Category Archives: Cigars

Cigar Review: Sancho Panza Extra Fuerte Maduro

This handmade Honduran stick, with an emphasis on the extra fuerte, is named for the character in Don Quixote, the novel written by Spanish author Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in 1602. Sancho is the original “sidekick” found in much of today’s literature, and serves as the symbol of practicality in contrast to Quixote’s idealism. Sancho, representative of everyman, only late in the novel comes to share his master’s delusional enchantment, yet he remains his ever-faithful companion realist throughout the text.sancho panza

Made with a long filler blend of Nicaraguan and Honduran leaves and wrapped in a reddish Honduran-grown Cuban seed wrapper, this is a bold smoke from start to finish. Like its namesake, its rich, peppery flavor serves well as an after dinner smoke or as a sidekick to your morning cup of coffee; indeed, it served well as my muse during a recent Sunday morning writing session. A word of advice on snipping the sharply tapered head: be sure to snip a large section or you will be left with a very tight draw.

For the seasoned smoker.

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Cigar Review: Don Pepin Garcia Series JJ

Don Pepin Garcia achieved the rank of Tabequero Maestro while he was rolling and blending cigars in Cuba. Pepin came to Miami in 2002, founding his cigar factory, El Rey de los Habanos, where he has been crafting good smoking cigars ever since.donpepingarcialogo

The “JJ” in the Don Pepin Garcia Series JJ is a combination of Jose (Pepin’s first name) and Jaime, his son’s name. The Series JJ is a Nicaraguan puro made with a mixture of Corojo and Criollo filler, a Criollo binder, and a Corojo wrapper.

Don Pepin has been on my wish list of cigars for some time, so I looked forward to sampling the JJ. Its fragrant wrapper was wood-scented, with hints of leather, and it took to flame eagerly. My first few draws resulted in a distinctly woody flavor, which soon tapered off only to return again about a third of the way through, but combined with pepper and several other complex spices. The cigar burned evenly throughout, never needing a touchup, and the ash was firm, never splinting. The cigar’s finish was strong but smooth, never hot or bitter, with a hint of java.

Cigar reviews are, like movie, book or music reviews, highly subjective — I’ve been disappointed by some smokes that came with high praise, and delighted by others that were panned. That said, I’d say the JJ is a medium to full-bodied cigar that goes well with a morning cup of coffee or an evening glass of wine or English ale. Easy on the palate, it’s not too mild, nor is it offensive or an acquired taste; therefore, it can be enjoyed equally by the novice or the seasoned smoker.

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Cigar Review: Bolívar Robusto

Simón Bolívar was one of the most important leaders of Spanish America’s successful struggle for independence from Spain, collectively known as Bolívar’s War, in the early 19th century.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The history behind Bolívar cigars dates back to 1901, when it was founded by Jose F. Rocha in Great Britain. Registered in Cuba in 1921, Bolívar produced the world’s smallest cigar, a 1 7/8” x 20 called the Delgado. Bolívar was bought in 1954 by the Cifuentes family, who in 1900 purchased the Partagás line of cigars, and moved production to the Partagas factory in Havana. After the Cuban Revolution, the Cifuentes family fled to the Dominican Republic, where today these tasty cigars are still made.

Bolívar cigars are composed of a flavorful Havano Medio Tiempo binder wrapped in an aged San Augustin Ligero wrapper, while the filler is a mix of Dominican and tobacco from the Esteli and Ometepe regions of Nicaragua. Bolívar cigars are a full bodied smoke, rivaling their Cuban counterparts in strength, but they have a smooth, creamy texture. Not recommended for the novice, I find they go well with a morning cup of coffee or in the late evening with an English ale.

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Ode to a Cigar

Hecho a mano;

Honduran-grown Cuban seed leaf unites

Nicaraguan and Honduran tabac.

Extra fuerte — leaf lover’s delight.

Morning bean’s Sancho Panza,

single malt’s midnight denouement.

Erato reveals herself,

strike the cedar…

Let there be smoke!

Where There is Smoke

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Cigar Review: Salute To Arms

My dad served in the Corps, seeing action on Okinawa. I discovered the pleasure of the leaf two years too late. I recall my dad smoking a cigar with a marine buddy of his, and I’m convinced this is a pleasure we could’ve enjoyed together.

Comes beautifully boxed with a handsome label bearing the Marine Corps emblem

Comes beautifully boxed with a handsome label bearing the Marine Corps emblem

I picked up a box of these Salute to Arms cigars several years ago and smoked my last one on Memorial Day as my own salute to our men and women in the Armed Forces. When I saw these on Cuban Crafter’s website, I decided to replenish my humidor with the Churchill. They are a satisfying smoke for the price—a fine tribute to the Marine Corps.

Handmade by Tabacalera Esteli with premium aged Cuban seed Habano long-filler tobacco, with the binder a Cuban seed Habano 2000 leaf, its wrapper is a shade-grown Sumatra Cuban seed.

As well constructed as a well-trained marine, they are a mild to medium bodied smoke, nutty in flavor with a hint of chocolate. With an even burn and an easy draw, the smoke lasted nearly two hours.

Although I’ve smoked only one Churchill, I imagine it will be as consistent as its predecessor and will only improve with age as I intend to smoke one only on special occasions—Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Dad’s birthday, and on the anniversary of his loss to me: forever faithful, Dad!

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Ritual of Cigar Smoking

Cigar smoking dates at least as far back as 1492, when Christopher Columbus arrived in the West Indies to find the natives smoking a primitive cigar shaped from rolled leaves and made of aromatic herbs. Today, cigar smoking is immensely popular, and although many claim that cigar smoke is equally dangerous as cigarette smoke, the leading cause of death today is, as it has always been, birth.

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

Photo courtesy of Craig David Butler

For the benefit of the uninitiated, cigar smoking boasts an elegance as well as a ritualistic pleasure not found in cigarettes. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it that the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.” The same comparison can be made of cigar and cigarette smoking.

The ritual starts with selecting the proper cigar for the proper occasion. Whether opting for something mild to enjoy with your morning cup of coffee and crossword puzzle, a bourbon-flavored cigar while sipping your favorite bourbon in the evening, or perhaps something simple to enjoy while puttering around the house, even the novice can derive pleasure from the selection process.

When cutting the head of your cigar (the end that goes into your mouth), opening between 75%-85% of the cigar’s surface will allow for a nice, easy draw. A quick examination of the head will reveal how far the cap extends down the barrel of the cigar, usually between ¼” to 3/8”. It’s best to cut just above the cap line; a cut below the cap may cause the cigar to unravel. When cutting a tapered (torpedo) cigar, you may have to cut more to enable a sufficient draw, although because the narrowing ring concentrates the smoke, many smokers find that less of the cigar’s surface needs to be opened. The key to a good cut is to be quick — quick cuts are clean cuts. Once you find your spot, clip it.

A punch cutter works well and is easy to use. Simply line up the cutter on the center of the head and twist. The punch cutter will remove the cut portion of the cigar when you withdraw the cutter. Some smokers complain that a punch cutter fails to cut a large enough hole for 50+ ring cigars, but to each their own preference.

When lighting your cigar, it’s best to warm the foot (opposite the head) for 10-20 seconds, never touching the flame to the cigar but passing it over the flame while rotating it. Then, with the cigar in your mouth, bring the flame near the foot and simultaneously puff on the cigar to draw the flame into the cigar while rotating it between your lips to assure even ignition. Once lit, gently blow on the lighted foot to confirm that it’s evenly lit across its ring. The key to lighting a cigar is to ignite the tobacco at a low temperature, thereby allowing a cooler, smoother smoke, one that will be free of harsh flavor.

When using matches to light a cigar, be sure to wait a moment for the ignition to stop or you’ll end up with an unpleasant sulphur flavor to your smoke. Paper matches burn too quickly, and while kitchen matches work well, multiple matches are often required. Long Spanish cedar matches specially designed for lighting cigars can be found in many fine tobacco shops.

Torch style butane lighters have recently become popular, but as this type of lighter can burn as hot as 1,500 degrees, care must be taken to avoid using the hottest part of the flame and instead use the super heated air just above the flame.

A cigar is not meant to be smoked like a cigarette; never inhale, but instead allow the smoke to circulate in your mouth and nose … and like a glass of fine wine, don’t forget to enjoy the fragrance of the wrapper!

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Cigar Review: Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Story

You don’t have to be a fiction writer to enjoy this short smoke. The Hemingway line has been around since 1983, and the Short Story is the top seller (maybe they should change its name to Best Seller – wait, they have a Best Seller!). All Hemingway cigars are made from Dominican filler and binder and wrapped in a sweet West African Cameroon wrapper. I’m not a big fan of Cameroon wrappers, but on a Hemingway it works, which speaks volumes about the blend.arturo-fuente-short-story-b

Of course what makes the Short Story unique is its perfecto shape. Measuring four-and-a-half inches from the nipple’s tip to the crown of its head, the ring gauge runs between .46 at the head and .49 near the foot. Because of the workmanship involved in the construction and the fact that the cigars are aged a minimum of six months, it’s understandable that a limited number of these little dandies are produced annually.

Care must be taken to light the nippled foot without scorching the wrapper, so I’d recommend a cedar match or lighting a piece of cedar from which to ignite the Short Story. From the first draw the Short Story’s taste is sophisticated, with hints of cedar and spice, a touch of leather – smooth throughout, its slow burn never hot or bitter.

Like a well-written piece of short fiction one enjoys for its language, never wanting to turn the last page, the Hemingway Short Story, too, should be enjoyed leisurely; at smoke’s end you’ll be remiss to set the Short Story down in your ashtray for the last time, the experience lingering, as a great short story should, long after it has gone out. It goes well with a morning cup of coffee or a single malt in the evening.

Like all Hemingway cigars, the price may be prohibitive to some, but I try to keep one or two in my humidor for special occasions – birthdays, holidays, an acceptance letter, maybe even the occasional rejection letter that lends encouragement.

Highly recommended.

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Sexism In the Cigar Industry

Like it or not, sexism is alive and well in the 21st century. If you don’t believe me, just consider the movies Hollywood turned out this year: Superbad, Knocked Up, and The Heartbreak Kid, just to name three. I haven’t seen any of these—nor do I intend to—but I saw enough trailers to know that women’s body parts in all three are the basis for the risqué humor that brought in over $300 million for these three movies alone.

Women in the 21st century boast that they’ve “come a long way, baby;” yet not only are they not yet on a par with men when it comes to equal pay for equal work, but they continue to be objectified in nearly every way imaginable and in every medium: from reality TV to beer and car commercials, from NFL cheerleaders to beauty pageants, from the Victoria’s Secret fashion show to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. There’s Howard Stern, Playboy and pornography, and the fact that the plastic surgery industry is a multi-billion dollar business—wrinkles, sagging flesh and cellulite cause more fear in this country than global warming and the threat of another terrorist attack combined. And the tabloids think nothing of raining ridicule on Jennifer Love Hewitt in a swimsuit. And Tyra Banks is fat? Since when?

But sexism is becoming prominent in the cigar industry nowadays as more and more ads featuring sexy women appear in cigar magazines, too. My only interests in buying a cigar are the wrapper, its binder, the filler blend, and how long the leaf has been aged. Cigar smoking used to be a male-only activity, but with the introduction of flavoredcigars, more women are indulging in the practice. Yet instead of catering to this new demographic with politically correct advertising, we have CAO Flavorettes. These girls, scantily clad representations of a certain flavored cigar, travel to cigar shows where attendees can sample specific blends based on the color of the bikini these Flavorettes wear. It’s one thing to ask for a recommendation from a knowledgeable woman—someone who’s been in the tobacco business for twenty years, learned it from the bottom up from her father or a favorite uncle—quite another to buy a stick based on the body parts of the woman pushing it. Other than a bourbon infused cigar, which is not the same as a flavored smoke, I don’t know that any of my male friends smoke flavored cigars. So to whom are these Flavorettes supposed to appeal—certainly not women smokers? Perhaps to the men who buy flavored cigars for their partners? “Here, Honey, this blend looked good on the Flavorette at the cigar show, so I think you’ll like it.”

Yet the ad industry has been using sex to sell their products for years. Does anyone really buy a car because of the woman behind the wheel in the ad who asks, “The important thing in choosing a car is, when you turn it on, does it return the favor?”

Yet these ads must work; if they didn’t they would find some other angle. Yet surely there must be some consumers who find them insulting. Why aren’t more women outraged? It seems that more women measure themselves against the sexuality depicted on the small screen as today’s norm.

When I was younger I thought I knew it all; when I turned forty I realized how little I really knew. My father told me that was wisdom. Wise or not, I’m over fifty now, and the wisdom of marketing cigars using women eluded me for a time—then it hit me like a bale of tobacco leaf: the industry couldn’t care less about appealing to a seasoned leaf lover like me: they’ve got my dollar. Their worry is appealing to a much younger demographic, the one that will one day replace me. Now I understand how my father must’ve felt when he told me the world had passed him by—that his “the greatest” generation had been forsaken for the Baby Boomers because we had more disposable income. And so it goes: the capital baton being passed from the Baby Boomers to Generation X, as it will, eventually, from Generation X to the Millennium Generation.

I grew up watching Rob and Laura Petrie, who couldn’t be shown onscreen in the same bed together. The twenty-somethings today, Generation X, grew up on MTV. If today’s TV has desensitized the old fogy generation, what’s it done to a generation who grew up on it? Sadly, little, which perhaps leaves the admen thinking they must further push the envelope in order to make their product memorable.

The pendulum, I fear, will never swing the other way—not until women, with the help of male feminists, stand up and refuse to be used as the objects they outwardly profess to abhor even as they inwardly, perhaps even unconsciously, seem to embrace the practice. Until that happens, expect the advertising industry to continue to use women in more and more risqué ways.

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