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Commentary: Don’t Lose Sight of Principle in Smoking Ban Fights

29 Jan 2015

The cigar smokers of Nebraska are coming together with national cigar organizations to fix the cigar bar issue in Nebraska. A new bill is moving forward that should address the state law that led a court to eliminate the exemption for cigar bars.

The Nebraska Supreme Court found the exemptions violated the state’s prohibition on special legislation, or laws that are not equally applied in pursuit of the law’s stated goal. The court found that since the law’s goal was to protect employees from secondhand smoke, there was no reason why it shouldn’t also “protect” cigar bar employees.

Now common sense says cigar bar employees are fully aware that they would be working around cigar smoke, plus their job won’t exist very long if a cigar bar can’t let patrons smoke. So it certainly will be a good thing when the Nebraska legislature amends their law so their intention to exempt cigar bars will survive any legal challenges.

Still, I can’t help but feeling that there are lessons to be learned from this episode.

While the result—banning smoking in cigar bars—may have seemed odd, the court wasn’t totally wrong when it said if the only goal of the ban was to protect employees from second hand smoke, then there is no reason for any exemptions. In fact, there’s a level of consistency to a blunt, across-the-board ban.

Once you’ve conceded the premise that government should be protecting workers from making their own decision about whether to work in a place that allows smoke, there isn’t a logical reason for that paternalism to stop when it comes to places whose business model is catering to cigar smokers. If restaurants and bars are included, why not cigar lounges? Why not cigar shops?

It’s important to make a principled stand against smoking bans. After all, they strip adults from making the choice to be around tobacco, which is after all a 100% legal product. If the owner of a furniture store wants to allow smoking, and consumers and workers choose to be there, that should be their right. If that sounds like a dumb idea to you, well that’s what the free market is for: to allow businesses to succeed or fail based on their ability to attract customers.

None of which is to say that exemptions for cigar shops, cigar bars, and other places aren’t important; those exemptions limit the damage done by smoking bans, which can destroy businesses and jobs. But when a smoking ban passes with certain exemptions, remember it isn’t a victory for cigar rights—just slightly less of a defeat.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Hudson Maple Cask Rye Whiskey

28 Jan 2015


I’ve written before about aging whiskey in small barrels and the theories behind it. Some say it’s a shortcut to make a young whiskey taste like fine, well-aged whiskey, while others say it only makes lousy whiskey. As I’ve stated before, my feeling is the practice mostly produces a different kind of whiskey, very different but not necessarily lesser.

Tuthilltown Distillery, which makes the Hudson line, is certainly a believer in the mini-barrel aging method, as all their products are stored in 3-10 gallon barrels for “less than four years,” though they don’t disclose how much less. (I wrote about their Baby Bourbon and Four Grain Bourbon years ago.) Interestingly, the increasingly common practice of labeling young whiskey “less than four years old” will no longer fly under new federal labeling guidelines, meaning that an actual affirmative age statement will soon be necessary.

For this “limited edition” rye (word is it will become an annual release), Tuthilltown took its Hudson Manhattan Rye and finished it in casks that had previously been used to age maple syrup. The result is a 92-proof finished rye that sells for around $55 for a 375 ml. bottle (half the size of a traditional bottle).

Whether it’s the maple or the mini casks, the Hudson Maple Rye features an inviting rich copper color. The nose definitely has a added hint of maple on top of oak and wood spice.

But on the palate the youth shows. The woodiness is an astringent oak flavor that overwhelms more inviting notes of maple, maltiness, pear, and cocoa. The finish shows more young oak and maple.

I think a Mexican-wrapped cigar is ideal for this rye, as it has a similar quality of full flavor with a slightly harsh edge. The Illusione *R* Rothchildes is an excellent choice, especially with its value price.

Ultimately, it’s hard to recommend Hudson Maple Cask Rye to all but the most committed collector, mostly because the price and the harshness due to its youth. Still, one thing I really appreciate about this whiskey is the natural way Hudson handled adding a maple flavor, at a time when more sketchy, artificial methods of flavoring are becoming increasingly common.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Señor Rio Diamanté

25 Jan 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.”senor-rio-diamante-sq


This week I reviewed the Señor Rio Añejo and in the process I also smoked theDiamanté (which I reviewed in October) to compare and contrast the two cigar offerings from Jalisco International Imports. Of the two, Diamanté is the more balanced and well-rounded smoke, while Añejo is bolder and stronger. Diamanté features coffee flavors, bready notes, and a slight pepper spice, all in a small, odd shape (5 x 40). Particularly if you are a fan of A.J. Fernendez’s cigars (he helped blend and make Señor Rio), this is worth picking up.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Señor Rio Añejo

22 Jan 2015

senor-rio-anejoIn October, I wrote about the new Señor Rio Diamanté, introduced by Jalisco International Imports, which owns and distributes Señor Rio tequila. The Diamanté was one of two cigars created by company co-founders Jonathan Gach and Debbie Medina.

Both are cigar smokers, and each created a cigar tailored to their tastes while visiting Nicaragua. The Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped Diamanté was Medina’s selection, while the Añejo was created for Gach’s tastes.

The Señor Rio Añejo has a Mexican wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos from the Condega, Estelí, and Pueblo Nuevo regions. Like the Señor Rio Diamanté, the Señor Rio Añejo is made by A.J. Fernandez at his Tabacelera Fernandez factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

The Añejo comes in one size, a box-pressed toro (6 x 52) that sells for $9.99. I smoked four samples provided to me by Jalisco for this review.

From the start, the influence of the Mexican wrapper is evident. There’s dry notes of dark char, oak, and black coffee. As it progresses the flavors become more complex with damp earth, leather, and a slightly syrupy sweetness. There’s also some red pepper notes that hit on the lips.

From start to finish the dryness of this cigar is its most notable trait. The solidly constructed cigar leaves a layer of chalky, dense smoke on the palate.

While not the most balanced cigar, it’s a cigar with a distinct character, which I’ll take every time over a smooth but dull smoke. And the Añejo’s profile does indeed pair well with Señor Rio Añejo tequila, whose sweet honey, light oak, and fruit flavors contrast brightly but nicely.

Señor Rio has created two distinct, interesting cigars. And while I personally prefer the more subtle and complex Diamanté, the Señor Rio Añejo still earns a commendable rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet 22 Year Old Bourbon

20 Jan 2015

Bourbon is getting increasingly popular, especially well-aged bourbon. The problem is, you can’t just whip up a batch of well-aged bourbon. It takes time. Literally decades.

Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet BourbonAnd yet many of the most sought-after bourbons are those of the extra-aged variety: Pappy Van Winkle 20 and 23, George T. Stagg, Eagle Rare 17, William Larue Weller, and Elijah Craig 20-22. While the suggested pricing of these bottles varies, unless you get lucky you can expect to pay hundreds of dollars for each of these limited offerings.

With that as the background, whiskey giant Diageo (they own Bulleit and George Dickel, plus numerous well-known scotch brands) introduced its Orphan Barrel line of 20+ year old whiskeys that were acquired, one might speculate, from its purchases of Shenley and the closed Stizel-Weller distillery. The first three released Orphan Barrel bourbons were Old Blowhard (26 years old), Barterhouse 20, and Rhetoric 20. (For the record, my favorite of the three is Rhetoric.)

There are lots of details and debate about the Orphan Barrel series bourbons, but one detail that caught my eye about Lost Prophet is that it was distilled at the George T. Stagg Distillery (now renamed Buffalo Trace). According to Whiskey Advocate, it was distilled with the same “high rye” mashbill as Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee, two favorite bourbons of mine.

Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet 22 Year Old Bourbon is a deep copper color that shows the age of the 90.1-proof Kentucky bourbon. The nose is rich with baking spices, wood, and hints of caramel, though you wouldn’t necessarily assume it’s an extra aged bourbon.

On the palate it really flexes its maturity. There’s intense oak, clove spice, vanilla, and leather. It’s got the woodiness that demonstrates its years, but isn’t as cloying as the previous Orphan bourbons.The spicy finish fades quickly on the roof of your mouth, but lingers on the back of the tongue.

The bourbon’s traditional proof and finesse mean you don’t want an overly bold cigar. I recently reviewed the Illusione Fume d’Amour, and it’s just he kind of cigar you’d want with Lost Prophet: flavorful yet not full-bodied.

Judging a $120 bottle of bourbon can be tough, especially when there are so many fine bourbons available, many for around $30. Still, Lost Prophet has a lot going for it as an excellent representation of why people seek out extra-aged bourbon. It just came out so there’s actually a chance of finding it on shelves right now. If this sounds good to you, move quickly.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Illusione Fume d’Amour Viejos

15 Jan 2015

Dion Giolito, the man behind the Illusione brand, has fastidiously resisted the cigar industry trend to add new cigar lines annually. Many years at the industry trade show his booth seems purposely quiet, as if he intends to let his Illusione cigars do the talking.fume-d-amour-sq

fume-d-amour One result of his resisting the temptation to always come out with something new is that when a new Illusione cigar is finally released, it’s worth an extra good look. Which is why I eagerly awaited Illusione’s new Fume d’Amour line.

Fume d’Amour  comes in four sizes—at least for now—ranging from petit corona to large toro: Lagunas (4.5 x 42), Clementes (6.5 x 48), Viejos (5 x 50), and Capristanos (6 x 56). For this review I smoked four of the robusto-sized Viejo vitola.

Fume d’Amour is a Nicaraguan puro made at the TABSA Factory in Jalapa, Nicaragua, with Aganorsa tobaccos. While the blend is based on the original Illusione line, it also shares something in common with the Epernay blend: a lack of any ligero leaf.

The result is a cigar that tastes like a hybrid. It’s more powerful than the Epernay, but not as spicy as the original Illusione core blend. Still excellent. The flavors are a whirlwind combination of dry woodiness, hay, roast nuts, light honey, and maybe a hint of muted black pepper. The cigar starts off medium-bodied but slowly ramps up to a more medium-full profile.

It doesn’t have the elegance of the Illusione Epernay, which is still my favorite Illusione line, but that’s a matter of personal preference and not any criticism of the composition of Fume d’Amore, which is as complex and well-rounded, just punched in body and strength.

The Fume d’Amour line can certainly be considered one of the best cigars introduced at the 2014 industry convention. The Fume d’Amour Viejos earns four and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Curivari Buenaventura BV 560

11 Jan 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.”

I don’t buy a lot of cigars by the box, but the Curivari Buenaventura is one I’ve been keeping on hand lately. The Nicaraguan puro is medium-bodied and especially well-balanced. It has subtle wood spice, cocoa, and earth. I’ve never had any issues with the construction. The quality to price ($5-6) ratio on this cigar makes it perfect for smoking yourself or handing out to either seasoned cigar smokers or novices.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys