Search results: "Random Thoughts from the Humidor"

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXVII)

12 Nov

In this edition of our Random Thoughts from the Humidor series, I fear the immortal words of House Stark: “Winter is coming.”

Find Yourself a Winter Sanctuary

For those of us who live in the northern half 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. Back in 2011, when I still lived in a condo in the city, had no kids, and was the proud owner of a cigar-friendly den, getting through the winter wasn’t so tough. I had my space. Now, despite being out in the suburbs with more space, there’s no room for an indoor cigar sanctuary; I’ve got three kids (which means I also have precious little time), the youngest of which arrived a mere two weeks ago. I’m on the hunt for a warm cigar space for the winter. Perhaps I’ll try to find a way to get some heat out in the garage without sending the whole thing up in flames. Wish me luck. And hit me up if you have any ideas. (Also: Where are you, cigar lounges?)

Don’t Save Your Best for the Firepit

Here in Chicago, my backyard firepit simply won’t get the job done as a warm cigar sanctuary for the winter. It gets too damn cold, especially at night (typically, the only time I can smoke nowadays is when all three kids and the wife are asleep). The firepit is great on a chilly fall night; when it’s below freezing, however, it just doesn’t kick off enough heat to be comfortable for the requisite 90-120 min. for a cigar. And there’s another problem: The fire obviously emits a lot of smoke and aroma. I find this detracts from a fine cigar, which is why I typically don’t bust out my best when there’s a fire involved. And I certainly wouldn’t ever review a cigar around a fire.

Keep an Eye on Your Humidor(s)

Back indoors, where your cigars are stored, start to pay closer attention to the humidity level of your humidor(s). It’s harder to keep humidity up in the winter—including inside your home. If, like me, you use Boveda packs, check to see if they need to be swapped out (or, as some of you are wont to do, recharged). Boveda’s Smart Sensor is a tech-savvy way to ensure proper monitoring and piece of mind. If you rely on more traditional methods and hygrometers, ensure these notoriously finicky instruments of measurement are properly calibrated. November is a great month to perform the salt calibration test.

Give the Gift of Cigars

Winter is synonymous with the holidays. If you have a cigar enthusiast or two on your list, I have a few tips for you. First, only give a box if you’re sure the recipient loves that cigar and size. Some cigar enthusiasts are completely loyal to one brand or one specific blend. If this is the case, you can’t do wrong by buying a box he or she is sure to love. Second, keep in mind that samplers offer good variety, and good samplers also offer value. You might also consider cigar accessories, or giving the gift of cigar rights. More on this topic can be found here.

Stay warm out there!

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXVI)

24 Sep

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I ask for your input on future cigar reviews and lament house guests who don’t finish their cigars.

What Cigars Should I Write About?

I’m in a bit of a cigar funk these days. My stash is running lower than usual and, among the cigars that still reside in one of my five humidors, we’ve already written about pretty much all of them. So that begs the question: Should I buy a bunch of “new” cigars and focus on those (that’s pretty much what I have been doing since we founded this site in May 2006; I’m just falling behind lately)? Or should I start to revisit cigars we reviewed (in some cases) years ago to provide an update and an aging report? Perhaps the best strategy is a bit of both. But I figured I’d throw the question out to you, especially since the cigar blogger space is more cluttered than ever. What do you want to see reviewed?

Let Me Follow Up on That Question…

While you’re thinking on the subject, I’ve always wondered: Do you care about reviews of cigars that are no longer in production (I’ve got a ton of those on hand)? What about super-limited cigars, or exclusives? For example, take the cigars I receive each year as a member of Tatuaje’s Saints & Sinners club. The only way to get these cigars is to belong to the small, members-only club. Either you do, or you don’t. On one hand, I could see some people being interested in what’s out there, even if it’s unlikely they’ll ever get their hands on it. On the other, many people could consider the review a vain act of futility. What’s your take?

What A Cigar Review Isn’t

These words written by my colleague nearly a decade ago still ring true, and I think they’re appropriate to recall as we think about reviews: “These days there are no shortages of cigar reviews online. Seems everyone has an opinion and wants to share. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But before you read every cigar review out there and take each as gospel, let’s keep in mind what a review is… and, just as importantly, let’s keep in mind what a review isn’t. First off, a review can only be as good as the limited inputs that created it. That means whatever review you’re reading is first and foremost limited by two important factors: the reviewer, and the cigars sampled.” You can read the rest of this piece from 2010 here.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Chances are, if you visit my home, you’ll be offered a cigar. My guests are almost never as into cigars as I am, and that’s perfectly fine. I am happy to share nonetheless and, despite my relatively depleted stash, almost certainly have a good cigar for the individual and timeframe in question. This is all well and good. What irks me, however, is when a guest will request (and receive) a top-notch cigar and then proceed to not even smoke half of it. If your time is short, or if you want a smaller smoke, please tell me in advance so I can help you select the best fit for your situation. I feel like this should be common courtesy. Aside from this pet peeve, let me know if you’re in the vicinity of Oak Park, Illinois, and want to stop by for a smoke and/or a bourbon. My front porch is a wonderful place to relax, and cigars are best enjoyed in good company–whether I’m writing about them or not.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXV)

22 Jan

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I remember an old foe, lament the health of the industry, and ponder how social media is changing cigar marketing.

Actually, It’s CHIP Now, Not SCHIP

Remember SCHIP? All the news about a looming government shutdown—as I am writing this, the House has passed a bill to keep the federal government funded for another four weeks, but the Senate doesn’t look poised to reach an agreement—has brought back memories of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), formerly known as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Just search “SCHIP” on this site (our search bar is in the upper right-hand corner) and you’ll find dozens of articles, mostly from the period of 2007-2009. This January 2009 article was published and updated on the day the SCHIP tax increase was announced (the cap is, and was, 40 cents per large cigar). As we reminded you on Friday, although CHIP’s “funding” would expire if a government funding deal isn’t struck, the tax on tobacco will remain either way. Fantastic. One silver lining: If and when CHIP’s tobacco tax funding is restored, we can once again claim to be “smoking for the children.”

And the Winner Is… Nobody

As you may have seen at Halfwheel.com, the site is not issuing an award for best new cigar company in 2017 because, well, there really wasn’t one. “We’ve given the award each year since 2013 alongside a host of other awards; that will change this year and there’s a good chance that change will be for good,” wrote Charlie Minato. “Due to a variety of reasons, chief amongst them the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation of premium cigars, there simply aren’t many new companies that would be eligible for the award.” We should all be alarmed by this. Creation, innovation, and new blood are signs of a rich and vibrant industry. This is evidence that burdensome regulations and taxes are taking their toll. For those who would stroll the aisles of the IPCPR Trade Show and cite the volume of booths and displays as an indication of industry health, I say this: Think about all the booths and displays that aren’t here. Think about all we might be missing, especially in the form of limited edition smokes. Looking to the horizon, absent major policy changes, isn’t it fair to expect more cigar company consolidation and closures, and fewer new operations?

What Is Skip Martin Eating Today?

Thanks to social media, the way in which the cigar smoking public connects with cigar makers has changed drastically in recent years. In the past, if you wanted to converse with your favorite cigar maker, you’d need to attend a huge gathering like Cigar Aficionado’s Big Smoke, or wait until he hosts an event at a retailer in your area. Today, you can simply log on to Facebook to trade comments, messages, photos, etc. Many cigar smokers even tag the cigar maker when they’re enjoying one of his cigars. The savvy cigar makers are embracing this trend, using Facebook to update their many followers about what they’re smoking, blending, working on—even eating and drinking. In this fashion, social media becomes a powerful tool to constantly stay top of mind with your most loyal customers. It also allows the cigar makers to bypass more traditional media options—like industry magazines, press releases, and, yes, blogs—and take messages directly to the masses. If you doubt this trend, just follow Skip Martin of RoMa Craft Tobac and Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust on Facebook; they’re constantly posting (some might say marketing). I am surprised more cigar makers don’t wholeheartedly adopt this approach.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXIV)

12 Dec

capture

This special winter edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor is dedicated to the snowstorm that blew through my hometown of Chicago this weekend. I know many of you are also dealing with ice, snow, and plummeting temperatures, so I thought today we’d dig into our extensive archives to find some tips that are especially relevant in these cold months.

Take a Year-End Inventory

In a perfect world, I would only have one very large humidor to worry about, not a handful of medium- to small-sized humidors. But because my many humidors carry sentimental value, I can’t bring myself to consolidate. Plus, given the space I have in our condo in Chicago, one very large humidor would be a lot tougher to make space for. One challenge with this setup is monitoring the humidification levels of each individual humidor. Another challenge is understanding what I have and where it’s located. For this reason, every so often I’ll empty the humidors out, get the stock re-organized, remind myself what cigars I have (and what I’m missing), and “re-charge” the humidors. It takes some time, but I find the process enjoyable and valuable. I suggest you do the same, especially as you prepare your own humidor(s) for the winter. If you can, take your time while you work, and enjoy an excellent cigar you’re sure to be surprised to find at the bottom of your stash.

Re-Acquaint Yourself with a Good Tobacconist

In the winter, a good tobacconist that provides a comfortable, warm place to smoke is worth its weight in gold. As you search for a home base from which to conduct your winter cigar operations, feel free to use this article as a helpful decision-making framework. It lists criteria for consideration, like a good selection, fair prices, hours of operation, WiFi, cleanliness, beverage options, and more.

Brave the Cold

If you don’t have an indoor cigar sanctuary in or near your home, you’ll want to start smoking shorter, smaller cigars to minimize your time outdoors. Other than gloves, space-heaters, hats, and long underwear, that’s probably the best advice I can give you. Remember: That 7-inch, 50-ring gauge Churchill you’ve been eyeing in your humidor is a serious investment in time. If you smoke slowly—as you should to maximize enjoyment—it could take two or more hours to complete. Also, keep these words of wisdom from my colleague in mind; they might help you muster the strength to endure the elements: “To brave inclement weather shows true dedication to the wonderful hobby that is cigars… The cold weather smoker need not smile while he bundles up for a sub-freezing stogie session, but he does. When many might close up the humidor until late spring, the cold weather smoker bravely smokes on.”

Drink Well

While you’re out in the snow, warm your bones with some of our favorite winter libations. The Stonewall Jackson has been a favorite of mine for years. You also can’t go wrong with a hot buttered rum. And don’t forget that winter beers can definitely make solid cigar accompaniments.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXIII)

19 Nov

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I look at Steve Saka’s radical transparency, the origins of the word “herf,” and suggestions for finding value cigars.

saka

The Original Cigar Blogger Pulls Back the Curtain

You don’t have to talk very long with Steve Saka to realize he isn’t the type to BS you. In fact, after sitting down with him during a couple of trips to Drew Estate while he was still with the company, I came to appreciate you could ask him just about anything, as long as you were prepared to hear an unvarnished, candid answer. So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me to see his openness (especially on Facebook) about the process, including the challenges and anxiety, of creating his own cigar brand and bringing it to market. Even the info sheet that came with the samples he recently sent for review came with a leaf-by-leaf breakdown of the Sobremesa blend, something many established brands are still unwilling to provide (in part for fear of someone copying their blend). It’s a level of transparency you don’t often see. And yet maybe his candor shouldn’t come as a surprise. Before Saka was the driving force behind the creation of Liga Privada, he was the editor of what was essentially the first cigar blog, (before the word blog even existed). While the original Cigar Nexus domain is no longer online, you can still read the archive here, including the Monthly Officious Taste Test or M.O.T.T. (a not-so-subtle jab at then Cigar Aficionado executive editor Gordon Mott).

Herf, Established November 21, 1996

Speaking of Cigar Nexus, here’s a gem about the origin of the the word herf, which originated on the alt.smokers.cigars (ACS) newsgroup in 1996: “The un-official word of ASC is herf. Herf is a unique part of speech. It can be correctly used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, an infinitive, a prefix, a suffix, and an explicative. The arcane word ‘herf’ first entered the ASC lexicon on November 21, 1996, and was quickly elevated to frenetic and common use by ASCers… Herf is now virulently spreading to worldwide common use as hip cigar parlance.”

Which Wrappers Are Most Likely to Produce Value?

Finding a good cigar isn’t all that hard these days. Finding a good cigar at a price that offers excellent value is harder. But if good values are what you are after, one thing to think about is wrappers. Connecticut wrappers, both shade-grown and broadleaf, are hardest to do on a budget, in part because good Connecticut-grown wrappers are increasingly in demand. So if you’re the type of person who seeks out that elusive bundle cigar that smokes like a pricier stick, you’ll improve your odds by sticking to Nicaraguan-grown Habano and Mexican wrappers.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXII)

4 Nov

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I ponder what is meant by “flavored” cigars, keeping the palate fresh with milder smokes, and using cigars as currency for wagers.

KFC

Food for Thought on Flavoring

On Saturday I published a Quick Smoke of the Drew Estate MUWAT Kentucky Fire Cured (KFC) in the Just a Friend size. As I understand it, KFC is crafted at Joya de Nicaragua using tobaccos that are cured in a barn under fires of hickory and maple. The smoke from these fires imparts (in the case of Just a Friend, according to my palate) notes of barbeque sauce, chewy meat, hickory, leather, sweet tobacco, and peat. It’s an interesting product and process, though the cigars aren’t my cup of tea. In any event, some readers got me thinking with their comments. I hadn’t previously considered KFC to be flavored. Regarding cigars, I take “flavored” to mean infused with artificial flavors that are not naturally inherent in the tobacco leaves as a result of growing, cultivation, curing, fermentation, etc. So, in my eyes, fire-curing tobaccos—or barrel-aging them, for instance—does not make them flavored. I still think of these cigars as differentiated from, say, Flavours by CAO or Acid by Drew Estate. Perhaps the distinction is not important and this is simply a matter of semantics. Perhaps, though, as the government gets more and more involved in the regulation of premium cigars, this will become an important issue. Recall that a previous FDA proposal stated that under its option for a premium cigar exemption, a cigar would only qualify if it “does not have a characterizing flavor other than tobacco.” Would using fire-cured tobacco or tobacco aged in rum barrels be a violation? What about aging a finished cigar in cedar? To date, the FDA has not provided answers. And, in a particularly troubling development, we’ve learned it may not matter; an unauthenticated draft of the FDA’s deeming rules submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was recently leaked, and the draft shows no exemption for premium cigars. But ultimately, if OMB reinstates an exemption for premium cigars, the notion of “flavored” may become very important.

Mixing Up the Rotation

I’m guessing most cigar smokers started smoking milder cigars, graduated to medium-bodied sticks somewhere along the way, and these days tend to focus on smokes with full body and strength. These seasoned cigar veterans may avoid mild cigars entirely, or they may relegate them to that occasional morning smoke as an accompaniment to a cup of coffee. (I’m basing these broad generalizations off anecdotal evidence, hundreds of conversations, and observations from the ever-expanding world of social media.) To these brothers of the leaf I say this: Don’t be afraid to mix up your rotation with a milder cigar now and then. Not only are these cigars highly enjoyable, but they often provide subtler, more delicate flavors that are harder to find in Nicaraguan powerbombs. Think almond, cream, hay, etc. As an added bonus, you may find your full-bodied favorites taste even better when you sprinkle in a Connecticut Shade smoke from time to time.

Cigars for Friendly Bets

I’m a lifelong Cubs fan and my colleague, Patrick S, is a diehard follower of the Mets (nobody’s perfect, right?). This year, our teams squared up in the National League Championship Series. Before play started—and long before the Mets were eventually vanquished by the Kansas City Royals—we each agreed to send the winner a five-pack of local cigars as a friendly wager. If the Cubs won, he was going to send me hard-to-find smokes from the PG Boutique near his home in Virginia. If the Mets won (as they did), I’d send a sampler of house blends from Tesa here in Chicago. Maybe it’s just me, but for friendly wagers—especially those that are sports-related—cigars just seem to be a more fitting form of payment than money, not to mention a chance to acquire smokes that can’t easily be bought locally.

Patrick A

photo credit: Drew Estate

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXI)

9 Jun

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, we look at a mind-boggling sale, ponder the annual cigar figures, and examine a pleasant trend.

sale-signs

Amazing Cigar Sale

I’m not sure why my eyes rested on the two-page spread for Fuente cigars in a recent catalogue from one of the big online sellers. But I gave it a glance and was surprised to see the Opus X Lost City listed among those for sale at reduced prices. (It also described them as “mild,” which was another shock.) Since the type is tiny, my eyes are not what they once were, and the line running through the MSRP made it difficult to discern, I reached for a magnifying glass to be certain I was seeing what I thought I was. Sure enough, the Lost City vitolas are marked down. Want to buy a box of 10 Toros? Why, you’ll pay just $298.99 instead of the MSRP of $299. Markdowns are identical throughout the line. As they say, act quickly. At these prices, they won’t last long!

Adding Without Increasing

Is anyone else puzzled by the fact that while a new cigar seemed to be released about every 30 minutes last year, the total number of cigars imported actually fell? Overall imports of premium cigars were down a shade over 1 percent, a negligible decline at a total of about 310 million sticks. For the first time in several years, Nicaragua’s production fell from the previous year, and the Dominican Republic’s total was down a bit as well. How’d that happen? Perhaps all those new lines, limited editions, specials, and extensions are boosting some individual manufacturers, especially boutique ones, but they don’t seem to have had an influence on the market overall.

Ten Is a Good Number

Lately, it seems more and more cigar manufacturers are packaging their sticks in 10-count boxes rather than the more traditional 20 or 24. I find the trend a good one. Shops frequently mark down box prices over the same number of singles, so there’s the likelihood of saving some money. But more important, to me at least, is that ten is a more manageable number. Unless you smoke a lot of cigars or have only a few favorites, it can take a long time to get through a box of 20 or more. With a few exceptions, I usually have a handful left to age for years until I work my way back to them.

George E

photo credit: Flickr