Hand Rolled. A film about cigars

I am hoping that if you are reading this, you have watched the trailer and I ask that you share this on all of your social media platforms. Copy the link and help me get the word out. This project is about more than cigars. It is about something much bigger. The government of the United States is attempting to pass regulations that would have WORLDWIDE ramifications. We are not just talking about businesses and jobs in the US, but all across the world. If you are in the cigar world you know what I am talking about. If you don’t and you enjoy having the ability to walk into a cigar shop and pick out a cigar and enjoy it, then you need to do some homework.

This project is not just about the FDA but also about educating people of the history, industry and culture that we all know and love. They can’t do it alone. I met Pete Johnson at a CI and Famous event and we talked about this film and the importance of it. Pete and his companies believe in this project so much that they are helping in a number of ways to make it happen. If you have a cigar company and can help in anyway, I would ask that you reach out to these guys and get involved now. (If you are interested in a larger investment, please contact steve@handrolledmovie.com)

As consumers, we can help by supporting them on social media, getting the word out, purchasing merchandise through their online store and by simply donating. Click the links below to get involved.

Check it out here:

http://www.handrolledmovie.com/donate/

http://www.handrolledmovie.com/gear/

No donation is too small.

Something we all enjoy and love is being threatened by people that do not understand the very thing they are trying to regulate out of existence .

You can also join the fight by supporting Cigar Rights of America.

https://www.cigarrights.org/

At the end of the day we have the choice to sit idle and complain, wonder and guess. Or we can take action and have our voices heard. Contact your state representatives and congressmen and tell them you do not support what is going on. Invite them to come to your local cigar lounge and get educated on the subject so they can at least have some knowledge before making a decision they don’t understand. Cigars are not a Food nor are they a Drug so the FDA has no business adding us to this group.

The boutique cigar companies have the most to loose in all of this and I encourage all of them to get involved with Dr. Gaby Kafie and the Boutique Cigar Association of America. Collectively you can make a difference. For more information please check out :

https://www.boutiquecigarassociationofamerica.com

Again, I ask that you share this from time to time and help me get the word out. Please check out all of the links I have attached and support those that you can. Thanks for reading and sharing.

Together we can make a difference. Long ashes and full glasses friends. Cheers.

Cigar accessories and why quality matters.

Let’s face it, premium cigars are not an inexpensive thing. I consider my cigars an investment. They are an investment in my personal well being. But smoking is bad for you? Well, it has been proven that 1 to 2 cigars a day has almost 0 effect on your health and the way I see it, that hour or so I invest in relaxing with a cigar is a hell of a lot cheaper than therapy or jail time due to a road rage incident or assault charges. We have all been there. The Walking Dead is not just a show on TV, they are real and they work, walk, drive, and interact amongst us all. It is not yet legal to rid the world of the brain-dead, so until then, cigars and alcohol will have to do. Am I right?

So if you are like me, you spent a good amount of money on a nice humidor (or 3 plus a travel case), a nice lighter, cutters, humidification method of some type etc. Getting into cigars is not a cheap thing. Certainly there are less expensive ways to get started and there is certainly nothing wrong with that if that is what your personal budget allows. I wasn’t always able to splurge on the things I can now. Even now I don’t go crazy (that statement will vary greatly if you talk to my wife, love you honey, hopefully doghouse avoided) anyway, where was I? Ah yes. The cost of being a cigar lover. It is very easy to spend a few hundred dollars before you even purchase your first cigar to start filling that beautiful humidor on your desk or counter you have seasoned and waiting to house those beautiful sticks.

Cigar accessories are a topic I feel that many people don’t talk about enough and can be disastrous to your cigars if you skimp on them. From the proper humidor and caring for your humidor, the proper lighter, the proper fuel for that lighter, and even your cutter. So lets talk about those things briefly.

Humidors. As stated I have more than one. When I first started into cigars I was introduced to the Acid, Java, and Natural infused cigars. Do not judge me, they are still a great treat now and again. The problem with infused cigars is that they MUST be kept separate from your non-infused cigars or they will transfer their flavors over. So I had to purchase a second humidor. As my palate developed and I found more and more cigars I liked, I simply outgrew that one and had to purchase a third much larger humidor. So the humidor situation is under control, but how do you maintain it with the right temp and humidity. This is my Achilles heel being in the Northeast. Right now it is in the teens and humidity is super low. I spend time wiping my humidors down with distilled water and I personally use the Bovada 72% humidity packs. They are simple, clean and easy. They also offer 2 way protection which means they regulate the humidity if it is too high or too low. For my large humidor, I throw in 2 and they keep my cigars right where I like them. You will know if you have a humidity issue. Your cigars will be very spongy almost wet, which can lead to mold and ruin everything, or when you cut them, they crunch and break, which means they are too dry. I cannot stress enough that you use distilled water in your humidor every now and then and maintain your humidity. The climate you live in plays a big part in the maintenance of your humidor. If you live in the south and its humid most of the year (I am from Louisiana so Pa is vastly different) you may want your humidity a bit lower. Boveda offers a 69% so you may like that better. There are many different ways to humidify your humidor. I am giving you the one I choose simply because it pretty much fool proof.

Lighters. As a general rule, you can never go wrong with an old school wooden match. This is the purest method of lighting a cigar without introducing harsh chemicals into the cigar during lighting. Make sure to keep the cigar out of the flame and place it close enough that the heat lights the foot. I almost always start my cigar with a match when feasible. I use a dual or triple flame butane torch to finish it off. Butane is a great source for lighting cigars. Just make sure to invest in a premium butane filler when you refill your lighter. You can tell the difference. The trouble with butane in the north is that butane freezes at around 32 degrees so you must keep it in your pocket or warm it in your hand prior to using it. This is why homes are heated with propane in this region. Propane actually boils at -42 degrees making it much more usable in colder climates compared to butane. That being said, keeping your cigar out of the flame is very important. Also toast the foot above the flame and roll it around 360 degrees a few times prior to putting it in your mouth and drawing the flame to the cigar. This will greatly help avoid the chemical being pulled into the tobacco.

Lastly but certainly not less importantly, cutters. This is a lesson I learned the hard way. Having a good quality cigar cutter is the biggest factor in having a good or bad cigar experience. The type of cut also makes a big difference. When I first started smoking, I ordered a starter package with a humidor, lighter and cutter. No big deal. They all did the job. Along the way I wanted to try different types of cuts but I figured  “why would I spend $40 on a v-cutter when I don’t even know if I will like it?”. Same thing with a hole punch. I would understand why but not soon enough. I picked up a cheap hole punch and a cheap v-cutter and off I went. The hole punch worked well enough. I got the job done the first few times with no issues. Shortly after that I started noticing the caps were basically being broken or crushed. Being new I thought my cigars were dried out. Made sense I thought. Wrong. The cutter was getting dull and I was having to work much harder to make the same hole as before. I ruined a few cigars before, by accident, I figured out my issue. I purchased a new Xikar dual flame lighter with a hole punch that is built into the bottom. First time I used it, being use to the old, cheap punch I pressed too hard and broke the cap. Luckily it was not a big deal and it smoked fine. After that I took my time and man, what a difference. Take this same situation and insert a cheap v-cutter. I used my v-cutter numerous times and it never really seemed to give me that nice deep V I see on social media and in magazines. Try as I may, I could never achieve that nice cut so I basically gave up on the v-cut all together. I recently visited Famous Smoke Shop to pick up some Boveda packs, some Whiff Out (great for eliminating unwanted cigar odors, so I am told, testing that now) and I asked to see the Colibri V-cutter. I had researched this and the Xikar brands for awhile and I heard many great things about the Colibri. It is heavy, solid and the spring action is impressive. I decided to splurge and brought it home. First cut with it was impressive. I actually thought I took too much off of the cap, but I didn’t. Finally! That nice deep V I had always seen. Smoking the cigar I had cut was certainly different. Very strange compared to the traditional straight guillotine or hole punch, but the draw was perfect. Of course that depends greatly on the construction of the cigar. Some cigars are simply packed too tight and it doesn’t matter what cutter you have, it’s just not going to fix that problem.

Other accessories I have but certainly aren’t required is a nice metal cigar stand and a draw poker. The poker helps with a tight draw but proceed with caution and go slow. You can easily run at an angle and come out the side of your cigar. The stand simply holds my cigar without having it hanging off the edge of my ashtray.

All of these things are available at many different price levels, just like anything else. My suggestion is that you spend a little extra for a good quality humidor and cutter at a minimum. These to me are essential and will make the biggest impact on your cigar smoking experience. Having a cigar that is too damp or too dry or having a cap that is falling apart or torn and sticking out while you try to smoke is very annoying. If you pull it you risk having the cap come off or worse it goes down far enough that the wrapper starts to come apart. Been there. Nothing will piss you off and ruin your night than having that happen. Do some research, read reviews and if you have to spend a little extra, believe me, its worth it.

I hope you found this helpful. As always, leave your comments here. It’s always nice to have others leave tips or reviews of brands they use. Until next time, long ashes and full glasses friends. Peace.

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2016 Top Cigar List. And the problem with them.

Its that time again. Yep, now is the time for everyone to publish their top however many cigars of the year. I read through them, and without a doubt there are some really great cigars that make those list. My biggest problem with them however, is that virtually no one includes boutiques on this list! Seriously? How can anyone simply leave these terrific cigars out of the competition? Money. Plain and simple. I am not going to call out publications or other platforms by name because that isn’t my style, and as a consumer, and an Ambassador for CRA I have to be very politically correct because I could potentially have interactions with some of them.

I know that to be included for consideration or even featured in some publications, manufactures are faced with hefty fees, some I have heard are around the $25,000 mark. If anyone wants to send me a check for 10% of that, well, we can talk about making you #1 on my list as well. Money talks right? Wrong. I do not accept money, but I will gladly accept cigars to review and give my unbiased opinion on. Don’t judge me.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the top 25 that I have seen truly have some great sticks that are deserving of those kind of accolades, but to leave out boutiques is really unfair to not only the manufacturer, but even more so to the very people that read these list. As a consumer you should really find blogs and sites that offer a wider look into cigars. Some people could very well say that I am doing the exact same thing because I typically only feature boutiques on my blog. I wouldn’t say that you are wrong. I would simply say that this is a choice I have made to give smaller companies that cannot fund huge marketing campaigns and feature pages in the big publications a platform. The reason behind this is simple. If you want to read about big cigar brands, a simple web search will provide you with countless reviews and articles about almost any big brand you want. But if you want to read an unbiased look into lesser known cigars, brands and the people behind them, well you have to come to a place like this.

The other thing that I find amusing, but also annoying is the sheepeople posting photo after photo of them with the Top Cigar of 2016. We have all seen it, especially over the past few days. I have never been a big fan of bandwagons because it looks really silly when you fall off of them. It’s so funny to see the numerous post of the flavor of the day and in 3 months time, you never see them smoking it again. If it was so great, why don’t you have more than that 1? I guess I just don’t fit the mold of needing to be part of the “in crowd”. It’s great for the cigar company however, so smoke on and hashtag away with #1cigar and #topof2016, and most of all enjoy your cigar.

So the dilemma is, to do a top 2016 list or not. For the purpose of the blog I feel a strong obligation to do one, but at the same time, I feel there have been so many great cigars put out by so many great brands and I have enjoyed so many, how do I even begin?

I played with the idea of including viewers Top 10 list and I would love to see what cigars top your list. For the purpose of the blog, I have decided that I will list the top brands I have enjoyed this year. I will not limit it to a particular cigar because many of the cigars I loved over the past year did not get released this year.

So here we go with mixed emotions I present my Top Boutique Brands for 2016.

#10 Balmoral: This one was tough to put into this list. I have only had the Anejo XO and it was one of the best cigars I have tried period. Hands down, this 18 year aged work of art is outstanding. Because I only had this one, I had to put it lower on my list of brands but for single cigars it is easy top 5.

#9 Ezra Zion: I have more to try from them, but the cigars I have tried are all great cigars. All my Ex’s, Tantrum PA and the FHK, were very impressive. Perfectly constructed and great blends. I see myself trying more of these soon.

#8 1502 Cigars: This is a brand I tried later in the year and I must say that I was very impressed with them. The Ruby, Black Gold, Emerald were all very good. I have a Blue Sapphire in the humidor waiting for the right time to try it. I can see these becoming a part of my regular rotation.

#7 Nomad: From Fred Rewey and the Fabrica Oveja Negra factory (Black Label Trading/Black Works Studio) The Martial Law and the C-276 are outstanding cigars.

#6 Nat Sherman: This was an under the radar brand for me. I saw a few things about them from time to time but never decided to pick any up. I went into a local shop and they had the, so I inquired and purchased. Once I smoked one, I knew I had to try others and that I did. Very good brand and everything I have tried, I have truly enjoyed. Great smokes.

#5 Leaf by Oscar: From the famous Leaf and Bean in Pittsburg, the Oscar brand was by far some of the most enjoyable sticks I tried all year. The original 4 were the Maduro, Sumatra, Corojo, and Connecticut were terrific. Most recently the Oscar Habano hit the market and it was everything the first 4 were but turned up a notch.

#4 Crowned Heads: This one was tough because I am very partial to this brand. There are so many great cigars that Jon Huber and crew have put out over the past few years, many of which I have either a box or 5 pack samplers of. I love the feel of this brand, the stories behind the names, and the cigars themselves. They have teamed with My Fathers Cigars for a few sticks recently and they are really great. I will say that I have many Crowned Heads in the humidor and they are very much a BIG part of my regular rotation.

#3 Black Label Trading Company: From James and Angela Brown and the Fabrica Oveja Negra factory, this is a brand that I am truly a fan of. I stumbled upon their website one day and fell in love with the dark, edgy vibe that came from them. I sought out numerous shops to find them and once I did, I haven’t looked back. With the recent additions to their lineup, I am more of a fan today and they have a shelf in my humidor dedicated to their cigars. Last Rites, Santa Muerte, Lawless and the highly rated (although excluded from all major list) Bishops Blend sealed the deal this year. If you told me I had to pick a top cigar from 2016 the Bishops Blend would likely take that spot.

#2 Black Works Studio: Until very recently this was my number one brand and I never thought any brand would top it this year. The cigars coming out under this label are truly outstanding and the flavors being blended are mind-numbing. The Green Hornet, NBK, Killer Bee, and Rorschach are unique, flavorful blends that I truly love. All of these cigars are some of my favorite sticks from this year.

#1 Felix Assouline Cigars: Who? Yeah, that’s what I said a few weeks ago. And then I placed an order and Felix reached out to me to let me know the online store was down and he would personally take care of my order. True customer service and what a great guy. Then I got my cigars. Beautiful, hand crafted works of art. The quality and construction of each one was top notch. Then I put flame to foot and WOW! The tobaccos he uses in his cigars rival anything on the market. He included a 17 year aged cigar from his private stock for my “troubles” with the online store and if you haven’t read the review of the CSB Vintage Habano, check it out. Hands down the best cigar I have had. I still have a few more from his portfolio to try and review but the 5 I had (CSB, 2 Saints, Ego, Havana Sunrise Reserve, and the CSB Vintage) although very different, each were on a different level. I cannot say enough about these cigars. As much as I love the other brands I listed, the bar was raised with these. I am 100% sold that everything Felix puts out is world class and I am excited about things to come from FAC. Rumor has it something could be in the works soon. Stay tuned…

So there it is. MY personal opinion about the top brands I enjoyed. Personally I would take a cigar from any on this list and compare it to the big brands in a blind test and I think people would be very surprised at the outcome. Do not sleep on these boutiques! You are missing out on some of the best cigars on the market.

Hope you enjoyed the read. Please drop your comments and your list for everyone to review. Until next time, long ashes and full glasses. Peace!

Cigar Review. Ezra Zion FHK

Admittedly, Ezra Zion is a brand that is fairly new to me. Not to say that I haven’t tried some of their other cigars (Tantrum Pa and All My Ex’s) were both very good cigars but I did not review them at the time of enjoying them. I will eventually go back and do that for sure. After having the 2 previously mentioned sticks, I was impressed enough to pick up the FHK without knowing anything about it. I ordered this through the great folks at www.cigarfederation.com/store with a few other brands that were unfamiliar to me. Couldn’t beat the price and the free shipping at the time.

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The Ezra Zion FHK (Fathers of Hoover and Kelly) pays tribute to the 2 owners fathers which I respect and tells you a bit about who they are. I have not been in contact with them other than brief likes and comments on social media but researching the brand reveals a lot of great comments and reviews. This cigar is available in 4 different sizes. I had the box pressed 6 x 52 Belicoso. This cigar features a Mexican San Andreas wrapper with an Indonesian binder and Brazilian/Indonesian filler.

First impression is that this is a beautiful cigar. The dark brown wrapper has small veins and barely visible seams. There are 2 bands on this cigar. Both are black and gold and add a touch of elegance to the cigar. I picked up notes of wood, barnyard, leather and coffee from the foot. This wasn’t a very fragrant cigar and initially I didn’t pick up much from the cigar until I cut the cap. I used a straight guillotine cut and lit it with a match. I did touch it up with a dual flame to get it nice and toasted.

Right off the bat the draw was extremely tight and this continued to be a problem from start to finish. This almost always ruins the review process but I stuck with it. I got very little air through it, and the smoke production was almost zero. This surprised me because I know that Ezra Zion is known for it’s quality and construction. That being said, I have had bad draws from almost every cigar manufacture I have tried and these things happen. It makes for a frustrating experience but the show must go on right?

The initial notes I picked up were primarily woodsy, leather, a little pepper and a dark chocolate bitterness. Not bitterness in the sense of bad, but the bitterness that is found in rich, dark chocolate which I enjoy a lot. I fought through the draw with multiple small, quick puffs and finally got a bit of smoke to flow. I broke down and ran a draw poker through it and not much changed unfortunately. As I continued through the first third, the blend stayed pretty much the same without any radical changes in flavors. This was not a bad thing as the blend was flavorful and smooth. The ash held tight for over 1 inch and the burn was almost perfect. I was inside my garage with the heater blowing and it had little effect on the performance. Take that away and I would say the burn would be razor sharp and even all the way around.

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As I started into the second third, I picked up some subtle variations with a little more of the chocolate, maybe even coffee notes, with some pepper and the same woodsy flavor from the start. It is medium in strength and is very smooth. Nothing harsh and the profile is very consistent with a few shifts. The draw opened up for a bit and was a nice change from trying to suck the ash through the cap, but sadly returned to being tight again shortly after. I ran the poker through it again and it helped a little.

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As I started the final third, the draw finally broke and made the last bit of this cigar very enjoyable. I was able to pick up more of the pepper notes which blended well with the wood, leather and coffee. I read other reviews that claimed to pick up a ton of different notes that I certainly didn’t but that doesn’t mean much. We all taste things differently.

Overall, taking the tight draw out of the equation, this was a very good cigar. I enjoyed the blends a lot and I am a fan of the woodsy flavor that holds throughout the entire 1 hour 50 minutes. The strength increased a little in the final third but this could be due to the tight draw opening up and allowing more flow. This is a great cigar for beginners who want to increase their palates and move into a more complex blend. I also think that experienced smokers would enjoy this cigar. It isn’t super complex and there are no huge shifts in flavors but it is interesting enough to hold your attention.

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I would smoke this cigar again and I think it is certainly a cigar that I would be comfortable buying a 5 pack of. The appearance, construction and burn on this cigar was top notch. Another solid stick from Ezra Zion.

As you can see from the last 2 pics, the draw opened up and I smoked this stick to a nub.

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How do you define a truly great cigar…Part 2

I wanted to do a short follow up piece to the one I did a few days back. When it comes to cigars, every person will experience every cigar differently. This is a wonderful part of enjoying cigars. There is something intriguing about the entire process of cigars when you stop to truly think about it. The product in your hand represents a lot of different things that started in a field and grew into a wonderful plant that was harvested and through a very long process, sometimes involving years and years of trial and error and attention to every detail, carefully rolled by very talented and skilled individuals, packaged and shipped from other countries and making its way onto the shelf of your local humidor and kept under ideal conditions before finally making its way to you. The people that make cigars have dedicated their lives to this process. Some have been in the family business for generations, while others came into cigars some way or the other and set their own path to start a brand and make their own cigars. That takes a lot of courage, commitment, time, and money. When I look at a cigar I see a work of art. With so many people smoking cigars, every stick they put out means their name and reputation is on the line. Not to mention, people like myself that take the time to review and critique everything from looks, to taste, to performance, to packaging. It’s a tough business and with the new FDA regulations, things have only gotten tougher. Hopefully we can reverse course on this soon but who knows.

From a consumer standpoint, there is no better time to try so many amazing cigars. I have never had a true Cuban cigar, and honestly I don’t care if I ever do. Why? Because we have so many great cigars already on the market here. Because they have been the “forbidden fruit” for so long, there is such a huge interest in them. I won’t say I would never smoke one if given the chance but I really am fine if I never do. I have found a handful of boutique brands that I have in my rotation and that list continues to grow. My hope is that by doing reviews, others can take that information to their local shop and make an educated decision to purchase without having to guess and wonder about it. How many sticks did I drop good money on because the guy behind the counter said, “this is a great smoke” mostly because that is the newest thing on the market and you see all the pretty ads hyping them in the magazines and online. They aren’t always wrong, and I am sure there are people out there that would 100% agree. They tried it and they loved it.

At the end of the day, what makes a cigar truly great is…you. You can read every review and all the different things other people say they tasted and the experience they had but ultimately it comes down to your personal taste. Many things go into a cigar review. When I review a cigar, I am almost ritualistic in my approach. I will not review a cigar when I am with other people or in a lounge/bar setting. Too many factors can change the experience. And I have found that something as simple as having a few of the same cigars in the humidor and doing a review on one, coming back to it weeks or months later, it is completely different. Time and aging, seasoning if you will, changes the entire profile from what you remember. Another huge factor about cigars is the atmosphere and mood around you. Everything is better when you are having a great night out with friends and/or family. Drinks may be flowing, your favorite music is on, everyone is laughing and having a great time. My money says that you will likely enjoy any cigar you happen to be smoking. I am willing to bet that under those conditions, cigars that I didn’t care for much in a review would be completely different at that moment.

There are days when the world has thrown shit at me all day and shows no sign of stopping. That is probably not the best time for me to give a non-biased, truthful review. So I pick up something I know I have enjoyed greatly before and is a proven go-to for me, pair it with a nice drink of choice and tell the world, “You can pick this back up later, but for now, Fuck you, this is MY time and I will enjoy this”. And it always works. When you find cigars that can do that…You my friend, have found your truly great cigar.

Until next time. Long ashes and full glasses. Peace.

EGO…Good or Bad? Find out here

What is an Ego? By definition it’s a person’s sense of self esteem or self-importance. We all know someone that has strong ego and it’s pretty much seen in a negative light by others around them. Not often does the word carry a positive connotation. Sometimes we could all use an ego boost or have someone stroke our ego. When it happens, you feel great, you feel a lift in your spirit, and overall demeanor.

When I saw the EGO cigar from Felix Assouline, I thought man that is ballsy. It takes a strong belief in a product to associate it with something often seen in a negative light and seen as cocky or arrogant. Sometimes you are just very confident and it comes across in the wrong way. I decided to keep an open mind when I purchased this stick. I was intrigued by the name and I wanted to see what it was all about. It was either going to silence the critics in my head or prove them right. Don’t judge me, you have those same voices in your head. If you say you don’t, one of you is a liar! 🙂

I decided to save the EGO Spirit for last. No real reason for it, it sorta just played out that way. This is the last of the bunch that I purchased and obviously this will be the last review of the brand until I get the Ringo and Something Special in my possession. I will say that everything I tried was absolutely top notch and FAC is doing it right!

So without further ado, let’s spark this EGO and see what we get…

The Spirit is a 6 1/2 X 54 (Belicoso) box pressed Nicaraguan cigar with a Habano Criollo 98 wrapper, Indonesian binder, and filler from Honduras and Nicaragua. It is available in 7 sizes and priced between $1.96 (Shot) and $10.30 (Passion).

The cigar is simply an elegant looking cigar. The box press is very nice, the color is a rustic, reddish brown with some nice veins. There was a minor defect in the wrapper (you may see in the photos) that was visible but had 0 impact on this cigar or the performance. The band is really nice. The red and gold really stand out and it has an Indian feel to the artwork. With the Indonesian binder, it fits for sure.

From the foot I pick up heavy barnyard notes, with a mix hay, cedar and cocoa (almost a dark chocolate). I use a straight guillotine cut and only matches to get this one started. (It was so cold out that the butane in my lighter would not ignite)

Immediately I am flooded with a woodsy, cedar like flavor, spice and cocoa. The Jamastran and Jalapa come through nicely. If you are familiar with Felix Assouline, these tobaccos are noticeable standouts throughout the portfolio. The process he uses to age these tobaccos are something I have only tasted in his lineup. No other cigar that I am aware of taste anything like this. I am a big fan of the flavor profile it gives to his cigars. That being said, they are on display nicely in this blend. It almost has a cedar, pine or evergreen flavor and I cannot pinpoint it but its distinct and it is good! The draw is perfect and the burn is straight and even (until I cranked up the heater in the garage and the swirling hot and cold air mixture created a small issue as you see in the pic). The ash hangs on through the first third and falls off with a little encouragement.

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As I transaction into the second third, the pepper and spice are on display but not harsh at all. The dark chocolate profile ramps up a bit and this settles into a nice medium strength with a medium-full flavor profile. The cigar is performing nicely and even under extreme cold and swirling winds from a propane heater blowing hot air all around the garage, I only have some minor shifts in the burn line. The flavor profile is complex enough to make it very interesting. I am about 45 minutes in at this point and so far, another great cigar. I am starting to think that Felix might just know a thing or two about making great cigars. 🙂

When I review a cigar for the first time I typically only “pair” it with water because I like to get a feel for the cigar and only the cigar. As I transitioned into the final third, I decided to take a chance (and because it was freezing outside) to break out some Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon and see how things changed.

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The cigar changed back to more of the pepper and spice with some earthy tones and a creamy smoothness but with more of a cinnamon or nutmeg spice addition. When I added some bourbon into the mix things got very interesting. The pepper notes flooded my taste buds and it really amped up the spice in the bourbon. Things got hot but I wasn’t complaining. I am a fan of hot and spicy things but not to the point of pain like people that love having tears in their eyes from peppers. Being from Louisiana, cayenne pepper and flavor are a part of what we do with everything.

The more I got into the final third, things calmed down and the sweetness took the forefront and really leveled out the heat from the bourbon. The draw stayed perfect throughout the entire smoke and the burn (had it not been for the swirling air being forced around by the heater) stayed relatively even. Take away the heater and the burn stays even throughout. The ash held for each third and I needed no touchups at all.

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Overall, this was a very good cigar and worthy of its name. This is a cigar I would smoke on a regular and a great addition to any rotation. It was roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes total and I enjoyed my time with it. I am curious to try the other sizes as I have heard others say they got more of the sweetness from one of the others making it almost a dessert cigar. I did not find that in this one but I could easily see it as there are certainly notes of it to be found.

After 5 wonderful cigars from Felix Assouline Cigars, I can say without a doubt that I am sold on the brands. I have 2 others left to try and I want to try these same 5 in different sizes for sure. For me, FAC belongs in the top 3 of my all time favorite cigar brands. I encourage all of you to follow them on social media and visit the website. Make sure you let them know you heard about them on the blog and feel free to come back here and leave your comments, photos and reviews. I would love to hear what you think about all of the cigars I review. I hope you enjoyed it.

Don’t be afraid to put your EGO on display and share it with the world! Until next time, long ashes and full glasses friends. Peace!

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Felix Assouline Cigars…II Saints Review

 

Who is Felix Assouline you ask?

Felix Assouline (Taken from their website)

Felix first started out in the cigar business in 1997 on the retail side. His first store in Dania Beach, Florida sold all the premium brands and launched him into 3 additional stores in South Florida over a 6 year span. During that time he also ran a successful wholesale cigar business. Felix’s passion for a great smoking cigar drove him to try every cigar he possible could and as he did, he developed an intricate knowledge of cigar construction and how different leaves affected the flavor of the cigar.

With that insight, Felix opened his own factory in Danli, Honduras in 2004 and began making his own cigars. Felix introduced 2 successful brands, one of which being the original EGO, which received a 90 rating in Smoke Magazine in the September 2006 issue.

In 2007, Felix decided to sell everything and focus all his attention on his greatest love, his family. After enjoying incredible family moments for 6 years, he decided it was time to get back into the cigar business. This time, Felix wanted to focus all his efforts on fulfilling a dream of creating his own blends to achieve one goal: create the best premium cigars on the market…

The story is much more involved and I hope to do a spotlight on Felix and FAC in the upcoming weeks but for now I want to spend some time on reviewing a few of their world class cigars.

I was told about FAC through a BOTL on social media and he spoke very highly of all of their cigars. As life got busy I sort of forgot about them until I saw a post online for the II Saints cigar. Felix replied to one of my comments and directed me to the online store which happened to be down that day. We struck up a conversation and I placed an order via DM and we have chatted a couple of times since. Felix is a great man and very down to earth. I received my order yesterday and could not wait to try them all. First thing I noticed was the construction of the cigars. These are some of the most well constructed cigars I have seen. Right away you can see the quality of the cigar and the artwork of not only the bands but the sticks themselves.

I decided to try the cigar that sparked my interest in the first place, the II Saints. This cigar is available in 5 sizes but I chose one in particular and for a very specific reason. The La Petite Mort 5 x 52. Why you ask? If any of you follow me online you know that I am a music head. I love all types of music (well mostly) and if you are fans of Metal you may have heard of a band from Flint called King 810. Their sophomore album is titled La Petite Mort or A Conversation With God. For that reason alone I had to go with it. I exchanged a couple of messages with Felix and he asked me if I knew what La Petite Mort meant in French and I said yes and told him. He said “Yes, but the French use it in a much different way”. I found that it means “the brief loss or weakening of consciousness” and in modern usage refers specifically to “the sensation of orgasm as likened to death”. The expression comes from French, in which it literally means “the little death”. When you smoke this cigar in this votive you will clearly appreciate this history lesson. LOL.

Made in Nicaragua the II Saints features a beautiful dark brown Jamastran Criollo 98 wrapper with a Jamastran binder and Jamastran / Jalapa filler. Never heard of Jamastran? I hadn’t either so here is a little info on that.

“II Saints is produced in our factory in Esteli, Nicaragua with Tobaccos grown from our farm in Jamastran, Honduras.
The valley in Jamastran is known for its flavorful tobaccos which feature a sweetness and strength inherent in each puff. II Saints Cigars are all box pressed like most of our brands. II Saints feature a Lijero dark wrapper marking the cigar as a unique find in the cigar world.”

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So before I get too far into this let me preface this by saying that I had every intent of giving a detailed review on this cigar, however…Apparently my palate needs some serious work and expansion because this cigar was unlike ANYTHING I have ever tasted before. Holy     $!#@. As you can see from the photos, the cigar is a beautiful dark brown with an awesome band (shown above credit halfwheel) and it smells of barnyard hay, earth and a faint sweetness. I used a Xikar guillotine cut and matches to get it started, finished with a Xikar dual flame to finish. The first draw hit the me with a ton of flavor. There were certainly notes that I have had in other Nicaraguan cigars but the Jamastran adds and different level to this cigar. I can’t pinpoint what it is or really how to explain it so you just have to try it for yourself. There is a spice that hits the tongue and lingers for awhile but is balanced by a sweetness that makes it creamy and smooth. It is certainly full bodied and full flavor for sure. I was surprised at how complex and different this cigar truly was. As I made my way through the first third, the flavor remained the same throughout. Tons of flavor, sharp burn line, draw was good with a bit of resistance, and a good amount of white smoke.

As I moved into the second third, it turned just a bit to more of a woodsy/spicy blend. I didn’t pick up as much sweetness but the flavor was still complex and kept me interested. Ash held for more than 1 inch before I initially dropped it. I was in my garage with the heat on due to the cold weather and the cigar seemed to need that extra air to keep it going. The burn line stayed completely even throughout the cigar which demonstrates the quality of the construction of this cigar.

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Moving to the final third of this beauty and it stayed true to the first 2 thirds. A bit of the sweetness returned and the flavor never truly changed but it was complex enough to remain enjoyable for the entire smoke.

Warning: I found myself not wanting to put it down for long trying to figure out what I was tasting and I will say this, as a medium to full bodied smoker, this cigar does pack a punch and will test you if you are not use to full bodied smokes. Take your time with it. You have been warned. I did not get sick but this stick is very capable of it if you rush it or are not use to a smoke this strong.

Final thoughts. I really enjoyed this cigar. It was full bodied and has a lot of flavor from start to finish. I smoked this cigar down to less than 1 inch and the flavor profile remained true to the end. The blend is complex and tasty and people with a more experienced palate may be able to pinpoint all of the flavors, I could not. I will say that the Jamastran / Jalapa filler adds a level of flavor that sets this cigar apart from anything I have tried and I was not the least bit upset by that. I would recommend this cigar to anyone. Felix Assouline has a reputation of making World Class Cigars and I have heard this from many people I respect in the community. Again, proceed with caution on this one as far as strength goes but it is a Box worthy smoke for me for sure.

Hope you enjoyed the review and as always, I welcome comments, other reviews, questions etc. Now the challenge is, which one to try next? Felix sent me a special gift and asked me to review it so maybe we go with that one next. As always with cigars, so many great choices, so little time to smoke them all! I can think of worse problems. Have a great one folks. Peace!

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It’s not a cigar…It’s a 1502

I  heard the brand 1502 being talked about in a few shops and online but I had never gotten the opportunity to try them. After exchanging a few comments with Enrique of 1502 on social media and placing an order through Cigar Federation, I finally had the opportunity to try 2 from their line-up.

First up was the 1502 Emerald. 6.5 x 52 box pressed torpedo. Made by Global Premium Cigars  Country of Origin: Nicaragua Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano Corojo Binder: Nicaraguan Filler: Nicaraguan (Esteli, Condega) & Mexican (San Andreas)

Looking at the cigar it is caramel brown in color with a nice Emerald green (duh) and gold wrapper, and had minimal veins and super tight seams. I picked up notes of pepper and wood from the foot. Straight cut and match to start the burn, touched up with a dual flame torch.

The draw was very nice with a touch of resistance and produced a lot of smoke. Pepper (maybe a mix of black pepper and cedar) mixed with a coffee or cocoa blend hit my palate. As I move through the first third, I find the cocoa has a slight dark chocolate bitterness (in the good dark chocolate way) that evens out the pepper and spice nicely.

Going into the second third, the earthy, spice (cedar and pepper) take over and remained through the final third of this cigar. I found this to be a nice smooth blend throughout the entire cigar and it was a mild to medium strength cigar to me.

The ash never got more than 1/2 to 3/4 inches and the burn was even and sharp. I had no issues keeping it lit with no touchups required. With so many great cigars coming out of Nicaragua these days, adding the Mexican San Andreas sets the flavor profile of this cigar apart. It has a nice cedar woodsy flavor mixed with some spice. I really enjoyed this cigar and I think it would be a nice addition to any humidor. If you are newer to cigars and want something with a slight kick and flavor, I would recommend trying this cigar. Total time was 1 hour 50 minutes. Paired with Water. 20161128_1937051

Up next was the 1502 Black Gold Toro. 6 x 50 Wrapper: Sun Grown Maduro Binder and Filler: Nicaraguan

As the name suggest, this cigar is a dark brown maduro wrapper with a Black and Gold band. It also has barley visible seams and the foot is partially covered. It smells of leather and spice with earth notes. Guillotine cut and match lit with dual flame touch up produced a nice draw with some resistance and lots of smoke.

I am met with a lot of cocoa and spice to start out the first third. The cocoa was almost like an espresso with a bit of spice mixed in. The burn was a little jagged and uneven but not too bad.

Moving into the second third the earth notes come in nicely and there is a subtle sweetness added to the blend. I am not sure I can pinpoint it but it reminds me of dried fruit of some sort. It is complex enough to make it interesting but not overwhelming and it is flavorful for sure. I find it to have a lot of flavor but is medium to full in strength.

As I get into the final third, I still have the dried fruit flavor with the espresso or cocoa flavor mixing with the spice. The spice hangs on for a bit. The burn and draw were both good throughout and no touch ups were needed.

This was a good cigar that leans towards the full flavored and full bodied strength. As a fan of the maduro, I would smoke this cigar again. I would certainly pick up a 5 pack and put it into my rotation. Total smoke time was 1 hour 45 minutes. Paired with Buffalo Trace Bourbon.

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I have a Blue Sapphire in the humidor and I hope to review it soon. At the price point, it isn’t an everyday smoke so I am hanging on to it for a nice occasion.

I will say that I enjoyed both of these cigars a lot. They were a nice change in flavor and strength and I would smoke them again for sure. They make an XO which I would love to try as I am a huge fan of the Balmoral Anejo XO, both of which are 18 year aged. I would be interested to compare the 2.

Feel free to check them out at http://www.globalpremiumcigars.com/ and leave your comments and reviews here.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out the reviews. Until next time…Peace.

Black Label Trading Company and Black Works Studio Cigars

Where do I start with this one? My love for boutique cigars started with the Crowned Heads brand and I started doing some research. I came across the BLTC website and clicked on it. Something about the imagery, the feel, the vibe, the grunge intrigued me about this brand. As I read more about their cigars the more I knew I had to try them. So I made some calls and checked all the stores listed online and only 1 small place told me they had them. Time to load the wife into the car and bribe her with a night out for dinner and some casino fun, with a small pit stop along the way. We arrived at the Wooden Match (awesome old train station converted into a humidor and restaurant) and I bought what they had in stock. I threw caution to the wind and hoped that I actually liked the cigars but if not, well I guess some friends were getting some cigars gifted to them. Lucky for me these cigars were everything I hoped they would be and then some. With names like Salvation, Redemption, Benediction, Last Rites, and Lawless…how could I go wrong? The hardest part was figuring out which one to smoke first. Lawless it was and with that, my love for Black Label was born. These cigars were unlike anything I had tried before and that was a good thing! I started looking online for reviews and seeing what other people thought about them and to my surprise, there wasn’t a lot of info available. How could that be I thought? Such a great product from a great brand (in my eyes anyway) and then it made sense. Boutique brand that is pushing the envelope, not doing very commercial packaging and kinda had that “Outlaw” feel to what is accepted. This made me like them even more.

As I tried the rest of the cigars I had gotten, I did some research on the people behind the brand, James and Angela Brown and Stephanie Harris. I won’t give much away in this post because I am hoping to feature them as this blog grows and I want to do a feature piece on them, but I was amazed at where they came from, how they got started and the passion and courage they had breaking into the industry. When we talk about brands and cigars, seldom do we stop to think about the people behind them and their stories. This is something I am hoping to change because to me, the people are the true story and the cigars are their way of telling the world about themselves. Artistry and expression in the form of a cigar. It wasn’t very long ago that one of my favorite cigar shops held a Black Label, Black Works event and I was able to meet James and enjoy a couple of cigars with him and talk about all of this. You could not ask to meet a nicer, more down to earth guy.

So…Black Works Studio. Yeah about that. Founded by James, Angela and crew and out of their Fabrica Oveja Negra factory in Esteli, Nicaragua, come some of the best boutique cigars to hit the market. As if BLTC weren’t enough already, the BLK WKS come out swinging and they don’t miss! For those that know James or follow on social media, you have seen the references to the Wu-Tang Clan and you will also notice the reference with the Killer Bee cigars, and so forth. I can appreciate that as I was and still am a big fan of when hip hop was great and totally unlike most of the non-sense that is currently being sold as “good music”. This year I have picked up the Green Hornets, Killer Bees, Bishops Blend (contender for Cigar of the Year in my opinion), Rorschach, and I am picking up my Santa Muerte cigars tomorrow and I cannot wait to try them. I have not reviewed these cigars as of yet but I can say this with all honesty…Try them all! Bishops Blend is a standout for me. Even before the hype and the ratings from Halfwheel (Great rating and well deserved 94) and others, this cigar was way at the top of my list of must have cigars. Everything that is produced in this factory is outstanding. Nomad is produced there also and if you haven’t tried the Martial Law, well, you need to have that in your life. By the third draw of the first third I was looking for a box of these.

My goal is to be able to take a trip down to Esteli within the next year and visit the factory and hang out with James and the crew for a few days. That would be an amazing experience and for those that agree, you can reach out to James and Angela and she will forward you the itinerary and the pricing. I would love to get a group of us together and make the trip so if you are interested, hit me up.

Although I want to do a more in-depth post about these 2 amazing brands, I wanted to do something now and showcase some of the great products they have on the market. I know that Cigars on State, Cigar Federation and some others have them in stock. I also know that they both ship and have great deals available. I hope that you will take the time to enjoy some of their cigars and that you would drop some comments or reviews here and let others know what you think.

I can tell you that without a doubt both of these brands are a staple in my humidor and anything they put out is a great choice for a “go to” cigar. Now that it’s getting colder out and being outside isn’t always ideal, the Rorschach is the perfect choice for an outstanding smoke when you don’t have much time. For a cigar of this quality to come in under $5 it’s a no-brainer for me.

As always, please share and leave your thoughts, comments and questions here. Until next time, long ashes. Peace.

Killer Bees, Bishops Blend and Last Rites.

News and info

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Leaf by Oscar Coroja and smoked ribs

Hope everyone had a great weekend full of great smokes and good times. I just wanted to drop in and let you know that I am working on some good stuff behind the scenes and talking with some great people that are going to be featured here very soon. Getting a lot of support and encouragement along the way but I need your help. Please spread the word and share us on social media. I can’t do this without followers and I want to make this a place that people want to come and spend a little time reading and engaging.

I scored some great smokes this weekend and I am looking forward to trying them and reviewing them here very soon. I am also looking for some reviewers and bloggers that may want to join in and help with reviews, articles, etc.

I am going to start a boutique spotlight feature starting very soon dedicated to the companies, people behind the companies and the products they make. This is something I am very much looking forward to doing because never in a million years did I ever think I would have people I look up to in the industry reach out and offer to help with this project. If you are a fan of any certain brand/s, drop me a comment about who they are and we can try to arrange a piece on them. Also, let them know about us so if they want to be featured, we can set them up. I have a list of great companies already and I am just waiting on the getting the info so I can start.

I also want to feature local cigar and pipe shops. If you have a favorite, drop me a comment. Tell us what makes them special to you. This helps us get a feel for where we are being seen and puts others in touch with awesome shops to support if they travel to your area. I am spoiled because I have a few major players in our area, but we also have some great local spots with some really awesome people. As an Ambassador for Cigar Rights of America (check them out at www.cigarrights.org and become a member) I am getting to travel to a few shops in and around my area and it’s always cool to experience new places and meet new people. Brothers and Sisters of the Leaf are some of the best people you will ever meet. I have always been amazed at how friendly, open, and downright generous people in this community are. We want to support those places!

New logo in the works. Looking to do a simple Vintage type logo that we can use here and on social media so people can start to recognize us as we build a brand. Maybe we can look at merch later down the road. We shall see how it goes.

So anyway, please check back often, spread the word and drop some comments. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I may do a dedicated page for the blog as we start to grow. Thanks for the support and stay smokey friends! Peace

 

So what are some Boutique Brands? What is your Favorite Boutique and why?

 

So tonight I want to open it up to anyone that reads and/or follows the blog. What is your favorite boutique and what makes it special? Loaded question isn’t it? With so many fantastic boutique cigars on the market today how can you possibly choose A favorite cigar? I can honestly say that I could not narrow it down to one certain cigar. Every time I try a new brand or new cigar by brands I already know, its like they just keep getting better. Then I go back to cigars I haven’t had in awhile and its like trying it again for the first time and it is better than I remembered it. How many of you can say that about the last big box brand you had? Granted I have had some good big name cigars that were impressive to a point, but to go through the entire line up and say without a doubt that each one was as consistent as the first or better, I would have a hard time. I can think of probably 2 major brands that I can honestly say, I have never had a cigar from them that I didn’t like.

So some of the boutique brands that I want to feature here tonight are brands that I have either personally tried, or they have come Highly recommended by friends and people I interact with on a regular basis. Some I will be ordering very soon since I have found a website that carries a very good boutique selection and are super awesome to deal with. That would be the great folks at www.cigarfederation.com (Free plug because they rock). I encourage you to visit their site and throw all of your money at them because they don’t sell anything but the best. Their Color Project stuff I hear is off the charts good. I am hoping to get some of them soon! They also carry every one of the brands I am going to mention. (I have no affiliation with them, not sponsored or employed by them, just showing love to those that deserve it)

Ok, brands. These are also companies that I hope will allow us to feature them on a weekly spotlight we are looking to start very soon. I have 2 companies lined up now, just working out the details.

1502 Cigars. Have not tried them yet, highly recommended to me by several people I know and trust.

Balmoral Cigars. Personal top 5 cigars for me. 18 year aged given to me by my wife on our anniversary and after the first third I called my friends at www.cigarsonstate.com (Clark Summit Pa free plug cause they rock too) where she found them and ordered a box without hesitation. You won’t regret dropping the cash on this stick.

BLK WKS Black Works Studio. Created by James and Angela Brown of Black Label Trading Company. They are dropping so many fantastic sticks, I am considering a second mortgage on my house. Killer Bees, Green Hornets, NBK, Bishops Blend, Boondock Saints, Sindustry, Rorschach, phew what did I miss? Everyone I have tried has been head bangers. The vibe and feel of the brand, James is one of the coolest, down to earth people you will meet and they are making INCREDIBLE cigars.

Black Label Trading Company – The one that started it all for me and my love for boutique cigars. Lawless, Redemption, Deliverance, Benediction, Morphine, Last Rites and more. Fantastic brand. Love their vibe, love the feel to the brand, and love their cigars even more. Lifetime fan for sure. Some of my favorite go to cigars on a regular basis.

Caldwell Cigars – Caldwell has released some great cigars that I have enjoyed a lot. Blind Mans Bluff, Eastern Standard, The King is Dead, are all really good cigars. He just did a collaboration with Jon Drew called All Out Kings. I have not tried it yet but I hear good things about it.

Crowned Heads – Jon Huber and crew make some of the best cigars on the planet in my opinion. Based in Nashville, the music vibe and theme for their cigars, along with the blends they are doing are just incredible. My first cigar from them was the Mason Dixon and I have been hooked every since. Headley Grange, Jericho Hill, JD Howard, Four Kicks, La Imperiosa, Las Mareas, are some of the many great cigars they make.

Crux – Hearing a lot about this brand as of late. I have only had one of their cigars and I really enjoyed it. I am hoping to try more of what they have out. #GoCruxYourself

Ezra Zion – I have not tried these however, I found them in stock online and they are mine! Do not try to order them I am calling dibs now and I licked everyone of them! Back off! I have been searching for them at a few local spots and they are always gone. I am guessing there is a reason for that. They come highly recommended.

Illusione – What a mysterious brand. Visit their website and see for yourself. Very intriguing company. I have heard some great things about their cigars. Looking forward to trying them very soon.

Nat Sherman – New York New York. I just killed that Sinatra impression…turn your speakers up and you will hear for yourself! I have had a few of these and they are terrific cigars. I actually have 2 or 3 in the humidor that I have been eyeing for the last few days. Maybe this weekend my friends. Start spreading the news… Yep, I did that.

Nomad – Fred Rewey is not your typical cigar maker. Says it right on his website. And boy am I happy about that fact! This guy is KILLING it. When I met James Brown last month he recommended the Martial Law which just so happened to be in stock, so I took it home. The next day I cut the cap and took a cold draw, what the what???? I couldn’t light it fast enough. The initial draw hit my taste buds and back of my throat like a dose of cayenne pepper from my home state of Louisiana, and then blended so perfectly and smooth. Next up was the C-276. Another fantastic stick that I really, really enjoyed. I found more Nomad online and plan to try many more from them soon.

Room 101 – Started by Matt Booth I have tried a few 101 cigars. Payback, Johnny Tobacconaut, Daruma Gold and the San Andres. All of which I enjoyed very much. The big Payback was a bit on the larger ring gauge spectrum for me but it was a great smoke. Matt also makes some incredible jewelry. Think West Coast meets Far East tradition. I recently won a nice Xikar Room 101 cutter that I use on a regular now. Thanks Matt, Xikar and Famous Smoke Shop for that!

Surrogates – I heard about them through my brother in law recently and started doing some research. So far I am seeing nothing but great reviews and looking forward to picking some up to review and try.

Tatuaje – What can you say? This company is so highly regarded in the boutique world and for damn good reason. Pete Johnson has created some of the best cigars at the My Father Cigar Factory in Nicaragua. I had a 10th Anniversary on a cruise recently that I enjoyed, Tatuaje Black, Fausto, Havana VI, and Tattoo are all wonderful sticks.

So there you have it. These are just a FEW of the many, many great boutique brands that you will find out there. Like I said, I started with these because I am either very familiar with them, smoke them regularly, or they have been very highly recommended. I am talking with a few other brands now that I am hoping to feature very soon. I hope you got some info from this. Please feel free to comment, share and drop us your favorite brands. ALL are welcome here and we would love to do a feature piece on each and every one of them in the future. Please send them to the page and have them contact us at the top of the page. Until next time, smoke em if you got em. Peace!

 

 

 

 

What is a Boutique Brand or Cigar?

This is a question that gets debated frequently in the cigar world and one that isn’t exactly very cut and dry to answer. There are some variations of the term that get used a lot and in my opinion misused in order to describe a “small batch” put out by larger cigar manufactures that we are told are “boutique blends”.

Right now the cigar industry is going through a new and exciting phase with the explosion of new, innovative, creative, masterful, artful, passionate people that are developing and creating some of the best cigars the world has ever seen. Sadly, many of them go undiscovered because these cigars don’t get the publicity of the big brands because the companies simply choose to invest their promotional and advertising dollars into high end, premium tobacco or more experienced torcedors that ensure the highest quality and craftsmanship. This new phase of cigar manufacturing and influx of great new products is being driven by Boutique brands.

So the term boutique, as I understand it in the industry (again much debate goes into this) defines a company that produces less than 1.5 million cigars per year. I have heard that number at 1 million to 1.5 million. The other thing that gets considered is the cultivation of the small batches of tobacco and the high attention to detail that the cigars are made into. So those 2 things alone can describe boutiques and small batch cigars. Confused yet?

Boutique cigars, to me, are a premium handmade cigar, but unlike regular premium cigars, are made in small batches with much greater detail. The tobacco is special and hand selected, grown in smaller batches and used to create a very complex, distinct flavor. They are typically harder to find, and not available in every cigar shop making them a sought after commodity for those of us that love them. The flavor and aroma of these cigars are not to be found in a regular premium cigar. For me, it’s more than just a cigar. It’s knowing the passion and artistry that was put into each cigar, the vibe of the brand, the artwork on the band, knowing how hard they can be to get your hands on, seeing the quality of the construction, knowing that you are not one of the sheepeople mindlessly smoking whatever they have been told is the “next great cigar” only to feel ripped off or trying to convince yourself that you actually liked the taste of shoe leather and ashtray. It’s about the experience and knowing that you have something that is special and most of the world will never experience it. The true hidden gems of the cigar industry.

Many times when I am in a cigar shop and pick up a boutique cigar and people ask me about it, I hear “never heard of it, how much is it?” I know right then that they are not usually someone that I can convince to try it so I don’t bother trying. Other times I get “Never heard of it, how is it?” Those are the ones that have a chance. Sometimes they opt for a more familiar choice, but they are thinking about trying it later on. Sometimes I just feel like being generous and I will just buy them one and watch them as they experience it for the first time. It’s almost magical to see their expressions as their senses come alive and they give you the “Damn, this is a good cigar”. Welcome to the world of true boutique cigars my friend. You are welcome. I certainly remember my first one and I no regular premium cigar had topped it yet. Not to say that there aren’t many great premiums out there because there are, and on occasion I do smoke them. Shhh.

Jonathan Drew posed the question in Cigar Advisor awhile back “At what point does a ‘Boutique Cigar Company’ lose it’s roots and become a ‘Corporate Cigar Company?’ The answer is the same as the question, ‘When does a person become old?’ The answer is defined by the person’s heart, their attitude and, in this case, in the market’s perception, quite honestly.”

I thought that was a brilliant take on the topic. Obviously, JD has become one of the largest cigar manufactures in the world, but the culture and cult like following of their many brands is something you find at a much smaller level with many current boutique brands. You can’t walk into a cigar shop today without finding something that Drew Estate produces or has a distribution deal with. One of my all time favorite cigars is the Balmoral Anejo XO and they have been around forever but are under the distribution of Drew Estate.

As these smaller companies continue to grow and word spreads, a few may strike some big distribution deals and get into heavy rotation with the big box stores. If that happens, it will be interesting to see how many of them keep their same high quality standards. I think for the most part many of them will do just fine. I also think some of them aren’t out there looking for that big deal and just love doing what they do.

How many of you have been to a cigar event that featured a big name cigar maker? They are always nice, willing to take a photo with you, sign an autograph on the box you purchased and all of that fun stuff. Nothing wrong with it at all. Been there, done that. It had that big brand feel to the entire experience. How many of you have had the chance to attend an event with the owner of a boutique brand? Night and day experience. The most down to earth, humble, nice, generous people you could ever hope to meet. It’s not just about the sales for the night, it’s about meeting the people that support their brands and enjoy their creations. They willingly give up their time to have real conversations about things outside of cigars. These are the people that I respect and admire in the business. They are creating such high quality works of art, in my opinion, with such passion and dedication that most of the successful guys seem to have lost. Don’t get me wrong, many of the most successful cigar makers are still very passionate and creative, but the feel is different. It’s almost like Ford Motor Company and Bugatti. Both make products they are passionate about, just at much different levels of quality and quantity.

Which leads me to my last point. Cost of a boutique vs. a regular premium cigar. Why such a big difference? Is there a big difference? Is a micro-brew more expensive than a Miller Lite? Why is that? They are both beer right? A boutique is just a premium cigar right? Wrong. The quality of the tobacco is much higher, the construction of each hand rolled cigar is on a different level, the blends are better, the flavor and aroma are unmatched. They also have higher shipping cost and to fewer stores. So if a boutique comes in at $9.50 per cigar vs. Big Brand Box Store with all of it’s marketing, mass production and lower shipping cost is on the shelf next to it at $7.95 how much cheaper is it vs. what you are actually paying for? Certainly the quality is going to be inferior to the boutique, the flavor won’t come close, the construction won’t be as good and at the end of the day you were left with a subpar smoke that passed the time, but did you honestly walk away from it going “That was a fantastic cigar and I enjoyed the hell out of this”? I know the answer because as someone that smoked many big brand cigars over the past few years I have had exactly 1 cigar that made me purchase more than a 5 pack. (Balmoral) On the flip side of that, I own more boutique cigars than anything else. Why, because they are effing incredible cigars, that’s why. If I had more money, no wife, a large humidor, and a house I could smoke in, I would be on TLC as the cigar hoarder and they would be trying to do an intervention on my a$$. Just kidding babe (I am already in trouble because I said I was doing stuff on boutiques and she got excited thinking it was clothing…my response was not to her approval) anyway…moving on.

Not sure if this cleared anything up but I would love to hear some feedback and suggestions. Please spread the word about us. I have some pretty exciting news coming up in the next day or so. Working out some details for some special guest, finalizing the format for the Boutique Spotlight section of the blog, getting some great support from many in the industry and on social media so stay tuned. Let’s make this thing blow up!

Thanks for stopping by. Light em if you got em. Peace!

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