Commentary: Coming to Terms with Winter

17 Feb 2020

Think you love cigars? Let’s put your adoration to the test. Go out and smoke a cigar in the cold. And, no, I don’t mean 40 degrees. I said cold. Let’s put it at 20 degrees or less (not including windchill). Bundle up, plant yourself in a chair with a cup of hot (not for long) coffee, and fire up a smoke. If you’re sitting still—and if you’re not cheating with, say, a heat lamp or something—I bet you won’t be able to get through a toro. Maybe not even a robusto or a corona.

At some point in the process, you’ll find yourself pondering the futility of the exercise. Isn’t the whole idea behind cigars to enjoy yourself? How can you fully appreciate the enticing aromas, delicious flavors, and handmade craftsmanship when your core bodily processes are shutting down and frostbite is trying to take hold of exposed skin? How can you revel in the complexities of the profile—which surely includes anise, cream soda, and pencil shavings—as your shivering turns into slowed, shallow breathing and, eventually, total loss of consciousness?

Maybe you never have to ask yourself these questions. Perhaps you live somewhere where it never gets legitimately cold, at least not for a whole season. Or, if you do, perhaps you can smoke inside your home. Or there’s a good lounge nearby with decent hours. Or perhaps you commute via car and don’t mind smoking in your vehicle (side note: smoking a cigar while driving is not all it’s cracked up to be).

I used to have a cigar room in my condo in the city.. Now I have a bunch of kids and a house in the suburbs.

 

Personally, I live in Chicago. Winter can be rough, and this one is no exception. I have three small children and no place to smoke inside my home. There are a few lounges nearby, but the hours typically don’t work for me (it’s usually 10:30 PM or later by the time the kids are all asleep, the dishes are done, etc.). And, while I’m often on the “L” or on my way to an airport in an Uber, I’m rarely in my own car. So where and when do I smoke, you may ask?

Honestly, I smoke much, much less in the winter. I really don’t have a choice. It may not be fashionable for a member of the online cigar media to admit this, but it’s true nonetheless.

When I do smoke, it’s usually one of two things: (1) I’ve gotten permission from the wife to be at a lounge for a couple hours, which is a welcome respite that will have to be repaid in some (often painful) way, or (2) I’m traveling for work someplace warm and/or there’s a late-hours lounge nearby.

I write this not to ask for your sympathy (I don’t deserve any, and I’m not complaining) but to share a few unintended consequences of my wintertime lull in cigar smoking. First, when you smoke less, you enjoy the cigars you do smoke more. The law of diminishing returns is absolutely at play here. If you smoke cigar after cigar after cigar, the next one won’t be nearly as enjoyable. Anyone who’s ever gone on a cigar rampage—or taken a leave of absence—would probably back this up.

Second, having fewer opportunities to smoke results in a renewed focus on deciding what to smoke. Time is more precious, and the cost of making a bad decision is higher. In the winter, I’m likelier to turn to old favorites and shun new experiences. Any new cigar that gets selected is often the result of a fair amount of review-reading—or, at least, much more research than would be required in the summer.

Finally, less time to smoke should mean more time for something else. In my case, the inability to smoke as often as I would like has not extinguished my passion for cigars. So I’ve been catching up on cigar-related reading (both mainstream publications and, yes, other websites), making some purchases, organizing my inventory, and keeping the humidors functioning properly (which is no small task this time of year).

I guess you could say I’ve come to terms with a seasonal approach to cigar enjoyment. That being said, where the f*#k is spring, and when will it get here?

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Rhum J.M. V.S.O.P.

10 Feb 2020

Rum is available in a wide variety of styles. The lack of strict rules (like those of bourbon, rye, single malt, etc…) make rum a Wild West, for both better and worse. Pure Bahamian rums, funky Jamaican rums, sugar-added dark rums, distilled in pot stills or column stills or both, spiced rums, aged in the tropics or Europe… they’re all rum, as long as they are distilled from one form or another of sugar.

Rhum agricole is the style associated with French Caribbean islands. It is distilled from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, rather than the more frequently used molasses. Rhum J.M. is made in Martinique, and the V.S.O.P. offering is “created by aging rhum 3 years in re-charred bourbon barrels and finishing the rhum an additional year in lightly toasted new American oak barrels and finally reduced to 43% ABV with pure volcanic spring water from Habitation Bellevue.”

The $50 bottle (750 ml.) features a spirit that is light amber in color with a nose of fresh popcorn, red berries, and baking spices. Flavors include butterscotch, fresh sugar cane, custard, rubber, and banana.

It has a notably velvety mouthfeel and excellent balance. The finish is long and rich with nougat and candied apple sweetness.

I suppose you could use it in cocktail (I’m sure it would be excellent in a daiquiri) but, honestly, that would be a waste of a spirit that is best enjoyed neat. It’s a fine example of aged rhum agricole, worth seeking out (it can be a little tricky to find) for all fans of aged rum, especially for those looking to go beyond the molasses-derived offerings that usually make up the higher end of most run bars’ offerings.

Pair it with a balanced medium-bodied cigar. Suggested pairings include Cabaiguan, Davidoff Colorado Claro, El Güegüense, and the Cuban Romeo y Julieta Short Churchill.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: George Dickel Bottled in Bond 13 Year Old Whisky

30 Jan 2020

Introduced in the last year, George Dickel Bottled in Bond caught my attention for having an attribute few new bourbon offerings have: the possibility of being an excellent value. As the popularity of bourbon has spiked, so have prices.

Some of the best values from five years ago have either dropped their aged statements (so they can include younger whiskey), raised prices, become highly allocated and impossible to find, or have been discontinued. All of which is a long run-up to saying a new 13-year-old bourbon for under $40 is not the type of thing you see every day. (Side note: Tennessee whiskey produced by both Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel meets the legal definition of straight bourbon even if you won’t find the word on the bottle; the key addition to the process that sets Tennessee whiskey apart is the Lincoln County Process, where the spirit is filtered through charcoal.)

Bottled-in-bond whiskey means the spirit must fit a few qualities. It must all be distilled at the same distillery during the same season (January-June or July-December), must be aged in a federally bonded warehouse for four years, and must be bottled at 100-proof or higher.

Distilled at George Dickel’s Cascade Hollow Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee, this mahogany-colored, 13-year-old bottled-in-bond whiskey was distilled in the fall of 2005 with a mash bill of 84% corn, 10% rye, and 6% malted barley. It was bottled in the spring of 2019 at 50% ABV (100-proof).

The nose is full of peanuts and roast corn. On the palate there’s powdered chocolate, dried corn, candied citrus, and vanilla. The finish has ginger and clove with a lingering, velvety mouthfeel.

This is, without a doubt, an an excellent bourbon that probably could have been sold for more. But I think long-term it’s a good strategy for George Dickel, which is always in the shadow of its Tennessee neighbor Jack Daniel’s. Reminding consumers of their quality with an eye-catching value only serves to make people more likely to check out their other offerings (which are themselves solid and underrated) in the future.

Despite being 100-proof, it’s not overly strong, even when tasted neat. Pair it with a medium-bodied cigar like the Bolivar Royal Corona, Tatuaje Black, or Davidoff Colorado Claro.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: El Galan Campestre Habano Toro

16 Jan 2020

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

I first wrote up this cigar when it was just a bundle smoke made by Felix Mesa of the largely unknown El Galan Cigars. Today, Mesa is the man tasked with heading up Fuente’s new Nicaraguan operations. The Toro sports a Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It costs around $30 for a bundle of 20. The specimen I’m smoking is a sample with nearly two years of age. Despite a foot that initially frayed when lit, construction is largely solid, including an ash that’s surprisingly solid for a bundle smoke. Flavors are medium-bodied with balanced notes of coffee, wood, and earth. I’m not sure age has improved this cigar, but it hasn’t made it any worse, either.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Curivari Buenaventura BV 500

11 Jan 2020

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.”

I’ve long touted Curivari Buenaventura as an excellent cigar for the value. The Nicaraguan puro’s understated, classic appearance fits the sub-$5 price tag, but don’t mistake that as an accurate proxy for quality. Excellent construction aids  the delivery of a balanced combination of medium-bodied flavors: cocoa, espresso, cedar, oak, and earth. This reasonably priced gem is a little hard to find but well worth seeking out.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: Keeping Up With What Once Made Tampa ‘Cigar City’

6 Jan 2020

Whether you’re a habitué of Tampa’s historic Ybor City, or a new visitor eager to explore, it helps to have a guide.

And if you’re interested in the iconic buildings that once housed bustling cigar factories, there’s no one better to help plan your tour that Tom Ufer, who’s probably forgotten more about those old structures than most of us will ever know.

Tom writes now about cigars and the Tampa Bay cigar scene on his blog, The Cigar Smoking Man. In the past, he also produced a terrific Baedeker about the Ybor City factories while he was writing for Examiner.com. But when that site shut down a few years ago, his work went with it.

Now, though, Tom tells me he’s been able to recreate the posts and is starting to publish them again online.

The old factories that helped make Tampa “Cigar City” seem to always be of interest.

Just last month, for instance, the Tampa Bay Times wrote about the more than 100-year-old Y. Pendes & Alvarez Cigar Factory going up for sale for $4.5 million. While it is one of the fewer than two-dozen remaining factory buildings left from Tampa’s cigar-making prime, it doesn’t have protection under a local preservation ordinance.

Also, work continues on renovations at J.C. Newman’s illustrious El Reloj factory—the last one operating in Tampa—in time to celebrate its 110th anniversary this year by making it a cigar-lover’s destination.

“In addition to an expanded museum, our public areas will also include a retail store, hand-rolling area, and many interactive experiences,” the company says. “Between our self-guided and docent-led tour options, you will be able to peek into the past to see how our family persevered through the years, learn more about the industry which built Tampa, and experience the artistry of cigar making first hand.”

So, before your next visit to Ybor City, where you’ll find a number of shops in a cigar-friendly atmosphere, check out Tom’s guide and enjoy a little history along with a smoke.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

Tip: Pairing New Years Champagne with a Fine Cigar

30 Dec 2019

A decade ago, I offered some tips on pairing cigars with champagne. With New Years Eve a day away, here’s an update (including a decade worth of additional experience).

Pairing brown liquor with cigars is the more obvious choice, but champagne (or other sparkling wines) can go surprisingly well with a smoke. Not to mention the celebratory nature of the bubbly. To enhance your champagne and cigar enjoyment, here are a few basic tips:

Save the top-dollar champagne.

Champagne can be fantastic, but unless you have unlimited funds, the vintage Dom Pérignon should be held back if you’re smoking a cigar. You pay a price for the champagne name (meaning it’s from the Champagne region of France). There are plenty of good champagne-style sparkling wines that can be had for a reasonable cost. Spending $50 or $100 on brand-name French bubbly will probably be a waste (considering you’re going to lose some of the complexities due to your cigar). Very pleasant Spanish cava, in particular, can be had for a fraction of the price.

Stick with mild cigars.

Champagne doesn’t have the heft of rum, whiskey, or even beer or coffee. The best champagnes are the most subtle, so the same subtlety is needed in the cigar you pair with your sparkling wine. Stick with mild cigars that have balance. Too often Connecticut-wrapped cigars feature bitterness, so look for those with age and balance. Extra-aged Cubans can be a great pairing, and a special mention is deserved for the Illusione Epernay, which is named after the Champagne region and was blended with a champagne pairing in mind.

Age your cigars and your champagne.

Smoking a cigar with champagne calls for a cigar that is smooth, mild, complex, and subtle, all of which can be the result of aging a cigar. Some cigars just lose their flavor with age, so be careful. But others are enhanced by months or years aging properly in a humidor. Some of the same things happen to aged champagne which, while not for everyone, loses some of its bubbly crispness but adds creaminess and depth along the lines of a well-aged white burgundy. Usually you pay extra for vintage champagne. But if you can get some of those same qualities by just putting aside a good champagne and waiting, don’t be afraid to give it a try. (Not long ago I had some non-vintage Champagne Tattinger with a decade of age, and the result was very impressive.)

Cheers!

Patrick S

photo credit: Wikipedia