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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

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

Commentary: Older and (Somewhat) Wiser, At Least When it Comes to Cigars

13 Feb 2017

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Over the course of twelve years of serious cigar smoking, I’ve learned a thing or two. True, there’s still so much more cigar knowledge to absorb—that’s one of the beautiful things about this complex, engrossing hobby—but I’ve come a long, long way since my early days as a young brother of the leaf.

I was thinking about this a week ago today, on my 34th birthday. Birthdays are a natural time for reflection, a chance to take stock in what has been accomplished, what is yet to be achieved, and, of course, lessons learned.

My cigar development—and the development of any new cigar smoker, I think—can be broken down into a few different categories of knowledge. First is gaining an understanding of your own palate. What you like, what you don’t like, and which cigars tend to satisfy you the best under different circumstances. This category is incredibly personal. There are no right or wrong answers, and your palate’s preferences may be entirely unique to you. This is why the phrase, “The best cigar in the world is the cigar you like the best,” rings true.

The second category concerns learning how to properly evaluate and taste a cigar. While the outcome of any evaluation might be completely subjective (for reasons mentioned in the preceding paragraph), there are a few criteria that, more or less, are universally applied. Think broad standards for characteristics like appearance, flavor, aroma, balance, burn, draw, smoke production, etc. For any one of these—like flavor, for example—there might be a number of tools that can be employed to assist with a thorough examination, like a tasting wheel or prevailing cigar literature about flavors commonly found in cigars.

Finally, I tend to lump all other cigar knowledge into a catch-all category for cigar-related tips, ritual know-hows, cultural norms, and other miscellaneous items. Here, you’ll find stuff like how to properly cut a cigar, how to store/age cigars, cigar shop etiquette, etc. This final category, I think, is teeming with misinformation—tidbits that 22-year-old me read or heard, accepted at face value since I didn’t know any better, and have since learned were either incorrect or misleading.

Allow me to throw out a few examples. For instance, ever recall learning that only wooden matches or butane lighters were suitable for lighting a cigar? Something about lighter fluid tainting a cigar’s flavor? Well, I’m going to call bullshit on this one. Not only have I used lighter fluid to ignite a cigar many times without noticing any impact to taste, but I have personally witnessed many of the world’s foremost cigar authorities doing the same. If the occasional use of a gas station-bought Bic lighter is good enough for some of the most admired cigar makers/blenders, then it’s good enough for me.

Here’s another load of crap I was taught early on: “To fix an uneven burn, you can rotate the cigar so the slow-burning part is at the bottom of the cigar. Because a fire needs oxygen to burn, the bottom of the cigar will burn faster (as it has access to more oxygen) than the top. This is also why you should rotate your cigar as you smoke.” I’ve tried this technique thousands of times and can’t say I’ve ever seen it work. If your cigar starts to burn unevenly, just touch it up with your lighter and be done with it. Problem solved.

One last example for you. When I was younger, I used to obsess over monitoring the humidity inside my humidors. I had read 72 percent relative humidity was ideal, and I made every effort to achieve and maintain that level. Then I read 69 percent was best. Then I started to pay attention to a crowd that suggested certain types of cigars aged best at one humidity level, and others required different conditions. Enough already. After much trial and error, I don’t think it matters much. Somewhere between 65 and 72 percent is probably best. These days I just get the 69 percent Boveda packs, throw them in my humidors, and don’t even bother to worry about reading and calibrating the hygrometers anymore.

Am I starting to sound like a bitter old man? Maybe. But I think I’ve been around the block enough to form my own cigar-related opinions, however incorrect they may seem to some.

On that topic, if you disagree with anything above, or if you have other cigar myths you’d like to dispel, please let me know in the comments below. I am eager to continue to learn, and I am excited to see what knowledge I can attain over the next twelve years.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Aurora 107 Cosecha 2006 Corona Gorda

11 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.”

Cosecha

This limited edition, introduced last year, is a spinoff of the 107 line that debuted in 2010 to celebrate the storied history of the oldest cigar manufacturer in the Dominican Republic. It sports a Habana-seed wrapper grown in Ecuador around a Brazilian Mata Fina binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The Corona Gorda (6 x 47, $10) is one of three sizes. In addition to solid construction, you’ll find a medium-bodied, well-balanced profile of dried fruit, citrus, sharp cedar spice, and coffee bean. My colleague recently reviewed this same cigar and liked it; I think I enjoyed it a little more.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Aguila Robusto

1 Feb 2017

Aguila

In 2014, as part of President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations between Washington and Havana, the importation of Cuban cigars into the U.S. was partially legalized—only for officially licensed travelers to Cuba, and only if the value of the cigars (and rum) totaled $100 or less. Later, in March 2016, the $100 limit was eliminated, and the legalization was expanded to include the importation of Cuban cigars that were bought in Cuba or elsewhere overseas, as long as the cigars were for personal consumption. However, as we reported last fall, Cuban cigars still cannot be imported to the U.S. unless you are personally traveling with them. In other words, online sales of Cuban cigars to American residents are still illegal.

Aguila RobustoThat said, there a bevy of online retailers based overseas who claim to be able to ship authentic Cuban cigars directly to your door. Among them is iHavanas. “iHavanas operates out of a bonded warehouse located in Geneva, Switzerland, enabling us to offer our customers cigars with duty-free pricing,” reads the website. “All our cigars are purchased from authorized distributors, thereby ensuring authenticity.”

iHavanas is somewhat unique among overseas retailers in that it also has a house brand made in Nicaragua. The brand is called Aguila, which is Spanish for “eagle” (an eagle is prominently featured on the coat of arms and flag of Geneva). “We’ve noticed a growing interest in boutique brands of cigars and, although a few online retailers do offer custom-rolled cigars, we thought we’d go a step further and create a distinct brand,” said an iHavanas representative that, due to the nature of his business, wishes to be identified only as Bryan. “We had been in discussions with a number of factories in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, but eventually settled on this [undisclosed Nicaraguan] factory as we felt we were getting a high quality cigar that we could offer at exceptional value.”

Aguila was launched in October 2016 in three formats: Robusto (4.9 x 50, $47 per box of 10), Sublime (6.5 x 54, $49 per box of 10), and Torpedo (6.1 x 52, $48 per box of 10). The tobaccos include an Ecuadorian wrapper, a Jalapa binder, and long-filler from Estelí.

I smoked five Aguila Robustos for this review. The understated, elegant ring band of white and gold reminds me of another brand made by a company headquartered in Geneva: Davidoff. Beneath is a milk chocolate-colored wrapper that has only very thin veins, thick seams, and a moderate amount of oil and tooth. The feel is on the spongy side. Pre-light notes at the foot remind me of dried apricot, hay, and musty earth.

At the outset, a mild- to medium-bodied profile emerges with flavors of cinnamon, cedar, cream, and a cherry-like sweetness that, at times, verges on medicinal (think cherry cough drops). Cinnamon and cedar are sensations we all associate with spice, but in this case the spice is incredibly light. The texture of the smoke is somewhat sandy. After about an inch, a core of warm tobacco comes to the fore. Here, the sweetness is still playing a notable role. The finale is characterized by few flavor changes but a marginal increase in intensity.

The physical properties leave little to be desired. While the burn can get off to a poor start, it quickly self-corrects and then stays straight until the end. The draw is smooth and the smoke production is above average. The ash has a tendency to fall off a little prematurely.

For $4.70 per cigar when bought by the box of 10 (inclusive of shipping, mind you), the Aguila Robusto can be a nice little bargain for those who seek a low-cost, everyday cigar that packs considerable sweetness and feels at home in the garage, out on the yard, or on the golf course. It lacks complexity and balance, but I don’t think it was ever intended to be a special occasion masterpiece worthy of your undivided attention, either. In my book, this creation from iHavanas is worthy of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Dunhill Signed Range Selección Suprema

23 Jan 2017

Dunhill

Dunhill may not be the sexiest brand on the market. Owned by British American Tobacco and made and distributed by General Cigar Co., you could argue Dunhill is somewhat neglected by the online cigar community, gets lost in General’s portfolio of more visible brands, and hasn’t lived up to its rich legacy.

Signed Range SS DunhillThat legacy pre-dates the communist takeover of Cuba, when the Dunhill shop in London had exclusive marketing and distribution agreements with various Cuban cigar makers, including Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, and Partagas. Since then, Dunhill has bounced around with cigars by Toraño and Altadis, finally settling under the General Cigar umbrella.

In 2015, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of its Selección Suprema series (which kicked off in 1935 with a cigar called Don Candido), Dunhill released a special limited edition cigar called Signed Range Selección Suprema. Only 20,000 total cigars were made in a single vitola, a toro (6 x 50); they are packaged in display-friendly boxes of 8 and retail for $20 apiece.

Signed Range Selección Suprema is made at the General Cigar Dominicana factory with a Nicaraguan Jalapa wrapper, Connecticut Broadleaf binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua (Estelí and Jalapa) and Brazil (Mata Fina). It sports three bands of black and metallic bronze, including one at the foot. Underneath is a mottled, oily leaf that’s traversed by a network of thin veins. The pre-light notes at the foot are subtle and characterized by hints of honey and sawdust. The cap clips easily to reveal and smooth cold draw.

Once an even light is set, the preliminary flavor is a medium-bodied combination of leather, damp earth, salted caramel, and oak. The texture is buttery and the resting smoke gives off a creamy sweetness that is, frankly, much more enticing than the actual flavor, which I find a little flat.

Things pick up nicely after a half-inch or so, however. That’s where the smoke production kicks into gear and the taste becomes mouth-wateringly velvety and balanced. The damp earth takes a back seat to more intense flavors of gentle spice, citrus, and sugar. This profile remains mostly consistent throughout, save for the additions of coffee and dark chocolate in the finale.

As I’ve come to expect from General Cigar—and as everyone should expect from any cigar with a super-premium price tag—the cigar has exquisite construction. The burn line is excellent, the draw easy, the smoke production good, and the ash is well-behaved and finely layered.

While I’ll admit I don’t smoke many Dunhills, I can easily say this is the best I’ve had. Sure, it’s also the most expensive. Price aside, though, you can’t deny this toro’s complexity and balance. If you decide to pony up the cash, you won’t be disappointed. The Dunhill Signed Range Selección Suprema earns four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Casa Magna Colorado Robusto

21 Jan 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.”

Casa Magna Robusto

This Nicaraguan puro, made by Nestor Plasencia for Quesada Cigars, was named the top cigar in the world by Cigar Aficionado in 2008. Back then, the MSRP on the Robusto (5.5 x 52) was $5.25; today, you can find it for about $6 when bought by the box of 27. In addition to good combustion properties—including an effortless draw and a burn that’s well-behaved—it offers an airy, medium-bodied profile of cayenne spice, dry wood, cinnamon, apricot, and caramel. The texture is a tad papery. I seem to recall this cigar being more concentrated with a richer, silkier mouthfeel. It’s definitely not bad, and the cost is not an issue, but I can’t say I would smoke this Robusto on a regular basis.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys