It started at Camp David

Carlos “Carlito” Fuente, Jr. reminisces about his meeting with Cigar Aficionado’s Marvin Shanken at Camp David in the hills above Santiago in the Dominican Republic. During that meeting, a bond was formed to support each other in their love for cigars and all the industry has to offer. Marvin’s advice to Carlito and his father was that “success in life brings responsibility to give back to others that are not as fortunate”.  This is truly a philosophy that the Fuente’s have adopted through their community support most notably the Cigar Family Foundation School of the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation in Bonao where over 400 students from preschool through high school are receiving a free education at the non-profit, privately funded charter school.

During a recent trip to the Dominican, our group from Smoke Rings Cigar Bar had the opportunity to stay a few nights at Camp David, located in the Northern Andes overlooking the city of Santiago. We learned about the cultural and historical landscapes of this breathtaking area.

Among its attractions, there is a collection of cars from the 1950’s and 1960’s that belonged to the family of the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the leader and former president of the Republic.

Twenty-six years ago, Marvin had a vision for the cigar industry with the conception of Cigar Aficionado. He believed that once people understood about the craftsmanship of cigars, how to select, cut, and light them, they would become passionate about smoking them; and he was right! As Carlito Fuente stated, cigars are about people…people are truly a blessing. The beauty of smoking a cigar is that it brings people together and that is the reward.

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!

Clean Air Act of 2017

Imagine how ridiculous it would be for a state to ban meat in butcher shops and fast food restaurants because vegetarians don’t like it or because consuming it may contribute to health issues like obesity, high cholesterol or diabetes.  Outrageous right? Common sense tells you that vegetarians and people who consider meat a health risk just NOT shop at those types of businesses, right?

Yet almost annually, some representatives in the Pennsylvania legislature propose a ban on cigar smoking in cigar stores and cigar bars!  The PA House of Representatives is – once again – considering expanding a ban on smoking in all bars, casinos, cigar stores and cigar bars. This bill would badly damage stores like the Cigar Box and Smoke Rings Cigar Bar. Some representatives don’t like the idea of customers making decisions on where to shop or eat, or owners deciding how they run their business.  It is another example of the over-regulation of the Nanny State.

Last year, Pennsylvania passed into law a 40% tax on tobacco and vape products to close the budget gap they created.  This tax is placed on wholesalers which raises prices for retailers and consumers.  Imagine a purchase bought in a tobacco or vape store that used to cost $100 – with the 40% tax the new cost is $140. Then at the register, the state still imposes a 6% sales tax on all $140, another $8.40.  So now the total cost with tax is $148.50 – with the state getting $48.50 from you for a legal product that should cost $100. That’s right – we’re now at the point of the state taxing a tax for the excuse of “protecting” the very customers they’re taking money from because of the products they choose to buy and use!  If someone took $48.50 from you in an alley, you’d say you were mugged.  Our state says you were “protected.” 

A ban on smoking in cigar bars would force the closing of Smoke Rings and places like it. Other bars offer a menu of food and drinks.  For those types of bars, smoking or not is a policy decision that an owner makes within the current law.  In turn, customers decide among countless options where to go for drinks or to eat. At Smoke Rings, the product is cigars – not food.  Having a bar that sells cigars and offers a place to smoke them is the entire premise of the business! There is nothing tricky or deceptive about our purpose – it’s very name is “SMOKE” Rings – a pretty good indicator to people. As is – by the way – “CIGAR” Box and Infinity “VAPES.” 

Smoke Rings is locally and family-owned by people looking to make a living, pay the bills, raise families.  It restored a blighted property to the tax rolls with a first-class establishment.  It created several full and part-time jobs which would be lost if it were forced to close.  It’s brought people from surrounding areas to Hazleton which benefits the local economy. We’ve supported non-profit groups through fundraising efforts including with local police and fire associations.  Is it even remotely right to be forced out of business by the state? 

PLEASE contact your state representatives and let them know that you oppose expanding the current law to include cigar stores, cigar bars or casinos.  We truly believe that our elected representatives have more pressing priorities than yet more regulations that take away choices and jobs. For these businesses and customers, government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.  At the very least, include an amendment to exempt cigar store lounges and cigar bars – for us it’s not a policy question – it is our business.

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!

 

 

A Tour of Fuente

Recently, we were given the opportunity to spend time with the Fuente Family in Santiago, Dominican Republic.  Six of us packed our bags, grabbed our passports & headed out to join other cigar aficionados for a few days of cigar education, appreciation and a little relaxation.

Our journey began with a tour of Chateau de la Fuente in the beautiful valley region where the tobaccos for the Fuente Fuente Opus X are grown. Guided by Carlito Fuente and Eric Newman, we also saw the Cigar Family Community School and enjoyed a performance by the Cigar Family students. The 23-acre complex has a community center including a Health Center for use by approximately 100,000 people from the surrounding area and houses an educational institute for 450 children.  Here we saw true compassion through opportunity. Children who otherwise might live a life of poverty are given the chance to reach their potential through an education that prepares them for further schooling or a profession. It was amazing to see firsthand how generous work of the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation have made this possible.

Our next day included a full behind-the-scenes tour of Tabacalera A. Fuente. We were privileged to watch the skilled cigar rollers carefully hand-roll some of the world’s most coveted cigars.  The extreme care and attention to detail the Fuente workers take with each cigar was obvious as we watched this production. We toured the Tobacco Warehouses and nearby Filler Farms in the Villa Gonzalez area and learned in-depth details of the tobacco growing process.

We wrapped up our trip with a day in Puerto Plata discussing blending techniques, tasting rare cigars, and enjoying pairings with Brugal Rums.  The hospitality shown to us by the Fuente Family added to our experience of smoking some of the finest cigars in the world.

Amidst our tour, the meeting of new friends, and burning several sticks per day, it was plain to see that the Fuente focus is still on quality as it has been for over 100 years…quality tobacco, quality craftsmanship, and taking the time necessary to make a remarkable cigar. Carlos Fuente, Sr. has been quoted to say, “We don’t hurry things; we just do things the way they are supposed to be done.” Thank you to the Fuente family for making this tremendous experience possible!

Smoke Rings Cigar Dinner & Event

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We’re excited at Smoke Rings Cigar Bar (Video Tour) to host a Dinner & Event on the first Tuesday of each month, beginning Tuesday, March 1 at 6:00 p.m. These dinners are where many good things come together at the same time – two premium cigars to enjoy, a Cigar Event (with features, deals, raffles & more) and a fantastic buffet dinner from Capriotti’s Catering. Tickets are available at Smoke Rings or any Cigar Box store.

First, we’ll select two premium cigars to introduce from the cigar brands featured at the event. At the upcoming March 1 Dinner, the cigars included with the ticket are an H. Upmann the Banker and a Romeo y Julieta 1875 Tubo.

Second, the dinner is part of a Cigar Event like those the Cigar Box is known for. There will be deals on all H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo  Cigars. Altadis Rep. Tom Stroud will be on hand to talk cigars. He’ll have complimentary sticks that come with qualifying purchases – purchases that also earn raffle entries to win one of two H. Upmann Banker Cigar Humidors.

Third, is a Capriotti’s buffet dinner. Capriotti’s is a full-service caterer located in McAdoo, just outside of Hazleton, known for “Passionately Perfecting Life’s Celebrations.” Their delicious home-cooked food & outstanding service make them the Hazleton area’s premier caterer.

Finally, we know that for many of us, smoking cigars is a hobby too. We like to try new cigars, learn about their origins, and spend time with people who appreciate the same things. We can walk into any cigar bar or shop and strike up a conversation about our experiences.

Smoke Rings is a place where cigar enthusiasts meet other people who share that interest in a unique atmosphere. What can be better than trying new cigars, having a great dinner and talking cigars or watching a game in the company of other cigar lovers?  Smoke Rings is locally/family/Veteran-owned.  There is a full Cigar Menu and Bar Menu with IPAs, Martinis, Wine, Specialty and Seasonal Drinks, Mules and more.  It was built by people who enjoy cigars – for people who enjoy cigars – and a place to smoke them. These dinners will be a key component of the Smoke Rings experience!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perdomo Factory Tour Overview

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If you enjoy a cigar, you know that some of the best come from Nicaragua in Central America. The capital of Nicaragua’s cigar industry is a northern region called Esteli. It is the home of Tabacalera Perdomo which grows its tobacco in the nutritious volcanic soil unique to the valleys of Esteli. The unique soil and climate of this spot on Earth make it ideal for the tobacco with the distinct flavors of these valley areas.

After Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in the 1950s, the tobacco industry was seized by the Communist dictatorship.  As you know, an American trade embargo on Cuba stopped the flow of goods between the United States and the Castro dictatorship.  Many in the tobacco industry fled the island nation, taking their tobacco-growing expertise and seeds with them.  Nicaragua’s warm, predictable weather patterns made it ideal for tobacco growers and resulted in over 50 brands being produced there, some tracing their history to Cuba.

Nick Perdomo Sr. grew up in the toabacco fields of Cuba. Like many, he was a target of the Castro regime, as was his father Silvio who was arrested and cruelly mistreated (http://perdomocigars.com/about.html). Nick Sr. eventually escaped Castro’s Cuba and fled to freedom in America. His son, Nick Jr. was born in the United States and served in the U.S. Navy, then worked as an Air Traffic Controller. Nick Jr. decided to leave that career and follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather as a cigar maker. What began as a side-job out of his garage is now a business with over 2000 employees including the massive Tabacalera Perdomo operation in Esteli. As promised at the outset of our tour, “once you see this, smoking a cigar will never be the same again.” And it’s not! Making these cigars – as well as the boxes they come in – is the work of thousands of hands and the vision and planning of artists who organize and execute production that results in some of the finest cigars in the world.

The tour offered an education on Growing (seeds, green-houses, transplanted to fields); Pre-Industry (curing barns, fermentation, selecting, sorting, baling); Production (making the cigars, draw-testing); Box Factory; Aging Rooms; and Packaging.

Over the coming weeks we’ll share some pictures and videos of how much goes into every Perdomo Cigar on the menu at Smoke Rings or in the humidor at the Cigar Box stores! Here’s a quick video overview of the Production Room – notice the size of the operation, the teams of cigar makers, and the level of activity in rolling the filler, binder and wrapper into a finished cigar (https://youtu.be/a9nTJO5tDco).

 

Perdomo Factory Tour

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A group from the Cigar Box & Smoke Rings experienced the PERDOMO Factory tour in Esteli, Nicaragua from January 12-16, 2016. We’ll be posting a lot about what we learned on this amazing trip! Truly, when you see everything that goes into these cigars made at every stage by hundreds of hands – which we’ll document in posts and videos -smoking a cigar will never be the same! Here’s a short video overview .

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From Left: Nicholas Perdomo, Cigar Box/Smoke Rings owners Bobby Veet, Michael Barletta, Tom Trella; and Nick Perdomo Jr. (Owner Perdomo Cigars)