Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Words of Wisdom #38

Yeah, ponder that for a while.

Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke.
--Lynda Barry, cartoonist

But I like this one, too, although it's not cigar-related:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Camp Kristoff, Part the First

Not too long ago,* Glen Case (Hi Glen!), the head-honcho of Kristoff Cigars, visited Habanos, one of our favorite hang-outs, a place in our own back yard...

You remember Glen, right? We first met him at Havana Cigar Lounge in West Warwick, RI.
Havana owner Todd LaScola, our hero, and Glen Case.
Well, one night we were shenaniganning** over at Broadway Cigars at a Montecristo event and then later rolled closer to home, into Habanos. And there was Glen Case! It was like we walked into our own back yard and happily found a cool kid from a neighboring neighborhood! Yay!

Unlike the first time we hung around with him, which was an actual Kristoff event, whereby he was required to be an adult in full-adult mode; this time he had the relaxation cranked up to 11.

After we settled in, giving out lots of "hello" kisses, Valentino lit one of these delights, which we'd previously purchased at that Havana event:
The 685 Woodlawn, on the right.
That's the star of this show.
Glen stopped mid-sentence and said, "Where did you get that cigar?"

Valentino took the cigar from his mouth and looked at it, just to remind himself which delicious stick consumed his senses. "At the event in West Warwick," he said, making his way to the bar with Glen and Jarrid Trudeau (Hi Jarrid!), a cool dude in his own right and Kristoff's Northeast rep, to sit with me.

"That's my favorite stick," Glen said. "I don't even have any of those in my humidor at home."

Now if you must know, I have some mad internet skillz.*** So when Glen reiterated the lack of 685s, I hauled out my laptop and began a search.

Pretend I'm currently searching and during the lull, we'll cut away to a montage of information about this cigar:
  • The cigar's name comes from the house he grew up in. 685 Woodlawn in the suburbs of Chicago. See? That makes me love it already because you must know by now how much I love a good story. By the way, it's not the family homestead any more, but an ode to your first home? Awesomely cool. (As a side note, Mom and Dad? Don't plan on moving out of that house, especially to move to Florida, as all your peers have. Stay put.)
  • A small batch released in April-ish 2013, only 2,000 boxes of 10 were made.
  • The wrapper is from Brazil, binder from Nicaragua, and filler from Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and a super secret place--maybe Oz? Santa's workshop? Brigadoon****? 
  • Comes in one size, the 6 1/2 x 60 perfecto--one of our favorite shapes!
  • I love love love this cigar. (I seem to have a real fondness for small batches, as if the more I know I can't get it, the more I want it. But that's pretty much the way of life, right?)
Glen and Valentino***** whooping it up.
Actually, they were discussion serious life things
while I challenged the mighty internets to a duel.
I won.
So within moments, I found a few boxes of the 685 available for purchase and gave Glen and Jarrid the info. I guess if I were a really good person, I would have bought him a box, and a box for  Of course I regret this now. Or I did! <--Blatant forshadowing.

That night Valentino smoked his one and only 685, filling my lungs with some serious sweetness with a background of pepper. Kind of like smelling and tasting the fruit pie Nana is making in the house while simultaneously inhaling the heavily-peppered steaks' smoke wafting from the neighbors' grill. If you could get both flavors in your face at the same time--the pepperiness, the fruitiness, and the creamy, buttery crust, you'd be experiencing the 685 Woodlawn.

The night over, we were left with some super fun memories of time with our Kristoff friends and the Kristoff cigars. Now the story should end there, but no, because there's another chapter to the story.

On our way to visit my son in West Virginia for the holidays, we accidentally drove by the most massive of cigar stores, Cigars International in Hamburg, PA. Come on, we were driving right by the exit. And we needed gas anyway...

Just a teeny tiny bit of the gigantean place!
Lousy picture by moi!

One of the first things we saw as we entered the store? (That foreshadowing comes into play now.) We saw this:
Oh my sweet darling...
We scooped these up and asked about more.  The very nice staff lady searched high and low, climbing ladders to look in way high cubbies and giving herself a headrush looking in the store's deep, dark crevices.  And know what? She found another box! That was some amazeballs customer service!  We took them and ran!

This isn't true. I held them close to myself, like a treasured Latin textbook****** and we slowly perused the entire store, twice.

We're heading home from our travels tomorrow and I hope on Tuesday we can do some more research with these, see if they will once again help me relive the long, slow, sunny days of a childhood summer--even if I am a grownup now (boo) and we've just entered a long winter (double boo). I may ask Valentino to bring two.

*Keeping in mind I have real issues with time passing quickly and not recognizing it.

**A real word in Penny World.

***Not nearly as good as my friend Shelagh, who could teach a master class, but still better than the average schmoe.

****One of my all-time favorite plays.

*****This picture is actually from later in the evening, when our hero had moved on to a different Kristoff cigar.

******I'm probably the only one who ever actually treasured a textbook, right? Especially a Latin one? Thought so. Just to let you know, I still have my high school Latin books.

The 2 Caballeros ride again--right to the EPC 5th Anniversary! (Or: Pretty close to starting this post in one year and ending it in another)

n.b.*: I started this post in September--September!--and am now just getting back to it. (Yes, I know we're now finishing up December.) Just ignore the references to school starting. Or hop in the time machine and read it in real-time.  Your choice.

Don't you hate it when life gets in the way and there's nothing you can do to move that damn blockade that's keeping you from having fun?

Yeah, that happened. I've been caught up with work** and adjusting to a new schedule. Valentino's been doing his consulting thing, telling people what they need to do.***

Anyway, on Thursday (a million years ago), we threw caution to the wind...


...and went to our local hangout, Habanos. And! We met up with Caballero #2, who we hadn't seen in ages!

Naturally, when we arrived, the cigar trading began almost instantly. Cabellero #2 had four sticks laid out where we'd sit:

But can we just say, "Dammit! Trumped!" Valentino had already planned his swap, like a kid deciding which Matchbox car to share with a friend. But he didn't realize his well-thought-out decision would be overwhelmed by the sheer number gifted to him.

But we're still proud of his choice!

The other day****, we'd picked up a few EP Carillo 5th Anniversary... at Mr. J's Havana. (You know we walked out with way more than that, right?)


Released this past fall--right before we bought them!--remember fall, lo all those months ago?--the cigar does exactly what it says, celebrates five years from when Ernesto Perez-Carillo left General Cigars to start making his own delicious cigars. Remember how much we--I--liked the EPC Cigar Now Known as Chocolate Cake? It was definitely box-worthy!

Well this delight is also fantabulous. It has an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, Ecuadorian Corojo '99 binder, and Nicaraguan filler and a one-size-fits-all vitola,***** the double robusto at 6 1/2 x 54.


Here's a funny thing: as I said, I'm writing this in the car and our hero just asked, "What are you doing?" 

I had to admit, "Writing a blog post I started in September about the EPC 5th anniversary."

"That was a really good cigar. It was creamy and kind of sweet." Luckily he said nothing about my mad procrastination skills.

I nod, even though he can't see me, and I do remember that cigar and that night at Habanos when both kind gentlemen lit up together, so I got a stereo-sensory blast of the goodness. Let's just be super thankful that on occasion I remember that I'm forgetful and actually type notes and AND put the name of the cigar the notes are about. (Sometimes I don't. This makes me have the sad and the major frustration.)

Sad Panda did not take notes. [source]
But this time, Caballero #2 describes a pepperiness but my sensors are all about picking up the subtle sweet creaminess.  Valentino mentions a hint of coffee. This is what I love about cigars (besides all the other things I love about cigars): we're all sharing the same thing and yet getting a different experience, based on who we are. 

That's why when newcomers to the cigar world ask, "What's the best cigar?" They rarely get a straight, definitive answer. 

Valentino loves (irony--read: hates) when folks respond to a question with another question. And yet that's really the only appropriate response in this situation. "What flavor profile do you like?" "What cigars have you tried and liked? Not liked?" "Do you like strong or milder cigars?"  The questions can go on and on, because there is no one best cigar. Just like not everyone likes the same foods, so too the cigar. Strength, size, shape, ring gauge...all those things make up the answer to what the question should be: "What's the best cigar for me?"

Well, for some of you, the EPC 5th Anniversary, which ranked quite high in all three of our palettes, is the answer to that question. You should give it a try and see if you're one of them!

Look for this band! [source]

*nota bene--Latin for "note well." I love Latin. I know it's a dead language and all, but I would love to resurrect it, a la Frankenstein's monster.

**Actual conversation--Student: Do you have our papers? Me: Shush. You're disturbing class.

***Two things just occurred to me: 1. Our jobs aren't that far apart after all and 2.Urgh. I shouldn't write late at night because I forgot what #2 was going to be.

****Let's do the Time Warp again. You're welcome, by the way...

*****You remember that vitola is the fancy way to say size, right? I know, I know. Why not just say what you mean and move on? And generally I'm right there with you, but specialized language within a group gives a shared sense of belonging. Oh crap.  Why am I giving you a rhetoric lesson? I've been done with school three days. Let it go, Penny!******
******If you're expecting me to give you a rendition of "Let it Go," you have a long wait. That song goes right through my spine, and not in a good way.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

In which we're responsible for the corruption of another young soul.Yay!

So I was going to write about how we are back in the Leaf and Bean in Pittsburgh on the Strip and I guess I still am, but the focus of this post switched gears before I typed a word. 

Valentino lit up a Leaf, it being one of Island Jim Robinson's masterpieces. You know we're big big big big big fans of The Leaf by Oscar. After all, we've only been singing its praises since for-freaking-ever!

Today's selection, the 6x60 Corojo.
Anyway, Valentino's niece takes him up on his offer to try the Corojo Leaf.  As he handed it to her, he said, "For the love of God, don't inhale. Your head will explode "

She didn't. It didn't. All was right with the world.

 "I like it," she said. 

In the words of Island Jim, "Wahoo!"

I ran--pinky swear ran--into the humidor, pushed people out of the way, and took possession of an ACID Blondie, the tiny one, the panetela (4 x 38). It's a good starter and way less of a commitment than a full-size cigar.  It's also on the mild side, with a Connecticut wrapper, and, as his niece said, "It's sweet," thanks to its infused nature.

Mom watches her daughter's fall into the cigar culture and there is much rejoicing.
The ACID line, is something special in its own right.  According to the Drew Estate website, "The ACID smoking experience is like no other. Each blend holds new explorations in tobacco curing and blending that are the closest guarded secrets in the industry. For the past 10 years, legions of you have sought out ACID cigars in the far corners of the world to satisfy your craving for something truly one-of-a-kind, unique and inspiring. Explore the entire range of kaleidoscope tastes never before imagined in a cigar and be rewarded for your efforts."

Want to know a super interesting story about this guy? (The one on the right.  The one on the left is our hero, Valentino.)

That's Scott Chester, he of ACID Cigars,
and many other amazing product lines.
We had the luxury of meeting him a
t the Fuente fundraiser in Miami this October.* 
First of all, ACID is an acronym, which stands for Arielle Chester (his daughter) Industrial Design. See? Now you're already way smarter than when you started reading this! 

This is from Scott's website, "In 1998 ACID was approached by Marvin Samel and Jonathan Drew, future owners of Drew Estate, cigar company. They wanted ACID to develop a cigar brand. After several years, ACID cigars, now consists of five different lines and sixteen different cigars, all of which have served to solve a major cigar problem: the cigar tastes good as it’s smoked but the lingering aroma is not often pleasing. The secret process for creating the patented ACID cigar aroma involves blending over 140 botanical and herbal elements. The mixture is cured into the wrapper layer tobacco for over six months, which makes for a pleasant smelling smoke without hindering the five-tobacco blend within the cigar. 'If you’re in a room full of cigar smokers you can easily detect the ACID aroma.'"
So we've captured another soul, gotten her to smoke and enjoy a cigar--and in one of the best places to do it! But there's so much more to know.  Your lessons have just begun, Grasshopper. 
P.S. She's going for cigar number two! And it's Jim's very own Connecticut Leaf! (It seems only right.) Is it wrong for us to be so happy? Best part? Island Jim is giving her pointers on lighting it!!
Yes, she's of age. Turn off your tattletale brain.

*Yes, we have been promising to tell you about this trip for one hundred million ages and we will--before next year's event. **
**We have had a request for a minimum of three sparkle entries.***
***This is the third! :)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Lookit!! A sea of color in a black and gold world!

So remember back in July how we kept not knowing we were missing the coolest place ever in the Strip District in Pittsburgh PA?

We found it! (Thanks Google maps!)

The Leaf and Bean is one of the most awesomely coolest places ever!! For realz! 

In fact, it's a deliciously smoky island of relaxation in the loud, choppy sea of macaroni and gravy.*

When we strolled in, in full lollygagging mode,** we were hit with many layers of eclecticity.*** I'd try to explain it, but instead, let's refer to Valentino's pictures, shall we?

And here is Island Jim himself, in his natural habitat!!
See right behind Jim? That's the shop's humidor, which features some of our super favorites, including Leaf by Oscar (of course, because that's Jim's best selling cigar), along with others like our friend Paul Joyal's J Grotto, the ever-awesome Padron, and another new fave, New Workd by AJ Fernandez. 
I know what you're thinking: Uhhhh...what about the Island Jim? You know, the proprietor's namesake? Don't you think you should mention that, dear, sweet bloggess?

Well, home skillet, I would mention it, except they're sold out!! So why should I get you all excited for something you can't have? That's just mean!!
But they will be back in house sometime in January, so save your Christmas money. 
Here's another treasure of the Leaf and Bean: Melody, Jim's better half. She's a kindred spirit; she doesn't actually smoke  cigars but knows tons and tons about them. But she's super friendly and fun to chat with. 
Here's the dealio: I don't actually want to live in Pennsylvania because it's way too far from the ocean. But if IF I found some reason I found myself inhabiting a home with a western PA address, I've already picked out my barber chair in the back, where I could write and write and write. 
So come here. It's on The Strip on 22nd street. (I know the mailing address is Penn Ave. Ignore that.) if you're at the intersection of the two streets, looking toward the thousands, no, millions of vendors hawking fruit and Steelers merchandise, go left on 22nd. You're going to come across an island of color. Go towards the color. Go. Now. 

*For those who don't know, the Italians call sauce "gravy" and pasta "macaroni." Yes, they are weird. 

**Stuffed from the Primanti's sandwich, if you must know. Look how big the darned sandwich is!

***Yes, it is a word. 

Words of Wisdom #36

In case you're interested, here's a great retrospective of the fabulous Saul Bellow.
Robin Williams starred in the film adaptation of Saul Bellow's Seize the Day. [source]

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Bounty of Christmas Spirit (or: Where's Will?)

The festivities abound, as we told you about recently. We are (cigar) party animals as we count down to the VBT (10 days!).

Tonight, we are at one of our favorite places, Broadway Cigars, and guess who is here!
This guy! And Jim Robinson,
he of Leaf by Oscar and Island Jim Cigars
Our hosts, the lovely Bobby and JV, wish you could have been here with us! They told us they missed you!  Here's what you could have gotten:

Will practicing his showcase skills,
with the hopes of having a guest spot on The Price is Right.
How's he doing?
I know you probably know lots about the Leaf and Island Jim cigars, but if you're new (Hi! Welcome!), check out the links for lots and lots of information and jocularity.*

There were some shenanigans and this happened:

And this:

But let's talk about the best part of the night.** About 90 percent of the guys who came in had a bag of toys for this:
Can you find Will in this picture?
(No, we're not giving him away!)
Will wants you to help provide toys for the kids of Federal Hill House in Providence, RI. Stop by Broadway Cigars with a toy. Can't get to the toy store? Make a donation and Bobby will do the shopping for you!

You know, there are only ten days until Christmas, in addition to the VBT, so get over there quickly and help out a kid or ten.

And while you're there, buy a cigar or ten or twenty--they make great gifts for yourself, or someone else. We recommend getting cigars for someone who doesn't smoke them and then you'll get to keep the gift, but the giving still counts!***

While you're there, make friends with the folks at Broadway. You'll be so glad you did!

*And inane comments.

**Besides the food. And the company.

***We actually know someone who did this--gave Valentino a gift; it didn't work, so they brought it back. The people counted the gift as given! Boom! (And he's still out a gift from that year.)****

****Not that we're keeping track, but, yeah, we're keeping track.

Words of Wisdom #33

Not really a Words of Wisdom, but funny!

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Perfect Storm Cigar Dinner: Alec Bradley, Opa, and Habanos--all in one place!

About a hundred years ago (November), our friends at Habanos met up with our friends from Alec Bradley who met up with our friends at Opa.

It was the perfect storm of cigar events. If you didn't go, you should be both sad and jealous. While we're waiting for you to finish the sadness and jealousy, we'll let you enjoy the first of Will's many antics at the event.
We all received a four-pack of cigars at the event.
Mine went missing. Will feigned innocence.

Better? Good. As an aside, I find snacks always make the sad or the jealousy better.*

Drinnan Thornton, our friendly neighborhood Alec Bradley rep, brought many gifts for many folks. There was much rejoicing!

Caution: DDT doing the Drinnan
(Drinnen, Doc, Tino)

Valentino started with this delight:

I'd be an Alec Bradley groupie if that were a thing. Wait. Is that a thing? It totally should be.

According to CI, the "Connecticut boasts an array of big-time flavors, all while remaining pleasant and tame in body. Dressed in a seamless Ecuadorian Connecticut shade wrapper, and chock full of Honduran and Nicaraguan long-fillers, Connecticut produces a highly satisfying mild to medium-bodied experience. Plumes of creamy and cool smoke coat the palate as notes of cedar, nuts, and toast enter the fray before a slightly sweet finish. It's a lot like a light beer that tastes really damn good."

It really is damn good. Because it was an AB event, I was surrounded by like-minded smokers, many of whom started with the Connecticut. As a result, I got myself a snout full of woodiness, which sounds weird when  say it like that. Like the woods of Dunsinane** marched right into my face. Well, when that happened, they also brought some pepperiness and creaminess, so...yeah.

Then this happened:
Will was the official Guardian of the Meat.

We have more than once proclaimed our unending joy for any and all foods created by Joe, he of Opa fame. For this event, we had a million tons of food, but you only need to know about my most favorite, the thing that if we're passing by the restaurant, smoking a cigar as we wander around the mean streets of Federal Hill and Tino needs*** raw kibbeh--my favorite thing is hummus with ground meat and pine nuts on it with fresh pita bread. Oh gawd, that sounds great right now.

We ate until we almost--and really, we were thisclose to literally busting a gut--at maximum food capacity.

In order to aid digestion, Valentino moved on to this:

I fell in love with the Coyol at first smell. Actually, even before that.

Drinnen told us about how the cigar honors one particular farm. "Sometimes tobacco has great aroma or great flavor, but rarely does one have both," said company president Alan Rubin in Cigar Aficionado. "That is what makes Coyol so unique. The blend for this new cigar is designed around the Coyol tobacco, which is why I had to name the cigar Coyol." Oh, come on. You know by now that I like a story to go with our cigars.

According to CI, the cigar is a "bold, medium-bodied profile with notes of earth, leather, and spice flourish around the palate from first light. Subtly sweet notes of cherry and nutmeg are also present on the finish. Yet another masterpiece from Alec Bradley…par for the course these days."

Mr. Rubin, you had me at the sweetness. Perfect for after that fantastic meal.

In the meantime, some other folks were doing this, which lots of folks do at Habanos. I think it looks like a lot of work, but that's just me. Too many contraptions for the likes of me. And way too many things to remember and then mess up. But Will sure did like it:
Now if I only had a cheese plate...
We're cigar people rather than hookah people. And we know you probably are too! In celebration of this most fabulous event, we're giving away a five-pack of cigars and a jaunty cap for this month's Cigar of the Month!
Yep! We're giving this to one awesome reader!
Click the picture to find out how you can win!

*That is not a sign of a problem. You should be quiet.

**The blog's first Macbeth reference! Woohoo!

***Neeeeeeds, by way of me suggesting it

Thursday, December 11, 2014

This cigar really has a fighting chance.

Valentino moved the cigar around the humidor, getting it out of the way as he organized and reorganized and fiddled around with his cigar collection.*

Sometimes it made its way into the travel humidor, but always also made the return trip, maybe returning to the same spot, maybe settling into a new neighborhood within this humidor:**

Tonight, I was wrapping Christmas presents during the few minutes before we left for Habanos to hang out with the fab Nathalie,*** I wasn't paying attention when he stuffed**** tonight's cigar options into the cigar caddy.

Hi Nathalie! Hi Will!
He started the night with this, which you already know I/we love:

He took one out of the box. Now it's not a full box.
Time to buy more!!
Then he said he wanted something different, so he took out this:

We shrugged and said, "Why not?"
My heart sank. I wanted something familiar and delicious, not the travel companion to so many other good cigars. That's what I thought. What I said was something along the lines of, "grrrsdcjflelfk."*****

But along with the first draw and puff came a cloud of smoky deliciousness. It was like Rudolph being laughed at and then saving the day. Sure, I scoffed at the little cigar that I thought couldn't, but I'm classy enough to admit my serious wrongness.

Mea culpa, and dudes, for realz. Here's what CI said, "This is the third blend from the Sam Leccia camp, and appropriately it was released on Cinco de Mayo, a nod to the fact that “luchador” means “wrestler” in Spanish. This is Sam Leccia Luchador, and it will hit your palate like a folding chair to the dome. So much complexity is packed into every cigar it’s almost unbelievable, but once you try one, you may find yourself chanting, "Lu-cha-dor....Lu-cha-dor."

According to the Leccia website, "The Luchador is an exotic 5 country cigar blend handcrafted in Nicaragua consisting of very unique tobaccos. A San Andres Wrapper leaf surrounds the habano binder leaf grown in Ecuador. The filler uses viso from Esteli, Nicaragua with ligero From Pennsylvania-USA and Jamastran, Honduras. Centering the blend is a distinctive tobacco from Ometepe, Nicaragua.

"The Luchador blend uses 3 tobaccos grown in Volcanic soil: the Ometepe, Habano and San Andres. The soil in these regions is so rich that little to no fertilization is necessary."

El Hombre - 5x54  (the man)   El Castigo - 6x60 (the punishment)    
El Guapo - 6x50 (handsome)    Loco Perfecto - 6x58 (crazy perfect)

So when Valentino first released the Kraken, "It was like smoking Nicaragua," he said. Some serious sweetness lasted the whole smoke, and some crazy spiciness jumped in and out of the ring.

We think this Leccia joined the household through a Cigar of the Month box of treats from CI. You know what this means...someone is going to have to buy some for Christmas.  Don't tell Valentino, okay?

In other news, thirteen days and one hour from the time I'm writing this until the VBT!!!

*Because come on--when you have close to 2,000 cigars, you've become a collector-smoker, not just a smoker.

**Obviously, not this one. Ours is super full.

***And to be honest, to check on Will...

****Read: lovingly placed

*****I'm not very good with the spoken word, obvs.

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