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Enjoying Scotch Whisky and a few other things

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‘This Week’s Events Including Draper’s 125th Anniversary & Super Bowl Bash!’

‘This Week’s Events Including Draper’s 125th Anniversary & Super Bowl Bash!’.

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Up In Smoke – Cigar notes for 1/6/2012

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In a better effort to record my thoughts on cigars I have smoked, I have decided to create an “Up in Smoke” post that I will try to push out regularly with a few thoughts on each one, whether I liked, it, basically.

First up is the Room 101 by Camacho. This is a medium cigar and the most interesting thing about it is the unique Semilla wrapper grown exclusively for this project. The filer is a Honduran/Dominican blend with Honduran wrapper. This was a robusto, I think, and goes for around $8.

Verdict – It was ok. Nothing special for my tastes, I will find a medium cigar that I occasionally like the flavors on but this one just didn’t do anything special for me. The wrapper is a unique experience though. It comes across very oily, you notice this immediately. I finished off about 3/4 of this one, I think it got a little stronger towards the end.

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Next up, a Cusano 59 Rare Cameroon. Before I say anything, I think that I just don’t have the taste buds for the cameroon leaf. I have determined this after smoking Rocky Patel’s latest release, the 2003 Cameroon. I tried three of them, I did not finish any of them.

This is a Dominican cigar with an African Cameroon wrapper. It is medium in strength. The robusto runs about $6.

Verdict – I didn’t finish. I just don’t get this cigar and I’m not sure that I’m going to like a Cameroon offering.

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Saved the best for last? You bet your ass! This is the new offering from CAO. CAO has changed hands recently (become part of General Cigar) and due to that there is some talk of some people not caring for this stick before they even saw it. It’s called the OSA Sol which stands for the region Olancho, San Agustin in Honduras which is where the wrapper leaf is grown. The “Sol” stands for sun, meaning it is sun grown (no shade cloth cover). This leaf was developed for this project. The filler is Nicaraguan and Honduran and has a Connecticut Broadleaf binder (which I find interesting). I’m not sure which Lot # this was, but it is an affordable cigar, around $6.

Verdict – I loved it! I really didn’t expect much out of this cigar but it really surprised me. I haven’t had a cigar in a long time that had this much flavor, I seriously burned it to the nub. It’s not often I come across a cigar this full of unique and satisfying flavor, flavor that really comes across your palate. If I needed a box of cigars right now, I’d buy one of these!

theScotchlife’s top 3 Scotch Whisky and Cigars picks of 2011

At the end of this year I thought it would be a good time to figure out which products I enjoyed most this year. One of the reasons I started a blog was to chronicle what I was drinking or smoking so that I could reference it later. The problem is I haven’t been able to faithfully chronicle everything. I’d say I’ve missed 25% of what I’ve enjoyed, some of it made it at least to my twitter account @theScotchlife but I would say it caught 98% and it is very hard to read through 1K+ tweets!

So, picking a top 3 of a product to me is very difficult and I would preface this with this may not be the best products by themselves but are elevated by association of an event, or their value.

In the area of Scotch it is quite easy because I spent a weekend in Vegas sampling an array of 40 year plus aged scotch offerings from The Macallan, Bowmore, Dalmore, Glenfarclas, etc…. and the most memorable dram I had was the Bowmore from 1969. Having a dram that is equal in age to ones self is memorable and immensely reflective. It’s hard to figuratively characterize life in a drink, but with that Bowmore from my birth-year, I think it comes awfully close. There is something very special with super-premium aged scotch, it isn’t like your every day scotch, and your life should be as good as it!

So, the #1 is the 1969 Bowmore. I believe it went on sale this year in the U.S., six bottles total if memory serves me correct for around 14K a bottle?

#2 scotch whisky of my year goes to Ardbeg. Yes, I also had this tasty sample from 1974 at the very same Nth show in Vegas and to have an Ardbeg these days from that era is very special. I do enjoy the regular Ardbeg line as well and have Corryvreckan and Uigeadail in-house currently. The ’74 is quite different though, and superior to the current range.

#3 In order to give credit to something that isn’t in the $10K range I would like to give credit to The Balvenie 17 year range of scotch. I have spent some time in acquiring the line, it is difficult since most of it is out of production. My biggest prize came by a friend snagging a bottle of the original Islay Cask in an auction in the UK. This has been replaced by the Peated cask which is good but not as good as the original Islay cask. I would also comment on the rest of the Balvenie line that is available currently, I simply think it is a crowd pleaser from the Doublewood to the Portwood. You just can’t go wrong unless you demand higher alcohol content. I think the flavors should more than make up for it though.

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In the cigar category I think it is even harder! There are so many good cigars out there and the availability of super-aged premiums like scotch are not as readily available to me. On top of it, I’m finding price really does not always mean quality in the cigar world. In fact, the only expensive cigar I’m going to site is the Diamond Crown cigar.

#1 cigar of the year, yes, the Diamond Crown. This is a super-premium cigar and was made to be a cut above the norm. This is typically a $20 cigar so it is not very often I smoke one and there is usually a good reason why I do! You should treat yourself to one of these.

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#2 cigar of the year is…… Alec Bradley’s Tempus (original). I really was taken by the smoothness of this cigar, its complexity and roundness, and price! Yes, this is a sub $10 smoke typically and it is so worth your time and money! It does smoke like a dream and AB seems to be on a roll. I had to mention this cigar because for the value its hard to beat, a good second or “like” this cigar would be a Brick House cigar.

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#3, is, well, this is hard, I have smoked probably no less than 300 different cigars this past year, and after a while, they all seem to cross over each other at some point. I am going to go back to a cigar I smoked a long time ago and wrote glowingly about it, the La Flor Dominicana “double ligero” line. I smoked a large gauge one and I have a thinner, Churchill especial version that I hope to smoke by the new year. This is a BIG smoke and you should enjoy this with a nice steak dinner or big pasta dinner. Just smelling this one is driving me crazy, the spice that comes off of it is really amazing.

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I can’t help but add a little “honorable mention” to Don Pepin Garcia’s blue label as well as Padilla’s Habano. These two I really thought of a lot while comparing cigars this year.

As with any “top” list, there are always some that you wish could mention but I think most people realize that in scotch and cigars there are so many excellent offerings available these days. I think that you will enjoy these, if you haven’t already, and with the exception of the rare scotch offerings you should be able to find them.

I am looking forward to another year and there are so many exciting products coming down the pike, I personally have several new cigars resting in the humidor that I have never tried and I am particularly excited about trying the new Nat Sherman lines. I picked up several cigars at the NYC Big Smoke last month and will be firing them up soon. As far as scotch, I am looking forward to the Balvenie release of TUN 1401 batch 3 in the U.S. and Ardbeg’s Alligator to finally crawl over the pond. I’ve also heard some brand Ambassadors speak of new offerings coming out soon and I am planing on getting out to my local Virginia distilleries this year and explore their products. With any luck I will make it to a good whisky fest this year also.

I hope this year has been a good one for you!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays!

John

La Gloria Cubana Cigar event with Master roller Leo Peraza

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Master Roller for La Gloria Cubana

La Gloria Cubana is a brand readily available in most stores and at least in my mind is a brand of cigars that is a lot less about flash and more about consistency. I have smoked a hand full or two through the years and while I’ve always thought them to be a decent cigar I can’t say that I’ve had a tendency towards them, this may have changed with this recent events offerings. The event was held at Cigar Town in Reston, VA, an excellent cigar shop in Northern Virginia. http://kickashcigars.com/

I had a very nice talk with the General Cigar reps that accompanied Leo and since Leo doesn’t speak English my conversation was limited to the reps (have got to get my Spanish back!). I’m not so sure if it’s the lack of offerings in the line or if their marketing just doesn’t connect, but I pretty much think of all Gloria products as maduro and non-maduro. I have a few series R’s and have had the N’s and so I purchased the new Artesanos Retro Especiale which is a new blend and breed with a Connecticut seed wrapper grown in Honduras in order to achieve a new cigar experience. It also has a unique binder of a Nicaraguan and Mexican leaf that adds the uniqueness that boutique cigar lovers are looking for these days. I was able to smoke this cigar the other day around noon (didn’t get to finish of course) and it was a very nice tasting cigar.

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Feliz Navidad!

It is not a heavy cigar (Artesanos Retro Especiale), it’s more of a medium-ish in strength but does deliver some nuances that an enthusiast will appreciate. The more I get to learn about cigars and follow industry news you get the appreciation that a cigar is not as simple as a bunch of leaves rolled up. A blender, these days, is trying to deliver strength and taste. These two seem to be hard to corral into a cigar. Taste is something that is quite subjective also, so there is no guarantee that everyone will appreciate what a blender is doing. I liked this cigar and am glad I have another one. The other product I purchased was a La Gloria Cubana figurado that was rolled special for the holiday season. I took a picture but due to being outside and dark, the image is horrible. I think you can only find this for a limited time. Look at the red band, that is quite different and may lead you to it. In short, it was a very nice smoke, maybe a medium to full in strength and very tasty! If you catch this rolling event somewhere you should be able to happen upon one.

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This event is was very beneficial for myself. I have not just a new understanding of what the La Gloria Cubana brand is about but more importantly a new curiosity about its products and I will be trying more of their products. I did get a special Artesanos de Tabaqueros cigar from the General Cigar rep and will be trying it soon. It is quite unique, two different wrappers on it, very unique not only in type but color and should be an interesting challenge to my palate.

Although thought of as a good value cigar, I think this brand has the potential to move up in my world, in at least my mind, as a must-try brand.

Cigar shopping in NYC, Davidoff of Geneva and Nat Sherman International

You can find a Chinese restaurant or bagel place on any corner in New York City it seems. Block after block there are certain goods and foods that are ubiquitous. What you wont’ find everywhere is a cigar shop! During my stay for the Big Smoke in NYC 2011 I wanted to  hit a few cigar shops if possible. First on my list was the Nat Sherman store at 12 East 42nd Street near Bryant Park. Though Nat Sherman is not enjoying the frenzy surrounding many brands today, largely due to boutique blenders, they have recently developed new blends based off extensive experimentation and trials in a fairly condensed amount of time. What has come out is a new direction of flavor for Nat Sherman and one that it hopes customers will embrace obviously. Aside from the new line they have brought in many other lines of cigars that they traditionally did not sell. With the gentlemanly attitude, superior service and great location, I think they have a winning combination. I have not smoked the Nat’s I picked up due to a sinus meltdown/cold that is killing me and would ruin any good smoke. I hope to smoke it before Christmas, but who knows. The tobacconists there were very kind and Juan spent a good amount of time with me talking about various cigar issues and blends. I’m always appreciative of an informed staff!

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After my time there I walked back through the park, unfortunately the politicians of New York City have exercised ridiculous judgement and banned anyone from smoking in NYC parks. I would have loved to fire up a cigar and stroll some park ground but I was sequestered to the sidewalks.

After picking up some “meat on a stick” from a sidewalk vendor I found my way over to 515 Madison Avenue where I found the Davidoff of Geneva store. They have quite the Davidoff line, if that is your thing, but also have many other blends and brands. I spent some time with the buyer for the store and he steered me to a couple of new products that I had not tried. Like a good tobacconist, he also steered me away from some that he thought I would not find pleasing. This is saying a lot considering he actually bought them and then dissuaded me from buying them. It’s not that the one I had picked up was bad, but once he explained the characteristics of it I agreed that it was not what I was in the mood for.

So I hung out in the lounge there for a good two hours and made some very good conversation with some New Yorkers and one gentleman from Kentucky. It’s a very nice lounge that faces the street. The air filtration system is so good I believe there was at one time a dozen people in there and you were never bothered with a haze of smoke.

As luck would have it, there was a cigar representative from Room 101 cigars with a sample pack and swag. They also had a lovely young lady there to help present their products. Of course I do not pass up the opportunity to get the picture.

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With the sample pack I bought I got a free shirt and a pre-release sample of their “One Shot, One Kill” cigar that will most likely be out soon. I have smoked that, it is a small cigar that has good strength and a medium + body. I look forward to smoking my way through their line.

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All in all, I seriously enjoyed my time at these two cigar shops. I wish I had more time because I had a couple of more shops on my list which I will find next time I’m up in NYC.

Cigar Aficianado’s NYC Big Smoke 2011

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New York, city of angles? A short and satisfying trip from DC to NYC via I-95 revealed a few things.A major wreck on the turnpike can turn a four-hour trip into a seven one. Two star hotels can be efficient and practical, and offer just what you need, maybe just not when you want it. Cigar events are sinfully fun, as is Hogs and Heifers in West Village. People watching in NYC is just damn hard to beat, as is the low-priced coffee and bagel from the street vendors. And most of all, there are a lot of fun people in NYC, aside from the cab drivers.

Angles, yes, not a misprint but an obvious play on LA’s Angels (which is not to be confused with Victoria Secrets show which of course is in NYC). In my self-portrait I was channeling Man in a Bowler hat, notice, Apple icon in my face, sans hat. Anyhow, walk through the city…. notice all of the right angles, then walk through the city, angles, everywhere, massive rectangular structures so rigid and cast shadows of the same. Streets composed of a grid system, again, angles. Window panes, angles. Ok, so maybe you’ve noticed.

So the reason for this trip was the Cigar Aficionados Big Smoke at Pier 92. For 3 hours over 2,000 cigar lovers impatiently strolled through the rope lines to pick up a free cigar from over 20 cigar manufacturers from central America with most headquartered in the U.S. No Cubans of course, and I honestly don’t care that there are none present because the current state of cigars coming from central and south America are amazing. Aside from the cigar companies you had accessories and other things that interest this crowd like Guinness, Conundrum wine and Ardbeg! Ardbeg was my favorite of course, I did imbibe the Guinness and wine because, who passes on free booze? Not me.

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Like last year, the big lines to wait in were the Alec Bradley line, the A. Fuente line (yes, Carlito was there) and the mother of all lines, Rocky Patel. Along with the celebrity status of the aforementioned gentlemen, America’s Mayor Rudy Guiliani showed up and patiently shook hands and took pictures with throngs of fans. No, he isn’t in office, but he will always be the Mayor of NY to me. Noticeably absent, well, its hard to notice because there are just so many people there! But there is a noticeable absence of women. My friend Michelle came with me because as she puts it, “where else in NY do you see this many men!” Michelle is among the subset of beautiful women in NYC who have too few options in dating, and are victims of their success in business. So ladies of NYC, if you don’t mind cigar smoke and have $240 for the event ticket, you might want to start making plans now! Having Michelle with me gives me unexpected recognition, hey, that dude has a chick with him! After spending some time with Michelle’s friends in the West Village, I’m hoping for at least two more women in my company in 2012, which will make me look like a rockstar!

After the event Michelle and I went to the West Village area for drinks and conversation. I can’t remember all of the bars we hopped to but seriously enjoyed my time at Hogs and Heifers. Remember Coyote Ugly,the actual bar is in the Meat Packing district and is called Hogs and Heifers. It was a Wednesday night, when we opened the door it was just as you would expect it, crowded with slightly inebriated people and bra wearing bartenders screaming at the crowd with megaphones. In a word, perfect! Michelle had hesitation bringing me there, at which I said, you obviously don’t know me! I love dive bars, it’s just an environment that graphic design and quirky chalk boards can’t top. I also love Pabst Blue Ribbon! Yes, I do like it and have drank it before it was fashionable to do so.

Overall, the trip was fast but intensely fun, the cigar event is maddening because the sheer numbers of people and it is a little disconcerting if you are seeking to be educated about a brand or product. I do wish that some of the smaller boutique cigar makers could break into the event but giving away that many cigars is probably a non-starter for boutiques. All in all, the event was worth the trip to NYC and having good friends who live there exponentially enrich the experience. I’m going to write more on that soon, I took the opportunity of being in the city to spend some time at Nat Sherman’s store and Davidoff’s of Geneva’s new store and had a blast at both of them.

See you next year in NYC for the 2013 event!

Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza Washington DC 2011

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It's gotta taste good, right? If Dewar's could make their product taste better, they wouldn't have to find beautiful girls!

The annual event of the Single Malt Scotch Whisky Extravaganza was held on October 13 at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC and as most of these events there was an abundance of booze, food, and giveaways. I’ve taken awhile to write about this event but the most exciting thing about this event for myself was that I actually won something! One of the raffle winnings was a box of Siglo cigars and somehow out of hundreds of entrants I actually won it! This made me happy on two counts, free cigars, good, and it actually helps defray the cost of going, better!

If you have never been to one of these large events I would encourage you to go. It is a great place to see that there is a LOT more scotch whisky out in the market than what you typically see in your local store and if you are like me and spend most of your time in Virginia (an alcohol controlled State “ABC”) you are not use to a lot of variety. I typically run through the Washington DC stores to find the non-typical offerings and offerings even from well-known brands that do not make it to ABC stores.

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The evening actually started out with an hour with the brand reps which actually was more collegiate upstaging by one another and friendly insults at each other. What sticks out in my mind from the Q&A session was the importance of selecting casks for distillers. If you don’t know, most all of the taste that your favorite scotch has is due to the wood cask it is placed in. This is more tricky for scotch than bourbon because you are using a spent bourbon or other whiskey cask to entrust your distilled liquid to.

After this the doors were opened and the multitude was sent in to mob the tables where the reps stood by. This is not my favorite thing. Partly because there is far more people than there is time for the reps to address and often you have uninformed reps helping out. Even if you know a lot about scotch it is quite dizzying to sample each table and then remember which offering from which brand you actually enjoyed. I would encourage you to bring something to write with and a small piece of paper, trying to record it on your iphone is quite time consuming. The event give you a Tour Journal but I find it large and cumbersome fighting through the crowds. I like to take pictures of offerings that I really find interesting.

Here are a couple of pics of some of the offerings I found interesting.

I really have enjoyed the limited Tomatin expressions that I have been able to try.
The packaging was done special for a shop. I really liked it.


If you have not tried Jura products, you must! Their  youngest offerings are excellent also.

This is a new Bowmore, like most of the line, I approve!

There were many I did not get pictures of because the crowds were just overwhelming! I’d like to make mention of Glen Grant’s 10 year which is a great “first” scotch and their 16 year old will be liked by the more experienced scotch drinker. The Scotch Malt Whisk Society bottlings were of course very good and probably were the best offerings there.

One of the freebies given were two cigars from Altadis U.S.A. and they were the VegaFina brand which is a light to medium cigar and I actually enjoyed it. The other was a H.Upmann Sun Grown that is medium-ish and I really didn’t find any satisfaction in it.

Some Drams at Jack Rose Dining Saloon

Recently I met up with a couple of Whiskey enthusiasts at Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington D.C. and as usual, tried a few single malt scotch whisky’s that I haven’t had before. Before I forget, the food, as usual was awesome! I had the Duck Breast, awesome, and a delicious appetizer the Chef whipped up for me special, many thanks!!

So, the first dram was a Glen Garioch 21 year that was very reminiscent of the 12 year I have in my cabinet yet smoother and more refined. I thought the Garioch would go great with Duck and I proved this out to my liking. The most surprising aspect of this dram was that at 43% ABV it still had a nice little initial alcohol burn on the nosing. It of course went away as I kept my nose firmly implanted in it. A very nice fruity dram.

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Second up was the Prime Malt bottling I spied that turned out to be an aged Macallan which always interests me. As a rule, scotch that I can find almost anywhere on God’s green earth tends to not please me but The Macallan has yet to disappoint. This dram was no exception and the 30 years of aging proved in-line with other aged Macallan’s I have had. It’s just a hard offering  to beat, regardless of the bottler!

imageAt the urging of the bartender I tried his favorite single malt, which is saying A LOT, when you are at Jack Rose! So the Rosebank is famous and unfortunately rare since the distillery was closed in 1993. Chieftain’s offering from them was a 20-year-old (aged) and I can’t say it is my favorite dram at JR’s but it offers a very interesting experience. The flavors impact you first at the tip of the tongue and on the finish the flavors rush to the rear of your palate. Quite different, and I have experienced this before but it is not typical in my experience. I quite enjoyed it and it was probably the best dram of the three that night.

So if you are reading this and find yourself in the Washington D.C. area, you also can find these fine drams (though drams like this are limited!) so get down there and imbibe!

Cheers!

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P.S.! If you were not aware, Jack Rose has a VERY nice humidor from Draper’s cigars and it is filled with Premium Cigars! All for $10! And between you and me, some are worth a LOT more than that! Smoking is allowed upstairs.

Don Pepin Garcia event at Cigar Town in Reston, VA

On Columbus day while the masses of people lucky enough to “celebrate” a holiday that marketing has yet to figure out how to make money on, I made my way to a cigar event that was a blast. The Cigar Town shop in Reston’s Town Center was the event site and what a great store and evening it was. I was a bit early I guess so I purchased a Don Pepin “blue label” and settled into the private smoking lounge and watched ESPN. Soon the event kicked off and people flooded in! There was deals to be had with box discounts and free shirts, plus a freshly rolled cigar by Rene, Pepin’s personal master roller who is a treat to watch work.

The crowd was quite lively and you could tell there were Pepin enthusiasts amongst the crowd. The boxes of Pepin cigars were quickly disappearing to men with big grins on their faces who hadn’t yet realized they’d dropped a few hundred dollars. But when you like Premium Cigars, that is just the cost! Pepin graciously signed each person’s box purchase, posed for pictures and shared some knowledge with those who were interested in the whole cigar industry and more specifically what it takes to make a premium cigar. Although my spanish is poor at best, he is just a very genuine gentleman and does not have any hint of celebrity or arrogance to him. This is a guy you would want to hang out with!

So I too couldn’t resist the discount, free Pepin shirt and freshly rolled cigar by Rene and walked out with a box of my Pepin favorites  that I refer to as “Blue Label” because that is the color of the band. I’m sophisticated like that. I met some really interesting people there, compared cigar likes with a few and genuinely enjoyed myself. Of course, no great event is complete without a beautiful young lady, so this event was no exception! I joked with her that only a place like this would an old man distract a crowd of men away from her! So if you haven’t tried Don Pepin Garcia cigars you are missing out. The My Father line is highly revered and the man simply knows how to blend tobacco leafs! He has only been out of Cuba’s factories for about eleven years and is making waves all over the industry. Do yourself a favor and pick one up today.

Cheers!

At the Don Pepin Garcia event in Reston, VA
Not that I'm happy or anything.

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