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Quick Smoke: Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor

16 Jul 2020

From time to time we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust makes a variety of well-reviewed, sought-after cigars. On the ultra-premium end is Muestra de Saka, a series of one-off cigars, each with its own size and blend packaged individually in coffin boxes. The latest, Muestra de Saka Unstolen Valor, is the first not to be made at the Joya de Nicaragua factory. Blended by Raul Disla and made at the Nicaragua American Cigars S.A. factory, it’s a Nicaraguan puro. After an initial burst of black pepper, the toro boasts flavors of earth, leather, and a hearty meatiness reminiscent of grilled lamb. It’s a medium- to full-bodied blend with loads of complementary sweet cedar and cinnamon, but never losing that spicy, oaky edge. It has flawless construction with a firm but not overly tight draw and an ash that holds for well over an inch (before I, not the cigar, decided that was enough). You should expect a lot from a cigar that costs over $16. Unstolen Valor delivers.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Five Classic Summer Rum Drinks

8 Jul 2020

Summer may be in full swing, but it isn’t too late to whip up a summer cocktail. And while I’m usually partial to whiskey, nothing says summer like a drink with rum. Something about the result of distilled molasses has just the right combination of sweetness and bite. I find the occasional over-the-top umbrella rum cocktail—like a mai tai, piña colada, or rum punch—have to have too much sweetness to pair well with a smoke (though the classic Daiquirí, as opposed to the overly sweet frozen version, is excellent). So here are five classic rum drinks that work  fantastically with a cigar:

rums5) Mount Gay Tonic — Want a fresh drink that’s perfect for a warm afternoon? Mount Gay Tonic is the answer. Mix rum and tonic water in nearly equal parts, serve over ice with a lime, and you’ll end up with a versatile and invigorating drink that’s a suitable pairing for most medium-bodied smokes.

4) Dark ‘n Stormy — Made with Goslings rum and tangy ginger beer, this concoction mixes one part dark rum with two parts ginger beer, ideally Barritts. Known as the official drink of Burmuda, you’ll need a full-flavored cigar to stand up to its spice.

3) Cuba Libre — You can just call it a rum and Coke, but when you’re pairing it with a cigar “cuba libre” seems so much more fitting.  (The pairing is so fitting that Nestor Plasencia named a cigar Cuba Libre.) I recommend a spiced rum and pairing it with a spicy Cameroon-wrapped cigar.

2) Mojito — For my money it’s hard to beat a mojito: mint, rum, lime, sugar, and a splash of soda water blended perfectly into a refreshing beverage. Enjoy it with a mild- to medium-bodied smoke, preferably a creamy stick with a Connecticut wrapper.

1) Straight Up or On the Rocks — As well as rums blend with other beverages, it’s easy to forget that the best way to taste a fine rum is straight up or on the rocks. Fine rums offer as much intensity as a fine scotch or bourbon, and only unaccompanied will you be able to discern all the complexity of a well-aged spirit. Each will require it’s own cigar pairing, but with such flavors as honey, banana peel, oak, cedar, and pepper, there are more than enough flavors to pair with a fine smoke.

So there you have it, my favorite rum drinks to accompany a fine cigar. Think I missed one? Let us know in the comments.

Patrick S

photo credit: Wikimedia

Quick Smoke: Villiger do Brasil Maduro Robusto

18 Jun 2020

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

One of two Brazilian puros introduced by Villiger earlier this year, the Maduro blend (which retails for $9) features a splotchy Aripiraca wrapper, while the other (Claro) sports a Brazilian-grown Connecticut-seed wrapper. The cigar opens with sweet vanilla bean and coffee, but soon is dominated by heavy leather, coffee, and woody notes. It’s an enjoyable and complex, if at times unbalanced, smoke.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: Growing Evidence Suggests Tobacco May Play a ‘Protective’ Role Against Covid-19

27 Apr 2020

There is so much we don’t know about SARS-CoV-2, the Coronavirus currently threatening global health and the world economy. But perhaps one of the more surprising stories emerging from this massively disruptive virus is the growing evidence that tobacco use might be a factor in preventing transmission of Covid-19.

The cigar industry, like so many industries, has been massively impacted. Many factories have paused operations. In some states, cigar shops have been deemed “non-essential” and shut down, while elsewhere they continue to operate with new social distancing policies. Whether completely shut down or just limited, cigar shops are at serious risk of not surviving. Meanwhile, in response to the crisis, the federal government has delayed FDA filing and tobacco tax deadlines.

Early on as the virus was spreading, the assumption was smokers and former smokers (especially of cigarettes) were at higher risk of catching the virus, due to its transmission through the respiratory system. Anti-smoking activists were quick to cite the virus as a reason for more government policies limiting access of adults to tobacco. The World Health Organization made similar arguments.

Anti-smoking “zealot” Stanton A. Glantz (whose propensity to draw sweeping conclusions from limited statistics has been documented) even claimed, “the odds of disease progression (including to death) were 14 times higher among people with a history of smoking compared to those who did not smoke… the strongest risk factor among those examined.” That claim has since apparently been stealth edited out of the original article, but remains quoted in articles about it, including one specifically arguing Coronavirus meant it was time to quit cigars.

The since walked-back “14 times higher” claim (which was also pushed by the British Government) was actually based on a Chinese study with a sample size consisting of five total smokers (see above). This is a sample so small any serious scientist would never rely on it, certainly not to make such sweeping claims. Needless to say, those of us who have been following this issue for awhile aren’t surprised to find government agencies twisting statistics to push their anti-tobacco agenda.

Experts: Tobacco May Play a ‘Protective’ Role Against Covid-19

What is truly remarkable is the mounting evidence that smoking makes smokers (and, to a lesser extent, ex-smokers) specifically less susceptible to the virus. Contrary to the cherry-picked conclusions pushed by anti-tobacco activists, every week more evidence seems to emerge that bolsters the conclusion that tobacco protects smokers from Covid-19.

Author Christopher Snowdon (who has written books exposing the exaggerated claims of anti-smoking activists) recently summarized the ever-expanding evidence:

In [China] where 27 per cent of adults smoke, only 6.4 per cent of the Covid-19 cases were smokers. This was not a fluke finding. Awkwardly for the anti-smoking lobby, smokers have been strangely under-represented in all the studies for which smoking prevalence data is available. They made up just 1.4 per cent of the cases in Zhang et al, 6.7 per cent in Wan et al, 3.9 per cent in Mo et al, seven per cent in Huang et al, nine per cent in Dong et al, 10 per cent of cases in Yang et al, 1.9 per cent in Guan et al, six per cent in Zhou et al, and 6.4 per cent in Liu et al. In Shi et al, only 8.2 per cent of cases had any smoking history [current or former smokers]. 

Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos of the University of Patras in Greece noticed this phenomenon early on and put a preliminary study online in late March. It noted the ‘unusually low prevalence of current smoking was observed among hospitalised Covid-19 patients’, which ‘does not support the argument that current smoking is a risk factor for hospitalisation for Covid-19, and might suggest a protective role’. 

A few days earlier, a group of doctors from the Royal Glamorgan Hospital had written to the British Medical Journal to point out that nicotine protects against the kind of acute inflammatory reactions seen in Covid patients and that ‘the simple use of nicotine patches should be urgently considered and discussed.’ Nobody paid much attention, but evidence supporting the smoking hypothesis continued to slip out. 

On 3 April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control published data on thousands of American Covid-19 cases. Once again, the proportion of smokers was tiny – just 1.3 per cent [versus 14% who smoke]. Even ex-smokers were significantly under-represented (2.3 per cent).

The most comprehensive epidemiological study appeared a week later. Based on data from 4,103 Covid patients in New York City, a team of researchers found that a history of smoking was associated with a 29 per cent reduction in risk of being hospitalised with Covid-19 and, contrary to the claims of Public Health England, smokers were no more likely to become critically ill with the disease if they were admitted. The authors would have found an even sharper reduction in risk for current smokers if they had split them up from ex-smokers in their analysis, but even the findings as published were striking. 

This week, a group of French academics published their study of 343 Covid patients, of whom only 4.4 per cent were daily smokers. According to the authors, the study ‘strongly suggests that daily smokers have a very much lower probability of developing symptomatic or severe SARS-CoV-2 infection as compared to the general population.’

Pause a second to consider some of those quotes from medical experts (emphasis added):

“[The study] strongly suggests that daily smokers have a very much lower probability of developing symptomatic or severe SARS-CoV-2 infection as compared to the general population.”

“[The] unusually low prevalence of current smoking was observed among hospitalised Covid-19 patients… does not support the argument that current smoking is a risk factor for hospitalisation for Covid-19, and might suggest a protective role.”

There are, of course, many unanswered questions about the reason for the apparent link between smoking and lower rates of symptomatic Covid-19. Still, it’s enough that French researchers have already initiated a study consisting of handing out nicotine patches to frontline medical workers and Coronavirus patients:

Nicotine could protect people from contracting the coronavirus, according to new research in France, where further trials are planned to test whether the substance could be used to prevent or treat the deadly illness. The findings come after researchers at a top Paris hospital examined 343 Coronavirus patients along with 139 people infected with the illness with milder symptoms.

They found that a low number of them smoked, compared to smoking rates of around 35 percent in France’s general population. “Among these patients, only five percent were smokers,” said Zahir Amoura, the study’s co-author and a professor of internal medicine.

The research echoed similar findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month that suggested that 12.6 percent of 1,000 people infected in China were smokers. That was a much lower figure than the number of regular smokers in China’s general population, about 26 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The theory is that nicotine could adhere to cell receptors, therefore blocking the virus from entering cells and spreading in the body, according to renown neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux from France’s Pasteur Institut, who also co-authored the study.

To be clear, we still know very little about Covid-19, which is part of the reason it remains such a serious threat. And as we scramble to treat it and prevent it, we know even less about the long-term impact of the deadly virus. (Certainly no medical experts are currently recommending people take up smoking to prevent Coronavirus.)

Among other considerations while digesting this data is that all tobacco use isn’t the same. Cigarettes are normally inhaled into the lungs, while cigars are not when used as intended. Any study of smokers or former smokers is statistically going to overwhelmingly be of cigarette smokers, not those who smoke the handmade cigars that are the longstanding focus at this website. And, of course, there are other risks associated with smoking (to differing degrees for different types of smokers), just as there are risks with any activity.

None of which diminishes the fact that it looks more and more likely that tobacco may be part of the solution, not part of the problem, when it comes to Coronavirus. In fact, one major tobacco company is already claiming to have found a tobacco-based breakthrough in the production of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The fact that the statistics are glaring enough that researchers are not only acknowledging smoking’s apparent preventative impact but are looking to nicotine to develop both preventative and treatment options, suggests this is not some random statistical anomaly.

Patrick S

photo credit: Phil Kerpen/CMJ

Cigar Tip: Five Green Cigars for St. Patrick’s Day

17 Mar 2020

I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge fan of green-colored candela cigars. For the most part, I smoke them for the same reason I drink green beer: Because it’s fun once a year. That’s why, even in light of events that mean not many of us are enjoying big St. Patrick’s Day parties, I’m updating our list of St. Patrick’s Day smokes.

It’s not that candela cigars are bad. It’s just that I’ve yet to find a candela that’s better than the same blend with a traditional wrapper (and the cigars below are no exception). That’s probably why candela cigars make up a fraction of one percent of the premium cigar market, and a proportional percentage of my cigar purchases.

And yet it wasn’t always that way. Green candela wrappers were once very popular with American cigar smokers. So much so that candela wrapper leafs—which go through a special quick and hot fermentation process that locks in the green color—were once known as “American Market Selection,” as opposed to more traditional brown “English Market Selection” wrappers.

If you’re thinking about trying a candela, St. Patrick’s Day is as good a time to take the plunge. To that end, here’s a quick rundown of some of the green cigars available:

Black Market Filthy Hooligan by Alec Bradley — First released last year, it’s back with a wrapper that’s a year older. It features the same blend as the regular Black Market (Panamanian and Honduran filler with a Sumatra binder) coupled with a candela wrapper. If you like the regular Black Market cigar, this is your best bet.

Illusione Candela — Illusione makes it’s original blend (Nicaraguan binder and filler) with candela in a few sizes. Back in 2011 when it first came out, we found the 88 size to be a pleasant smoke with tea and plenty of sweet flavors, and lacking the bitterness that sometimes characterizes candela cigars.

Viaje WLP St. Patrick’s Day — I smoked a few of the 2012 edition, which features the brightest candela wrapper I’ve ever seen, and found that it equaled the Illusione as my favorite candela. It also has the brightest green wrapper of the bunch.

Don Tomás Candela — My colleague reviewed this candela with some skepticism when the company claimed it was the result of three bales of candela wrappers that had been “lost” for 18 years. Ultimately, though, he found it to be a “respectable” smoke with enjoyable flavors, even if it wasn’t destined to be a regular in his rotation.

Fuente 8-5-8 Candela — Fuente’s regular line is known for smooth, mild flavors produced by Dominican binder and filler tobaccos. I smoked one of these with a candela wrapper a few years back and recall just that: a mild, balanced smoke with a hint of classic grassy candela flavors.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: RoMa Craft CroMagnon EMH “Don Bosco” Limited Edition

25 Feb 2020

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

The limited edition CroMagnon EMH “Don Bosco” is made for the Northern Virginia-based Old Virginia Tobacco Co. The cigar features a barber poll dual wrapper with Ecuadorian Connecticut candela and U.S.-grown Connecticut Broadleaf, which surrounds the standard CroMagnon blend (Cameroon binder and Nicaraguan filler). The large robusto-shaped EMH features full-bodied flavors of rich earth and roast nuts with black and green peppercorn spice. The $10 cigar is well-constructed with an open draw and even burn. It’s strongly recommended if you can find one.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Rhum J.M. V.S.O.P.

10 Feb 2020

Rum is available in a wide variety of styles. The lack of strict rules (like those of bourbon, rye, single malt, etc…) make rum a Wild West, for both better and worse. Pure Bahamian rums, funky Jamaican rums, sugar-added dark rums, distilled in pot stills or column stills or both, spiced rums, aged in the tropics or Europe… they’re all rum, as long as they are distilled from one form or another of sugar.

Rhum agricole is the style associated with French Caribbean islands. It is distilled from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, rather than the more frequently used molasses. Rhum J.M. is made in Martinique, and the V.S.O.P. offering is “created by aging rhum 3 years in re-charred bourbon barrels and finishing the rhum an additional year in lightly toasted new American oak barrels and finally reduced to 43% ABV with pure volcanic spring water from Habitation Bellevue.”

The $50 bottle (750 ml.) features a spirit that is light amber in color with a nose of fresh popcorn, red berries, and baking spices. Flavors include butterscotch, fresh sugar cane, custard, rubber, and banana.

It has a notably velvety mouthfeel and excellent balance. The finish is long and rich with nougat and candied apple sweetness.

I suppose you could use it in cocktail (I’m sure it would be excellent in a daiquiri) but, honestly, that would be a waste of a spirit that is best enjoyed neat. It’s a fine example of aged rhum agricole, worth seeking out (it can be a little tricky to find) for all fans of aged rum, especially for those looking to go beyond the molasses-derived offerings that usually make up the higher end of most run bars’ offerings.

Pair it with a balanced medium-bodied cigar. Suggested pairings include Cabaiguan, Davidoff Colorado Claro, El Güegüense, and the Cuban Romeo y Julieta Short Churchill.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys