Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Close, But No Cigar

In my ongoing quest to find the smallest possible cigar to smoke in the ass-freezing months ahead, while maintaining a semblance of fullness and flavor, I again sampled one of my Oliva Series G Special Gs (cameroon wrapped, not maduro).

Actually I'd been holding them in reserve until the winter blast actually arrived and I'd be in dire need of a 20-minute smoke. Instead my wife came home yesterday, in the middle of this Indian Summer (Native American Summer?) we've been having, and we had an argument involving weight goals and sex appeal, and she demanded something quick to smoke "to keep me from pigging out and turning into a blimp."

So I gave her a "special G," she took three puffs, then darted off to her next appointment. I had no choice but to finish it.

The sad truth about these little ladybugs is, they burn a little dry, at least for the first third. I had to grab a hasty beer. The second inch, however, was fabulous - great volumes of smoke, tangy and tasty just like its bigger brother, the Cameroon robusto. Then the last inch gradually petered out into bitter heat, and I let it go out without smoking it to the nub like a fiend, which I normally do with any cigar that will allow it.

So the verdict is: Maybe this is the best you can expect from a 3.8 inch long cigar. I haven't tried any other brands this short, so I'd hate to say the "special G" doesn't deliver. That 10-minute burst of well-balanced flavor in the middle is as good as any I've experienced with a full-sized cigar, and maybe that's the most you can hope for in a shorty.

I was recently tempted to buy a special offer of 40 5-Vegas "shorties," in fact, but ultimately declined, because I couldn't take the risk of being stuck with 40 cigars I've never tried before and which might taste like crap. If anybody's smoked a 5-Vegas shorty, I'd be curious to know if you liked it.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Rocky Patel!

As we approach Halloween, there's no question as to which cigar I want to smoke in commemoration of the spirit world which both fascinates and frightens us. I want something that glows. Something bold and striking. Something spicy and warm and full-bodied that will get me through a night of hoot owls, skeleton suits and scary little girls dressed up like Britney Spears. Most of all, I want something that tastes like warm pumpkin pie straight out of grandma's oven, with a little nutmeg and whipped cream on top: I want a Rocky Patel Vintage 92 Seconds torpedo.

Yes, you heard me right: 1) a 2nd, not a first and 2) one redolent of pumpkin pie. Not the store-bought Sarah Lee variety, mind you, but something hand-made with love and care from a recipe handed down through the ages. Something made not just with ingredients, but magic.

This RP 92 second has a bewitching flavor all its own, with a hint of caramel and Indian tea spices underneath, that gets more powerful as the cigar burns down. The burn, by the way, is incredible: The first time I smoked one, it lasted an hour and a half, with ever-increasing power and spice, never turning bitter or overpowering even to the lip-searing nub. Afterward, I found myself wishing I had 15 more. But I only had three, having foolishly divided the bundle weeks earlier with my work-mates.

The next time I smoked one, it lasted even longer, and I wished I had 30 more: Same rich, warm, deep and complex flavor, same perfect burn and draw. The third time I smoked one? Sadly, there was no third time. My third RP 2nd was untimely ripped from my hands by a thoughtless man named Brad.

Back to the review: If these righteous sticks are "seconds," I'm wondering what exactly are the "firsts" that they've been culled from, because I've never had a regular RP Vintage that looked or tasted like these. It makes me wonder if the "vintage seconds" name is a marketing ruse, and it's really a full-fledged blend of its own that Rocky sells for cheaper than his Vintage lines. Whatever the case, the result is a winner.

On my second go-round with this cigar, I was halfway through when my wife dragged me inside the house to watch a TV show. I compromised by leaving the cigar on the deck and stealing out for a few puffs during commercials. Surprisingly, no re-lighting was required: Even after being gone for as long as 9 minutes, it only took a puff or two to get this thing blazing away again. And the flavor was even better because of the long, cool burn between draws. Unbelievable. I darted back and forth for the next 45 minutes, hardly missing any of the TV show or the cigar. When the show was over, I went back out and homed in on the last 2 inches of this incredible pleasure bomb. All told, this magnificent "reject" burned for 2 hours and 15 minutes, with no lapse in flavor, draw, or burn. It probably would have burned for 3 hours if I'd smoked it through another TV show.

So the heck with the "real" Rocky Patel Vintage lines at 10 bucks a pop. Just give me these 3-dollar Vintage "seconds." I wish I had 60 more of them. No, make that 600.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

'Cause Cheap is How I Feel

Once in a while when I'm on vacation I'll wake up on a sunny morning and say to myself, do I really want to sit for two hours and endure the demanding luxury of a rich, full bodied, flavorful cigar? And on that certain morning I'll say, heck no, I just want the cheapest no-name house brand can find, and bet myself 10 bucks it's going to taste like a mouthful of cornstarch.

On this particular morning, the cheapest-looking cigar in my humidor was a skinny lonsdale with a plain red band that said simply "cigar.com", the maduro house blend by the distributor of the same name. If this wasn't going to be the most laughable joke of a cigar I ever smoked, I didn't know what would. I bet myself 20 dollars that I would hate it, just for good measure.

I lost the bet. This inconspicuous lonsdale was actually a serviceable smoke, much like the Las Cabrillas I'd schlepped out the day before. Two decent cheap cigars in a row, both in the morning, which might have had something to do with it. If you're going to smoke a cheap, mild cigar, morning is the time to do it, before you're awake enough to realize what you're missing.

By "serviceable" smoke I don't mean good, mind you. I mean the cigar.com cheapie burned well, produced a satisfying volume of cool smoke, and didn't taste like sandpaper wrapped in tinfoil. No, this sinewy workhorse had a papery, chalky, slightly peppery flavor that ranked higher in my book than some of the expensive brand names that people smoke to look good - wretched Connecticut-wrapped fatsos of the Cohiba, Excaliber, and Macanudo ilk.

The cigar.com red label gave me a slight kick in the ass, along with the cup of coffee I kept filling and refilling. And it didn't cost me a fortune.

Am I going to run out and buy a bundle of them today? No. Will I ever smoke another one? Probably not. But if you stuck one in my mouth, lit it, and said, "here, smoke this cigar," I wouldn't turn you down.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Good, But No Chiselito

I'm on the verge of giving up on cheap cigars.

Problem is, a brand like Olor Nicaragua, apparently manufactured only for Famous Smoke Shop, isn't exactly cheap: About 84 bucks for a box of 25. So that makes it a three-dollar-plus cigar.

I won five of these in corona size (5.5 inches by 46) for 7 bucks in an online auction. Boy, I thought I'd really pulled one over on the world, and made out like a bandit! I couldn't wait to try one, and gloat in my bidding prowess, enveloping myself in a cloud of victorious smoke.

But now I think I know why the other bidders let me win: The Olor Nicaragua is nothing special.

Yes, it lit up easily, with a nice opening promise of leather and hickory. I was hoping it would open up into something exciting and powerful, like the La Flor Dominicana chiselito I had a few months ago. The draw was a bit tight, but that was to be expected in a ring size this narrow. The smoke was relatively thick but ultimately one dimensional, and it stayed that way for the entire 70 minutes it took me to smoke it.

Don't get me wrong - the Olor Nicaragua is a nice, medium-bodied smoke, with some interesting flavor attributes and a reliable burn down to the final inch. But it's not titillating or exhilarating, nor lush, nor velvety, nor smooth. It's somewhere in between. For $84 a box, I'd expect a little more.

Life is to short to waste on a mediocre cigar. I'd rather smoke a really crappy cigar and punish myself. At least you know you're alive.

I also won a five-pack of Olor Fuerte coronas for 7 bucks in that same auction. Again, I'm guessing there's a reason the other bidders dropped out. Still, I'm curious. I guess I just can't stay away from those cheap (and not-so-cheap) cigars!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Money to Burn: La Aurora Preferidos Round #2

Again, if you have lots of money to burn... the La Aurora Preferidos Sapphire Connecticut Blue Tube is a nice way to treat yourself. For a Connecticut, this thing has lots of depth and strength; almost as much as the Ruby/maduro version.

One thing I learned this time around is, give yourself plenty of circumference to draw from. At first I clipped just a teeny bit off the dovetail, which usually works for me with torpedos. But the draw was just too tight. So I cut away almost half an inch, and the draw opened up and this became a fine cigar, almost worth the 192 dollars or whatever astronomical price my wife paid at the local cigar shop (in this most heavily taxed of states).

Which leads me to wonder - why expend all that effort on rolling a torpedo, when the end user ends up cutting it off and throwing it away? Wouldn't it be better to make that last inch actually smokable? Much like the absurd length of a Churchill, it seems topedos and perfectos are specially-designed only to waste tobacco.

One great thing about the Aurora tubo cigars is the way they smell - all vanilla and almondy inside those salacious-looking tubes. I was temped to chow down on the cigar rather than light it. The tube carries the fragrance even now, long after I smoked the cigar. The aroma was so enticing, in fact, that for a moment I considered not smoking it at all, just leaving it in the tube so I could take an intoxicating whiff from it every week or so.

I guess there are worse things you could be taking a whiff of. Anyway this is probably the last time I'll ever smoke an Aurora Preferidos tubo. On my next birthday I'll ask the wife for something else; maybe a Fuente Hemingway, or a Padilla 1932, or a Coronado by La Flor. Something long and straight and expensive, that never goes on sale at Famous or CI. And doesn't come in a cutesy girly tube that could be confused for a lipstick applicator or a sex toy...

But the two Auroras were good while they lasted.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cienfuegos Blazer: Overhyped 8-Dollar Cigar

I've managed to try two of the Cienfuegos Blazers (i.e. toro size), supposedly Rolando Reyes' meisterwork. I find this to be an overhyped 8-dollar cigar (or maybe even $12 or $13 at retail, I haven't checked). Luckily I got these two in a 20-stick sampler from Puros Indios that only cost me 32 bucks.

Frankly, I'd rather have a plain old Puros Indios, or a Doble Maduro, or a Viejo 99, all much less expensive blends. Each of them has more sublety and flavor than the Cienfuegos, which tastes like a 2-dollar cigar.

What is lacking, primarily, is flavor. The smoke is rich, a bit tart and a bit creamy, but there's nothing interesting underneath the heft. None of the expected wood or honey oatmeal undertones that you expect from Puros Indios. Instead, a briny, salty fullness that doesn't develop. What were they thinking when they released this cigar? Were they thinking we wouldn't notice, and just keep ordering bundle after expensive bundle?

All through the first half of this cigar, I could only think it was one of the most disappointing and overpriced sticks I've ever smoked, second only to the disastrous Gurkha Centurian. If the Cienfuegos were a 3 or even 4 dollar cigar, I might not complain. No, let's face it, I'd still complain: Even at 3 dollars, it wouldn't be a great smoke.

Then, during the second half, it started to get some flavor - a little leather, a little egg (which I don't mind). But halfway down a cigar is a long time to wait for some quality to emerge.

Aw, shucks, I started thinking at this point: It's not such a bad cigar. Just took a long time to get started. Decent flavor during the last third - however with a slight burning on the tongue.

Then again, no: This is definitely a flawed cigar. Not a total waste of time, but requires too much patience and coaxing. Not the all-around pleasant experience you demand from a premium.

At the last 1.5 inches, the cigar regressed to bitter tar and gumminess. I let it go out.

I will never seek out another Cienfuegos blazer, nor even buy one at discount. It does not pass muster. Sorry, Rolando. I loved all the others in the sampler; even the super-cheapie Flor del Todo, which at least has the decency to give you what you pay for.

Monday, October 15, 2007

20-Minute Smoke: Oliva Series G "Special G"

Now that the weather's turning cold, the challenge will soon become: How to smoke a cigar without freezing your ass off.

So, in anticipation of the coming months , I whipped out one of the smaller premiums on the market - the Oliva Series G "Special G" which is only 3.75 inches long and is shaped backasswards so you light the fatter end and smoke it down towards a narrower head.

I had exactly 20 minutes before the restaurant opened. Sally and I sat on a bench outside and I lit up the Oliva. Unfortunately, I was smoking on an empty stomach, but at least I had a beer to sip on from the bar next door.

First impressions: This little mite drew and burned well for such a teeny tyke, and produced ample amounts of smoke. But because of my empty stomach, I couldn't tell if the taste was as good as the highly rated series G robusto. It seemed as if it might be.

I'll have to try again under ideal conditions: After eating, and with a beer in one hand, and no other people milling around giving me the evil eye for smoking a cigar outside their favorite restaurant.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Disappointing Cohiba

With light-shade wrapped cigars, you never know what you're going to get until you try. Some of them can be full and sweetly flavorful, like the Rafael Gonzalez robusto and Creme de Jamaica robusto. Others are dull and papery, like the Excaliber epicure and Macanudo Hyde Park robusto. Others cost so dang much, you want them to taste good almost by force of will, but they don't. Case in point: Cohiba robusto.

You hear so much about the revered Cohiba brand. So, what joy I felt upon receiving one along with a bunch of other less expensive brands in my introductory $19.95 Famous new customer pack.

I kept this baby in my humidor for weeks, waiting for the right time and place, and hoping that this would be a tasty light (natural) cigar rather than a dull papery one.

No such luck. It was dull and papery, though probably the most high-quality dull paper one could hope for. About halfway through the cigar, I finally started getting some tingling on the tongue. But the draw was tight and the smoke piddling. This is not why I buy a cigar. And if it's why you buy a cigar, why then I just don't understand you.

So, mental note: No light-shade Cohibas. Maybe maduro next time.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Finally, a Gurkha Centurian That Tasted Good!

Last night I gave my wife the last of the 12 Gurkha Centurians I had bought several months ago. I'd been letting her smoke them down, one by one, because she liked them and I thought they were nothing but insipid, overpriced drumsticks.

She let me light the last Centurian for her and, lo and behold, the thing sparked right up with a rich draw and a tart, spicy flavor that NONE of the other 11 had delivered. And as we smoked through the next hour, this final Centurian continued to burn well, taste great, and blow prodigious volumes of smoke.

How could the previous 11 have been so bad? Theories:

1) Number 12 had been in my humidor the longest. Maybe it opened up somehow. But it seems unlikely. Number 12 had been in the humidor only about 10 days longer than number 11, and so forth regressing back to number 1.

2) Whoever rolls these cigars really doesn't know what they're doing and can only get one out of 12 right. If that's the case, it is truly sad, because Gurkha is getting 13 bucks each for these at online stores, and God knows how much at retail.

3) The other 11 Gurkhas were in fact imposters, fakes placed in the distributor's warehouse by some shifty middleman looking to make a buck. Or maybe someone at the factory is substituting cheap tobaccos and selling the good leaves to a competitor, and Gurkha corporate doesn't even know it.

And maybe there's a whole other universe under my fingernail, and maybe everything we think we know isn't true, and someone from another galaxy is conducting an experiment using us as guinea pigs and we're all going to get swallowed up by some magnetic force field coming at us from another dimension.

But seriously - how can 11 cigars in a lot be horrible, simply awful, and the last one be excellent? If anyone has any thoughts, I'd truly like to hear them.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Joy of a Cheap Cigar

A while back, a guy at work gave me a cigar called "Las Cabrillas De Soto " - a long, attractive-looking light-shade cigar - and I put it away in my humidor and let it sleep because 1) I don't like mild cigars and 2) I'm wary of cheapies.

The price label was still on the plastic wrapper: $3.85. Here where I live, a State with one of the most egregious cigar taxes in the land, a $3.85 cigar is mighty cheap - equivalent probably to a 2-dollar cigar in luckier environs.

Allow me to look this up online and see what a box of these might cost. Music from Jeopardy TV show.... waiting.... waiting.... Bingo, I found these at Famous - you can get a box of 25 for 45 dollars. So yes, folks, this is a cheap cigar.

But guess what? If you save a cheap cigar for the right time and place, sometimes (to paraphrase Mick and Keith) you might just find... you get what you need.

I took this pale Honduran along to the vacation hideaway - just myself, no wife and kids - and gosh darn on a cool Sunday morning, this long cheapie just called out to me. It said "winter is coming; soon you won't have time to smoke a long, silky feller like me."

So I lit it up, hoping to quiet the disembodied voice inside my head. I was hoping to find that this would be the undiscovered Shangri La of cigars, the uncut gem, the gold nugget at the bottom of the muddy sieve, yes, as any avid cigar smoker knows, I was hoping this cheapie would be THE WORLD'S CREAMIEST, BEST TASTING CHEAP CIGAR that nobody else knew about.

Of course, I was wrong. But it was better than I expected. Yes, it had the low-key, thin, papery taste of a Connecticut wrapper, but more creaminess beneath it than a Macanudo, Excaliber, or Monte Christo white. A lengthier finish than you'd expect from a light cigar; and after the halfway point a peculiar hint of onion and mint. I was pleasantly surprised.

At the last third, it got eggy and fuller-bodied, but tasted of charcoal instead of anything satisfying. I let it go out without smoking it down to the nub.

All in all, I got a good 4.5 inches out of this 7 inch cigar. Which begs the question, yet again: What's the deal with Churchills? If you pay for 7 inches of cigar, but only decently smoke 4.5 inches - isn't that about the same as smoking an excellent 5 inch robusto? What's up with all that wasted tobacco?

Such tangential speculation aside, the Las Cabrillas De Soto was a more than adequate cigar for early in the day, and for the particular mood I was in. I didn't want to be knocked over, I didn't want to have shrimp and pasta for breakfast. Just a light frolic that would leave me slightly titillated and ready for the day's adventures.

Final verdict: Worth having again. Yes, you heard me say it: A mild cigar worth having again. Perhaps even more so than the 5 Vegas Gold, which until now has been the only mild cigar I could appreciate.