Search results: "Random Thoughts from the Humidor"

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXIII)

19 Nov

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I look at Steve Saka’s radical transparency, the origins of the word “herf,” and suggestions for finding value cigars.


The Original Cigar Blogger Pulls Back the Curtain

You don’t have to talk very long with Steve Saka to realize he isn’t the type to BS you. In fact, after sitting down with him during a couple of trips to Drew Estate while he was still with the company, I came to appreciate you could ask him just about anything, as long as you were prepared to hear an unvarnished, candid answer. So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me to see his openness (especially on Facebook) about the process, including the challenges and anxiety, of creating his own cigar brand and bringing it to market. Even the info sheet that came with the samples he recently sent for review came with a leaf-by-leaf breakdown of the Sobremesa blend, something many established brands are still unwilling to provide (in part for fear of someone copying their blend). It’s a level of transparency you don’t often see. And yet maybe his candor shouldn’t come as a surprise. Before Saka was the driving force behind the creation of Liga Privada, he was the editor of what was essentially the first cigar blog, (before the word blog even existed). While the original Cigar Nexus domain is no longer online, you can still read the archive here, including the Monthly Officious Taste Test or M.O.T.T. (a not-so-subtle jab at then Cigar Aficionado executive editor Gordon Mott).

Herf, Established November 21, 1996

Speaking of Cigar Nexus, here’s a gem about the origin of the the word herf, which originated on the alt.smokers.cigars (ACS) newsgroup in 1996: “The un-official word of ASC is herf. Herf is a unique part of speech. It can be correctly used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, an infinitive, a prefix, a suffix, and an explicative. The arcane word ‘herf’ first entered the ASC lexicon on November 21, 1996, and was quickly elevated to frenetic and common use by ASCers… Herf is now virulently spreading to worldwide common use as hip cigar parlance.”

Which Wrappers Are Most Likely to Produce Value?

Finding a good cigar isn’t all that hard these days. Finding a good cigar at a price that offers excellent value is harder. But if good values are what you are after, one thing to think about is wrappers. Connecticut wrappers, both shade-grown and broadleaf, are hardest to do on a budget, in part because good Connecticut-grown wrappers are increasingly in demand. So if you’re the type of person who seeks out that elusive bundle cigar that smokes like a pricier stick, you’ll improve your odds by sticking to Nicaraguan-grown Habano and Mexican wrappers.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXII)

4 Nov

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I ponder what is meant by “flavored” cigars, keeping the palate fresh with milder smokes, and using cigars as currency for wagers.


Food for Thought on Flavoring

On Saturday I published a Quick Smoke of the Drew Estate MUWAT Kentucky Fire Cured (KFC) in the Just a Friend size. As I understand it, KFC is crafted at Joya de Nicaragua using tobaccos that are cured in a barn under fires of hickory and maple. The smoke from these fires imparts (in the case of Just a Friend, according to my palate) notes of barbeque sauce, chewy meat, hickory, leather, sweet tobacco, and peat. It’s an interesting product and process, though the cigars aren’t my cup of tea. In any event, some readers got me thinking with their comments. I hadn’t previously considered KFC to be flavored. Regarding cigars, I take “flavored” to mean infused with artificial flavors that are not naturally inherent in the tobacco leaves as a result of growing, cultivation, curing, fermentation, etc. So, in my eyes, fire-curing tobaccos—or barrel-aging them, for instance—does not make them flavored. I still think of these cigars as differentiated from, say, Flavours by CAO or Acid by Drew Estate. Perhaps the distinction is not important and this is simply a matter of semantics. Perhaps, though, as the government gets more and more involved in the regulation of premium cigars, this will become an important issue. Recall that a previous FDA proposal stated that under its option for a premium cigar exemption, a cigar would only qualify if it “does not have a characterizing flavor other than tobacco.” Would using fire-cured tobacco or tobacco aged in rum barrels be a violation? What about aging a finished cigar in cedar? To date, the FDA has not provided answers. And, in a particularly troubling development, we’ve learned it may not matter; an unauthenticated draft of the FDA’s deeming rules submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was recently leaked, and the draft shows no exemption for premium cigars. But ultimately, if OMB reinstates an exemption for premium cigars, the notion of “flavored” may become very important.

Mixing Up the Rotation

I’m guessing most cigar smokers started smoking milder cigars, graduated to medium-bodied sticks somewhere along the way, and these days tend to focus on smokes with full body and strength. These seasoned cigar veterans may avoid mild cigars entirely, or they may relegate them to that occasional morning smoke as an accompaniment to a cup of coffee. (I’m basing these broad generalizations off anecdotal evidence, hundreds of conversations, and observations from the ever-expanding world of social media.) To these brothers of the leaf I say this: Don’t be afraid to mix up your rotation with a milder cigar now and then. Not only are these cigars highly enjoyable, but they often provide subtler, more delicate flavors that are harder to find in Nicaraguan powerbombs. Think almond, cream, hay, etc. As an added bonus, you may find your full-bodied favorites taste even better when you sprinkle in a Connecticut Shade smoke from time to time.

Cigars for Friendly Bets

I’m a lifelong Cubs fan and my colleague, Patrick S, is a diehard follower of the Mets (nobody’s perfect, right?). This year, our teams squared up in the National League Championship Series. Before play started—and long before the Mets were eventually vanquished by the Kansas City Royals—we each agreed to send the winner a five-pack of local cigars as a friendly wager. If the Cubs won, he was going to send me hard-to-find smokes from the PG Boutique near his home in Virginia. If the Mets won (as they did), I’d send a sampler of house blends from Tesa here in Chicago. Maybe it’s just me, but for friendly wagers—especially those that are sports-related—cigars just seem to be a more fitting form of payment than money, not to mention a chance to acquire smokes that can’t easily be bought locally.

Patrick A

photo credit: Drew Estate

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXI)

9 Jun

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, we look at a mind-boggling sale, ponder the annual cigar figures, and examine a pleasant trend.


Amazing Cigar Sale

I’m not sure why my eyes rested on the two-page spread for Fuente cigars in a recent catalogue from one of the big online sellers. But I gave it a glance and was surprised to see the Opus X Lost City listed among those for sale at reduced prices. (It also described them as “mild,” which was another shock.) Since the type is tiny, my eyes are not what they once were, and the line running through the MSRP made it difficult to discern, I reached for a magnifying glass to be certain I was seeing what I thought I was. Sure enough, the Lost City vitolas are marked down. Want to buy a box of 10 Toros? Why, you’ll pay just $298.99 instead of the MSRP of $299. Markdowns are identical throughout the line. As they say, act quickly. At these prices, they won’t last long!

Adding Without Increasing

Is anyone else puzzled by the fact that while a new cigar seemed to be released about every 30 minutes last year, the total number of cigars imported actually fell? Overall imports of premium cigars were down a shade over 1 percent, a negligible decline at a total of about 310 million sticks. For the first time in several years, Nicaragua’s production fell from the previous year, and the Dominican Republic’s total was down a bit as well. How’d that happen? Perhaps all those new lines, limited editions, specials, and extensions are boosting some individual manufacturers, especially boutique ones, but they don’t seem to have had an influence on the market overall.

Ten Is a Good Number

Lately, it seems more and more cigar manufacturers are packaging their sticks in 10-count boxes rather than the more traditional 20 or 24. I find the trend a good one. Shops frequently mark down box prices over the same number of singles, so there’s the likelihood of saving some money. But more important, to me at least, is that ten is a more manageable number. Unless you smoke a lot of cigars or have only a few favorites, it can take a long time to get through a box of 20 or more. With a few exceptions, I usually have a handful left to age for years until I work my way back to them.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XX)

13 May

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I ponder the proper way to let a cigar die, a method to repair wrapper damage, and beetle season.


Die an Honorable Death

We’ve all read—and probably also heard it said—that you should never stub out your finished cigar. Rather, you should simply let the cigar rest in an ashtray until it has extinguished itself from a lack of puffing. The reasoning behind this, it is said, is that mashing the cigar like a cigarette will produce a stale odor, and the practice is therefore impolite. Perhaps there’s a chemical justification for this policy. I’m not sure. But I decided to do my own personal experiment (albeit with a small sample size) and found that, yes, on the margin, cigars that are stubbed tend to produce a slightly foul odor, whereas cigars that breath their last breaths on their own tend to smell much as they did when they were fully lit. The difference, however, is usually negligible. That said, I never like to stub out my cigars regardless. I just don’t like to see a hand-crafted work of art get crushed into oblivion. I like to think each well-made cigar deserves an honorable death.

Wrapper Damage

As much as we try to avoid it, sometimes a cigar’s wrapper will tear or crack, or the seam will start to unravel a bit. Sometimes this is the result of shipping damage. Sometimes (frustratingly) it occurs when you remove the band while smoking. Sometimes it’s the result of poor storage. Whatever the reason, wrapper damage is going to happen from time to time. If you’re lucky—and if the tear is small—a little saliva could do the trick. If not, you may want to try more drastic measures. For these situations, keep a little pectin or vegetable glue on hand. This is the same non-toxic stuff cigar makers use to glue the bands on their cigars. Having some may mean the difference between smokable and non-smokable.

Meet the Beetles

Temperatures are warming up across most of the country. For cigar smokers, that means it should be a little easier to maintain humidor humidity. But it also means temperature needs to be monitored in order to prevent an outbreak of the dreaded tobacco beetle. Remember: High temperatures, particularly those above 75 degrees Fahrenheit, are conducive to eggs hatching, so keeping your humidors below 70 degrees. The best way to deal with tobacco beetles is to prevent them in the first place. If you’re unfortunate enough to experience an outbreak, you can read our materials on how to battle the beetles here and here.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XIX)

27 Jan

In this segment of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I ponder who benefits from the criminalization of cigar bars in Nebraska, cigars blended for specific spirits pairings, and if you might be able to light up at the craps table at this summer’s IPCPR Trade Show.


Hope for Cigar Bars in Nebraska?

We’ve been following the story about the criminalization of smoking inside cigar bars in Nebraska for some time. It all started last year when the Nebraska Supreme Court determined the exemption granted to cigar bars was unconstitutional. Now, state lawmakers have drafted a bill to reinstate those exemptions. Frankly, I can’t seem to understand who would be protected by a smoking ban for cigar bars. The employees who choose to work there (assuming the businesses wouldn’t close down)? The patrons who choose to drop in for a cigar? And then I remembered how this whole thing began: Big John’s Billiards, a pool hall in Omaha, didn’t think it was fair to have to comply with the statewide smoking ban if cigar bars didn’t. Personally, I hope the bill to reinstate the exemptions for cigar bars passes. But the bigger question is: Why should the government get to dictate to any private business whether it can provide cigar-friendly accommodations?

Perfect Pairings

Yesterday I reviewed the Dram Cask No. 3 Double Habano Toro from C&C Cigars, a smoke that’s specifically intended to pair with spicier whiskeys. Dram is comprised of four different blends, each built to complement whiskeys of varying strength. This concept isn’t necessarily a first for the cigar industry. The Illusione Epernay, for example, was blended to pair with champagne. But I’m not sure if any previous effort has been as overt in its intent as Dram, or the just-announced Drew Estate Smoking Monk, a Cigars International exclusive that features five blends each designed to be paired with a different type of beer. Given the rising demand for craft spirits (especially whiskey, micro-brew beer, rum, etc.) I wonder if this will develop into more of a trend. It isn’t too hard to imagine a line of cigars blended specifically to pair with certain kinds of wine.

Big Easy Gambling

Last week, the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed a smoking ban. The International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) was quick to point out the new law will not impact its 83rd Trade Show, slated to be held in the Louisiana city this summer, because cigar bars, the convention center, and facilities being used for private events will be protected. However, if you’ve ever been to an IPCPR Trade Show in New Orleans, you’ll recall the Harrah’s Casino that’s nearby the convention center can be a popular destination among attendees. Currently, Harrah’s is not exempted from the ban. But it was reported on Monday that efforts are currently underway to allow smoking in half of the casino, and a vote on the proposal could come as early as February 5—presumably in plenty of time for the convention in July.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (Looking Ahead At 2015)

8 Jan

In this latest segment of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I think about what the new year will bring for Cuban policy and the FDA, plus the potential impact on the cigar industry of a new Nicaraguan canal construction project.


Watching, Waiting on the FDA

Since passage of the FDA bill in 2009, we have been warning of the danger it poses to the cigar industry. Last year, when the Deeming Document and proposed rule were released, more people finally caught on to the disruptive potential. Now we wait.

This chart explains the nine-step process. It’s important to remember the FDA is currently on step 7, which includes reviewing all the public comments. But that process doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Politics will play a role, along with science, public opinion expressed in the comments, and the legislative mandate.

That’s why continuing the push for legislation to exempt handmade cigars from the FDA remains critical. While having the bill become law would obviously be great, even without passing the legislation it can influence the FDA to think twice about going against the wishes of a significant number of members of Congress. So with a new Congress starting earlier this week, let your representatives hear from you today.

Could the Nicaraguan Canal Impact Cigars?

Here’s a story to keep an eye on. Construction has just begun on a $50 billion construction project to build a canal across Nicaragua. The murky Chinese-funded project is projected to be completed in five years and will allow ships too large to pass through the Panama canal to cross from the Pacific to the Atlantic by traveling through a series of canals connected through Lake Nicaragua.

So what’s the cigar impact? Too early to tell exactly, but it could be significant. The canal could make shipping cigars from Nicaragua to the U.S. even easier, and it could result in more Nicaraguan cigars being exported to other countries, especially China. However, there are potential downsides too. Some have raised concerns about the environmental impact, especially on Lake Nicaragua, which is where the volcanic island of Ometepe is located, also one of the four notable growing regions for Nicaraguan cigar tobacco. Thankfully, no one is proposing using nuclear bombs for construction of the canal this time.

I Heard they Legalized Cuban Cigars

I expect retailers will get questions from occasional cigar smokers asking about Cubans. That’s because the announcement just before Christmas wasn’t particularly clear, nor did the media do a good job reporting what it meant. (We clarified everything here, but the short version is, unless you are visiting Cuba with the explicit permission of the U.S. government, nothing has changed.)

As for more action on the Cuban embargo, I would be shocked to see any in the next two years. Ending the embargo takes an act of Congress and the president’s signature. Plus, as long as Florida remains a key swing state for presidential elections, changing Cuban policy will be a risky play for anyone with national ambitions. So any talk that the recent announcement was the first step towards a quick end to the embargo is unwarranted.

Patrick S

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XVIII)

29 Jul

In this latest segment of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I examine one of the wonders of cigars, contemplate new releases, and urge action.


Slow, Steady Burn

It’s easy to ignore the burn of a cigar. After all, that’s what it’s supposed to do, right? But a perfect burn is truly something to behold. I reflected on this the other evening as I was sitting outside and enjoying a My Father. About a quarter of the way in, I became fixated on the absolutely perfect burn. It continued that way right to the end. That’s no simple feat. Combining tobaccos with different burn qualities, thicknesses, moisture levels, and oxygen access to get not only the taste you want but also a consistent, straight burn is the mark of a master at work.

Can New Get Old?

With the recent IPCPR Trade Show just concluding, new cigars are a dominant topic of conversation when smokers gather. Some observers say this year seems to have produced fewer new releases than in the recent past. I can’t say. There are far too many new cigars for me to keep up with them all. But I also can’t help but wonder whether the proliferation of new lines, extensions, limited editions, etc. simply leads to the pie being cut into thinner and thinner slices.

Don’t Leave Your Words Unspoken

The August 8 deadline for submitting your comments to the FDA concerning its proposals to regulate cigars (and other non-cigarette products) is nearly here. If you haven’t sent yours, don’t delay. Just click here. If you need information or suggestions, you’ll find more than a half-dozen pieces explaining the proposals here, and a tip for submitting your comments here. Now is not the time for complacency.

George E

photo credit: Flickr