second Gaaja format was added—a Torpedo—along with a Maduro blend. Today I review the new Gaaja Maduro Torpedo.

Gaaja Maduro TorpedoBy way of background, MBombay is a small-batch brand of high-end cigars made in Costa Rica and produced by Bombay Tobak. The man behind the operation is Mel Shah, owner of an upscale cigar and wine lounge in Palm Springs, California.

Gaaja (pronounced Gaa-ya) is Sanskrit for elephant. The original blend took over four years to perfect and calls for an Ecuadorian hybrid Connecticut and Cameroon wrapper that’s grown in the desflorado fashion. (The process of cultivating desflorado tobacco requires the buds on the plants to be cut off before they flower to force the plant’s energy on leaf production instead of flower production.) The binder is Ecuadorian, and the filler is a combination of Seco from Peru; Viso from Ecuador, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic; and Dominican Ligero.

Gaaja Maduro uses the same binder and filler combination, but it replaces the Ecuadorian hybrid wrapper with a darker Brazilian Mata Fina leaf. “This wrapper has played a very important factor in increasing the flavor and the body to the cigar,” reads a press release dated February 6. “Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper has definitely added more complexity into the mix. [The] rest of the composition of the Gaaja cigar has not been changed, [but] the proportions have been adjusted to make the cigar taste more complete.”

There are two Gaaja Maduro sizes on the market, both of which retail for $15.50: Toro (6 x 54) and Torpedo (6.5 x 54). I smoked several of the latter for this review. The cigar is pungent and attractive out of the cellophane with rounded box press edges, a seamless wrapper, a nicely executed cap, and pre-light notes of dark chocolate and nougat at the foot. The striking appearance and overall feel of quality is only complemented by a unique band of gold, blue, and red that offers no text on the face (but reads “Gaaja” on one side and “Bombay Tobak” on the other). What’s more, its silky smooth, oily wrapper gives the Gaaja Maduro Torpedo a velvety feel. And, despite its firmness, the cold draw is surprisingly effortless.

I found the original Gaaja to be teeming with well-balanced complexity and flavors like honey, graham, bread, dry wood, cream, and almond. While the Maduro does have some almond and dry wood, its core is more focused on coffee bean, dark chocolate, salted caramel, and roasted nuts. In other words, delicious. Adding to the enjoyment is the aroma of the resting smoke, which is mouth-wateringly sweet. I would classify the body as medium to medium-plus. The texture of the smoke is light and sweet (I am reminded of marshmallows) and there is only moderate spice with no traces of heat or harshness.

In addition to a harmonious, interesting, well-balanced profile, and, as you should expect from any cigar with a super-premium price tag, the combustion properties are excellent. The burn runs straight and true from light to nub, the ash holds very well off the foot, the draw remains clear throughout, and the smoke production is above average.

Don’t be turned off by the price; this is not one to miss. I like everything about the Gaaja Maduro Torpedo—the taste, the aroma, the way it smokes, and the way it looks. In fact, I think it’s up there with the finest. And that’s why I’m awarding it our highest rating: five stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here. A list of other five-stogie rated cigars can be found here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Drew Estate Undercrown Shade Robusto

19 Feb 2017

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief take on a single cigar.

Undercrown-shade-robusto

My first experience with Undercrown Shade was a bit of a mixed bag: well-made, promising flavors, but marred by a hint of bitterness and an unpleasant grassy element. This more recent experience was markedly better. With an Ecuadorian wrapper, Sumatra binder, and Nicaraguan and Domincan fillers, this cigar was well-balanced and medium bodied. Flavors included roasted cashews, cafe-au-lait, and cedar. With Drew Estate’s characteristic excellent construction, it is an excellent smoke anytime of day.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys