Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stogie Tips: Pairing Champagne and Cigars

Stogie Tips: Pairing Champagne and Cigars

Posted using ShareThis

If any of you all are looking for some assistance in finding that perfect pairing to go with your bubbly, maybe this will help.

Whether it is 2009 or 2010, there is nothing wrong with knowing you're the best.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Cigar-Christmas Story.

For those who don't know me, I reside in the Ft. Worth-Dallas Metroplex and, although there are many good things about the area, the following story probably won't shine a great light on a particular aspect of it. For that reason, I'm not going to mention specifics about which town I was in when this happened.

A brief history of myself: Every holiday season since I was a youth, it seems that I have the fortuitous blessing of having a very one-of-a-kind story happen to me. It seems only fitting at the beginning of my endeavor into the world of blogging that my Christmas Story 2009 revolve around cigars.

It was a dark and stormy night...

Too on the nose, I know.

It was actually a very pleasant afternoon as I drove across town to my sister's holiday game night. On long distance drives, I tend to indulge in a cigar or two to keep the edge off. My sister doesn't live too far, but when you drive in the Metroplex, especially during the holidays, you need a little extra something.

I was about two miles from her house when I turned off of one road and noticed a police patrol car following me. I did the knee-jerk reaction of looking at my speedometer and saw that I was doing just under the posted speed limit of 35 mph. I kept driving, never going faster that 36 mph, and the police car continued following directly behind me. Two blocks before her street, I remembered that she wanted me to get ice for the party.

As I turned into the parking lot of a CVS, I heard that unmistakable high-pitched sound. WHOOP, WHOOP. "Are you kidding me?!" I thought to myself. If this guy was going to light me up for two miles over the limit, I might vomit. I parked and waited for the officer to appear.

I rolled down my window when he approached. He asked for my license and proof of insurance and I passed it to him. Sparing you all on how he butchered my last name, he posed, "Mr. _____, do you know why I pulled you over?" "Officer, all I know is you've been behind me for about two miles, so no. No sir, I have no idea why you pulled me over." He looked at me, glanced in my car and looked down in my cup holder converted to a cigar holder. "What'cha smoking there?" I couldn't help my eyebrow moving up a notch and a chuckle going off in my head as he made a "sniff, sniff" noise. "A cigar, sir." "Are you sure?" "Yes, sir." "You're really sure," he asked again. "Yes, I am sure, that it is a cigar, sir," I said again. "Can I see it?" he asked. Without really answering, I handed over my cigar. He took it between his thumb and index finger and began to exam it all around and continued his obnoxious sniffing. After he was done looking it over like a monkey doing a math problem, he handed it back to me. Oh goody, I hope this guy washes his hands. "Okay, I'm going to let you off with a warning, but you may want to re-consider smoking while driving; it can be dangerous," he stated, having his voice drop an octave lower than what it had been. "Well, so can cell phones, but I'll consider that next time. Thank you officer. Merry Christmas," I responded.

A warning? What exactly did I do? I have to tell you, being a law-abiding citizen sucks. Next time, I'll make it worth it. Some water, baking soda,stir it up, I don't know the recipe, I'm just saying... Not one to embrace my inner convict, I guess the only thing to do is write this off as a fluke event and a great story.

If only it ended there.

This next part is for that feel-good part of this season that we all cherish.

On my way back home that night, I pulled off the highway and stopped at an intersection. It was about ten at night, and standing at the corner was the familiar sight of a homeless man on the corner with a unique sign. Burger and Fries, Please. It was a candid statement more than a request. The guy must have been cold; it wasn't subzero, but the temperature had dropped to the low 40s. Instead of going home, I made the turn toward a fast food joint. I ordered a double bacon cheeseburger with fries and a coffee. I made my way back to the guy and parked in a parking lot near him, rolled down my window and called out to him. "Hey buddy, got your burger and fries," I yelled. He walked over with slight puzzlement about him. He wore a worn-out Adidas wind breaker with jeans that had been faded by sun, dirt, and sweat. "Really?" he asked. "It's what your sign said," I chuckled. "I got you coffee, I hope you don't mind, you've got to be freezing." "Thanks," he muttered genuinely. I could tell the guy just wanted money instead, but was still grateful for a meal. He took a couple of fries from the bag and glanced inside my car. "Whatcha smokin'?" he asked.


No hesitation in my reaction. "Weed," I said simply. "Really?" he asked, his eyebrow raised. "No, just a cigar. Are you ok buddy, you want me to get you a ride to a shelter?" He said he was fine and thanked me for the meal. "You smoke cigars?" I asked. "Well, it's not like I can afford them, but sure." I reached in my bag and pulled out a La Flor Dominicana (my favorite) and handed it to him.

"Merry Christmas."

As always, guys and gals, there is nothing wrong with knowing you're the best. Happy Holidays, and to all a good night!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two schools of thought: Cigar bands and the pre-light draw

I've had several comments about my second posting being a little too political for what I have proclaimed this blog to be. The good life is something to enjoy and not think too much about. I have already received many suggestions and a lot of support and I truly hope it continues.

The title of this entry may be a bit misleading because, as with everything, there is always more than one opinion about it. I wanted to tackle two subjects and some different perspectives on them.

Most people have their own routine when smoking a cigar. A la Tom Hanks from You've Got Mail, just like with Starbucks coffee it allows people with no decision making ability at all to make several decisions all at once. Tall, low fat, decaf, cappuccino. Same with a cigar. Once you decide on the brand of cigar, several other decisions must follow. What size? What type of cut? How to light? What to light with?

If you start to list everything out it can be a little overwhelming. But as I previously stated, everyone has their routine. My brother almost always elects for the V-cut on the end of his cigar, as my preference fluctuates between cigar sizes.

However, as the title states, I wish to focus on cigar bands and the pre-light draw for the time being.

The cigar band was put in place for very obvious reasons. H. Upmann, along with other brands, wanted their cigar to be noticed among all the other brands and to signal genuine Cuban or Havana ethnicity and distinction. In Europe, some parts of Asia, and Cuba it is considered rude or at the very least uncouth to smoke your cigar with the band still on. The offense of leaving the band on has to do with the mantra, "Not all cigars are created equal." Therefore, nobody should be offended that they can not afford or be able to attain less premium cigars than others. The concept is that everyone gets to enjoy their own. To me, this sounds like the ol' theory behind uniforms in public school. "No kids will get made fun of, if they are all dressed the same." Yeah, right. Once everyone is dressed alike, then nobody gets made fun for being fat, wearing glasses, talking with a lisp, or smelling poorly. Uniforms work wonders on my self-esteem, that's for sure.

I digress.

Today, in the U.S. and around the rest of the globe, it is widely ignored and/or accepted to leave the band on. In most American cigar communities it is accepted, because it allows others to see what you are smoking without asking or interrupting discussion.

From what I have personally noticed, it seems that most people prefer one way or the other. My brother always takes his band off before lighting, just after taking in the pre-lit aroma. I, like most, leave the band on until I have smoked the cigar down three-quarters. The heat and smoke funneling through the cigar typically loosens the band enough so that it can be removed without damaging the remaining quarter of the cigar.

But, let's "Tarantino" this post a bit and take it back to the beginning.

For over a year now, with every cigar I have indulged in, I take a moment to enjoy the pre-light aroma and draw. This is a very common practice among most aficionados, but considerably ignored by the passive smoker.

I would not say it is required or one "has" to do so, but I do feel that this is an underrated, overlooked concept that I really enjoy. First, there are few moments during the course of a cigar that match the initial scent of the bouquet of a particular cigar. Those first subtle notes of earth, leather, floral, coffee, cocoa, etc. almost make the cigar itself. After cutting the cigar, before I light the foot, I partake in a pre-lit draw (I inhale through the unlit stogie to taste some initial flavor). I enjoy this because not only does it allow me the opportunity to taste the wrapper, but I can also garner a feel for how tight or loose the actual lit draw will be.

As you can see, from beginning to end, the cigar is an experience to enjoy. As always guys and gals, there is nothing wrong with knowing you're the best!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

First Cigar Review: PUNCH UPPERCUT

I'd like to give a brief general history, as well as personal experience, of the Punch Brand before I launch into the much anticipated review of their newest release: the Uppercut.

Punch was founded in 1840 and named after a European puppet show character, Mr. Punch. Fast forward to the 20th Century, when the Great Depression really pushed the cigar industry to limits of hardship and many well-known brands and companies went under. After the Stock Market crashed in 1929 the brand was bought up by the firm Fernandez, Palacio y Cia where it quickly became the headlining label alongside Belinda, La Escepcion, and Hoyo de Moneterrey. The brand was especially popular in Great Britain were it caught the attention of one man in particular.

Winston Churchill had his first Punch Cigar in 1895 when he was stationed in Cuba during his military career. Over the next 70 years he was rarely without a large cigar that have come to bear his name. Punch cigars were always his favorites, as he often proclaimed, "I am man of simple taste, easily satisfied by the best."
Punch became a split entity after Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959. The trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba in addition to the nationalization of the cigar industry was more than enough for Fernando Palacio to flee to Florida where he subsequently sold his labels to Frank Llaneza and Dan Blumenthal who still manufacture them today for the American market.

With much respect to Llaneza, who also makes Sancho Panza which happens to be one of my favorite labels, from my own personal experience Punch cigars have never historically hit the spot for me. I have found their flavor to be bland with a tendency to dry out and become very bitter at the end of a cigar. I can usually forgive a bitter end to a cigar if the body of it is outstanding in flavor and construction. However, I have not found that to be true with Punch. My in-laws-to-be did present me with a gift of two Punch Gran Puro robustos last year amid an array of several other samplings that actually were pretty amazing. A few of my friends who know of my taste asked me why I chose the Uppercut as my first review. The answer was pretty simple: something new and unexpected.

The pre-light aroma and dry draw is surprisingly sweet with hints of dark cherry and caramel. The Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper has a slight red tint to it with some veins and a little toothiness. There are two large bands which depart from the traditional red ones that Punch usually display, blue and gold. I personally saved them for my band collection that I still have no idea what I am going to do with.

This Punch lights perfectly, with an even burn and beautiful gray ash. While the sweet notes were the highlight here, the real surprise came in the first few puffs. With no pun intended at all here, this cigar comes out swinging, hitting hard and having sustained strength throughout the beginning of the cigar. The draw was very nice, with not much pull required. In fact, as the cigar began to burn down, the ash "bloomed" slightly with the outer wrapping burning to the side. This may be a good time to mention that the binder and filler hail from Nicaragua. The filler is a speciality blend of tobacco that comes from the Isle de Ometepe. Ometepe is an island that was formed from the volcano that sits in the middle of the island. The soil has proved to be extremely nutritious and the cloud cover of the island provides perfect shade for amazing tobacco.

The draw remained consistent throughout as well as the flavor. The hint of dark cherry sustained throughout the length of the cigar. While the caramel faded quickly, rich coffee and leather notes came about half an inch down and was delicious. This cigar proved to be very simple, yet consistent, throughout the core. The leather became the dominant of the two flavors and the richness of the coffee proved to be a great balancing characteristic.

As the cigar creeped toward the nub, I started to cringe, half-expecting the bitterness to come has it always has with most Punch cigars I've lit up. Three quarters down the wonderful aroma of pepper seeped into the bouquet and the smoke began to produce more copiously than before. The sweetness of the cherry with some added spice finished this cigar quite well.

I really enjoyed this cigar. It was a nice surprise and I recommend this cigar to any fan of medium to full-bodied stogies. At about $5.50 MSRP, this stick would make a nice Christmas gift to anyone you don't know what to get and not take a huge toll on your pocketbook. Enjoy dear readers, enjoy.


Friday, December 4, 2009

"Cigar smoking knows no politics. It's about the pursuit of pleasure, taste, and aroma." - Anonymous

The truth about this quote, although we would all love it to be true, is that it is utterly and completely false. These days Cigar smoking is, if anything, political.

This last February, President Obama signed into law the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) paving the way for at least 4 million children to have health coverage that they could not have otherwise been eligible for. Most of you know where this is going and before everyone labels me as a monster, please hear me out. This bill does a lot of great things and will provide health care to families that otherwise couldn't afford it. What is the downside? The funding for this program has come strictly from a tax implemented on the tobacco industry. In fact, it has implemented what amounts to an "import" tax on American tobacco. Yeah, you read that right, an import tax on a domestic product.

"So, what are you saying Bear? You want millions of kids to get sick and have no care?" Well, those who know me know that is the furthest from the truth. My argument is to spread the tax to many products, goods, and services. How about smacking the strip bars with a 10% tax increase this year to pay for children's health care. Sound better to you? It does to me.

Look, like I said before, I am not opposed to this bill, but I am opposed to singling out something to pay for it. Just as in my first post, it is not fair or just to single out a particular part of anything. This country has traditionally been about a level playing field. Is it always? No. In many cases, not by a long shot.

I will end with this; if my cigar costs more because of anything, I am GLAD that it is going towards a noble cause like this one. However, next time Mr. President, let's spread the wealth around a bit, ok? Besides, every American knows that you are not paying for your two-pack-a-day habit.

What's that? You cut it down to one pack per day?

Well, he would wouldn't he? Even though he may not pay for his cigarettes, at least he helped out the American tax payer by cutting that expense by 50%.

All sarcasm aside, I promise that a majority of my posts will not be this polarizing and negative. This blog is about the good life and I intend to spread the word, but not at the expense of ignoring what is going on around me.

Tonight I indulged in a La Aurora Leoninos Robusto. A savory cigar from the oldest, most respected factory in the Dominican Republic. In fact, this was the very first cigar to don the incredible Corojo wrapper, that everyone knows I am a huge fan of. For the uninitiated, the Corojo leaf is indigenous to the Dominican Republic and is the best thing to come out of the country since David "Big Papi" Ortiz was born. The corojo is famous for its dense, thick texture and rich flavor. The filler is another brilliant trifecta: Cuban-seed Dominican, Nicaraguan, and Bahia. The reviews I've read claim this to be a medium that finishes full-bodied. I'll set the record straight for you. It is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT full body. It starts with a savory cedar pre-light and front, followed by a palate pleasing cumulus smoke and bouquet filled with ample flavor and spice. I smoked mine from foot to nub with no bitterness in sight or smell. The '89' rating that it received back in the day is well deserved if not underrated.

As always guys and gals, I am much obliged and grateful for your opinions and critiques of my work. Thanks goes out to the first viewers and followers. Keep your chin up and just like before, there is nothing wrong with knowing you are the best.



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In the beginning...

Although it may seem corny, or perhaps lame, I feel it necessary to introduce myself. After all, this is my first submission and, in fact, my first attempt at a blog of any kind. I do comment on sports websites and will always lodge myself into the breach of the eternal Boston Red Sox-New York Yankee rivalry. But, for arguments sake, this is my first go-around.

The name is Bear, yes just like the animal, and no, not like the brand of paint. I am a college-educated male that comes by the way of Texas and who enjoys the finer things in life. Although other things (i.e. liquor, beer, wine, food, golf and poker) may seep in from time to time, this blog's primary focus will be about the wonderful and often misunderstood world of cigars.

As for the title of my blog: SNOB, it's simple; there is nothing wrong with knowing you're the best. I love, and feel that everyone should agree, quality over quantity in nearly every capacity. I don't buy the most expensive toilet paper, by any stretch, but I certainly stay away from single ply. I do humbly admit, at the birth of my introduction to cigars I was all over Black and Milds, Swisher Sweets and Titan Phillies. On seldom occasion, I revert back to my "childhood" to remember where "I came from" and for sentimental reasons. It was my brother, Shawn, who shared my first cigar with me on my 18th birthday, a white-tipped, filtered Swisher Sweet. Man, I was the coolest guy that night.

For the next eight years, I have smoked many, many cigars. Some were tremendous, each one being like one of the best moments in my life. And others, like sucking a bowling ball through a straw, getting smacked in the teeth with it and then licking an 80-year-old, unwashed ash tray. But, each time, whether alone or with awesome company, has been a treasured moment. Each of these moments I look back on as a collection of fond memories.

I love the finer things, I love a good cigar, and I really resent the label that it gives me. Yes, the title of this blog may turn some away, the content will more than likely be the killer, but I wish the offense of my indulgence did not exist. I'll pursue this avenue a bit more in the coming weeks and months, but for now let me share a story that I think, cigar smoker or not, will shock, at least, slightly unnerve most people.

One day this past year, a friend and I were in a restaurant in a community that still actually allows smoking inside. The name of the establishment is irrelevant, but the following course of events is not. After my friend and I finished our meal, we proceeded to the bar area, where smoking was permitted. I reached into my coat and pulled out two Drew Estate's Acid Blondie's. We cut, lit and began to enjoy the end to a good meal. After about 15 minutes, a manager came over and asked us to put out our cigars. Feeling that perhaps we misunderstood or were in the wrong location, I asked to be pointed in the direction of the permitted smoking area. He said were were in it, but if we wanted to continue to enjoy our cigars "we were welcome to do so outside," but if we wanted to remain inside, we needed to put them out. Well, my friend was finishing up a cocktail and we didn't want to leave at that moment, so we hesitantly agreed and ceased our puffing. My friend continued to enjoy his cocktail and since I wasn't smoking I decided to order some dessert. I ordered from our waitress and ten minutes passed and the manager returned to our table. He asked me very politely, I may add, if we could please refrain from smoking. My friend exclaimed that we hadn't smoked since he had left us, pointing to our cigars in the ashtray. "They're still smoking," he replied, "And I am continuing to get complaints from our other patrons." Smokers attacking cigar smokers? No way.

As many of you know, or should have been taught, you do not simply "stub out" a cigar. A number of reasons include two that have to do with consideration: First off, if a cigar is stubbed out, the inevitable stench that lingers is lengthy and extremely unpleasing to even the aficionado's nose as well to the company around him/her. It is simply easier to let it burn down with no long-term lingering effects. The second reason, if given a cigar, it is extremely rude to put it out once lit. If one is done enjoying (or not enjoying) they need to let it burn out as well. A "stub-out," especially one that is premature, signals to the giver that the cigar was not good or to the taste of the individual in a very abrupt and rude fashion. One friend, in particular, continues to do this in my house even though I remind him each time that it is considered rude and it really stinks up my house. He doesn't do it on purpose, or at least I am convinced he doesn't, but if you are one of these people...PLEASE STOP!

To return to the story, the manager asked us to "stub-out" the cigars. I refused, explaining the reason above in a calm, relaxed manner. My friend was starting to get visibly annoyed, and I could tell that neither one of us was going to be able to take much more of this. The manager then said, "Well, I will not be able to bring your dessert out until you decide to comply with my request." Let's get one thing straight, there was no requesting of any kind, this was a demand. Frankly, it was one I just did not understand. I looked all around as it was now apparent that we were causing a tiny scene. Well, Daddy likes an audience and my friend had downed the rest of his cocktail and was on his feet before I could get my response out. I retorted, "Sir, so let me make sure that I understand. You are not going to allow me to pay you for an item until I refrain from smoking in the clearly marked smoking section, in which we are not smoking anymore!?" He nodded. "Just out of curiosity, if I decided to light up a Camel, would you object?," I continued. "Well no..." he said, his voice fading. "That's ridiculous!" I exclaimed again. "So, are you saying that even though I have followed every rule that your establishment has required of me, I still am not able to enjoy a post-meal cigar? Who has a problem with it?" "I do!!!" a woman from behind us screamed. "I have a problem with you smoking your cigar in here where the rest of us are enjoying a cigarette!!" The woman was a mid-40's, cigarette in hand, leathery skin, bleached blond hair, with about a dozen other butts in the ashtray. My friend turned around and nearly threw up in his mouth from laughter. I began to laugh as well, and some surrounding tables joined in. Well, the sheer ironic stupidity was enough for me to walk out without my dessert and my friend "forgetting" to pay for his cocktail. A few weeks later, my friend said that someone he knew had gone into the restaurant and saw a huge sign hanging over the bar: NO CIGARS ALLOWED. My friend and I have not returned for obvious reasons as I am quite sure that he may be dodging an arrest warrant for aggravated laughter assault and cocktail robbery.

I have never been a fan of cigarettes, but I think that killed any desire for me to ever partake. I think it's bad enough that many of our options for smoking cigars have/are been taken away, but to not even be able to commune with other smokers? There is a line, and that lady crossed it. But never fear, she won't be alone. She soon will have emphysema to keep her company (-- that is if the rat poison inside her cigarette doesn't get her first).

Tonight, I am enjoying a recent favorite of mine, a Blue Label Robusto. It is a Honduran beauty of a cigar, with a trifecta of Nicaraguan, Honduran, and Dominican long-fillers secured by a zesty Corojo binder. It is a mighty complex cigar that is highlighted by a leathery and dense Habano wrapper. The smoke is plentiful and cool to the palate with a radiant bouquet of cedar and pepper. As you get towards the middle of the cigar, a surprise dousing of vanilla and oak hits you. The finish is a lingering, pleasant finale of pepper and leather. Knowing the complexity of the cigar and aura of sweet vanilla that comes with it, I decided to pair it with a night cap of a Vanilla Latte. The two went very nicely together, and of course the vanilla from the cigar was amplified by the accompanied drink.

I look forward to this being the first of many entries and I hope you all enjoy them. Always remember, there is nothing wrong with knowing you're the best.