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Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXIX)

3 Apr 2019

Baseball, a return to smoking in sports stadiums, and Fuente Nicaragua… they’re all in this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor.

Baseball: The Perfect Pace for Cigars

We’ve written before about the pairing of cigars and baseball. While there are plenty of reasons why the combination works, it comes down to pace. The leisurely pace of hardball is also the pace of cigars. The 20 to 30 seconds between pitches is the minimum amount of time you want to put your cigar down between draws; the minute or two between half-innings or a pitching change is the opportune moment to refresh your drink, use the facilities, or light a new cigar. Sadly, if you want to watch baseball while smoking a cigar, these days your options are pretty much whittled down to your home or a cigar lounge.

A Million Dollar Idea for Billionaire Sports Team Owners

A long, long time ago (in 2006), StogieGuys.com proposed a cigar night at the decrepit RFK stadium. Why let most of the upper deck go completely empty, when you could host cigar smokers there, at least for a game? We were rebuffed and (I’m just saying) the Nationals have yet to win a playoff series since. To this day, when I see scores of empty seats in a stadium I can’t help but wonder, “Why not host a cigar night?” For example, watching my Mets play the Miami Marlins, I noticed the entire upper deck was not just empty but closed. So why not announce that anytime the roof is open at the park a section of the upper deck will be open for cigar smokers? If any town can pull this off, Miami, with its rich cigar culture, can.

Fuente Nicaragua… Coming Soon

Fuente’s new Nicaraguan factory should be coming online soon. The new factory, called “La Bella y La Bestia,” raises many questions. Most (but not all) Fuente cigars are still under the central Fuente name. Will the new Nicaraguan-made cigars carry the same branding? Or will the Fuentes decide to launch a new brand to distinguish their Nicaraguan offerings from those made at their Dominican factories? Only time will tell, but the prospect of many new, Nicaraguan-influenced cigars should be of great interest to all. (For more on the new factory, cigar smokers will find this interview with Carlito Fuente interesting.)

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Mysteries of the World of Cigars

27 Mar 2019

Like the late Andy Rooney, we all occasionally wonder about things that have no real significance but just seem puzzling. Lately, I’ve been mulling a few of those topics related to cigars.

Do cigar makers really believe we want more baseball caps?

I understand that every company likes to get its name out there, especially with virtually free advertising. And I realize that a few years ago baseball caps seemed to be de rigueur as a fashion accessory. Mercifully, that trend seems to have gone the way of mullets. But cigar companies continue to offer branded caps as an “inducement” to buy their cigars. When we moved last year, I must have pulled a dozen or so unworn caps from the back of the closet and dropped them off at a local thrift shop (where they probably went into the trash).

Why do cigars end up connected to scandal after scandal?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in hot water amid allegations of corruption. And what is among the most mentioned illegal gifts he supposedly received? Boxes and boxes of Cohiba Siglo V. One story even estimated how many hours Netanyahu would have spent smoking the storied Cubans through the years. No doubt the most famous cigar appearance in scandal history was with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. More recently, cigars have come up in the ongoing Mueller investigation. Where did then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, his deputy at the time, and Konstantin Kilimnik meet in the summer of 2016? Where else but New York’s Grand Havana Room.

Why aren’t names like robusto and Churchill good enough?

I never cease to be amazed at the “creative” names cigar makers come up for the different sizes of their cigars. Sometimes weird, sometimes funny, sometimes just odd. But whatever the monikers are, does anyone ever actually speak those names? I can only surmise that they are adapted because the urge to be “creative” is overwhelming. Believe me, though, robusto, Churchill, torpedo, etc., have worked fine for years and years—and they still do.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Coming to Terms with Winter

11 Mar 2019

Think you love cigars? Let’s put your adoration to the test. Go out and smoke a cigar in the cold. And, no, I don’t mean 40 degrees. I said cold. Let’s put it at 20 degrees or less (not including windchill). Bundle up, plant yourself in a chair with a cup of hot (not for long) coffee, and fire up a smoke. If you’re sitting still—and if you’re not cheating with, say, a heat lamp or something—I bet you won’t be able to get through a toro. Maybe not even a robusto or a corona.

At some point in the process, you’ll find yourself pondering the futility of the exercise. Isn’t the whole idea behind cigars to enjoy yourself? How can you fully appreciate the enticing aromas, delicious flavors, and handmade craftsmanship when your core bodily processes are shutting down and frostbite is trying to take hold of exposed skin? How can you revel in the complexities of the profile—which surely includes anise, cream soda, and pencil shavings—as your shivering turns into slowed, shallow breathing and, eventually, total loss of consciousness?

Maybe you never have to ask yourself these questions. Perhaps you live somewhere where it never gets legitimately cold, at least not for a whole season. Or, if you do, perhaps you can smoke inside your home. Or there’s a good lounge nearby with decent hours. Or perhaps you commute via car and don’t mind smoking in your vehicle (side note: smoking a cigar while driving is not all it’s cracked up to be).

I used to have a cigar room in my condo in the city.. Now I have a bunch of kids and a house in the suburbs.

 

Personally, I live in Chicago. Winter can be rough, and this one is no exception. I have three small children and no place to smoke inside my home. There are a few lounges nearby, but the hours typically don’t work for me (it’s usually 10:30 PM or later by the time the kids are all asleep, the dishes are done, etc.). And, while I’m often on the “L” or on my way to an airport in an Uber, I’m rarely in my own car. So where and when do I smoke, you may ask?

Honestly, I smoke much, much less in the winter. I really don’t have a choice. It may not be fashionable for a member of the online cigar media to admit this, but it’s true nonetheless.

When I do smoke, it’s usually one of two things: (1) I’ve gotten permission from the wife to be at a lounge for a couple hours, which is a welcome respite that will have to be repaid in some (often painful) way, or (2) I’m traveling for work someplace warm and/or there’s a late-hours lounge nearby.

I write this not to ask for your sympathy (I don’t deserve any, and I’m not complaining) but to share a few unintended consequences of my wintertime lull in cigar smoking. First, when you smoke less, you enjoy the cigars you do smoke more. The law of diminishing returns is absolutely at play here. If you smoke cigar after cigar after cigar, the next one won’t be nearly as enjoyable. Anyone who’s ever gone on a cigar rampage—or taken a leave of absence—would probably back this up.

Second, having fewer opportunities to smoke results in a renewed focus on deciding what to smoke. Time is more precious, and the cost of making a bad decision is higher. In the winter, I’m likelier to turn to old favorites and shun new experiences. Any new cigar that gets selected is often the result of a fair amount of review-reading—or, at least, much more research than would be required in the summer.

Finally, less time to smoke should mean more time for something else. In my case, the inability to smoke as often as I would like has not extinguished my passion for cigars. So I’ve been catching up on cigar-related reading (both mainstream publications and, yes, other websites), making some purchases, organizing my inventory, and keeping the humidors functioning properly (which is no small task this time of year).

I guess you could say I’ve come to terms with a seasonal approach to cigar enjoyment. That being said, where the f*#k is spring, and when will it get here?

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Thoughts on Virginia’s New Increased Age to Purchase Tobacco

27 Feb 2019

My home state of Virginia recently became the latest to up the age at which adults are allowed to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. It joins California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, and Oregon (along with the District of Columbia) in a trend that appears to be spreading.

A Slippery Slope

You may be old enough to vote or join the military (possibly even drafted into it), but that doesn’t mean you can choose to buy tobacco. If this seems odd to you, it should. Eighteen has always been the demarcation between children and adults; with adults getting to decide whether or not to use a legal product like tobacco, while we accept that children must be protected from having the same choices.

The justification appears to be that government is failing to effectively enforce the law that stops those under 18 from using tobacco, and it will be easier to stop minors from smoking if we also make it illegal for non-minors aged 18-20 from obtaining. That’s probably true, just as lowering the speed limit from 65 to 45 would make people less likely to drive over 65. But there is no limit to this justification.

What’s to stop the age from being raised again when the government cannot completely enforce the new 21-year-old age limit, and some 20-year-olds still manage to get their hands on cigarettes? The answer is nothing.

That’s a scary thought when you consider that many of the groups pushing this new restriction have as their ultimate goal a complete prohibition on tobacco products for everyone. After all, people older than 21 make bad decisions sometimes. Just ask Virginia Governor Ralph Northam who signed the bill into law and exercised some very bad judgement in his mid-twenties.

Being Anti-Tobacco Isn’t a Partisan Issue

One of the things that the Virginia bill demonstrates is that both Democrats and Republicans are willing to vote against cigar rights. Indeed, the bill couldn’t have become law without bi-partisan support.

In the Virginia state house, where Republicans hold a 51-49 majority, 46 Democrats and 21 Republicans voted in favor of the bill. Meanwhile, in the state senate, where Republicans also hold a two-member majority (21-19), all but eight Republicans voted for the bill. Then finally Democrat Governor Northam signed the bill into law.

Bootleggers and Baptists

You’d expect the anti-tobacco lobby to support raising the age for purchasing tobacco products, but it’s also worth noting another supporter of this legislation: the giant cigarette company Altria (maker of Marlboro). If this surprises you, it shouldn’t.

Altria also supported giving the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products including cigars, reportedly in part because the company thought that regulating the industry would help it fend off competition and maintain its large market share. It’s another example of an economic concept known as bootleggers and baptists, both of whom had their own reasons for supporting prohibition.

Patrick S

photo credit: Wikipedia

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXVIII)

4 Feb 2019

What do Jim Mora, the Middle East, Mexico, and all 50 U.S. governors have in common? They’re all in this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor.

Excess Humidity?!?

I had to chuckle when I read my colleague’s piece last week about using Liberty cannisters to rid himself of excess humidity. Immediately, my internal monologue took on the voice of former Colts head coach Jim Mora talking about the playoffs. “Excess humidity? Don’t talk about—excess humidity?! You kidding me? Excess humidity?!” George may be warm and cozy down in Florida, but up here in Chicago I can assure you excess humidity is not a concern. Not in the winter months, anyhow. One day last week, the high—the high—in Chicago was -14. Including windchill, it was more like -40. Suffice to say, since cold air can hold less water vapor than warm air, my cigar storage problem is exactly the opposite of George’s right now. I have the anecdotal evidence to back it up. I use Boveda packs to maintain the relative humidity levels within my humidors at home. In the summer, I can go three months or more before needing to replace the packs; in the winter, I’m lucky if they last half as long. Perhaps you have the same experience. Is there any way for George to send his excess humidity up north?

Two New Regional Cubans Launch

Saint Luis Rey Herfing (5.5 x 54, $17) was introduced last week in Cyprus as a Regional Edition for the Middle East. Only 7,500 boxes of 10 have been made. Meanwhile, in Mexico, the Punch Duke becomes the first Regional Edition for the country that’s not an Edmundo Dantes. It has the same dimensions as the Saint Luis Rey Herfing (5.5 x 54), but retails for double the price—$35. Only 6,000 boxes have been made. The three preceding Regional Editions in Mexico were Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 (2007), Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 (2011), and the Edmundo Dantes Conde Belicoso (2016). If you’re traveling abroad, keep your eyes open for these smokes as they’ll surely be very difficult to find in the U.S.

Dear Governors…

On Friday, Cigar Rights of America (CRA) sent a letter to each of the country’s 50 governors “alerting them to the state impact of federal regulation of premium handmade cigars.” In CRA’s own words: “Given the potential consequences of these regulations on production and consumption as well as the direct ability to shut down small businesses across the country, CRA felt compelled to alert the governors of the fiscal impact on state OTP tax collections and the potential for job losses and business closures in their states. The letter implores the governors to encourage their state congressional delegation to support legislative efforts to protect the industry.” You can see a complete copy of the letter here.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: What I Want to Smoke and Drink More of in 2019

3 Jan 2019

New Year’s resolutions are a annual tradition. Here are my cigar (and cigar-related) resolutions for 2019:

Smoke More Non-Nicaraguan Cigars

Not counting cigars I’m reviewing, I find there’s been less and less diversity in what I smoke. Mostly, I reach for Nicaraguan cigars. I plan on changing that this year and shaking things up more, which will especially mean more Dominican cigars and more Cubans.

Explore Calvados

The spirit I want to explore and learn more about this year is calvados. As I observed recently: “The apple (and sometimes pear) brandy from Normandy combines some of the best elements of cognac, wine, and whiskey. Terroir matters, oak barrel aging is important, and both large and small producers develop their own distinct styles.” Calvados can be hard to find, but I’m looking forward to tracking more down.

Drink More Cocktails

With the exception of margaritas, and the very occasional negroni, I rarely order or make cocktails. My thinking tends to go: If I’m drinking spirits, why not have a good one and take it neat? It’s not the worst philosophy, but this year when I’m at a place with a interesting cocktail list, I plan to take advantage.

Try More Coffee

I drink coffee daily, and I’m fairly serious about it (with or without a cigar). Every morning I freshly grind beans in my burr grinder and make myself a pour-over coffee. But nearly every morning I use the exact same coffee: Major Dickason’s Blend by Peet’s Coffee. It’s a solid, full-bodied coffee and always available at a reasonable price at my local grocery store. Nothing wrong with that. Still, it has been a while since I saw what else is out there. So trying out local roasters, online specialists, and more are on the agenda for 2019.

Got a cigar-related resolution of you own? Let us know.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Roll Out Your Lists

5 Dec 2018

To death and taxes as the certainties of life, I think it’s time to add the best-of list. And since we’re cigar smokers, it’s lists of those for which we’re getting ready as year’s end nears.

There are certainly enough lists to keep us busy. Magazines, blogs, podcasts, shops—seemingly almost everyone who lit a cigar compiles a list.

(We don’t do a best-of list at StogieGuys.com. We do look back over our year’s reviews and highlight the cigars we rated highly. Our annual retrospective will appear later this month.)

The 800-lb. gorilla of the tally trade is, of course, Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25. Landing at the number one spot immediately catapults a cigar to stardom, creates shortages, and can leave a long-term impact on the brand owner.

Inaugurated in 2004, Cigar Aficionado’s list was once a singular event when the print edition rolled off the presses. Now, it is a weeks-long reveal with online fanfare. Others, such as Cigar Journal, also go the online rollout route.

About as common as the lists themselves are complaints. This one doesn’t do this, that one does that, why don’t they consider this, why would they consider that. And on and on and on.

Let’s be honest. No one is going to put together a list of nearly anything without some disagreement. But for kvetchers, Cigar Aficionado certainly seems to be the top target.

A couple of the primary complaints are that they don’t limit the selection to the year’s new releases and that the judges lean too heavily in favor of stronger cigars. Then there is the allegation that they’re influenced in their reviews by advertising, a charge that, to my knowledge, has never been supported by any evidence.

Cigar Aficionado has become more open about its process. The magazine has been more transparent about the ranking procedures, even having executive editor David Savona appear on podcasts to talk about it.

Personally, I have no significant complaints about any of the lists. I look forward to them. I’m always curious to see what other smokers think. Best-of lists also introduce me to cigars with which I’m unfamiliar and frequently prompt me to try some I haven’t had.

How about you? Do you pay attention to the lists? Any lists you particularly value and seek out?

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys