Monthly Archives: February 2016

And the winner is. . .

The Leaf by Oscar

Oscar Villadares and Island Jim Robinson

the oscar

Travelling to Copan, Honduras with my long-time friend Oscar Valladares, we talked about everything, as people on the road together do. Oscar said he was at the point in his life where he wanted to make a change, from working for others to opening his own factory.

If you don’t know him, Oscar is a man of strong character, a good man. No, a great man. His commitment to work, his family, and his friends means he tackles life the right way—with passion and dedication.

“I want one of the first cigars made in your new factory to be for me” I told him. The “Leaf by Oscar” was born.

We discussed types of cigars, what I like, what I would like to see. We talked about flavor profiles and sizes. After several months and several more trips to the factory, we settled on three of our current blends—the “Leaf by Oscar” cigar.

During the process, I envisioned the Leaf by Oscar as the house cigar for my little retail shop in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. When Oscar, after months of working together, asked about my first order, I told him “5,000 for the year.” At the same time, I thought, Wow, that’s a big order. How am I possibly going to sell that many of one cigar in a year?

Oscar looked at me and I could practically see his thought, All this work for only 5,000 cigars?

With the first batch done, all 5,000 cigars made, I realized I had no idea how to get them to Pittsburgh.

I happened to have a group of ten in Honduras at the time. Each person could legally bring back 100 cigars. That made 1,000 cigars for my retail shop. That will last me a while, I figured. And give me enough time to get the other 4,000 to the US. I was pretty pleased.

One week after putting the 1,000 Leaf by Oscar cigars on my shop shelf, they were gone. All of them. Sold. In one week. I needed a crash course in importing. I needed a broker.

The remaining 4,000 cigars soon made their way to the Leaf and Bean and within one month, they were gone. All of them. Sold. In a month.

******

Contrary to popular belief, Island Jim cannot do everything himself. His Wahoo! is frequently possible thanks to the following people:

Without the help of other manufacturers, there would be no Leaf by Oscar, Island Jim, or Big Johnny cigars. They have given me invaluable inspiration and insight into the cigar world. A giant Wahoo! and an even greater Thank you!

Vendors who have helped me become successful as a retailer, which gave me the knowledge and confidence to make my own cigars.

The Leaf + Bean staff, who provide the most excellent customer service. Without them, our small shop wouldn’t be a success. (Music starts to play.)

The people at Oscar’s factory who create our cigars. I am proud to be working with you and I can’t thank you enough for the consistently wonderful products I am proud to put my name on.

Without the distribution and sales staffs, we would never be able to share those amazing products with the outside world.

Island Jim and Oscar

Congratulations Oscar and Jim.  You hit a home run and I hope the ball never stops!

Irv CigarBroker

 

 

 

 

Puro D’Oro Magnifico: My Take

A couple days ago I joined www.cigarsense.com.  It’s a website created by Franca Comparetto that suggests to cigar smokers what they might enjoy.  You join and then you put in information such as what flavors you like, the body you prefer, and whether or not you like a particular length and ring gauge.   Then the information is run through the accumulated facts that have been compiled by a group of cigar experts, as well as those with knowledge of wine and spirits, and out comes a cigar that matches the information you provided.  (You can read all about her site on my Blog.) https://irvcigarbroker.wordpress.com.)

I found the idea fascinating and am now a member.  I ran with the test and out popped the following cigar:   Davidoff’s Puro D’Oro Magnificos. Needless to say I was so intrigued at the suggestion from a group of cigar “experts” whom I don’t know from Adam, that I went out and picked one up.  I wanted to see if indeed the site was right or wrong.

raw

Just waiting to be tested.

It was the exact cigar.  So we’re dealing with apples to apples here.  The copy on the Davidoff site states:

“(The cigar) sings with flavor. The boldest cigar in the richest of the Davidoff series balances heady espresso, chocolate and nut aromas with earthy pepper and spice undertones for deep, luxurious enjoyment.”

Ok.  So I first took a good look at the cigar.  If I’m going to spend up to $20, I’m going to give it a thorough examination.  (By the way, I didn’t pay for it and how I obtained the cigar will remain my little secret.  I’m a broker don’t forget.  Hint.  Hint.)dveins

So, the wrapper was a gorgeous chocolate brown but it did have veins.  (Veins!  Davidoff!)
After I picked myself off the ground, I continued to give it the once over.  Not smoking a lot of this brand, I wasn’t going to miss a thing.  It had a small pigtail, appeared to be rolled evenly, and there were no soft or hard spots anywhere in the interior of the cigar.  So I am guessing that this cigar’s draw will be flawless.

So I cut the end and lo and behold, it was a perfect draw.  Then immediately I detected a rich, tobacco flavor. It was so flavorful I drew on it a few more times to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, or that I was just so enamored by the “D” name.  I took my torch and toasted the foot.rollt

It took the flame and if the cigar could “sing” it would have belted out José Felliciano’s “Light My Fire.”  But I’m not sure that’s what the copy writer meant when he wrote “(the cigar) sings with flavor.”  I’m sure it was his idea of literature.

I drew in my first mouthful of smoke and in my notes I wrote, “Clean tobacco, aged perfectly.  Fresh.”  Now in the very beginning the burn was a little lopsided and this was a concern straightaway.  I have a Davidoff in my hand and I rather expect perfection.  But I must add that the burn did calm down and an architect could have used it as an example of a perfect circle.  It was delightful to observe.  This went on like this -the razor sharp burn – all the way to the end!  The ash was brawny, and the conical ember was on point.conicald

Again I quote the description of the copy on the Davidoff site, “the boldest cigar…” Stop right there.  I disagree.  If this was bold, the other Davidoffs must taste like a cloud of cotton candy sans the coloring and the flavor. To my palate, it was medium and continued to stay in that category until the last quarter when the strength came closest to the  Davidoff’s website’s description.

The copy goes on to say, “balances heady espresso, chocolate and nut aromas…”  Ok.  Perhaps my olfactory sense is not as sophisticated as some, but I sure as hell can tell when something is reminiscent of heady expresso, chocolate, and nut aromas.  I got the chocolate and the nut, but the espresso must have been left out of mine because there wasn’t any.  Period. burnm

The copy ends with the words,” with earthy pepper and spice undertones for deep, luxurious enjoyment.”  I will give them that.  What stood out was the earthy pepper, though I must add that the spice was subtle and only appeared near the end of the smoke.  The first ¾ of the cigar was medium and pleasant and as luxurious as the description states.

So if I wanted to be a complete jackass, I would say that the Davidoff’s description was inaccurate, but it wasn’t, there were just slight differences.  And they were trivial.

But that’s not why I took the test in www.cigarsense.com.  I took the test to see if the experts’ pick fit my preference of the kind of cigar I like to smoke. And I have to give its assessment full marks.  The number given was 90% and I will tell you I’d add another 5%.  It was quite accurate. The cigar was perfect for my palate and I enjoyed it as I would a Bella Pizza here in the neighborhood.  In short, I could have had another and another and another.  The information provided by the site was on the money.  It’s just too damn bad that the cigar is going to be discontinued.  That’s the word on the street.  So here I find a cigar that I can truly say I enjoy and it’s not going to be available.  So what does that mean?  It means I have to take the test again and see what other cigar the experts pick for me. And I will give it the third degree just like I did this one.

cropped meSo try the site.  It’s fun, fascinating and is an intellectual experience that might surprise you. It’s great for experts and novices alike.   I liked the professionalism that the site displays.  Kudos once again www.cigarsense.com – you have a true believer.

Cuba’s La Gloria Cubana Exclusivo

“Is it real,” I asked with a slight trembling in my vocal cords.

Sam took it in the light of his shop’s lobby, The Humidor in Westmont, Illinois.  He gave it a thorough examination – even the olfactory test, and returned to my chair.

“It’s real.”

I was so relieved I almost peed my pants.  I was given a La Gloria Cubana Exclusivo some time back and I was ready to smoke and critique it for this blog post.  But not having access to many Cuban cigars, I was not positive that this one was authentic.  But that concern vanished when he gave it back to me and affirmed its pedigree.

What made me want to smoke this one today was a lark.  I knew I had business to do with Sam, and why not smoke two cigars using one match.  Why not the Cuban one?  It’s been aging in my humidor for months and this seemed the perfect setting to get the job done.  What a job, uh?doingre

So I first went over the cigars that I originally went to see Sam about and we talked about them at length.  One he hated – especially because of the high cost.  The other was a definite “Yes.”  The others?  There were too many varieties to evaluate all then and there.  And I knew that would be the case.  So I took the time before I visited to label in separate bags a couple of each cigar blend with notations so he would be able to identify them as he smoked through the batch, take notes, and pick the ones he will want to add to his selection.niceroll

But Sam was busy.  In fact, for a Friday afternoon before 2pm, the place was packed.  So he was running up and down, taking care of sales, and tending to his flock.  In the meantime, I thought this would be the most optimal time to light up the Cuban.  So I did.

You’ll notice the perfect roll, i.e. construction and the triple cap.  The wrapper had a few veins, but not enough to distract the ember from the center of attention.  I clipped it.  Poor draw.  Sam was walking by, “Take another eighth of an inch off and it may open up.”  So I did and he was right.  But I have to admit, I didn’t like the draw at all.  I was distracted by it.  If I wanted to suck on a Cuban chicken bone I would have sucked on a Cuban chicken bone.  But this was the precious treasure I saved for months.  Why wasn’t the draw perfect?3cap

Ok.  It started out with a stiff draw that persisted throughout the entire smoke.  Which distracted me from concentrating on the flavors, which distracted me from tasting the excellence in aging that I was expecting from a CUBAN CIGAR.  How I chuckled to myself that so many guys may have had actual pseudo-sexual experiences thinking about the lifting of the embargo, and how ecstatic cigar smoking will be, and here I am with a real Cuban robusto, and so far I’m as disappointed as ever.

But I never give up – not on a Honduran, not on a Dominican, not on a Nicaraguan, and certainly not on a Cuban.  So I drew again and again and made every attempt to separate the flavors or at least recognize some combinations of flavors and exotic essences as I would expect from a discovery of a Mel Fisher expedition. burncuban

Oh sure, the cigar was smooth as newly formed silk and the flavor that was readily recognizable was espresso mixed with a charred, sassy lilt of wood that made this a worthwhile endeavor.  But I certainly didn’t feel heart palpitations from the exquisite flavors that should be cursing over my palate that I think most cigars smokers are expecting when they light up their first Cuban cigar.almost done

There was a bit of spice, but it was so lightly sprinkled in as one would deftly powder the porcelain-like skin of a world-famous model just to give it that slight nudge from perfect to unbridled, unequivocal perfection.  But it was not to be.

There was no annoying, spicy flavor, no bitterness at all.  Still smooth, and WAIT!  The draw is improving somewhat.  I’m almost done with the cigar and now it opens up?  Who’s going to wait that long with a domestic cigar?  If I were to bring in a cigar that finally opened up at the last third, I would have been pilloried and the cigar relegated to the trash can.

Sam sat down briefly and asked how it was going and I told him that I wasn’t all that thrilled with the draw, the flavors or the overall experience.  He wasn’t surprised.   He got up and continued to give his trade the fastidious service his lounge is known for.fini

But I smoked that La Gloria Cubana Exclusivo to the very end.   And I have to say that I’m glad that I finally did.  But I was so very disappointed in the cigar.  Nope.  I wasn’t around in the days when a Cuban cigar was likened to a roll in the hay, a 20-course meal, or a homemade, decadent dessert.  No.  Times have changed this once indescribable, delicious delicacy.  And I know I won’t convince a soul out there of my experience.  So you’ll have to try it for yourself.  Are there great Cuban cigars still out there?  Of course, this just wasn’t one of them.

 

 

www.cigarsense.com

There are literally hundreds of cigar sites on the web.  Today I joined one that I could not resist called – Cigar Sense.  I will defer to the web’s copy:

“Cigar Sense is the brainchild of Franca Comparetto, president of Cigar Sense Inc., and inventor of our cigar analysis process.  Franca is certified in both the United States (Tobacconist University CST) and her home country of Italy (CCA/Catadore) –  [CCA stands for Cigar Club Association.  It is an Italian association structured to support cigar clubs by means of services and benefits to the clubs’ members.  Born in 1999, it promotes the cigar culture, mainly by means of events and Catadores courses.  Since 2003 “Sigari!” is the CCA official magazine and is published 4 times a year for distribution to all members.  CCA is rapidly expanding.  Today (early 2016) it counts 40 member clubs, including Switzerland, Greece.  Requests for additional member clubs include France.]

She led tasting and educational events for cigar lovers in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She is also an experienced business manager and has worked for large multi-national corporations.  Franca is joined by her husband David Wells, an independent management consultant, computer engineer and lover of fine cigars.  Together they have launched Cigar Sense to help other cigar lovers easily identify – among the thousands out there – those products which will delight their senses.

Our team of international passionate and experienced smokers does the heavy lifting, rigorously analyzing hundreds of premium cigars to build our catalog.  Through blind-tests, they describe the mechanical, raw, gustative (of or pertaining to taste) and overall organoleptic (pertaining to or by a sensory organ) perceived  characteristics presented by each cigar at the highest degree of detail.”

Now, I’ve been communicating with Franca for some time through Linkedin.  A brief bio will also be taken from the site:franco c

Franca is a Certified Catador [“Catador” is a Spanish term that can refer to either the cigar factory itself, or to the person who tastes or samples the cigar (which is much more commonly used). (Wiki)

Certified Sales Force Tobacconist (Tobacconist University)

Panelist at Cigar Journal

Contributor to the Italian/English magazine ‘LiveIn Style’

Served as advisor of the Board of the Puromotivo Torino Cigar Club, Italy

Served as contributor to the Italian nationwide Cigar Club Association

Creator of Cigar Sense

******

 I’ll be honest, and I apologize if this is slightly embarrassing to admit, I first noticed her – and then her association with the world of cigars.  Though I’m not exactly sure how we connected, although I know it was through Linkedin.

So today, I am a full-fledged member, and I even went and tried out the site http://www.cigarsense.com/.  I have to give Franca full marks for casting a wide variety of experts. She has a team working with her and has such an incredible array of details at her disposal that anyone can and should join to get a thumbnail of what cigars are best suited for your personal tastes.

I was shocked to see what the results were for me.  After I answered a variety of questions that had to do with taste, aroma, size, likes and dislikes, the cigar that I am 90% suited for is:  Davidoff’s Puro D’Oro Magnificospurodoro_magnificios_sgl“(The cigar) sings with flavor. The boldest cigar in the richest of the Davidoff series balances heady espresso, chocolate and nut aromas with earthy pepper and spice undertones for deep, luxurious enjoyment.”  (I have to quote the site because I’ve never had one, but I’m going to now!)

STRENGTH:  *****

FORMAT: Robusto

PROVENANCE:  Dominican Republic

LENGTH:  5 1/8″

RING GAUGE: 52

ENJOYMENT TIME: 50 Minutes”

But I’m a boutique guy!  No matter, it’s good to know all the sides of your personality as best you can.  So my suggestion is to join Franca’s site and discover your inner cigar being.

http://davidoff.com/cigars/

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Rosa de Sandiego Cigars

 

The Three Stooges were an American vaudeville and comedy act of the mid–20th century, best known for their numerous Columbia short subject films that are still syndicated on television. Their hallmark was physical farce and slapstick.” (Wikipedia)   Their names are synonymous with three.  There was a fourth stooge but he dropped out (think Pete Best – dumb move). Some things are just meant to be a trio. Peter, Paul and Mary, three blind mice, and La Rosa de Sandiego cigars.

3 stooges

I almost passed this brand up, and I haven’t signed on the dotted line either.  But I have to give the manufacturer full marks for creating three cigars that mesh as well as the above mentioned.  The company that manufacturers La Rosa is American Caribbean Cigars from Nicaragua.  They have been making cigars for others, but when the time to pull away and create a brand of its own came, it seems ACC may have hit pay dirt.

 

A lot of the info on the cigars has already been reported in the other blogs and I’m not one for repeating old news.  But I am one for dissecting the cigar and speculating how it’ll fare in the marketplace of competition.  And brother is there competition.  Plus you have these guys who smoke a cigar for a few weeks and they’re onto something else to contend with.habstats

But I think this trio of cigars may have an advantage.  The first one I smoked was the Habano.  It was mild and had a smoothness to it that was carried throughout the cigar.  No bitterness.  What I didn’t care for was on its journey to the office here, it may have had a chance to dry out and that was an annoyance that may have given the cigar the heave ho.  But I did smoke it through and I enjoyed the flavor of caramel.  Though I have to admit it was light caramel, nothing too distinguishable but definitely there.

The second one I lit up was the Connecticut.  Disclaimer: I do not like that wrapper.  I don’t care where it’s from, I find it to be grassy and like sucking on hay.  Oh, I know there are those that don’t taste like that, but if I have a choice, I’m going for the Habano or the Maduro. ctrosa

This one had some flavor and the caramel became a bit more intense.  I liked that.  Plus the draw was perfect and that added to its cred from the get go.  The spice was subtle, like a few grains of pepper on ice cream.  (Try it sometime and you’ll get what I mean.)   So I have to say that one thing unique about this Connecticut was that it had some Pennsylvanian tobacco mixed in with the Nicaraguan.  I like PA tobacco.  It has a touch of flavor that is, shall I say it, is in the umami category.  If you read my blogs you’ll know what I’m talking about  – and I’m assuming you are – reading the blogs.madrosa

The third was the Maduro.  It has the San Andres wrapper and I can take it or leave it.  For a time no one wanted anything to do with San Andres and now it’s the gift of the Magi to cigars and I think it’s simply because the palates of the naysayers got used to it.  I’m still not a real fan, but then again it depends on a lot of factors and one is the fermentation process.  No secrets will be given away by any manufacturer so if it adds some depth to the smoke, it’s done right, if it adds bitterness – it’s done wrong.  And I’ve tasted plenty of the wrong.  Again the caramel essence came up but this time it was as if it has been roasted over a coal fire and I enjoyed that change up.   It not only added a characteristic that made this maduro stand out, but was just plain pleasant to taste.ctburn.jpgIt’s done.  All three.  And If I were to rank the cigars in order of preference I would go for the Connecticut, then the Habano, and have the Maduro at third place – my opinion.  And, even though the blends are all different (you can read the blends for yourself), the cigars have a unity that make them the perfect trio – breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And I’m sure you would be craving for that caramel essence each and every time.

Will this brand survive and will I rep it? I can’t say.  But I can say it’s the ideal trio of blends that don’t conflict with each other, but rather complement each other.  Hey, it goes right along with Moe, Larry and Curley for laughter, the three blind mice for a silly rhyme, or Peter, Paul and Mary for the enjoyment of melodious harmony.

Ain’t got no…

 

Aretha Franklin is the only person on this planet who can sing “Respect!”  Others have tried, but it just isn’t the same.  The soul of the song isn’t there when others try.  I could go and play rendition after rendition and no one can get close to the power, the sparkle, the inner feelings she blasts out to her audience.  It is hers and she deserves first prize for giving the word such long lasting intensity and passion as she does.

aretha franklin

And the word itself is one that has meaning that cannot be diluted.  The dictionary definition states, “A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.  Synonyms include: esteem, regard, high opinion, admiration, reverence, deference, and honor.

A simple sentence using the word would be, “I have great respect for the way he does business.”

Fact is, in today’s world there’s not enough of it.  It seems as if the word has been forgotten or ignored or not even considered.  And that’s a shame.

But I have to say something about being disrespected.  Of course, “disrespected” is just the opposite of being respected.  The dictionary definition states, “Lack of respect, esteem, or courteous regard.”  And I think there is more of that swirling around the world than what Aretha sings about.

There’s a city that has an old cigar shop in it.  It’s been there for years and years.  It does a good business.  The original owner was thought of as a good guy.  Time passes and so do people, so a new owner took over a few years ago and has kept the flavor of the shop intact.  It’s a bit messy, eclectic in nature, ha a small humidor but well–stocked.  The shop is fun to sit down in and have a cigar at.  It’s a neighborhood cigar store.  The neighborhood only needs one.

But recently, the discovery of the wave in space a few weeks back that shocked the scientific world was duplicated.  This is the discovery that another cigar shop is opening nearby the older shop shocked the cigar world.  In fact, you can see the new one from the old shop’s bathroom window.  It’s 99 paces away through the parking lot.  At least the wave is light years away and won’t bother a soul on earth.  This will bother a soul on earth – the owner of the old shop.

I know more details than I’m not going to reveal because I don’t have all the facts confirmed.  All I really have is what I saw.  And from what I saw the new shop is disrespecting the old shop.  Why?  I don’t know.  There could be a situation I’m not aware of.  Maybe the old shop is selling.  So why not open another in the neighborhood.  There can be a lot of reasons.

But I do know that I’m not going any further with the story until I get both sides of it.  But on the surface of it, the new owner isn’t giving the old owner any R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6cpQUcJfJI

 

 

Reviewing “Jochy’s”La Galera

jimmy

Ask any store manager to review a cigar and you’ll get a positive response.  I asked Jimmy at Ultimate Cigar in Villa Park, Illinois if he’d give me his impressions of the newest addition to my portfolio – La Galera.  Well, he has a cold, but that didn’t stop him from lighting up the Connecticut and doing the best that he could.

La Galera is the brainchild blend of Jose “Jochy” Blanco, Jose Blanco’s cousin.  It’s made at IndianHead Cigars, the newest acquisition of Tabacalera Palma, manufacturer of Aging Room, Señorial and others.ct stats

Jimmy had no problem seeing that the Connecticut cigar had great construction and drew well throughout the smoke.  The flavors challenged him a bit due to the cold.  Plus he just finished eating a lunch of shrimp and peapods, a combination that could sully any taste – cold or not.  But he gave the cigar high praise and told me that he” had a few guys that would buy this cigar.”  And so I summarized that this one was a hit.

The Maduro I tried was in a class by itself.  (Don’t get a big head Fabian – Director of Marketing and Sales).  It has an excellent draw and the construction is equally impressive.  The flavor was solid with hints of chocolate and plenty of subtle spice.  The aroma, which I’ll admit Jimmy had a hard time describing, was – on my end – luscious and alluring.mad stats

The burn on both cigars was razor sharp producing a fuzzy swirl of the tobacco’s burnt remnant.  In short, it looked good all the way through.  The wrapper colors were even and had few if any annoying veins to redirect the burning ember.   And check out the bands.  Fabian designed them himself so give the guy full marks for knowing a classic design when he sees one, the perfect complement to this traditional looking cigar.

mad ash

Read the stats in the photos and check out the sizes and blends.  There’s something for everyone.  Try one.  I think you’ll be in the category of heavenly cigars.

015 (2)(PSA – Don’t forget you can download Irv CigarBroker: The Blog! app on the Android or Apple app store.)