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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

Cigar Tip: Frequent Cigar Questions Asked and Answered

10 Dec 2014

Cigar forums offer a lot. A chance to learn from more experienced smokers. Hear directly from manufacturers and industry leaders occasionally. Arrange a herf with other members. Get involved in trades and box passes.

Aging Cigars

But there are some topics that come up over and over, and I’d like to help address them. I’m sure this article won’t prevent the queries from arising again, though if it results in even a small reduction I’ll consider it a success. Here are three questions I see all the time:

Cellophane on or off?

It’s up to you. Manufacturers use cello to protect cigars against damage in shipping and handling, as well as when they’re on display in shop humdiors. Cellophane offers you that same protection. Don’t worry about the impact on aging. Cellophane allows air to pass through it, slowing the transfer so little you’re unlikely to notice the difference (unless you measure your aging in decades).

Humidity at 60, 65, or 70?

Again, that’s up to you. Most smokers have to experiment to determine the level they prefer. For one thing, the ambient humidity and temperature where you live and smoke can have a strong impact. Nowadays, too, the old 70/70 “rule” isn’t as applicable, since newer humidification methods permit much greater control. But recognize that precisely measuring relative humidity is notoriously difficult, and even good hygrometers can easily get out of whack.

What bundle cigar tastes like a Padrón Anniverary or Opus X or Davidoff or …?

What Japanese compact drives like a Ferrari? What off-the-rack suit fits like one from Savile Row? What budget hotel accommodations match Four Seasons? Sorry, no cheap smokes come any closer in replicating the best in the business. Yes, some cigars are overpriced, but that doesn’t mean all expensive cigars are overpriced. The storied brands have earned their reputations and value through hard work, meticulous attention to detail, and use of the finest materials.

I hope this helps. If you want more on any of these—or other—topics, just click on Tips at the top of the page or use the Search function at the top right for a wealth of information.

P.S. Yes, always store infused cigars separately from regular sticks.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Host a Whiskey Tasting

9 Dec 2014

Tasting multiple cigars in a sitting can be tricky. An entire cigar needs to smoked for it to be properly judged, but smoking full cigars one after another can overwhelm your palate.

Most cigar tastings, to the extent they aren’t just a single cigar, will consist of several specially made mini pure grade cigars (made entirely of one type of tobacco). This is a valuable educational experience, but what you taste isn’t actually a finished cigar.


Whiskeys, on the other hand, are perfect for tasting side by side. Pick two whiskeys, or five, or a dozen, and get to it. Observe the color, take in the nose, experience the taste (on the palate and the finish), and keep notes so you can come back to them later. While the basics aren’t hard to understand, here are a few tips to improve your whiskey tastings:

Select the right whiskeys – It sounds obvious, but it’s also crucial. Tastings are great because you can compare and contrast, so focus on a selection with both similarities and differences. Here are just a few suggestions: wheated bourbons, Indiana-distilled ryes, barrel-proof bourbons, sherry cask-aged single malts, etc. In the photo above, I decided to taste the first three Orphan Barrel bourbons, all of which are at least 20 years old.

Proper glassware – I’m a big fan of Glencairn whiskey glasses, which were specially designed for whiskey tasting. You don’t have to go that route, but tasting from similar glasses is important because the shape will impact what you pick up. Along those lines, shot glasses or big tumblers are poor choices, but a medium or small wine glass can work well.

Keep your palate fresh – Much like cigar tasting, I like to use club soda or sparkling mineral water to cleanse the palate. You’ll also want some spring water on hand. No ice is allowed (it dulls your taste). Try and taste it all neat first, then add a drop or two of water at a time to see how that impacts flavor. For a food to help keep your palate fresh, keep some bread or lightly salted crackers on hand.

Bring friends  – Of course, drinking with good friends is fun, but there are more reasons why this is preferable. First, you can compare notes. Second, with the help of friends, all but one person can taste blind. Because that’s the real test: Do you enjoy a particular whiskey even without knowing what it is and what it costs?

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Give the Gift of Cigars this Christmas

3 Dec 2014

Like it or not, the Christmas shopping season is upon us. And if you’re a regular reader, changes are you have a few individuals on your list who are lovers of the leaf themselves. But sometimes shopping for cigars for gifts can be intimidating and confusing—even for the most seasoned cigar veterans.

Christmas Presents

Never fear. Cigar smokers need not be a difficult crowd for which to buy presents. Their passion for the hobby makes it easy to narrow down gift choices. This holiday season, you can be virtually assured of gift-giving success if you follow some simple rules of thumb.

Only give a box if you’re sure. Some cigar enthusiasts are completely loyal to one brand or one specific blend. If this is the case, you can’t do wrong by buying a box he or she is sure to love. Maybe this isn’t the most original idea—and maybe the box won’t be much of a surprise—but any cigar smoker will tell you that you can never have enough of your favorite smokes, especially if they’re made in limited quantities.

Samplers offer variety. Many cigar enthusiasts don’t have just one favorite cigar. For these folks, I can’t recommend buying a whole box. Instead, samplers are terrific. When you give a sampler of ten different cigars, it’s like giving ten different gifts. The recipient might not love all ten, but chances are he/she will really enjoy at least a few, and you might even be responsible for turning someone on to his/her new favorite.

Consider cigar accessories. Every cigar enthusiast needs a great table lighter, travel lighter, nice cutter, good ashtray, humidor, etc. Instead of buying cigars, think about giving the gift of a cigar accessory. Many accessories can be personalized and, unlike cigars themselves, are likely to last for years to come. My wife gave me a wonderful alligator skin cigar case years ago and I’ve cherished it ever since.

Cigar access can be invaluable. Many cigar smokers don’t have ready access to a good indoor lounge where they can light up without fear of temperature, wind, or precipitation. If there’s a members-only indoor lounge near him/her, you might look into buying him/her a seasonal or year-round pass (or maybe even a private locker). This gift would obviously be expensive, but no doubt appreciated.

Think drinks. Cigars pair excellently with all sorts of libations, including coffee, wine, bourbon, rum, and scotch. Maybe that cigar smoker on your list would really enjoy a French press to make the perfect brew. Or perhaps a nice bottle of something special. Feel free to peruse our many musings on spirits; most of these articles include recommended cigar pairings to help make the gift complete.

Don’t forget cigar rights. Most cigar smokers have a fervent passion for defending cigar rights and opposing tobacco taxes and smoking bans. For these folks, a membership to Cigar Rights of America is an excellent gift. Benefits of membership include supporting professional lobbyists who fight for cigar freedoms, discounts at cigar shops, free cigars, and more.

I hope these tips are helpful as you shop for that cigar smoker on your list. Feel free to leave a comment if you have a tip of your own that you’d like to share. And happy holidays.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr