Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cigar Humidors – Are They Really Necessary?


In one sense cigars are like sponges in that they absorb what is in their environment.  If they are stored in less than optimal conditions they could easily go bad.  Even the most expensive cigar could end up being a disappointing smoke.  However, if you store your cigars in the proper environment not only will they maintain their quality, you will actually help them to age.

Most non-cigar smokers are not aware that keeping cigars in a humidor goes well beyond protecting them from the environment.  When stored in a humidor each of your cigars has the potential to become a “perfect smoke”.  Therefore, whether you are an ardent cigar aficionado or a beginning cigar smoker you should store and age your cigars in a good cigar humidor.

Prior to being rolled, most cigar tobacco has been processed, cured, fermented and aged for at least two years after the tobacco has been harvested.  At that point in time the cigars are ready to be constructed.  The tobacco is rolled and then the finished cigars are usually aged before being offered to the public.  However, some finished cigars, especially lower-priced bundles, are not aged any additional length of time.

Most cigars will continue to improve for up to a decade if they are aged in a properly maintained humidor.  After that time they will still need proper storage but they won’t show any significant improvement.

The reality is that most of us won’t want to wait ten years before enjoying our cigars.  Experiments were conducted to see how much aging affected the quality of different cigars.  Although every bundle or box of cigars will age differently most of the results were pretty consistent.  Here is a summary of how the findings can affect the quality of your cigars:

·         If you age most cigars for a minimum of two to three months before smoking them you will recognize a considerable improvement in the taste.

·         Some cigars may attain their full flavor potential in as little as six months of being aged in a humidor.

·         If you age your cigars for at least a year they will become significantly mellower.

·         You can’t transform a bad cigar or a bad brand of cigars into good cigars by aging them.  However, if you’ve bought good cigars that taste bad you can dramatically improve their taste by aging them.

·         You will need to age inexpensive cigars longer than you need to age premium cigars to achieve noticeable improvements.

·         Full bodied cigars tend to improve and mellow more with longer aging than do mild cigars.

·         All cigars age differently and will taste different from each other (even cigars from the same bundle or box).

·         If you buy your cigars from local tobacconists who keep their cigars in a humidor it is likely that they’re ready to smoke immediately (or will require less aging) than cigars that you buy via mail order or online.

·         Artificially flavored cigars don’t need to be aged but they still need to be stored in a humidor.  However, you should never keep artificially flavored cigars with other cigars in the same humidor.

Before aging your cigars you will need to take them out of their wrappers or tubes.  However, artificially flavored cigars should be kept in their sealed tubes.

Beginning cigar smokers sometimes balk at the thought of investing in a humidor.  Aging aside, even if you could prevent only a handful of premium cigars from going bad it should justify the cost of a small humidor.

Author Bio – Jason Daniels is an avid cigar smoker.  Because it’s not always possible to find a place to smoke his favorite cigars, Jason always carries e-cigs in his pocket so that he can enjoy a satisfying “smoke” wherever he is.

How to Cut a Cigar

Rolling Cigars_Cuba 178

Aside from the taste and the aroma, cigars are quite different from cigarettes.  Unlike smoking cigarettes, you can’t just pull a cigar out of a box, light it up and start to smoke it.  Properly preparing a premium cigar prior to smoking it is a process in itself.  The end of the cigar must be properly cut in order to get the best draw and flavor while maintaining the structural integrity of the cigar.

Virtually all premium cigars have closed heads that have to be cut before you can smoke them.  We’ll look at a number of different ways to cut a cigar.  The best way is the way that suits your style and taste.

If you watch old movies you’ll see that some of the actors cut a v-shaped notch in their cigars with a pocket knife.  Others used a horseshoe nail to pierce the end.  And certain “tough guys” bit the ends off their cigars and spat them out before lighting up.  Although some people still prepare their cigars for smoking using one of these methods, for the most part the way cigar aficionados cut their cigars today is a bit more hi-tech.

One thing’s for sure – a bad cut will ruin any cigar.  So, the better the cigar the more attention you should pay to how you cut it.

The overriding concept is to create a smooth, ample opening for the smoke to come through without compromising the cigar’s structure.  Most of the time this will mean that you’ll have to cut away part of the flag leaf or the cap that was used to close the cigar.  However, you need to make sure that you don’t cut too much away.  If you do some of the filler leaves can fall out.
The Wedge Cut

If you make a bull’s eye cut or a wedge cut, you will want to make a relatively large cut in order to expose the surface of the filler leaves.  This will allow you to get a good draw from the core through the rim of the cigar.  Most of the time, you should cut around 1/16th of an inch off the end of the cigar.  If you don’t have a measuring device with you look for where the curved end begins to straighten out and make your cut there.

Alternatively, you can expose a lot of the surface area of the cigar by cutting a V-shaped wedge.  There are a couple of potential drawbacks to using this type of a cut.  Although the draw will be easy the cigar could smoke too hot.  In addition, if you like to chomp down on your cigars this type of a cut makes the opening in the cigar more prone to collapsing.  If the structure of the cigar is torn the draw will be closed off.
Cigar Cutters

Cigar cutters can be used to help you to cut your cigar with one swift motion.  They are the most efficient and safest way to properly cut a cigar.  If you use a cigar cutter rather than a knife or a piercer you will minimize the chance that you will tear the wrapper or otherwise damage the cigar.  Your best options would be to use either a single-bladed or double-bladed cutter to cut across the end of the cigar.

If you use a single-bladed cutter position the cigar away from the blade, at the far side of the opening.    Bring the blade down and touch the cigar before you make the cut.  This will keep the cigar in the proper position.  Then use an even pressure while making the cut confidently and quickly.

A double-bladed cutter is a little easier to use because it cuts from both sides simultaneously.  Nonetheless you should rest your cigar against one of the blades before you click the cutter shut.

It is well-worth investing in a good cutter because making a bad cut will ruin any cigar.  If you ruin even a handful of good cigars their cost could add up to considerably more than that of even the most elegant cigar cutter.
Author Bio – Jason Daniels has been smoking cigars for more than a decade.  When not smoking one of his favorite cigars you can often find him writing about them, usually with an e-cigarette clenched between his lips

What Cigars Does Tony Soprano Smoke?

Cuban dreaming

“The Sopranos” is an American TV drama series whose storyline revolves around mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his New Jersey based Italian-American criminal organization.  Throughout the series Tony Soprano tries to balance the requirements of dealing with a dysfunctional family with the responsibilities of running a dysfunctional mob.

The show first aired on HBO on January 10, 1999.  It proved to be so popular that it ran for 6 seasons, during which 86 episodes were produced.  The final episode was first shown on June 10, 2007.  Since then “The Sopranos” has been picked up by A&E for syndication in the US.  It has been broadcast internationally as well.

In addition to being called “the greatest television series of all time,” during its initial airing it was recognized as the most financially successful television series in the history of cable TV.  The industry acknowledged the quality of the show by showering it with 21 Emmys and 5 Golden Globe awards.

In the opening sequence, as well in many of the scenes, it was not unusual to see Tony smoking a cigar.  During the opening title sequence we see Tony Soprano holding a cigar while driving home.  He gets on the New Jersey Turnpike after exiting NYC from the Lincoln Tunnel.  We see numerous landmarks around Elizabeth and Newark, New Jersey.  At the end of the sequence Tony pulls into his driveway in the suburbs.

There’s been a lot of debate about what kind of cigars Tony Soprano smokes.  Although he was seen smoking at least one Macanudo throughout the years, and even though he gave Dr. Cusamoano a box of Cuban Montecristos, not for nuthin’ the cigar he smoked most often was a CAO Maduro L’Anniversaire Robusto.

This beautiful Nicaraguan maduro is at the pinnacle of CAO’s line of cigars.  It was developed to honor CAO’s anniversary.  In 1998 Cigar Aficionado’s Insider rated it the 8th best cigar in the world.  The Robusto is 5” x 50.  The filler is made of Nicaraguan and Dominican tobacco.  Its binder is Ecuadorian.  The current list price for a box of 20 of these fine cigars is around $125.00.

Overall, the construction of this cigar is very good.  Although some CAO cigars have an overly tight draw, this particular cigar draws smoothly.  If you examine the wrapper it’s unlikely that you will find any blemishes or soft spots.

Before lighting, the cigar has an aroma reminiscent of vintage port, tobacco and fresh raisins.  It actually smells a lot like Red Man chewing tobacco.  Like Tony, you won’t be disappointed once you light it.  The beginning draw is really easy and the cigar burns straight.  In no time at all your taste buds will come alive as the thick sheets of smoke tantalize them with hints of black cherry, raisins and molasses

Once the first third of the cigar has burned the flavor begins to mellow as the taste of mocha coffee is added to the mix.  By the time you are down to the last third of the Robustu a bit of the initial sweetness has returned accompanied by a more intense mocha flavor.  From beginning to end, billowing clouds of smoke will drift into the sky.

Pretty much everything about the CAO Maduro L’Anniversaire Robusto is exceptional.  And the neat thing is that you won’t need any connections to the mob in order to enjoy one yourself.

Author Bio – Jason Daniels has been a cigar lover for more than a decade.  When he’s not smoking one of his favorite cigars you’ll often find him with an e cigarette dangling from his mouth and a shot of bourbon in his hand.

The Top 4 Cigars for the Beginning Cigar Smoker

Lila and her Cigar

People have been smoking cigars for hundreds of years.  Many years before Christopher Columbus stepped foot on the New World, Native Americans were rolling up scraps of tobacco, putting it in a large leaf and smoking what they rolled.  Columbus brought tobacco with him on his voyage back to Spain and introduced cigars to the Europeans.  As they say, “the rest is history”.

Learning the proper way to smoke a cigar is similar to learning how to enjoy doing pretty much any other hobby well.  After reading about the basics the best way to learn is to experience it yourself.  Following is what the beginning cigar smoker needs to know in order to start off on the right track.

First, let’s talk a bit about cigar etiquette.  Once you learn several things you should feel like you can comfortably fit in with any group of cigar connoisseurs.

Cigar smoking should be a leisurely and fun experience.  Although you may think that it looks cool to bite off the end of a cigar before lighting it, the cap should be cut with a cigar cutter.  Cigar cutters are very inexpensive items and every cigar smoker should own at least one.

Make sure to carry either matches or a lighter with you.  Asking another cigar smoker for a light will give you away as a cigar novice.  Once your cigar is lit it is time to enjoy the smoke.  But rather than trying to race to the end of the cigar, the smoke should be savored slowly.

When the cigar has been smoked approximately ¾ of the way down, instead of grinding it out you should set it on the side of an ashtray and allow it to go out by itself.   If you grind it out the tobacco will take up all the room in the ashtray.

Finally, there is no reason to let a good cigar go bad.  If, after smoking a cigar or two you decide that you want to take up the hobby you should invest in a humidor.  The humidor will keep the cigar fresh and help it to age properly.  It isn’t necessary to spend a lot of money on your first humidor.  Many small fully functional humidors are very affordable.

A new cigar smoker should begin by smoking the best mild or mild-to-medium cigars that he or she can afford.  Here are the top four cigars that the beginning cigar smoker should try:
Macanudo Hyde Park

Macanudos are one of the best-selling premium cigars in the North America.  They’re made in the Dominican Republic by the General Cigar Company.  The Macanudo Hyde Park Café has a light taste.  It has hints of cashews, almonds and fresh herbs.  This cigar is one of the best choices for a beginner and could be the benchmark against which other cigars are measured.
Helix Blue Tubular

Made in Honduras by the General Cigar Company, the Helix Blue Tubular is also a mild cigar that would be a terrific choice for the beginning cigar smoker.  In some ways it is similar to the more expensive Macanudos.  However, you may want to avoid trying their artificially flavored Helix Remix cigars if you want to experience what a “real” cigar tastes like.

Gispert cigars, which are made in Honduras, have a mild-to-medium body.  Very easy to smoke, these cigars have a woodsy and earthy flavor and a hint of leather.  When lit these very reasonably priced cigars also smell like leather and wood.
Gran Habano Connecticut #1

Gran Habano cigars are made in Honduras by Guillermo Rico.  The Connecticut #1 is a mild-to-medium bodied cigar that is made of a blend of filler tobacco from Nicaragua.  The filler tobacco is wrapped in an Ecuadorian wrapper.  It’s a flavorful cigar, closer to medium bodied than mild, without being overwhelmingly powerful.

You now know the most important things about cigar etiquette and the best choices of cigars for the beginning cigar smoker.  The rest is up to you.  For a very modest investment you can embark on a new venture that could bring you years of smoking pleasure.  Enjoy!

Author Bio – Jason Daniels has been smoking cigars and writing about them for more than a decade.  When not smoking one of his favorite cigars, you’ll often find him sitting behind his notebook computer at his local coffee shop with a cappuccino by his side and an e cigarette dangling from his mouth.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Cuban Cigar Aficionados of Note

Thursday: 2.19.2009

It may be the world's most renown generic product name, and one that brings a special glint to the eye of connoisseurs everywhere; Cuban cigars. For stogie lovers, no matter where they're found, there is simply nothing more special that to light-up any one of a number of famous Cuban cigar brands. And some of the world's most famous cigar enthusiasts have some pretty strong preferences when it comes to relaxing with one of these deliciously decadent indulgences.

Shakespeare's Progeny

Winston Churchill was not a man much taken with moderation and self-restraint when it came to consuming delicious and enjoyable items. He once commented to an interviewer, “My rule of life prescribed, as an absolutely sacred rite, smoking cigars, and also the drinking of alcohol, before, after, and if need be, during all meals, and in the intervals between them.” So it should come as no shock that a man holding such a view would devote a considerable about of energy to procuring the best of each of these items. 

While he enjoyed several different brands, by far and away his favorite cigars were the Romeo y Julieta brands, one of Cuba's finest. He employed a number of suppliers over the years, and always had 3000 to 4000 on hand, in a special room he had constructed for just that purpose. His butler once lamented that Mr. Churchill normally spent more on cigars in two days than he made weekly in salary.

Not Made in Chinatown

As a long time cigarette smoker, Jack Nicholson had long wanted to quit, but just the inhaling part. His chance came while filming The Last Detail in Canada in 1973. His character turned out to be a cigar smoker, so Jack started trying different brands as the filming progressed.

Since Cuban cigars can be legally purchased in Canada, Nicholson started trying different brands, and by the time the shooting was over, he was a Montecristo smoker for life. He won't reveal his stateside sources, where they're illegal, but he manages to have one in his hand several times a day. At least if his source dries up, he always can turn to an e-cigarette.

Game Over

Most basketball fans usually know a game has concluded when the time clock hits double zero. But for many years, fans in Boston knew that a game was over the moment legendary coach, Red Auerbach,  fired up one of his notorious cigars, while seated on the bench next to his team. At least nowadays, with ecigs and ecigars, he wouldn't break any rules.

Red once remarked that the only thing that brought him more joy than a Celtics win was a great cigar. And when he said “great”, he meant Cuban. Auerbach's smoke of choice was the Hoyo de Monterrey. This is one of the premiere cigars in the history of Cuba, grown in the fabulous Vuelta Abajo region of Pinar del Rio. And while Red is no longer with us, if you look hard enough, you can still see one or two Celtics banners hanging in various aging sheds around Cuban's most western province.

No Joking Matter

One of the more unlikely lovers of Cuban cigars is the multi-talented, and impossible to define, Whoopi Goldberg. Whoopi delights in breaking barriers and defying stereotypes, which may have something to do with her not only enjoying the tradition “man's treat” of a good cigar – but Cuban ones to boot.

Whoopi generally prefers smaller cigars, but on special occasions, she loves to break out the good stuff. That's when you'll see her with one of Cuba's signature brands – the Cohiba. Apparently her philosophy is, if you're going to smoke one, make it the best. A sentiment she shares with all lovers of Cuban cigars.


Excellence Revisited: Today's Cuban Cigars

Partagas Petit Coronas Especiales

Cigar aficionados can often be heard talking about their passion in much the same way wine lovers discuss vintages and varietals. The association stands up to closer inspection. After all, cigars, like wine, are agricultural products. Like all such products, the taste, aroma and overall quality of any tobacco, directly reflects the soil in which it grew, the air and humidity where it matured, the sunlight where it was nurtured. Given these factors, the discriminating palate can definitely discern the differences from one harvest to the next; and so can the market.

The Dom Perignon's of the Future

While Cuba has always been considered the home of the world's best cigars, there have definitely been some ups and downs over the last 30 years that generally reflect the various conditions present on the island in any given season. Cuban cigar production has been affected by horrible luck with recent hurricanes on the one hand, and difficulties in procuring gasoline and the proper fertilizers on the other.

As the expert ratings for the various brands of the 2011 crop start to now come in, one thing is clear; this is a vintage that will be long remembered for its excellence. The Cigar Aficionado magazine, long a standard of evaluation in the industry, saw their average ranking score reach 90.9 for the first time ever when looking over the 2011 selections. The previous high of 90.3 was reached in 2010, indicating that we are in the midst of some truly memorable harvests.

“We are probably seeing some of the finest years of Cuban cigar production ever,” according to Edward Sahakian, operator of one of London's best cigar shops. He feels that anyone buying Cuba cigars from any of the last four years is getting truly great cigars. “They are real collector's items,” he goes on to say. The noticeably enhanced quality, compared to some bad years in the late 90s and early 2000s, reflects dramatic improvements being made at every stage of the production process.

New Quality, New Marketing Strategy

One of the factors contributing to the drop in Cuban cigar quality during the down years was traced to overproduction, and a glut of inexperienced rollers in many factories. Combined with some unfortunate weather conditions, the result was noticeable inconsistencies of production. There were flaws in construction ranging from the color of wrapping leaves, to draw and burn characteristics and even the presence of insects. Those days are now over, according to most of the world's chief evaluators.

Now, every major Cuban cigar factory has installed a draw test machine, and they are testing a large percentage of every batch of freshly rolled cigars. Even more importantly, improved production strategies have led to the development of new regional and limited sub-brands reaching market. These have been of superior quality and created quite a bit of excitement amongst the Cubans themselves. And when Cubans take notice, you can bet everyone else in the cigar smoking world will too.

Living in Good Times

2011 witnessed the highest number, ever, of Cuban cigars ranking at 93 or above – 15. The top rank went to the Partagás Serie P No. 2. But it wasn't alone in earning the admiration of the experts. Also scoring high were the Punch Double Corona, Cohiba Lancero, the Bolivar Corona Extra and the H. Upmann Sir Winston.This proliferation of top quality choices indicates that Cuban cigars are again reaching levels of taste and consistency absent for several previous years.

“These are wonderful years of Cuban cigar production,” says Mr. Sahakian. So good is the current crop, across the spectrum, that he is advising his customers to put a box in storage since they are only going to improve with time. Just like a fine wine.

Rafael Ortega – I have been a lover of Cuban cigars for many years, and never tire of the joy of lighting one up after a great meal. Nowadays, I frequently enjoy substituting an e-cigarette or e-cigar when in restaurants. And you know something? They're pretty good too.


The Factory at El Laguito


Although Cuba is relatively small, there are two separate mountain ranges which traverse the island, and enough elevation changes and topographical anomalies scattered about to create literally hundreds of unique agricultural growing zones. These regional differences and micro-climatic characteristics have worked to protect certain growing areas from the encroachment of sugar plantations, and large scale agricultural production in general.

The peasant farmers in these areas have become familiar with the personalities of every twist and turn of the land; every nuance of the soil. The result is the ability to refine planting and growing strategies designed to produce quality instead of quantity; something that corporate and large scale agricultural  concerns can only dream of.

A Friend's Special Treat

In the early 1960s, Eduardo Ribera had been growing tobacco on several scattered plots near foothills surrounding his village for many years, and his father before him. He knew why the tobacco leaves near the big ceiba tree on the hill dried faster than those close to the stream, down the road a bit. He felt it in his bones, but he could never have explained it to anyone, even if he'd wanted to.

Every year, just before selling his harvest to Cubatabaco, the state owned marketing agency, Eduardo would carefully select and prepare what he knew to be the best mix of his product. He used this material to prepare for himself, and a few select friends, his own special brand of homemade cigars. No big deal to him, just the skimming off a little cream from the top before sending the rest of to be used for whatever the marketer saw fit.

In early 1965, a neighbors' son, now working in far off Havana, was just returning to the capital after a brief visit home to see his parents. Eduardo had known him since he was a child, and would give him a box of his home made cigars on each of his visits. Something to remind him of home when he returned to the big city.

Simply Esplendido

Back in Havana, one evening his employer stopped and asked the young man where he was getting those unusually aromatic cigars he always seemed to have. “They're a gift from a friend, who makes them himself, commandante”, he replied.

He offered his boss one to try, and as the first few curls of light blue smoke drifted away, a smile of appreciation and amazement came across his face. Fidel Castro knew a good cigar when he smoked one, and he instantly knew that this was the best one of his life. Ever.

A Star Is Born

When Eduardo Ribera saw the jeep pull up in-front of his small home, he instantly recognized his neighbor's son in the back seat. He also instantly recognized the passenger in the front. Eduardo was flattered, if a little shocked, as Fidel told him his days of selling his crop to the state owned agency were over. From now on, Eduardo's homemade cigars were going to be produced at a special factory being set-up for just that purpose at a home in El Laguito, just outside of Havana.

The best hand rollers in Havana were recruited to work at El Laguito, and soon hundreds of boxes of Eduardo's homemade treats were being produced each week. Christened with the indigenous Taino Indian name for tobacco, the first Cohiba Cigars began to appear.

Getting your hands on a box can prove to be a little tricky. Only a few thousand boxes are produced annually, and buying them in the US is strictly forbidden. But somewhere in a hidden valley of the Cuban hinterland, friends of Eduardo Ribera's family are still treated to a special parting gift as they return home. No big deal really. Just a box of his home made cigars.

Hector Salinas – Quality tobacco has been a passion of mine for a number of years. It's what drew me to Cuba in the first place. And while I enjoy an e-cigarette now and again when smoking isn't permitted, Cuban cigars remain my true love.