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Cigar Tip: Tampa’s Rich Cigar History Still Worth a Visit

17 Aug 2015


Tampa’s cigar past lost a prominent feature recently when one of its old-time factories, long vacant, burned to the ground.

But don’t despair. If you’re interested in the history of cigars, Tampa still has lots for you to see. Most of it is in Ybor City, which was once the center of the industry that gave Tampa its nickname, Cigar City.

First, though, you’ll need to venture off 7th Avenue, nucleus of Ybor’s entertainment these days and home to several small cigar rolling shops and other retailers.

Next, you’ll need to hone your expectations. You’re not going to be seeing large cigar-making operations like those now operating in Central America. In fact, there’s only one true functioning cigar factory left in Tampa: J.C. Newman’s, where workers and machines produce mass market smokes.

The factory, often called El Reloj for its iconic clock tower, has gained quite a bit of attention as Newman has made keeping it open central to its fight against potential U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation that could shut it.

Most of the other Tampa area factories lost their fights to stay open decades earlier as cigar smoking declined. Some have come back in renovated form for other uses; many sit empty.

Perhaps the best way to check out Tampa’s cigar factory history is to follow in the footsteps of local cigar expert Tom Ufer, who compiled an incredible resource on the factories’ histories as well as a fascinating and detailed, easy-to-follow tour. You’ll find all that and more at Tom’s site.

Tom did this work in 2009 and 2010, so a few things have changed. One of the most notable changes has taken place at what’s known as the Charles the Great factory. It’s now been renovated and serves as offices for the Arturo Fuente organization. Tampa Sweethearts moved out three years ago to its own beautiful casita just off 7th Avenue.

Wallace Reyes has also written extensively on the cigar history of Tampa in “Once Upon a Time in Tampa … Rise and Fall of the Cigar Industry” and this year’s “Cigar City Architecture and Legacy” has a substantial section devoted to cigar factories.

So whenever you visit Tampa, be prepared to spend a little time getting to know more about Ybor City and its fascinating past. You’ll be amazed at what’s just right around the corner.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Tip: Trying to Taste More

29 Jul 2015


Perhaps no topic generates more interest among new smokers—and many long-timers—than the question of how to detect flavors in cigars.

“Isn’t it all just tobacco?” is a typical inquiry.

Well, yes, it is all tobacco. But you can say the same for a lot of other things we experience with our taste buds. They’re all apples, for example, but a Granny Smith has a vastly different texture and taste than does a Golden Delicious. Or, it’s all wood, though who would confuse the aroma of Aromatic Red Cedar with American White Oak.

Opening your mind—and, consequently, your nose and taste buds—to the potential of discovery is, I believe, the first step to expanding what you perceive in your cigars.

There are any number of ways to do that. You can explore flavor wheels, fill out tasting sheets, sniff spices in the cabinet, and take numerous other approaches to improve your palate. And they’re probably all worth trying.

One caution, though: While exploring tasting processes in other areas, such as wine, spirits, or coffee, bear in mind that they’re often done with several examples simultaneously. Few of us smoke more than one cigar at a time.

My goal here is to provide some context for your approach, and to broaden your viewpoint as you explore cigar aromas and flavors.

Don’t look for exact matches. Think more of what you taste as suggesting a flavor, not replicating it.

1. Concentrate at first on common flavors, such as coffee with a maduro, pepper with a Nicaraguan puro, or grass with a Connecticut wrapper.

2. Try to focus on smell as well, since that’s a significant component of taste.

3. Roll the smoke around in your mouth before you exhale to increase the exposure to your taste buds.

4. Don’t try too hard. Everyone’s senses differ, and our perceptions are not always the same. Some have a higher developed capacity of taste, while others don’t. It’s not a contest to see who can pick out kala jeera or fennel pollen.

If you pay attention and note what you detect, I can almost guarantee you’ll find yourself discovering more and more with each cigar.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Read and Try Before You Buy (Trade Show Edition)

22 Jul 2015

When I first started attending the IPCPR Trade Show in 2008, the primary reason was to get news about new cigars I couldn’t get elsewhere. These days that news isn’t so hard to come by. The basic details of pretty much any new cigar can be found online a few days after the convention starts.

Still, there are good reasons for me to go to the Trade Show. First, walking the floor and speaking with cigar makers  in person gives us a perspective that simply cannot be achieved otherwise and is immensely helpful when writing about cigars for the rest of the year. Second, frankly, it’s the easiest way to get samples of pre-release cigars that in many cases won’t be for sale for weeks or even months. (We don’t go around asking for samples, but they are almost always offered.)

If you regularly read our site and others, you’ll probably read lots of reviews of brand new cigars in the coming months. And while I’m sure we’re all flattered when people go out and buy a box of cigars based on a review without trying them first, my advice is: Don’t!

This is good advice always, but especially noteworthy when there’s a flood of new cigars about to hit the market. Unless you have an unlimited budget and are willing to repeatedly donate the 19 cigars from that box you didn’t really like to the troops, save your hard-earned money and only buy boxes of cigars you are certain you enjoy. Plus, cigars are rarely discounted heavily when they are first available; if you wait a little you might be able to find a better deal.

If you read this site (thanks for that, by the way) and others you probably find reviews a helpful way to decide which new cigars to try. But even so, you should ask yourself a few things. First, is the reviewer truthful and willing to say unflattering things about a cigar if it is warranted? (If not, why are you even reading the review?) Second, do you find you generally enjoy the same things as that reviewer? (A “great cigar” is rarely great for everybody, because everyone’s palate values different qualities.)

Next, wait for the cigar to come out and head to your local tobacconist and buy one or two. (If you can’t find it locally, split a five-pack with a friend.) Because if you can find it for sale one day, you can almost certainly find more next week.

There’s a saying on the Trade Show floor: It’s not hard to to get a retailer to order a new cigar once; the challenge is getting them to reorder it, again and again. The same goes for consumers: Being the answer to the proverbial “What’s New?” question may sell a cigar once, but only your experience with that cigar can get you to buy more.

But don’t just take it from me. Take it from Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust (who in many ways was the original online cigar writer for his site called Cigar Nexus long before he was a cigar maker):

Patrick S

video credit: The Cigar Authority

Cigar Tip: Don’t Get Slammed on the New-Release Treadmill

18 May 2015

Cigar Shop

One of the great things about cigars is the incredible choice available. Unfortunately, it’s one of the not-so-great things as well.

Every day seems to bring news of a new release, a limited edition, a store special—or, more likely, several of each. One email I received recently touted five new limited cigars. As we approach the annual summer trade show, the stream of new announcements will almost certainly become a flood.

A dedicated cigar lover could go crazy, and broke, trying to keep up.

I suggest you don’t. Go crazy or broke, that is.

Now, I’m not recommending you forgo new cigars. Far from it. I’m just advocating a little thought and preparation to maximize the enjoyment potential of the purchases you do make.

First, remember that selling cigars is not like selling most other consumables. The premium cigar market is small and barely growing, if at all. A large percentage of cigar smokers have only a handful of sticks a week and rarely venture beyond a few brands.

Two companies—Altadis and General—dominate the market; add in a few other big players like Padrón, Fuente, and Rocky Patel, and you see why smaller manufacturers face a tough battle. They’re fighting for a thin slice of a not-so-big pie.

For many of those small manufacturers, social media has had a huge impact. Even though the cigar digerati is a relatively small subset of the market, it’s a vocal and influential component. Generating buzz and producing the next hot stick can make the difference between being a success and an also-ran. All of which leads to more releases, more limited editions, more store exclusives, and on and on.

Here are three thoughts to help you evaluate your purchases:

1) Pay attention to the manufacturers you really like. As any regular reader knows, I am a big fan of Aging Room cigars. Their blends just about always appeal to my taste. I’ve even gone so far as to violate a basic rule of cigar purchases by buying a box of a new offering before I’d tried one. Other favorites, like Fuente and My Father, also always get a close look from me.

2) Pay attention to tobaccos. Think about those you like and those you don’t. This can be tricky, I’ll be the first to admit. For example, I generally dislike San Andrés. But there are some using it, like E.P. Carrillo’s La Historia, that I think are terrific. Still, given the choice between a new smoke featuring that Mexican leaf and one that doesn’t, I’ll usually pick the cigar without it. Similarly, recognizing tobaccos you usually enjoy can be a deciding factor.

3) Look at the manufacturer’s output. Some companies put out so many new cigars, it is difficult to believe they all can be special. On the other hand, when someone like Padrón puts a new smoke on the market, it is worthy of special notice.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Tip: XIKAR PuroTemp Wireless Hygrometer System

14 Apr 2015


Who among us hasn’t, at least at some point, worried about humidity and their cigars?

Some become obsessive about maintaining conditions, some opt to simply gauge it by feel and instinct, and many fall somewhere in the middle.

I confess I probably am closer to the first category, though more by necessity than temperament.

Florida’s extreme heat makes a cooled humidor almost a necessity. And extraordinarily high humidity levels also can play havoc with humidor conditions. I’m sure many of you in other parts of the country have dramatic weather conditions to contend with as well.

For me, this has meant lots of futzing through the years with ways and means to keep my cigars in shape. The latest: the Xikar PuroTemp Wireless Hygrometer System.

Here are the basics:

There’s a base unit, with stand, that displays the time and, from up to three remote sensors, temperature and relative humidity readings from inside the humidor. The base can also be programmed to beep a warning when temperatures or humidity levels rise or fall to selected points. A button allows you to select displays from each remote unit. The package comes with one sensor, and sensors also are sold individually.

Unlike most better thermometer/hygrometer units, there’s no way to adjust the readings on these. According to Xikar, the company opted instead to invest the time and attention necessary in the factory to get the temperature and humidity settings correct from the start.

It is important to recognize that the wireless technology isn’t WiFi. You can’t interface with a smartphone or computer, so there’s no way to automatically chart the readings over time.

I’ve been using and evaluating my PuroTemp system for about three months and, overall, I’ve found it to perform as advertised. The one caveat occurred about a week or so after I got it home. That was when the connections between the base and the remotes began to drop frequently and then fail to reconnect for a long time, if ever.

I contacted Xikar, and they had no qualms about honoring the lifetime warranty and had me ship the components to Kansas City, Mo. About a week later, I heard from Xikar’s Ken Dolinger, who’d supplied me with information earlier as I prepared this review.

“It was tested by our head engineer, he found that your sensors are working great but something was wrong with your base unit,” Dolinger emailed. “So I will be sending your sensors back and a new base unit.”

Since getting the new base, I’ve experienced no problems.

I tested the unit in numerous ways, including remotes side-by-side in my filled Avallo Cooled 1200 cabinet humidor; remotes individually and together in a sealed container with a 69% Boveda pack; and remotes together and individually in a desktop humidor without cigars and several 69% Boveda packs.


Cigar Tip: Warm Up with These Hot Winter Beverages

17 Feb 2015


If you are, like me, in the ever-increasing part of the country where the temperatures have taken a dive, then maybe you’re looking for a fun way to warm up. And what better way than a warm drink that also packs a little boozy kick? Here are my five favorites:

Hot Toddy — A classic that can be made with scotch whisky (save the single malt, use a blend), bourbon, or even brandy. It’s simple to make. Just add sugar, lemon, and cloves to boiling water and your spirit. (Feel free to swap in honey or cinnamon, or even look for a recipe that uses ginger ale.)

Stonewall Jackson — A simple classic consisting of hot cider and bourbon (but rye, Tennessee whiskey, or even spiced rum fill in nicely). Want to kick this up notch? Add some mulling spices to turn it into mulled cider. Just don’t boil the booze out.

Hot Buttered Rum — Perhaps my favorite of the bunch, hot buttered rum is a little more complicated to make than the above drinks, but you’ll find that it’s really not too difficult. If you want, you can make a batch of the batter ahead of time (it will last in the freezer) or just make it as you go directly into a mug.

Mexican Hot Chocolate — While there are lots of recipes out there, “normal” Mexican hot chocolate is spicy and intense with unsweetened chocolate, cinnamon, and chiles. Adding some tequila kicks it up a notch. While I use something similar to this recipe, I might also add a splash of Cointreau.

Spiked Coffee — There are plenty of variations of the basic coffee (milk and sugar optional) with booze. Coffee or chocolate liqueurs are particularly popular options, although there’s nothing wrong with simply adding whiskey, rum, or brandy. Want a recommendation I picked up traveling in Mexico? Add goat milk caramel (you can buy it from Amazon) to coffee and Kahlua.

Patrick S

photo credit: AccuWeather

Cigar Tip: Pair New Years Champagne with a Fine Cigar

30 Dec 2014

Five years ago I offered some tips on pairing cigars with champagne. With New Years Eve a day away, now seems like a good time to update those tips with a half-decade worth of additional experience.

Champagne_uncorkingPairing brown liquor with  cigars is the more obvious choice, but champagne (or other sparkling wines) can go surprisingly well with a smoke. Not to mention the celebratory nature of the bubbly. To enhance your Champagne and cigar enjoyment, here are a few basic tips:

Save the top-dollar champagne.

Champagne can be fantastic, but unless you have unlimited funds, the vintage Dom Pérignon should be held back if you’re smoking a cigar. You pay a price for the champagne name (meaning it’s from the Champagne region of France). There are plenty of good champagne-style sparkling wines that can be had for a reasonable cost. Spending $50 or $100 on brand name French bubbly will probably be a waste (considering you’re going to lose some of the complexities due to your cigar). Spanish Cava, in particular, can be had for a fraction of the price.

Stick with mild cigars.

Champagne doesn’t have the heft of rum, whiskey, or even beer or coffee. The best champagnes are the most subtle, so the same subtlety is needed in the cigar you pair with your sparkling wine. Stick with mild cigars that have balance. Too often Connecticut-wrapped cigars feature bitterness, so look for those with age and balance. Extra-aged Cubans can be a great pairing, and a special mention is deserved for the Illusione Epernay, which is named after the Champagne region and was blended with a champagne pairing in mind.

Age your cigars and your champagne.

Smoking a cigar with champagne calls for a cigar that is smooth, mild, complex, and subtle, all of which can be the result of aging a cigar. Some cigars just lose their flavor with age, so be careful, but others are enhanced by months or years aging properly in a humidor. Some of the same things happen to aged champagne which, while not for everyone, loses some of its bubbly crispness but adds creaminess and depth along the lines of a well-aged white burgundy. Usually you pay extra for vintage champagne. But if you can get some of those same qualities by just putting aside a good champagne and waiting, don’t be afraid to give it a try. (Not long ago I had some non-vintage Champagne Tattinger with a decade of age, and the result was very impressive.)


Patrick S

photo credit: Wikipedia