A Moment to Reflect

Life has changed so much in the last week or ten days, is that all it’s been? It happened so fast, like a nightmare unfolding day after day as businesses close and the lives we used to live interrupted. This isn’t what spring in is supposed to be – it’s supposed to be March Madness, The Masters, baseball beginning to slowly unwind over another summer, vacations, plans for 2020.

Instead it’s closing schools, an economy cut off in mid-stride, jarring orders to stay at home, precautions against a global pandemic unleashed from books or movies – now reality, a battle in our time. In the rush to react, the sense of normal gone – flashes of what’s lost for now break through from time to time – break through the rush of getting through the day, anxious about tomorrow, heartbreak for people across the country facing sickness, and fear and loss.

Many of us have a niche, things we do and share – something that our friends just ‘know’ – a culture, a language, a feeling.  It’s odd – many often go through our toughest times alone – others pick us up, console us, lend an ear if not a hand.  But all of us at the same time? Not a person among us to say they’ve been through this before.

For those of us gathered here together reading these words, be safe – may we get through this – each of us alone but also together.  For now, we might light a cigar, feel the relaxation that comes with the first draw – take a short time out – not an escape but a time to take it all in – remember other times, look an unknown future in the eye. We’re here, we’ll take it as it comes, and we’ll meet again in time.  We’ll arrive back where we started and we’ll know each like we never have before.  We’ll roll up our sleeves and get it done.  We look forward to being here to serve you again in our shops – and while relaxing with a cigar in years to come, appreciate it even more.

 

Enjoying a Cool, Slow Burn

Did you ever look at a premium cigar? I mean, really look at it? The complexity of this hand rolled piece of art is amazing. A cigar is made up of three major parts: wrapper, binder and filler and each piece of the puzzle comes together to form a masterpiece to be enjoyed by any cigar smoker from novice to expert. To truly understand the beauty of a premium cigar, let’s discuss each part in more detail.

cigar details
Anatomy of a Cigar

To begin, the wrapper of the cigar, which is the visible outer cover leaf, is the most expensive part per pound. The tobacco leaves used for the wrapper need to be perfect in appearance as well as flavorful. Imagine looking at a cigar and seeing a veiny, rough or blemished texture.

Cigar Wrappers
Examples of Tobacco used for Cigar Wrappers

This would surely turn off any cigar smoker who would like to truly enjoy the smoking experience. If the tobacco leaves are not up to the standards, then it can no longer be categorized as a wrapper.

Next, let’s talk about the binder in a premium cigar. Generally, you can consider the tobacco used in the binder can be the same leaf that didn’t meet the wrapper criteria. In other words, the binder consists of leaves that don’t need to be as unblemished and pristine in appearance. The job of the binder leaf is to do exactly that….”bind” the filler tobacco together to hold it in place. But there’s more to it than that. The combustion of the binder is also critical.  A good-burning binder will often help the filler burn more evenly.

Finally the filler, which makes up the bulk of the cigar, is where the cigarmaker can get creative, using different types of tobacco from various countries and even several different primings from a tobacco plant.  Flavor, strength, complexity and burn time of a premium cigar are achieved with the filler.

Cigar Filler
Types of Filler Tobacco for Cigars

The key to a premium cigar is the overall construction from the foot to the neatly rolled symmetrical cap. If a cigar isn’t made properly, it will not draw or burn as it should, affecting both the taste and your enjoyment.

Once you have chosen your cigar, it’s time to master the cut, light it and enjoy the smoke. Typically there’s a slight taper at the head of the cigar called the shoulder. You’ll want to cut just above that line finding the balance of cutting off the right amount in order to avoid having too firm of a draw and a build-up of tar in the head. To light your premium cigar, treat it delicately and “toast the foot” of the cigar using minimal direct contact of the flame to avoid the taste of pure char. Use caution when lighting with powerful torch lighters which can easily cause a charred taste.Cutting a Cigar

When it’s time to smoke your premium cigar, don’t rush it, slow down and enjoy the process. If you puff too often, you may overheat the cigar and make it taste bitter. A cigar is made to burn cool and slow in order to enjoy the flavors of the tobacco. Taking a puff about every minute is recommended to enjoy the true meaning of smoking a cigar. And while it may be tempting to tap off the ash of your cigar frequently, leave the ash on for as long as you can. It actually serves as a temperature regulator, keeping the cigar cooler

Leather chairs
Beautiful Leather Chairs at Smoke Rings Cigar Bar

So the next time you select a premium cigar at Smoke Rings, take a moment to appreciate the masterpiece in your hand before lighting up. Consider the quality of the tobacco and the expertise of the worker that hand rolled it. Then sit back and enjoy a cool, slow burn, preferably in a high back leather chair.

Go Big or Go Home

If it’s bigger, it’s got to be better!  That mindset has been entrenched in consumers’ brains year after year from marketing company after marketing company, no matter what the product. So it’s no wonder that the trend for a more robust and larger cigar has been gradually making it’s way into the cigar industry as well. Although we like to think of the cigar consumer as a savvy, educated buyer, we cannot help but think there has been some outside influences that have pushed them in the “bigger and bolder” direction.

In years past, most cigar smokers had a brand loyalty and typically smoked the same cigars on a regular basis; but as generations have changed so have their habits. Many cigar smokers adopted a more adventurous taste and attitude with their curiosity taking them in the direction of bolder cigars boasting a larger ring gauge. The influx of varieties of Nicaraguan and Dominican Cigars has opened up the market for this new consumer.

New shapes, sizes, and blends, combined with attractive and modern packaging has given an explosion to the Premium Cigar Industry since the 1990’s. The mild cigars that once dominated the market have been overcome by bolder varietals from prominent cigar makers. The rich, fuller-bodied blends have allowed manufacturers in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua to showcase their abilities. Both countries are now the number 1 and number 2 exporters respectively to the US.

The introduction of the bigger, bolder cigars began with such cigars as the Fuente Fuente Opus X and the La Flor Dominicana Ligero Series. The Ashton VSG followed as did the LFD Double Ligero to continue the trend of fuller-bodied cigars.  Recently the introduction of the new Romeo series in the cigar market with bolder cigars and their captivating modern packaging typifies this trend and are somewhat unlike the traditional Romeo y Julieta design.

Cigar Smokers are now fortunate enough to experience new brands being introduced all the time, creating a wider variety in flavor and size. The hype and excitement around new cigar introductions more than peaks the consumers curiosity. Just like every industry, the highs and lows depend on the tastes and demands of the consumer. With cigars, the consumer profile is always changing as cigar smokers seek new flavors as their pallets develop. So what’s up next for the cigar industry? Whatever the consumers want!

From Start to Finish

Premium Cigars are among the few items that truly are “all natural”.  There is no chemical treating, they are free of dyes, and no ripening accelerants are used. Those sweet and spicy flavors occur naturally in the tobacco leaves.  Premium Cigar Manufacturers let nature take it’s course to produce the tobacco that will be expertly handled and rolled into a fine cigar. However, as we all know, Mother Nature can throw some curve balls.  The master blender must be able to adjust and work effectively with crop variations. Each cigar maker will strive to produce a consistent product with the possibility of slight fluctuations created by weather.

Curious about what it takes before you are able to sit back and enjoy that premium cigar? On recent trips to renowned cigar facilities, we saw the entire production first hand.  From start to finish, the components of a cigar will involve well over 200 pairs of hands throughout the process in order to deliver this exceptional handmade product to your humidor. Beginning with the planting of the seeds, to having the leaves harvested and hung in the curing barn, and then piled up for fermentation, each worker skillfully handles the tobacco.

The piles are separated onto drying racks, are then repacked, and are stored for aging.  The aged tobacco is unpacked after a few years, rehydrated and separated by color.

The outer leaves used for the wrapper go through a de-stemming process and the filler leaves will have part of the stem removed. The proper proportions of the tobacco are distributed to the rollers where they will bunch and roll each cigar by hand according to the cigarmaker’s blend.  The art of rolling the perfect cigar is one that takes years to master.

The finished product is sorted for color consistency and sent back to the aging room.  Finally, the cigars are banded, boxed, and sent out.

Along the way, the cigars have also gone through numerous quality control steps, all completed by hand.  This entire journey has been a hands-on process with dozens and dozens of skilled labor taking the proper care to ensure a consistent and satisfying smoke. So the next time you enjoy a cigar among friends, remember all the expertise that went into your hand-rolled premium cigar, from start to finish.IMG_0289 2.JPG

 

Super Cigars from LFD

Are you ready for some football??!  La Flor Dominicana certainly is with their Super Bowl cigar! Even though the Vikings won’t be playing in this year’s game, the fans of this host state can enjoy a special cigar while watching the big game.

LFD is making their special edition football cigar an annual tradition, shipping it to LFD retailers in the host states.  This year’s Super Bowl marks the fourth time Litto Gomez and his team are producing this commemorative cigar.  The Ecuadorian Habano wrapper blends well with the Dominican binder and filler to produce a full bodied stick. To complete the look of this special cigar, a football-shaped design is carefully carved by hand from Connecticut-seed Ecuadorian tobacco to be placed on the wrapper. Our staff was lucky enough to be at La Flor Dominicana this year and watch the cigars come together first hand.

If you’re fortunate enough to be heading out to the Super Bowl to cheer on your team, swing by a local LFD retailer and grab one of these limited edition cigars…only 450 boxes were produced.  Although we don’t have them here in Pennsylvania, we do offer several La Flor Dominicana cigars including a few new ones selected during the LFD Tour (more on that coming soon in this space) at Smoke Rings Cigar Bar where you can sit back, watch the game, and enjoy a smoke on a Sunday afternoon.

The Top 25 Cigars of 2017

Really? Only 25?!! How can they choose? With so many premium cigars on the market, manufactured by well established companies, many generation after generation owned, choosing the top 25 is a task that I’m sure any cigar lover would endure.  Fortunately, Cigar Aficionado has taken on that task and has given their expert opinion on what qualifies a cigar to make it to the top 25 each year; however, feel free to keep on doing your own research!

Here’s how the process works:

To start this daunting task of pairing down the hundreds of excellent cigars to just the top 25 for the year, they begin by choosing the highest scoring cigars of the year.  Next, the cigars are presented to a distinguished panel of tasters.  To prevent any bias, the cigars are repurchased at retail, their identifying bands are removed, and finally, are blind tested through several rounds of tastings.  It becomes a cigar competition where only the best of the best will survive!  Excellent tobacco crops and masterful blending have made it a difficult task, but the winners have been chosen!

And the winners are…

  • No. 1 – The Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Eye of the Shark

No 1

  • No. 2 – The Padron Serie 1926 No. 2 (Natural)

No 2

  • No. 3 – The Oliva Serie V Belicoso

  • No. 4 – The Bolivar Belicoso Fino

  • No. 5 – The Alec Bradley Tempus Natural Centuria

  • No. 6 – The Ashton Symmetry Belicoso

  • No. 7 – The My Father The Judge Grand Robusto

  • No. 8 – The Guardian of the Farm Apollo Seleccion de Warped

  • No. 9 – The Plasencia Alma Fuerte Generacion V

  • No. 10 – The Villiger La Flor de Ynclan Robusto

  • No. 11 – The Partagas Lusitania

  • No. 12 – The New World Puro Especial Toro

  • No. 13 – The Archetype Axis Mundi Toro

  • No. 14 – The 601 Red Label Habano Torpedo

  • No. 15 – The Romeo by Romeo Y Julieta Aging Room Small Batch F25 Cantaor

  • No. 16 – The Rocky Patel Vintage 2003 Cameroon Churchill

  • No. 17 – The C.L.E Prieto 50 x 5

  • No. 18 – The E.P. Carrillo Dusk Solidos

  • No. 19 – The Romeo Y Julieta Short Churchill

  • No. 20 – The Macanudo Inspirado Orange Churchill

  • No. 21 – The Regius Exclusivo USA Pressed Perfecto

  • No. 22 – The Joya Black Nocturno

  • No. 23 – The La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Lancero

  • No. 24 – The Tatuaje Cabinet Noellas

  • No. 25 – The Undercrown Churchill

That’s quite an impressive list!  You can view all the details of the Top 25 Cigars at Cigar Aficionado.

Now that we’ve peaked your interest, maybe it’s time to initiate your own Top 25 research for 2018 and see how your favorites compare to next year’s list.  You can begin at Smoke Rings, where we have over 100 facings in stock….that should give you a good starting point!  Researching the Top 25 is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!  See you at Smoke Rings!

Choosing Your Cigar

When it comes to choosing a cigar, there are many options to consider…price, body, flavor, size and smoke time. Have you ever walked in to a humidor and wondered where to begin? Instead of selecting a cigar based on the cool cigar band, check out this educational, yet entertaining illustrated guide below. Whether you’re new to smoking cigars or think of yourself as a cigar afficionado, a little education always goes a long way.

cigar chart

Still have questions? Step into our Humidor where our knowledgeable Smoke Rings Staff will be happy to assist in selecting your cigar. See you at Smoke Rings!

Don’t Forget Dad!

With Father’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to choose that unique gift for dad.  At Smoke Rings, we highly recommend the La Flor Dominicana TAA 2017 Cigar as a perfect choice!  It is a medium bodied 6 x 54 cigar with a Connecticut Broadleaf Wrapper, Cameroon Binder and Filler Tobacco from the Dominican Republic.  It starts with a peppery taste with subtle nutmeg, cinnamon and lime, followed by a caramel sweetness.  Throughout the cigar, there are notes of leather and nutmeg with a sweet finish.  This exclusive cigar comes in a 25 count box and is limited to only 75 retailers and a handful of manufacturers that make up the Tobacconist Association of America.

Stop by Smoke Rings and pick up a few of these unique cigars…they’re sure to be one of your father’s favorite gifts this year!

 

 

Much Has Changed in the Cigar World…

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy imposed a trade embargo on Cuba, making it illegal to import products from the island nation – including cigars.  Now, for the first time since, there is a realistic chance that they will once again be sold in America as the U.S. and Cuba are working on normalizing relations.  That chance has prompted many questions from cigar customers.  Many would just like to try a Cuban cigar.  The demand may be huge, partly because of the mystique that surrounds an authentic Cuban cigar, but will they live up to the hype?  Much has changed in the cigar world since the ‘60s!

After the Communist take-over of Cuba under Fidel Castro, the dictatorship began to nationalize the cigar industry which was, in effect, the cigar capitol of the world.  Many cigar factory owners, growers and cigar masters became exiles and fled for other Latin American countries.  They took their expertise – and in some cases smuggled Cuban seeds – to places like the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua. 

Many of the leading cigar brands in the world today are located in Nicaragua – including Padron, Oliva, Drew Estate, Rocky Patel and other well-known makers.  Also in Nicaragua is Perdomo Cigars where a group from Smoke Rings visited in January this year for an in-depth, three day tour of the massive operation.  The quality and consistency of the cigars made in Nicaragua in many cases exceeds that of Cubans.

Nicaragua has a unique geography that allowed a variety of tobacco flavors to exist.  Its rich volcanic soil and nearly perfect tobacco-growing climate drew some leading cigar makers to the region – making it to some the “new Cuba.”  The region near Esteli produces tobacco with an identifiably spicy flavor. The regions of the Condega and Jalapa Valleys likewise have distinct components.  Even tobaccos grown a relatively short distance apart can have different tastes as the composition of the soil varies.  Companies – like Perdomo – established production facilities in Esteli – a region that became a hub of cigar manufacturing.

It is at Tabacalera Perdomo where Aristides Garcia runs the pre-production process.  In some ways, his story and the Perdomo story itself embodies the story of the industry against the backdrop of the history of Cuban-American relations.  Like Nick Perdomo’s grandfather, Silvio, and father, Nick Sr. – Aristides was born in Cuba and became a leader in the Cuban cigar industry. 

Silvio Perdomo opposed the Castro regime and the revolution that would see the freedom of the Cuban people crushed by communism.  He was arrested and spent more than a decade in the inhumane prison system where he faced starvation and torture.  His son, Nick Perdomo Sr. likewise opposed Castro and became a wanted man by the regime.  He was shot and severely wounded and during the time he recovered, he was able to obtain a sponsorship through the Catholic Church to escape to the United States.  It was in the U.S. that Nick Perdomo Jr. was born who would one day decide to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather into the cigar business. He eventually established his operation in Esteli where he now employs over 2000 people.

The manager of pre-production at Perdomo is Aristides Garcia who is 87-years old and going strong.  Like Nick Sr., he was born in Cuba and grew up learning tobacco and cigars.  He was forced to work for the communist government, earning a fraction of what he did before the take-over.  He eventually escaped Cuba and made his way to Nicaragua to work for his friend’s son, Nick Jr.  Their expertise and knowledge, driven with them from their homeland, were unleashed in a new part of the world – to the benefit of people who enjoy great cigars. 

Cigar factory owners, growers and makers developed operations that would rival or exceed the Cuban product from which they sprang.  These independent cigar makers and entrepreneurs – through initiative and determination – have come to fill the void for premium, hand-crafted cigars that resulted from the trade embargo.  Once Cuban cigars begin to enter the market, they may have some catching up to do – especially in value on the dollar – as the “new Cuba” produces quality and consistency that will be tough to match.   

More Cigar Regulation Nonsense!

Smoke Rings Cigar Bar and other bars, shops and their customers are constantly under threat from proposed local, state and federal regulations. It seems like somebody somewhere doesn’t like the idea that we are free to have a cigar. But rather than just stay away from smoking establishments, they want to make it difficult or impossible for you to enjoy a cigar & a place to smoke it! They try to impose ever-increasing taxes that raise prices for the consumer and impose an unfair burden on retailers and owners of affected businesses. Cigar regulations in particular are bogus. Cigars are a product designed for – and consumed by – discerning adults.  Nobody snuck to the bathroom in high school to puff a premium cigar! These laws go much further than just protecting young people from smoking – they impact cigar customers and hurt businesses.

Right now, there is proposed legislation in the Pennsylvania Assembly – House Bill 682 – that would directly impact cigar customers and businesses. In 2008, the Clean Indoor Air Act was enacted in PA. It placed limits on where people can smoke. This 2008 law included “exceptions” to the smoking ban. These exceptions included drinking establishments with less than 20% food sales, portions of casino floors and other places where smoking would still be permitted.

The current proposal – “Amendment to the Clean Indoor Air Act” – would remove these exceptions – and even go further! Exceptions to be eliminated include drinking establishments, casino floors, and tobacco promotion events. Literally, the law defines “PRIVATE CLUBS” as “PUBLIC PLACES.” It would also ban smoking on any outdoor deck or patio area of a drinking establishment. So not only would “PRIVATE” be “PUBLIC” but also the “INDOOR” Clean Air Act would ban “OUTDOOR” smoking areas!! This from the same people who think it’s our kids who should take tests every year in school to see what they learned??

Meanwhile the FDA and Federal Government may likewise want to limit your freedom to enjoy a cigar. This is an interesting read from former U.S. Senator  Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. She served in the Senate from 1997–2015, where she chaired the Senate Small Business Committee, and the Energy Committee. She is now a consultant to Cigar Rights of America and the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association – two great organizations who lead the fight to protect the industry from government regulation.

As the article suggests:
-Aside from just Cuba, over 300,000 jobs are related to the cigar industry in Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic from seed to shore
-Without this employment, economic and political stability would be disrupted with costs to the American taxpayer in terms of foreign aid or other intervention
-Over 2000 U.S. retailers would be impacted needlessly as would responsible adults who enjoy premium hand-made cigars

The cigars we enjoy are made where people work or don’t eat – they need their jobs, they need our trade, not our foreign aid. We saw first-hand on our trip to Tabacalera Perdomo in Esteli, Nicaragua that each cigar is “the work of 1000 hands” through the various stages of production. Unemployment in the Esteli region is virtually zero in large part because of the cigar industry. Nicaragua in particular has areas of abject poverty and just a few decades ago was torn by a civil war that impacted American interests. The last thing the people of Nicaragua need is to have the progress and stability they’ve begun to achieve undone because somebody thinks you shouldn’t be able to smoke your cigar. People would be thrown out of work, trade impacted, and vulnerable governments destabilized. This nonsense has to stop. Please urge your representatives to not gut yet another industry – you work hard for your money & shouldn’t be punished because you like a premium hand-made cigar!