Acquiring a taste for a new cigar.

blue nude

Adam Bales (and Irv CigarBroker) ask(s): Why might we grow to love oysters (or different cigars).

ADAM BALES* (Annotated by Irv CigarBroker)

Hunter S. Thompson once described driving in blizzards (or trying a new blend or wrapper) as an acquired taste. A throwaway line, and a strange (different) taste to try and acquire. Nevertheless, it raises an interesting question: what does it mean to acquire a taste for something? Whatever the answer to this question, the phenomenon is rife. Children are unlikely to appreciate a sip of beer (or a draw on a cheap cigar). Yet a decade later they may relish the evening’s first pint. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, they have acquired the beer-taste (the desire for a premium cigar). Taste acquisition does not stop at beer (cigars) and blizzards: consider coffee and classical music, olives and oysters. Indeed, if we characterize acquired taste broadly – in terms of coming to have new (brands available) values – then the phenomenon covers our political, moral and religious transformations (A bit heady, I’ll admit).

Now sometimes fate gifts, or curses, us with an acquired taste (a bad cigar). I may not set out to like peas (or a Maduro), but may end up liking them. At other times, we may aspire to acquire a taste. I may suspect that classical music (or a candela wrapper) has value, though I cannot myself see it. And so I may strive to uncover the sublimity of Schumann (EMS). Yet such aspirational attempts to acquire taste are bewildering. For if I cannot see the value of classical (the different wrapper) music, why should I pursue it so ardently?

Agnes Callard seeks to solve this puzzle by claiming that aspiration is dualistic. When we aspire, we are in transition (read: bored): we are shedding who we are now and becoming who we aspire to be (i.e. educating the palate.)  As such, says Callard, our aspirational behaviour (sic) must answer to both aspects of our being: to our current values and our inchoate (undeveloped) grasp of our later values.

So why should I pursue classical music (or any new blend or wrapper) so ardently? In part, because I already grasp, murkily, how I will later value such music (tastes). So pursuit speaks to the self that I am becoming. What of reasons that speak to my current self? Well, perhaps I want to impress someone or gain (respect by going up a notch in body) a qualification. Any such consideration will complete the justification for aspiration (this desire).

Callard’s account is interesting because we don’t typically think that our behaviour (sic) must answer to two selves: to the self we are leaving behind (our go-to cigar) and the self we are becoming (the new one). But Aspiration has more in store when Callard turns to a collection of puzzles related to her main theme. One of these was discussed in L. A. Paul’s Transformative Experience (reviewed in the TLS on June 12, 2015). Paul argues that having (a new cigar) children change(s) us so dramatically that we cannot truly understand in advance what parenthood would be like. The puzzle is that if we cannot know what parenthood is like, how can we decide whether to have children (or try a new cigar)?

Three years on, Callard provides an answer. Having children (and a variety of wrappers and blends) is often aspirational. Consider Maha, who does not truly comprehend (understand) parent­hood but perceives that there is value there. Maha may aspire to acquire this value. Now aspiration is not the work of an instant (or a quick once around the humidor) but a long road to be walked. So Maha should not leap into (praising the newfound cigar) pregnancy or adoption. Rather, she should first speak to (more seasoned cigar smokers) parents, or babysit, or read about the experiences of others. And all of this will shape her understanding of (what a cigar aficionado is) parenthood so that she grasps its value with growing clarity. By the time Maha decides whether to try for a baby (another new cigar), she can answer to the dualistic demands of (maturity) aspiration. She knows her values as they are now, and so can reflect on the considerations that speak to her current self (tastes). And she now grasps much about the value of (constant trials and errors) parenthood. So she has an “inchoate” grasp of how parenthood will speak to the self that she is becoming. And on the basis of these dual reflections, Maha is in a position to decide whether to (accept) take the next step towards (confidence) parenthood. We solve Paul’s puzzle, then, by treating the journey to (become an expert) parenthood not as a single decision but as an aspirational process (albeit an arduous one).

Callard’s book is always interesting, but her views (conclusions) are not incontrovertible. Indeed, it’s far from clear that we need a dualistic story to account for (reaching this goal) aspiration. My own aspirational efforts have been accompanied by strong desires. I aspired to appreciate (boutique and micro-bouquet blends) classical music because I desired to understand a value that was (very foreign and misunderstood) opaque to me. Further, while I may not have desired to (find that perfect cigar) listen to classical music, I desired to desire it. That is, I wanted my desires to change. Why, then, did I pursue (change to) classical music so ardently? Because I desired to understand its value and wished to (fall in love with different blends) desire it. This justifies (longing) aspiration, without any need to mention the values of the person I am attempting to become a (connoisseur).

Agnes Callard would disagree. She argues that because desires like mine are grounded in a weak grasp (boredom) of (the usual) classical music’s value, the desires themselves will be too weak to justify (my dream) aspiration. Yet a weak grasp of value need not give rise to weak desires. The less I understand something (or the more flippant I am about change), the stronger my desire (is) to come to understand it. So a weak (casual) grasp of (trying new cigars and blends) classical music’s value can underpin a strong desire to understand this value and so can underpin (true hope in my quest to develop a taste for new cigars) aspiration.  No (dithered bifurcation) dualism is needed. 


*(Adam Bales reviews “Aspiration: The agency of becoming,” by Agnes Callard.  304 pp.  Oxford University Press. £41.99.)

(Reprinted from the TLS July 13, 2018.  All rights reserved.  Copywritten)


Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies.


Let’s see.  President Trump lies.  The current governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner lies.  His challenger, Jay Robert Pritzger lies. In Illinois, Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was just convicted of second-degree murder for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald lies.  The officers at the scene of the tragedy lie. The FDA lies. The Catholic Church when it comes to the abuse of young men lies. Hilary Clinton lies. Store managers lie.  Movie moguls, like Harvey Weinstein lie. General Motors lies. The new Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh lies. Christine Blasey Ford, his accuser of sexual misconduct lies.  Even the butcher, baker and candlestick maker all lie. I lie. You lie. We all lie.

Lies seem to be permanently and deeply enmeshed into the fabric of our culture.  So it’s really no surprise that those in the cigar industry lie. How many lies are told when a new cigar hits the market?  Is the wrapper San Andres, or is it Dominican? Is it short filler or long filler. Are the boxes really that expensive? Are the wrappers dyed or not?  Have the cigars been aged for as long as the manufacturers claim? Did that rep quit, or was he pushed out?  Will you sell out to the internet?

But to tie it all together, the fact remains that the cigar is the last handmade, artisanal tobacco product offered to the public in the marketplace today.

And that’s the truth!

(Artwork by


Misunderstood Cigars.

jay defeo

The doppelganger of interpretive visual acuity when I introduce a new boutique cigar . . .


Lots of people snicker, roll their eyes as they amble through the many galleries in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.  And what’s to say it isn’t warranted. There are works exhibited there that for all practical purposes are, well . . . goofy.  Some canvases are all blue with flecks of texture, a cartoon blow up, spilled white paint on layered pieces of wood with a nail sticking out for contrast, I guess.  Massive splatterings of paint on linen that appear to have been created by a soused orangutan. Steps made from orange plexiglass and aluminum. A stairway to nowhere. I overheard one young man critique the whole shebang as “stupid.”

These pieces must have some merit.  They are all on display in one of the world’s greatest art museums.  But isn’t art sunsets, puppy dogs, the Blessed Virgin Mary?

What do you do with modern art?  Collect it.  Show it.  Swoon over it.  My feet hurt. I’m sitting on a hard bench watching and listening to the comments.  Most are critical. Why? A lack of understanding? The inability to see beyond the painting into the psyche of the artist?  I can’t say. No one can. The observer has to open his or her mind, not stand there looking at the Hoover dam and just see concrete and water.

I often can’t explain the meaning of abstract art.  But that doesn’t make it any less real. The artist created a moment to share.  

A blender created the cigar for a reason.  Even if that reason is misunderstood. So stop the chuckling, the snide remarks, the judgments, the pretentious giggling.  Light it up and try to reason out why the blender created it in the first place.

(Art by Jay DeFeo.  The Annunciation.  1957/59.  Oil on Canvas.)



My name is Irv and I am a junkie.


Is the pejorative term “junkie” still used today?  If so then I am an Amazon Book Junkie, in the flesh, no shame, no regrets.  I just ordered a book the other day, and here I am ordering another – two days later.

Unfortunately, I canceled the order because I had the correct title, but the wrong author. But as I’m removing the book from my order list, I’m clearly realizing how the tax on cigars on the internet may NOT have a huge effect on cigar sales, i.e. fewer purchases on the internet and a tsunami of sales in brick and mortar.

I know I just wrote an essay on the excitement of such a legislative move, but in reality, I am a book junkie partially because it is just so damn convenient.  Like this last book order, I pulled off my list. I was so hyped up that I found the title, I completely ignored the author.  I was looking for what I thought was a book written by Rachel Cusk titled “Telex from Cuba” a novel.  

But in my haste, I ordered the title without even looking at the last name only the first – Rachel.  So when I saw the title I scanned the selection for the best copy for the best price and tapped the tome into my cart.  Then I immediately placed the order. Done! Then for some reason, I had this feeling that the last name was wrong. So I quickly looked at the article I was reading in June’s Harper’s magazine reviewing Rachel Cusk’s final book in a trilogy she wrote, and to my dismay discovered the last name of the author of “Telex from Cuba was Kuschner – not Cusk!

As fast as I could, I pulled up my order, I realized not only was the author wrong but so was the title!  In seconds flat I canceled the order.  Close call.

But it is so easy to be pulled down into the buying vortex when you know you can own a used book in “new” condition at a great price, with no shipping and have it in your possession within two to three days – yes, taxed, but I didn’t care.  I was just too excited I had found it. Convenience has its dark side and I was covered in the black, sticky ooze of ease.

And I’m sure cigar buyers do the same thing.  This internet has created the streets of New York in the 70s.  A rough and tumble environment not of murder, muggings, and mayhem but of deal, after deal after deal.  The wires of common sense have been snipped within the brain. We don’t think, we just buy.

And so I make my prediction that the new ruling (pre-Kavanaugh) by the Supreme Court will have an effect on cigar sales on the street level, but exactly what that will be, remains to be seen. This world is powered by what’s easy. And right now the internet is the imperial emperor of shopping. No matter what, we still have a battle on our hands and that will be to change the buying habits of cigar smokers who have for years purchased their stogies on the internet – and that change isn’t going to happen overnight.

A junkie isn’t rehabilitated quickly.  In fact, he or she may never be able to completely control that urge to go over to the dark side.  It’s just too irresistible.  I know. 

Cigars Lie.


Cigars lie.  Oh yes, they do.  If they could plead the Fifth they would.  There’s only one problem that must be dealt with so my original statement can be justified.  Is it the cigar that lies or is it its creator?  Let’s use the Socratic method of elimination, shall we?

Is it the blender?  The manufacturer? The brand owner?  The store manager? The lounge owner?  The actual smoker? The ads? The sales rep?  The broker? The reviewer? The magazine publisher?  Who? Or what?  Everyone and everything. Cigars can’t talk, manipulate facts, misrepresent a cigar’s filler’s or binder’s, or change or dye a wrapper. Those are inanimate objects. So why would I write such a nonsensical sentence? On the surface, it may seem that it cannot be proven or not – a moot point.  But in reality it can be justified. This, aside from the multitude of factors that play into the creation of a cigar via man.  So easy an answer doesn’t merit further comment or investigation. They can manipulate any aspect of the cigar at any time. But the cigar? On its own?

So I state – unequivocally, and without a smidgen of doubt – Cigars Lie!

The first question the reader should be asking themselves is WTF?  It’s the backstory that will help.  I’ve already eliminated that through logic and knowing the human spirit and reality of sales that anything or anybody can change the cigar.  But take those notions away and you have an inquisitive conundrum – how can the cigar lie? (And I don’t mean how does it rest.)

There is one notion that has yet to be brought into the discussion, and that is “age.”  “Age,” as defined by the Oxford English dictionary is, “the length of time that a person has lived or a thing has existed.”  The Merriam Webster offers this definition, “(Age is) having acquired a desirable quality or undergone an expected and desired change with the passage of time.  Age, according to The American Heritage Dictionary states that age is “a period of time marked by a distinctive characteristic . . . .”

Richard Carlton Hacker writes in his “bible” of cigars “The Ultimate Cigar Book” (First Edition Fourth Printing 1993) and at one time to be considered the mystic guru or uber authority figure of the cigar world, adds that aging is the process of “marrying” the tobaccos in an aging room “so that their various tobaccos can reach a constant humidity level while their flavors blend,” or in short it’s age!  Still controlled by man, but created by Mother Nature.

Why the concentration on age?  It is indeed this critical process that causes the cigar to fib and allows me to state  unequivocally that some “Cigars Lie.”

Even Hacker had an experience which he talks about in his book where his excitement overwhelmed his algorithmic logic after purchasing a box of recently rolled cigars in Cuba when he gently removed one out of the box of freshly rolled cigars.  He took his prized possession sat by the pool and lit it up only to find the cigar sour and eons away from the delectable deliciousness that he expected.  It was then that he allowed the cigars to age for a minimum of three months. Then, after ninety days he took another one out of the box to smoke.  Fortunately, and quite predictably, his experience jettisoned my assertion into the stratosphere of storied solipsisms of whether or not a miracle had occurred.  You can see how I can surmise that the cigar was telling us one thing early on and quite another much later?

Personal example (so don’t get your panties in a wad, Bill), I just smoked a La Palina Babe that has been aging in my humidor since it was introduced in 2010.  More backstory: How did I have the good fortune to own eight-year-old cigars?  

It all came to a head a year later at an IPCPR Convention.  I distinctly remember how intimidated I was the first year I saw the booth. Not only by the fact that Bill Paley was present at the show but that the cigar itself was in the $20 range.  And it was only one 12 months later that I was sitting with the powers-that-be and talking about repping the brand.  I got over the stargazing quickly, manned up and when asked to rep the brand, I agreed.  Indeed, I had not tried them all.

blue babe

But what I want to concentrate on here is the indisputable fact that “Babe”  (named for Bill’s mother Barbara) had lied to me. When I received samples of the cigar a few weeks after the show, I was blown away by its amateurish attempt to be included in the $20 bracket.  As far as I was concerned, here I was representing an over-priced cigar with a famous name and an equally well-known owner, Bill Paley, (His father was the creator of the CBS Network and the family was on the “A” list of New York society and other tony societal circles in general – a truth that has not yet faded.) with a less than desirable cigar.  

The cigar lied.  It was a good cigar but certainly not worth the $20 price tag.  Plus the whole operation was headed by an owner who knew virtually nothing about the industry.  And even though the Graycliff factory in the Bahamas, that manufactured the cigar, was esteemed and revered when the old man was in charge, made the cigars for La Palina, those cigars were overpriced.  And, add to that, Graycliff did have a history of hits and misses to begin with.  This was a miss.

But the other day, when I torched my aged “Babe,” I was catapulted into the stratosphere of great cigars!  (Unfortunately, they are no longer being made by Graycliff.  In 2010 Paley “turned the manufacturing reins for the pricey cigars to El Titan de Bronze . . . . The new smokes are being rolled not only in a different country but with a new blend, too.” CA)

The original ones at the outset lied.  They were not worth the price. Had they been given the proper aging, the Paley series of La Palina would be high on the list of magnificent blends much earlier.  And this could have been done with restraint and planning on both party’s parts. Oh sure, make other La Palina cigars in the meantime.  And, I’m not saying they don’t make good cigars today.  But, as many may know, cigar owners and manufacturers are not the most patient business people in the world. All good things take time. (Keep in mind CBS just canceled “Criminal Minds,” and then renewed it.  Slow learning curve, uh?)

Patience is part of the process.  Live and learn.

Gaining my stride back.

irv at bookcase

I think I need a vacation – an extended vacation.  Cigar brokering is not your normal nine-to-five occupation.  It’s turned into a 24/7 odyssey.  Right now I feel like I’m David Bowman (Keir Dullea), the astronaut in the pod who was thrown into outer space and experienced the psychedelic “Star Gate” sequence in the 1968 classic science fiction film – “2001: A Space Odyssey,” (see link below) to really understand and get a feel for my mental state at this date (9.28.18).

Why would I admit to this conundrum?  Well, I’ve always thought of myself as a straightforward type individual.  You won’t get any bullshit from me. Anyone who knows me or has at least read my blog posts can figure that out rather quickly.

This past year has been like a dry metal frying pan on a stove with the flame on high. You can’t see the heat, but you know something is cooking. To wit: I’ve changed my travel tactics, I’ve acquired, dropped and refused a number of cigar brands.  Plus, my Mom passed away after years and years in a variety of deteriorating conditions called age. I know.  I was there to help her for thirty of them.

I’ve kept up with the demands of the cigar brokerage business to the best of my ability, physically and mentally.  Though, I’ve dropped the ball many times this past year. Sometimes I was able to retrieve it, but other times it bounced out of reach and was lost in the crowded arena of marketing.  

Some people knew what I was up against.  Many were aware of subtle business and character changes and let them slide.  Some didn’t. I had one store owner ask me every time he saw me, “How are you doing?”  Every time.

I became tired of feeling like all the shop owner needed was a warm body to take an order, me or another guy – it didn’t matter.  If he eats, sleeps, shits and writes orders – that’s my man. The most important thing was taking down the order.  Next!

Look, I’m not asking for anything, especially sympathy, I’m just telling you how I’ve felt this year so far.  But I haven’t quit. Though God knows I’ve wanted to scream sometimes. Maybe I should have.

This is what I do.  I decided to independently represent brands that have no inside sales force.  I like helping the proverbial “little guy” get his feet wet, soaking and sloshed on the shelves of a humidor to perhaps become a star before dripping all over the floor.  “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” Damn straight you can! It just takes time. Given that . . . .

There’s a song by Ocean Park Standoff called “Good News.”  One of the lines in the song is “I need some good news, baby, ‘Cause all the world’s gone crazy.  I need some good news, baby, Give it to me, give it to me.”

Well, the bad news is, the world has gone crazy.  The “good news” is that I’m beginning to get my stride back.  I feel confident that the assholes are heavier than the angels – and they will rise to the top.  The air is fresh to breathe up there.  A swell of understanding will overwhelm many souls and my mistakes, miscalculations, and maniacal marketing misfires will be forgiven.

This is where Keir Dullea (Dave) is standing in this mostly white palatial room at the very end of the “Star Gate” journey – Beyond the Infinite.  He is still in his orange space suit, his breathing is heavy and muted as he surveys the room.  Dave walks through the bathroom and stops in front of a full-length mirror.  It reflects his being. He has aged markedly. How long was his voyage?

But as we all know, the last time he sees the monolith is when he is on his deathbed and then, the brilliance of an unborn child is visible – gathering the new beginning.


Palate pandamonium from an aged cigar.

san cris

Cold draw was chocolate.  Seconds later, I lit it up and was thankful that that flavor dissipated almost immediately.  I’m smoking a San Cristobal “the cornerstone of Ashton’s mutual endeavors with the Garcia family in Estelí, Nicaragua – prolific growers of fine tobaccos.” (website)  I might add that it is an aged cigar that I would guess is at least seven to nine years old.

It’s burning as a cigar should – laser straight.  The ash is an article in itself. The cherry is the epitome of absolute perfection defining exacting fermentation, construction, and tempo of the cigar. Why is it that some cigars are just not as perfect as this one?

I’ll tell you why.  Experience in the universe of manufacturing cigars.  I don’t want to take it out of my mouth, it’s so good.  But again, I want to emphasize what I believe continues to make this masterpiece what it is – age.  I have to be one of the luckiest cigar smokers in the Galaxy. I know the secret of bringing a cigar to its peak being assured of a one-time experience (If I only have a single stick). totally unique.

Even when the glowing ember at the foot of this magnificent Churchill eventually goes out, I won’t be sad because my luck will continue with the hundreds of aged cigars I’ve stored since 2005.  I will savor this sensuous San Cristobal and share my impressions with you in this essay and most certainly add this moment to the glorious cache of smoking delights that are building in my memory.

Then, when the time is right, I’ll do it again.