Sunday, October 24, 2010

DOUBLE REVIEW: Ashton ESG? Someone pinch me!

The fellows at Cigarsdirect have done it again.  They have given me two more opportunities (more on the second opportunity later) to review some particularly immaculate cigars:  the Aston ESG series.  I was allowed to sample the 20-year and 22-year vintages and give some opinions and thoughts.

Kevin (right) showing off some of his and colleague's
works at Arts Goggle 2010 in Ft. Worth.
It had occurred to me since my arrangement with Cigarsdirect was born, that I was in a pretty unique position.  Not only could I sample the best of their amazing selection, but it seemed almost hypocritical of me to cut my sharing experience short with just words.  Thus, I decided some of my friends and peers to help aid in the reviewing process.

Today, I introduce Kevin McGehee, an amazing glass artist who recently helped found SiNaCa Studios in Ft. Worth, Texas.  Kevin's girlfriend is one of my wife's colleagues and an upstanding gentlemen with some awesome ink.  His description below is a pretty accurate account of how I came to ask him for his help with this Ashton ESG review.

The Ashton ESG series is a tribute to Ashton's amazing success as a line in the last 20+ years in the industry.  Backed by two of the cigar world's two powerhouse personalities (Carlos Fuente, Jr. & Robert Levin), Ashton has become a household name along with the likes of Fuente, Cohiba, and, yes, Davidoff.  The wrapper on this particular blend is incredibly unique, as it has never been used before and the entire blend was concocted by master blender, Fuente, Jr.. 

On with the reviews.

By Kevin McGehee

Kevin, helping construct a
sunflower made entirely
of hand-blown glass.
A few months ago my girlfriend and I hosted an event at our house. We had a great group of people over and perfect weather as well. The majority of the evening was spent out on the deck playing Catch Phrase. I was already enjoying an Ashton when Bear arrived and inquired what I was smoking. He gave me a knowing nod and joined the crowd. 

Fast forward to the middle of September. I received a call from Bear saying that he remembered the Ashton that I had smoked and if I would be interested in helping him review the Ashton ESG. Without hesitation I agreed. As the designated day drew near I began to wonder what I was about to get myself into. Would I be able to give a good description of my experience? Would I try to over analyze the experience? I usually smoke cigarettes, but that being said I do enjoy a good cigar.

I wanted to provide a good account of my experience with this cigar. I read over Bear’s posts and made a mental outline of what to notice and when to do so. At Bear's suggestion I paired my Ashton ESG 22 Year Salute with a pint of Negro Modelo (an excellent choice any time). With that being said here are my impressions of the next hour and a half of excellence. 

My starting point was the initial inspection of this 6 x 52 crafted greatness. It revealed a rich walnut color, and a wonderfully mild sent with hints of oak and possibly nutmeg and coriander. It had a good solid, but not ridged feel to it as well. So I got to the cutting and lighting of the cigar… I had some nagging questions in the back of my head. I’ve always used a guillotine cutter, but had never taken much consideration to where I cut the cigar. How deep do I cut? I didn’t want to cut so much that the wrapper started to fray. I also didn’t want to have such a small cut that I would end up passing out trying to get a decent draw. I made my choice and thankfully chose well. Lighting up. Yet again, an area of cigar smoking that I really had never given a lot of thought to. Generally my routine would be strike the lighter and give a few puffs to get started. Well thanks to reading Bear’s posts it dawned on me that I was taking the wrong approach. So, I attempted to use just the flame to get things underway. If only it were that easy. I’m not sure if it was a lack of patience, but I wasn’t very successful. In the end, I went back to my normal routine and got it lit. As I would find out through the smoke the Ashton would correct my crappy lighting techniques for me. 

The initial draw was clean and I was able to again distinguish the hints of oak, nutmeg and coriander. I truly enjoyed the flavor that the cigar provided. I picked up the draught Modelo and was wonderfully surprised by the change in its flavor, due to the taste of the Ashton. It went from a “traditional Munich Dunkel Lager” to having a cream ale flavor similar to a Cafferys or a Smithwick. 

For my personal preference this was the perfect sized cigar. It felt good in my hand and its diameter wasn’t overwhelming. As I moved toward the middle of the stogie I took a couple of deeper draws and was greeted with the same flavors as the beginning of my journey. Although, I did notice a slight spicy tingle on the tip of my tongue. 
My best description of this might be a white pepper taste. Pleasant and an interesting surprise. Towards the end of the Ashton I was very pleased that there was no excessive warmth on a deep draw and the flavors maintained themselves very well. 

I found this to be a wonderful smoke from beginning to end. Great consistent flavors and a very forgiving burn even with my tragic lighting technique. Thank you Bear for the opportunity to enjoy a truly great cigar!

Kevin's Rating: 90
Kevin (center) with (from left) Mark and Cliff, two of his partners posing in
front of their finished project.

By Bear

I have had the fortunate opportunity to smoke some Ashton ESG Salutes in the past and have enjoyed each and everyone of them.  The following smoking experience was no different than my previous endeavors.  If one should read anything into that statement, it should start and end with the conclusion that Ashton produces nothing but consistent excellence. 

The cigar felt good in hand and its flawless wrapper had a wonderful bouquet of earth, white pepper, and notes of nutmeg.  The pre-light draw was consistent of the initial bouquet.  I ditched my traditional cool lighting method and went with some matches.  The smell of sulphur stung my nose a little, but it did not harm the palate or scent of the cigar.

The draw on the first few puffs were excellent and proved to be a welcoming kickoff of things to come.  The smoke was cool and plentiful as my palate was coated with nuts, tea, earth and nutmeg.  Although, just as consistent as other Ashtons, the ESG proved to be surprisingly complex. 

I decided to smoke this cigar dry (no beverage accompaniment), as to give an honest virgin review.  With my previous ESG experiences, I had elected to pair the cigar with a variety of different beverages.  I wanted to give an honest effort to make this a unique and new experience. 

Unique it was, as this being my first cigar of the day, I was truly able to savor the fine nuances and quality of this gem to the cigar world.  Fuente, Jr. certainly did an unbelievable job in blending this series.  Although, when you start with leaves from the Chateau de la Fuente farm, it seems difficult, in my experience, to miss in terms of quality product. 

The finish for me was clean, crisp and lingered just the right amount of time.  Pick up a box of these to celebrate a wedding, new baby, or to celebrate a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  Whatever you do, be sure to look them up at

My Ratings:

Appearance - 10
Pre-light taste- 8
Construction - 10
Draw - 9
Burn - 9
Aroma - 9
Flavor - 8
Balance - 10
Finish- 9

Total Rating: 9.2 

Whenever you smoke an Ashton remember you are in elite company, smoking some of Fuente, Jr.'s finest.  For Kevin and myself, remember, there is nothing wrong with knowing you are the best.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

America's Pastime: My ALDS Experience.

Now, before my cigar followers throw up a fit about another baseball post, I will tell you that cigars played a pivotal roll this particular weekend.

On Tuesday, October 5th, my boss buzzed my office. 

"What are you doing Saturday?" he asked.  "I was planning on working to tell you the truth," I answered, figuring he was casually reminding me to do so.

Boy, was I wrong.

"Want to go to the ball game?"  he asked, probably already knowing the answer.  My response was a combination of disbelief and jubilation.  I reapeated, "The ALDS?!" several times before I went to his office to make sure he wasn't playing a shameles prank or forgot to ask another member of our team if they wanted the tickets first ( I'm the newest member of the office).

I was in awe and overwhelmed by my boss's generousity.  My excitement was very hard to contain.  I usually don't call my wife at work, but this is one of those moments that called for a small infraction of unprofessionalism.  She was equally excited, especially when I asked her to be my guest.

My week reached its high point when my boss handed me the physical tickets.  I held onto them like platinum.

This is the part of the entry where I disappoint some by stating that I have little care for the Texas Rangers.  Don't get me wrong, living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex this baseball season has been exciting, but I honestly do not consider myself a Texas Rangers fan.  However, I hate the Tampa Bay Rays.  I do love cigars that hail from J.C. Newman Cigar Co, which is located there.  But as far as the Rays are concerned, they can stick it.

The new America's Team.
The day came, Saturday, October 9, 2010.  Between the ALDS, the various college football games being played at Cowboys Stadium, the Cotton Bowl, TCU, UNT, and FC Dallas's game it was estimated that at least one-quarter of a million people were watching a live sporting event at some point that day in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. 

My wife and I cheered, ate hot dogs, shared a beer, basked in the sun, and watched in vain as the Rangers could not complete the sweep of the Rays. 

Over the course of the game we met (or came into contact) with some interesting people.

First there were a pair of father & sons, sitting in front of us.  It was a picture that one day I hope to be blessed with.  Except, that these kids were being very obnoxious.  The "awww that's cute" factor wore off rather quickly.  One of the kids had come up with a sign that was very clever at the time.  "SWEEP THE RAYS, CUZ THEY'RE DIRTY!"  Nice, right?  It was extremely clever for his nine year old mind.  However, over the course of nine innings, I heard, "THE RAYS ARE DIRTY!" about 700 times.  The fathers finally wised up and quited them when he shouted, "CARLOS PENA--- YOUR MOM IS DIRTY!"   That was the end of that, eight and half innings too late.
The crowd was electric.

Next, there was George, a sixty-something male sitting behind us with his wife.  As my wife tried to take a photo of us, self-portrait style, George eagerly chimed in, "I'll take a picture for ya!"  As I turned to see Geoge for the first time, I couldn't help but see my future in front of me.  Here was a man, on his feet at baseball game, chewing on an unlit Oliva Serie V belicoso sitting with his wife and grand kids.  I should be so lucky. 

And lastly there was Ricardo, a modest and quiet man about 40 years old.  He also had his son with him.  They also gained amusment from the "dirty kids" in front of us and enjoyed the game.  About the 4th inning, when the Rangers were up 1-0, Ricardo leaned over and asked my wife what we were doing the following day.  No plans.  He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out two tickets for the possible game four for the next day.  He offered them to us- no charge.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  "I'm playing the lottery when we get home," I litterally thought to myself.  This was not just awesome, but also interesting.  Had I been a true fan, I would have yelled, "Put those away, don't jinx this!"
The lone Ray fan at the ballpark...he had fun.

Alas, Ricardo must have, the Rangers fell to the Rays 6-3.  The game tied up in the sixth and the Rangers were kicked into submission in the 8th and 9th innings when the Rays went 7-13 in the last two innings, including two home runs.

We left the stadium sad, but excited that we'd be able to return for Game 4 the following day.  As we sat in the car patiently (wink) waiting for cars to move, my wife suggested I light a cigar.  You don't have to tell me twice and I lit up a wonderful Perdomo Lot 23 robusto.  It took us nearly an hour just to get out of the parking lot, but I had great company and an awesome smoke to keep me sane.

Game 4, came and went with as much excitement and ultimate disappoinment in the home team's demise.  The Rays were victorius once again, this time 5-2.  There would be a Game 5 in Tampa Bay and Cliff Lee would return to the mound.

We'll be back tomorrow.
Everyone now knows that Texas went onto win the ALDS and advance to meet the Yankees in their first ALCS, still without winning a home game in the playoffs in their history.  While there was no storybook sweep or fantastic come-from-behind victory, there still was baseball.  Fantastic moments painted in my memory by three of my true loves- my wife, cigars, and baseball.

A very warm thank you goes out to my boss, Andrew, for allowing me this amazing experience.  The joy over the course of those 18 innings could have allowed me to fly.

At Game 4.

So, here's to the Rangers and their first ever ALCS birth, may they beat the Yankees into submission and go on to the glory that this team has earned this season.  To the quote a young Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, "May your feet be swift, may your bats be mighty, and may your plentiful."

Remember, Ranger fans and all others alike, there is nothing wrong with knowing you are the best.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday."- The Impressive Clergyman, The Princess Bride

Marriage.  A much debated institution.  For centuries there have been discussions, theories, jokes, observations, and selected commentary on one of civilization's most ancient traditions. 

I hate to disappoint some of you, but this entry will not be poking fun of or a proverbial bashing of the joining together of man and wife.  On the contrary, let's look at this as it was originally intended a blessing and celebration of two people joining their lives and families.  I have been married six months, my parents just celebrated 42 years together.

In fact, I'm really not going to tackle the body of marriage as a whole, but rather the beginning.  The wedding.  Weddings are a billion dollar industry.  Between venues to photos to cake, every year Americans spend on average $30,000 which, on average, winds up being a 20 minute ceremony and a 4 hour reception.

Some may say that's ridiculous, some say it's unbelievable, and some would say, "Yeah, that sounds about right."

I told you this wasn't going to be a cynical observation and it won't be.  For those of you that know me, I can be a hopeless romantic and so this entry will be on celebration.

And why not?

Cigars, fine wines, premium liquor, and beer have been the mark of celebration for centuries as well. 

This may actually surprise most of you, but I actually did not smoke at my wedding.  Before?  Of course.  During honeymoon?  Most Def.  However, I did not take a single puff at my wedding reception.  In fact, I don't smoke at many weddings, at least during the course of traditional events.  I prefer to to take part in the traditional events: toasts, cake cutting, dances, etc.  Who wants to miss that?

This past weekend, I was present at the union of James McCombs and Katie Evans.  They are a beautiful couple that I wish nothing but happiness and joy for the rest of their lives.  Many of my cigar comrades were in attendance.  And while many of them were as excited as I was to toast our friends' marriage with a good smoke, they didn't want to miss any of the festivities either. 

"I don't think I'm going to be able to smoke tonight, bro," one friend commented.  "I just don't want to, it would take me away from the wedding too long."

Truly a man of honor.  You see, my friend was not only thinking in the best interests of James, but was giving me respect by saying subconsciously that he didn't want to rush a good smoke and the amount of time it would take to enjoy it.

I took my cue from him, opting to enjoy the celebration on other merits.  I got to enjoy a dance with my wife, a beer with the father of the groom and savor some damn nice cake. 

However, afterwards I invited some friends back to my home, where we toasted with some champagne and lit some great smokes. 

Good times.  Good fellowship.  Great cigars.  A motto worthy of any post-celebratory gathering. 

So, take your time, celebrate, and enjoy the moments as they present themselves.  To my friends, James and Katie, congratulations and may your joined lives be blessed and joyous.

To the rest of you, take note 4 out of 5 dentists recommend that there is nothing wrong with knowing you are the best!