Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cigar Thoughts

Fine hand rolled cigars, what a fantastic tradition and work of art. There is something captivating about leaves of a plant, rolled into a shape then wrapped in delicate outer leaves and aged? Is it merely the simple act of placing a cigar in ones mouth and lighting up as habit like a typical cigarette? To the unlearned about the ecstasy of an age old class of smoking pleasure this may seem the case but it is oh so far from it.

Cigars themselves may to the novice seem like a glorified over priced status symbol that either the rich or those who are posers use as a way of saying “look who I am” but my how wrong they are.

Christopher Columbus wrote in his captains log that the natives of San Salvador smoked the leaves of a local plant. Rodrigo de Xeres, who was a lieutenant with the expedition, was the first known European to smoke the Indian's cigar. The natives in South and Central America did not smoke cigars as we know them, as they were wrapped in corn husks, palm leaves and other material. The Spanish people are given credit for creating the cigar industry. The natives called it “Ciq-Sigan” and the Spanish word “Cigarro” came from this. The cigar from its humble beginnings has grown in the ages to become one of the sweetest creations around. From the glory days of the great Cuban cigars to the fantastic products of Honduras, Nicaragua and other wonderful places of splendid growing climates. When you look today at all the companies that produce and sell cigars, you wonder how they can constantly come up with new ideas that have not already been done, seeing that the history of cigars dates back so far. But we must remember that we are talking about an ever changing industry, different year crops and breeds of plants, and fantastically talented blenders that have minds of genius.

I will not take time nor space to name all the companies but you must remember that there are those companies who have stood the test of time and whose products are consistently amazing, with their focus not being as much on profit even though that is the objective but on producing the finest cigars the world has seen. It is an ever fascinating thing that some produce sub par products, due to rushing production or inadequate blends, that wind up in the specials and cheap bins because the cigars never come up to those magical ratings that we all look at and pay attention to, while at the same time the ones that stand over the years garnishing ratings from the 80’s to the high 90’s are still the top groups in the industry. What are the others missing? Sometimes a new brand comes along that has a blend that is fantastic and is a grand success.

It takes time, talent and the love of the leaf to make a lasting impression on a cigar world that is inundated with a wide choice and variety that one can find out there. It takes companies that have a long and endearing history, a family tradition and the source of the product running in their veins. It takes the inner knowledge that no matter what price you put on it, no matter how fancy a band, no matter how heavy you advertise, if the cigar itself cannot stand to the taste of those wonderful pleasure seeking coinsures with taste buds that can detect anything from cedar, earth, coffee, and a myriad of other flavors then it will meander its way to the two fer bin.

Even though you can read hundreds of reviews, photos and articles on every cigar out there, always remember those are the opinions of one person. While reviews are a great guideline and should be read to see what the makeup and profile of a stick may be, the final choice is up to one person and their taste, and that’s you.

The pleasure of a cigar is in the craftsmanship of the creation, its construction, its makeup, its blending and the aroma produced. When you light up a fine cigar, you feel the joy that courses through your mind, releasing you from the cares of this world and transporting you to a place that lets you escape even if for an hour or two to a place of serenity and peace. You draw in the bounty of smoke that coats the pallet, igniting the sinuses and the thoughts that once invaded your consciousness disappear into a foggy after thought as the smoke dances in front of you like a dancer performing an erotic compilation of enticing moves that captivate your eyes not letting you go. As each puff is done, the flavors ever changing bringing your senses to a point of sheer bliss. This truly is the joy that only a fine cigar created by talented craftsman who take much pride in their work can produce. Every time you buy a cigar, think of what it took to make it, appreciate the craft, and enjoy the art of smoking a grand cigar.

Walk into a cigar shop, breath in deeply of the aromas that abound inside. Look around at box after box of wonderful cigars. As you see them in the box, remember they had a long journey to get there. Once you select one and light it, be glad that there are those dedicated people that you don't see who planted, grew, harvested, aged and stored, crafted, blended, watched over and rolled what you now have in your hand. Enjoy they great world of cigars.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Don't think, just smoke.

Last night I sat down to re arrange my main humidor and rotate the contents, while at the same time opening two smaller ones to move some things from one to another. As I dug through the various sticks, I was thinking about cigars, writing, the industry and people. I became fascinated with cigars years ago, the smell, the taste and aroma, the sights and creations to be found in large walk in humidors, the absolute art of the stick itself and the tradition behind it. The first cigar I ever had grabbed me and I haven't let go in thirty years. It is somewhat amazing to my though how one can go from just the raw delight in enjoying cigars as a novice to, after time, digging into every bit of information about companies, brands, regions, plants and the who, what, when and where of the cigars. I have written stories about cigars for years but only in the last couple of years have I started putting them out for people to see, for until then it was just a way for me to put my thoughts in a catalog for reference. I think that sometimes, we can get carried away in the business of things, just as in anything, and miss out on that raw joy known at the start. It may be possible as well that sometimes we take ourselves to seriously and miss out on the youthful exuberance we get at lighting up a new stick. You can over think anything and cigars are no different, from cap to foot or the complete structures of cigars. from every vein, variations in the wrapper color to every single note and nuance of flavor. Now to write about these items is one thing, don't get me wrong, you have to look at all those to do so, but not to the point that it is consuming or that the joy fades, or get to a point where we complicate the very process of what the creation is for. I'm as guilty as anyone of this. Once again, I'm not saying this is wrong, just that every now and then we should back up, forget what we know, pick up a fine cigar and just light it, smoke it and enjoy it, back to what it is made for, the pure unadulterated pleasure of the smoke. I think also we should never take our selves so seriously that we became oblivious to the fact that we don't know everything about it. I remember a few months ago, I was in a B&M in Jackson and was enjoying just looking through the multitude of cigars in a very large walk in humidor, sort of like being a kid in a candy store. While in there, two gentlemen walked in and one was new to cigars and it was all to obvious the other was a walking "I know the whole world of cigars" afficionado. I tried not to be distracted but could still here the conversation. I admired the new bee, you could hear the enthusiasm in his voice as he looked at all the different shapes, sizes and wrappers. He had chosen on off the shelf and asked his friend about it, who started telling him about the region it came from, the parts of the plant certain leaves were picked from, the style of the cap, how long it was aged, how to properly cut it to achieve adequate draw and then ran through the entire length of the stick telling him where various and many flavors make up the blend. After they looked at about ten different cigars, the look on the new bees face was that of sheer confusion, and the glee I saw when he walked in was gone. What a shame. Myself, I picked up a couple cigars I had not had in years and headed for checkout. After my purchase I stepped aside to find a chair to sit and talk with the owner while smoking and had just clipped the end of mine when the new bee walked up to the counter. I saw what he had in his hand and made the comment to him, "Thats a good one, enjoy". He looked at me and said, "I hope so, my friend said that it comes from a certain region and that I need to let it burn slow and...." you get the idea.
His friend was still in the humi when I sat down, and the new bee sat across from me. He held a nice cigar in his hand and looked at his friend still roaming around the humi and asked me, "Pardon me, but is there a proper way to start smoking this particular cigar? I'm new to this and want to really enjoy it.". I told him, "Stick the cigar in your mouth, light it and puff, and don't think just enjoy.". Its great to know all you can about cigars because there is a vast world of knowledge about it and some of the finest traditions and families involved, but here again, sometimes, just sometimes, forget what you know, cut, light and enjoy. Thats part of the fun of cigars. With so many companies and so many brands, from the big and well known to the new and to the small, some in it for generation, other just starting, each one producing a product that they spent time and effort to blend what they think and believe to be a great cigar is for a certain taste. Notice, I said certain taste, each person is different. By the way, while it is true that the cigar world is somewhat a community, its a community that should never be gated. On a whole, the people you meet in the cigar industry as well as those who write about it are some of the finest people you ever want to meet, with great kindness, business knowledge and as friendly a group of people as you ever could know. That being said, like in anything, every once in a while you find one that thinks in a very closed community way and that is terrible, because its whats outside the community that buys the product that gives you the opportunity to be in the industry. And to the consumer, remember one thing, that cigar you bought, that you ordered or walked into a B&M and selected, when you light it remember all that went into it, for its more than just leaves rolled up, its an art form. Thats one of the many great things about the cigar world, so many variations and flavors, shapes and sizes, brands and histories. But fellow B.O.T.L. and S.O.T.L. every so often, lets stop and clear our minds of the science and do just one thing.........

Cut, Light and Enjoy.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Las Calaveras Smoking

Sometimes I’m at a lose for words, rare I know, but it does happen. And such is the case on the cigar I am writing of today, Las Calaveras. After 30 years of smoking cigars I sometimes feel jaded, not looking for a new big win nor finding many surprises in new cigars, and that is my fault due to oversight and low expectations at times. But when I tried Las Calaveras, I felt a little ashamed of myself and found my cigar palate enamored by its flavor. I picked up several from my shop for a long weekend as I would finally have some me time and time to just relax. As of late free time has been non existent so this felt like a luxury. I had two full days off so the next morning after I awoke, I fixed breakfast for my wife and I as it was a Saturday morning. After home made omelets, we poured coffee and walked out to the deck to enjoy the morning. She selected one of her favorites and I picked up on of the Las Calaveras cigars I had brought home. This is a nice and dark cigar, some veins but nothing obtrusive, just the great look of the leaf. The feel of the cigar in the hand is good, subtle yet you can notice the sheen from the slight oils. As she has already started enjoying her cigar, I used my Xikar and make fast work, torching up the foot. Once lit, the first thing noticed was a burst of flavor that reminds me closely of black strap molasses and spice. This continued for about one fourth of an inch, then the cigar shifted. 

The first part of the cigar brought a velveteen smoothness with a hearty hard wood and black strap combo that delighted the palate. Soon into the first part of the cigar, you could detect a slight citrus flavor far in the background but yet noticeable with the flavors being given. This is not an average cigar, this cigar delivers to the palate a cavalcade of flavor that erupts in a non stop flood of torrential complexity that keeps your attention yet soothes the mind.

As I move into the second part of the cigar, I am perplexed yet enticed as hints of toasted French bread begin to unfold in the myriad of flavors being produced. There is also a slight saltiness that I assume comes from the toasted bread that appears, making the taste buds salivate in glorious expectation of the next draw from the cigar as hints of cayenne appear. This has become a hearty cigar, with flavors that satisfy the palate and leave no dull wonderment as to what is being derived in the smoke.

Moving into the final part of the cigar, the French toast and black strap, mixed with a dose of tangy spice, make for a velvety yet smooth smoke that coats the oral factors with a rich essence of tobacco that has been carefully cared for and blended. As the cigar begins to draw to a close, a noticeable spike in the intensity of the flavors is amply noticeable with a rush of exuberant spice, slight saltiness and the essence of the hard wood and molasses combining in a theatrical performance that dances upon the palate.     

I hated for this cigar to end so I was more than pleased I had brought extra home. The Las Calaveras from Crowned Heads is a crowning achievement in blending and construction, and if I may be so bold and use a baseball term, has hit it completely out of the park. 

If you have yet to try this cigar, search for it diligently at your local B&M. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in the slightest.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Jericho Hill

There are times when I want to escape the world and just lean back and think, to walk down the halls of my thoughts and memories. I envision our minds as vast corridors lined on each side with doors, each containing specific times in our lives. Sometimes I believe we need to travel down those corridors long forgotten, thoughts and memories that are vague and almost empty and void. Who knows, some pleasantry may be hidden or some word that would be useful today. 

Its been about an hour since I closed the shop, doors locked and everything where it should be. I took a cigar from my stash to enjoy tonight and selected the new Jericho Hill from Crowned Heads. This cigar presents itself understated but yelling loudly. Slightly boxed pressed, with a wrapper that carries a very dark and sturdy appearance plus the feel in your hand show the grand tooth this leaf carries. The band is delightfully understated and simply, yet perfectly fitting the look of the cigar.

I walked out to our deck on the back of the store, and deciding to leave the big screen off, sat in a chair that over looked the parking lot and stores. I propped my feet up in a small chair and took a deep breath of the night air, relaxing for the first time today. Once I V cut the cap, I gave it a cold draw, which produced some nice wood and spice with that wonderful flavor of well aged tobacco.
Once lit, the flavor starts immediately with a succulent pepper spice followed on its heels by smoky hard wood and a very mild sweetness that lingers. Working into the first third, the spice and wood have begun a magical dance upon the palate, with the smoke being thick and velvety, almost creamy in the mouth. The sweetness I was detecting now has shown more and reminds me of black strap molasses cookies my mother used to make all those years ago. With each draw the cigar give abundant smoke and the aroma plays around the nostrils. I lean back enjoying the cigar greatly, watching start trying half heartedly to peek from behind small clouds. I wonder down a corridor of thought and remember those cookies she made and how the house would smell of the sweetness from the molasses.  

Moving along I soon reached the second third, and here with the wood, spice and black strap working in sublime unison, other delicate nuances are starting to show. Stout coffee notes begin to enter as it reminds me of coffee and chicory made in an old two piece pot on a gas stove in old New Orleans at my Grandmothers house. I remember when I was ten and we would go down there, you would get up early for coffee and doughnuts, and listen to the sounds of the plants working across the street. The stout coffee notes are working so well with the wood and spice as the black strap fades just a touch.

 In to the final third and finish, the cigar shows the expertise of its blend, with each flavor working together yet showing itself in turn one from another. The combination invigorates the senses for each draw as you watch you thoughts play out in the clouds of smoke it produces. Toward the close, the spice ramps ever so slightly but not as to over power the smoky dark wood now flowing nor the slight sweetness that wraps itself around the combination. The finish of the cigar gave stronger hits of chicory and spice which made me want another.

The Jericho Hill from Crowned Heads is a grand mouth watering cigar that draws back an with out apology knocks it out of the park. Try these soon, see what you taste, what you gather from it, for in reality that’s all that matters.
Also if you don't have time for a long smoke, try the new Jericho Hill Shots. Perfect short smoke with tons of flavor.