Monthly Archives: November 2015

Converging Habits.

gail sheehyI’ve been reading the bio about Marlene Dietrich by her only daughter, Maria Riva, for the past few weeks.  Then I got an email from the library informing me that the new book “M Train” by Patti Smith was in.  So before I went home from a day on the road, I stopped at the library and picked it up.  Much thinner than I thought it would be.  The book is only 253 pages.  But in a way, I was relieved about that, because I knew I could put a hold on reading “Marlene” and start “M Train” knowing that I would be back with Riva’s book in a few days.

It’s odd how an errant thought will enter your mind, but as I was starting to read Smith’s book, I stopped and gave pause to the fact that I’ve been doing this type of change-up reading for years.  In fact, I was reading “740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building” by Michael Gross when I put it on hold to start the book “The House of Gucci” by Sara Gay Forden,  and then pushed that one aside to devour Gail Sheehy’s memoir “Daring: My Passages.” (I completed this one in a jiffy the read was so enjoyable, and next I also finished “Front Row Anna Wintour: The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief.”)  Then I started “Marlene…” and now I’m diving into, as mentioned, Smith’s memoir or as she puts it “(her) road map to my life.”

Patti Smith is the iconic writer, performer and visual artist who, if I may quote the bio in the back, “. . . gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock.  She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred albums of all time by Rolling Stone.”

smith's words

Of course there’s more, like publishing over eight books, including “Just Kids.”  But this isn’t a thesis on my erratic habits.  But it occurred to me last night while reading “M” how important that thin thread of a thought is and how I’ve applied it to cigars all these years.  That’s why I’ve been able to pick up so much information about cigars because I’ve smoked so many different brands and some not all the way through, and others at the same time.

I started sneaking cigars when I was in grade school.  I remember being able to get El Producto and the Phillies brand of cigars.  Then as I got older, I scrutinized the real thing because on various occasions my dad would bring a cigar home from a convention and put it in his top drawer.   I don’t remember ever smoking one of them, but I would look at it and study it.  The fascination with the leaf has been with me for quite a few years.

My first true premium cigar was a Davidoff.  I couldn’t begin to tell you which one.  I smoked it in the garage.  Then I wandered over to Thompson and JR Cigar catalogs, drove often to the Tinder Box in the South Suburbs, and finally landed to the point where I am today – an independent cigar broker with the dream job of having access to an eclectic variety of cigars that I can smoke at will.  Hell, being an independent rep, I constantly get calls, texts and messages from various manufacturers willing to send me samples to try – and I do try them.  Of course I know they want me to rep them, but it’s trying them first that tickles my curiosity.

bog o cigars

It wasn’t until last night that I made the concrete connection between the two habits, and I was fascinated by the mirrored way I have been doing things.  I’m cognizant of what I’m reading and what I’m not reading.  My memory is such that I can remember the plot line and where I was when I put down a particular book no matter how long I’ve been away from it (the bookmark helps).

I seem to have an incredible recall of cigars as well, such as their tastes and body, whether or not I liked or didn’t like a particular cigar.  I can even remember the characteristics about a cigar just by looking at its band.  I’ve saved every band of every cigar I’ve smoked since 2005 in the order I’ve smoked them.  Nuts, uh?

So my brain has experienced a plethora of sensory experiences with books, and my palate has tasted loads of cigars.  So I won’t question this nighttime epiphany, and just enjoy the results for as long as I am able.

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Fresh is Best!

turkey dinnerThanksgiving was great.  And so are the leftovers.  But they are never as delicious as the piping hot turkey, dressing and accoutrements that are offered on the day of celebration.

Drink day old beer that’s been sitting in the fridge.   Or go to the extreme and put one of those plastic caps on it as you would do to your canned dogfood and see if that helps preserve the flavor.   Then give it a swig.  Isn’t that yummy?  And what goes for beer goes for an ice cream cone, or a shake or basil.  It’s ruined beyond repair when it isn’t fresh.  Maybe Walter Messenbrink  (God rest his soul) would eat moldy cheese, or slimy bologna, but he was an anomaly.  He wasn’t of this world!

single cigar

And that’s what a fresh cigar should be – unadulterated, fresh and pristine.  Smoked and finished on the same day.  You can’t enjoy a leftover cigar.  Yet I see it all the time.

A guy fires up a cigar when he knows that he’s not going to have the time finish it?  “Well, gotta go.” So he cuts the cigar’s life short by snipping off the lighted end.  Some of the old timers blow out the smoke honestly thinking that that action will dissipate all the impurities created while being smoked.   And to make matters worse he then slides it into a tube?  Then, when the cigar is retrieved it’s going to smoke as fresh as when he first bought it?

All lies!  Heresy!  Blasphemy!   It was still hot when it was put in the tube.  The head was wet from being in the mouth.  The cigar is going to sit in that tube after hot smoke has already passed over fresh tobacco leaves.  It will begin to reek and absorb microscopic residual smoke.   It will become a non-smokable remnant of rolled tobacco.  Ponder this question, “Will the dead cigar really come back to life after it has been entombed in its own sarcophagus?”

tibetNO!  NEVER!  You can’t beat a freshly cut cigar that’s slowly pulled from its cellophane sleeve, then lighted up with whatever – cedar spills, a butane lighter, or Sulphur-free matches.  You will never duplicate that first luxurious draw of fresh, pure smoke from aged tobacco that you’ve been dreaming about all day – from the moment you got out of bed until now – relaxing in the warm, friendly cigar lounge with all your friends.  And then you take the second draw, when the flavors begin to mingle with each other and then, with your eyes slowly beginning to close, you and your fresh cigar begin the journey to the crystalline mountains of Tibet where everything is fresh, clean, and pure.

An Arctic Review

garageLook up there – my cigar lair.   It’s where I go to seek concealment and seclusion during the cold months in the Midwest.  “Summertime, the smokin’ is easy,” to paraphrase George Gershwin’s masterpiece aria from Porgy and Bess.  But in the wintertime it can get as cold as hell in there.  But anyplace would be considered chilly after yesterday’s unusually mild temperatures that reached the 60s.  Today we’re back to the 40s with a low of 31 headed our way for overnight.  But regardless of the cold, I just had to tell you about this cigar that I smoked awhile back and will be smoking it again today – in there.

Now, I know I’ve been cackling about Wilson-Adams cigars.  If you’ve kept up with the posts, you know all about them.  If not, then you’re missing out on some of the tastiest cigars on the market today (as soon as the stores pick them up, which they will).  But I’m not here to rehash old news; I’m here to tell you about the company’s one Limited Edition cigar known as Mr. Wilson.

closeup mr wilson

Now before I hemorrhage praises all over this cigar, let me just say that I often believe that young companies (Wilson-Adams has been around since 2011 – i.e. it’s young) jump on the Limited Edition train too fast.  Even before the cigar has a footprint on the national shelf (Wilson-Adams at this point is considered a west coast regional favorite), or solidified its brand recognition, the company is putting out a limited edition.  I think oftimes that’s a premature move.  In this case, however, I will disregard my elitist opinion on timing because this cigar will catapult your palate into the realms of cigar nirvana never before reached.

The eponymous Mr. Wilson was blended just this year (2015).  And if the blend remains the same for its release next year, this is one limited edition that ought to go core line.  Of course, it’s made in Nicaragua, the wrapper is Mexican, the binder is undisclosed, and the filler is “predominantly” Nicaraguan.  I’m guessing the binder is Pennsylvanian and the filler may also contain a shard of Peruvian, Costa Rican or Pennsylvanian tobacco.  But that’s conjecture.  It could be a marketing ploy to make ersatz cigar wizards go insane when it’s probably just all Nicaraguan.  Who knows?  Whatever the blend it is, as Guy Fieri would say, “Off the hook!”

mrwash

When you first light up a Mr. Wilson it has the perfect draw – absolutely perfect.  It is the unadulterated conduit that leaves the cigar wide open for multiple flavors to pass through.   First I detected a bit of espresso.  Then that taste dissipated to bloom into crushed coffee grounds – sifted not stirred.  As it burned, the edge around the cigar was laser sharp and stayed that way throughout the smoke – proof of its meticulousness construction.  Its ash a delightful light gray.

For a few seconds the scent of the herb thyme passed through so quickly it was just enough to startle you to perhaps remark, “What was that?”  Each draw was heightened to another level of satisfaction.  This cigar ought to be in the Smithsonian because it’s proof that man and nature can fashion the perfect cigar.

Suddenly there were sprinkles of pepper folded into a dry light blend of crushed anise and a dusting of latakia.   At no time was there any bitterness or stopping this raging bull of zest.  Indeed, this cigar should be an everlasting gobstopper where the combination of all these essences continues into eternity.

box of mr wilson

The copious amount of creamy smoke bathed my palate with these developing complexities of flavors.  An electron microscope would have seen millions of atoms crashing against each other generating this almost indescribable taste.  I really can’t give you a fitting description that fully defines this cigar.  It’s a must try.  You absolutely must try this cigar.

Jellied Does Matter!

ocean sprayI had to walk around the block this evening with a cigar today to get some ideas for the post.  I know what is expected.  And that didn’t seem to interest me.  So I lit up a Wilson-Adams Sumatra robusto and, it being so mild out, I walked around until I got this crazy notion.

Let’s say that for the most part Thanksgiving is over.  It’s late now.  Most, I’m sure, had a wonderful time with their family and friends, gobbled down massive amounts of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, – homemade of course, and that green bean and Campbell’s mushroom soup casserole.  Plus, you can’t have a turkey dinner without topping it off with a pie for dessert.  We had a Bakers Square French Silk pie, that creamy delight that goes down so easy.  In fact, I was in line this morning at 7:05 am along with 17 other people when I got there to pick it up.  I knew the shop opened at 7 am so I thought I’d be first in line.  Silly me.

cooked turkeyThe one item I left out of my dinner description, on purpose, that totally makes a Thanksgiving meal is jellied cranberry sauce.  This year we happened to get Ocean Spray, but other times we had the off brand, but it’s just not the same.  And THAT, my fellow eaters is what Thanksgiving is all about – cranberry sauce.

Yes, I read the sincere stories of thanks for family, friends, our great country, the lives we live, our children and all sorts of grand reviews, albeit brief, for this cigar and that cigar.  Plus a smattering of raves for this or that favorite liquor were mentioned quite a few times.  And I can appreciate all those sentiments.  “But not nobody”- as the Lion in the original film version of the Wizard of Oz would say – went “ga, ga” about the most important Thanksgiving ingredient of all – jellied cranberry sauce.

Now, I didn’t read every post or comment on Facebook, so perhaps I’m cutting someone’s legs off at the knees that they too yearn for this Thanksgiving staple without realizing it.  To them, I apologize.  But I have to say that if the turkey, potatoes, dressing, veggies, and gravy all went away; I could sit down with a spoon in my hand and devour the entire can of cranberry sauce.

It wasn’t until after I was married that we started going over to my wife’s in-laws for Thanksgiving that my idea of what cranberry sauce should be went completely awry.  It was up north, in Michigan, that I was introduced to an apparent delicacy.  On the holiday table was this huge bowl of maroon chunky stuff.  I whispered to my wife, “What’s that?”  She told me it was homemade cranberry sauce – a tradition.  I looked at it and I thought I was going to cry.

Then we all sat down and this bowl of goo was passed over to me.  I stared at it and to be polite I spooned some onto my plate.  But how do you swallow a sauce with walnut-size chunks of cranberries still in it?  How?  I tried some and found it to be impossible to appreciate the mixture, smile and enjoy this “delicacy” all at the same time.  Luckily, we didn’t go that often to the in-laws for Thanksgiving so I was able to make it through this meal without my favorite thin sliced jellied cranberry sauce.

plated cranNope, give me the jellied kind at any Thanksgiving celebration.  Plus, it’s perfect for making turkey dinner sandwiches that we would always construct in the evening with white bread, dressing, mayonnaise, and a layer of “real” cranberry sauce to bring it all together.  Kind of like a favorite cigar.  You know what goes good with a particular moment, so you smoke it.  Just like the jellied sauce complements the turkey and stuffing at a particular Thanksgiving moment, so you eat it.

Maybe I should take another walk around the block right now and enjoy a different cigar.  Who knows, I may get another idea.

 

 

Making Do.

better lairAs a cigar broker I’ve got a lot of cigars.  I mean a lot.  They are the samples I use every day and without samples, the cigar won’t sell – period.  And without FRESH samples the boutique cigar will be judged more critically than it would be otherwise.

Of course, when I started in the business I used an old ice chest so air wouldn’t dry the cigars out and I used a plastic cup stuffed with paper towels soaked with water for the humidity.   I’d circulate the air now and then by opening the top of the chest and really, for the amount of cigars I had at the time, that method of storage worked perfectly.

But as the business grew, my need for a larger storage area and unit was looming.  So, having an extra $25,000 in my top drawer, and an unused office, I built a beautiful walk-in humidor with the most sophisticated humidification system money could buy at the time, as well as the proper gauges so I could check the humidity and temperature every day if I so chose to do so (Sniff.)   I lined the interior walls – and had shelves made from – the finest imported Spanish cedar – that I thought would never arrive.

Then, to give it that final finish I used Natural Sapele, the Brazilian hardwood that oozes a reddish-to-medium brown hue with grain that has interlocking patterns with frequent directional changes on the exterior.  Of course I had to use the same Brazilian stock to match the existing wood that covers the walls in the two-story library in the next room.  Finally, I installed a large beveled glass panel window so when guests came over, they would be able to peer in and not only marvel at the contents in the humidor but  would know right away that I was not only a man of means – but class as well.

What??  Bullshit time over?

OK.  I cleared a small space in the basement and I went out and bought a wire rack (far right in the photo) and wrapped it in heavy-duty plastic with Velcro closures.  I found a rickety room humidifier from a garage sale and was just lucky that it not only worked when I got it home, but it fit perfectly on the bottom shelf – and didn’t leak!  I went over to Michael’s and bought several floral bricks, saturated each one with water, plopped them in plastic trays and put them in various spots throughout the humidor.  I then  placed two small desk fans on either end of the unit for circulation, set up my timers so breeze isn’t wafting through the space all the time lest it dissipate all the humidity, placed a Don Salvatore #1539 digital/analog hygrometer on the top shelf – and I was ready to stock dem cigars!

Now when guests come over (and IF I let them in the basement), instead of hearing an awe inspiring “Ahhhhhh,” they immediately ask me,” What’s THAT?”  Well, ha ha ha!  You effete cigar snobs, the joke is on you because it may look like the time machine TARDIS from a Dr. Who episode, but it works like a charm in all four seasons as long as I’m attentive and monitor the water level.

 

I’ve been framed.

THE FRAMES“They” – whoever “they” are – say that the “clothes make the man.”  Well, that could be true.  I do feel like a million bucks with a tux on and in fact, my attitude changes.  But in my case it wasn’t the clothes but rather my glasses that “made this man.”  I needed a new pair of specs because my vision has changed and my eyes themselves have gone through some serious medical traumas.  So I figured I’d rather have the best vision I could for as long as possible.

The old frames of my glasses were fine, but I figured since I was going to get my eyes examined, why not go for the “Full Monty.”  The doc wrote the prescription, and I began to scour the frame racks.  I looked and I looked and I looked and I just didn’t like what was offered because I knew exactly what I wanted this time.

I’m a baby-boomer.  I was born in 1954.  So I’ve seen – as many people have – a lot of changes, especially in music.  But when the Beatles hit the scene, THAT was when the world changed for me.  I can still remember standing on a ladder (my dad was painting the living room at the time) watching the Ed Sullivan show when Ed announced with a wave of his hand, “Ladies and Gentlemen, THE BEATLES!”

I was transfixed.  I changed.  I saw the movies (I was in the Beverly Theater with hundreds of screaming girls [yes, girls] watching the Lads from Liverpool and trying to hear the soundtrack of a “A Hard Day’s Night.  I collected the cards both black and white, and then color.  I purchased the magazines, played their music in our rock band and – and later when he started wearing them, I fell in love with John Lennon’s frames.  But back then I didn’t need glasses so I went to Riley’s Trick Shop on the Southside and bought a fake pair to wear while I played the drums so I could look like him.

lennon's glassesI kept searching for those seemingly elusive frames, until one day – there they were – John Lennon frames.  Perfectly round with delicate gold rims.  They were flawless in every way – except the price.  Ouch!  So I compromised with a similar, cheaper frame, and then another slightly oval-shaped creation.  No.  Not round enough, the gold was the wrong hue.  Compromise, compromise, compromise!  I was sick of not getting what I wanted.  I morphed into Veruca from Willie Wonka.  I bellowed in my head “I want it NOW!”  I had made enough compromises – so I splashed in and picked out what was meant for me – those John Lennon frames.

Mere frames did more for me than just satisfy a dream; they emboldened me to take my independent cigar business in the direction I wanted it to go – finally.  The frames were the catalyst that changed my attitude, my methodology, my patience or lack thereof; they boosted my confidence in dealing with difficult shop owners and manufacturers, and they virtually dissolved my fears of worrying about what cigar is selling and what one isn’t.  Wearing them stopped my catastrophizing over whether or not to drop or take on a particular cigar.  It was an uncanny transformation that I could actually physically feel.

 
Was I a bumbling idiot before I discovered my ersatz John Lennon identity – of course not.  But it’s amazing how something as small as new frames can bring about such huge changes.  Now, with my glasses on perfectly straight, I just don my poncho, place a cigar in my mouth, turn the other way, and head toward the cigar horizon.

A Duo Review.

express boxDespite the 17 inches of snow over the weekend, today was a beautiful day.  It was so sunny and blue that I was not at all concerned to see a box on the steps when I got home.  I figured there were cigars in it and behold – I was correct.  So I grabbed it lest it stay out too long in the cold.

Once opened I found two rather unique boxes of cigars – 10 count each.  Ah, Belmore.  One of the first cigars I represented many years ago that never was able to get a foothold on the shelves here in the states but does rather well in the European market.

box of belomore ct

Two kinds were presented – Connecticut and Maduro.  The Maduro is Arapiraca from Brazil, with a Dominican Olar binder, and a blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican fillers.  The only difference between the two of them are the wrappers.

The boxes they came in were what appeared to be recycled cardboard with a small straw ribbon holding the lid onto the bottom.  Upon opening, both were dashingly natty to look at.  Loose tobacco (why?) cradled the cigars in the 10 count boxes.  Spacing between each cigar was perfect, so picking out a stick was easy so there wasn’t that struggle that can sometimes damage the cigar before it’s even lit.  So as far as packaging I was duly impressed.  You can decide on the cigar band.

I was able to sample both.  The first characteristic I noticed was that both of the cigars were either too young, or they were under filled – both too soft for me.  Though I will say that the Maduro was a bit fuller on the filler overall.

I decided to go with the lighter of the two first, figuring it would be the mildest, so I grabbed the Connecticut and lit it up.  I didn’t like it.  I’m not a fan of the lighter wrappers, especially Connecticut.  But that doesn’t mean that someone else won’t enjoy a mild cigar.  But for me it was too mild, and lacked flavor.  I gave it a fighting chance but it was knocked out in the first round.

box of belmore madNext I immediately went for the Maduro.  This was a larger sized cigar, the former was a robusto (52 x 5), and the latter was a toro grande (60 x 6).  It was better filled as mentioned and from the get go the flavor was reminiscent of slightly charred coffee, dark caramel, and a bit of buerre noisette (translated from the French as “hazelnut butter.”  Though there are no nuts in brown butter the hazelnut flavor is mimicked and gives off that recognizable sweet aroma.)  So I must say the flavor was quite elegant and complex.  And it did not sour or go through any bitter stages.

My other concern was the draw.  Both had the same problem and because of the softness, I found that the smoke was a bit difficult to get through the cigar, which is odd, because if it was under filled the cigar more than likely would have burned hot and fast.  That’s why I’m not 100% positive what the problem was.  My guess it was just too young, but I am not ruling out not enough tobacco either.

belmore madBoth had admirable ashes and the wrapper colors were even with few veins.  Though I really don’t give veins much credence in a review unless the vein is so large that it redirects the burn.

So this was one of the rare chances I’ve had in a long time to test out and review two new cigars on the same day, and I thoroughly enjoyed the spontaneity.  It’s unusual when I have that kind of time to devote to trying out two new cigars so quickly.