Friday, September 30, 2011

Botero's Los Cigarros

Fernando Botero (born 1932) is a Columbian artist. Starting as a set designer, he eventually focused on art. He is perhaps best known for his paintings and sculptures of subjects that are proportionally exaggerated or, to put it bluntly, fat and often grossly obese. The paintings puzzle: they have the ebullience of baroque, but the two-dimensionality of the Gothic. One of Botero's paintings is entitled "Los Cigarros," and it predictably features a fat cigar smoker. This person is postured in an alley ready to smoke his cigar which he holds, unlit, in his right hand. It appears that it may have been smoked partially before, but there is no wisp or other evidence of smoke that would suggest it is lit. The subject's left hand is in his pocket, perhaps searching for his lighter.

The colors of the "Los Cigarros" are very warm, with an emphasis on orange and browns. The man must be of some importance. He is dressed in a brown suit, wears a matching fedora, and has a pencil-thing tie which is--oddly--blue. His hands are well-manicured. There are three women peering out of their windows, perhaps wondering what this well-dressed man is doing in their alley. They appear to have their hair split down the middle and pulled back, in the manner of peasants. Oddly, there appear to be four oranges at his feet.

Los Cigarros by Botero (detail)

Los Cigarros by Botero

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Our Mascot

By acclamation, the St. HOLG's Cigar Club has elected its new artificial mascot, José Carioca, the cigar-smoking Brazilian parrot from the Walt Disney show Saludos Amigos who later also starred in the movie The Three Caballeros. Welcome to the St. HOLG's Cigar Club, José !

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Cigar Box" Crucifix

Below is a remarkable crucifix called the "Cigar Box" Crucifix. It dates from somewhere between the 1880s and 1920s, and the artist is unidentified. It is found at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. It is approximately 20 3/8" high and 10 5/8" wide. The "Cigar Box" Crucifix is made from cigar boxes and is an example of "Tramp" art. It is an example of so-called "Crown of Thorns Construction," which is explained below.

According to the Smithsonian website:
"Trampart" was created from old cigar boxes by tradesmen at the turn of the twentieth century. Craftsmen chip-carved the edges of pieces of wood and layered them together to create furniture, sculptures, and religious objects. The Crown of Thorns Construction (see 1998.84.52) is named because of the interlocking construction technique, which was supposed to represent Jesus’s crown when he was crucified (Helaine Fendelman, Tramp Art, 1975). These objects were not made by vagrants, but by traveling printers, carpenters, and cigar makers who "tramped" from city to city advertising their skills (Lynda Hartigan, Made with Passion, 1990).

"Cigar Box" Crucifix

Monday, September 26, 2011

La Stinkadora

There is a link between cigars and being human. That is to be expected because cigars are man-made things, and so they are something that must, in a way, reflect man. Cigars do not grow on plants ready made: yet they are not made by machine; rather, they are manufactured by human hand, at least the good cigars are. They are therefore a wonderful blend of nature and culture, where nature contributes its part, man his, and the result is a marvel. Cigars, moreover, are smoked by humans, sometimes alone, but most often in groups, wherein they cigar participates in the social setting, and so becomes inculturated and inculturating. Culture is written all over cigars.

Relative to the brute animals, one of man's features is, of course, his ability to laugh--risibility--his ability to find humor. Naturally, the cigar participates in his humor, and it has been the butt of jokes. (What a clever pun that last sentence was, n'est-ce pas?) So we ought, from time to time, have articles on cigars and humor. Given that our cigar-smoking priest Fr. James has great affinity for the Three Stooges (they have been the topic of more than one conversation during our weekly herfs), I thought I would begin by a brief reflection of cigars in the humor (and in the life) of the Three Stooges.

Larry, Moe, and Curly with cigars

The first thing we ought to know is that in real life the "Three Stooges" had affinity for cigars. According to Joan Howard Maurer, aunt to a number of the three stooges (Moe, Shemp, Curly), all the stooges smoked:
They all smoked! Moe used pipes, cigars and cigarettes until the day he died. Larry sometimes had a cigar, I think, and my Uncle Babe, which is what the family called Curly, always had a cigar in his hand, as did Shemp.*

That's about the most I've been able to find on the Three Stooges. But I've also been able to locate to episodes in which cigars play a part in the Three Stooges' humor.

In the episode "Dutiful but Dumb," the Three Stooges play photographers (what today we would call paparazzi) "Click," "Clack" and "Cluck," and they are on assignment for the magazine "Whack" to try to photograph a celebrity named Percival de Puyster who has eloped and disappeared from the public on his honeymoon. They fail in their mission and so are sent to Vulgaria to photograph an invisible ray gun. Unfortunately, both cameras and the taking of photographs are prohibited in Vulgaria. Violation of the law is a capital offense, but "Click," "Clack," and "Cluck" are ignorant of the law. Soon, they are caught by Vulgarian authorities and face a firing squad, but their last request is to smoke a cigar. Curly pulls out a huge cigar from under his shirt and they enjoy and hours-long smoke which results in everyone falling asleep, allowing their escape. The cigar smoking scene begins on 6:45 of Part I of "Dutiful but Dumb."

Dutiful but Dumb, Part I

Dutiful but Dumb, Part II

In "Blunder Boys," Larry, Moe, and Shemp, respectively, play the police detectives "Halli Day," "Tarra Day," and (variously) "St. Patrick's Day," "Groundhog Day," "New Year's Day," "Christmas Day," "Independence Day" and "Labor Day." After these three Messrs. Day graduated from criminology school, they are assigned to the case of "The Eel," a "slippery cuss" who dresses like a woman, but who smokes cigars. The only clue in the case is a cigar butt. The brand of cigar the Eel smokes is called "La Stinkadora." The brief cigar scene takes place at 0:50 of Part II. The Eel successfully eludes them and they lose their jobs.

Blunder Boys, Part I

Blunder Boys, Part II

There is something to be learned from all this, I suppose. First: always carry a big cigar . . . it might save your life. For obvious reasons, it would be better to keep it in your shirt, rather than your pants. (Otherwise, instead of getting you out of trouble, it may get you into trouble.) Second: Do not buy "La Stinkadora" brand cigars, as you may be branded a criminal, and, if not a criminal, a cross-dresser, or a "slippery ol' cuss." Being very closed-minded, the St. HOLG's club does not accept criminals, cross-dressers, or "slippery 0l' cusses," so you would be blackballed. (We do, however, accept all manner of sinners, including tax collectors.)

*Source: Jim Mueller, "Shemp's Last Cigar," Cigar Aficionado (12/1/96) available online here.

My Small Cigar by Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull, a band spearheaded by the renowned flutist Ian Anderson, wrote a song entitled "My Small Cigar." The song was part of the Nightcap album.

Jethro Tull's Nightcap Album

"A Small Cigar" is a song aimed against modernity, particularly as exhibited in its shallow drug culture, materialism, pornography, and escape from intellectualism. The cigar seems to be used as a symbol of tradition, of culture, of those simple things in life that bind men together in constructive ways, and not in ways that demean, that dumb down, that steal the use of reason.

"A Small Cigar" by Jethro Tull
"A Small Cigar"
by Jethro Tull

A small cigar can change the world
I know, I've done it frequently at parties
Where I've won all the guests' attention
With my generosity and suave gentlemanly bearing
A little flat tin case is all you need
Breast-pocket conversation opener
And one of those ciggie lighters that look rather good
You can throw away when empty
Must be declared a great success
My small cigars all vanish within minutes.

Excuse me, mine host, that I may visit
A nearby tobacconist
To replenish my supply of small cigars,
And make the party swing again.

I know my clothes seem shabby
And don't fit this Hampstead soiree
Where unread copies of Rolling Stone
Well-thumbed Playboys
Decorate the Hi-Fi stereo record shelves.
If you ask me they're on their way
To upper-middle-class oblivion.
The stupid twits, they roll their only
One cigarette between them.
My small cigar's redundant now.
In the haze of smoking pleasure,
Call it a day,
Get the hell away.
Go down the cafe
For a cup of real tea.

By the tube station, there's a drunk old fool
Who sells papers in the rush hour.
I hand to him ten small cigars
He smiles, says, "Son, God bless you."

A small cigar
Has changed his world, my friend
A small cigar
Has changed the world again

A small cigar . . .

Ian Anderson

The song reflects Ian Anderson's feeling of being disconnected with his generation especially at parties and other public gatherings which he attended. Cigars are a symbol of tradition, of culture, of "thick" human things, and not their shallow superficial substitutes. Cigar smoking used to be the staple of such meetings. In a social setting, cigars were meant to lead to meaningful, heart-felt, one-to-one communications ("breast-pocket conversation"). A cigar, of course, is not typically shared in common; there is no such thing as a communal cigar. Each individual has his own cigar. And yet cigars are shared, given as gifts, and they are smoked in common. Ex pluribus unum. G. K. Chesterton grasped this concept of a cigar when he stated: "The Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar." This Catholic understanding of human solidarity and human communion, of perfect balance between individual man and social man, is in marked contradistinction to the social interaction which the modern world has ushered in, one based upon an extreme and therefore shallow individualism, social contractism, and the pleasure principle.

It is this extreme individualism and pleasure principle that has led to the social events which Anderson was forced to frequent to become infected by the superficial, shallow ersatz drug culture ("one cigarette between them," i.e., marijuana) and fogged in by the haze of materialism ("upper-middle class oblivion"). The participants of such gatherings are further being dumbed-down ("stupid twits"), and they are adversely affected by pornography ("well-thumbed Playboys," which, I'm sure, they all purchased for the articles).

It seems that a good old-fashioned cigar is no longer welcome among such modern barbarians, and the traditionalist finds himself unable to commune. So unnaturally he must find solace alone at a cafe. But this trip is fortuitous, for he stumbles across a destitute newspaper salesman, with whom he charitably shares the cigars the barbarians were uninterested in, and who thanks him for such kindness in a manner that the modern barbarians never could. The act of charity results in a communion of persons, cigars becoming, as it were, a vehicle for actual grace.
A small cigar
Has changed his world, my friend
A small cigar
Has changed the world again.
Cigars make friends, and friendship changes the world.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eine gute Zigarre: Franz Liszt and Cigars

"Eine gute Zigarre," wrote the composer Franz Liszt, "aus Übersee verschließt die Tür vor den Niederungen des Lebens." We may translate this saying as follows: "A good cigar from overseas closes the door to the vulgarities of the world." (It is inaccurately translated on the internet as referring to Cuban cigars; however, it appears that Liszt preferred cigars from the New World generally, and in particular, those from Virginia.) Liszt should know about cigars, as he was quite a cigar aficionado, smoking a cigar a day, until an embarrassing confrontation with an Italian customs official which caused him to resolve to give them up, a resolution which he seemingly violated, the siren call of cigars being too much for his resolve.

His biographer James Huneker informs us that in Weimar, "Liszt walked and talked, smoked strong cigars, played, prayed--for he never missed early mass--and composed."* This, one might observe, is not a bad rule of life: walk, talk, smoke strong cigars, play, pray, never miss early Mass, and compose. Alas, most of us have to put work somewhere in there, and work elbows the other goods out.

A Vitola or Zigarrenbauchbinde of Franz Liszt,
famous composer, notorious cigar-smoker

There is an anecdote regarding Liszt which quite affected his daily habit of smoking a cigar. His preference was a cigar made from exclusive Virginia tobaccos, of which he had as many as his stipends and funds would allow him. As a composer and performer, he had an itinerant life, traveling frequently and for long periods of time. Prior to any journey, he would count out one cigar per day, and these cigars would be carefully packed by his servant. One on such trip, Liszt went on a tour in Italy. Arriving at the border town of Chiasso, the customs officer asked the famous composer if he had any goods to declare. A distracted Liszt stated he had nothing to declare. (Blaming Liszt's false statement on distraction, which the historical sources do, of course, assumes he was not intentionally deceiving the officer. It is not outside the realm of probability that a cigar smoker might be tempted to protect his cigars with his life, and perhaps even a "white" lie or mental reservation.) After the search of his luggage turned up the cigars, however, the carefully-numbered cigars were confiscated. In addition, Liszt had to pay a 500 lire fine (then about $100, a tidy sum). Furious, and not a little embarrassed, but without means to do anything about it, Liszt traveled to Milan sans cigars. He wrote:
I, a known artist, nearly a priest,** to be treated like a vulgar smuggler. I don't care about the 500 lires. In some hours I'll get more when I play, but what will one say of me?
When he got to Milan he related the occurrence to his editor and publisher, Giulio Ricordi, who promised to to see what he could do. Ricordi pulled some strings and Liszt received the box of cigars, his 500 lires,and a letter from the customs official asking for a portrait and his autograph.

That should have sufficed. All's well that ends well. But Liszt, mortified by his experience of being held up as a criminal or smuggler, and apparently thinking that he had perhaps become too attached to cigar smoking, swore never to smoke again.

But the resolution was apparently short-lived. Ernest Reyer, the French opera composer and music critic, related that he later visited Liszt in his later years at the Vatican when he lived in the apartment of Msgr. de Hohenlohe. "Liszt smoked," Reyer wrote, "he offered me a cigar."***

One of his more popular compositions is the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

Liszt's love for cigars has made him a favorite of cigar manufacturers, and one can see his portrait on a number of cigar boxes, including the one below:

Well, all I can say is lizst smoke some zigarren!

*James Huneker, Franz Liszt (New York: Scribner & Sons, 1911), p.327.
**Liszt received minor orders and became an honorary Abbé (abbot). However, he was never in fact ordained a priest.
***"Facts, Rumors and Remarks," The New Music Review and Church Music Review (Volume 12, Nos. 133-144, Dec. 1912-Nov. 1913), 173.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

El Embrujo del Cigarro

I just ordered a new CD release by the Huelgas Ensemble entitled "The Art of the Cigar" or "El Embrujo del Cigarro." Its subtitle is "Songs, ballads, and hymns in honour of the cigar from the fiteenth to the twentieth century." It is on the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label, and the conductor is Paul Van Nevel. It is available at Amazon among other places.

Here's what is published about the contents:
This new programme unveils the dreamy melancholy, subtle irony, and often humorous nature of the true cigar smoker.

This is a programme which leaves the confines of rigid concert repertoire, and focuses firmly on music and poetry. It is a journey that takes the listener from the exotic cigar district of Cuba to the English Victorian cigar salons, from the artistic cafes of Berlin and Seville to the nineteenth century "fumoirs" of Paris.

Both literature and music have often used the vibrant character of a salon as the inspiration for (and creation of) works.

Here one is seduced by the intoxicating aroma of the "Joie de vivre," contemplative calm and melancholic wisdom so often associated with the ever dreamy, oft-quixotic purveyor of the cigar.

The texts on offer here come from the pens of both well-known writers (Kipling, Byron, Lope de Vega, Perrault) and lesser-known poets, with the music supplied in the most part by "unknown masters." They do have one thing in common, however: they were all great enthusiasts of the cigars and smoking of them - exactly like Hemingway, Churchill, Brahms, Liszt, Verne, Tolstoi and so many other composers, poets, painters, philosophers and politicians.

One particular element of the evening will be the employment of the so-called "contrafact method", whereby familiar musical sequences shall be used to bring some of the poetry to melodic life.

The melange of the music and the exotic imagery of the cigar smoke will be sure to carry the listener off to a new plateau! It was indeed Liszt who once said: "A good Cuban cigar closes the door to the vulgarities of the world."

The texts and music of the programme all come from Paul Van Nevels's private cigar library.
The contents show a tremendous diversity:

Tobacco is a dirty weedThe Bristol tune book (1876)02'22
Como el humo del cigarroJuan Blas de Castri (ca.1561-1631)03'06
O Metaphysicla tobaccoMichael East (ca.1580-1648)02'51
Louange de la HavaneCarl Ludwig Friedrich Hetsch (1808-1872)02'20
De Vuelta Abajo o de OrienteJosé Peyro (1702-1768)03'26
My last cigarCharles Wesley (1793-1859)03'36
La guajirita de Vuelta AbajoPedro Riquet (17th century)03'38
Das ZigarrenliedAugustus Edmonds Tozer (1857-1910)03'22
So I have my cigar!W. Augustus Barrat (1864-1928)04'44
Eloge du tabacH. Lazerges (1817-1887)04'16
To a segarPaul Lebrun (1863-1920)03'08
Fumeux fume par fuméeSolage (floruit ca.1400) from codex Chantilly05'01
Open the old cigar-boxDaniel Towner (1850-1919)05'38
Tobacco, tobacco, sing sweetly for tobaccoTobias hume (ca.1569-1645)03'17
I like cigars beneath the starsE.C. Walker (1820-1894)02'47
ElogioAnonymous (Spain ca.1520)02'33


Cigar Brands: So many choices, so little time…

By: Jorge Mendizabal, MD

So, you pay a visit to your local B & M (brick and mortar-> as opposed to say, on-line) cigar shop. The moment you enter the walk-in humidor you get this overwhelming feeling, a symptom of what I call “The mosquito in a nudist beach syndrome” (you know what you need to do but you don’t know where to start).

The reality is there are over 3,000 cigar brands in circulation. It is virtually impossible to try them all. It does help, however, to become familiar with some of the most popular brands and to know what to expect from them. What follows is my attempt to tackle this subject.

Cigar Brands and Cigar Makers

There are many ways to classify cigars. Shape, size, wrapper leave, country of origin are just some of them. It can get rather complicated. When it comes to brands of cigars, the issue is still somewhat complex. Brands change ownership and manufacturers. Some cigars made outside of Cuba use traditional Cuban brands (Montecristo, R & J, Partagas, Cohiba, etc.). It helps to try to keep up to date with news from the industry. You can get this type of information from your tobacconist or by reading on-line sites and blogs. In this article, I will try to summarize some of the most popular brands and manufacturers for non-ISOM (Island South of Miami) cigars. I will also include some information about the characteristics of their cigars.

General Cigars.- One the largest cigar companies in the world, based in Sweden. GC is currently proprietary owner of some of the most famous brands in circulation like Partagas, Montecristo, Hoyo de Monterrey, Punch, Sancho Panza, La Gloria Cubana, Dominican Cohiba, Macanudo to name a few. More recently, this industry giant absorbed the CAO and Torano brands. General produces cigars of very good quality. It is hard to go wrong with the likes of Partagas (the Partagas Black Label is legendary), Excalibur and Sancho Panza. My only concern with a company of this size is the fact they seem to have lost the artisanal sense of cigar making. Finesse and originality are sacrificed for the sake of volume. And, believe me, volume they know with annual sales approaching 2.5 billion cigars. That’s enough to put a stogie in the mouth of half of humankind. What a herf that would be.

Don Pepin Garcia.- Possibly the single most prolific cigar maker in the world, Jose “Pepin” Garcia is a Cuban expatriate who has spent a lifetime in the industry. From his humble beginnings in the Island to his multi-million dollar cigar factory in Nicaragua, Pepin is a busy man. In addition to his house brands, he manufactures cigars for several other brands like Tatuaje. The typical Pepin Garcia cigar is very much reminiscent of the Cuban classics like Partagas Series D#4. His cigars are flavorful medium to full in bodied, with a characteristic spicy finish. For a typical Pepin experience, look for DPG blue Label, DPG Black Label “Cuban Classic”, El Rey de los Habanos, Tabacos Baez and the Vegas Cubanas.

Tatuaje.- The brainchild of Mr. Pete Johnson (a former rock star) and Pepin Garcia, Tatuaje (tattoo in Spanish) has become a staple in the humidors of connoisseurs from around the world. Tatuaje cigars are manufactured in Nicaragua. They are bold, flavorful, spicy and not usually appreciated by beginners. The introduction of limited production lines as a marketing strategy has helped the sales of this brand. Look for Tatuaje Cabinet (brown label), Tatuaje Havana (Red Label), Tatuaje Cojunu (literally, “ballsy” in Spanish), Tabacos El Triunfador, Tabacos La Riqueza and The Monster series (the latter nearly impossible to find given its cult-like status) . Pete Johnson’s most recent introduction is La Casita Criolla, an authentic American puro made with 100% Connecticut shade tobacco.

Camacho.- The Eiroa family has been manufacturing this brand in Rancho Jamastran, Honduras. The Eiroas recently sold the rights of their cigars to Davidoff, another example of a giant gobbling up a major brand. The Camacho style is bold, full bodied, in-your-face. The Eiroas like to boast about their perfect construction techniques. Indeed, I have never found a Camacho with a bad draw. These cigars can mature wonderfully with humidor age. Look for Camacho Corojo, Camacho Triple Maduro, Camacho Diploma and Camacho Coyolar Puro (a fire cracker of a cigar).

Oliva.- Another Cuban expatriate family with a manufacturing tradition spanning over a century. Oliva is famous for producing some of the best wrapper in the world. They have based most of their production in Ecuador. Oliva cigars come in different strengths. The Oliva series O, Oliva series G end Flor de Oliva tend to be mild to medium in body. My personal favorite is the Oliva Series V, a full bodied, full flavor smoke which is a thing of beauty.

Padron.- No discussion about cigar brands is complete without mentioning the name of the company founded by Jose Orlando Padron in 1968. The Padrons, another family with tobacco tradition dating back to the early 1800s, have been making fine cigars in Nicaragua in their most fortunate (at least for us) exile. The Padron style can be summarized in 4 words: Cedar, Coffee, Chocolate and Earth. They are all medium bodied, competitively priced smokes. The only exceptions to this are perhaps the Padron Aniversario 1926 and The Padron Aniversario 1964, both lines usually priced over $20. Those are definitely special occasion cigars. The Padron Aniversario 1926 is simply delicious, possibly one of the best cigars in the world (certainly in my top 5).

Fuente.- Another “elephant in the room” when it comes to classic brands. Originally founded by Arturo Fuente in 1912 (Ybor City, Florida), Tabacalera Fuente has been steered more recently Carlos and Carlito Fuente and they have been producing some of the finest Dominican cigars in the world. In addition to the Classic Fuente Chateau line, look for the Hemingway and the Don Carlos Series, both phenomenal. The Hemingway Short Story and the AF Don Carlos # 2 are classics. The Opus X cigar line, in my humble opinion, is overrated and overpriced. Fuente also makes Diamond Crown. The Diamond Crown Maxximus is another special occasion cigar (about $16) that is worth trying at least once. The "Casa Fuente" is a luxury line only sold at Casa Fuente at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. No visit to Vegas is complete without purchasing and trying at least one Casa Fuente belicoso (about $32 a piece), possibly one of the most complex smokes in existence.

Perdomo.- It would be unfair not to mention Perdomo in this article. Perdomo is the manufacturer of some of the finest cigars coming from Nicaragua. It is worth experiencing their entire lineup, no exceptions. Instant classics include the Perdomo Habano, Perdomo Lot 23, Perdomo Reserve Champagne and Criollo, and the Perdomo Patriarch (my favorite).

Padilla.- Having started with the Perdomo family, Ernesto Padilla began producing his own cigars in 2004. Padillas are flavorful Cuban-style cigars. Look for the Padilla Habano, Padilla 1932 (possibly their best line), Padilla Miami Series and the Padilla 1968.

A.J. Fernandez.- A newcomer with another Cuban expatriate heritage history, Abdel Fernandez learned the trade directly from Alejandro Robaina, a recently deceased Cuban roller considered by many as a legend in the industry. In addition to producing his own line of cigars (AJ Fernandez Signature, Man o’ War, La Herencia Cubana and Diesel), AJ manufactures fantastic smokes for others like Rocky Patel and EO. The EO 601 series of cigars is extraordinary (try the green label). The Herencia Cubana Oscuro Fuerte is a fantastic smoke that can be had for about five bucks. Just a kid when compared to most experienced cigar blenders, AJ Fernandez has a bright future in front of him. His latest release, San Lotano is said to be extraordinary. Something new to look for.

Rocky Patel.- Rakesh “Rocky” Patel was already a successful Beverly Hills attorney when he decided to switch gears and enter the cigar industry. That, my friends, was a very fortunate career change. When it comes to making fine cigars, Rocky Patel is as prolific as it gets. With a list of over 30 lines of cigars, it is simply impossible to remember them all. Worth mentioning are RP Vintage lines (particularly the 90' and 92'), The Edge (particularly the Maduro), the ITC Anniversary, the Sun Grown and the Olde Worlde Reserve (my personal favorite). John and Vic featured two fantastic cigar blends from RP in the last couple of meetings of the SH/OLG Cigar Club (The Rocky Patel Bros Next Generation and the Rocky Patel Autumn Collection 2008).

La Flor Dominicana.- Litto Gomez from LFD has been producing some of strongest and most flavorful cigars in today’s market. Most of these smokes are not for the timid of heart. Their Double Ligero Chisel is perhaps the strongest cigar available. Be sure to smoke it on a full stomach, in the sitting or supine position.

Joya de Nicaragua.- The oldest cigar factory in Nicaragua, the brand was resurrected after the Sandinista Revolution by Dr. Alejandro Martinez. This brand features old style Nicaraguan puros from Esteli, Nicaragua. These are typically full bodied powerhouses better appreciated by the seasoned aficionado. Look for The JDN Antano 1970 and the JDN Celebracion.

La Aurora.- One of the oldest and most traditional Dominican brands, La Aurora has traditionally made mild bodied, full flavored cigars. More recently, they have tried to appeal to the taste of those looking for more strength in their smokes. Look for the Aurora 107 and the 1495 series. The traditional La Aurora line is much milder but still enjoyable. The Preferidos is a perfecto shaped vitola packed in a very elegant and colorful tube; the latter can set you back about $20 per stick.

Davidoff and Ashton.- Two upper shelf ($) brands. Of these two, Ashton tends to make fuller bodied, richer smokes. The Davidoff Millennium Edition is a notable exception. The brand Avo (created by the pianist, Avo Uvezian) is distributed by Davidoff and it includes some fine, albeit pricey smokes. Look also for Ashton Cabinet Reserve and Ashton Sun Grown. To be perfectly honest with you, I rarely reach for these brands. With so many other more affordable quality choices, I don’t feel their price is justified. A more affordable cigar from the Ashton line is San Cristobal (about $8).

Boutique Brands.- The cigar equivalent of a “boutique wine” can be defined as those smaller companies producing a limited amount of cigars for a specific niche within the market. Boutique cigars tend to emphasize the artisanal (emphasis in the ART part of the word) aspect of the craft. I truly believe this is where there are treasures waiting to be discovered. To name a few, in here I include brands like Cuban Crafters, Kristoff, Jesus Fuego, Illusione and Alec Bradley. Among these “boutiques” I recommend: J.L. Salazar & Hermanos (Cuban Crafters); Kristoff Sumatra and Maduro;, Jesus Fuego 22N/83W; Illusione Epernay and Illusione MJ2 (only cigar I have seen that comes wrapped in aluminum foil; ask me about the story behind this novelty) ; Tempus and Cabinet Reserve (Alec Bradley).

So there you have it, my 2 cents, the tip of the iceberg. It is virtually impossible to visit all available brands in one review buut this should serve you as a guide to safely navigate your tobacconist humidor. Remember, smoke what you like not what other person tells you is good for you. The best cigar still the one you keep going back to. Taste, at the end, is very indidual.

Smoking Something New by Fr. James Farfaglia

Whenever I pass through Houston, Texas, Cigar Emporium is an obligated stop along the way. Although it is a small cigar store, the humidor carries a wide variety of cigars that are not commonly sold in the humidors that I have frequented in Corpus Christi and San Antonio. Cigar Emporium raises the bar for those who wish to expand the cultural delights of cigar smoking.

Van, the friendly cigar enthusiast who works at Cigar Emporium introduced me a couple of years ago to the Kristoff line of cigars.  During a recent visit, I had to try a new Kristoff that just arrived to the Houston based humidor.  The Kristoff Corojo Limitada is a wonderful smoke.  For those of you who enjoy something in between a mild natural and a strong maduro cigar, the Kristoff Corojo Limitada is definitely a wonderful experience for the cigar afficionado.

Another new experience is the Hight Cigar.  I purchased this one as well during my recent visit to Cigar Emporium.  The Hight Cigar is definetly a much heavier smoke.  It is a delicious experience for those of you who enjoy a strong maduro. 

Both cigars are under nine dollars a stick, which makes the cigar taste even better during these difficult times. 

More on Vitolphilia

There is a gentleman with the knightly name of Florencio Gimenez Caballero de Angel Ramirez who has made his rather sizeable collection of vitolas available to the public in a virtual museum on the internet. The cite is mainly in Spanish, which most of our group knows anyway. But for those who do not it is easy to look through this man's unbelievable collection. He started collecting when he was seventeen years of age and the result of his zeal in collecting "con plena seriedad y vigor," resulting in one the most important and most complete collections of vitolas in the world. Eventually, our collector became part of the directorate of the Vitolphilia Association of Spain, and for more than 12 years of was President of the Vitophilic Group of Madrid.

He was invited three times to Cuba by its government to be both honored and to serve as a consultant to handle issues with its own vitolphilic issues.

I have copied his collection on "American Personalities" for an example of the literally hundreds of cigar labels--vitolas--that he has organized on his on-line museum. I'm not sure how Jefferson Davis gets along with Abraham Lincoln, Generals Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, and Rear Admiral Farragut (of "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" fame), but it all seems peaceful enough, proving once again that cigar-smoking can lead to peace. This is so because cigar smoking in common naturally leads to communication and dialogue, which very often leads to mutual understanding and even friendship.

The museum itself can be accessed by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vitolphilia and Vitology

Of all things, I was reading James V. Schall's The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2003) this evening, an excellent read for anyone, young or old, who is interested in some guidance in the important human endeavor of disciplining the mind in its pursuit for truth. I have been reading a number of Schall's works recently, including the On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, The Mind that is Catholic, and The Order of Things, all of which I recommend. In any event, I came across the following in his The Life of the Mind, and I thought I would share it with the group.

Vitolphilia on Cigar Box

This paragraph comes immediately following this venerable Jesuit professor's statement: "The adventure of knowing is our avenue to the adventure of being--to the being of all things that are." His point is that the mind is capax omnium, able to learn all manner of things, and that through learning things outside ourselves we learn about ourselves.
To take a rather amusing example of how many odd things we can know, let me ask, at random, what is a vitologist? Or better, what is vitolphilia? If we know our Greek suffixes, we know that "philia" means the love of something. At its highest meaning, as Aristotle tells us, it means the love of our friend; better, it means the mutual love of one another. But in this context, vitolphilia means the love of what? Well, I would never have heard of this obscure word had it not been for the fact that someone gave me for Christmas one of those daily throwaway calendars dedicated to--of all things--cigars. (Of course, I never smoke cigars myself without turning green in the process.) This puzzling word was just sitting around on my desk waiting for the right day to arrive--in this case, Wednesday, January 13, 1999. It turns out that the first part of the word vitolphilia refers to art work on cigar boxes or on the bands around cigars called vitolas. In fact, in Havana there is a large museum that displays the intricate art work, from the eighteenth century on, that has been devoted to adorning cigar bands and boxes. The world's leading vitologist is a man by the name of Dr. Orland Arteaga, president of the Cuba Vitolphilic Association. Is this, someone might ask, the most profound piece of information Schall ever learned? Well, of course not, but if I ever happento meet Fidel Castro or some other cigar aficionado, I will have something to talk about. It puts a new light on the cigar, so to speak,to realize that such intricate work goes into decorating the band and box.
(p. 11)

I do have three points to make. First, Fr. Schall has not been smoking good cigars if he has been turning green. Second, it is good that the intellectual life is not foreclosed to cigar smokers, and that cigar smoking and its culture are worthy of mention, even if tangentially, in a book on the intellectual life. Third, and this may be perverse, it is always gives me great pleasure to write legitimate words like vitolphilia, vitolphilic, vitolia, which draw the little read zigzag underline suggesting the words are misspelled. It gives me a chance to say, "How stupid you are computer. If you only knew what you don't know." And this is really quite an insight because Socrates said that he was the most intelligent Greek of his day not because of what he thought he knew, but because he knew that he did not know. Apology 21d. I suppose that's Schall's point: if we know that we do not know something it spurs our desire to try to learn it, and there are few topics, if indeed there are any, that can be exhausted by one mind.

Sampler of Vitolphilia

Happy smoking . . . and happy thinking.

Selecting your First Humidor

By: Jorge Mendizabal, MD

At some point in your cigar hobby you must face reality. You are getting more cigars than what you can safely smoke in one sitting. It is then you realize they need proper storage. Cigars are natural products that originate from more tropical, humid latitudes. The ideal storing conditions for rolled tobacco should aim to reproduce the climate of those latitudes. Cigars are hygroscopic. By its very nature, rolled tobacco absorbs humidity from its environment. Too little humidity and the wrapper leaf dries up, becomes brittle and cracks. Too much humidity and the cigar swells eventually bursting the wrapper leaf. Furthermore, dry cigars smoke unpleasantly hot. Overtly humid cigars smoke harsh and have a poor draw.

The Environment.- The ideal storage box should maintain a constant temperature between 65 and 70 degrees. An excessively warm environment has its own dangers. The dreaded tobacco beetle larvae may be dormant in lower temperatures but it hatches in conditions over 80 degrees F. Those little boogers can eat up your cigar collection faster than you can say “c-o-h-i-b-a”.

The ideal relative humidity (RH) is a more controversial subject. Although most authoritative references recommend a 70% RH, not all cigars benefit from that degree of humidification. Certain Cuban cigars for example, may require a RH closer to 63%. More often than not, I am perfectly happy with a stable RH of 65%, a number which encompasses the needs of most stogies. At the end, slight variations of RH between 63-70% can be a matter of personal taste and they do not adversely affect your cigars in any way.

The Box.- Cheap price is incompatible with good quality when it comes to humidors. Even the smaller boxes can be expensive when properly constructed.

The first decision point for you is to determine the size of box you need. Are you an occasional, casual cigar smoker? If so, a smaller count box (25-75 cigars) might be sufficient. A more dedicated cigar hobbyist will eventually aim for a larger capacity humidor. This becomes a critical issue when you realize you are now purchasing cigars by the box. The ability to preserve cigars while keeping them inside their original box is sine qua non. Unfortunately, a typical cigar box is not air tight and thus not built to preserve them for posterity. Placing a cigar box in the stable environment of a well constructed, large enough humidor becomes a necessary convenience.

By now, you should have an idea about the size of box you are looking for (suggestion: always buy something bigger than what you think you need; trust me on this one). The next decision point comes when you are at the store selecting a box for purchase. Purchasing a humidor on-line is a risky proposition. Of the 3 larger humidors I purchased on-line, one ended up being essentially wooden crap (a pretty box which did not hold RH even for a day). That particular box is now used to store my accoutrement. Finding large humidors in local stores is virtually impossible and sometimes we have no choice but to gamble with our money.

When examining your box, you should first look at its construction. The seams should be impeccable. The walls or sides of the box should be at least an inch thick. The inside should be made of solid Spanish Cedar. Cedar veneer is not a long lasting option. The hinges should be of the “piano “ type. The lid should be solid, not whimsy and should close with a “swoosh” sound. Most humidors come with analog hygrometers. Those are usually useless and mostly decorative. Purchasing a separate, reliable electronic hygrometers is recommended. Depending on the size of your humidor, you have the choice of passive or active humidification (this is a subject of an entirely different post).

Cheaper but very effective options come in the form of “coolerdors”/”igloodors” or VinoTemp-dors. A coolerdor is simply a large plastic cooler adapted to store cigar boxes or singles. By its very nature, coolers are air tight and ideal to maintain a constant RH and temperature. Ideal coolerdors are dapted by its owner to include Spanish cedar lining trays, active/passive humidifying elements and electronic hygrometers. Most large coolerdors can easily 25-50 boxes and are a nice solution when space is a consideration. Although Vinotemp (the company) is now in the business of building quality cigar humidors (about $200 for one), the term Vinotemp-dor typically refers to a thermoelectric (not piezoelectric, this is important) wine refrigerator which has been adapted to store cigar boxes. In my humble opinion, thetime and money invested in converting such an appliance into a humidor are usually not worth the effort. having said that, when properly converted the end results are very esthetic and eclectic, to say the least.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Choosing the Right Cigar Lighter

There is no more important tool in the cigar smoker’s arsenal than the cigar lighter. A good quality, dependable lighter is indispensable to enjoying your favorite stogies. Good cigar lighters provide tremendous convenience and they allow you to dependably light your cigar in any conditions – indoors/outdoors, windy/calm, warm or cold.

This article should outline some key elements to look for when selecting a good cigar lighter.

Type of Lighter:

We know premium cigars are different than cigarettes. Cigars require more heat to ignite and they take much longer to light, primarily because they have vastly different tobacco ingredients. Because of this, it is advisable to use a cigar lighter to light your cigars, rather than a cigarette lighter.

Cigar lighters use butane fuel rather than lighter fluid, as butane fuel burns hotter and cleaner. It is perfect for cigars because it has enough heat to ignite them and it is odorless, so it does not add any unwanted flavor (like its lighter fluid counterpart will). Beware of using a Zippo lighter on your cigars. Standard Zippos use lighter fluid, not butane. An inexpensive insert (Z-plus) can be purchased to convert your Zippo into a butane torch.

Cigar lighters are often referred to as torch lighters, as the flame exiting the lighter is wide and strong, resembling a torch. The strong flame allows the lighter to stay lit in most any conditions, including wind.

Torch lighters come in a variety of sizes, fire power and number of flames. A pocket lighter is a convenient tool to bring to a cigar dinner, for example, but a table lighter might be your best and most reliable option in the comfort of your own home.

Cigar Lighter Features:

Once you are set on buying a good quality cigar torch lighter, it is time to consider some of the features to look for to add convenience, comfort, and functionality. To that end, here is a list of the features I would include, if I could custom build the very best cigar lighter (not necessarily in order of importance):

1) Large fuel tank – no one likes to refill the butane fuel every other day.

2) Fuel level viewing window – it is very handy to see how much fuel is left so you have a heads up on refilling before you leave with your lighter

3) Ergonomic, side trigger for igniting lighter – more natural position for trigger

4) A second trigger to allow for a second flame, when needed.

5) Cover for lighter, but no flip top lid – the flip top lid protects the lighting implement when the lighter is not in use, but they always get in the way when you try to use the lighter. I would find a lighter with a cover that recesses when lighting so it is out of the way.

6) Recessed lighting nozzle – lighters are often difficult to keep lit in a breeze. It is important to find a windproof lighter, but equally important to find a recessed lighting nozzle as this contributes to keeping the flame alive in inclement weather. It also helps keep dust and debris out of the nozzle to keep it in working condition.

7) Large flame adjustment knob that can be adjusted with one finger – it is often necessary to adjust the flame on your lighter, depending on the conditions you are in. An easy, finger touch adjustment knob is essential. It is absolutely useless to have a flame adjustment that requires a small screwdriver.

Purchasing a good quality, reliable lighter should not result in breaking your bank. Vector, Firebird and Coleman make excellent torch lighters for less than $20. If you feel more self-indungent, brands to consider include Lotus, Bugatti, St. Dupont or Xikar.

Cigar Scissors

Cigar scissors normally come with wide handles that are specially created to take on large cigars. Just like a double blade cutter, the cigar scissors cut off the cap of the cigar and are designed to do so with effortless precision.

Pros: Very elegant tools.

Cons: Tricky to use; if you are not careful, you can easily crush the head of your cigar. Not very portable. Good quality stainless steel scissors can be pricey.

The V-Cutter

The V cutter creates a wedge-shaped 3D cut in the cigars cap with a simple squeezing motion. The V-cutter allows proper air circulation to occur for a more pleasant smoking experience. The smokes tar and residue accumulate on the sides of the wedge keeping the bitter taste away from the smoker's mouth. One drawback is that the unique design and shape of this cutter make keeping the blades sharp more difficult, although a quality quality cutter should last a lifetime.

A variation of this cut is the X-cut. First, you perform a standard V-cut. You then rotate the cigar 90 degrees and perform a second V-cut. The end result should look like a “X” or a cross cut on the head of your stogie. This cut allows for a better draw and it does not clog up as much as the single cut.


Great for smaller cigars and provides more smoking surface than the punch.


You will need a good-quality V-Cutter for the cleanest cut.


Cigar Cutter - The Bullet/Punch Cutter

A bullet cutter is perfect for those who need a more accessible cigar cutter. They are easily attached to your key ring and are great for those who want to punch a hole instead of the more traditional slice. The Bullet or Punch cut will pierce a small hole into the cigars cap. Depending on the diameter of the cutter, air circulation may be restricted and the smokes tar and residue can accumulate around the opening. After cutting, place the cap back on the cutter and a convenient built-in plunger will clear off any tobacco from the blades.

The punch cutter will cleanly cut a small hole on the head of the cigar. To cut a bigger hole, you just need to insert the punch several times at different places of the cap until you get the desired width.

PRO's: Convenient key ring attachment and easy-to use
CONS': Will not work on Figurado shapes. They are not ideal for large (50+) ring cigars unless you use the flower punching technique (I can only explain this technique in person).

Guillotine Cutters


This cutter is perhaps the most popular as it allows for quick and easy snipping. The guillotine cut creates a straight slice across the cigars cap line and should create an even draw, which should create an even burn. The only drawback is that residue and tar from the burning tobacco will come in direct contact with the smoker's mouth.

Single Blade Cutter

A single blade cutter designed to cut off the cap. Most will cut up to 54 ring cigars.

Pros:Very affordable.
Cons:Cutting cigar in one quick, strong movement is a must.

Single Blade Cigar Cutter

Double Blade Cutter

The same concept as the guillotine, but the two blades provide a more precise and even cut. You will also need to cut with determination and force with a double-blade to ensure you don't get tears. More advanced double-blade cutters have a spring mechanism that ensures a clean cut every time.

Pros:Cuts just about any shape cigar, including Figurado shapes like Torpedo.
Cons:To prevent unraveling, be sure not to cut below the cap.

Cutting the head of your cigar: The Basics

First, it is very important to make a clean cut so ensure you have a quality cigar cutter. A clean cut made with the right tools and in the right place will decrease your chances of having the cigar unravel, which may make for an unpleasant smoke. A clear and regular cut is key.

At the head of the cigar (the covered end that goes in your mouth), you will see the cap, which is a round piece of tobacco that is glued to the head to keep the wrapper together. This cap is put on the head of the cigar during the hand-rolling process to keep it from unraveling and drying out. You should see a distinct line where the cap ends.

You only want to remove the outer layer of wrapper, not cut off a centimeter of tobacco. To ensure a clean cut and to avoid tearing the wrapper, cut just before the cap leaving 3-4 mm. (Tip: On figurados, just cut off enough so you can see the filler.) For the best results, try making one quick, strong movement. Tip: For bullet punch cutters, insert the punch on the head of the cigar to cleanly cut a small hole. If you prefer lots of smoke, you'll want to cut a bigger hole so you would need to punch several times in that area of the cap. Bullet punch cutters are popular because of their key ring accessibility, but unfortunately, they will not work on a figurado (torpedo, belicoso, perfecto).

The key to a good cigar cut is to be quick and precise. Find your mark and clip it quickly. Using a good quality cutter and cutting quickly will give you the best advantage. Also ensure the blades are sharp so that there is no tearing involved. Cutting your cigar correctly means you will have a better tasting smoke.

Cut Should be Clear and Regular for the best experience.

Tip: Never cut just at the limit of the cap or lower
or you'll risk tearing the wrapper;
you only have to cut off enough so you can see the filler.