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Commentary: Moving Forward in a New Era of U.S.-Cuban Relations

16 Apr 2015

castro-obama

At this point there isn’t much doubt that we are seeing a new era in relations between Cuba and the United States. I was reminded of this when I received the latest issue of Cigar Aficionado featuring “Welcome to Cuba” on the cover, and a nearly 40-page guide (not including the over 20 pages of ads) written for Americans visiting Cuba.

After President Obama’s recent executive order making legal travel to Cuba easier (and making it legal for visitors to import $100 worth of Cuban cigars), he attended the Organization of American States meeting last week and even had a photo-op and chat with Raúl Castro. Obama’s handshake meeting with the head of the Cuban regime was followed up this week with a recommendation to Congress that Cuba be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Despite Cuban cigars not being legal in the United States for half a century, Cuba’s influence on American cigar culture is indisputable. It is impossible to smoke a premium cigar today sold in the United States that doesn’t have a direct or indirect connection to a Cuban.

Make no mistake, much of that influence is because many Cubans had to flee the brutal communist revolution during and after which many lost virtually all of what they had and found themselves having to start over in a foreign country. Out of that, the premium cigar industry began to grow independent of Cuba, but under the deep influence of Cubans living abroad.

So how do we reconcile that history with an evolving relationship with an island country just 90 miles from Florida?

My own view is there is nothing wrong with embracing a new era of Cuban-American relations. The embargo hasn’t succeeded in toppling the most repressive aspects of the Castro regime. Maybe a new policy can have better results.

But we should not move forward with a blind spot about the deep flaws of the Cuban government. Nor should we pretend those flaws are just a thing of the past. (Read this article from last year for a picture of what Cuba is like for most Cubans.)

It may be time to normalize relations with Cuba, just like we have with many other governments that have poor records when it comes to human rights, and we should hope more interactions with Americans will lead to more freedom for the Cuban people. We just shouldn’t do so naively thinking that the new era has come because the Cuban government has fundamentally changed, but rather with hope that someday soon change will come to Cuba.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Whitehouse.gov

Quick Smoke: Trinidad Reyes (Cuban)

12 Apr 2015

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.”trinidad-reyes-sq

 trinidad-reyes

I’ve had this small format (4.375 x 40) Cuban cigar in my humidor for at least five years. Cubans often require extended aging before they show their best, so my hope was this was ready to shine. Once lit, I found a subtle, mild cigar. Hay, honey, and light cedar are the primary flavors, but there’s also a slight creaminess and some spice. Cubans are also known for construction issues, but there were none to be found here with an easy draw and a sturdy stack-of-dimes ash. While I find myself often underwhelmed by non-super premium Cuban lines, this well-aged Trinidad Reyes hit the spot.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Opening Day for Baseball and Cigars

7 Apr 2015

tampa-smokers

Last evening was the finals of the NCAA tournament (a good game, too; I’m watching while I finalize this article). But that wasn’t the sporting event of the day that I was most looking forward to. For me, yesterday was about Opening Day for Major League Baseball.

Like much of America, I like watching my sports teams (New York Mets, Rangers, and Giants). I also, obviously, enjoy smoking cigars. So I naturally pair the two frequently.

We’ve written before about the wonderful pairing of baseball and cigars. We’ve interviewed legendary Cuban pitcher and cigar smoker Luis Tiant. My colleague and I even petitioned to allow cigar smoking in the old Nationals RFK Stadium.

At the time of our petition, there were frequently completely empty sections in the upper deck of the huge multi-purpose stadium. So why not allow cigar smoking in one of them for just one night? What would be the harm? We even got a local cigar shop to provide cigars for a giveaway. As you might have guessed, the Nationals disagreed.

A few Major League ballparks do allow cigar smoking in special cigar bars. Comerica Park in Detroit has the Asylum Cigar Bar. Tropicana Field in Tampa has the Cuesta Rey Cigar Bar. Pittsburgh’s PNC Park used to have a cigar section.

But a few cigar bars in the ballpark aren’t why baseball and cigars are a natural pairing. I have two theories for the connection. First, baseball season is also cigar season. Running April to October, it’s prime cigar smoking time, in a way that no other major sports season is. Opening Day signals spring is officially here and summer isn’t far off either. Some days may be uncomfortably hot, depending on where you are, but the cooler evenings, when most MLB games are played, are prime cigar time.

The other aspect of baseball that’s so perfect for cigars is the pace. Some people complain that baseball is too slow. When you’re following a game you care about, though, it isn’t slow or boring. Just deliberate. Take a draw between batters or pitches, then sit back, exhale, and watch the action. Need to freshen your drink, check your email, or use the facilities? Put your cigar down and take care of business. Your cigar will still be lit when you get back for the first pitch of the next half inning.

So here’s to another baseball (and cigar) season, full of lots of wins and fine smokes.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Tampa Baseball Museum

Quick Smoke: Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Papas Fritas

5 Apr 2015

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.”

LP-Papas-Fritas

Papas Fritas, the little (4.5 x 44) cigar that uses the cuttings of the Liga Privada No. 9 blend, just got some new packaging. Instead of a metal tin with a four cigars, they will be sold in boxes of 50, and the price per cigar dropped from $6.40 to $5.25. Like its bigger brothers, Papas Fritas produces copious amounts of smoke and chocolate, earth, and rich wood spice. There are valid complaints about a petit corona-sized, mixed-filler cigar that costs over five dollars (though the price cut helps a little), but that doesn’t change the fact that it is an enjoyable smoke.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Make Your Own Barrel-Aged Cocktails

2 Apr 2015

“Cocktail culture” is in full swing (so says any number of newspaper articles). For the most part, though, I don’t get into cocktails in our Cigar Spirits articles. I feel if booze is worth drinking, it’s usually worth drinking unadulterated. That said, one aspect of the recent cocktail boom I’m fully behind is aging cocktails in whiskey barrels.

barrel-aged-manhattan

So when Top Shelf Barrels offered me a barrel to do my own cocktail aging, I figured it was worth checking out. Because I don’t have much space for a large barrel, I went with the one liter barrel (which Top Shelf Barrels engraved for me with a Stogie Guys logo).

The company sells essence flavorings and has a few recipes for exotic cocktails, but I was more interested in the effects of barrel aging on classic cocktails. I quickly narrowed my options down to the old fashioned or the Manhattan.

I decided on a Manhattan for my first barrel-aged cocktail experiment and went with a simple recipe: three parts Knob Creek Rye and one part Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth (my preferred vermouth). I’ll sometimes add the tiniest shake of Angostura bitters to my Manhattans, but I figured it would be easier to add bitters later, especially since all Angostura takes is a quick rinse of the glass.

To judge the impact of barrel aging, I made one liter of Manhattan, poured 800 ml. into the 1 liter barrel, and then poured the rest into an extra bottle so I could taste test it side-by-side. One thing to remember about the process is the barrel may leak a little (this isn’t unusual). My barrel had the tiniest bit of seepage, which didn’t result in any puddles.

After two weeks, my experiment was just right as the bright flavors were mellowed out by the wood. By the third week, the wood had overwhelmed the flavors, so be careful not to age your cocktail too long. At that point, I emptied out the barrel and poured what was left into an empty bottle so I could enjoy it, even though it had peaked a week earlier.

I have to say, I was surprised by how quickly the wood impacted the Manhattan, especially since the barrel-aged cocktails I’ve had in bars were usually aged for 45-60 days. But in retrospect, this shouldn’t have been that surprising. The mini barrel has a lot of surface area for such a small amount of liquid.

Ultimately, I’m deeming my experiment a success. I made a delicious barrel-aged Manhattan, and I’m looking forward to trying more experiments with my barrel. If you want to take your cocktails to the next level consider checking one out.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Alec Bradley Connecticut Robusto

29 Mar 2015

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.”alec-bradley-connecticut-sq

alec-bradley-connecticut-rob

Ever dig through the bottom of your humidor and find something you didn’t know was there? That’s how I came across this Alec Bradley Connecticut Robusto, featuring an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper around Nicaraguan and Honduran fillers. The cigar  boasts notes of hay, cream, paper, and cedar. It’s medium-bodied with a straightforward flavor profile and excellent construction. There’s a very slight bitterness that isn’t unusual for a Connecticut smoke. It’s the very definition of a solid, but not exceptional, cigar.

Verdict = Hold.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Illusione ~eccj~ 20th Anniversary

26 Mar 2015

illusione-eccj-20Illusione has been on a roll lately. The recently released 2014 Singulare Anunnaki earned a rare five-stogie rating. It is the first Singulare that’s in the same class as the original 2010 Singulare, as good and possibly even better depending on how it ages. And the last new full line from Illusione, the Fume d’Amour, was another outstanding release.illusione-eccj-20-sq

In addition to both being good smokes, both the Anunnaki and Fume d’Amour fall in the mild- to medium-bodied range. For that reason, I was particularly interested to try Illusione’s ~eccj~ 20th Annicersary cigar.

The original ~eccj~ debuted in 2008 to celebrate the 15th Anniverary of the European Cigar Cult Journal magazine, now just called Cigar Journal. That cigar blend, which gained a bit of a cult following, would become the popular Epernay line.

So, naturally, when Illusione brand owner Dion Giolito announced a follow-up ~eccj~ would be coming, it was eagerly anticipated. The new ~eccj~ features a tweaked blend and a slightly larger size (6.5 x 48). Boxes of 15 sell for $195, or $13 per cigar.

Using 100% Nicaraguan tobacco, including a Café Rosado Corojo ’99 wrapper, the ~eccj~ 20th Anniversary features some sneaky strength. The flavors are a complex combination of roasted nuts, breadiness, light oak, leather, and cream.

The strength builds towards a solid-medium, bordering on medium-full as it progresses, though the flavors don’t change much. There is a slightly sour edge that particularly lingers on the finish.

While it’s an excellent cigar, it might suffer from the obvious comparison to other Illusione cigars. For my tastes, it isn’t as refined as the Epernay, Fume d’Amour, or the most recent Singulare. But don’t let that high bar fool you. With sneaky flavor, complexity, and good construction, plus the potential to get better with more age, the Illusione ~eccj~ 20th earns a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys