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Charleston, SC — Tinderbox and the Enchantment of the City

27 Oct

I had arrived in Charleston, sans luggage. This about freaked me out since I had about 10 nice cigars in there that I wanted to review — never mind that I had clothes for the week (I’m here until Saturday morning). I checked into my hotel and got a shuttle into the city core. One of the things that’s evident about the city is that people are proud of it and it’s heritage. As I walked through the old parts of the downtown, I realized I wanted a chance to relax. I stopped first for a plate of pasta and then walked door to the Tinderbox.

And it was like I walked back in time. It was almost as if I could hear my grandfather, talking about all the things he had opinions on (he was an American who lived in Canada for most of his life). It was the smell of pipe that brought back a flood of great memories. I looked through the variety of cigars that were available and perused the selection. I decided on a Don Tomas Cameroon Collection Rothschild. The draw was great and it burned consistently. So much so that if I wanted, the whole cigar would have been a single, solid block of ash. As I sat in the back, relaxing with the cigar I looked around at the various tobacciana that graced the store.

Tins of pipe tobacco. Old cigar signs. Antique ashtrays. It was a feeling of tradition, of family. Not surprising since this place has been around since 1928. In fact, above the Tinderbox is Club Havana, the last bar you can smoke cigars at in the city. It was grandfathered and protected to have that ability. This Friday they are having a Hallowe’en celebration. While I won’t have a costume, I’ll likely go so I can have a good memory to go home with about the city. Before leaving, I purchase about a dozen cigars since the tobacco tax is considerably lower here compared to NY. Once at the hotel, I discovered my luggage had been found. To celebrate I had two cigars. The first was an Ashton Benchmade (I had purchased this when I was in Baltimore). Very reminiscent of other good Ashton cigars. It was a smooth cigar with what seemed to be the best of the bits from other Ashtons.

As I write this I’m enjoying a nice Asthon VSG Enchanment, which seems to signify what the city is about: the enchanment of the South, traditions and a life enjoyed. This was one of the cigars I brought with me (the intent was to free up my humidors a bit more so I could get more single cigars and do more reviews). The Enchantment is almost large a larger version of the Mystique but has more flavour to enjoy. The interesting shape ensures a nice slow enjoyment of the evening and forces one to relax. It was something I needed after the stress of dealing with airports, lost luggage and airlines.

By the way, the Quality Suites hotel near the airport seems the last hotel that has smoking rooms (they also have balconies and a happy hour from 5:30-7:30 where guests of the hotel get free wine and beer). Not a bad deal. :)

 

Cigars for newbies

11 Oct

This can be a challenge to determine what cigars are best for newbies. It does depend on your taste buds. I’d say it’d be worthwhile trying only a stick or two at first. If you really like something then you can buy a box and put them into your humidor or tupperware-dor. One of the things you should invest into is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cigars, 2nd Edition, an excellent book that recommends and breaks down the finer points of cigars and the world of cigars.

Also, where possible, visit a local B&M cigar store so that you can look at and touch the cigars. There should be a firm give but not like a wet sponge. Remember that cigars are kept at 70/70 range (70F and 70% humidity). If they respond like a wet sponge, then the store has too much humidity. If they don’t respond at all and feel like wooden, dry stick, then likely they are too dry. Also check for a bluish tinge. If you see that or perfectly round holes, then go to another store. These are indications of mold look almost like the mold you’d find on food — fuzzy and slightly coloured. If you see a white tinge and it’s not quite mold, it’s likely that you have bloom or plume. This is an indication of a nicely aged cigars. I found these photos elsewhere that show mold on cigars so you can get a feel for it.

Plume or bloom is the release of the oils from the cigar and because of the wrapper, they get trapped inside drying and turning into a white powder. You can see the difference in this photo. Plume is not a bad thing as it is a natural occurrence and does indicate an aged cigar. All you have to do is wipe it gently off with your fingers and you can smoke it fine.

Generally speaking, most cigar newbies start off with mild or slightly flavoured cigars. This helps to develop the palate and as time passes, you’ll find you’ll get into the more bolder cigars. You can ask your local B&M for suggestions. Personally, I would start with a sampler of sorts from a local B&M or online store.

If you have a sweet tooth I’d definitely suggest the Drew Estates or Acid lines. The Dirt and Krush are definite ones to start out trying. They tend to be mild and the wrappers are literally dipped in a sugar, which gives them a sweet flavour throughout the cigar. This isn’t something that everyone would enjoy.

If you’re not big into flavour but want to start off mild look to the Macundo (Gold, Cafe or Maduro), CAO Gold, Ashton or one of my favourite brands, the Rocky Patel Connecticut. I’d also stick in the Georges Reserve that I like so much (these can only be obtained from Famous Smoke) These cigars will range in price (depending on your area and tax rate) from about $2-$8 per cigar. Many of these come with a natural or a cameroon wrapper.

For a medium flavoured cigar, you can’t go wrong with many of the sun grown varieties from the likes of Arturo Fuente and Perdomo. You also may want to try Perdomo Lot 23 or the Ashton Heritage or Cabinet lines. These will all give you more of a flavour punch when it comes to tasting the nutty, creamy flavours that I’ve talked about (and literally, that’s what you’ll taste). When I first experienced this, I finally understood what I had read elsewhere.

If you’re really adventurous and want to go out and try a full-flavoured cigar, I’d suggest first making sure you’ve eaten a full meal (and I mean a full meal). Try it after dinner and not after working 72 hours non-stop. Ensure you’re rested. I suspect most people get sick on their cigars when they try them on empty stomachs and when they are exhausted for the first go. Have water or a nice mild beer nearby. For these cigars, look to the CAO Brazilia, Rocky Patel Sungrown (very nice), Perdomo Cameroon Reserve (again, a nice cigar), Gurkha Triple Ligero and the CAO Lx2. If you have a few extra bucks, look to the Ashton VSG for a great experience.

For me personally, I’ve found I like the cameroon wrapper and often look for cigars that have that. If you like a spicer flavour (you like hot wings and such), look for peppery wrappers like the rosado wrapper found on the Partagas Spanish Rosado, the Rocky Patel Rosado or the Perdomo Cuban Parejo. These can be trickier to find at times but are often well worth it. Now, you may have noticed that I’ve stuck with some major brands. It can be worthwhile to try those out first, figure out what you like (mild, medium or full) and then try other brands as recommended by friends or on whims. I personally tend to try a lot of a variety of things, although I do tend to stick almost exclusively with handrolled cigars.

Expect to spend about $4-$15 per cigar and plan in advance. Cigar smoking can be an expensive hobby at times and if you get deals, a humidor can bring those prices down (e.g., the Georges Reserve I like so much sometimes have a two-for-one deal thus effectively cutting the price in half — a humidor ensures that these will be a wise investment).

Whatever you’re choice is in the end, remember to take the time and enjoy it. It is the time spent with friends and family while enjoying a cigar that makes it more than just a smoke.

 

Cigar Review: Ashton Heritage Puro Sol #2

30 Sep

Cigar Name: Ashton Heritage Puro Sol #2

The start of the morning

Cigar Description: a variety of sun-grown tobaccos with a nice Cameroon (my favourite!) wrapper, done up in a Belicoso shape (4 7/8 x 49)

Review of the Cigar itself: While I’m not the biggest fan of torpedo shaped cigars (although this one is referred to as a “Belicoso”), this one isn’t too bad at all. The wrapper itself is a nice dark, almost chocolate-coloured shade. The draw was creamy and nice without being overwhelming. The ash came out almost white and flaked a bit even when being picked up. It’s interesting to note that attempts to “tap off” loose ash didn’t work but the action of movement (air passage?) seemed to. This meant cleaning my desk of little bits of ash here and there (it wasn’t overwhelming but just annoying).

The actual burn was very consistent and the smoke was a nice gentle white-bluish tinge. The scent wasn’t overpowering and had peppery hints in it. I actually found hints of flavour in the cigar itself but nothing that was overpowering. The flaking that I commented on earlier seemed to have stopped and it burned very evenly. In fact, there was only one instance of tugboating and when it did that, it actually self-corrected. Definitely a well-made cigar that someone took their time and effor into. The slightly creamy flavour with hint of pepperiness still continued. To me, this seemed more like a mild-to-medium cigar than medium but it is consistent regardless of it’s level.

As I got down to the last 40% of the cigar, I began to notice a nutty-kind of flavour starting to emerge. It was a surprise because on the reviews I had read at the various online-stores, no one had mentioned this. Perhaps it is a reflection of my own inexperienced palate coming through or the odd-combination of taste-buds I have. Either way, it wasn’t unpleasant and actually quite nice. Some medium cigars tend to have too much of a pepper taste at the end whereas this one is a gentle flavour as it continues.

In the end it was a pleasant way to start the day off. While this isn’t an overly remarkable cigar, it was still enjoyable none-the-less.

Enjoyed with: Water and a coffee (sugar and soy creamer added)

Smoke time: About an hour or so.

Purchased from: Barclay-Rex Cigar Store in Wall Street district

Final Review Rating: 8/10