Archive | November, 2011

Cigar Tip: Find Yourself a Winter Sanctuary

30 Nov 2011

For those of us who live in the northern part of the U.S., winter can be a crummy time to be a cigar enthusiast. The cold, arid air makes humidor maintenance more difficult. And, with a lack of indoor smoking sanctuaries thanks to government-imposed bans, we’re often forced into the frosty outdoors if we want to enjoy a premium cigar.

I live in Chicago, where the winters can be brutal. For me, as often as I like to smoke, simply going outside is not an option. I cannot be expected to bundle up and sit in the arctic frost for 90 minutes or more every time I want a cigar, notwithstanding how many times I’ve done that before, and notwithstanding how much I respect those who consistently brave the weather to light up some premium tobacco.

Thankfully, I have a loving wife who understands this, and who isn’t vehemently opposed to the delightful aroma of a premium cigar. So when we were on the market for our new home in Chicago, we specifically looked at condos that have a room that could be turned into my winter smoking den. Our requirements were as follows: the room must have a ceiling fan, several windows, a good heat source, and at least enough space for my humidors. We also wanted a hard wood floor, since carpeting tends to soak up that stale tobacco smell and get stained by errant ashes.

I’m pleased to report that the condo we ended up buying has all this and more. After some adjustments—including the installation of French doors with basic weather stripping and draft guards—I have a wonderful smoking den off of our main living room. The den is big enough to house a comfy chair, all of my humidors, lots of books, a desk for writing, and even a dartboard. And it has ample windows, each with a good view of the neighborhood.

My procedure for lighting up in this sanctuary is basically to crack open a window, fire up the radiator to offset any incoming chill, turn on the ceiling fan, and smoke away. With the doors closed, all this is enough to keep the vast majority of the smoky smell away from the rest of our home. Sure, the den isn’t air-tight. And I didn’t invest the money to buy an expensive exhaust system. But my wife doesn’t strongly oppose cigar smoke, either, so it was never my intention to completely isolate myself from the rest of the world. Heck, I find that I open the doors an average of two or three times during each cigar, usually to get a cold one from the fridge.

All this worked out fantastically well, and I understand how lucky I am to be able to pull this off. I’ll be feeling even luckier once those subzero temperatures sweep in and the snow begins to fall. So my advice is to find yourself a winter smoking sanctuary before it’s too late, be that sanctuary at a cigar lounge or in your home. Otherwise, you may want to invest in some warm gloves that leave your fingers nimble enough to cut and light a cigar.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Crowned Heads Four Kicks Corona Gorda

29 Nov 2011

New cigars from new cigar companies are rarely as anticipated as the Crowned Heads innaugural release, Four Kicks. Perhaps that’s because the new company has many familiar faces.

Crowned Heads was Founded by longtime employees of CAO (including Jon Huber and Mike Conder). They stayed in Nashville, Tennessee, after CAO completed its merger with General Cigar and moved into General’s headquarters in Richmond, Virgina.

Their new cigar is also made by a familiar face, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, who worked for many years with General Cigar after selling his El Credito company (La Gloria Cubana, El Rico Habano). The cigar is the first Carrillo has made since leaving Geneal that isn’t for his own E.P. Carrillo brand. However, when he first went out on his own, his original plan had been to base his business on making cigars on contract for others.

The name “Four Kicks” comes from the Kings of Leon song of the same name. Huber explains why that was chosen on the company blog (part of a welcome, informative, and up-to-date cigar website—something far too rare in the industry).

The blend, made in Carrillo’s Dominican factory, uses an oily, reddish Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. The cigar comes in four sizes: Robusto (5 x 50), Sublime (6 x 54), Piramide (6.1 x 52), and a Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46). For this review I picked up a six-pack of the Corona Gordas from Emerson’s Cigars where they cost $6.95 each.

Four Kicks is a medium-bodied smoke. I found a notably chewy aspect to it, with meaty and leathery flavors. As it develops, sweet cinnamon and nutmeg spice are revealed before the strength fades a bit and the sweetness comes to the front of the palate. Construction is perfect.

It’s a well-balanced, very savory cigar that’s completely distinct from Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s other creations. It pairs up equally well with a cup of coffee, an IPA, or an after-dinner bourbon, and could be an everyday smoke or one you save for a special occasion.

In an already crowded market of well-made cigars, it takes a lot for a new one to stand out. Crowned Heads’ first offering does that, and I’m looking forward to what they plan on creating next. With it’s medium-bodied, well-balanced, savory flavors and a reasonable price, the Four Kicks Corona Gorda earns four and a half stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: On Location at the Ybor City Heritage and Cigar Festival

28 Nov 2011

Cigar Paradise came to Earth on November 19 in the form of the Ybor City Heritage and Cigar Festival, an annual event held in the center of Ybor City just outside downtown Tampa. Cigar Dave broadcasting live, a celebrity appearance by Rocky Patel himself, dozens of cigar vendors with special deals, a classic car show, a live band rocking some Sinatra, tents selling beer and burgers, and the sweet smell of burning stogies everywhere might be how you imaged cigar smokers’ heaven, and I can tell you that’s exactly what it was.

As soon as I arrived on this festive scene I lit an Urbano Corojo and began soaking up the sites. Over 2,000 were in attendance and though it was a packed house, there was plenty of room to maneuver and see everything that needed to be seen. Cigar retailers and manufacturers had set up tents all over the place, nearly all of them advertising specials and discounts on their products. As the voice of Cigar Dave boomed across the festival and patrons consumed Cuban food and discussed their favorite tobacco blends, I found myself browsing the tents and encountered deals everywhere I looked.

Upmann 4-pack samplers were selling for as low as $12 and you could find practically any kind of Cuesta Rey for around $5 a stick. I saw 24-pack sampler boxes sold in cedar humidors for $99, the Rocky Patel tent was stacked with boxes and boxes of stogies, and the Arturo Fuente tent displayed a large sampling of their line (a box of the 8-5-8 was nearly sold out). Cigar Rights of America was there signing up tons of new members and I found several vendors who didn’t sell anything even remotely related to cigars but had purchased tables to take advantage of the large crowd.

The center of the attraction was Cigar Dave’s stage. With dozens of tables surrounding him and a live band sitting ready to burst into a medley of classic show tunes, many patrons were happy to sit and smoke cigars while listening to Cigar Dave who was joined on stage by Rocky Patel. Later on Cigar Dave hosted an auction, selling everything from boxes of premium cigars to autographed footballs to expensive pieces of jewelry.

Here he is auctioning a box of 1976 Arturo Fuente Don Carlos brand cigars while Mr. Patel stands to the side signing autographs and posing for photos with fans. The ’76 Fuente cigars sold for $425 and demand was enough that the Fuente family put a second box of 76ers on the auction block and sold them too.

Other attractions included three Tampa Humidor tents, one including sofas and a large screen TV. A classic car show that boasted several beauties including a pristine ’65 Mustang in white and a spotless light blue ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air. The buzz on the street was that over 2,000 were in attendance and everywhere you went you could hear men exchanging philosophies on cigar flavors, blends, sizes and prices. There was a lot of excitement in all corners of the festival and a lot of energy throughout the day. With ideal weather for an outdoor festival it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

The highlight for me was that I was fortunate to shake hands with Rocky Patel and have my picture taken with the man himself. As I climbed to the stage I offered my hand and said, “Mr. Patel, I enjoy your stogies very much.” Patel, with a kind smile on his face, replied modestly as we shook hands. “Thank you, I appreciate hearing that.” He stood patiently and posed while my father fiddled with the camera, never impatient, never rushed. My impression was that Patel was as happy to be there as all of the patrons and vendors. He may be the Don of a lucrative cigar empire and I a lowly cigar blogger, but on that day I realized that not only were Rocky Patel and I both brothers of the leaf, we always have been. And that brotherhood, that unspoken camaraderie among cigar enthusiasts is what makes a celebration like the Ybor City Cigar Festival such a special event.

Thanks for a great day, Tampa. I’ll surely see you soon.

Mark M

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: 7-20-4 Dog Walker

27 Nov 2011

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 praised this small (4 x 40) cigar before (listing it as one of my favorite small cigars). Much as I remembered, it didn’t disappoint. The Dog Walker features a Brazilian mata fina wrapper, Costa Rican binder, and filler from Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, and Columbia, just like the rest of the line. For such a small cigar, it demonstrates impressive complexity with leather, clove, coffee, and pepper. It’s medium- to full-bodied and thoroughly enjoyable when you need a good smoke but only have 30 minutes.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Emilio Cigars Series H Sumatra Robusto

26 Nov 2011

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.”

This handsome Robusto from Emilio Cigars features a clean Sumatra wrapper around a Honduran Connecticut binder and filler tobaccos from Jamastran and Costa Rica. After lighting, musty pre-light notes transition to a profile of spice and espresso. This full-bodied, 5.5-inch smoke is tasty and bold, though it doesn’t have the nuance or complexity that you can find in the Grimalkin.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Have a Happy Thanksgiving… with Cigars

23 Nov 2011

With football on the TV, turkey in your stomach, and family gathered, Thanksgiving is a great day to enjoy a fine cigar. So, as we have each of the previous four years, today the team tells you what cigars we’ll be firing up after our big meals.

Gobble Gobble Gobble

Patrick A: This year my wife and I are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in our new Chicago home. To mark the occasion, my family will be christening my smoke-friendly den with E.P. Carrillo New Wave Connecticut Divinos cigars. This selection should be perfect because the Toro-sized smoke’s profile of cream and nuts will pair nicely with post-meal coffee.

Patrick S: Savoring a Thanksgiving cigar can be tough when you’re visiting with family and have to go outside into the cold to smoke. That’s why I’m picking the Tatuaje Petite Cazadores Reserva this year. It’s a small but hearty Boradleaf-wrapped stick that won’t last much more than half an hour. With earth, chocolate, and a bit of spice, it should go well with bourbon after a large meal.

George E: I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my 2011 Thanksgiving smoke. In the past, I’ve savored some special sticks on this holiday. And I initially considered the exquisite PG Symphony 20th. But a cigar like that deserves undistracted attention, not competition, from what should be some rare good Thanksgiving football. So I settled on one I always enjoy, and one that will complement an exciting game: the tasty Arturo Fuente Double Chateau Sun Grown. Who knows, maybe I’ll light up that PG on Friday.

Mark M: I’m going with a Sancho Panza Double Maduro and a Guinness, which is a magical combination. An interesting factoid is that I was first introduced to this combination by my wife, who was drinking a Guinness one afternoon while I was smoking a Sancho Panza. She asked to taste my cigar and later commented, “Wow, it goes really well with a Guinness!” She was right and since then it’s been one of my favorite cigar-beer combos.

Feel free to let us know what you’ll be smoking tomorrow in the comments below. And be sure to have a safe and joyous Thanksgiving.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Review: Antonio Benitez Robusto Maduro

22 Nov 2011

In January, Pedro Benitez officially launched P. Benitez Fine Cigars with a factory in Estelí (a factory that has since relocated to Managua, Nicaragua). Benitez, the founder of the company and also its master blender, was born in Cuba, raised in Miami, and processed tobacco for 25 years in the Dominican Republic.

The original P. Benitez line is made up of five vitolas, including the Lancero and the Torpedo. Even though it is less than a year old, Benitez has already introduced a second blend, this one called Antonio Benitez. It was blended by Benitez and his son, Reynold, in honor of Benitez’s first grandson, Reynold Antonio.

“We wanted to produce a line of cigars geared towards the more seasoned palate,” said Alberto Iturrey, the company’s co-owner and Benitez’s nephew, when I asked him why they’re launching a second line. “This blend is made with more full-bodoed tobaccos. All five vitolas of the Antonio line are Nicaraguan puros.”

But not all Antonio Benitez vitolas are made with the same Nicaraguan tobaccos. The Churchill (7 x 50), for example, features a corojo ’99 wrapper. But the Robusto Maduro (5 x 50) has a Habano maduro wrapper around its criollo ’98 binder and filler tobaccos. The latter is firm and oily with a few lumps and a nice double cap.

Once lit, the Robusto Maduro takes on a rich espresso character with plenty of black pepper spice on the finish. Definitely bold. After only half an inch, the power is complemented by sweet cocoa and caramel flavors. The result is a smooth, decadent mixture with a resting smoke akin to baked chocolate cake.

Seasoned cigar enthusiasts will be pleasantly surprised by the depth and complexity in this cigar, which has an MSRP of $6.80. Likewise, the physical properties are excellent. Expect an even burn, a sturdy white ash, and a clear draw.

Currently, Pedro Benitez’s creations can be tough to find. But if you’re interested in trying the Robusto Maduro—and you should be—Iturrey tells me Habaneros Cigars will take orders by telephone, even though they don’t have this cigar on their website. I assure you the extra effort will be well worth it. This is one of my favorite new cigars of the year, and it’s worthy of four and a half stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys