21 December 2011

Notable Quote

"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer."
- Frank Zappa, musician.

22 September 2011

EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: 2011 Honeygo Craft Beer Festival

If you enjoy real craft beer, good food, live music, and a fun social atmosphere then the Honeygo Craft Beer Festival is definitely for you.  I have been friends with the gang at Honeygo Wine & Spirits for a few years now and they are a great bunch.  Honeygo is a very beer-centric store and each year they hold a craft beer fest which has gotten bigger each time.  This year promises to be the best yet and will be held outdoors beneath a party tent because it continues to outgrow its venues.

Currently there are 17 breweries scheduled to attend and each are bringing whatever they want for your unlimited sampling pleasure, nearly all of which is going to be on tap.  Just remember to be responsible, it only takes one jerk to ruin everyones good time.  All the food you can eat will be provided by Liberatore's which is an upscale Italian restaurant known for their very good food.  The event will be held rain or shine at the Honeygo Village Center located at 5004 Honeygo Center Drive, Perry Hall, Maryland 21128 on Sunday, October 09, 2011 from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Tickets are $30 in advance, designated driver tickets are $10 which covers all your food and soft drinks.  Proceeds from this event benefit the Saint Stephens School.

I realize that many of you who follow my site or the other websites and publications I write for are not from my area, but if you are in Maryland or the surrounding area I highly recommend you come.  I attend many of these types of events and I can say without hesitation that this is one of the best.  I look forward to it all year, it's always a great time.  For more information you can contact them at 410-529-5500 / www.honeygowines.com.  I hope to see you there, CHEERS!

23 August 2011

CIGAR REVIEW: Tatuaje - La Verite, Vintage 2008

Another fine cigar sent to me from Tobacconist University is the Tatuaje - La Verite, Vintage 2008.  La Verite, a 7 x 47 Churchill vitolla, is a Nicaraguan Habano puro made for Tatuaje by Jaime Garcia at My Father Cigars, S.A. with all of the tobacco coming from a single farm in Esteli, Nicaragua known as, "La Estrella" which means, "The Star."  Nicaraguan Habano is a traditional Cuban seed varietal popular for its individual traits as well as for hybridization.  According to Pete Johnson, owner of Tatuaje, when he tried the La Estrella crop of Nic-Habano which was grown in 2007 and harvested in 2008, he realized that it would be great to make a puro cigar from.  There is also a Vintage 2009 which is made with 45% Nicaraguan Habano, 40% criollo '98, and 15% pelo de oro.  These two can be differentiated by a 2008 or 2009 printed in the center of the band.  As of this writing, I have not smoked the Vintage 2009.

Pre-light inspection revealed a silky, slightly oily capa with decent teeth and a triple capped head.  Its color I place somewhere between colorado rosado and colorado maduro.  The aroma was of sweet tobacco with perhaps cedar notes and a somewhat lighter sweetness at the foot.  It squeezed well with no signs of flaws or defects.  I made a straight cut with a double guillotine and tested the draw which was good with slight resistance.  A buttery-like taste / sensation presented on the tip of my tongue at first but soon turned to a slight spice and after a few more test draws, a mild spiciness developed at the back of my throat.

The Verite lit easily and evenly with a soft flame lighter and had a smooth draw following which a mild to moderate spice developed along both sides of the tongue and in the back of the throat while a creaminess was present on other parts of the tongue and the roof of the mouth.  As it burned  it produced a very light gray, almost white ash with some darker highlights which dropped off between 1.25" to 1.5" in length.  About 3/4" in a mild spicy tingle developed in the center of the tongue and overall the first half remained a consistent, moderately spicy smoke.  As the second half progressed, the spice seemed to mellow a bit but remained the dominant trait without much complexity.  Even with the mellowing though, I wasn't able to retro-exhale throughout the entire smoke.  It continued to burn evenly and required no touch-ups or re-lights all the way to the nub.

No big surprise, another fine cigar from Tatuaje.  If you haven't had the opportunity to meet Pete Johnson yet, I can tell you that he is dedicated to his craft and takes pride in the cigars he puts out.  He spends a lot of time on the road at brick & mortar tobacconists meeting and greeting his customers and will take the time to speak with you.  That's how I met him some years ago.  I can't say that I know him, just that I met him and he didn't just shake hands and try to sell his product, he took the time to really speak with me about all manor of things.  If your local tobacconist is having a Tatuaje event and Pete is going to be there, I recommend you go.  You will probably walk out with a fist full of Tatuajes.  Also, if you enjoy a medium body, "Cuban style" cigar and are interested in trying the La Verite for yourself, and again I recommend you do, be aware that they are "strictly allocated to appointed authorized retailers only" so they won't be available everywhere.  I look forward to smoking the Vintage 2009 and comparing the two.

01 March 2011

EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: Maryland Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival


The 4th annual Maryland Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival is coming soon.  There were a few hick ups in getting it scheduled this year but everything seems to be squared away now.  Some friends and I go every year and it is always a great time.  There will be over 60 craft beers, 40 bourbons, and lots of good food.  Tickets are still on sale for both Friday evening, 18:00 - 22:00 and Saturday afternoon, 14:00 - 18:00 with VIP tickets still available that get you in at 12:00.  Unlike some festivals and tastings, there are no coupons or limits on what you can have, this is all you care to taste.  Just be responsible!  Check out their website at www.beerandbourbon.com.  By supporting these kinds of events, you help ensure their continued existence.

Hope to see you there.

CIGAR REVIEW: Casa Magna - Colorado

The latest of the cigars sent to me for review by Tobacconist University President Jorge Armenteros, is the Casa Magna - Colorado.  The vitolla he sent was the 5-1/2 x 52 robusto, which if it matters to you was voted the #1 cigar of 2008 by Cigar Aficionado.  The colorado robusto is the result of a joint effort by Manuel Quesada, who has been making cigars since 1974 (and whose family has been in the business since the 19th century I understand), and Nestor Plascencia, the largest grower of Nicaraguan tobacco and owner of the Segovia Cigar Factory in Esteli, Nicragua.  The colorado, so named for the color of its capa, is a Nicaraguan puro made from Nicaraguan grown - Cuban seed tobacco harvested from the Esteli and Jalapa growing regions, which is then rolled at Segovia and distributed in boxes of 27.  One of the most remarkable things about this cigar is not the great reviews or high marks it has received from others, but that it did so while costing around $6.00 each!  As someone who is always on the look-out for a great every day cigar, I was looking forward to smoking this one to say the least, so I settled back on the aft-deck and made the most of a sunny, mild, February afternoon.

The Casa Magna's pre-light inspection revealed a capa which I place at colorado rosado in color, deserving of its name.  It was slightly toothy, but flawless, which gave it a bit of a rugged look that I liked as well.  The squeeze was great with no soft or hard spots and was very firm all over, indicating a well packed cigar.  The foot was interesting with a visible swirl of light and dark tobaccos clearly visible in the bunch.  The pre-light aroma was dominated by sweet tobacco with maybe slightly earthy notes present as well.  Because of how well packed it was, I made a straight cut with a double-guillotine because using a punch-cutter on a cigar with a heavy bunch can make it difficult to draw and sometimes cause tarriness at the head.  After cutting, the cap held together perfectly without any fraying or annoying tobacco fragments which like to get into your mouth.  I then tested the pre-light draw which was firm and even and had what I though was a "hay-like" taste.

The Casa Magna lit evenly and easily with a soft-flame lighter and produced plenty of blue smoke from the draw.  As the first 1/3 progressed it produced a fairly dark grey ash which was crisp and strong.  I accidentally knocked a corner off early on and it still held on for almost 1-1/2 inches before finally dropping off.  I didn't detect any particular flavor notes in the first 1/3 other than that of full-bodied tobacco which was very consistent.  Around half-way a slight spicy tingle developed all around the tip of the tongue, which as I continued to smoke into the second half, moved to the sides.  Throughout the middle-third I thought I detected occasional ground coffee notes but couldn't be sure as they were very subtle and short-lived.  In the final 1/3 it seemed to have a slight astringent quality and perhaps some slight woody notes from time to time as well.  Throughout the entirety of the smoke, the burn remained even and consistent and needed no touch-ups or re-lights with the over-all flavor remaining very consistent, although it didn't lend itself to retro-exhalation.  If you read my reviews or study cigars you know that isn't a negative comment at all, it's just something I like to do to get the most out of any smoke.

How do I define an "every day cigar?"  Well, there are some cigars that are so complex and flavorful that when you smoke them you want to relax and enjoy every moment of the experience.  There are some you may reserve for only special occasions.  Then there are those that you want to be able to smoke whenever you feel like it.  Perhaps while working or golfing or while driving or maybe just when you can steal a peaceful moment.  For me at least, these cigars still have to be handmade, premium quality cigars but are such that they don't require my full time and attention and have a price that doesn't make me pause.  In a nutshell, it is a premium cigar that I can afford to smoke as I please.  For this review I smoked two on two different days and had the same results.  The Casa Magna was a pleasant smoke all the way through, had no problems, and was consistent from stem to stern.  I smoked them down to the nubs and they never built up any tar, began to fray, or developed any unpleasant taste.  The Casa Magna - Colorado is definitely going on my list of every day cigars.

11 December 2010

CIGAR REVIEW - LIMITED EDITION: Paul Garmirian - Gourmet Series, Symphony 20

Jorge Armenteros, President of Tobacconist University and owner of A Little Taste of Cuba, recently asked me to review a few cigars; the first of which is the Paul Garmirian (P.G.) - Gourmet Series, Symphony 20.  The P.G. - Symphony 20 is a limited edition which was made in the Dominican Republic by Henky Kelner and Chief Blender Eladio Diaz to commemorate the Paul Garmirian line's 20th anniversary.  It is released in a 6 x 52 Toro vitolla they call the "Connoisseur" in boxes of 20 each for about $340 a box / $17 per cigar and was only distributed to P.G.'s top sellers.  The Symphony 20 is made with an Equadorian "cloud grown" hybrid Cuban seed capa, a Dominican grown Havana seed capote, and four tripas.  The first is a Dominican Piloto Cubano region I, the second is a Dominican Piloto Cubano region II, the third is a Dominican experimental, and the fourth is a Honduran Havana seed.  If the reader is curious, Piloto Cubano is a varietal family which is grown through out the Dominican Republic and Central America known for its flavor characteristics and used primarily for tripas.  The Dominican experimental leaf is something which Henky Kelner claims has been aging in his warehouse for some time and can not be replicated.  The Honduran Havana seed is a dark, air-cured tobacco seed varietal.

The Symphony 20 had a light oily sheen with a sleek feel, some veins and was about colorado oscuro in color.  It had an excellent squeeze and there were no visible flaws on the capa.  The pre-light aroma was sweet, perhaps molasses-like, with some light, woody undertones and a more pronounced sweetness from the foot.  I made a straight cut with scissors and immediately recognized a well capped head.  The pre-light draw was very smooth and the taste was excellent; sweet but not candy-like, more akin to a robust molasses, followed shortly by some spice on the tip of the tongue and back of the throat.  It lit very easily with a soft-flame lighter and with the first puff, spice covered nearly the first 1/3 of the tongue and immediately started working toward the half-way point and back of the throat.  Not strong or overpowering spice mind you, just enough to dominate the flavor profile.  It produced plenty of blue smoke from the foot and white smoke on exhale, which was a little too spicy for retro-exhalation at first and took several easy tries to break it in following which the spice would roll through the sinuses and then build.

By about 1/2" in a pleasant spicy tingle had dropped anchor in the center of the tongue.  The ash was nearly white by the ember but turned a sort of dark grey the further toward the end it got, split into a "V" and then spread open which made me suspicious of possible tunneling.  It also broke off a little past 1" and felt very soft to the touch but I couldn't see any obvious signs on the foot of the tunneling I was wondering about so I continued on.  Around the half-way point it needed a touch-up, but since I was smoking outside, I sort of attributed it to a breeze that was blowing.  Also around half-way I started feeling a little bit of strength, following which the spice laid down and several minutes later a very relaxing sensation moved over me.  The flavor profile of the second half, while mild and a bit elusive, seemed to be predominantly of a slight woodiness.  It required a re-light shortly before the 2/3 mark and the ash still had the "V" split mentioned earlier.  At this time I observed a discoloration on the band which I recognized as being caused by heat which confirmed tunneling, albeit deeper than I had suspected so I cut a chunk out and started again.  Even with the fresh cut and re-light the tunneling continued and multiple re-lights were required through to the end with hints of char present in the taste as well.  The second one I smoked for this review had the same flavor profiles and characteristics of the first and smoked fine until about the final 1/3 when it started tunneling also.

Make no mistake about it, aside from the problems mentioned above, the P.G. - Symphony 20 is a high-end premium cigar which I would smoke again.  The pre-light experience was fantastic and the smoke was enjoyable.  Let me say this about the tunneling problem, I discussed this with one of the most respected and knowledgeable Tobacconists in the business who has literally smoked hundreds of Symphony 20s and he told me he has never had a single problem.  Like anything man-made, though they may be few and far between, there are bound to be eventual flaws with even the finest products.  Considering that both P.G. - 20s I smoked had the same problem and came from the same batch, it is not unreasonable to speculate that they were a fluke which may have been the result of an individual roller's mistake.  Remember, the Symphony 20 is a limited edition so try it for yourself and you be the judge.

29 October 2010


My very good friend and drinking buddy, Rob Garrison (Territiory Manager - Altadis U.S.A.), recently gave me a new release from one of their premium brands, the H. Upmann - Sun Grown.  The Sun Grown was debuted at the 2010 IPCR and is currently making its way onto Tobacconist's shelves.  It is made in Honduras at the La Flor de Copan cigar factory and is being released in six vitollas: Churchill - 54 x 7, Magnum - 54 x 6, Short Churchill - 54 x 4-1/2, No. 2 - 52 x 6-1/8, Corona - 44 x 5-1/2, and Lancero - 40 x 7-1/2.  It is made with an Equadorian sun grown capa, a Connecticut broadleaf capote, and a Nicaraguan and Honduran blend tripa; ranging in price roughly between $6 - $8.  For this review I smoked the Magnum and No. 2.

The Sun Grown's capa had a few veins which gave it a good look and was smooth to the touch with a color I put somewhere between colorado maduro and maduro.  It squeezed nicely and was very firm, perhaps a little stiff in places but nothing of concern and there were no soft spots or visible flaws.  The foot revealed what appeared to be a well packed cigar, which I certainly like and explains the firmness of the squeeze.  The pre-light aroma was mild to moderate and very sweet and pleasant.  I made a straight cut with a double guillotine and tested the pre-light taste and draw.  The taste was sweet like the aroma and woody, while the draw gave decent resistance while being very smooth.  Using a match it took a little bit to light, due to the ring gauge and apparent good pack, but once lit was very even.

The Sun Grown started off with a little bit of spice on the tongue and retro-exhalation was easy with some spice around mid-sinus.  It didn't produce much smoke until about 1/4" to 1/2" in leaving behind a light grey ash with dark rings.  The spice essentially subsided early on and relatively mild woody flavor notes took over.  A little past 1" in a taste developed at the back of the throat which I couldn't really put my finger on and no other flavors jumped out or dominated through the first 1/3.  The ash dropped off at about 1-3/4" and shortly afterward I began to detect leathery notes that lingered pleasantly after each puff.  From then on through the final 1/3, wood and leather was the consistent flavor with a bit more spice emerging again in the last 2".  Throughout the entire smoke the burn was very even and never required a touch-up or re-light.

All in all the H. Upmann - Sun Grown was a pleasant, enjoyable smoke.  Fans of medium body cigars I think will certainly like it.  The sweetness of the aroma was one of my favorite aspects of this cigar and because of its over-all mellowness, it makes a good mid-day choice.  It is also a good choice for relaxing alone or with friends because you don't have to devote your attention to a complex flavor profile.