11 December 2010

CIGAR REVIEW - LIMITED EDITION: Paul Garmirian - Gourmet Series, Symphony 20

Jorge Armenteros, President of Tobacconist University and owner of A Little Taste of Cuba, recently asked me to review a few cigars; the first of which is the Paul Garmirian (P.G.) - Gourmet Series, Symphony 20.  The P.G. - Symphony 20 is a limited edition which was made in the Dominican Republic by Henky Kelner and Chief Blender Eladio Diaz to commemorate the Paul Garmirian line's 20th anniversary.  It is released in a 6 x 52 Toro vitolla they call the "Connoisseur" in boxes of 20 each for about $340 a box / $17 per cigar and was only distributed to P.G.'s top sellers.  The Symphony 20 is made with an Equadorian "cloud grown" hybrid Cuban seed capa, a Dominican grown Havana seed capote, and four tripas.  The first is a Dominican Piloto Cubano region I, the second is a Dominican Piloto Cubano region II, the third is a Dominican experimental, and the fourth is a Honduran Havana seed.  If the reader is curious, Piloto Cubano is a varietal family which is grown through out the Dominican Republic and Central America known for its flavor characteristics and used primarily for tripas.  The Dominican experimental leaf is something which Henky Kelner claims has been aging in his warehouse for some time and can not be replicated.  The Honduran Havana seed is a dark, air-cured tobacco seed varietal.

The Symphony 20 had a light oily sheen with a sleek feel, some veins and was about colorado oscuro in color.  It had an excellent squeeze and there were no visible flaws on the capa.  The pre-light aroma was sweet, perhaps molasses-like, with some light, woody undertones and a more pronounced sweetness from the foot.  I made a straight cut with scissors and immediately recognized a well capped head.  The pre-light draw was very smooth and the taste was excellent; sweet but not candy-like, more akin to a robust molasses, followed shortly by some spice on the tip of the tongue and back of the throat.  It lit very easily with a soft-flame lighter and with the first puff, spice covered nearly the first 1/3 of the tongue and immediately started working toward the half-way point and back of the throat.  Not strong or overpowering spice mind you, just enough to dominate the flavor profile.  It produced plenty of blue smoke from the foot and white smoke on exhale, which was a little too spicy for retro-exhalation at first and took several easy tries to break it in following which the spice would roll through the sinuses and then build.

By about 1/2" in a pleasant spicy tingle had dropped anchor in the center of the tongue.  The ash was nearly white by the ember but turned a sort of dark grey the further toward the end it got, split into a "V" and then spread open which made me suspicious of possible tunneling.  It also broke off a little past 1" and felt very soft to the touch but I couldn't see any obvious signs on the foot of the tunneling I was wondering about so I continued on.  Around the half-way point it needed a touch-up, but since I was smoking outside, I sort of attributed it to a breeze that was blowing.  Also around half-way I started feeling a little bit of strength, following which the spice laid down and several minutes later a very relaxing sensation moved over me.  The flavor profile of the second half, while mild and a bit elusive, seemed to be predominantly of a slight woodiness.  It required a re-light shortly before the 2/3 mark and the ash still had the "V" split mentioned earlier.  At this time I observed a discoloration on the band which I recognized as being caused by heat which confirmed tunneling, albeit deeper than I had suspected so I cut a chunk out and started again.  Even with the fresh cut and re-light the tunneling continued and multiple re-lights were required through to the end with hints of char present in the taste as well.  The second one I smoked for this review had the same flavor profiles and characteristics of the first and smoked fine until about the final 1/3 when it started tunneling also.

Make no mistake about it, aside from the problems mentioned above, the P.G. - Symphony 20 is a high-end premium cigar which I would smoke again.  The pre-light experience was fantastic and the smoke was enjoyable.  Let me say this about the tunneling problem, I discussed this with one of the most respected and knowledgeable Tobacconists in the business who has literally smoked hundreds of Symphony 20s and he told me he has never had a single problem.  Like anything man-made, though they may be few and far between, there are bound to be eventual flaws with even the finest products.  Considering that both P.G. - 20s I smoked had the same problem and came from the same batch, it is not unreasonable to speculate that they were a fluke which may have been the result of an individual roller's mistake.  Remember, the Symphony 20 is a limited edition so try it for yourself and you be the judge.

29 October 2010


My very good friend and drinking buddy, Rob Garrison (Territiory Manager - Altadis U.S.A.), recently gave me a new release from one of their premium brands, the H. Upmann - Sun Grown.  The Sun Grown was debuted at the 2010 IPCR and is currently making its way onto Tobacconist's shelves.  It is made in Honduras at the La Flor de Copan cigar factory and is being released in six vitollas: Churchill - 54 x 7, Magnum - 54 x 6, Short Churchill - 54 x 4-1/2, No. 2 - 52 x 6-1/8, Corona - 44 x 5-1/2, and Lancero - 40 x 7-1/2.  It is made with an Equadorian sun grown capa, a Connecticut broadleaf capote, and a Nicaraguan and Honduran blend tripa; ranging in price roughly between $6 - $8.  For this review I smoked the Magnum and No. 2.

The Sun Grown's capa had a few veins which gave it a good look and was smooth to the touch with a color I put somewhere between colorado maduro and maduro.  It squeezed nicely and was very firm, perhaps a little stiff in places but nothing of concern and there were no soft spots or visible flaws.  The foot revealed what appeared to be a well packed cigar, which I certainly like and explains the firmness of the squeeze.  The pre-light aroma was mild to moderate and very sweet and pleasant.  I made a straight cut with a double guillotine and tested the pre-light taste and draw.  The taste was sweet like the aroma and woody, while the draw gave decent resistance while being very smooth.  Using a match it took a little bit to light, due to the ring gauge and apparent good pack, but once lit was very even.

The Sun Grown started off with a little bit of spice on the tongue and retro-exhalation was easy with some spice around mid-sinus.  It didn't produce much smoke until about 1/4" to 1/2" in leaving behind a light grey ash with dark rings.  The spice essentially subsided early on and relatively mild woody flavor notes took over.  A little past 1" in a taste developed at the back of the throat which I couldn't really put my finger on and no other flavors jumped out or dominated through the first 1/3.  The ash dropped off at about 1-3/4" and shortly afterward I began to detect leathery notes that lingered pleasantly after each puff.  From then on through the final 1/3, wood and leather was the consistent flavor with a bit more spice emerging again in the last 2".  Throughout the entire smoke the burn was very even and never required a touch-up or re-light.

All in all the H. Upmann - Sun Grown was a pleasant, enjoyable smoke.  Fans of medium body cigars I think will certainly like it.  The sweetness of the aroma was one of my favorite aspects of this cigar and because of its over-all mellowness, it makes a good mid-day choice.  It is also a good choice for relaxing alone or with friends because you don't have to devote your attention to a complex flavor profile.

25 October 2010

CIGAR REVIEW - LIMITED RELEASE: Tatuaje - Private Reserve Black Tubo

I know I haven't written a review for some time now, but I have read your e-mails and listened to the comments from those I have spoken with.  2010 has been a hectic year leaving me precious little time for some of the things I enjoy most; so to all the readers, web-sites, magazines, and news letters I write for, I apologize.  That being said, on to the good stuff.

The topic of this review is the Tatuaje - Private Reserve Black Tubo.  You may notice that as the background for the photos I used my chopper (another of those things I haven't had much time for).  I did this as a tribute to Pete Johnson, owner of Tatuaje, because the first time we met I had been out on it and Pete and I spent some time talking about our shared enjoyment of riding.  Pete said the inspiration for the Black Tubo came from a trip he took to, "an island famous for its cigars", which one can only assume is Cuba.  While there he was given an un-banded, very rustic looking cigar by a man who had it in his shirt pocket.  He later learned that among many of the local cigar lovers is a tradition of rolling their own blends for themselves to suit their personal taste, hence Private Reserve in the name of this cigar.  Pete never forgot how much he enjoyed that cigar and the Black Tubo is his tribute to it.

Released in 2009 the Black Tubo in my opinion is a Pyramid, even though it doesn't flare outward at the foot.  Some have called it a Torpedo but by definition a Torpedo tapers at the head and foot which this does not.  Made in Nicaragua and distributed only in a 6-1/8" x 52 vitolla in boxes of 10 each, it has a Belicoso style head and unfinished foot, and is a Nicaraguan puro with a Criollo '98 capa.  The capa, which I put between colorado and colorado rosado in color, was rugged in appearance with plenty of teeth and veins present, although surprisingly soft to the touch.  It passed the squeeze test with flying colors being very firm but not hard and had no flaws or soft spots.  The pre-light aroma was very sweet with strong woody and earth notes.  I thought I detected a cedar influence; however, it had been in one of my humidours for nearly a year so that has to be taken into consideration.  I have to say though that I spent many minutes just enjoying and trying to define the complexity of the aroma.

Finally I made a straight cut with scissors which was perfectly clean and never frayed or produced any debris all the way through to the end of the smoke; evidence of quality rolling and tobacco.  The pre-light taste was woody, like the aroma, and the draw was almost effortless.  It lit easily and evenly, even with the unfinished foot and produced plenty of smooth, light grey smoke.  The first puff was filled with pepper and had perhaps a slight woody finish.  Throughout the first 1/2", pepper was the dominant taste but then began to mellow and the slightest tingle started around the tip of the tongue.  Even in the first 1/3 this cigar was showing strongly bi-phasic qualities, coming right off the blocks with good strength which was followed by an extremely relaxed feeling even though I hadn't eaten in some time.  Retro-exhalation was a bit hot but that's expected from a strong cigar and the spice could be pleasantly felt throughout the sinuses.  The ash didn't drop off until almost a solid 2" in and was firm and crisp feeling, following which a slight touch-up was required.  Around mid-way mellow, woody notes were the dominant and consistent taste but as it progressed into the final 1/3, pepper and spice began to re-emerge but didn't overwhelm.  A slight tingle as well as what was perhaps a "roasty" taste also spread along the middle of the tongue and a second slight touch-up was needed.  It finished nicely and the taste lingered a little while but not at all in an unpleasant way.

I give the Tatuaje - Private Reserve Black Tubo very high over-all marks.  It was a very enjoyable cigar that you'll want to sit back and enjoy.  In fact, it was one of those cigars that you debate with yourself about when to let the nub go, probably right about the time that it burns your fingers because there isn't enough left to hold on to.  The bad thing about the Black Tubo is they are no longer in production, so if you see some at your tobacconist, grab them.

As always,
I wish you Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
The Cap'n

19 May 2010

National Maritime Day

In 1933 Congress declared that 22 May of each year would be National Maritime Day in honor of all the U.S. Merchant Mariners who have faithfully served their country, "In Peace And War."  The date was chosen because that is when in 1819, the Steam Ship SAVANNA sailed from the United States to Great Britain, making the first Atlantic crossing under steam power.  During World War II, more than 250,000 U.S. Merchant Mariners served their country with more than 6,700 laying their lives upon the "alter of freedom", hundreds more held as prisoners of war and more than 800 vessels sunk or damaged.  Each year the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling on all Americans to observe National Maritime Day by properly displaying our national flag in suitable locations.

The U.S. Merchant Marine has always been a vital part of the success and survival of our great nation.  From serving as privateers and transporting combat cargo in times of war, to carrying the products that feed the global economy to and from the United States in times of peace.  Approximately 95% of everything we purchase or use every day traveled aboard a merchant vessel.

I hope you will take a brief moment of your day to think of and perhaps even say a prayer for the men and women who go down to the sea in ships, the United States Merchant Marine, In Peace And War - since 1775.

17 January 2010

CIGAR REVIEW: Nestor Miranda Collection - Special Selection Rosado

I recently smoked the Nestor Miranda Collection - Special Selection Rosado with Mr. Rene Castaneda, Sales Director of Miami Cigar & Company.  This line was first introduced in 2007 and is named after the companies founder.  It is released in five vitolas in both Rosado and Oscuro: Robusto (5-1/2 x 52), Toro (6 x 60), Lonsdale, called the "Lancero" introduced in 2008 (7-1/2 x 40), Double Corona, called the "Danno" introduced in 2009 (7 x 56), and a Perfecto, called the "Ruky" also introduced in 2009 (5-5/8 x 52 figurado), costing around $8.00 each, give or take.  They are all hand-made in Esteli, Nicaragua under the supervision of Pepin Garcia.  Rene tells me the Rosados are mild to medium in body and the Oscuros are medium to full.  He hooked me up with a nice selection of each but for this review I smoked the Robusto and Perfecto - Rosado.

The Rosado is made with Nicaraguan and Dominican tripa, a Nicaraguan capote, and a Nicaraguan capa which was silky with nice veins, no apparent flaws, and colorado rosado in color.  It had a very pleasant and mild tobacco pre-light aroma, seemed well packed, and squeezed well.  I made a straight cut on each and tested the pre-light draw which on the Robusto was very smooth and easy; on the Perfecto was a bit tighter.  This is not at all unusual considering that the Perfecto vitola starts from a small opening in the foot, widens suddenly, and then reduces again toward the head.

They both lit very easily and almost right away the Perfecto's draw loosened up, certainly a result of skilled bunching.  They both started out with a nice, mild pepper / spice and the Perfecto seemed to have what was perhaps a mild coffee flavor as well.  In the first 1/3 the Robusto developed a mild tingle on the sides of the tongue and the Perfecto had a slight dryness on the tip.  They each produced plenty of light-grey smoke and a medium-grey ash which held on for over 2".  Retro-exhalation was at first slightly hot but became smooth, easy, and pleasant after easing into it a time or two.  The Robusto had more pepper / spice than I was expecting which was consistent throughout, but never got too strong or overpowering at any time and held onto its medium body.  The Perfecto mellowed some after the initial pepper and presented what I thought were roasted coffee undertones and a dryness that followed each draw.  Shortly past the half-way point, a touch of spice re-emerged in the Perfecto which remained through to the end.  Again, the ash held on for over two inches on each and the burn was excellent all the way to the end.  I smoked them both to the nub and they never got tarry or bitter, even to the last puff.

Overall I would have to emphasize the consistency of the Rosado throughout, and in my opinion they hold fast in the medium body realm.  They gave every indication of being a well made, high quality cigar both pre-light and while smoking.  The Nestor Miranda Collection - Special Selection Rosado is a very good cigar and I recommend you try it.  Its medium body and relatively mild strength makes it a good choice for early in the day or evenings and you don't need a full belly to enjoy it.  I'm looking forward to smoking the Oscuro, thanks again Rene.

07 January 2010

BEER REVIEW: Clipper City - Yule Tide

The latest addition to Baltimore's own Clipper City Brewing Company - Mutiny Fleet is their holiday brew Yule Tide, a Belgian style triple ale, which like the rest of the Mutiny Fleet is distributed in 22 ounce bombers.  I realize I'm a little behind on this one being January now and all, but I have been busy and besides, its still cold out (below freezing where I live) which makes a strong holiday ale just right.  As I said, Yule Tide is a belgian style triple which is 10% ABV / 10 IBU.  It is brewed with two kinds of hops and four kinds of malts which they didn't specify.  Additionally it includes trappist yeast and Belgian candi sugar.

It poured with an attractive, slightly hazy, amber / orange color which I place at about a 13 on the Standard Reference Method (SRM) scale.  It didn't produce any real head or lace but what was there was thin and white to slightly off-white in color.  It also appeared to be mildly carbonated with some slow rising bubbles persisting throughout.  The initial aroma was a treat; very sweet and molasses-like with perhaps subtle notes of apricot.  The first sip was crisp and slightly sweet at first, giving way immediately to a mild spiciness, subtle citrus notes, and not much bitterness.  There was no strong alcohol taste or associated heat; however, some taste was mildly present.  The mouthfeel was at first tingly on the tongue, then soft and nondescript on the cheeks, followed by a little creaminess mostly on the tongue.  The final pour had plenty of floaties, mostly yeast of course which laid on the bottom of the glass, but there were some which were suspended in the liquid column up to two inches from the bottom and were darker in color, perhaps undissolved spices.

Overall, Clipper City's Yule Tide was OK but I didn't desire another one when I was finished.  To be fair though, I am not often a fan of some of the Belgian styles so as to not unfairly bias my review, I evaluated it against the standards of the Beer Judge Certification Program.  Yule Tide seemed to generally fall within the accepted parameters of Belgian triples and I thought it was medium in body (+/-), but on the down side in my opinion it was perhaps a little syrupy and I didn't care for the "coated" feeling it left in my mouth for some time after finishing.  As always, try it for yourself and you be the judge, the best beer is the one you like.