30 December 2009

CIGAR REVIEW: Carlos Torano - 1916 Cameroon



The Carlos Torano - 1916 Cameroon was introduced in 2003 to commemorate Don Santiago Torano's emigration from Spain to Cuba.  It is hand-made in Esteli, Nicaragua in four vitollas: Robusto (5.5" x 52), Corona (5.5" x 42), Torpedo (6.5" x 54), and Churchill (7" x 48); each of which are cellos with a thin cedar wrapping.  The capa is Nicaraguan grown Cameroon, the capote is Havana-seed Nicaraguan, and the tripa is a blend of Honduran and Nicaraguan.  Torano describes the 1916 Cameroon as being a, "slow burning, well balanced, medium body cigar with distinctive hints of pepper, caramel, nuts, and sweet spice with a long, smooth finish."  The vitolla I smoked for this review was the Robusto.

The 1916 had a very pleasant and sweet pre-light aroma with a color between colorado and colorado-rosado.  It had several lumps and bumps in the capa but no knots or hard / soft spots; however, there were some color inconsistencies with small greenish spots here and there.  It squeezed very firmly and judging by the foot, appeared to be well packed.  I made a straight-cut with scissors and tested the pre-light draw and taste which had pretty fair resistance and a slight bitterness at first which subsided right away and was followed immediately by a woody, sweet taste.  It took a little fire to get it lit well but I attribute that to the apparent well packed quality I mentioned a moment ago.  Once lit it began to burn very well and produced plenty of distinctive blue smoke with a noticeable woody taste.

About 1/2" in I began to detect a distinct pepper / spice tingle on the top 1/3 of the tongue.  Retro-exhalation was possible but had to be done gently, otherwise it would burn a little and trigger a cough.  As it burned it left behind a crispy, very light grey, almost white ash with a few dark spots which held on for the full first 1/3 before dropping off on its own.  Around the 1" mark the distinctness of the pepper was still present but the tingle had mellowed and each puff was followed by a dry finish.  The middle 1/3 continued to mellow but still had some pepper notes and the dry finish while a mild woody taste developed on the lips.  Farther into the middle 1/3 the strength of the pepper re-emerged across the middle-top of the tongue and the ash dropped off again on its own with the full middle 1/3 and part of the last 1/3 (indicating good long-filler tobacco and skilled rolling).  The final 1/3 smoked with slight wood and pepper notes and the dry finish continued to the end.

Overall, the Carlos Torano - 1916 Cameroon was a decent smoke.  From beginning to end it didn't require a single touch-up or re-light.  I thought it was going to need a touch-up a couple times but it corrected itself and continued to burn smoothly.  I didn't notice much in the way of complexity so it's not the kind of cigar you need to devote your full time and attention to; however, it struck me as being the kind of cigar that would be good with a beverage and while I smoked it, Macallan 12 year old single malt Scotch kept coming to mind, perhaps because its fruity nose and smooth taste would be a good balance and compliment to the wood, pepper, and dryness of the 1916.

06 December 2009

CIGAR REVIEW - SPECIAL RELEASE: Tatuaje - Drac 2009


Pete Johnson, brand owner of Tatuaje, has been releasing annual special edition cigars around Halloween he calls the Monster Series.  One of this year's releases, and the subject of this review, is the Drac-2009.  Before I go any further, let me address some major issues which have surrounded this cigar.  The Dracs were shipped in painted and lacquered, coffin shaped boxes which have been at the root of the primary complaint.  There have been numerous complaints about a terrible odor emanating from the box and even some about that odor and even a flavor having been imparted to the cigars themselves.  The Drac is a Halloween themed cigar which of course, had to be released by 31 October, but according to Pete Johnson the box maker in Nicaragua wasn't able to complete the boxes until shortly before the release date.  This resulted in the boxes not having time to air out before they were packed, wrapped in cellophane, and ultimately shipped.  When opened by B&Ms or individual buyers at their final destination, the trapped odor from the paint and lacquer has poured out.  The second complaint about these cigars is that many of the wrappers were damaged when the boxes were opened and the cigars were still "wet."

For the first problem, Pete recommends that you remove the cigars from their original box and place them in your humidor to rest and age for a while.  If you want to keep the box, let it air out for a few weeks and he says it should be fine.  This is why I'm reviewing a Halloween themed cigar at the beginning of December.  For the second problem, he says if you have any damaged cigars, return them to Tatuaje in an uncut, unlit, unsmoked fashion and they will replace them.  I have heard some people say that they think the Dracs were released too soon and the moist tripa expanded causing the capa to "burst."  Who can say for sure, but Pete says they were in tact when they were shipped and each of the ones I smoked for this review had none of the reported bad smell or damage.  I also checked with one of the top B&Ms in my area and they said they had heard of these problems but had not experienced them.  There is an in depth explanation on the Tatuaje website of what I just reiterated, so on to the smoke.

The Drac was released in a 6-3/4 x 52 "fang-shaped" Torpedo vitolla, in 1,300 boxes of 13 cigars each with a recommended price of $13 per cigar (before taxes and other penalties of course).  There were also a certain number of "Spooky Tickets" placed in various boxes, the finders winning something from Tatuaje (reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  The Drac is a Nicaraguan puro with a Habano maduro capa which was perhaps just a shade below maduro in color with no real visible flaws.  It was adorned with a simple black and red band at the foot, had a smooth texture with some nice veins but felt very light in the hand.  The squeeze test was a bit odd; it seemed to give too much close beneath the capa and didn't firm up until under pressure.  These could all be signs of poor packing, but I'm not certain this is the case here and that would definitely be out of character for Tatuaje.  The pre-light aroma was very mild with the slightest hint of sweetness but no real perceptible notes.  I made a straight cut with a single guillotine which the head stood up to without fraying.  The reason I mention this is because a single guillotine only cuts from one side and exerts pressure from the other which can easily cause damage, so this was sort of a quality test.  The pre-light draw was easy and had a slight woody taste, following which it lit easily and evenly and produced a good amount of grey smoke from the draw.

Initially there was a mild woody taste and a hint of bitterness on the middle-top of the tongue which went away quickly.   The tiniest spice tingle snuck up on the tip of the tongue about 1/4" into it and retro-exhalation was a bit harsh but could be done very gently.  As it smoked it produced a light-grey ash with hints of dark undertones which was soft and a little crisp and had an interesting 'rippled' appearance to it which held on for the whole first 1/3.  Up to this point it burned well but required its first touch-up about 1-1/2" in.  Into the middle 1/3 the ash became a little flaky and irregular and dropped off quickly.  A charred / burnt flavor would occasionally present itself but only briefly before passing.  Just past the half-way point it required a full re-light and bitterness became the dominant taste on the top of the tongue.  Through the final 1/3 it required minor touch-ups and couldn't shake the bitterness which ultimately took over the entire center of the tongue and lingered a while.

I met Pete Johnson a couple years ago and liked him which is when he turned me onto his Cojonu cigar (but that is another review).  As I mentioned above, cigars with quality problems would certainly be out of character for Tatuaje and I am a fan of their smokes, but I have to give my honest opinion here, "Puro Integritas."  Reputation is huge in this business and something like this can hurt a good company.  While they couldn't control the problems with the boxes, perhaps they should have bit the bullet and held on to them until next Halloween; the boxes wouldn't have been a problem and cigars get better with age.  Also, some of the problems others have reported, as well as the ones I experienced, could possibly indicate a "wet" cigar.  There is a time following a cigar's rolling known as, "the period of sickness."  Some say it is only a myth, some say it is true, but the general consensus among believers is that from a few months up to a year after being rolled, a cigar may still be overly humidified from the tobacco being moistened prior to rolling.  During this period it may still give off ammonia (which is alkaline and causes bitterness), have problems burning, or have not much in the way of flavor at all and should not be smoked.  I'm not saying this is in fact the case with the Drac, I'm just presenting some possibilities.  Don't let any of this put you off from smoking Tatuajes, they are a good company that makes good cigars which can frequently be found in my humidor.

20 November 2009

CIGAR REVIEW: Hoya de Monterrey - Rothschild Maduro


I recently smoked the Hoya de Monterrey - Rothschild Maduro (4.5" x 50) by General Cigar.  This isn't one of my usual brands but I received a couple different vitollas from a sales rep earlier this year which have been aging in my humidor and I finally decided to give one a try.  Besides, I read a couple reviews that said they weren't a bad low-cost cigar that was good for "everyday" smoking so I was looking forward to it.

The Rothschild's capa is Equadorian Sumatra; its capote is Connecticut broadleaf; and its tripa is Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Dominican.  Initial examination revealed a relatively consistent, near maduro color, with nice veins and texture.  It wasn't very firm, maybe even a little soft with a soft spot found under the band, and by the look of the foot, wasn't very well packed.  The pre-light aroma was of mild tobacco, pleasant but lacking any real notes.  Following a punch cut, I found the pre-light draw to be fine but the taste was of bland tobacco and not much of it.

The Hoya - Rothschild lit easily enough and produced plenty of grey smoke but was harsh tasting from the first puff.  Retro-exhalation was just not happening and made me want to cough.  As the first 1/3 progressed, a harsh, unpleasant taste covered my tongue and a strange, perhaps "tangy" sensation / taste developed that made me want to spit a lot.  It smoked a great deal while at rest which made me wonder if it was burning too fast but it did maintain an even burn until into the middle 1/3, at which time it started needing touch-ups.  The ash was medium-grey in color with different shades in different parts, was crispy and had lots of cracks, but it did hold on pretty well.  As I continued to smoke the Rothschild, its wrapper bubbled and flaked in places and a bitter taste dominated through to the end.

Many factors can affect an individual cigar including but not limited to its manufacture, the environment it is smoked in, and even the smoker themselves.  An individual bad cigar in a premium line can also be a fluke, which I myself have experienced in the past.  Let me qualify my remarks with this, I received this cigar some time ago and it has been in my personal humidor ever since, marrying with several drawers of super-premium cigars.  My humidor has an electronically monitored and controlled active humidifier that maintains optimal humidity levels.  This is important because over or under humidification can severely affect a cigar's taste and smoking qualities.  I smoked this cigar outside and by my self so no one else's smoke could have interfered and I also hadn't eaten or drank anything for a couple hours which could have altered the natural pH in my mouth.  All that being said, this was NOT a good cigar.  Everything about it was bad and at this point, I cannot recommend it to anyone.  As stated above, I acknowledge that this cigar may not be representative of the Rothschild line and to be fair I am willing to try another one; however, I certainly won't buy it.

17 November 2009

CIGAR REVIEW - NEW RELEASE: Drew Estate - Liga Privada T-52

I was recently given a new cigar to try by one of the lovely ladies of the Pecunes family, owners of The Humidour Cigar Shoppe in Cockeysville, MD and some of the most respected Tobacconists I know.  She said it was one of their favorites from the 2009 IPCPR convention and they were going to be selling them at their shop.  The cigar; the new Liga Privada T-52 from Drew Estate.  Well when I hear Drew Estate, what comes to mind is "flavored" and "infused", not necessarily premium cigars; however, I respect the Pecunes families opinion, so I settled back into a big leather chair in their cigar lounge with it.  Please understand that I am not being critical of anyone's personal taste, "flavored" and "infused" cigars just aren't my preference is all.  Don't forget, taste is subjective!

Liga Privada means "Private Blend" and Drew Estate claims it was originally intended not for general release but to be smoked by their President, Steven Saka.  They say that while looking for something unique, they discovered a farmer in Connecticutt who was experimenting with a new sungrown Connecticutt broadleaf stalk-cut varietal he called, "American Habano."  According to Drew Estate, this new American Habano capa (wrapper) is hand-fermented, not sweated; the capote (binder) is Brazillian Mata-Fina; and the tripa (filler) is a combination of Dominican, Nicaraguan, and Honduran tobaccos, with each finished cigar aged at least a year.  They are being released in various vitollas ranging in price from $10.65 to $14.20.  The one I smoked was a Toro, 6 x 52.

The T-52's wrapper was dark and oily with a color I put somewhere between colorado-maduro to maduro.  It had a nice texture with slight teeth and an almost slippery feeling.  The pre-light aroma was very mild but pleasant and a cut with a double-guillotine revealed a very good draw with an interesting flavor that left a slight sensation of pepper on the tip of the tongue.  The 52 lit easily and I noticed right away that the heat made oil extrude from the wrapper up to about 1/4 inch from the ember.  I have heard about some unreputable makers coating their cigars with adjuncts and claiming it was an oily wrapper, but I have to say, this looked like the real thing.  The flavor started off mellow with subtle notes that were hard to pin down; maybe cocoa, maybe coffee bean.  Retro-exhalation was pretty easy overall with mild to moderate spice sensations from around mid-sinus all the way to the end of the nose.  It produced a light-grey to almost white smoke with moderate amounts from the draw and lots from the foot making me wonder if it was burning too fast.  The smoke was cool and smooth though and by the end of the first 1/3, pepper notes began to emerge down the sides and on the tip of the tongue with the slightest note on the back of the throat.

I was more than 2 inches into it and the medium to dark-grey ash, which was crisp and grainy, was still hanging on.  I finally knocked it off just to keep from eventually making a mess of myself and looking like an amateur.  In the middle 1/3 a mouth watering flavor developed inside the lips and slightly more pepper emerged with the overall flavor picking up around mid-mouth and on top of the tongue.  I detected leathery notes around the mid-way point which I realized may have been one of the flavors earlier that I wasn't able to pin down.  Past the half-way point I detected creamy, chocolaty notes, and that mouth watering flavor progressed.  Into the final 1/3 a fair peppery spice emerged which carried through to the end.

The T-52 didn't require any touch-ups or re-lights until close to the nub and the easy retro-exhalation continued until the final 1/3.  There was some complexity of flavor, which while subtle throughout, was certainly present.  I have to say it, this was a good cigar and I recommend it.  I even tried one with a glass of ruby Porto and they went well together.  Drew Estate may not make most of their living in the realm of traditional cigars, but that doesn't mean they don't know how.  Good job guys.

16 November 2009

Notable Quote

"I like to drink in peace; however I see you're in need of a good beating and I'm always willing to help a poor bastard out."
-Anonymous Irishman

11 November 2009

VETERANS DAY



Today, 11 November, is Veterans Day; a day to pay tribute to all those who have served our great nation.  Keep your politics to yourself and take a moment to give thanks.  If you know or see a Veteran, say thanks or just give a nod.  No matter what your personal feelings may be, without them you don't get to have an opinion.

Whenever they go, wherever they go, support our troops.
May GOD bless and protect them all.

10 November 2009

234th Marine Corps Birthday


Today is one of the most important dates of the year, the birthday of the United States Marine Corps.  The Marine Corps, America's expeditionary force in readiness and the most elite fighting force in the history of the world, was created 234 years ago on 10 November 1775 when the Second Continental Congress decreed that two battalions of Marines be raised for service in the War of Independence.  Captain Samuel Nicholas was appointed as their commanding officer and is considered the first Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Appropriately, recruitment for the Marines was conducted in a tavern and free beer was offered in return for enlistment; and so it began...

Yes, The Cap'n honorably served in The Corps before joining the Merchant Marine.



SEMPER FIDELIS (Always Faithful)

08 November 2009

B & M REVIEW: Davidus Cigars - Annapolis

The forces of good have established another toe-hold deep inside enemy territory!  Last night I attended the grand opening of the Castro brothers' newest shop in their Davidus Cigars chain located at 2134 Generals Highway in Annapolis.  Annapolis is the Maryland state capital and, I'm proud to say, home of the United States Naval Academy.  Unfortunately, it is also a bastion of the smoking-nazis who relentlessly attempt to destroy our Constitutional Rights, so they must have hated to issue the business license.

The event was enjoyable and catered with hearty Italian food, so if anyone left hungry it was their own fault.  That's the problem with Italian food, two or three days later you're hungry again...  The shop is spacious and offers a nice selection of humidors, lighters, pipes, tobaccos, and other accessories in the retail area.  The walk-in humidor (or should I say the walk around in humidor) was one of the larger ones I've seen and well stocked.  There was a very good selection overall which included many of the super-premium cigars from some of the best makers in the business.  The shop also boasts a large Diamond Crown Lounge, sponsored by - you guessed it - Diamond Crown Cigars.  The lounge was very roomy with several big leather chairs, two flat screen TVs, free wi-fi, a pool table, and an attached cigar locker room with 72 lockers for rent.  One of the things I liked about the lounge was that it seemed both conducive to friendly conversation and private relaxation at the same time.  All of the interior walls are glass, which adds to the spacious feeling and lets you see all the goings on.  The staff was pleasant and helpful and includes my good friend, Mr. John Vanore CRT, so kudos to the Castro brothers for recognizing the importance and value of hiring a Tobacconist University certified expert.

If you are a local or happen to find yourself in the Annapolis area, stop in, relax, and enjoy a good smoke.  Support your local premium brick & mortar Tobacconist!  Best wishes for success to the new shop.

Davidus Cigars Ltd. - Annapolis
2134 Generals Highway
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
410.573.1212
www.davidus.com

07 November 2009

CIGAR REVIEW: La Flor Dominicana - Ligero Cabinet Oscuro


La Flor Dominicana - Ligero Cabinet Oscuro, by Lito Gomez, isn't a new release but it is a regular in my humidor so I thought I would share it with you.  It is their first full-bodied release and while not a true maduro cigar,  they tell me they obtained the oscuro color and full-bodied flavor profile by applying a new proprietary method of trabajando to the aged ligero leaves used to make it.  What was told to me by a representative was that the method is a company secret but try to imagine an overly ripe banana...  It comes in several parejo vitollas: L200 - 40 x 4 7/8, L250 - 48 x 5 3/4, L300 - 50 x 5 3/4, L400 - 54 x 5 3/4, L500 - 60 x 5 3/4, and one they call the Mysterio which is a figurado.

The Cabinet Oscuro is made with an Equadorian Sumatra wrapper, and Dominican binder and fillers from their own farm in La Canela, Dominican Republic.  It has a beautiful, shiny, oily wrapper (in fact probably one of the oiliest you will encounter), with nice texture and teeth.  It squeezed well, had no soft spots, and was obviously well packed.  It has a very enjoyable, sweet pre-light aroma that changes slightly as you go from head to foot and is more pronounced at the open foot.  I made a punch-cut and tested the draw which was smooth and easy and left a very mild, earthy tobacco taste on the lips and tongue.  After lighting, the flavor starts out with a very mild spice on the tip of the tongue which slowly begins to build.  It produces a grey, "stringy" smoke that looks like it is slowly pulling apart as it floats away.  As it burns it leaves behind a light-grey ash with dark undertones and highlights which flakes a bit, but otherwise holds on pretty well.  Retro-exhalation is pretty easy until you are near the very end and leaves pepper notes in the sinuses.  As the flavor profile develops, it becomes a little peppery which can be felt on the tongue and holds on throughout.  The pepper picks up some just past the half-way point but never becomes overwhelming and maintains a noticeable balance and consistency all the way to the dry, mild-spice finish.

The La Flor - Ligero Cabinet Oscuro is one of my favorite choices when the time and mood is right.  While it is upper-medium to full-bodied, it is not overly strong but definitely has enough to bring on the leading edge of a buzz so you should certainly eat first.  One thing to be aware of is that every one I have ever smoked required a fair amount of touching up and even re-lighting.  I don't think this is a quality issue like with some cigars, I sort of attribute it to being a side effect of the heavy oiliness of the wrapper which is a good thing.

05 November 2009

BEER REVIEW: Samuel Smith's - Imperial Stout

Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout is a Russian Imperial Stout with an eye-catching, old style label reminiscent of its Victorian roots.  It is 7% ABV but other than that, they really don't tell you much else about it.  I first had it at a tasting event some time ago and enjoyed it very much but haven't gotten around to reviewing it until now.

It pours with an opaque, dark black color with the slightest ruby hints at the edges that could only be revealed by direct, bright light.  It developed a tall, light-brown head that was creamy and fluffy.  The initial aroma was very light and only of sweet malt which I thought was a bit odd.  That is when I realized that it had been chilled to standard refrigerator temperature which is well below its recommended serving temperature of approximately 60 degrees.  After allowing it to warm a bit, the aroma evolved into one you could really stick you nose into.  It was deep and complex but all its notes were subtle and required hunting, which is part of the fun for me.  The malty sweetness remained but I also detected slight notes of vanilla and chocolate.  The first sip doesn't disappoint either.  The mouthfeel starts with a moderate tingle on the front of the tongue which subsides quickly, developing into a thick, creamy feel all over the mouth.  The taste is initially slightly sweet which instantly gives way to the hops and alcohol, which blend excellently.  The flavor has complexity, but like the aroma, the notes are subtle and you have to work for them.  I detected bitter chocolate, hops, some roast, and smoke.  It finishes dry  with slight black coffee notes and lingers a little.

Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout is an excellent beer.  It is right in line with the expected characteristics of this style while maintaining great balance throughout.  I recommend you use a sniff and sip technique while drinking and enjoy it slowly to get the most out of it.  It has the qualities to be enjoyed alone or with food.  It even has the legs to stand with a full-bodied, maduro cigar.

04 November 2009

BEER REVIEW: Brasserie de Cazeau - Tournay Black



Tournay Black is a bottle conditioned, Belgian stout brewed by Brasserie de Cazeau which is a farm-brewery located in the south of Belgium.  It was originally brewed as a winter ale under the name Tournay de Noel, but later became a year-round release.  They didn't provide much specific detail about how it was brewed except to say that it is made with water, malts, candi-sugar, hops, and yeast.  It is 7.6% ABV with a recommended drinking temperature of +/- 50 degrees.  The brewer states that the tasting notes are of, "roasted malts, coffee, bitter chocolate, earth, and cigar ash."  Well, I am a prodigious cigar smoker and I can't say that I would want to consume the ash.


Tournay Black poured with a very dark brown color and produced a tall, tan head which was pretty thick and lasted for a bit, but once it laid down, it totally disappeared; although it did leave fair lace behind at the top of the glass but not so much as it progressed.  The nose was sweet and malty with what may have been subtle caramel notes.  The mouthfeel was initially very crisp, especially on the tongue, perhaps due to the carbonation and alcohol content, but got a little creamier as the beer warmed.  I don't mean as each sip warmed in the mouth, I mean as the beer itself warmed as it sat so perhaps you should follow the brewers recommendations because I think mine was a little more chilled.  The taste had a pleasant, mild bitterness with perhaps very subtle notes of bakers chocolate and a lasting finish, but overall, not much complexity.  Additionally, shortly after finishing it a residual astringent / chalky taste and mouthfeel developed which persisted for a little while.


This was a decent stout in general and I did enjoy drinking it.  I wouldn't put it near the top of my list though and probably wouldn't buy it again, but that's my opinion.  There is some suspicion however, that mine may have been past it's "best by" date, but this isn't confirmed.

03 November 2009

BEER REVIEW: Atwater Block Brewery - Vanilla Java Porter

Atwater Block Brewery’s – Vanilla Java Porter is described as a “robust porter… sure to please” made with chocolate and coffee malts; U.S. Golding hops; vanilla and coffee adjuncts; and weighs in at 6% ABV.  Vanilla and coffee flavors in beer may sound a bit unusual to some, but I like both and they could go well in a porter if well made, so I figured I would give it a try.

Vanilla Java Porter poured with an attractive dark-brown color which when held to a light, revealed a slight ruby tint and a near opaqueness.  It developed a light-tan head, which laid down quickly and left practically no lace behind.  It had a sweet, malty nose with chocolate notes and slight hints of coffee and vanilla.  The first sip revealed a crispness on the front of the tongue with a creamy mouth-feel on the top of the tongue and roof of the mouth.  As it drank, a strange taste developed that I really couldn’t put a finger on but seemed almost “tangy”.  It was also thin and watery and not at all like a porter.

In my opinion (for what its worth) Atwater’s – Vanilla Java Porter did not live up to its own claims or my hopes.  “Robust”, no way; porter, not quite; I just can’t recommend this one.  The first time I tried it was at a tasting event and I thought it was OK and worth reviewing; however, there were 97 beers at this event and I was pretty far along at the time…

29 October 2009

BEER REVIEW: Rogue Ales - Chocolate Stout




Rogue Ales – Chocolate Stout is an American Stout style made with Northwest Harrington and Klages, Crystral 135-165, Beeston Chocolate, rolled oats, and barley malts; Cascade hops; imported Dutch bitter-sweet chocolate adjuncts; Rogue’s Pacman yeast, and “free-range coastal water” (as opposed to the domesticated variety I guess…).  It is 15 degrees Plato (a measure of the dissolved solids in beer), 69 IBU, 77 AA (Apparent Attenuation), and 135 degrees Lovibond (a measure of color mostly replaced by the Standard Reference Method {SRM}).

Rogue – Chocolate Stout poured with an opaque, ebony color that revealed ruby notes when held to a light.  It had a chocolate-brown, creamy, slightly sweet head with a deep, semi-sweet to bitter-sweet chocolate nose.  It had a crisp feeling on the tongue and the back of the throat that accompanied a crisp flavor of bitter-sweet chocolate and left a bitter / residual alcohol finish. 

This was a good beer but not exactly what I was expecting.  By no means a statement about the quality of this beer of course, just that my taste leans more toward a sweeter and chocolaty flavor in this style.  Remember, taste is highly subjective!

BEER REVIEW: Clipper City - The Great Pumpkin Imperial Pumpkin Ale

The latest Fall seasonal from Clipper City’s Mutiny Fleet is The Great Pumpkin – Imperial Pumpkin Ale.  Clipper City didn’t really provide much information about how it was brewed, except to say that it is made with, “hops and secret spices”, three kinds of malts, and 3 ounces of spice per barrel.  It is 8.5% ABV, 25 IBU, and like the rest of the Mutiny Fleet, is distributed in 22 ounce bombers.

The Great Pumpkin poured with a translucent, cloudy, amber to light-orangey color with lots of adjuncts floating throughout the liquid column and an apparently moderate carbonation.  It developed an off-white, creamy / fluffy head that was mildly sweet and laid down rather quickly but left behind decent lace.  The aroma was of sweet pumpkin and spice, which became more reminiscent of pumpkin pie as it warmed.  The first sip revealed a light crispness on the front of the tongue, which progressed to a creamier mouth-feel throughout. 

As I continued to drink, it seemed to present what were perhaps estery taste characteristics and developed what I thought was an astringent quality.  I never detected much in the way of pumpkin flavors and it left a bitterish, astringent finish that lingered for longer than I liked.  Since the IBU is relatively low, this could be contributed to the 8.5% ABV (since I also detected the edge of a buzz) but I think more likely it was some other, or combination of, factor/s.  At any rate, Clipper City’s – The Great Pumpkin Imperial Pumpkin Ale didn’t quite live up to my expectations.  I was hoping it would fall in line with some of this year’s other fall and pumpkin seasonals which overall, have been pretty good.  While it was in no way a, “spit out” beer, to my taste it really didn’t make the grade.  I didn’t mind drinking it but don’t think I will buy it again.

25 October 2009

CIGAR REVIEW: Alec Bradley - Select Cabinet Reserve (SCR)




The Alec Bradley – Select Cabinet Reserve (SCR), released earlier in 2009, is a slightly mellower compliment to their Tempus.  Alan Rubin, President of Alec Bradley Cigars, describes the SCR as having fewer spikes and peaks in the flavor profile, and having more balance than the Tempus.  Made in Honduras at Fabrica de Tabacos Raices Cubanas S. de R.L., the SCR is being released in five vitollas: Robusto (5 x 50), Gran Robusto (5 ½ x 60), Corona (5 ½ x 42), Torpedo (6 1/8 x 52), and Churchill (7 x 48) in boxes of twenty cigars each.  They are made with a Trojes, Honduran wrapper; Trojes, Honduran and Indonesia Embetunada binders; and Honduran and Nicaraguan fillers.  They are reasonably priced, varying approximately in the $6 - $12 range depending on the taxes and other penalties in your area.  For this review, I smoked the Robusto.

The SCR had a good-looking wrapper that I place around Colorado Rosado in color without mentionable flaws and a slightly toothy texture.  The body was firm and didn’t have any soft spots or knots.  It had a sweet and mild tobacco pre-light aroma with what I thought was a distinct cedar note, which I originally attributed to marrying in my humidor.  I made a straight-cut with scissors and tested the pre-light draw and taste, which was smooth with slightly sweet and woody notes, respectively.

The SCR lit easily and produced an attractive blue smoke, which was very smooth during retro-exhalation.  It burned with remarkable evenness and left behind a medium-grey ash, which was crisp and held on for over two inches before dropping off on its own.  As I smoked the first one-third, I detected a woody flavor and the slightest spicy tingle on top of the tongue about ½ inch from the tip.  As it approached the end of the first third, a subtle spice emerged which enveloped the tongue and the inside of the lips.  Right around 1 ½ inches in I thought I began to detect subtle leathery notes as well but was not able to be certain. 

Throughout the middle third the SCR maintained its excellent balance and woody flavor, which seemed to take on a more distinctly cedar quality.  This made me wonder about the pre-light cedar aroma, which I had originally attributed to the humidor, but was now thinking may have been more a characteristic of the cigar itself.  A little past half-way, the burn became a bit uneven and required some touching up; however, at the time it was pouring rain so the humidity was maxed-out and in all likelyhood was the culprit.  Especially when you consider how even it had been up to that point.  Once into the final third the spice became more pronounced but never the least bit overwhelming, and the aforementioned woodiness and overall balance continued to dominate through the slightly spicy finish.

In my opinion, the Alec Bradley – SCR is an excellent, medium bodied smoke, which is best defined by its balance and somewhat mellow character.  It is a good cigar for mid-day but still has all the qualities to make it just right for later in the evening and even after-dinner or with a beverage of choice.  George Sosa, National Sales Director, told me that Alec Bradley is an, “up and comer.”  I have to not only agree, but say they are defining their place in the world of premium cigars.

22 October 2009

CIGAR REVIEW - NEW RELEASE: Quesada 35th Anniversary


In July 2009 Jorge Armenteros (President – Tobacconist University) posted what he called a “heads up” about an excellent new cigar that was going to be released in the Fall, the Quesada 35th Anniversary from Matasa. Well when Jorge speaks about cigars, I listen and I went straight to my premium brick & mortar tobacconist and ordered them. The 35 is not only the latest from Matasa, but a rather unique offering from them as well. It commemorates the 35th anniversary of Matasa and was actually created by the fifth-generation of the Quesada family to be in the cigar business, who family patriarch Manolo Quesada calls, “the young ones”. It is also their first, I believe, to bear the family name.


The Quesada 35 is made with an Equadorian arapiraca wrapper; a Cuban seed, criollo-98 binder from their 2008 crop grown in the Dominican Republic; and an interesting filler consisting of one leaf of the aforementioned 2008 crop blended with Havana Vuelta arriba ligeros from the Navarrete region of the Dominican Republic, and some ligeros from the Esteli region of Nicaragua. It is being released in a 6 x 49 box pressed Toro vitolla in a limited edition of only 1000 boxes with 20 cigars each.

The first thing I noticed was the attractive triple banding, which was black, silver, and gold, and complimented the wrapper perfectly. The wrapper itself was a beautiful oily, maduro color with no noticeable flaws. The body was smooth, very firm (indicating a well packed cigar), and had no indentations or soft spots. The pre-light aroma was distinctly smooth and sweet and was more pronounced at the foot. I made a straight cut with scissors and tested the draw, which was smooth with a nice, moderate resistance (another indication of being well packed), which also revealed a pleasant ‘woody’ taste on the lips.


After lighting, the Quesada 35 presented a remarkably smooth start and as it began to warm developed an exceptionally smooth draw. It produced copious amounts of light grey smoke and left a similar colored, soft ash with dark highlights. At about ¼ inch in it began to develop a slight spicy tingle on the tip of the tongue along with what were perhaps mild coffee notes. Retro-exhalation was relatively smooth with a spicy sensation all the way at the back of the sinuses and at about 1½ inches in it began to present notes of slightly bitter chocolate or unsweetened cocoa. In the middle-third the spice began to pick up subtly and could be felt around and even under the tongue. In the final-third the spice began to mellow but remained at the tip of the tongue and the unsweetened cocoa flavor intensified.


The Quesada 35th Anniversary is definitely a very good cigar. It is medium to full in body with balance and some complexity. The only thing I didn’t like was that I had a heck of a time keeping it lit and actually used up my lighter by the time I reached the end. Of course this doesn’t take away from all the fine qualities I mentioned above, but this sort of thing can be a distraction when trying to enjoy a cigar. Keep in mind that this certainly could have been an individual fluke, others have said theirs burned flawlessly. Give it a try and enjoy it for yourself.


“Smoking is an enchanting experience that can instantly bring you back to a favorite moment or a fond memory. It is something that only those who love cigars can appreciate and understand.”
- Patricia Quesada
One of “the young ones”

20 October 2009

BEER REVIEW: Dogfish Head - Punkin Ale


Another entry in the Fall seasonal category is Dogfish Head's - Punkin Ale. This beer was first introduced at the Punkin Chunkin contest in 1994 as a homebrew by Dogfish's owner before he even founded the brewery. Since then, it has been released each year around September as a seasonal and, according to Dogfish, is usually gone by Thanksgiving. It is a brown ale brewed with real pumpkin meat, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. They didn't list any information about the malts or hops, but did say it is 7% ABV and 28 IBU.

Punkin Ale pours clear with a nice amber color, creamy off-white head, and leaves good lace behind. It has a crisp, malty nose which was very pleasant with no overpowering pumpkin aroma. The first sip revealed a crisp mouth-feel all around which became creamier as the beer warmed. The flavor is full-bodied with some complexity and presents hints of spice around mid-tongue with a pumpkin and cinnamon follow through. The balance of this beer is excellent and the pumpkin flavor is subtle throughout.

I must say I have been pleased with this season's pumpkin ales in general, although I have tried some that weren't that good. Of all the ones I have tried though, Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale is right up near the top. Don't let the 7% ABV or the fact it is a pumpkin fool you, this beer is extremely drinkable and I absolutely recommend it.

14 October 2009

BEER REVIEW - NEW RELEASE: Troegs - Java Head Stout


Troegs Brewery states their new Java Head Stout, just released in September, is based on their original Oatmeal Stout, but in addition to oats, this one includes a blend of roasted espresso and Kenyan coffee beans. Well, I like beer and I like coffee, so I figured I would give it a try, besides it has a pretty cool label. Java Head Stout is made with pilsner, crystal, chocolate, and roast malts; cluster, chinook, and cascade hops; and unfiltered ale yeast. It is 7.5% ABV, 60 IBUs, and is sold as a 22 ounce “bomber.” Troegs further states that before fermentation, it is passed through whole-leaf hops and coffee beans in a process they claim is like French pressing, which gives it a coffee nose and subtle coffee flavor.

As it poured, it cascaded nicely like some good stouts do and presented a very nice, dark black color which light didn’t penetrate. It developed a very tall head, which was tan in color and long lasting, left behind lots of persistent lace that frankly, never went away, and gave off a sweet, citrusy aroma. This struck me as perhaps a little odd because stouts are supposed to have a roasty, malt aroma. The sweetness could however have been attributed to the malt and Troeg’s did say there should be some citrus notes in this beer but I didn’t detect any roasted aroma at all. As I drank, it revealed a pleasant crispness and a little bit of hoppy bitterness, but primarily a citrus-dominated flavor. One of the main flavor characteristics when judging a stout is its roastyness so again, I thought this was a little odd but hoped that maybe its flavor profile would continue to develop. Troegs states that there should be notes of cocoa, citrus, and java, but as I continued to work my way to the bottom, the flavor remained consistent and I never detected any cocoa or java, strange for a beer with java in its name.

While the stout style does cover a bit of a wide range, it is defined by certain commonalities. Some of the more important of these are the aforementioned roasty aroma and flavor, as well as a certain balance, none of which I thought were present here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this was a bad beer; if you like the characteristics I mentioned here then you should try it yourself and you be the judge. I’m just saying that for a beer titled Java Head Stout, I think they missed the mark. Too bad, I was looking forward to it because their Dead Reckoning Porter is very good. At least it had that cool label.

13 October 2009

CIGAR REVIEW - NEW RELEASE: Alec Bradley - Prensado


Last Friday I had the distinct pleasure and privilege of smoking with Mr. George Sosa, National Sales Director of Alec Bradley Cigars, and was fortunate enough to be one of the first to receive their newest release, the Prensado. Not only is Mr. Sosa one of the company’s three principal executives, he is also a retired U.S. Navy – Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, so naturally he and I hit it off right away and he is also the only other person in the industry I have ever met who knew the answer to the riddle of why do Bomb Technicians like box-pressed cigars? If you want to know, you have to ask.

The Prensado was d├ębuted by Alec Bradley at this year’s IPCPR convention in New Orleans and is their strongest cigar to date. It is being released in five vitollas: Corona Gorda, Robusto, Churchill, Gran Toro, and Torpedo. It is made with a Honduran – Corojo 2006 wrapper, a Nicaraguan – Jalapa binder, and Nicaraguan and Honduran fillers. It is box-pressed and has a maduro-colored, oily wrapper that had a little veiny character to it. The body had a mild pre-light aroma with a hint of sweetness and more pronounced aromas at the foot. Interestingly, the filler blend could be clearly seen at the foot as a swirl of light and dark tobaccos. The body was also firm with no soft spots or defects and passed the squeeze test with flying colors.

I made a straight-cut with scissors and tested the draw, which was smooth with light to moderate resistance. The pre-light taste was primarily a pleasant tobacco flavor with notes of slightly bitter cocoa. Once lit it started out mild but shortly began to develop a little spice at the tip of the tongue with stronger notes at the back of the throat. It burned with an attractive blue smoke from the foot and a light grey smoke from the draw, leaving a crisp, semi-dense “zebra-ash”, meaning it was alternately a distinct light and dark grey in color. The early spice, while the dominant flavor characteristic, was mild to moderate and never overwhelming although it did make retro-nasal exhalation a little difficult. This isn’t a big deal of course and is by no means a comment on a cigar’s quality, I just like to do it in order to try and maximize my appreciation of all a cigar has to offer. As it progressed, the spice mellowed in the middle third and maintained a consistent and pleasant flavor throughout. Once into the final third the spice began to reemerge and progress a little farther along the tongue leaving a mild peppery finish.

My overall opinion is that the Alec Bradley – Prensado is a well made, quality cigar. I enjoyed every minute of it and found it to be a good choice for relaxing alone or with friends. The bi-phasic characteristics of a premium cigar were definitely present in this one and in good proportions to each other.

As always, I wish you Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

09 October 2009

EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: Baltimore Beer Week


It is officially Baltimore Beer Week! It runs for ten days from 08 through 18 October and includes over 300 separate events. There will be beer dinners at local pubs and restaurants, appearances by brewers, and tastings at numerous locations. There is just far too much going on for me to list it here. Just go to the web site and there are lists of events with the locations for each which are spread all over the area so something may be convenient to you. Come out and support this event if you can and have a great time doing it.

Baltimore Beer Week
www.baltimorebeerweek.com

05 October 2009

EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: Honeygo Harvest Fest Beer Gala

Honeygo Wine & Spirits (one of my favorite liquor stores) is holding a beer tasting on Monday, 12 October 2009. You are invited to come and try some Fall and other seasonal beers, as well as a few new beers being offered. Their first event was very good and I had a great time at it and they promise that this one will be even bigger and better. Tickets are only $15.00 each and allow you to sample any of the styles being offered.

Honeygo Harvest Fest Beer Gala
Monday, October 12 2009
19:00 - 21:00 hours
Honeygo Wine & Spirits
5004 Honeygo Center Drive
Perry Hall, Maryland 21128
410.529.5500

EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: Butts for Ta-Tas Breast Cancer Fundraiser


On Saturday, 17 October 2009 The Humidour Cigar Shoppe is hosting the Butts for Ta-Tas fundraising party. Proceeds from this event benefit breast cancer research. You are invited to join in a fun-filled evening of cigars, food, drinks, and friends as we support a worthy cause. There will be great deals and hundreds of premium cigars available at discount prices. Cigars will be provided by Ashton, CAO, Camacho, Drew Estate, Oliva, and Rocky Patel and each cigar representative will be competing to raise the most money for the cause. If you are in the Maryland-Delaware-Virginia-Pennsylvania area please come and join the party.

Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door and space is limited. If you have never been to a Humidour event before, they are always great and the shop is a big supporter of worthy causes and charities.

Saturday, 17 October 2009
18:30 - 21:30 hours
(Thats 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm for those who asked, or one-bell of the Second Dog Watch to three-bells of the First-Watch for non-lubbers)
The Humidour Cigar Shoppe
10721 York Road, Cockeysville, Maryland
410.666.3212
www.humidour.com

01 October 2009

CIGAR REVIEW: Padron, Family Reserve No. 45


Hello fellow lovers of the leaf, I recently returned from overseas, just in time to attend a very special event. I had the distinct pleasure and privilege of meeting Jorge Padron, President of Padron Cigars and son of founder, Jose Padron. I missed the opportunity to meet him last year when he came through Baltimore because I was deployed again so I made sure my schedule didn’t conflict this time, though it was a close one. I had been very much looking forward to this event, not only because it was an opportunity to meet Mr. Padron, but also because he was bringing with him the new Padron Family Reserve No. 45. Ever since reading the posting about them by Jorge Armenteros in the Tobacconist University Forum, I have been anticipating the opportunity to enjoy what was certain to be a fine cigar.

Jorge Padron was an extremely personable man. He had a very genuine smile on his face the whole time and shared several stories with me. Two of my favorites were the stories of when, after graduating college, he told his father that they should replace the plain brown bands on their cigars with something more flashy to increase sales, following which his father put him in his place in no uncertain terms; and of how his cousin, who he says the family just refers to as the “crazy cousin”, defused a bomb someone had placed in their Miami facility about thirty years ago.

So on to the good stuff. The 45 is a Nicaraguan puro made from tobaccos aged at least ten years! Now that’s good anejamiento. It is being offered as a box-pressed, parejo (6 x 52 – Toro vitolla) in both natural and maduro, which frankly can’t be visibly differentiated. The appearance was beautiful. The wrapper was dark and consistent with no visible flaws. Its construction was just right; firm yet slightly flexible, and recovered immediately from the squeeze test, all characteristics of a high quality, well-made cigar. It also had a very interesting feel, not silky but perhaps best described as sleek with a fascinating texture that close examination revealed to cover the whole wrapper. I enjoyed the pre-light aroma very much, which can only be described as subtle and understated with a hint of sweetness.

I made a punch-cut and tested the draw, which was perfect. It offered just the right amount of resistance without effort and the draw-volume was excellent. It lit easily and evenly, signaling that the best was yet to come. From the very first puff the 45 was full-bodied, robust, balanced, and strong, but in no way overpowering. It produced copious amounts of thick, blue-grey smoke, characteristic of quality tobacco, that you didn’t want to blow out as much as let it just roll out of your mouth. It had a creamy overall mouth-feel while producing a spicy tingle all around the tongue. It burned evenly without any problems or even a re-light and produced an attractive, firm and dense, light-grey ash with dark undertones. As it continued to smoke, the flavor and strength mellowed but lost none of the complexity or balance all the way to the end, and I smoked it down to the nub. Jorge told me he smoked about one thousand cigars while trying to reach the right balance and flavor for the 45. It shows because in my opinion, this cigar has umami.

My overall opinion of the Padron Family Reserve No. 45 is that it is an outstanding cigar. I recommend you enjoy it slowly and on a full stomach because the strength in the beginning was undeniable. It is complex and balanced throughout and deserves your attention while being smoked. In my area, after taxes they came out to $27 and change each. I really wanted to buy a whole box and let them continue to age in my humidor but I just couldn’t get away with it right now so I grabbed a handful and will be sorry to see the last one go. Bravo-Zulo to the Padron family for the 45.

I wish you Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

28 September 2009

BEER REVIEW: Clipper City - Prosit Imperial Octoberfest Lager


The next in Clipper City's Mutiny Fleet is their Prosit - Imperial Octoberfest Lager. They describe it as being a "malt focused Marzen style" and call it the "burly big brother" to their Marz-Hon. Yes it is a play on words and you sort of have to be from around here to get it so you can contact me if you are that curious about it.

Prosit is made with three kinds of hops and five kinds of malts, including Vienna and Munich, and is 9% ABV / 20 IBU. It poured with a pretty amber color, a nice malty aroma, and not much of a head. The first taste revealed a sweet malty flavor to go along with the aroma, and surprisingly a nice hoppy bite in contrast. It had a creamy overall mouthfeel complimented by a pleasant tingle around the tongue. As it drank it began to reveal the slightest citrus flavor and didn't leave much lace behind.

This was a good, flavorful beer with nice balance. It was consistent with the Marzen style but had a nice twist of its own added by the folks at Clipper City. I recommend it but you better move fast because the Mutiny Fleet is a limited release.

03 September 2009

BEER REVIEW: Southern Tier Brewing Company - Imperial Pumking Pumpkin Ale


Well, Fall is closing fast so I figured I would venture into the new seasonal brews, starting with a pumpkin ale. This is a rather uniquely American style descended from out forefathers. Early Americans used to make various types of beers brewed with different things that were available to them. Several craft breweries continue to make their own versions today but the trick is to find one where the pumpkin and / or spice doesn't overwhelm the beer.

The one that I'm starting with is Southern Tier Brewing Company's - Imperial Pumking Pumpkin Ale. It is brewed with 2-row pale malt, caramel malt, pureed pumpkin, magnum kettle hops and sterling aroma hops. They recommend you enjoy it chilled to 40 degrees F and served in a goblet.

It poured with a beautiful golden-copper color with a minimal but creamy head which laid down quickly. It had a very pleasant pumpkin pie aroma, which while obvious, was not overpowering or sickly-sweet. It had a nice, spicy (not pumpkin) flavor and gave a pleasant tingle on the tongue with a borderline tingly-creamy mouth-feel on the cheeks. The flavor was good throughout and the strength was such that it gave me more than a mild euphoric feeling which was closer to pleasant buzz.

I definitely enjoyed this beer. It is certainly worth trying if you are one of those people who are interested in trying something different, but cringe a little when you hear pumpkin and beer in the same sentence. Its not what you might think, but don't wait too long, its a seasonal.

24 August 2009

BEER REVIEW: Coastal Brewing Company - Defender's Choice


I was in my local favorite liquor store the other day looking for the latest craft beer to review when a six-pack carton caught my eye. It had a red, white, and blue stripe across it and the name Defender's Of Freedom Choice on the side. I had never heard of it before and there wasn't really any information about the beer itself on either the carton or the bottle; however, it did say that it was dedicated to our brave and heroic service men and women, and that a portion of the sales would be donated to the Fisher House, a private / public partnership that supports our military personnel in need (fisherhouse.org). Being a patriotic American and a veteran, naturally I had to give it a try, at least for the purpose of the charity.

Defender's Choice is made by Coastal Brewing Company of Dover, Delaware which I understand is owned by the partnership of Fordham Brewing Co. and Anheuser - Busch. Well as you know, I am NOT a fan of the mega-brewers but many people are so fair is fair. I really can't tell you anything about the malt, hops, or other additives it is made with, or what the ABV is because as I said, there wasn't any information on the packaging and there wasn't a web-site either.

The pour revealed pleasant, malty notes and a yellow-golden color which was slightly opaque. It didn't have much of a head and didn't leave very much lace behind either. The taste was also a little malty and it had a crisp mouth-feel that was refreshing with a nice finish. All-in-all, this beer was consistent with a lot of the mainstream American-style lagers but was a little more flavorful than the Buds and Coors. Not a bad warm-weather beer.

20 August 2009

BEER REVIEW: Clipper City - Heavy Seas, The Big DIPA


Clipper City Brewing Company, right here in my home town of Baltimore, is releasing a Special Edition Series to their Heavy Seas line called the Mutiny Fleet, in 22 ounce bombers. The recipes, and even the label art, for the Mutiny Fleet are being created by the CC brewers themselves. I have looked at all the labels on the CCBC web site and must admit that the Pirate designs called to me.

The first release is The Big DIPA, which is a Double India Pale Ale style (hence the name Big DIPA). DIPAs are normally characterized by being a bit stronger than traditional IPAs (normally between 7% and 14% ABV) and heavier on the malt and hops. If you have ever had any of the Barleywine styles, DIPAs are often compared to them and sometimes even called American Barleywines.

The Big DIPA is a high gravity, bottle conditioned ale, made with five kinds of hops and 3 kinds of malts, and is hopped 3 times during the brewing process. It is 75.5 IBU and 10.6% ABV which will leave you with a peasant buzz if you haven't eaten first. Clipper City describes it as having an "earthy hop aroma", but I thought it had a strong grapefruit aroma. It had a nice golden-brown color, creamy head, and left nice lace as it went down. In my opinion, the flavor was totally dominated by grapefruit notes, which comes from the type and amount of hops used. While more dominant hops notes are customary with IPAs and DIPAs, at least to my pallet, this one was a bit overwhelming and could have used a tad more balance. How many times have you heard me say it though, "Taste Is Subjective!" It wasn't an unpleasant beer by any means, just not to my specific taste. My beautiful wife tends to think many of the beers that I really like are unpleasant to her taste.

The Mutiny Fleet - Special Edition Series is only going to be brewed in small batches for a limited time, so get your hands on some and try it yourselves. If you happen to be from Maryland (or "Merlin" as some of us say), buy some and SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL CRAFT BREWERY!

23 July 2009

CIGAR REVIEW: Avo Uvezian - Companero L.E.


This past weekend, along with my friend John Vanore (Certified Retail Tobacconist), I smoked the new AVO UVEZIAN - Companero, Limited Edition. It is made with Nicaraguan, Honduran, and Mexican fillers; double Costa Rican and Columbian binders; and a Nicaraguan Jalapa wrapper. The Toro vitola felt great in the hand and had a soft, oily, Colorado or slightly darker wrapper with a fantastic, sweet aroma which I spent several minutes enjoying. The firmness was just right, with no soft spots or visible flaws and a straight cut revealed an excellent draw. It lit easily and produced a thick blue / grey smoke and firm ash. It presented a very pleasant medium body, which began to develop slight strength and mild undertones as it reached the mid-way point. Once into the second half, it became more robust and got slightly stronger around the sides of the tongue. It maintained its medium body and excellent draw throughout, even as it developed into a mildly spicy finish.

Overall, the AVO Companero L.E. is a very pleasant, high quality cigar. I recommend it for relaxing alone or enhancing quality time with your mates. I look forward to smoking another one.

04 July 2009

B&M REVIEW: Support Your Local Premium Tobacconist

Ladies and Gentlemen, our rights as Americans to enjoy luxury tobacco products have long been under attack. The Declaration of Independence promises us the Unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, yet our government continues to assail us with regulation and punitive taxation. If you want to continue the legal enjoyment of luxury tobacco, one of the things you have to do is support your local Premium Retail Tobacconist.

Luxury tobacco is about the mature enjoyment of life according to your individual tastes and having the right to do so. By patronizing Premium Brick & Mortar (B&M) Tobacconists, you are casting a vote to preserve those rights. Note the word Premium is italicized. That is because I am not talking about a cigarette retailer, a "smoke shop" that sells sub-standard products, or a "hookah club" filled with teen-aged and twenty-something, hippie wanna-bees that are really just a front for drug distribution and use (we have several of those where I am at). Your premium retailers work very hard to educate themselves on literally thousands of products and to bring you some of the best. All this while under constant pressure from government regulation and taxation, smokerism, and groups of people who actually think they not only know better, but ARE better than us and therefore are going to make us live the way they see fit, and lets not forget about Internet cigar retailers either. Keep in mind though, there is nothing inherently wrong with providing a product to consumers at a lower cost, that's just competition in a free market economy. Buyer beware though, you can't touch or smell or examine in any way that cheaper cigar you buy over the Internet, and there is no one to ask questions of or advice from either. To combat this, your Premium B&Ms have to do much more than just provide us with a product for purchase. They have to provide a great deal of expertise in a tobacco-friendly and welcoming environment that fosters camaraderie and relaxation.

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I don't just Talk The Talk, I Walk The Walk, so I am taking this opportunity to support a Premium B&M, with more reviews to come in the future. One of the finest I have ever patronized is THE HUMIDOUR, located at 10721 York Road, Cockeysville (Baltimore County), Maryland 21030. THE HUMIDOUR is entirely family owned and operated which is evident in the way they treat their customers. The first time I walked in the door they treated me like I had been coming there for years. The smiles, jokes, and good-natured ribbing flow freely from the staff and the clientele think of it more as a social club than a retailer. There is a distinct sense of community within those walls and many new friends have been made there. They are well known and highly respected within the luxury tobacco industry, as evidenced by their outstanding selection of high-end and hard to find products. They provide a comfortable lounge for their customers which boasts several flat screen TVs, computers, free Wi-Fi, coffee, and snacks. They also offer lockers and even a private club on the second floor known as CLUB ASHTON, which is of course sponsored by ASHTON Cigars. Additionally, they host several cigar events each month with some of the top names in the business and also sponsor one of the biggest annual luxury tobacco events in the region, "SMOKE ON THE WATER", the proceeds of which go to local charities. THE HUMIDOUR is also one of the most pro-active B&Ms in the region, fighting hard against the oppressive taxation and legislation that is pervasive in Maryland.

If you find yourself in the area, I invite you to come in and enjoy what THE HUMIDOUR has to offer. In the mean time, be sure to patronize the Premium B&Ms in your area and be proactive in your support and defense of your dwindling rights to enjoy luxury tobacco.

THE HUMIDOUR
10721 York Road
Cockeysville, Maryland 21030
410.666.3212
www.humidour.com



02 July 2009

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!


My fellow Americans, I wish you all a happy, healthy, and safe Independence Day.  The 4th of July isn't about cook-outs and long weekends; it's about a group of people who had the courage and wisdom to put their petty personal differences and interests aside and stand together for what was right at the risk of their very lives.  It's about a group of people who stood together and said, We Are Americans!  
Because of their courage and sacrifice, we get to enjoy our cook-outs and time with friends and family.  Unfortunately our society and our government has strayed from the morals and principals of the Founding Fathers.  This holiday weekend I ask you to exercise your right to enjoy a great cigar and an adult beverage of your choice and take a few moments to reflect on the true meaning of being an American.  I know I will.   

29 June 2009

Coup d'etat in Honduras

This past weekend on Sunday 28 June 2009, the currently elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was taken into custody by Honduran soldiers and forced onto a plane and into exile.  He was replaced by congressional successor Roberto Micheletti.  According to news reports, President Zelaya is very unpopular among the Honduran people and is approaching the end of his elected term of office; however, the congress and courts allegedly couldn't wait and ordered his removal from office by force.  Can you imagine troops storming the gates of the White House?  Take a moment to be thankful for being an American.  Far to many people don't truly know or appreciate what that means.

Unfortunately, political and social stability have never been terms synonymous with Central America, although there hasn't been a successful coup in more than a decade and I think the last attempted (and unfortunately failed) one was against Hugo Chavez in 2002.  With a large quantity of the world's premium tobacco crop grown, and several makers in Honduras, I wonder what affect this may have on the availability and cost of cigars.  Additionally, the Obama administration has spoken out in protest of the coup which leads one to wonder whether economic sanctions may be imposed preventing the importation of Honduran products into the United States.  Lets hope things work out for the best, not only because of our love of premium cigars, but for the Honduran people who could use a break.

24 June 2009

CIGAR REVIEW - NEW RELEASE: Xikar - HC Series, Habano Colorado


The third and final cigar in the HC Series is the Habano Colorado. It is made with a Habano-Colorado Jalapa Valley (Nicaragua) wrapper; an Estelli (Nicaragua) binder; and Costa Rican, Jalapa Nicaraguan, and Honduran fillers. The Wrapper was beautiful with a color I would describe as being between Colorado-Maduro and Maduro, with nice teeth and a silky feel. The pre-light aroma was excellent with obvious chocolate notes. I invested several minutes enjoying it. Again I made a straight cut with the scissors on my Xikar cigar multi-tool (which I recommend for any serious cigar aficionado, it is great). The head held together perfectly with no evidence of fraying or unravelling. The draw gave just the right amount of resistance and left only the slightest sweetness on the lips.

Yet again, it lit effortlessly and burned with consistency and evenness. From the first draw the body and strength were evident. Xikar describes it as being medium to full-bodied with moderate strength. I would have to agree, with my opinion being that it is a little more toward the full-bodied side. The spice left a light tingle on the front to middle tongue and the smoke had the same attractive grey-blue color as did the Connecticut Shade and Criollo. I have no doubts the ash would have held on like it did with the others except I accidentally bumped it and made a mess on my computer keyboard, Oh the humanity!

Overall, this cigar was consistent throughout and lost none of its fine qualities as it smoked. If you enjoy this style of cigar I recommend you try it.

23 June 2009

BEER REVIEW: Mikeller - Beer Geek Brunch


I was initially hesitant to try MIKELLER's - Beer Geek Brunch Oatmeal Stout based on the claim it is made with civet coffee seeds. For those who may not be familiar, and I'm not kidding about this, some of the most expensive coffees in the world are those made from seeds recovered from the feces, thats right - feces, of certain animals (i.e. the louac and in this case, the civet) which consume only the most ripe coffee cherries and then naturally, excrete the seeds. Supposedly, the coffee beans undergo special refinements while in the animal's digestive tract and, I can only assume, someone then has the undesirable job of following the little critters around until they are finished with them. My wife and I joking call this "monkey s_ _ _" coffee and choose not to drink it because it seems to me to be only a trendy / snobby sort of thing.

At any rate, when reviewing something for the benefit of others you must keep an open mind so I tried it; besides, the 10.9 % ABV had to kill anything the civet left behind... right? When I opened the bottle I detected immediate notes of black coffee, hops, and perhaps bitter chocolate. The pour revealed a beautiful black color and a chocolate-brown head with the consistency of whipped cream. Some ran down the side of the glass and when it re-condensed on the counter it actually stuck a little bit when I wiped it up, demonstrating its viscosity. Once the head finally laid down I was able to take my first sip which revealed the same flavors that had been detected in its aroma. As I drank it down it left substantial lace that was more like a set of curtains. Kidding aside, this was a good beer and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the qualities of a good stout.

05 June 2009

BEER REVIEW: Avery - Collaboration Not Litigation Ale


Collaboration Not Litigation, by Avery Brewing of Boulder, Colorado, is a Belgian style ale supposedly the product of combining the best qualities two different brews from two different breweries. It has a cloudy, relatively dark, golden-brown color consistent with an unfiltered ale, a sweet, malty nose, and good lace. I thought it had a traditional Belgian style ale flavor with a nice, slightly bitter follow through. Not bad but I'm not a big fan of some of the Belgian ales so give it a try for yourself.

BEER REVIEW: Rouge - Shakespeare Stout


Shakespeare Stout, by Rogue Ales of Newport, Oregon, is a tasty stout for those who enjoy a moderately bitter brew. Its beautiful ebony color is topped off by a creamy tan head that leaves heavy lace. It has a sweet, malty nose and a very crisp start followed immediately by a moderately bitter hoppiness. It also has a hoppy finish with notes of baker's chocolate. It has a crisp mouth-feel on the tongue and a slight creaminess on the cheeks. A good beer overall.

Ingredients: Northwest Harrington & Klages, Crystal 135-165 & Beeston Chocolate Malts, Cascade Hops, Rolled Oats & Roasted Barley, Free Range Coastal Water (as opposed to the domestic farm-raised water... get over the hippy crap guys), and Top Fermenting Pacman Yeast

31 May 2009

BEER REVIEW: Dogfish Head - World-Wide Stout

Wow, clear the decks for action with this one. It is very strong, very complex, and dare I say - unique. Aside from being 18% ABV / 70 IBU (that's right I said 18% ABV so be prepared for a buzz), it is brewed with a very large amount of barley. Credit goes to Dogfish Head for continually pushing the limits. They originally released this one in 1999 but I first had it at a tasting event in 2009. It is very complex in aroma and taste with a very distinct roasted character, so much so that while this may sound funny to some, my first perception of its aroma was that it reminded me of smoked bacon.

Be advised, this beer is not for the faint of heart or casual connoisseur, the flavor is bold and there is a lot going on in there. Some people even find it a little difficult to finish a whole bottle, even though it is only a 12 ounce size. Dogfish describes it as being like a Port and recommends enjoying it from a snifter; I wouldn't really compare it to Port though as they tend to be on the sweeter side and that is not how I would describe this brew. Due to the high ABV you are going to pay a relatively high price per bottle but if you consider yourself a real connoisseur of the dark side, or just want to try something really different, give it a go.

30 May 2009

MAIL CALL: What Is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a uniquely American whiskey made from corn, its name coming from Bourbon County, Kentucky.  On 04 May 1964 the United States Congress recognized bourbon as being, "a distinctive product of the United States".  It is defined by the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, 27 CFR 5, which states that in order to be called bourbon it must:
  • Be made from at least 51% corn
  • Distilled to not more than 160 proof
  • Aged in new white oak barrels, the inside of which are charred
  • Not barreled at greater than 125 proof
  • Be aged at least two years in order to be called Straight Bourbon
  • If the age is displayed on the label, it must be the age of the youngest bourbon in the barrel (applies to mixed / batch bourbons)
As the bourbon ages, the barrel expands and contracts with the weather and the seasons causing the bourbon to move back and forth through the char and the wood.  This is where it obtains its flavor, aroma, and color, in return giving up the "angel's share."  As with all things, there are the good and the not so good but remember what I always say, taste is subjective.  Some bourbons are not aged for very long and mixed with several other barrels.  Others are blended in order to obtain a consistent flavor.  As you climb the quality ladder, you reach the small batch (only a few high quality bourbons blended to obtain certain characteristics) and ultimately the single barrel bourbons (one very high quality bourbon from one barrel only).  These are to be drank straight (neat is my preference), not mixed with anything else.

29 May 2009

BEER REVIEW: Mikkeller's - Black Hole Stout


I tried a new imperial stout today (new to me anyway), Black hole Stout brewed with coffee by the Danish brewery Mikkeller. It was very dark with a chocolaty-brown head and a very nice, sweet, malty nose. It had a very dominant bitter-chocolate taste that carried on throughout. After a few sips though, I did detect notes of black coffee. Eventually the bitterness might border on the overwhelming for some but if you are into craft beers, especially the dark side like me, its definitely worth trying. It is 13.1% ABV according to the label but I read a review that claimed it is actually 14%, but what's .9%??? The alcohol content was not at all overbearing though and I enjoyed this beer.
Cheers

28 May 2009

BEER REVIEW: Avery Brewing Co. -The Czar Imperial Stout


For those of you who really enjoy an imperial stout, this is a great one. I recently had the opportunity to try THE CZAR Imperial Stout from the Avery Brewing Company. Right away you can see the pitch-black color which develops into a nice, thick brown head. Even when held up to a light, this brew could not be seen through. It has a very pleasant and complex nose with several different notes, some obvious, others you have to hunt for. I spent several minutes just enjoying the aroma. The central aroma that I detected was what I think is sweet molasses. The first sip did not disappoint, the flavor was complex and pleasant. Be advised, this a strong one, expect to feel a slight euphoria after drinking this one

23 May 2009

CIGAR REVIEW - NEW RELEASE: Xikar- HC SERIES Criollo


I took the opportunity today to try the next in the new XIKAR HC SERIES, the Criollo. It is made with a Nicaraguan Shade Grown Criollo wrapper, Nicaraguan Sun Grown Corojo binder, and Honduran and Nicaraguan fillers. It had a slightly toothy, attractive brown wrapper which I would put somewhere around a Colorado-Rosado with a very pleasant aroma. I made a punch cut and tested the draw which was excellent. Another easy light and even burn with nice smoke and ash color. The ash held on until approximately half way through again and fell off on its own with traces of the veins evident in the ash. The flavor started off smooth and progressed into a mild to medium spiciness throughout. All in all a consistent, enjoyable medium-bodied smoke.