Archive | February, 2013

Commentary: Appreciating the Joy of Cigars

28 Feb 2013

It’s easy sometimes to get caught up in the many aspects of cigar enthusiasm, from whether the industry’s largest trade group should initiate a consumer day, to which shop has the latest limited release, to the new, hot blender.

cigar-bundlesDo you age your sticks? Cello on or cello off? What’s the best bundle? Is your humidity at 60 or 65 or 70? I know it’s Nicaraguan tobacco, but what region of Nicaragua is it from? Do you think stalk-curing is the next big thing? Have you seen this stick I got at event last week?

The questions, and the answers, can be endless. And a lot of fun. Part of what makes a hobby enjoyable is the ability to become immersed in the culture and all its arcana.

But sometimes we can become lost—or at least I can, speaking for myself—in a thicket and miss that bright blue sky overhead. This came home to me the other day when I was reading a column in the February Stereophile, one of many magazines I enjoy despite not even remotely understanding what much of the writing is about.

The interesting thing is how often I’m reminded of cigars.

For example, Jason Victor Serinus described a demonstration he’d produced for an audiophile gathering to evaluate two speaker cables. Serinus was confused by numerous listeners who either could tell no difference or preferred the lower-priced cable sound.

“I couldn’t figure out why so many people were missing obvious giveaways of inferior sound,” he wrote. “But, instead of blaming the listeners, I began to wonder if we who review equipment have unintentionally helped create a community of audiophiles who lack the ability to listen deeply.” He went on to say that reviews centered heavily around specific elements can lead listeners to “focus on individual fragments… instead of receiving music as an organic whole.”

Needless to say, I thought of cigars and my own cigar reviews as I was reading.

And it brought to mind a quote I heard in a video from the Stumptown Coffee Roasters’ Skip Colombo. He was, obviously, talking about coffee. But it could just as easily have been cigars. It’s a description of the experience to which I think we can all aspire:

“A good cup of coffee is one that stops me in my tracks… I take a sip and it’s like the world stops turning on its axis.”

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Litto Gomez Diez 2009

27 Feb 2013

Keeping to my goal of smoking more limited edition cigars this year, I recently picked up a box of the Litto Gomez Diez 2009 smokes when I came across them at a serious discount under $200. So far, I’ve smoked about a half dozen and found them extremely consistent, both in their positive and negative characteristics.

LG-ChiselThe annual line is rolled exclusively with tobacco grown on the Gomez farm in the Dominican Republic. A sheet in the box says the tobacco was harvested in 2005. So, there’s quite a bit of age there.

But time hasn’t overly mellowed them. They are a fine, hearty example of what Gomez has accomplished in breaking the stereotype of Dominican smokes as mild, adding to what Fuente has done with its Opus line.

These 5.5-inch sticks also share the Gomez chisel-head innovation with a number of his other La Flor Dominicana cigars.

After that odd head, the most striking immediate characteristics of the 2009 are the lovely, thick, reddish-brown wrapper (more about that later) and an intoxicating pre-light aroma that’s sweet, nutty, and rich.

Although some reviews I read emphasized spice, I found that to be muted and serve more as an underlying component to other flavors, such as wood, earth, and a deep tobacco sweetness. The cigar, while powerful, is also incredibly smooth from first to last, with a light, pleasant lingering finish.

Now, to the issues I didn’t enjoy. That wrapper looks good, but it also appears to be thick, and it doesn’t burn very well. Every stick I’ve smoked so far has had burn issues and required numerous relights to try to keep the burn line close to even.

And that chisel head. While I applaud Gomez for attempting innovation, I just don’t find this one worthwhile. I’ve tried smoking purely from the opened chisel end, used a punch, a guillotine, and and even a V-cut sideways. Nothing seems to create an opening nearly as good as that on a conventionally finished cigar.

For taste, this limited edition would rate four stogies, perhaps even four and a half. But that’s not enough to overcome the burn and draw issues. So, even though I like these cigars a lot, I can only give them three and a half stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Five Bourbons Maker’s Mark Fans Should Try

26 Feb 2013

Maker’s Mark stunned many in the bourbon world recently by announcing it was reducing the proof of its bourbon from 90- to 84-proof. The bourbon was staying the same (the same mash bill aged the same number of years), except the ABV was dropping from 45% to 42%.

makers mark bourbonBut when the backlash was more than expected, Maker’s Mark said “never mind” on the reduced proof. While that may have been the right decision, it leaves unresolved the problem that the watering down was meant to address: Demand for Maker’s Mark outpaces the supply of fully aged Maker’s (a problem that will take years to fix.)

So fans of Maker’s Mark may have trouble finding their bourbon. Given Maker’s Mark’s “wheated” recipe, which emphasizes sweetness over spice, here are a few other bourbons to try if you can’t find that iconic red wax bottle, or if you just want to try something new.

Maker’s Mark 46 – Instead of going into to the bottling line, some Maker’s Mark is diverted to a second period of aging with a barrel using seared French oak staves. The result is a more complex, more complete bourbon. It’s $10-15 more per bottle, but well worth it in my opinion.

Old Fitzgerald – Whiskey writer Chuck Cowdery says he’s heard stories that Pappy Van Winkle gave Maker’s Mark creator Bill Samuels Sr. his Old Fitzgerald recipe for what would become Maker’s: “Put it in a fancy bottle and charge an arm and a leg for it.” Today Old Fitzgerald is made at Heaven Hill Distillery. The regular 80-proof gold label is slightly less refined than Maker’s but also half the price ($13).

Larceny – This newcomer, also from Heaven Hill, impressed me when I tried it. Just as sweet as Maker’s but richer in character, it’s more my style. And at $25 a bottle it’s the same price as Maker’s.

Old Weller Antique 107 – Weller is the “wheated” recipe from Buffalo Trace Distillery. At 107-proof, this is a bit hot straight. A splash of water opens it up nicely with banana, vanilla, and caramel notes. Also around $25 a bottle, it’s a great substitute for Maker’s Mark.

Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 – This special 18-year-old bourbon is a pricy, limited bottling of some of the last remaining bourbon distilled at the Stitzel-Weller distillery, which closed in 1992 (meaning it’s the pretty much the same stuff that goes into the super-elusive Pappy Van Winkle 23). While $80-100 per bottle makes it a big step up in price, if you want to see what extra long aging can do to a “wheated” bourbon, this is the tasty result.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

25 Feb 2013

If you’re a new cigar smoker, this is for you. These are a few thoughts I wish someone had shared with me when I started. They might ease your path on a wonderful journey.

cellophaneFirst, don’t worry too much. About anything. I remember vividly when I was a beginner I heard and read so much about being careful not to clip too much off the head that I was nearly petrified of using a guillotine cutter.

I was certain I’d destroy the cap and the cigar would unceremoniously unravel completely in my hands. For years, I used a punch or V-cutter, which is fine. But my fear was misplaced. A little common sense and careful observation probably would helped. Just don’t cut down too far and there’s no problem.

Then there’s the perennial cigar question, the one I think Aristotle asked when he lit his first Padrón: “Cello on or cello off?”

The truth is, it’s up to you. Cellophane has been used for decades. It helps protect cigars, particularly in transit, and it slows, but doesn’t stop, the transfer of air and the aging process.

Some manufacturers use it, some don’t. Though you can always find a discussion on the topic in one cigar forum or another, most smokers just go with the way they came.

In other words, don’t worry too much.

And my final tip along those lines is about what you’re tasting. Everyone’s different, and most smokers experience an evolution. What you find in cigars now will likely be different six months or a year from now.

Don’t get hung up on why you didn’t enjoy a cigar others are raving about. Or be too quick to adopt a favorite or two. Let yourself experience lots of cigars with different tobaccos, different sizes, and different origins.

Relax. Don’t worry. Enjoy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Ortega Serie D No. 20 Maduro

24 Feb 2013

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.”


Recently, I did a Quick Smoke on this cigar’s Natural sibling. With all the praise garnered by the Maduro, I thought I should give it a try, despite the fact that I’m not naturally a big Maduro fan. And had I remembered that the Maduro’s wrapper is Mexican San Andres, I’d have been even more inclined to pass. I found it to be an OK smoke, with some Maduro sweetness and good construction. But, for my taste, it doesn’t compare to the excellent Natural.

Verdict = Hold.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Papas Fritas

23 Feb 2013

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.”


Named for Drew Estate CEO Steve Saka’s favorite food, “Papas Fritas” (Spanish for french fries), this little cigar uses the cuttings of the Liga Privada No. 9 blend to create a small cigar (4.5 x 44) that sells in tins of 4 for $24 ($6 each). With a broadleaf wrapper and Brazilian binder, it produces loads of thick, white smoke. Cocoa, cedar, pepper, and earth all shine through in this little spark plug of a smoke. It’s medium- to full-bodied, well-balanced, and easy to recommend.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

A New Stogie Guy Is Born!

20 Feb 2013

I’d like to interrupt our regularly scheduled content to congratulate Patrick Ashby and his wife Melissa on the birth of their first child!


Grant Henry Ashby was born in Chicago at 1:43pm on Monday, February 18th. He is a healthy 8 pounds, 5 ounces, and 21 inches long. Patrick tells me both Melissa and Grant are doing very well and looking forward to heading home from the hospital today.

We’ll resume our coverage of the world of cigars in a couple days but, in the meantime, feel free to use the comments to congratulate the Ashby family and give a recommendation for a celebratory cigar.

Patrick S

photo credit: Patrick A