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Tip: Father’s Day Gift Guide 2016

25 May 2016

Fathers Day Gifts

Father’s Day is less than a month out, and chances are you’re still looking for a gift for pops. If your father happens to enjoy his cigars (or whiskey), here are some suggestions you can have ready for dad to open on June 19th:

Cigars

Giving the gift of cigars is not as easy as it sounds. Personal preferences can be finicky and there are so many cigars to choose from. Ideally, you’re giving him a cigar he wouldn’t usually buy for himself. (Think a Padrón Anniversary or a Fuente Opus X if he usually smokes standard-issue Padróns or Fuentes, respectively.) For more ideas, read our Guide to Giving the Gift of Cigars. One specific suggestion always worth considering is a Cigar Rights of America (CRA) sampler, which includes ten high-end cigars plus a free membership in CRA.

Cigar Accessories

Every cigar enthusiast needs a great table lighter, travel lighter, cutter, ashtray, travel case, humidor, etc. Instead of buying cigars, think about giving the gift of a cigar accessory that can last a lifetime. Many regular cigar smokers I know won’t spring for a nice case or lighter, so it makes the perfect gift. Lately, I’ve really been appreciating this Lotus triple-flame lighter and my Stingray Skin Tampa Fuego case.

Whiskey

There are lots of good bourbons being made these days, but some old standbys are becoming harder and harder to find. Sure, who wouldn’t want a bottle of Pappy as a gift? But the increasingly exorbitant prices you’d pay ($1,000+ for a 20 Year Pappy) make it hard to justify. One good bourbon you can still find with relative ease is the nine-year-old Knob Creek Small Batch (~$32). Full of caramel, oak, and a little spice, it is a bourbon novices and connoisseurs alike can enjoy. For rye fans, the new Pikesville Six Year Rye is a full 110-proof flavor bomb. Any single malt fan would appreciate Glendronach 15 which, although it has been discontinued, can still be found and is the closest thing to Macallan 18 available for under $100.

A Good Book

A good book is always appreciated. If you are looking for a specific recommendation, you could do worse than The Cigar: Moments of Pleasure, an informative and visually appealing coffee table book. In his recent review of the book, my colleague wrote: “Spectacular. That is the only word I can think of to adequately describe this large-format, colorful book that explores every imaginable facet of cigars.”

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Curivari Buena Ventura BV 500

22 May 2016

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’ve long touted Curivari Buenaventura as an excellent cigar for the value. The Nicaraguan puro’s understated, classic appearance fits the sub-$5 price tag, but don’t mistake that as an accurate proxy for quality. Excellent construction aids  the delivery of a balanced combination of medium-bodied flavors: cocoa, espresso, cedar, oak, and earth. This reasonably priced gem is a little hard to find but well worth seeking out.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Tatuaje Black Cazadores

15 May 2016

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.”illusione-singulare-2014-sq

Tatuaje-Black

Earlier this year, Tatuaje’s Pete Johnson announced the Black line would be expanded to five sizes, all in similar 20-count flip-top boxes. One of the new sizes is Cazadores (6.4 x 43), which is one of my favorite sizes in the original Brown line, so I was interested how it smoked with the Black blend. I found a pleasant combination of bread and cedar, along with a honey sweetness and just a hint of pepper. The cigar starts off medium-bodied but bumps up to medium-full as it progresses. The new sizes of Tatuaje Black are just hitting stores this month. If you enjoyed the original offerings, the Cazadores is well worth seeking out.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: FDA Misleading Public About Cigars and Youth

11 May 2016

FDA-cigars-large

There is no getting around the fact that the final FDA rule released last week is a nightmare for premium handmade cigars.

Although premium cigars represent just 2.1% percent of all cigars smoked in the United States (according to the FDA, 300 million of the 14 billion total cigars sold), the vibrant creativity that has come to represent this small handmade portion of the cigar market will be hit with the overwhelming burden of complying with rules that require FDA approval for every cigar not on the market before February 15, 2007.

Within each brand, every size of that blend that was introduced after that date will have to apply for FDA approval, or be off the market, by August 2018. So literally thousands of blends would have to apply, something no one (including the FDA) expects to happen.

In its public statements regarding the rule and within the 499-page rule itself, the FDA repeatedly alludes to the need to regulate cigars to protect children. But a closer look shows the facts don’t support the claim. In fact, at least one of the statements the FDA told the public about this is demonstrably false.

FDA Misstates Current Law

In its press announcement of the new rule, the FDA made the following statement: “Before today, there was no federal law prohibiting retailers from selling e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, or cigars to people under age 18.”

This claim struck me as odd, at least in respect to cigars, so I asked an FDA spokesman for clarification. Despite multiple emails back and forth, I never got a substantive answer to my question: Does the FDA know of anywhere in the U.S. where the sale of cigars to minors (under 18) was not already illegal?

At one point in the exchange, I was referred to the “CDC [Center for Disease Control] or a group like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids,” which seemed strange given that the FDA had just designated itself the chief regulator of cigars.

Despite that, I asked both groups that the FDA referred me to. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids confirmed that every state prohibits sales to minors (and that Alabama currently also prohibits sales to those age 19). The CDC spokesman made it even more clear that the FDA was wrong in its announcement that prior to these rules federal law did not prohibit sales of cigars to minors.

The CDC spokesman wrote the following back to me: “In response to your question about selling tobacco products to persons under the age of 18. The federal minimum age of sale for tobacco products is 18. States are free to make it higher, but not lower.”

In other words, the federal agency that the FDA referred me to directly contradicted the statement put out by the FDA. Of course, by then the FDA’s misstatement had already been repeated in numerous news accounts of the new regulation.

FDA Cites 29-Year-Old Adults as Evidence of Youth Usage

But the FDA’s deception on this issue doesn’t end there. Within the rules, especially in the justification for not exempting premium cigars, the FDA repeatedly conflates underage use of cigars with choices made by adults.

The final FDA rule repeatedly uses the phrase “youth and young adult(s),” 56 times to be exact, within the rule. So I asked the FDA how they defined young adults and “what would be the oldest a person could be and still be considered a ‘young adult’ by the FDA?”

I was told “young adults” and other references to age groups depended on the specific studies being cited. A look at those studies show that some used 25 while others used 29 as the upper limit for “young adults.”

So while the FDA is using the age-old justification that their rules are necessary “for the children,” the fact is they are citing studies about the choices made by 29-year-old adults, men and women who could have legally served in the U.S. military for over a decade, to do it.

New Rule Really About Restricting the Choices of Adults

At other times, the FDA drops the pretense of the regulations being about youth access all together. At one point in the rule (page 178), the FDA states that it agrees with the proposition that if premium cigars are exempt from the rule, “the current population of premium cigar users would be left unprotected, potentially decreasing the likelihood that they would quit.”

Further, in the FDA’s announcement, a quote from Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell specifically states that the aim of the rule goes far beyond children: “Today’s announcement is an important step in the fight for a tobacco-free generation.” So if anyone had any doubts that the FDA wants to totally eliminate tobacco, that statement by a cabinet-level appointee should erase them.

The irony is, even if the new rules were actually designed just to restrict use by minors, the grandfather date set by the legislation that empowered the FDA to regulate cigars means that, barring a sweeping act from Congress, there will always be pre-2007, non-FDA regulated tobacco products out there for lawbreaking minors to find ways to illegally acquire. Better enforcement of laws already on the books might fix that, but the regulations announced last week won’t.

Meanwhile, thousands of premium handmade cigars will be wiped off the market in just over two years, serving no purpose except to restrict the choices available to the adults who choose to enjoy them.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Illusione Singulare LE 2014 Anunnaki

8 May 2016

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.”illusione-singulare-2014-sq

illusionesingulare-2014

I was a big fan of the Illusione Singulare 2014 when it first came out—it earned a rare five-stogie rating—so I wanted to see how it has aged. The annual release, which came out in late 2014, is a 5.5-inch, 54-ring gauge Nicaraguan puro with a Corojo ’99 wrapper (the same wrapper as the Illusione Epernay) over dual binders of Jalapa Criollo ’98 and Estelí Corojo ’99. The cigar burns flawlessly producing dense smoke with toast, cedar, and creaminess, although more cedar and less cream than I remembered. I’m not sure it’s any better than when I first smoked it, but the Anunnaki is still very enjoyable.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Bulleit Barrel Strength Bourbon

4 May 2016

Bulleit-Barrel-Strength

I’ve long held the opinion that the standard Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit Rye are great everyday spirits for the price, which can be as low as $19. Bulleit’s 10 Year Bourbon offering is a tasty one, too, especially if you can find it for around $35. (In my home state of Virginia it’s closer to $50; in nearby Maryland I can find it for as low as $33 on sale, which makes it a real steal.)

Recently, Bulleit added a barrel-strength offering to its portfolio. The exact strength varies by batch from between 118- and 125-proof. The sample I received from Bulleit weighs in at 119.2-proof (59.6% ABV). Currently, it is being sold in Kentucky only (MSRP is $50 for a 750 ml. bottle and $30 for the 375 ml. bottle). It wouldn’t surprise me if this rolls out nationally, though, especially given its largely favorable response.

While the bourbon is bottled at the famous Stitzel Weller Distillery in Louisville, that isn’t where it was distilled. For many years, Four Roses distilled Bulleit bourbon on contract. That arrangement ceased over a year ago. Bulleit is currently building a new distillery, which is set to open before the end of the year. Still, while it isn’t disclosed (and reports are that Bulleit’s parent company has purchased distillate bourbon from other distilleries), in all likelihood this is from the stocks distilled at Four Roses.

The deep amber bourbon features a robust nose with sweet wood, pie crust, and just a hint of heat generated by the high proof. On the palate, Bulleit Barrel Proof features oak, cedar spice, cherry, butterscotch, and some barrel char. The finish includes caramel and vanilla with more spice and char.

Bulleit Barrel Strength doesn’t carry an age statement (except for being labeled as a straight Kentucky bourbon, which means it is at least four years old). That said, Bulleit is owned by liquor giant Diageo, which means it has the financial backing to patiently age barrels without the pressure to bottle too early. It shows. This is a very nice addition to the line and one that fans of barrel-proof bourbons will want to seek out.

The spirit pairs naturally with a full-bodied cigar. Suggested pairings include Liga Privada Dirty RatLa Flor Dominicana Limitado VArturo Fuente Opus X, and Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu. Hopefully not a Kentucky-only release for too long, Bulleit Barrel Strength delivers a rich blast of sweetness, wood, and spice that you’d expect from a properly-aged barrel-proof bourbon.

Patrick S

photo credit: Bulleit

Quick Smoke: La Flor Dominicana La Nox

24 Apr 2016

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.”

La-Nox

This 2015 release from La Flor Dominicana features a Brazilian wrapper, Mexican binder, and Dominican fillers. Nox means “night” in Latin, and with a dark wrapper and deep flavors the moniker is fitting. The Toro (6.5 x 50) produces burnt hickory, licorice, and roast nut notes. Some sweetness kicks in towards the final third. La Nox begins full-bodied, though it mellows slightly to a more medium profile. Rich flavors and excellent construction make this easy to recommend.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys