Meeting David Blanco of Blanco Cigars!

I never thought I’d get to meet one of my personal “idols” as it were. Alas, the stars lined up for me and I got to meet probably my favorite cigar blender in person today – David Blanco of Blanco Cigars!


Mr. Blanco was in Fort Worth today for a Hiram and Solomon Cigars event along with a couple of reps from H&S. Blanco’s blending capability is legendary – from his super budget oriented Primos line, the ever-famous Nine, the CigarObsession series which goes without saying and now the H&S line.

It was really interesting just to talk to Dave and hear about his trials, tribulations and his life’s work. As with almost every cigar blender I’ve encountered, his passion for the craft is unbelievable and in a way I envy him – it must be nice for your passion to also be your livelihood (I’ll get there eventually – just not there yet).

For me, the day consisted of great cigars, some awesome grilled food and some good drinks on top of all of that. I tried three of the H&S cigars today (out of six total), and while I cannot do an in-depth review as I was pairing with drinks and my palate wasn’t completely clean, I’ll offer my impressions of the three I tried (and I’m glad I tried them in the following order):

*Traveling Man: An Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapped cigar, this pretty much had the characteristic Sumatran medium-bodied flavors of a sweet caramel, a smooth nuttiness and a cinnamon/nutmeg on the retrohale. Very pleasing way to start the day.

*Fellow Craft: Nicaraguan Habano wrapped goodness. Medium/full bodied consisting of notes of a sweet creamy cedar and a balanced but not overbearing peppery retrohale. A good “middle of the day” stick.

*Master Mason: Dominican Maduro wrapper. The most robust of the three at a nice full body consisting of freshly tanned leather, dark chocolate, coffee and a hint of nutmeg on the nose. Very thick smoke and a perfect way to end the day. A wallop of nicotine strength too – medium/full on that.

I hope to be featuring full reviews on these blends soon, I’ve got more than one of each. There are also three blends I’ve yet to try so we shall see what holds, but now I just need to go home, have some ice cream and chill after an awesome day.

The Inked Autist Says Hello!

So now for something entirely new and different on T.I.A. – I’m saying hello on camera!

Seriously, thanks everyone for the love. It means a lot.

Now hit me with your questions!

New TFF Song – I Love You But I’m Lost

So normally I reserve music posts for Helen Vahdati‘s weekly Song Lyric Sunday prompt but I just had to give you all a bonus track this week that has nothing to do with SLS or last week’s theme.

On October 6th, the British synthpop duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith known as Tears for Fears released a brand new song; their first one in 13 years. It’s totally awesome so I just had to share it.

Lost in the maze of the back streets I struggled
Fighting my way through a whole lot of trouble
Too many people were talking without moving their mouths

So many days so many nights ever wonder
By the lies that have stolen my thunder
In the haze of my mind all the wires were crossed

I love you but I’m lost

From a flame to the spark of an ember
To a fire on the 5th of November
We escaped from the light now we count the cost

I love you but I’m lost
I love you but I’m lost

Look at the marks on your arms all the colours
How you like to make them pay
These are the reasons why your life is not quite what it was

In a dream at the edge of a river
Where we swam where I watched you shiver
Came to life in my arms and then turned to dust

I love you but I’m lost

From a flame to the spark of an ember
To a fire on the 5th of November
We escaped from the light now we count the cost

I love you but I’m lost
I love you but I’m lost

All we needed was some time (x4)

I love you but I’m lost (x7)

Helen, please don’t shoot me for doing a song lyric post on Tuesday! I just had to share this. As with a lot of TFF’s material, this song just shook me to the core with its lyrical and musical composition. I hope you all enjoyed this song as much as I did.

How to Identify Flavors in Your Cigars

On a recent cigar review, I got the following comment from a reader:

“I smoke 4 or 5 cigars a day, Mostly Cubans, but I’ve never had the palate to describe them like you do. To me they’re good or bad, and strong or medium and weak, and smooth or not.” 

I’ve heard this sometimes and it really does remind me of my first cigar experience – I’m like “what??!?!?” Of course, being autistic myself I tend to take things way too literally anyway. I first thought these were the literal tastes being picked up by those who smoke cigars.

If you do a Google search for the cigar flavor wheel, you will come up on this graphic that categorizes flavors by type (image credit: Cigar Inspector):

Now, this can indeed be helpful for the beginner, but it does have its limitations. It takes some palate training to be able to identify flavors in your cigars, but even two trained palates can describe the same cigar using totally different descriptors. It’s not that these two palates work any differently. It’s simply because, with the exception of infused cigars, these flavors aren’t literally present in the smoke.

So how do we identify flavors if they aren’t actually there? It’s actually quite simple – the flavor notes are more of the connotation that comes to mind than literal flavors. It’s what the taste reminds you of. There is definitely some artistic liberty going on here. When I say cocoa, it reminds me of the taste of raw cocoa powder, for example. Coffee is the same way – it reminds me of a cup of brewed morning coffee. Earthiness; think of the taste of like a mushroom or similar fungus or vegetable.

However, the tongue is only a very small part of that. A majority of our sense of taste is actually linked to our sense of smell. A prime example to demonstrate this is think of how bland your food tastes when you have a cold or something else stuffing you up. It’s because you aren’t getting the aromas of the food. A lot of these notes people describe in cigars are more of an aroma than a taste. Things such as wood, leather, pepper, earth, etc. really are more on the nose. Leather, for example, is reminiscent of the smell of freshly tanned leather. When you smell certain woods up close, you can identify them by their aromas. Pepper you get some taste but it’s mostly on the nose.

So how do we really smell cigar smoke? You don’t want to inhale the foot smoke obviously, so what are we to do? Smelling the smoke is the purpose of retrohaling – the act of passing some of the smoke through the sinuses and out the nose. It’s almost like smelling in reverse. That’s what will unlock so much more of the cigar’s complexity for you if you do not currently do it, and yes, it can be done without inhaling the smoke. Have you ever laughed so hard you squirted water, milk, etc. out of your nose? It’s actually the same mechanism. Everything is connected back there. To retrohale it’s a matter of moving the smoke into your nasal passages by closing your mouth and pushing it up with your tongue (note this happens naturally when you close your mouth) and then it’s almost like blowing your nose.

David Blanco of Blanco Cigars actually has a very good tutorial on retrohaling which can be found on CigarObsession’s YouTube channel:

As mentioned, you don’t have to do it all the time, but you do at least want to do it every few draws. I personally do like to retrohale the last half or so of every draw because I enjoy it, but you do as you need to get the full experience.

So dear reader, I hope I’ve helped you out here. Those are my big tips – don’t be afraid to take some artistic liberty and if you don’t currently retrohale, doing so is essential and it will unlock a whole new world for you.

Good luck, and I hope you get much more enjoyment out of your cigars in the future!

Song Lyric Sunday 10/15/17 – I Wanna Talk About Me

Bragging. Hah. What a humorous topic for Song Lyric Sunday.

I’ve never been much of a bragger and I don’t really discuss my own personal accomplishments with other people too much because I don’t like to come off as cocky but if asked I don’t mind discussing things and bragging about myself when I’m invited to. I’m usually one to take interest in the other person.

As such, this song I think fits my own approach to the topic. I absolutely loved this song when it first came out in 2001 and really got me listening to more country music for a short period of time. All these years later, it’s still probably my favorite song by this artist.

So here then is “I Wanna Talk About Me” written by Bobby Braddock and as made famous by Toby Keith.

We talk about your work how your boss is a jerk
We talk about your church and your head when it hurts
We talk about the troubles you’ve been having with your brother
About your daddy and your mother and your crazy ex-lover
We talk about your friends and the places that you’ve been
We talk about your skin and the dimples on your chin
The polish on your toes and the run in your hose
And God knows we’re gonna talk about your clothes
You know talking about you makes me smile
But every once in awhile

I wanna talk about me
Wanna talk about I
Wanna talk about number one
Oh my me my
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I like talking about you, you, you, usually, but occasionally
I wanna talk about me
I wanna talk about me

We talk about your dreams and we talk about your schemes
your high school team and your moisturizer creme
We talk about your nanna up in Muncie, Indiana
We talk about your grandma down in Alabama
We talk about your guys of every shape and size
The ones that you despise and the ones you idolize
We talk about your heart, about your brains and your smarts
And your medical charts and when you start
You know talking about you makes me grin
But every now and then

I wanna talk about me
Wanna talk about I
Wanna talk about number one
Oh my me my
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I like talking about you, you, you, usually, but occasionally
I wanna talk about me
I wanna talk about me

You you you you you you you you youyouyouyouyou
I wanna talk about me

I wanna talk about me
Wanna talk about I
Wanna talk about number one
Oh my me my
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
I like talking about you, you, you, usually, but occasionally
I wanna talk about me
I wanna talk about me

This is just such a fun song (even though the video is really fucking stupid). I love it. Hope you do too.

Beer/Cigar Reviews – Santa Fe Oktoberfest, Full Grown Jack and Flor Del Valle Warped

Welcome to yet another edition of my beer and cigar reviews; we have another fall-festive lineup for you today so let’s just jump right in!

Santa Fe Oktoberfest

This Oktoberfest/Marzen predictably comes to us from Santa Fe Brewing Company in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This Marzen weighs in at 6% ABV, 38 IBUs and the brewery is kind enough to give us the original gravity of 14.25 Plato (1.058 SG) as well as the final gravity of 3.2 Plato (1.013 SG), which is on the heavier side for the style in all categories.

Pours a slightly hazy bright orange color with a thin off-white head that recedes quickly. Aromas of caramel and yeasty bread. A big wallop of chewy caramel goodness on the palate. A little bit of the bread comes through as well as delicate piney hop and slightly warming finish. Medium to heavy in body and medium in carbonation, this one drinks smooth and thick but still light enough for a session beer.

Overall a more than ample Oktoberfest style beer; one of the better ones I’ve had. I’ll come back to it again. It went beautifully with the subject of today’s cigar review. Rating: 4/5.

Full Grown Jack

This Pumpkin Spice Imperial Stout hails from Tupps Brewing Company in McKinney, Texas. It weighs in at 12.1% ABV but an unspecified IBU and gravity levels. I’m a sucker for pumpkin anything during this time of year (including pumpkin beers!) so I was super eager to try this one and my eagerness paid off!

Pours a near jet-black color with slight streaks of maroon when held up to the light. Minimal tan colored head that recedes quickly. Big blast of pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg on the nose supported by a hint of roasted malt and coffee. The flavor follows the nose – a big blast of sweet and spicy pumpkin with a hot cinnamon and nutmeg finish. This is supported by a substantial wallop of roasted, caramel and chocolate malt with a nice balanced coffee bitterness on the finish. Thick, syrupy body with minimal carbonation. Very smooth and easy drinking but a sipper.

This beer was rich, fun, complex and all-out festive. One of my favorite pumpkin beers to date. Very enjoyable, very warming. Went well with the Rocky Patel Royale pictured with it (reviewed previously). Rating: 4.75/5.

And now for today’s cigar review:

Flor Del Valle Warped

(Pictured above with the Oktoberfest)

This cigar features a Corojo wrapper over a Criollo binder and Nicaraguan long filler. The vitola reviewed here is the Cristales, a 6″ x 42RG Corona plus shape.

The first light revealed a perfect draw with plumes of thick medium/full bodied smoke consisting of flavors of a smooth, creamy earth and a very peppery/spicy finish and retrohale supported by a slight tinge of sweetness. Progressing into the first third the earthiness morphs into more of a nutty tone, consistent with Corojo-wrapped cigars.

Getting into the 2nd third the pepper dies down as the body settles down to a medium. The smoke takes on a creamier texture, a slightly creamy flavor and the sweetness amps up somewhat and morphs into a very distinct honey note. This remained consistent until the final third which went very heavy, earthy and the nutty notes became very dry. The cigar ended at one hour in for a very respectable burn time for the ring gauge and entering in a medium nicotine strength.

Construction was what I will call average. A fairly straight burn but a knot was encountered at the halfway point which produced minimal smoke for a few draws. This returned to normal after burning through it. Toward the end the wrapper went out entirely while the binder and filler continued to burn and required a relight to catch it up.

Whereas I enjoyed the flavors, the construction issues were very difficult to overlook. I’d have expected such a small ring gauge especially to burn better than that. If it was a 60 ring I’d have expected some issues. I don’t know what it was but it was frustrating, which is why this cigar gets a rating of 3/5 despite the very nice flavor profile.

So that’s a wrap for today’s beer and cigar reviews. Have you had any of today’s selections? Comment and tell me what you think!

Getting Back “Out There”

“I’m a fucking person, you know what I mean? I’m a person, too. I have feelings. When you boo me it  hurts my feelings.” – Danica Patrick addressing booing “fans.”

Back in my younger days (read: early 20s) I was quite an active musician. I was a grad student in a college town with a bit of an eclectic, and dare I say it, “Bohemian” feel to it. I started playing out and about at the insistence of a bartender of all people who was trying to recruit people for this venue’s true “open mic” (and yes, true – it was anything goes). I’d never played much in front of people before due to my own personal insecurities, but I decided what the hell so one night I gave it a try.

From there it kind of just took off and I started playing an average of 2 venues per week. I played anywhere that featured open mic nights – coffee shops, the night club I was recruited at and the occasional alternate venue. I even played a few full-on shows and got paid for it. It was a nice little side gig for some extra cash.

I was usually well-received at these venues despite the seemingly younger crowd at many of them. I wasn’t too sure how these crowds would receive me at first – my style of play is fairly soft and quiet. I’m not a rocker or anything of the sort. If you could describe my style at all, maybe folk? I don’t know; I’m just me. I’m not like the greatest player in the world and my singing voice does leave a lot to be desired (well, I think it does anyway – many people have reassured me I sing just fine) but I can at least hold my own.

Anyway, that was all fine and good when I lived up there in Pocatello, ID in grad school. When I left grad school and moved back to Texas, man that changed in the blink of an eye. I got back to Abilene and started looking for places to play (I genuinely enjoyed performing; it was a great outlet for me) so when I finally stumbled across one and I signed up to play, I figured all was well right?

WRONG. Oh so wrong. The second I got up to play, plugged my Martin OM guitar in (yes, I defaced a Martin guitar by putting a pickup in it, so sue me) and started into the first song, I experienced something I hadn’t experienced before – all-out rejection. They were not into me at all. They actually booed me off the stage!

Needless to say I was completely crushed and since then I have not played one single open mic night or other venue. That was in 2012. It’s been 5 years now. Hell, I’ve barely even touched my guitar in that 5 years; maybe a little dabble and a few songs every now and then but serious play? Hah, forget about it. That experience just totally killed my soul, my drive and my love of playing and performing.

Nonetheless, I just need something to do some evenings besides just going home and drinking my pain away. It seems like that’s all I do after work these days. Miserable job, no friends and no significant other all rolled into one just drains one’s soul. In SMSing back-and-forth with my good friend “Laina” (go check out her blog if you haven’t already!) yesterday and trying to inject a little more happiness into my life, the topic of me playing and performing came up and yes, I do miss it, even given that bad experience in 2012. Would Like to get back into it? Sure. After all, it seems almost sinful for my very nice Martin guitar to sit in its case virtually unplayed, even at home. I’m sure she misses me tickling her strings for hours per day.

At the same time, it’s hard to bounce back from something like that. My feelings were hurt very badly over that and I’m still somewhat hurt over it (admittedly I do wear my emotions on my sleeve). I will also admit that I am still incredibly apprehensive about putting myself back out there, even in a totally new city that knows nothing of my prior gigs. Who wouldn’t be? Of course, it’s even harder for me, I am always fearful of the unknown, resistant to change (a classic autism trait) and combined with my social anxiety and the fact my own style of music caters to such a niche crowd it’s almost like a death knell.

I just don’t know what to do. I’d like to play out and about again but it’s so scary. If anyone in the performing arts has any suggestions please send them my way. Have you gone through dry spells? Have you had similar things happen to you? How did you get over them? What would you suggest I do to help get over this fear?