Monthly Archives: March 2016

Wednesday

I’m parked in Portillo’s parking lot.  My first appointment was a bust, so I went to pick up the drops for my eyes.  They still need attention.  I put the bag in the back seat of the car.  In the meantime as I was headed to Portillo’s, the radio’s music was becoming a bit boring so I wondered to myself if I had my copy of Frank, Amy Winehouses’s first album.  So I lifted the seat hatch and lo and behold, I did!  I slid the hot pink CD in the player and as usual, I was transfixed by her, clear, jazzy and confident vocals as she sang, Stronger Than Me, then moved on to You Sent Me Flying, to –  Know You Know, and then as I pulled into the lot F*** Me Pumps.  I didn’t turn off the engine and listened for a bit more.

mort sahl

I didn’t want to get out of the car because from the drugstore to Portillo’s my mind transferred me to a New York night club, a small cigar between my lips, clinking glasses, mass mumbling and the blue lights that emanate from so many of the old-fashioned clubs back in the day.  The ones I frequented when I was single.  She brought me back to the time I was at Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago when I took in Oscar Peterson, one of the great jazz pianists of all time.  And then,  I hadn’t thought about this for some time, but I was back at a club in Mid-Town Manhattan, the name escapes me, but I went there to see Mort Sahl, one of the funniest satirists to ever have lived.

I lit up another small cigar and sipped on my beer, and like a sponge, soaked in his perspective on the day.  That was his act.  He would always walk on stage with a rolled up or folded daily newspaper under his arm and interpret the news and make some of the most hilarious comments without any vulgarity that’s so prevalent in comedy clubs today.  This of course, excludes Lenny Bruce who broke that barrier and paid the price, but he did open the door for other comedians like Chris Rock, and Amy Schumer.

Those were the days of giddy freedom, when you could light up a cigarette or a cigar in a club and just rest back in your chair, relax and take in the show.  But what really made any show for me was the cigar.  No complaints.  No nasty looks or frowning stares.  Just the atmosphere of the club, the real clubs that eventually gave way to the not so funny comedians and the absence of smoking and the dizzy feeling of having a great time during the set.

amycigarWhat I couldn’t figure out was why this sudden compulsion for the small cigar.  I usually smoked the larger variety, but this daydream had me smoking a teeny, tiny cigar and it was delicious.  Hand rolled Dominican, and satisfying.  The flavor was sweet and the tobacco essences that trickled up to my nose with the other smokers made it all the better.

I guess I really wasn’t into Wednesday considering all this daydreaming before lunch.  I had to get out of the car and get some food in my system because I had the 1pm appointment.  So I finally and reluctantly turned off the engine and swerved my rear out of the car – but not out of my imagination.  I still snuffed out the cigar in the ashtray on the table and went for the door out into the cool breeze of the night.

I walked into Portillo’s, ordered my usual, sat down and unwrapped my hot dog.  (Sorry FC, I tried, but my time is so limited that I had to do it.  But you were right.)  And then I sat there and wrote this post on a piece of paper as I chowed down on the tube steak and sipped my root beer through the straw.

After I ate the last bite, I just sat there for a moment, looking around and took in the atmosphere.  It’s so much different than the night club – the lights, the people bantering back and forth.  Two ladies standing in line next to my table were jabbering away about something that kept them going a mile a minute.

talking women

After I ate the last bite, I just sat there for a moment, looking around and took in the atmosphere.  It’s so much different than the night club – the lights, the people bantering back and forth.  Two ladies standing in line next to my table were jabbering away about something that kept them going a mile a minute.

Eventually I got up, hit the loo, got back in the car and headed to Havana Joe’s, a cigar lounge in Mt. Prospect.  It has a classy feel to it but it doesn’t hold a candle to the club in my mind as I took one more imaginary puff before they cleared the place out for the next show.  I said “good bye” after I handed out some samples.  Grabbed my gear and left the store.  I got back in the car, turned the key and Amy was back on stage, and my brain was back in New York as I put the car in gear and turned left headed for another stop.

 

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Not all cigar blends are good.

Cigar blenders and manufacturers are sensitive people.  Anyone who creates is prone to looking at criticism as a highly-charged negative.  Those who take it in stride are the ones who become the most successful, be it a cigar blender, artist, musician, poet, author, or blogger.  To quote the great Yul Brynner from the original 1951 stage play, The King and I ”etc., etc., etc.”

Now don’t be confused with abject failure either.  There are those whose work is criticized and rightly so.  The cigar, the artwork, the musical, the stage play, the book, the blog whatever it is – may be just plain bad.  But that doesn’t indicate future failure.  Keep in mind the old story of Thomas Alva Edison. “I doubt you could place a number on it.  He was good at failing,” writes Austin Bugden on the internet site Quora.

edison

He goes on to write, “It seemed clear that if he couldn’t reason an answer he could intuitively derive a decision tree based test matrix to derive a result by successive approximation (not to be confused with the a/d algorithm).   He clearly had a better success rate than trial and error.   There is only one way to work through a test program like that.   Many failed attempts.  It’s clear failure wasn’t failure to him, failure was one step closer to a solution.” (Bugden)

Now take that attitude and meld it into the minds of cigar blenders.  They have at their disposal who knows how many types of tobacco and methods of fermentation and blending, just as a chef has so many spices, herbs, salts, sugars etc. at his or her disposal to create that special sauce.  But it takes time, experimentation, and patience.  But very often, even though those three components are included into the process, the cigar still comes out a dog.  And that may not just be my opinion, but many opinions – and the proof is in the sales of the cigar.

rainbow tabak I often hear, “It’s a great cigar, but it just doesn’t sell.”  Then, I hate to burst your bubble Mr., Mrs., or if it’s being used anymore, Ms. Blender, but you have failed.  Try another blend.  But this is where the ego comes into play.  Ah yes, the ego.  Let me go bit further if I may, “According to Sigmund Freud, the ego is part of personality that mediates the demands of the id, the superego and reality. The ego prevents us from acting on our basic urges (created by the id), but also works to achieve a balance with our moral and idealistic standards (created by the superego). While the ego operates in the preconscious and conscious, its strong ties to the id means that it also operates in the unconscious.

The ego operates based on the reality principle, which works to satisfy the id’s desires in a manner that is realistic and socially appropriate. For example, if a person cuts you off in traffic, the ego prevents you from chasing down the car and physically attacking the offending driver. The ego allows us to see that this response would be socially unacceptable, but it also allows us to know that there are other more appropriate means of venting our frustration.” (Kendra Cherry)

So what to do?  Test and be honest.  That latter attribute for a blender is a very difficult trait to come to terms with.   I know this for a fact.  It cannot be disputed.  No one can argue the point down.   It happens every day.   The lack of being truthful about a particular blend is often shoved aside.  But then the cigar is released anyway, and the end result of the egotistical blender is splattered everywhere.

cigargraveyard

It just happened to me.  I was contacted by a man who has the finances and the passion to have a factory make him a cigar.  He is very pleased with this cigar.  In fact, so pleased that he is not taking the usual route of testing it on a regional level, he wants to go national – now.  So I tell him, send me some samples and I will give it a shot.

The samples are sent and I find the right moment, and grab my notebook.  The critique is according to my taste.  But I also have a few friends that I always will run the cigar by to consider their impressions about the blend, construction etc.  That’s the process I go through when I’m thinking about representing a cigar.  I just don’t pick one and hope it sells.  That’s a waste of my time and a waste of the owner’s time.

So, I light up this cigar and the first words that scroll across my brain screen are “I hope he didn’t make a lot of these.”   But I give every cigar its full chance and I will smoke it to the end.  In this case the cigar was empty.  There was nothing available.  Physically I held the cigar, I watched it burn, I drew in the smoke, all in complete silence.  But I tasted nothing.  I thought for a brief moment that the cigar was picking up, but it was a false alarm.  No ding.

notes medThe cigar was real, but the end results were silent.   I had nothing to say.  Except when I diplomatically told the gentleman who called me in the first place that I think he would need someone else to rep his product.  It’s not that he failed per se; he just didn’t get the blend right.

Too, when I pick up a cigar that I think will move and it doesn’t, the manufacturer becomes upset.  We didn’t do our job.  We didn’t show it enough.  No, the fact is, the cigar didn’t match or satisfy enough palates for it to become a staple on the shelves.  The manufacturers need not get angry, they need to go back to the blending table and try again.

There is a masterful piano piece by the great composer John Cage called “4’33” for Piano (1952).  I have included it in this post.  It is exactly what I experienced when I smoke some cigars.  It is the perfect review of that cigar mentioned above.  There can be no disputes.  Please take the time to watch it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gN2zcLBr_VM

Those of you who do watch the video, I applaud your curiosity.  Those of you, who do not, are allowing your ego to get in the way of what I’m writing about?  Perhaps you will reconsider and return to the performance and begin to think inwards. Perhaps there are a few blenders out there who will see this post and delve into their souls and admit the truth about certain tobacco combinations.  Some don’t work.  Try another blend.

To be great at anything, and I am concentrating on cigars here, you must push the envelope and go where your heart takes you – even if it takes a thousand combinations of blends to get there.

******

“John Cage is the 20th century conceptual artist who famously “composed” the piano piece titled 4′ 33″ (1952), which consists of the pianist(s) sitting at a piano and not playing for exactly four minutes and 33 seconds. The son of an inventor, Cage spent time in Europe as a young man, absorbing culture and studying with composer Arnold Schoenberg. He returned to the United States in the 1930s as a composer with an avant-garde approach, composing pieces for percussion groups and for what was called “prepared piano” — a piano with various objects inserted between the strings for percussive effects. He taught briefly at the Chicago School of Design (1941-42) before moving to New York, where he continued to experiment and push the boundaries music, and embarked on a career of what he called “an exploration of non-intention.”

Cage used found objects and ambient sound, experimented with magnetic tape editing and splicing and used a variety of composing methods (including using the I Ching and star maps) to create compositions that were usually performed live instead of recorded. He became known outside the art world in the 1960s as an influence on pop art and rock music, and continued to lecture and compose until his death in 1992. Some consider Cage little more than a charlatan, but his idea that “everything we do is music” has undoubtedly influenced modern composers. Some of his other works include Imaginary Landscape #3 (1942), Variations I and II (1958) and Thirty Pieces for Five Orchestras (1981).” (www.Who2 Biographies)

Just how some days roll.

There are mornings when I wake up and really have no clear idea of where I’m going to go.  I have all my states in bundles of business cards.  I go through those cards at least every other month.  But there are times when there is a mishmash of scheduling that you can’t seem to upright.

Today is one of those days.  There are a few stragglers who couldn’t make it last time I was in their sector, and I have to make an appearance, so there’s a lot of overlap.  A lot.  But I still try to make regularly scheduled visits.

datebk

Now keep in mind there are low and high maintenance stores in anybody’s territory.  You have to pick the ones that need special care and treat them appropriately.  It’s that simple.  If they don’t see you on a regular basis, let’s say there’s a death in the family, or your car was stolen or damaged, or your water heater exploded taking half your house into outer space, and you don’t show – they won’t call for an order.  I can walk into any one of these shops and see that they are out of whatever cigar and I ask, “Why didn’t you call?”  I may be psychotic but I’m not physic.  I usually get a mumbled response, but never ever a clearly defined answer.  Those are the shops I am dutifully bound to visit regularly.

Now there are those shops that are self-sustaining.  I have quite a few of those and they call me when they need cigars.  Easy right?  I would love to have all my stores do that, but that is a mathematical and philosophical impossibility.  It could happen statistically, but the probability OF it happening is equal to zero.

bizcrds

So what do you do?  You have to show up.  You have to show your face.   But you look through the cards and you’ve been to some and not to others and that means the locations are out of sync and scattered about.  So I have to devote at least one day a month, sometimes more, to visiting stores that just got shuffled out of order.

Now I don’t make a lot of calls.  I text message a bunch.  But call?  Not a fan.  I hate using the phone.  “How ya doing, do you need anything?”  That type of banal banter.  I can go without that and have for the past dozen years, and most of my customers I deal with are aware of that predilection.

So what to do today?  It’s too early to call anyway, so I’ll be back in a flash and get some day-old donuts.  The price has been raised as some of you know.  Four used to cost $1.02. Now it’s $1.50 plus tax and that’s a crime.  But I’ve adjusted.  (Pause)

donuts

I’m back.  Ram one down my throat and get back to the desk here.   So I scheduled my Indiana run for next week and pretty much have today on line.  The rest of the week looks good.   A few holes but I’ll fill ’em.

But It’s still early and I’m so blind from checking FB, Twitter or any other social media outlet so I do what any other normal QT addict would do,  play a scene or two from Pulp Fiction. I know I have to pack the cigars, but I always wait until the last minute, fresh is best!  I usually speed forward to my favorite outtake and it’s below.  Enjoy as I go downstairs to get my cigars.   I’ll be back by the time you see this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecc0nbg9m-8

******

bitter_truth_bitters

Day is over and I had a cigar.  I was at Ultimate Cigar In Villa Park, Illinois.  It was a worthwhile trip and the cigar made the conversation flow.  So sales were made and the prospect of an event is on the table. Oddly I smoked one I don’t carry anymore, the NBK by Black Label Trading Company.  NBK, is short for Natural Born Killers, a Tarantino influenced creation.  It’s an unusual cigar with flavors that bounce off one another to produce a gritty, delicious flavor kind of like the way bitters enhance drinks.  (For example they can impart a variety of flavors such as The Bitter Truth-From Germany, made with concentrated flavors that evoke fruits, herbs and spices.  The name says it all! (www.50bestbitters)

A day is never wasted if you get out there, and that’s what I did.

 

Don’t Overthink This Post.

“The word cigar originated from the Spanish cigarro, which in turn probably derives from the Mayan sicar (“to smoke rolled tobacco leaves” – from si’c, “tobacco”). There is also a possible derivation, or at least an influence, from the Spanish cigarra (“cicada”), due to their similar shape. The English word came into general use in 1730.

cigarconstructionTobacco leaves are harvested and aged using a process that combines use of heat and shade to reduce sugar and water content without causing the large leaves to rot. This first part of the process, called curing, takes between 25 and 45 days and varies substantially based upon climatic conditions as well as the construction of sheds or barns used to store harvested tobacco.

cigarlight The curing process is manipulated based upon the type of tobacco, and the desired color of the leaf. The second part of the process, called fermentation, is carried out under conditions designed to help the leaf dry slowly. Temperature and humidity are controlled to ensure that the leaf continues to ferment, without rotting or disintegrating. This is where the flavor, burning, and aroma characteristics are primarily brought out in the leaf.

cigartree

Once the leaves have aged properly, they are sorted for use as filler or wrapper based upon their appearance and overall quality. During this process, the leaves are continually moistened and handled carefully to ensure each leaf is best used according to its individual qualities. The leaf will continue to be baled, inspected, un-baled, re-inspected, and baled again repeatedly as it continues its aging cycle. When the leaf has matured according to the manufacturer’s specifications, it will be used in the production of a cigar.

cigarwaterQuality cigars are still handmade.   An experienced cigar-roller can produce hundreds of very good, nearly identical, cigars per day. The rollers keep the tobacco moist — especially the wrapper — and use specially designed crescent-shaped knives, called chavetas, to form the filler and wrapper leaves quickly and accurately.   Once rolled, the cigars are stored in wooden forms as they dry, in which their uncapped ends are cut to a uniform size.   From this stage, the cigar is a complete product that can be “laid down” and aged for decades if kept as close to 21 °C (70 °F), and 70% relative humidity, as the environment will allow. Once cigars have been purchased, proper storage is usually accomplished by keeping the cigars in a specialized wooden box, or humidor, where conditions can be carefully controlled for long periods of time. Even if a cigar becomes dry, it can be successfully re-humidified so long as it has not been handled carelessly and done so gradually. The loss of original tobacco oils, however, will greatly affect the taste.

cigarnmeSome cigars, especially premium brands, use different varieties of tobacco for the filler and the wrapper. Long filler cigars are a far higher quality of cigar, using long leaves throughout. These cigars also use a third variety of tobacco leaf, called a “binder”, between the filler and the outer wrapper. This permits the makers to use more delicate and attractive leaves as a wrapper. These high-quality cigars almost always blend varieties of tobacco. Even Cuban long-filler cigars will combine tobaccos from different parts of the island to incorporate several different flavors.

cigargraveyardIn low-grade and machine-made cigars, chopped tobacco leaves are used for the filler, and long leaves or a type of “paper” made from tobacco pulp is used for the wrapper which binds the cigar together.   This alters the burning characteristics of the cigar, causing handmade cigars to be sought-after.

Historically, a lector or reader was always employed to entertain cigar factory workers. This practice became obsolete once audiobooks for portable music players became available, but it is still practiced in some Cuban factories. The name for the Montecristo cigar brand may have arisen from this practice.” (Wiki)

cigargarbage

So they are all made the same way, with slight variations using the same materials.  A cigar is a cigar.  A cylindrical cigar’s cycle is predictable.   It doesn’t matter what the cigar cost.  It doesn’t matter how you lit it, by using the flame of a butane torch, a Sulphur-free match, or a shard of sheet cedar lit by a Sulphur-free match.  It doesn’t matter a whit where you bought it, or how popular it is or isn’t.  It doesn’t matter who saw you smoke what brand.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Cuban or Dominican, or Honduran or Nicaraguan.  The cigar gave you pleasure.  But they all end up in a heap in a landfill.  Life goes on.

Cigar Reviews Simplified!

That’s it!  Fini!  Kumaliza!  Hoopau!  Ferdig!  Bitirdi!  FREE!

I will no longer write pretentious cigar reviews other than it’s a great, good, bad, sour, poorly constructed cigar.  I’ve had it.  When a cartoon parody appears in the New Yorker, you know the subject or action, or whatever is being satirized, has jumped the shark.

For months now I’ve been writing cigar reviews and trying to discover every essence and nuance the cigar offers and write it down.  It’s like a freaking archaeological dig to discover that special flavor or describe it in such a way as to take you aback in your seat screaming, “Wow, that Irv’s palate is unbelievable!”  Well, it’s over.  I’m done with it.

Read that New Yorker (March 28, 2016) cartoon and see how silly that drivel sounds.  P.C. Vey is the most astute cartoonist on the planet as far as I’m concerned.   I will give him full marks for bringing such effluvial descriptions out into the open!

At least on this front, the cigars reviews will be short and to the point.  And no ratings!

Maybe I’ll add a few more pics to fatten up the article, more background, and some history, something that will take away from all that nonsense and add something substantive to the review.  I fell into the slippery slime and splashed it all over the readers.  For that I apologize.  Here’s a towel.

You can thank the New Yorker’s cartoonist P.C. Vey for this religious experience.  My hands are raised high in the air.  I feel the rapture coming on!  Alleluia!

P.C. Vey was born, raised and currently lives in New York City with his wife, Tina. He sold his first cartoon to The New Yorker in 1993 and has been a regular contributor since. His work has been published in Harvard Business Review, Barron’s, National Lampoon, Playboy, AARP Bulletin, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He has had three collections of cat cartoons published by Penguin/Plume and has contributed to many books of cartoons on a variety of subjects.  (Website)

http://www.pcvey.com/links.html

“And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

“Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” (From MLK’s I Have a Dream speech.)

REAL CIGAR REVIEWS ARE ON THE WAY!!!

Cuban Stock’s Triumph

When the box arrived I was like a kid on Christmas morning.  I ripped the cardboard open and discovered a variety of cigar boxes inside – all from Cuban Stock.  What to do?  Go with the post I planned, or make a 180 degree turn and go for the cigar review.  I chose the latter – I chose the Triumph.

csband1

“The Triumph’s blend is similar to that of the Cuban Stock Reserve with a Dominican filler and binder.  Rolled with 10-year, oak-barrel aged tobacco and a Maduro wrapper, this cigar offers a complex smoke with full body.” (Brochure)  I concur.

csnotesInked notes streamed from my pen onto the paper as I began a journey I once took before, but with a different perspective.  Yes, the cigar is complex, such that it is almost impossible to pinpoint any one flavor that dominates.

I did detect the oak, but the other essences that flowed up into my mouth mingled together as one would compare a Grant Achatz masterpiece, “People like to think the creative process is romantic. The artist drifts to sleep at night, to be awakened by the subliminal echoes of his or her next brilliant idea. The truth, for me at least, is that creativity is primarily the result of hard work and study.” (Chef Grant Achatz).  Leave the dissection to the blender and enjoy the experience, and that’s exactly what I did.

The variety of flavors meld, mix, mingle, and bounce off one another to produce a cigar that has what I believe all cigar smokers are seeking – pulsating pleasure.  The predraw was heavenly and the pull continued throughout the smoke never being disrupted by any one taste.  I tried to figure them out, but could not.  The fact that the tobacco is aged in oak barrels has to have an impact on the flavor.  But it’s not overpowering at all – it’s a part of the whole

csashThere are three sizes: a toro Grande (6.5 x 52); the torpedo (6 x 52); and the toro Corto (5.5 x 52).  All relatively close in size so the flavors will be the same no matter what size or shape you choose.

The ash is solid, gray and white proving excellent mineral content within the soil.  The burn is as if a laser cut it leaving a microscopic black ring around the cigar’s ember throughout the smoke.   Does it make a difference?  Perhaps.  But it’s a beautiful cigar and the artisanal construction remained steady all the way to the finish.

Some spice sluices through at the end, and adds to the traces of the oak making this a complete and complex cigar.  And by complex I compare the flavors to the old-fashioned Christmas tree light wheel as it inaudibly changed from green to blue, to white, to red, to yellow accentuating the natural hue of the tree – glowing in the dark with a continuous change.  But just as one color is being focused upon it drifts into another and another and another creating silent beauty.