Monthly Archives: March 2017

Romancing the Cigar?

cate

I ask the above question because I am the one who makes his living introducing new cigars to the marketplace.  I need risk takers with new blends to continue to make my mortgage payments.

Of course, that may change if the FDA has its way, but it won’t stop cigars from being made. Not even new ones.  However, it will stop some people from jumping into the industry because of an idealistic view of cigar manufacturing and owning a brand.

Before the incessant harassment from the people who know what’s good for me, many, many people with a few thousand dollars would get into the industry.  And then, after visiting a factory in the Dominican, Honduras, or Nicaragua the would-be dreamer is further whisked away into the romanticism of the world of cigars.  You know, like Zorro!  Rip!  Slash!  Tear!  

romantic ocean

To wit: Romanticism is “the quality or state of being romantic.”  (Merriam-Webster).  And to clarify further, romantic is best defined as conducive to or characterized by the expression of love.” (Google)

Love of what?  Objects?  People?  Food?  Fantasy?  Cigars?  Yes, especially the ersatz idea that cigars are forever seared to that “R” word.

Wait!  I’m banging the drum.  Damn.  I seem to be bashing my own industry again.  No, I’m just trying to get to the core as to why so many people believe they have so much to contribute to an industry that is saturated with product.   (And if you’ll give me a chance before you FB and feather me, I have an answer a bit down the road here.)

fern cigar

Of course, the prospective cigar brand owner knows his new blend is the best one (Wink. Wink.) since the creation of the Cuban Montecristo No. 2.  How can it miss?  And yes! There are some cigars out there today that are worthy of being revered and respected.  And it is fun to see the idea take shape – literally.  But after the tires hit the road, and for a broker like myself, that couldn’t be truer, the romanticism begins to fade away.  (The doppler effect?)  Oh yes, it does.  After a short time, it’s money, money, money!  Money! Romantic?  Don’t shit me.  You’re a sniper with no cover.  It’s a business.  And business is ruthless.  Even the cigar business.  Period.  

Listen, the dreamer is going to do whatever it is he or she wants to do.  And take heart – such a romantic misnomer doesn’t just happen in the cigar industry.  Take the arts.  In his new book, “How to See: Looking, Talking, and Thinking About Art,  author David Salle (“an American painter, printmaker, and stage designer who helped define postmodern sensibility.”) writes it best, “Whatever expectations about the world you’re poised to enter, the simple truth is this: nobody is waiting at the table of esteemed creators.  Nobody’s even waiting for you to take your place at the table of studio assistants.  No one’s waiting, period.”

Pause.  No.  Really.  Take a pause.

Think about those words from a man who knows.  Digest them thoroughly.  (Gulp!)

david-salle-pavilions-designer

No one cares!  No one is waiting for you to fill a void.  There is no void!  We don’t really need another cigar.  Yet, out from the factories they appear – like Willie Wonka’s chocolate bars – one by one, year after year.   Roll.  Roll.  Roll.

Why!?  Because there are men and women out there who defy legalistic limbo, lax logic, and looney laws.  The reason new boutique cigars are still being produced is due to the gossamer dreams that are embedded in the guts of the dreamer.  And, as Salle says in his book, it’s because “you can’t imagine your life without that empowering, free-falling, slightly scary, almost illicit thrill of creating.”

As I type, I do believe he’s right!

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Cigars? I done good!

new yorker trio

My subscription runs until August 2020.  I find the deals and I capitalize on them.  What goes on the street for $8.99 a copy, I receive weekly for $1.00 an issue.  Cool, uh?  You don’t care.  I know.  But I feel like I got a great deal with just a little research and being on top of things.  I don’t have to pay shipping with Amazon, either.  Why?  My little secret.  I can go out and buy German chocolate bars at a certain store here in town that put Godiva to shame.  But I ain’t talking.  Nope.  There are some things that are fun to keep to yourself.  

And, I’m sure others have their little secrets, too.  It’s fun to “One up” the system.  It makes you feel fantastic.  Smarter.  More intelligent.  On the edge.  Brighter.  

And then there are the times when you fuck up so badly you wish you could sink into the earth, have the ground cover you over, smooth it out and you’ve vanished.  Everything. Records.  Social security number.  Hospital where you were born.  Like they tried to do with David Webb aka “Jason Bourne.”  “They” being the Powers That Be.  Do I need to come right out and say it – the government, the system.  The Man.  Odd.  No shouts for equal rights on that one?  Opps.  Did I offend anyone?  

Well, I’ve been very fortunate in many other ways, especially with the cigars that I’ve chosen to represent.  I done good.  Not like when I started.  Oh my God, did I pick the winners.  The brand names shall remain shrouded in mystery.  I would take anything that had tobacco in it.  I was green.  And sometimes, so was the tobacco.  I look back on those days fondly now.

wood cut man

But I can still see at my very first sales call the owner of the shop holding up a very well-known brand in one hand and my brand in the other and asking me in an embarrassingly condescending way, “Why would anyone (emphasis added) want to buy this when they can buy this?”  I had no retort.  (Oh, for Samuel Jackson’s riposte in the first part of “Pulp Fiction.”)  All I had was this nauseating feeling in my gut.  The desire to flee was overwhelming.  But I took the berating.  Some might call this my “Baptism of Fire.”  A learning experience.  I called it belittling the new broker.  I can still see that asshole holding up those cigars.  And to this day, I don’t deal with that asshole.  You know why?  I found out that he was then and is today – still an asshole.

Today, IF I were to walk into his shop, I would have the answer to any question he could throw at me and I would welcome it.  Words would come out of my mouth with authority and confidence, and perhaps even a tad lilt of condescension.   I believe in the cigars that I introduce to stores today.  If I don’t, I get rid of the cigars, or the manufacturer gets rid of me.  No matter how you slice it, I’m just too damn independent.  Always have been.  Ask anyone from my childhood on down, my family, anyone who really knows me.  

Oh, sure I ate crow as I earned my stripes.  But I don’t digest that bird no more.  Why? Because this year, this time, I have some of the finest cigars on the planet.  I know it.  I have my secrets now.  I have my ways.  I don’t need no help picking cigars out either.  And I own up to the product because I believe in the product and the people behind the product.

So as I read “The New Yorker,” often smoking one of the cigars I represent, I can smirk – in more ways than one.

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“New” May Satisfy the Soul.

casta

Next time I head into your cigar shop and I offer you a Casta, Track 7, a San Andres Billboard, or a K by Karen Berger – think outside the box.  Here.  Read one of my emails about some exciting news.  If you connect, you just might find a cigar that has something to offer you that you have never been aware of before.

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The email read in part, “The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is thrilled to announce Marisol, a new restaurant experience with chef Jason Hammel opening in July 2017. Marisol re-imagines the relationship between food, art, and design in an immersive art environment created by renowned international artist Chris Ofili.

Marisol-Escobar-Portrait-

The restaurant is named after the spirited Venezuelan/American artist Marisol (Escobar), who was a star of the New York art scene in the 1960s. She gave the MCA its first artwork in 1968, Six Women (1965-66), thereby starting the museum’s world-class collection of contemporary art.”  

Hmmm.  What could I do?  I was not familiar with the artist, or the work of Marisol.  Do I whine and say, “I never heard of that one before.”  No!  I immediately looked her up on the internet and was amazed at all that she had contributed to the modern art continuum.

“Marisol Escobar studied art at the Jepson Art Institute, École des Beaux-Arts, the Art Students League of New York, at the New School for Social Research and she was a student of artist Hans Hofmann.  The pop art culture in the 1960s found Marisol as one of its members, enhancing her recognition and popularity.  She concentrated her work on three-dimensional portraits, using inspiration ‘found in photographs or gleaned from personal memories.’”(Wiki)

 

 

six women

Six Women

 

Next, I went to Google Images and downloaded pictures of her art.  First I would find Six Women. Then I found Love (1962), then LBJ (1967), and more and more and more until I stumbled upon Baby Girl (1963), and the floodgates opened and I could not stop taking in all the works done by this woman who had so much to say in such a different way.  And if not for the pesky email blasts from the museum, if not for the fact that I am a member of MCA, if not for the fact that I got a senior (???) membership discount I may never have been introduced to this artist who has contributed so much to the world of art.

So there you have it.  I don’t know everything about art, and you don’t know everything about cigars.  The wise choice is to investigate rather than denigrate.

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Does it all make sense, yet?

first issue ca

This all started with Marvin Shanken.  What he did was take his elitist magazine “The Wine Spectator,” and created another aristocratic rag and called it “Cigar Aficionado.”  Ta Da!!  Now, for those of you who have not read Mr. Shanken’s wine publication, there is a section for wine reviews.   And it is in this revered segment that wines of various varietals are critiqued to the nth degree and this is where mossy, and fruity, and sandy, and earthy, and, and, and, erupted from.

And so Mr. Shanken, from the premier issue of “Cigar Aficionado” on, used words and phrases  such as “rich coffee,” “nutty,” “leathery aromas,” and creamy, spicy and cinnamon,” to describe the cigar’s flavor characteristics  I will say this, the reviews back then were far more real, and less, ah . . . how shall I say – pretentious?  Yes, pretentious.  Good Word.  That’s the perfect word.  It would behoove all cigar reviewers to take a look at the premiere issue of “Cigar Aficionado” and see from whence we came.  I think some would be shocked at the simplicity of the reviews – and less bored.

So I posit that Mr. Shanken knew one way of doing things and he figured, it works for wine, why not for cigars?  And the rest, they say, is history.

I taste red

Give credit to the smokers at “Cigar Aficionado” for giving cigar evaluations the same pedigree as wine tasters.  The latter have been around for years.  Countless numbers of books have been written on the “science” of tasting wine.  In fact, I just recently picked up the tome “I Taste Red,” by Jamie Goode (neat cover for a hardback, sans jacket).  The book is aptly titled with its additional sweet and sour swish of the tongue-in-cheek thrown in for balance.

It’s a fascinating Red, ah read.  And what’s most entertaining is how the wine industry parallels the cigar world.  In the introduction, Goode goes into detail about a discussion he was having with a well-known wine writer of the old school.  The discussion centered around “sweet wines tasting less sweet as they age.”  This phenomenon is called “eating the sugar” by the French.  However, through research, it is known that the sugar level stays the same through the aging process. How can this be?  Goode goes on to explain that when wines are young the aromas are “bright and fruity.”   He continues to say that “Research has shown that ‘sweet smells’ make people rate a sugar solution as more sweet; indeed, simply imagining a sweet smell can cause people to increase their sweetness ratings.”

He nails it when he writes, “as the wine ages, its fruity aromas diminish and the savory aromas of mature wine take over.  The sugar detected by our tongues is the same, but we interpret the wine as less sweet because of the information received by our noses.”  

Harumph!  The old wine writer seemed exasperated, “You are having us all as fools.”  Jamie Goode did not respond but, in truth, as he writes, “. . . when it comes to our perceptions, we often are fools.”

Do you think this carries over into the world of cigars?  Of course, it does.  I had a biology teacher, who used to bounce into class with papers all a flutter in his hands and an unlit cigar stub between his teeth, who taught us that we cannot trust our senses because those senses are being sensed by our other senses.  An affirmation of reality or an utter contradiction of existence?  Who knows?  Too existential to tackle here.

cigar sense logoSo, if you can, take the time to get a copy and give it a go.  And while you’re at it, give Cigar Sense a look  http://www.cigarsense.com/ and let Franca Comparetto’s site help you to determine, examine, and define your likes and dislikes as they relate to the senses before you smoke a cigar.  “I Taste Red” is a fun read, and Cigar Sense is so jam-packed with information it’ll make your head swim.

So jump in, splash around and enjoy both.

I’m going to have a Mountain Dew.  It tastes yellow. 

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Raw truth defines cigar broker?

irv in bw

Depression can be a very sensitive subject.  And it can wear you down like a commercial belt sander. How it does that?  Real, honest-to-God depression is a sadness that cannot be described. It can’t be.  You want to do nothing and nothing wants to do with you.  You sit. Stare into the distance and hope that an idea, something will come around and pull you up out of the quicksand that’s sucking the very life out of you.

And that’s the power, the strength, the hideous majesty of its hold on you.  The leaden feeling is heavier than chain mail.  Sure there’s room to breathe but that’s about all.  The psychological weight is what seems to hold you down, pulling out every thread of life you think you have left.  The imaginative bristly quill embedded in Nina’s shoulder as she begins to believe her transformation is real in “Black Swan.”

Black Swan - The Black Swan

And then you look at the clock and you realize you’ve spent more time (months, years) analyzing the situation than trying to get out of it.  You represent some of the best boutique cigars that are being offered today.  You know that.  Yet you have allowed the misanthropic myopia of manic managers, store owners, manufacturers, and languishing brand owners, get to you.  Has it finally gotten to you?

head up your ass

You think.  How strong are their ties to the norm?  The sure sale.  How deadly they have become taking a toll on the lone cigar blender who has been patient but not reticent. Patience is oftimes mistaken for insouciance when in reality it is the hallmark of the victor.  Just misunderstood by the “I know it all” attitude of some who claim to have their pulse on the market.  But all they really have is their head up their ass or to be more polite their noggin in the sand.

It’s quiet where I am right now.  Deadly quiet.  I have winners.  All of them.  Yes.  All-of-them. Every single one is made from the finest of tobaccos.  Yes, I do drop the dead ones, the slow ones, the hard-sell ones, the hanging by a string, financially untethered ones, the going-corporate ones.  I have to!  It’s survival.  It’s the revenant.

The only trip in the cigar business is this cockamamie illusion of romance.  Where the bloody hell does that come from?  Brokering is work dammit – hard work.  And it can get to you, just like acting, writing, engineering, doctoring, or any other occupation you can imagine.  We all have our boiling points.  Our tipping points.  Our breaking points.  Some souls reach one, two, three, or all of them.  When you’re lucky, you reach one at a time with a 🎝rest in the middle.  When you’re not, it’s shit all over.

audrey-hepburn-movies-breakfast-at-tiffanys

But it’s that ability to wipe it all off, stink on down that makes a professional – well, a professional.  But that same professional can also be immersed in the deep azure swirling blue battle of depression.  Do we freefall into the deep dark recesses of, “Is this really worth it” attitude?

Audrey Hepburn was a master of analyzing the situation and absorbing whatever hurt, pain, and sorrow anyone could throw at her and finish the movie – and live her life because all the drama was certainly not just on the set.  Such a small, diminutive woman, yet a woman with the strength and fortitude of striking out all the negative that came her way.  And plenty was issued.  She did finish the movie – she lived her life, despite all of the hefty psychological assaults hurled her way.  

I’ve read countless biographies, and there’s one common characteristic that stands out – let’s name it visualized perseverance.  That’s the ticket to a satiating, satisfying existence. Yeah, sure.  The bumps leave bruises, but if you possess what I have coined intuitive perspective, those black and blue marks are merely reminders that you can do whatever it is you set out to do.  Even if you’re sorely dispirited.  

Ok.  Call me the quasi-Tony Robbins of cigar brokering.  Go ahead.  Okay.  Okay.  I’ll get off my soap box – stinging slivers and all.  Calm down.

Just keep in mind, that there may be times when they think they have the upper hand because they ARE the cus-tow-ma!!  Indeed.  But y’all be cozily cognizant of the undeniable fact that we’re all human – and they really don’t.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpjQs0WZEC4

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Azul will THUMP you!

azul band

Heady.  Rustic.  Superbly constructed.  Paul Bush’s Flatbed cigar consortium’s Cameroon (Azul) is a stand alone monolith that will produce a labyrinthine mix of palate-numbing flavors that coagulates into a concatenation of essences that remind me of no other cigar.

Paul writes, “Coffee w/cream, spicy, bold, nutmeg.”  Maybe for scratch and sniff, but smoking it tells a different story – the Rashomon effect times twenty!

azul ash

This is a panacea – literally and figuratively.  What a treat.  Not an everyday smoke, but when you’re jonesing for terrific, tasty tobacco – get one of these.  You’ll love it.  As I overheard the author of “Dadland” Keggie Carew during a radio interview intone, “Perfect lives are not very exciting.”  Well, this is not the perfect cigar, but man, are you in for an exhilarating smoke.

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Cigar reviews CAN be short!

super copy cover

This (W April 2017) says it all for the newest fragrance that was requested to smell and feel like a dress. Now, granted, I have not the slightest notion of whether or not Frédéric Malle achieved his assignment.  But at $370 (€180 for 50 ml and €260 for 100 ml) it would hint that he did. super pic 

Cigars are in this category of scrutiny.  And cost much less.  Ergo, the raison d’être cigar reviews need to be succinct, not laborious, labyrinthine lineages to banality and bombast.  

I now will discover if he succeeded.  Ta!

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