Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tatuaje Havana VI (5.62 x 46)

Valdosta, GA – We managed to survive the night in the holler without being abducted. Well-rested and freshly showered, I shrugged into a T-shirt and donned a pair of shorts for the first time in five months. I felt good. After a passable continental breakfast (what makes it “continental” anyway?) we gassed-up the SUV, grabbed a couple of morning Diet Cokes for the road and set off. Up and over the beautiful Smokey Mountains, through Tennessee, then on into Georgia… And let me tell you, Georgia is one long state from top to bottom. The farther south we travelled the more lushes the foliage, and before long we spotted Spanish moss hanging from the trees; the sight of which to me is about as beautiful as fresh snowfall on evergreen trees up north. Soon we were noticing palm trees, and getting that happy-go-lucky, excited feeling you get at the start of a vacation.

After logging another eight uneventful hours we settled down for the night in Valdosta, GA; located off the Interstate just before you cross over into Florida. This seemed like a good place to stop, lots of motels and restaurants to choose from, and left us a manageable six-hour drive the next day. Unpacked, freshened-up, and sated with Buffalo wings and a few cold pops from an Applebee’s across the parking lot, we walked back to the motel room and sat outside, drinks in hand. It was another warm evening, palm fronds swaying in the tropical breeze. I decided tonight I would not be denied a cigar.

Again a bit tired and not wanting to invest more than an hour or so in a smoke, I perused my Armored Travel Humidor and plucked out a Tatuaje Havana VI. The 46-ring gauge and 5.62" length assured a manageable commitment. Purchased on a whim from a B&M back in my home state of Michigan, this corona rested in my humidor for several months. In spite of the variety of cigars the Cigar Scholar samples, I had yet to try the Tatuaje line; although I’m aware of the cult following surrounding this trendy Pete Johnson brand. This particular puro (all Nicaraguan tobaccos), created under the watchful eye of master blender Don Pepin Garcia, was solidly constructed with a dark and oily, sandpapery wrapper and a thin, subtle, blood-red band. I sliced the Cuban triple-cap using my Montecristo Signature Slimline Samurai Cutter*. Feet up, pump primed, I settled in and lit the fuse…

Ah sweet nectar…™! Initial puffs produced top notes of pepper and spice with silky earth undertones. I liked the flavor profile of this little cigar – robust without being harsh, and with a nice complexity. The cigar burned well, held a tight white ash, and maintained a medium-to-full bodied profile throughout. Perhaps some cocoa and graphite near the finish? In any event, this modest cigar packed a punch. Intrigued, I vowed to try more of these when I got home.

There I sat, under the swaying fronds of a palm tree, savoring the thick smoke and hearty finish of the Tatuaje Havana VI. A nice comfortable buzz settled over me; which if you are a cigar lover you will know what I’m talking about. Next to me sat my wife, pontificating about something-or-other and enjoying a glass of wine. And all was well with the world.

Grade: B

* The Xikar Xi remains my everyday go-to cutter. But when mobile I want a guillotine cutter with a slimmer profile. Part of a Montecristo gift pack for being a caller on the Cigar Dave Show, the Montecristo Samurai guillotine cutter is hand crafted of the finest Japanese steel, and will accommodate cigars up to a 60 ring gauge. It comes with a leather sheath, but without the sheath could probably fit into your wallet. You can find the cutters through various online merchants.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Road Trip Intro

With the Escape loaded up and our faithful mutt Stogie happily boarded in the kennel, the wife and I departed Dearborn, Michigan just as it was beginning to snow. (Always a bonus when you’re headed someplace warm!) Traffic was light and we made good time, and before long the Mitten State was in our rearview mirror and we were in Ohio. Not the most exciting state to drive through, but eventually the flatlands gave way to rolling hills and rocky outcroppings. We drove on through Cincinnati, across the Ohio River and into the beautiful state of Kentucky. Rugged terrain and sweeping valleys highlighted the drive. A long and narrow state, the jaunt through Kentucky from north to south was a picturesque, manageable three hours. Finally after about eight hours on the road, we exited the Interstate just across the border from Kentucky in the sleepy little town of Jellico, Tennessee. The town, more of a hamlet really, is nestled in a valley under Interstate-75. It was kind of dark and kind of eerie, actually; the sort of place where you hear banjo music right before you disappear forever. But we were too tired to drive on, so we found a clean, quiet motel room and stowed our gear. It was a balmy night, and we fished out a couple of beers from the Coleman Stainless Steel Belted Cooler* and sat outside our room. The beers were ice cold and went down smooth, and we decompressed as we watched the last remnants of purple sunlight fade over the mountaintops. You could see the silhouette of the trees on the ridgeline off in the distance. I was tired, but I was a nice tired – if that makes sense? It would have been a great night for a cigar, for sure, but I was just too lazy to commit. Three beers later and it was bedtime for me. [I know – this is supposed to be a cigar blog. Just bear with me. I am trying to set the mood and build up some anticipation.]

Good day!

* You can’t go on a road trip without having a high-quality cooler to store your brews, beverages and whatnot. I own a variety of coolers in all shapes and sizes, but my go-to cooler for travelling is the iconic Coleman Stainless Steel Belted Cooler. A birthday gift from my best friend Alex, the cooler has provided me ten-plus years of loyal service. Originally manufactured by Coleman in 1954, this insulated cooler has old-school looks combined with modern technology. Features include rust resistant hinges and screws, cam latch, and a leak proof drain. Solid as a rock, the cooler also makes a great place to sit. Check it out:


Friday, April 8, 2011

Greetings! New Reviews Coming Soon...

Hello Cigar Scholar followers (all five of you)! Yes, I am alive and well, and still enjoying a good cigar now-and-then. However, due to life's circumstances I could not find the free time to blog about my experiences. That is until now... Things have eased up for me recently, so I'm hoping to dedicate more time to this blog, as the huddled, leaf-loving masses have been clamoring for content.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, towards the end of March the missus and I took a much-needed road trip/vacation away from wintery Michigan down to sunny Naples, Florida. And the second thing that comes to mind when I think road-trip (the first being, “How much is gas going to cost me?”) is, “What sorts of cigar smoking opportunities can I find?”

You see, Michigan’s strict year-old smoking ban leaves me few cigar smoking options in the colder months. And as much as I love cigars, I have no desire to smoke in my house or my car. So other than the occasional visit to a cigar lounge in a nearby city, my November-to-May cigar consumption takes a real hit. Thus, the prospect of venturing to warmer, more cigar-friendly climes had me as giddy as a kid on Christmas Eve. My goal on this trip would be to try and enjoy a cigar in every state through which we travelled (OH, KY, TN, GA and FL), and to check out any cool cigar lounges we could find along the way.

I stocked my travel humidor with a variety of eight cigars. Not that I planned on smoking them all, buts it's always better to have more than you need. I did my homework too, and I knew of several really nice cigar bars in and around Naples. And since it's bad etiquette to bring your own cigar to a cigar bar - and since I'm unable to walk into a humidor without buying an extra one for the road - there was the possibility of returning home with more cigars than I brought. (Actually, when I travel I make it a point to pick up a few sticks to bring home. That way I can store them in my humidor as mementos of the trip, and when I do get around to smoking them I am reminded of the fun times had.) What will follow over the next few days (or weeks) is a travelogue, if you will, along with condensed reviews of the cigars I smoked and the places I smoked them.

~Cigar Scholar

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all of my followers. Wishing you health and happiness in the coming year.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dear Followers,

As you may have noticed I have not posted any reviews in some time. Due to life circumstances I have been on a temporary creative hiatus. Rest assured I am still enjoying many fine cigars, and I will get back to blogging as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.


~Chris/Cigar Scholar

Monday, July 26, 2010

Playboy Robusto (52x5) by Altadis/Don Deigo

This cigar was from yet another three-pack sampler from Altadis, as seen advertised in – surprise! – Playboy magazine (I read the articles and look at the pictures!) I ordered these last October (’09) and didn’t receive them until mid-February (’10) – I could have cultivated the tobacco and rolled my own by then. Still, I can’t pass up three premium cigars for $7.95. This cigar is the newer Altasis/Tabacalera de Garcia version of the original Playboy Cigar by Don Diego recipe. (Heck, with all these cigar companies merging and acquiring one another, who can keep track anymore?) Anyway, after five months in the humidor I decided to fire one up for my weekly Thursday night after-school treat. I have long been a fan of the milder Don Diego line, and consider it a mainstay of the neophyte cigar smoker. Even seasoned veterans such as myself like to keep several on hand as a morning or afternoon smoke. Besides, if they’re good enough for Hef they’re good enough for me.

My pre-cut/pre-light examination revealed a firm, well-made dark brown cigar, slightly veined, with an elegant looking black band highlighted with the silver iconic Playboy Rabbit Head emblem. [Note: The original style Don Diego band has Hef’s monogram and signature, along with a smaller Rabbit Head logo.] Supposedly the Altadis re-boot incorporated having the flavor profile kicked up a notch. These new Playboy cigars are touted as being a blend of the finest aged Nicaraguan, Dominican and Peruvian long filler tobaccos paired with exquisite Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper leaves. My initial conservative guillotine cut left a cold draw that was a bit snug. So, like a surgeon, I took my Xikar Xi Original cutter* and skillfully shaved off another slice. The pre-light draw was unremarkable; somewhat buttery and nutty, perhaps a hint of zest. Safely ensconced in the “man cave” (my garage) and my faithful mutt “Stogie” at my feet, and with a slight drizzle beginning to fall, I settled in and lit the fuse…

Ah sweet nectar, once again I suckle at your teat! ™ Initial puffs presented - as advertised - a mild-to-medium experience, and a leathery yet creamy flavor profile with a bit of gusto to it. The draw was still a little firm, but I was getting decent mouthfuls of smoke and the burn was acceptable so I continued on. This Playboy cigar produced a grey/white ash; however the ash was flaky and would not stay on too long, so I spent a lot of time hovering over the ashtray as I smoked. Into the middle I began to pick up on a certain harshness I could not pinpoint. I retro-haled a few times to see if I could sort out the complex blends and isolate the offensive anomaly, but to no avail. I could detect pedestrian, medium-bodied firewood flavors and subtle fruit notes. Nearing the end the cigar seemed to waver back and forth between bitter and harsh. I’ve said in the past and I’ll say it again: I like a flavorful cigar but I do not abide a harsh cigar. As a matter of fact the next morning this cigar left a foul taste in my mouth, which almost never happens with premium cigars. Nearing the last ¼ the bitterness increased and I decided I’d had enough.

To sum up: I like Playboy’s taste in women; cigars – not so much. My feelings towards this cigar are about as mixed as the tobaccos that are in it. It was not a terrible cigar per say, more of an erratic cigar. And bitterness in a cigar is often a sign of young tobacco. Furthermore, I’m still not sure what the relationship is between this newer Altadis Playboy cigar and the original Don Diego Playboy [with the monogrammed wrapper] that launched in '96; I recall liking the older version a lot better, as it seemed more true to the Don Diego flavor profile. Factor in the price – about $10.00 a stick – and I simply cannot recommend the Altadis Playboy cigar to anyone seeking a unique smoking experience.

Grade: C

Good day sirs!

*The discussion always arises over whether it is better to use a hole punch, draw poker, cigar scissors, knife, single-or-double guillotine cutter, teeth(!), etc… to prep your stogie. But for my money a quality double-bladed guillotine cutter is the only way to go. I’ve owned my Xikar Xi Original for over two years and I have nothing but great things to say about this quality product. The blades are made of high quality surgical 440 stainless steel, with an HRC of 57. [The Rockwell Hardness Scale (HRC) is used for measuring the hardness of a metal alloy. The rating is taken by measuring the amount of force required to produce a deformation in the metal using a diamond point. Typical values for a quality blade range from HRC 55 to HRC 62.] The Xikar Cutter gives cigar enthusiasts the finest cigar cut with power, efficiency and ease of use. An aluminum body encases the stainless steel blades in a spring-loaded, ergonomic shape. This is the finest cutter you can buy – they guarantee it! Xikar cutters come in a variety of styles, colors and housings, and they offer free lifetime blade sharpening should you ever need it. Xikar also offers lighters, knives, humidors and other quality cigar-related products. If you are any level of cigar aficionado do yourself a favor and check out the Xikar cutters today!

Friday, July 16, 2010

La Aroma de Cuba Edicion Especial (5.5 x 52)

The term going “up north” is a colloquialism both unique and familiar to most Michigan natives. Simply put, it means heading from a southern part of the state to a northern part of the state; usually for recreational or vacation purposes. Depending on where you are from and where you are headed, there exist myriad interpretations as to what exactly constitutes “up north”. Since I live in the suburban metro Detroit area, by my estimation it means anything farther north than West Branch; or beyond parallel to the tip of the thumb for any of you non-Michiganders reading this.

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to my friend’s cottage on Otsego Lake; located in Michigan’s central Lower Peninsula, about four hours north of Detroit. After the long drive - which included a scenic ninety-minute rural detour due to a traffic accident that shut down the Interstate - I was in need of a stiff drink and a good cigar. I arrived at the cottage just as the sun was setting and the campfire crackling to life. With salutations exchanged and a “hail fellow” shot of Jim Beam, I stowed my gear and fished the travel humi out of my BAD brand duffel bag*. I brought along eight soldiers – more than was needed – because I wanted a variety from which to choose. (Also, altruist that I am, I like to travel with a few spare sticks on the odd chance I run into any fellow “brothers of the leaf”.) Since the smoke from a campfire tends to dull the olfactory senses, I decided to smoke a robust cigar that would cut through all the haze. I settled on a La Aroma de Cuba Edicion Especial #5 Belicoso. The La Aroma de Cuba Edicion Especial was rated the number-four cigar of 2008 by Cigar Aficionado magazine (for whatever that’s worth.) I have smoked La Aroma de Cuba in the past and found them to be an excellent cigar, so much so that I always like to keep a couple in the humidor.

Pre-cut/pre-light consideration revealed a solidly-built pumpkin-colored Belicoso with plenty of oils and a soft sheen. Other than some slight veining the wrapper was seamless. The band is a royal affair, utilizing the original Cuban artwork (two Renaissance women commiserating about something-or-other) with several modifications and enhancements, plus extensive gold embossing and rich colors – another beauty for my cigar band journal. This cigar is made for and distributed by Ashton and manufactured in Nicaragua by master cigar maker Jose "Pepin" Garcia. Per their website copy: “The seamless wrappers embrace an enchanting Cuban-esque blend of rich, well-aged Nicaraguan tobaccos, cultivated in Ecuador under direct sunlight from Cuban seeds.” Nice! My trusty Montecristo Samurai travel cutter sliced a perfect mini dunce-like cap off the head. A pre-light whiff greeted me with an alluring cedar-and-leather broth of a medium-to-full-strength cigar. The cold draw was easy and offered a big, chocolate-like flavor, albeit delivered smoothly and with refinement. Fresh beer in hand I settled in and lit the fuse…

Ah sweet nectar, once again I suckle at your teat™! With the foot slowly toasted, preliminary puffs greeted me with a hearty dose of earth and cedar; an appropriate flavor considering the woodsy surroundings. Into the mid-stick sweet spot I sailed, and lighter notes of cinnamon and white pepper tickled my olfactory receptors. The burn was sharp and even and produced a compact grey-white ash that held fast. I was thoroughly enjoying this cigar, and a nice comfortable glow settled over me as I felt the day’s tensions ebb from my body. The home stretch continued to impress with subtle layers of leather, cocoa and coffee notes. Down to the nub, and as often happens when I finish a great cigar I chastised myself for not bringing the two-hour-plus 7x49 Churchill. Beyond the glow of the campfire Otsego Lake was a sheet of glass, broken only intermittently by the odd fish leaping for a late-night snack. The fire slowly reduced itself to fading embers, and with my sleeping bag beckoning I savored the final puffs in peaceful repose. To me, moments like this are what cigar smoking is all about.

To sum up: As mentioned, I have smoked this cigar in the past and it has quickly skyrocketed onto my top-ten list. Well-made and with an effortless draw, the La Aroma de Cuba Edicion Especial No. 5 was a complex cigar with a chocolate earthiness that lasted throughout. The restrained undertones of the bottom-notes complimented – as opposed to confused – the flavor profile; the hallmark of a good cigar in my estimation. At about $9.00 a stick, I give the La Aroma de Cuba Edicion Especial my resounding recommendation.

Grade: A

Good day sirs!

*If there's one piece of gear I love and obsess over it's my duffel bags. I like having a secure place for my stuff when I travel. Whether it's for an overnight stay, a long weekend, or a two-week vacation, I get just as excited packing for a trip as I do being on the trip itself. (Weird, I know). Anyway, over the years I have amassed a wide variety of duffel bags, of various shapes and sizes, for all occasions. But the one company which makes the best duffel bag for my money is BAD Bags out of Seattle, WA. I bought my first BAD (for Best American Duffel) Bag back in the mid-90's, and I can assure you as a person who demands quality from his products they more than live up to their reputation. My BAD Bags have been all over the country with me, and let me tell you these rugged bags can take a beating. I have since added several other sizes of their seminal duffel bag to my arsenal, and recently purchased two of their newer rolling duffels. Their duffel bags come in a variety of sizes and colors, and as mentioned they make several rigid-body rolling duffels, including a carry-on size.

Now I could go on and on, and bore you with statistics from the BAD Bag website; like their 6,000-pound break-strength seat-belt webbing, or the beefy #10 YKK zippers. But do yourself a favor and check it out...