Monthly Archives: October 2015

“The Laranja is a Phenomenal Cigar.”

orange (2)I hate to say it, but with all the reaction I’ve been getting from Erik Espinosa’s Laranja Reserva (Portuguese for orange), I just couldn’t pass up a short review.  I’ve been getting comments like the one above constantly.  And to be on point, it is a luxurious cigar that has a flavor that has nothing with orange flavor.  The orange comes from the way the sun shone through the leaf and it was a distinct orange.

erik and factoryEric took note of that natural color and buried it in his mind.  In fact, in the beginning the cigar was going to be named The Orange.  Not enough romance?  No, not to be confused with infused cigars.  So what better romantic language than what’s spoken – Portuguese.  The Laranja Reserva was born.

The blend itself is a collaboration between Erik and his blender Hector Alfonso.  It has a habano Brazilian wrapper and is delicately paired with Nicaraguan binder and filler.  The taste, ah, the taste. The cigar on first sight looks like an ordinary cigar, but once fire releases the oils the world begins to spin in a whirl of flavorful nuances.  (Some claim they can surely taste the notes of citrus, but that is the beauty of the imagination.)
I have to get into the description published by Cigar Aficionado (where it received a 93 the exact same score of the Cuban Punch Punch.)  The copy says, “There is a distinct hickory sweetness that underscores notes of rich almond paste, espresso and (get this) orange citrus.”  Isn’t that a hoot? Even the big boys bend the taste buds now and then.

rolledHere’s what I found.  I’m in the garage so I have to write fast.  It’s cold in here.  The pre-draw is smooth, excellent, tasty.  The construction is perfect.  Look at the rolled tobacco.  So I light it up and immediately I get a wonderful, chewy mouthful of smoke.  Instead of hickory I get fresh-cut pine – the shavings.  Delicate.  The garage is beginning to fill with aromatic smoke. It’s heavenly.  I listen to the Moth Radio Hour and continue to have at it.

The ash is dark gray, yes, I’m am an ash junky. More notes are written.  I’m getting a bit of spice now, not a lot, but just enough to add to the sweetness that this cigar is creating.  I can’t get past the bouquet though.  It’s like the new perfume by Giorgio Armani “Si” subtle, and addictive.  I can’t let this go.

I just sit and smoke.  Listening to the stories of the guests on the radio.  Gradually the spice becomes stronger.  I like that.  it’s a combination that works to the nth degree.  Laranja will be a finger burner.  No almonds, the reviewer must have had a danish just before he lit up.nars (2)  Almond paste?  I get toward the end and I have to put it down. I breath in the aroma.

And I think to myself, maybe Eric and Hector will join together again and make a new cigar, its catalyst, Tilda Swinton – and brand it – Um Pêssego – the Portuguese word for peach.

Η παρουσίαση.

edit ledge cigar

Η σημερινή ανάρτηση θα είναι για το πώς θα παρουσιάσει ένα πούρο με ένα νέο κατάστημα ή ακόμα και σε ένα κατάστημα που έχω επισκεφτεί κανείς για τα τελευταία δώδεκα χρόνια περίπου.

Don’t expect me to translate the above.  It’s Greek.  And it’s what I must have sounded like to the shops that I first visited when I started this cigar broker business almost 11 years ago now.  I couldn’t understand why I was getting such odd reactions.  But I kept at it and at it and at it until I eventually built up the trust and confidence of the shop owner so that he or she knew I wasn’t a fly-by-night cigar broker who’d sell them a brand and never return.  But what threw me was the presentation.  I come from a background where I hated sales.  I loathed sales presentations, the book, the comparisons, the nodding of the head up and down, the way sales people are expected to act and talk.  So all during this time of learning, I found out all I needed for a presentation was to be me!running sales

In fact, I’m still just me.   Sometimes I don’t even make appointments because of the relationships I’ve built up over the years.  But it took going in over and over and over and over for me to solidify those business ties.  You have to know that I came into this the cigar industry without knowing a single shop owner.  I used to buy my cigars from the internet.  But I had had enough of what I was doing before.  And freelance writing can be the roller coaster’s infamous feast or famine and I was getting a bit tired of that.  Ask my wife.  But cigar sales?

You have to know that once I make up my mind to do something, there’s very little that anyone can say or do that will convince me to change my mind.  As long as I truly believe it myself.  I needed a change and the move had to include two criteria – the work had to be entrepreneurial (I’m the boss), and I had to deal with a product that was unique.  I surmised a cigar broker would be perfect.  So on a Tuesday I became Irv CigarBroker.  (Although I tried other names for the company,  I was most comfortable with the latter one.)
I just didn’t know how difficult it would be.  I’m not anti-social, but I am more the introvert than the extrovert, why the hell was I contemplating sales?  Well, first in this instance the start-up costs were near zero.  Second I had a love for cigars since I can remember so I knew my passion would carry me through the learning curve.

But how to present the cigar?  My first presentation was a total disaster – a well-known shop in Downtown Chicago in the Board of Trade Building.  I can tell you when you look in the  – what know? – Wiki encyclopedia – and you search for deer-in-the-headlight look, my picture is there.  He hammered my “presentation.”  In fact, I remember saying to myself as I left, I’m not so sure this is going to work if they all treat me like that.  In fact, I dare say I actually thought, briefly, of throwing in the towel right there and then I was so humiliated.

dejected salesThe other memorable baptism of fire was when I covered the far end of Missouri – Kansas City to be exact. From the beginning I didn’t always make an appointment.  I was in the area to see another shop that time, so I thought it would behoove me to just stop in the better known shop and introduce myself – break the ice.  Then next time I was in town, I could call and make an appointment.  Now I’m not giving away names, but I asked the cigar clerk if I could introduce myself to Curt (oops!).  I was in from Chicago (an 8-hour drive) and I just wanted to say “Hello.”  He said he’d check.  So I gave him my card and he slipped into what I presumed was the owner’s lair.  A few minutes went by and the clerk returned. Maybe these were not his exact words but to sum it up the answer was “No, he’s busy.”  Ohhh-K.  That’s a good start.

speed presentationBut as time went on, and I began to built trust, and the shop owners became familiar with me.  I still didn’t use a canned presentation or a binder with all the brands that I carry. No I went in with the idea that I had two definite assets, the cigar and me and that the only way to introduce the brand was to smoke it.  So I made appointments and we sat down and I offered the owner or manager the cigar to smoke.  They asked me questions such as its origin, what was the wrapper, binder and filler and I actually began having in-depth conversations with the guys.  I continued to show up on a regular basis, so they knew I wasn’t going to skip town.  And I remained me.  And that’s how I still do it today.  Are conditions always perfect -no.  In fact, I had a speed presentation today in the front of a shop.  I not only had the guy smoke one of the cigars, but made the sale as well.  I would prefer the lounge, but that’s not always possible.

DSCN4494Everyone has their own way of presenting a sale and I have found out over the years that my way of offering the cigar and mixing that action with my personality works just fine.

Don’t Be Anal.

irv at fred'sEver wonder how long pop (I’m from the Southside so we called the sweetened carbonated beverage pop – not soda.) will hold its fizz?  I don’t know.  I’ve never run any scientific tests on it.  But I do know that Pepsi holds its fizz.  How do I know?  First off, I like the drink.  I prefer Pepsi.  I like the flavor.  I know that goes against the iconic line in SNL’s skit that takes place in a mock-up of Chicago’s landmark grill the Billy Goat Tavern, “No Pepsi. Coke!”  But we all have different tastes. But I digress.  So I opened a can the other day, didn’t finish it and left it open in the can half full in the fridge.  I took it out the next day and lo, the fizz was still there.  Bright and sassy. It seems like at least Pepsi isn’t as delicate as some pops.

My point, it’s the same for cigars.  I am amazed how anal some people are about how they store their prized cigars – Cuban or domestic.  How do I know?  I’m asked constantly “What do you keep your temperature and humidity at for your cigars?”  Me?  First, I pray I don’t roll my eyes and then I get into the discussion.  Me?  I go with 68 on the humidity and about the same with the temperature. I like it that way.  Now I know I’m going to get some cigar geeks who are going to chastise, criticize, and pillory me for what I just wrote and talk about humidity vs, relative humidity and the temperature has to be at exactly 70 degrees or your cigars will go stale, and you gotta rotate them or the ones on the top get this amount of humidity and the ones on the bottom don’t, “Yada, Yada, Yada.”  That’s your opinion on how you like your cigars stored.  I have mine.

blue bagLook, I’m a broker.  I carry a variety of sample sticks with me in the car all day long.  I have them in a canvas, plastic lined bag with one of the most sophisticated humidification devices ever conceived – a plastic cup stuffed with paper towels and moistened with water, no – not even distilled water – just water.  The car’s heat is sufficient and the short time I’m walking to and from a store doesn’t harm the cigars in the least. In fact, I’ve been complimented many times on how fresh my samples are.  Some guys use an ice chest, others – nothing.

laquiqu glass

I don’t treat cigars like Lalique glass.  And you don’t have to either. Be bold.  Just store them and watch over them and you’ll always have fresh sticks.  What to store them in?  There’s a wide vaiety of containers.  Of course there’s the humidor, table top, floor model, or – if you’re a bit wealthier than some stiffs – you have a built-in, walk-in humidor in your house.  They all work as long as you pay attention.  But for Pete’s sake don’t have a conniption fit if the degree fluctuates a bit.  Cigars are not that delicate for the short term.  If you’re going to age them, then I have to write a new post.

Use a plastic container if you don’t have the cash for even a cheap wood humidor, throw in a humidification pak and you’re set. You can put them in a zip-lock bag with a water pillow and your cigars will be fine.  Get off this  nose-in-the-air attitude, “My cigars always rest in the perfect condition 70/70.”  News Flash – no one has the perfect condition and 70/70 isn’t it!  Yes, it’s critical to keep the cigars fresh, to reserve the oils in the leaves that produce the flavor..  Yes, cigars can dry out faster than you think, but if you use your head and just keep them away from the open air, they will be fine.

plastic containerSo next time you purchase a cigar and you can’t smoke it right away, grab a sandwich bag, or a plastic container, put the damn cigar in with a tad bit of moisture and relax.  Open it once and awhile to circulate the air and that’s that.  This isn’t rocket science.  So enough of these tutorials.  I need a Pepsi.  No Coke!

What’s a broker to do?

dlc I smoked a cigar yesterday at a local shop that was absolutely tantalizing.  Even the guys in the lounge were asking me what it was.  I told them it was a sample.  They commented on the perfect burn, the aroma, the construction, the color of the ash (white).  It’s a cigar from the Dominican Republic.  This particular one was the A.L. Series toro.  It is a bold, full-bodied cigar.  The wrapper is USA Broadleaf grown in the DR, and the filler and binder are both Dominican.  Strong for a
Dominican.

Some background:  The owner of the company called me up a few weeks ago and asked me if I would like to rep the cigar. I told him he’s coming into the game a little late, as mentioned, the Midwest slows down quite a bit and it’s a challenge to move an unknown brand.  I added that my bag was full and I wasn’t planning on adding anything more to it this year.  But he insisted and said he would send me some samples.  How could I refuse?  Sure,  I’d be happy to try it and maybe in the Spring, if it’s any good (I didn’t tell him that), we could further the conversation.punt cana cigar shop

He gave me the cigar’s background and the reason he couldn’t rep it himself.  He lives in the Dominican and works in Punta Cana manufacturing and selling these cigars.  He moaned how he bounces back and forth between the DR and the US and it was becoming impossible for him to build the brand in the US because he wasn’t able to spend enough time here.  He couldn’t provide service, follow-up, or hold events – everything that’s needed to build a brand.  Plus he told me people are asking for it here and he’s sure there’s a market just waiting to be tapped into. (What’s he gonna say, cigar smokers hate my cigar but what the hell – sell it anyway?)

So I get the samples and they sit.  Finally I tried the one I had yesterday and I was amazed.  The guy wasn’t kidding.  The flavor was so defined and smooth.  You could say the smoke was chewy.  The burn – razor straight.  You know about the ash.  So here I am smoking this great cigar and the thought overcomes me – maybe I could start introducing this cigar now.  Even in November and December. But who’s buying?  Some will.  But I couldn’t help but think that this one is special.  It’s not a tourist cigar but a well-made masterpiece that needs exposure beyond the resort.

punta cana water

So I’m in a pickle.  What do I do?  I haven’t contacted him yet and may or may not.  He gave me enough samples so I could pass them out to other shops and get their customer’s opinions – and that was my original plan.  But what if I get an order?  Hot dog!  Then the problem of taking it on now is solved.  Sure, I have a plethora of brands – all good.  Some great.  Some superb.  So why not muddy the waters?  I’m an independent.

That’s what’s so much fun about this cigar broker business.  You never know when you’re gonna strike gold.  And whether I decide to go with it this year or next – I think I hit the mother lode.

I Confess. . .

anne sexton 3Anne Sexton was known as a confessional poet.  She wrote poetry of self revelation.  Today, I’m going to be the confessional independent cigar broker.  I can’t imagine I’m the first to do this type of post, but for me this is a bit unusual.  So what am I confessing?  I am a book junky – a bona-fide dyed in the wool “bookaholic.”  I’ve collected books for years.  If I read about a book that might interest me, I feel a tingle and I get up and I go to the computer, type in the library’s homepage, log into my account, type in my number and reserve it immediately.  If the book is not in stock, I request it to be purchased – for me.  And the library does!

pile of books

In fact, I just did that the other day.  I was listening to Terri Gross interview Patti Smith discussing her new book, “M Train” as she described it as “a road map to my life.”  I reserved it.  Then I heard that Gloria Steinem, the founder of Ms. Magazine published “My Life on the Road.”  I reserved it.  I was thrilled to be on the list. In fact, I just suggested to my wife that a perfect anniversary gift would be Sheldon Tannen’s new book about the ’21’ Club in New York, (he’s the nephew of the owner of the famed Manhattan restaurant, the one with the jockey’s on the staircase that catered to the stars and still does), but found out I was way ahead of the game.  It isn’t even fully written yet!

dictator on rockAnd then it hit me.  The thrill I get when a new book comes out must be the exact same high a cigar smoker experiences when a new brand is introduced into the market.  The cigar guy scours the internet, reads the magazines, goes on the blogs, reads the reviews, seeking that one, two or however many cigars are needed to reach that ultimate charge.

I’m one of the luckiest guys on the planet.  As a cigar broker I often get the inside scoop on what’s coming out or what’s not even out yet but is still in the blending room.  For instance I found out about this great cigar I wrote about a few days ago many weeks back.  But I kept it to myself (or did, look up).  I know of a new corona that has a peculiar wrapper that will create quite the buzz once it’s released. Is the rush better than you know what?  Of course not.  But if you’re into cigars, or as I am, both cigars and books, I’m in a state of constant exhilaration all the time.  bee

It may make you feel like you’ve climbed to the top of Mt. Everest (though I really don’t know, haven’t been there).  But you have knowledge that not everyone is privy to and that can make you feel rather special.  Is it the actual cigar or the book that provides the high?  I really don’t think so, it’s the anticipation of buying the cigar or reading the book before the masses do.

It’s an understanding that never really dawned on me until today.  Why today?  How do I know?  All I know is that it was an epiphany that I will remember for the rest of my life.  So for all you admitted “cigar junkies” out there (and book lovers), enjoy the anticipation, enjoy the search, enjoy the fact that you love something that gets you to the pinnacle of excitement.  You’re the lucky ones.  Like a child who tastes his first pop rock, or a teenager who goes on his or her first date, or when you purchase your first new car.  We’re so fortunate to have manufacturers and publishers that know how to raise our adrenaline to the point of ecstasy.

Slow Cigar Sales?

windy chicagoWhy do cigar sales slow in the winter?  I asked myself that question while walking the dog this morning surrounded by a temperature of 36 degrees.  It’s only October and already I’m hearing the whine, “It’s getting toward winter, sales are going to start dropping.”  That’s not what an independent cigar broker wants to hear.  Industry reps who sell for only one company, like General or Altadis, their reps still get a paycheck.  Sure they gotta still produce, but they at least have a check coming in – even though it slows down.

So why?  Guys will tell me they stop smoking cigars completely during the winter – too cold.  Really? There are so many cigar lounges around now that I find that excuse to be a bit on the silly side.  Get off your ass, drive to the nearest shop, sit yourself down, buy a cigar – and relax.backyard snow

I know there are diversions like snow. If you’re used to having a cigar on the back patio, having sixteen inches of frozen flakes surrounding you isn’t exactly inviting. (That’s why you’re in the car driving to the lounge, despite the snow – you got to work didn’t you?)

And then there are the holidays.  Thanksgiving is one huge drain.  Many people travel, fly, drive, take a bus (yuk!) to see their family and relatives.   Of course, that’s airfare, gas, or bus tickets.  The bird is no longer 29 cents a pound, plus figure in the cost for trimmings – including the Baker’s Square pie – and you have cooked up a hefty price tag for being thankful.  But you don’t stop eating do you?  Uh?  Do you?christmas shpg 40s

Then there are those Black Friday sales which will eat up any guy’s cigar budget.  The shops put on stupid, ridiculous specials and the guys are drawn to them like iron filings to magnets.  So you buy five, six, maybe more boxes.  That’s enough cigars to last the entire winter, but for some it isn’t.  And then you don’t want to smoke ’em all do you?  You’re an aficionado and would like to age a few of those for the warmer clime.

Without a doubt, Christmas shopping will empty out a wallet faster than a skunk will clear a neighborhood.  I’d say that the biggest culprit is well-meaning wives, girlfriends, whatever lavishing gifts of cigars that will pack a guy’s humidor so he doesn’t need to buy any sticks for months.  But doesn’t he want a change?  He didn’t get all he wanted.  He never does, (and no, I’m not forgetting the ladies here).  So he has to go out and purchase different cigars.

New Year’s Eve used to be cigar nirvana for shop owners.  But with all the smoking restrictions, you can’t smoke in the ballroom, the barroom, or the bathroom.  But you can spend literally hundreds of dollars on one night of celebration.  One night!

bills

And what can I say about the bills.  All those bills.  Credit card bills mount up.  They always mount up.  And you’re telling me you have no money for cigars in January, February or March?  Bull.  Once the days off are over and you’re back to the work-a-day world, you still bought your Starbuck’s. You got on the train with your pass.  You started up the car full of gas to get to work.  You went out for a burger, or a chicken pot pie for lunch.  You didn’t stop living!  Bills and expenses are like air – omnipresent.

So why the slow down?  All I can figure is it’s like Pavlovian conditioning.  It gets cold, the bell to stop buying cigars tinkles.  The bills get a little higher than the norm, there’s that bell.  The snow makes it a widdle tougher to get anywhere so you stay away from the lounges.  WAAAAAAAAA.

Man up people!  There’s no reason on this planet cigar sales should slow down during the winter. None.  Zero.   Zilch.  Break out of that psychological confinement and grow some you know what (here’s where the ladies are excluded).  We independent cigar brokers got a mortgage to pay!

A Mystery Cigar’s Review.

light upWhy the mystery?  Simple.  I may represent this brand.  But I thought I’d review it before I make that decision concrete.  Cigar Reviews in and of themselves are a concept of Marvin Shanken who reviewed wines in The Wine Spectator and carried the practice over to Cigar Aficionado.  It works to a degree.  Other magazines copied the format.  Some use numbers others don’t.

both cigars

Then the bloggers got into the act.   What a way to get a free cigar.  The cigar will be reviewed. The readers will read it.  Curiosity will be piqued.  And sales will soar.  Or tumble to the ground if the cigar is not any good.  Trouble is, there are few reviewers who can pan a cigar if they accept advertising.  Like cutting the hand off that feeds you.  The ads stop.  But what if your publication or blog has no advertisers.  Then you can go at the cigar any way you want.  But publish too many bad reviews and the freebies stop.  It’s a catch -22 situation, which, as defined in the Urban Dictionary as a ” requirement that cannot be met until a prerequisite requirement is met, however, the prerequisite cannot be obtained until the original requirement is met.”  Ergo, what review?

But I thought I’d give it a shot and see what the reaction is.  I’ll keep the cigar a mystery to protect the innocent.  It’s not out yet, and it maybe some time before it is.  So here goes:

feetFirst I’ll quote the sites copy, (bear with me): “Blend a single Cuban seed tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic with a trace of Columbian Viso leaf, finish with a dark, San Andres Maduro wrapper and you have this medium to full-bodied masterpiece,  This cigar offers a lovely sweetness in the first half of the smoke before releasing taste bud tingling spice to tantalize your senses. . . ”

triple cap

Now, I will admit, the description is spot on.  The wrapper is a deep chocolate hue with a triple cap. Its sweetness is reminiscent of slightly burnt caramel or brown sugar.  My notes, “Creamy smoke with a slight hint of burnt sugar.” (My comments, by the way were written BEFORE I read the official propaganda.)  I go on with a little more detail by adding that the draw is near perfect producing cumulus clouds of smoke and a rapturous tobacco flavor that are both carried throughout the entire cigar.

Then my notes continue,” There is a lick of licorice blended subtly with a pinch of black tea,” for that accent of flavor.  Then we join together again with our descriptions as I detect “a little spice that mixes with the shrinking cigar as well as caviar does with creme fraiche and blini.”  And remember a great caviar such as Ossetra has the taste of the sea – not fish – a monumental difference.  A briny, salty flavorful burst that comes only from the purity of the ocean.  Fresh and unadulterated.

dictador ashThe cigar is rolled to perfection.  The ash was not white, nor compact but rather flaky like perfectly baked phyllo dough from the Balkans. It was dark with shades of gray, which grew to well over an inch before falling to the ground.  A mark of great construction.

I smoked it down until I could not hold on to it comfortably.  I have to say that when this cigar comes to the finish you will miss it.  You”ll want it to be there.  And it will be.  So be patient.  Wait and dream that there is a cigar experience waiting for you that you cannot – and should not miss.