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Commentary: My Personal Blend from Drew Estate’s Cigar Safari 2014

9 Jul 2014

I write this acutely aware that none of you (save for Patrick S) will ever get to try this cigar. In fact, right now I’m smoking the second-to-last of its kind. And the final specimen is resting comfortably in my humidor. It will almost assuredly be smoked by no one other than me, probably in the not-too-distant future with a serving of Four Roses Small Batch.

Cigar Safari 2014

But this is not a cigar review, and I’m definitely not doing this to brag. In the interest of cigar education—and for the benefit of those who have never had the opportunity to blend their own cigar—today I’m bringing you my findings from the blend I chose at Drew Estate’s 2014 Cigar Safari. Only ten of these cigars were made, nine of which I brought back from Nicaragua (the tenth was traded to my colleague for a sample of his blend).

For starters, I’d like to point out this is my third blend from Cigar Safari over the past several years. In each case I chose a different wrapper. I chronicled the results of my Connecticut Ecuador and Brazilian Mata Fina blends here.

Each time I’ve blended a cigar, the process has been similar. I’m presented with a menu of pre-selected, pre-fermented, aged tobaccos (so all the hard work is already done). They are organized by filler, binder, and wrapper. Based on the vitola format of my choosing, I’m told how many filler leaves I’ll need. And while barber poles and double-binders are certainly on the market these days, I’m instructed to select just one wrapper and one binder. I wrote more about this process here.

Fortunately, I don’t have to actually roll my cigars. I’m just selecting the tobaccos, and the professionals do all the actual craftsmanship. A cigar bunched or rolled by my own hands would be unsmokable. But, in true Drew Estate fashion, all of my samples exhibited perfect construction, including a solid ash, smooth draw, even burn, and good smoke production.

Here’s what I chose for the actual blend, for which I elected a Toro format (6 x 50):

• Cameroon wrapper

• Connecticut Habano binder (a leaf grown specifically for Drew Estate in Enfield)

• Four filler tobaccos in equal parts

o Seco Piloto Cubano from the Dominican Republic
o Viso Ometepe from the volcanic island in Nicaragua
o Ligero Estelí
o Ligero Jalapa grown specifically for Drew Estate

My intention was to create a spicy smoke with equal parts saltiness and sweetness. I was aiming for the medium-bodied spectrum, counting on sweetness from the wrapper, coupled with spice and strength from the binder. The Seco was added for its fruitiness and aroma, the Viso for its richness and texture, and the Ligero fillers for their power and sharpness.

Cigar Safari 2014 2

I’m really pleased with the result. The profile tastes of crème brûlée, cinnamon, cedar, black pepper, and coffee. The texture is coarse—almost sandy—and the finish is long and spicy. I’d say the strength is medium to medium-full. My only concern is a creeping sour meatiness that comes and goes if you smoke too quickly.

While I think this is by far my best effort to date, I’m not entertaining any delusions of Drew Estate putting it into regular production. That said, this was one of the most rewarding and educational exercises in my tenure of writing about and studying cigars, and I thank you for indulging my desire to write about the experience.

Tomorrow we’ll get back to writing about cigars you actually have a chance of smoking.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: What I Told the FDA

26 Jun 2014

FDA-cigars-large

Spurred by a recent article from one of my colleagues, I’ve submitted my comments to the FDA on its proposal to regulate cigars.

I tried to follow Patrick’s excellent advice, especially to be brief and focused. I’d add only one suggestion to his—sign your name. A signed comment is worth dozens of anonymous ones.

I took a somewhat different tack than most filers, focusing on suggestions that I believe could increase the likelihood of getting an exemption with minimal impact on the industry.

Since I shared my recent letter to the FDA’s tobacco czar, I thought I’d do the same with these comments:

I am an adult cigar smoker and fully support an FDA exemption for premium, hand-rolled cigars. I’ll let others enumerate the reasons this should be done. Instead, I’ll focus on three areas that I believe both sides could accept and that would facilitate reaching an agreement on an exemption.

- Enact a federal minimum age of 21 for purchasing premium, hand-rolled cigars. This would both demonstrate the industry’s sincerity that it does not market to underage youth and allay fears of tobacco opponents.

- Require officers and directors of cigar companies whose products are exempted to annually attest, under penalty of perjury, that their companies and products adhere to the requirements of the exemption.

- Ensure that the exemption is clear and unambiguous, and does not, under any circumstances, allow creation of other exempted products, such as lower-cost cigarette alternatives.

I do feel compelled to comment on one specific component of the proposal: the $10 price floor. This would be devastating, leaving an industry so diminished as to require no more regulation than luxury-priced dark chocolate truffles. I urge that rules be enacted without an impractical, ruinous price floor.

Thank you for your consideration.

I hope everyone will file their own comments. Feel free to copy, adapt, or use any portion of mine. Read through our (many) previous articles on the subject for other ideas and sources. But don’t miss the opportunity to register your views here.

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Book Review: Tobacco Sheds — Vanishing Treasurers in the Connecticut River Valley

17 Jun 2014

To put it simply, this is a terrific book.

Whether you’re interested in history, cigars, preservation, tobacciana, or rural life, you’ll find yourself enchanted and enlightened as you move through this oversize volume just published by Schiffer Publishing for $24.99.

One-Sheds

It will also likely sadden you a bit as you learn that these architectural treasures are rapidly vanishing from the landscape. Dale and Darcy Cahill, a pair of enthusiastic writers and photographers who have devoted themselves to documenting the sheds, estimate that more than 1,000 have been destroyed since their first volume on the subject was published in 2009.

This book uses a geographical theme to explore the sheds in words and roughly 250 photographs selected from about 7,000 frames. Beginning in Vermont and traveling the Connecticut River Valley south to Portland, Connecticut, the Cahills take readers on a marvelous journey.

Two - Sheds

In the book’s preface, cigar industry giant Carlito Fuente writes that “the tobacco barn stands tall, proud, and beautiful.” The Cahills describe it this way: “Whether standing inside or outside of a shed, a tobacco shed’s repetitive lines engage the eye” and the buildings themselves “evoke a sense of timelessness.”

In addition to the structures, Tobacco Sheds provides fascinating introductions to people such as Mrs. Prout in South Windsor, Connecticut, who is said to be “the first person to roll a cigar in the United States,” and artist Erika H. Zekos, who lit a tobacco shed from inside as a public art project in 2009 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Amherst, Massachusetts.

With the growing popularity of tourism to the cigar centers of Latin America, it seems an appropriate time to remember the reach and importance of cigar tobacco in the United States beyond Florida. And to do it not only with annual events, but by recognizing true artifacts.

This book is certainly a good way to do that. You should also check the Cahills’ website for other tobacco shed artwork, as well as their first book, Tobacco Sheds of the Connecticut River Valley. And StogieGuys.com will have more on the subject as well, with a interview of the Cahills and a contest you won’t want to miss.

-George E

photo credit: TobaccoSheds.com

Commentary: On the Matter of Gender Inequality in the World of Cigars

28 May 2014

On most Friday nights my mom and stepdad attend karaoke at a nearby bar, the Mercantile Club. While most bars no longer allow smoking, this is a social club where one has to sign up for membership, so they are able to smoke cigars in the bar.

There are some general rules to follow while doing this. First, it is considered impolite to sit next to someone who is eating while smoking your cigar. Second, it is generally considered better to sit near the big vents (the “smoke eaters”), as opposed to further away from them. Both of these guidelines make a lot of sense to me.

What doesn’t make sense is the reaction my mother got on a recent Friday. During karaoke, my stepdad was trying a new Dominican blend, attempting to find something to replace a stick which he recently found out was a limited release, and my mom smoked some of the cigar as well, saying she enjoyed the flavor. While my stepdad was away, a man lectured her on the dangers of smoking cigars, and told her she was “too pretty to be doing that anyway.” Let me make clear that I have smoked cigars in the Mercantile Club a number of times—many times with that same man in the bar—and I have never received this lecture.

Maybe a second anecdote will show my point a little clearer. I was in a large cigar store a few weeks ago just hanging out, smoking, reading, and minding my own business. A man, who I’ve never met, let alone ever said anything to, just taps me on the shoulder, points at the TV, and says, “Hey, check out the tits of that brawd.” I ignored him.

Why is it that as soon as one enters a cigar shop, they feel they have a free pass to talk about women in an objectifying manner? Or to treat women cigar smokers differently? While this is not true for everyone, I have a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest it is a prevalent problem. I noticed from working weekends at my cigar lounge that a lot of the older men think that our business is an “escape” for them from their wives, and this gives them an excuse to say anything they want.

Let’s get this straight: A cigar lounge is an environment for anyone, regardless of their gender, race, political affiliation, class, sexual identity, etc.

The fact that my mom had to ask me, “Is there something weird about me smoking a cigar?” disgusts me, and it should disgust anyone involved in this fine hobby. We’re better than this; cigar smokers are some of the best people around. And there is nothing about cigar smoking that makes it an exclusively “male” hobby. If a woman walks into a cigar shop, she should be treated just like anyone else: a customer. And we don’t need to assume, just based on gender, that she only likes mild cigars, or only smokes flavored cigars.

I won’t even get into the realm of borderline-sexist cigar advertisements (yes, we get it; a cigar is phallic in shape). I would just like cigar smokers to think about whether you would like to be coddled or objectified the next time you go to relax and enjoy a smoke.

As always, if any of you have similar stories to share, or thoughts on the matter, please let me know in the comments.

-Joey J

photo credit: N/A

Commentary: Celebrate Memorial Day by Sending Cigars to the Troops

26 May 2014

Memorial Day is a great for barbeque, relaxation, and smoking a few cigars with family and friends. It’s also an important day to remember the brave men and women who have fought and died for our country. So, if you have the day off, why not use some of the extra time to show your appreciation for the troops by sending them some cigars?

Cigars for Troops

We’ve written about donating cigars to the troops many times before. If you’ve never done it, today’s a great day to start. There are plenty of avenues, but we’d recommend Cigars for Warriors. “Our top priority is collecting then dispersing premium cigars and accessories to troops serving in combat zones, as well as filling requests from United States military personnel on Forces Afloat in Combat Zones,” reads the Cigars for Warriors website. “Our second priority is for long term deployments OCONUS in 3rd world environments and other appropriate Areas of Operations to be dealt with on a case by case basis. It is our way to honor, show respect, and thank those putting it all on the line for us back home. We have received requests from many soldiers who have no one here in the U.S. to send care packages to them, and would otherwise receive nothing.”

To get started, please click here. You can mail cigars, bring your cigars to a donation center, or make a cash donation. Thank you in advance for your support of this important cause.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: The FDA’s Unwarranted Targeting of ‘Flavored’ Handmade Cigars

22 May 2014

FDA-cigars-large

Hopefully cigar connoisseurs have woken up to the threat posed by impending FDA regulation of handmade cigars. If not, it can be summarized like this:

Given what we know about the FDA approval process, if new cigars are required to seek FDA approval before being sold, then effectively there will be no new handmade cigars introduced. When it comes to requiring that type of pre-approval, the FDA has proposed two options: (1) all cigars must get their pre-approval, or (2) the vast majority of cigars must get FDA pre-approval.

Under option two (as it’s referred to in the FDA’s deeming document), a small percentage of new cigars would become exempt by meeting an arbitrarily restrictive definition of “premium cigar.” When it comes to the FDA’s proposed definition, the $10 price floor for a cigar to be “premium” has gotten much attention because it’s so obviously ill-conceived.

Less attention has been paid to the second most problematic aspect of option two’s definition of premium cigars: an effective prohibition (due to the difficulty of FDA approval) on cigars with “characterizing flavor” other than tobacco. Even setting aside definitional problems, like the fact that the Fuente Anejo could be characterized as having a characterizing flavor because the wrappers are aged in rum barrels (or that the FDA has refused to say if cedar aging could be considered “characterizing flavor), there is a big problem with the FDA’s rationale.

The problem with effectively banning new flavored cigars is there is no rational reason to do so. There is no research I’ve seen to suggest that handmade flavored (or infused) cigars are smoked more often by children, nor do they pose any additional health risks.

When President Obama signed the Tobacco Control Act (which authorizes the FDA to regulate tobacco) he said the following: “Removing these flavored products from the market is important because it removes an avenue that young people can use to begin regular tobacco use.” That may be true of cigarettes (and possibly even small cigars and machine-made products), but not cigars like Drew Estate Acid, Rocky Patel Java, or CAO Flavours.

Let’s be honest. Many handmade cigar smokers look down on flavored cigars (my preference is for “traditional” cigars too). But if you think about who you’ve seen buying these cigars, they are still not underage or even particularly young. I strongly suspect much of the survey data that says machine-made cigars in general, and flavored machine-made cigars in particular, may be more likely to be used by youth is a function of them being used in tandem with illegal drugs, which is entirely unrelated to youth smoking issues.

The fact is, all handmade cigars are about flavor, as opposed to being primarily nicotine delivery devices like cigarettes, something the FDA implicitly recognized when considering a premium cigar exemption. And following that logic to it’s conclusion, there’s no reason to discriminate against those who like their cigars with coffee flavors as opposed to full of Nicaraguan Ligero or with a flavorful Broadleaf wrappers.

It’s just another reason why cigar smokers should let their voices be heard during the FDA’s comment period to oppose regulation, including pre-approval of handmade cigars.

-Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Forming Cake in a Pipe

19 May 2014

First, I’d like to apologize for the lack of pipe content in the last couple weeks (you may recall my previous articles on why I smoke a pipe, tools of the trade, beginner pipe blends, and how to properly pack a pipe). I have been in a swamp of finals and term papers finishing up my first semester at graduate school, and I just have had no time to write anything about pipes, much less to smoke any. But, the semester is over, summer is here, and I’m back to smoking! So today we will talk about building cake in a pipe.

Pipe

So, first off, what is cake? Cake is the term for the carbon build-up left in a pipe after you smoke a bowl of tobacco. Cake is a good thing. You want a nice, even cake lining the bowl of your pipe. This will help keep the smoke cool, and it will also lend a particular flavor to your smoking, depending on what types of tobacco you’ve built that cake with.

A very important thing to remember from this definition is that we want cake to be even. If your pipe’s cake gets too thick, you can crack the pipe and permanently break it. So, anytime you think it might be getting too thick, take the scraping part of your pipe tool and just break it down. Exactly how much cake one wants is up to debate, but the general rule I’ve heard is about the thickness of a dime.

How does one build cake? There are a lot of tricks. Some will tell you to fill your pipe with honey or jelly so that the ash will stick to it, others will recommend plugging the pipe somehow, etc. All of these tricks have one thing in common: They are unproven, and risky. The only way to reliably build cake is to smoke your pipe, evenly, to the bottom of the bowl.

The method I use to break in a pipe takes quite a long time, but it’s a great way to do so, and it ensures you get a consistently even cake. All you’re going to do is pack about a quarter of your pipe and smoke it, all the way to the bottom of the bowl. If you cannot finish all the tobacco in one sitting, just place the pipe down and come back to it. After you’ve done maybe six or eight bowls at a quarter full, bump it up to a half bowl, and, again, smoke six or eight bowls. If you keep doing this, afterwards jumping to 3/4 of a bowl and then finally full bowls, you’ll experience a cool, sweet, broken-in pipe.

If you have any questions about how to build cake, if you have any tobaccos that you think perform particularly well for cake-building (I prefer a burly blend like Prince Albert), or if you have any other experiences or stories about breaking in a pipe, let me know.

-Joey J

photo credit: Flickr