Beer/Cigar Reviews: Shannon Irish Red, Cascade Apricot Cherry Hour, Marrero Barberpole and AVO Syncro Nicaragua Tubo

Welcome to another edition of my beer and cigar reviews where we take a look at some notable (and some not so notable) beers and cigars. Let’s just get right down to it shall we?

As always, let’s start with the beer reviews:

Shannon Irish Red

From Shannon Brewing Company in Keller, Texas comes this Irish Red. Though not the typical heavyweight beer featured on this segment, its specs are consistent with the style at 5.5% ABV and 34 IBU. This might be the first Irish Red I’ve reviewed here, but that’s OK because this is a solid example of the style.

Pours a lovely copper color with a thin ring of cream colored head that recedes fairly quickly. Aromas of a yeasty bread, caramel and a subtle grapefruit twang at the back of the nose. Flavors follow the nose almost exactly, starting with a sweet caramel and bread note on the front with a finish of grapefruit and a nice, refreshing iced tea bite in the back. Light body with high carbonation; this one is easy drinking and refreshing.

A very nice session beer for killing a few by the campfire, by the grill or, as was my original purchase, for the racetrack. Pair this with a Primos Classic Natural, a JNV Habano or a Padron x000 Series in Natural. Rating: 3.5/5.

Cascade Apricot Cherry Sour

This is a fruit sour from Cascade Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon. Their sour is often regarded as “the king of sours” and I can’t argue with that one. This is their famous sour aged with apricots and cherries. It weighs in at 12%+ ABV (exact ABV is unknown) with an unspecified IBU or gravity rating.

Had on tap at Vagabond Pizza in Abilene, Texas. ours a hazy rose color with a thin ring of pink, fizzy head. A pleasing tart aroma with the apricots and cherries very prominent on the nose. The palate follows with the apricots an cherries being very distinct, but they taste like natural fruit instead of extract (as is the case in many fruit beers). Very sour, sharp, champagne-like finish. Medium in body and very high, sharp carbonation.

A refreshing beer that’s easy to forget the ABV with. A delicious sour that’s sure to please sour lovers worldwide. Very pleasant. Rating: 4.5/5.

And now for today’s cigar reviews:

Marrero Barberpole

This variant of the Tesoro Mio blend features a dual wrapper of Ecuadorian Connecticut and Habano over a binder of Ecuadorian binder and Peruvian, Dominican and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size reviewed is a 5.5″ x 52RG Perfecto.

The first light revealed a very tight draw producing minimal mild/medium bodied smoke consisting of mainly a straight, creamy plain tobacco. Burning through the tip the draw opens up to perfect, the smoke output kicks way up and brings the body ramps up to a solid medium. Complexity also ramps up producing a lovely blend of vanilla and a light roast coffee on the draw with a nutty finish and a slight pepper on the retrohale. Everything is exceptionally smooth and well blended together. Consistent start to finish, ending at an hour for an impressive burn time for the size. No detectable nicotine strength.

Construction was flawless with a near razor sharp burn that only required two small pre-emptive touchups (maybe not required but with barberpoles I don’t leave it to chance).

A very good cigar for the middle of the day with its medium body, smooth flavors and lack of a nicotine kick. This would be great with a cup of coffee or a nice hot chocolate. Rating: 4.25/5.

Avo Synchro Nicaragua Tubo

This 6″ x 54″ Box Pressed Toro comes in an individually packed tubo and features an Ecuadorian Connecticut I’m guessing Maduro wrapper over Dominican binder and Dominican, Nicaraguan and Peruvian long fillers.

The first light revealed a very loose draw producing a huge volume of full bodied smoke. Lots of leather and pepper out of the gate with a note of unsweetened cream supporting it.

Getting into the first third the body settles down slightly to a medium/full as the initial pepper blast dies down somewhat but is still present. The complexity ramps up bringing in a subtle cocoa into the draw and a bright, aromatic cedar into the retrohale while the leather is still the dominant flavor. The 2nd third retains the same core flavors while the pepper morphs into more of a nutmeg. The cedar becomes the star of the show in the final third but the other flavors are still present. Ending at 1 hour 5 minutes for an average burn time for a toro sized stick and bringing in a medium nicotine strength.

The construction was average and required a couple of large touchups. Ash holds on well, for about 2″ at a time.

This cigar is a leather lover’s dream but it does have enough complexity to satisfy a wide variety of smokers. It’s smooth so not off-putting for anyone but if you’ve been wondering what leather is like as a flavor check this one out. You’ll learn quickly. Rating: 4/5.

That concludes this edition of my reviews. What did you think of these? Let me know.


Product Review: NumbFast Cream


As mentioned prior, numbing creams are a controversial topic in tattoo culture. There are a vocal minority who adamantly protest the use of these products but it seems for the most part it’s become more acceptable. As the ribs are quite a sensitive area and given color packing is usually the most painful part of a tattoo (due to the heavy hit, large needles and multiple passes made over an area to pack color) I knew I was going to need some help to get through it. I should say the line work and graywashes didn’t really hurt that bad, even on the side. That said, the solid black fill on the silhouette (which, despite being black ink, is color packing as opposed to shading/graywash) was sheer agony. That’s what made me decide “OK, numbing cream it is.”

I’d tried a couple of products before. For my first tattoo I had a Canadian friend smuggle me in some EMLA, which is only Rx in the US. I then tried Hush and found it largely ineffective, not to mention it burns like hell when you put it on due to the menthol base. So I looked around and I decided to try this product, which was reasonably priced (about $15 for a 30g tube; covers about a 6″ x 6″ area) and had a strong concentration of lidocaine (5%) so I figured I’d give this a go.

The directions included say to apply and rub in the first layer then smear a thick layer over the area and cover with saran wrap or similar cover for at least two hours to let the cream take effect. I did exactly that and by the time I got to the tattoo parlor and got cleaned off and shaved I was numb – I couldn’t even feel the razor against my skin while I was being shaved.

Getting up on the “operating table” and getting underway I was expecting a “dull roar” as it were. What I experienced was anything but – I felt little more than the vibration of the machine. I do think some areas got numb a little easier than others as I still felt needles in areas more than others, but it was little more than a mild sting – think a fresh mosquito bite. The pain remained more than tolerable for 1.5 hours, at which point it was almost like a light switch and the pain became near excruciating again. Luckily by this point there was enough broken skin for the Vasocaine spray (also 5% lidocaine) to take over and keep the pain manageable for the rest of the session (note: I required two sprays of Vasocaine during the last 1.5 hours of the 3 hour long session). I’m also positive this would have a similar efficacy for most body piercings, with the exception of ear cartilage piercings and/or tongue piercings (sorry, you’re on your own with those), permanent makeup, injections, blood draws and a number of other things.

I asked Jade if it affected how I took the ink at all and she said no, much to my relief. Some numbing creams can affect it – EMLA being one of them because it contains epinephrine. Alas, my skin is very easy to tattoo anyway (I have a good, but not excessive amount of elasticity and I accept all pigments equally well) so that might be part of that.

In my experience with NumbFast, I’ve come to the conclusion that the key for effective numbing is not so much brand but rather a 5% concentration of whatever numbing agent it uses – be it lidocaine, prilocaine or a mix of the two (as is in EMLA – it’s 2.5% each lidocaine and prilocaine). Anything less than that does not have adequate strength to effectively numb the skin. Unfortunately, Texas is a stick in the mud in that tattoo shops cannot buy numbing agents of this strength so if you live in Texas you’re on your own (that’s OK – I supply my own which is a workaround). That said, NumbFast does meet this requirement of 5% concentration and as such this cream gets my seal of approval as a numbing cream. Just be sure you follow the instructions exactly as written to achieve the desired effect.

Rating: 4/5.




Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

I’d like to wish all my readers, both US and abroad, a happy Thanksgiving. Whether you live in the US or not, let’s all pause and give thanks for the things that do go right in our lives. I know it’s easy to get caught up in everything that’s wrong with this world (and yes, there is A LOT wrong in this world, and probably more than there is right) but there are small things in life that are very much reason to give thanks.

I give thanks for all my blogging buddies here. I’ve made some truly amazing friends here and I’m thankful for all of you. As an autistic, socially anxious introvert meeting new people is a daunting task. You’ve given me a way to meet and connect with amazing people worldwide, and for that I am deeply grateful.

As I sit here recovering from both a tattoo and piercing session yesterday (yes, I got pierced yesterday too – 2nd hole in the earlobes):


I am so thankful for Jade, my local tattoo and piercing artist for bring my artistic visions to life, taking them far beyond my anticipation, and executing them with skill and a light hand. I feel deeply grateful to have been such a big part of her journey, starting when she was just spreading her wings as an apprentice all the way to her first convention tattoo, being her “graduation canvas” in the process and now the large rib piece she just completed on me. My life is so much richer since I made my way into the wonderful world of ink; something I swore I’d never do.

I’m grateful for the many wonderful master cigar blenders, brewmasters, winemakers and distillers for the delicious products I enjoy from them and get so much pleasure from. The same is true of all our farmers and food producers who worked so hard to put the food I’ll have on the table at dinner as well as every day. It’s an often thankless job.

I give thanks for those who have sacrificed this holiday to keep us all safe. Our police, firefighters, doctors/medical staff, etc. who are away from their families today. My thoughts and vibes are with them this day.

Above all, I’m thankful for my friends and family. I’ve not always shown that but I am. Times are tough for me lately with my stressful job, but they keep me grounded and focused on what’s important: that I have them around me and that one day my dream will be realized. My current life situation will pass in due time and better times are ahead.

Thank you all; enjoy your meals and the time spent with those that matter most. Happy Thanksgiving.

Bell Tattoo Phase 2

Here we go! Just completed the color phase of my bell piece. Here it is:

I’m totally pleased with how it turned out. It’s just beyond what I envisioned. Of course, when it heals up we will get a good picture for the my tattoos page, but here it is fresh.

I can’t wait to show it off at the 7 Towers festival next year!

A Near-Tragedy to Triumph Story – Martin Truex Jr.

(Photo credit: Martin Truex Jr. Official Facebook Page) 

Ever since I’ve been a racing fan I’ve been a fan of Martin Truex Jr. He’s a gentleman, a fun guy and a hell of a driver, but he just never seemed to have the support structure around him to allow him to reach his full potential. That is, until this year – Martin Truex Jr. is your 2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Champion; capping off his season with his 8th win this season to bring home the title at Homestead-Miami Raceway.

It didn’t come easy for him, though. He was sure put through the ringer along the way. From his former team (Michael Waltrip Racing) folding, then wondering if he’d even have a ride, to taking a ride with the then mediocre-at-best Furniture Row Racing, to the championship three years later. All while battling his own personal life demons with his longtime girlfriend suffering from stage III ovarian cancer, I can’t think of a much better near-tragedy to triumph story in the world of racing (maybe with the exception of James Hinchcliffe in the IndyCar series, but that’s also why he’s my favorite IndyCar driver).

It’s moments like these that serve as a real reality check for me. Just when you think it’s all over for you, when you think there’s no way forward – maybe there’s that tiny glimmer of hope things might turn around for you.

Now, do I have any aspirations of ever being a racecar driver? Oh, not at all. Would I like to maybe do the NASCAR or IndyCar experience someday? Oh totally, but I have no interest in doing it as a career. Nonetheless, when it seems your dreams are so out of reach, stories like that of Martin Truex Jr. just go to show that they might not be out of reach as they seem.

So yes; there will be a party in my house tonight, but beneath that partying is a whole new fire under me – a fire fueled by desire to chase that which seems so distant and unattainable at this point. I’m a beaten dog, I’m in dire straits, but I ain’t dead yet. As Project Semicolon states “your story isn’t over yet” (religious bullshit aside), and mine isn’t. Neither was (nor is) Martin Truex Jr.’s. I still have so many personal demons to battle and lay to rest, so many ongoing challenges that won’t ever completely vanish (damn you autism!!!) and so much personal growth to do, but my dreams are not, and never will be, truly out of my reach. The only time they will be is when/if I give up. Alas, that’s not happening anytime soon.

Cheers to you, Martin. This has been a long time coming and you and your team totally deserve this. Thank you for the great season, your inspiration and your inner strength. Here’s to 2018!

Song Lyric Sunday 11/19/17 – When All Is Said and Done

So this week’s Song Lyric Sunday is about growing older; and a spinoff of a song lyric about looking hotter every year and reaching sexual peak. Well between (1) being only 30 years old, (2) hoping I don’t live anywhere near long enough to be considered old and (3) I’m single and my sex life is nonexistent, I just had to go with a lyric that stuck out in my mind because I can’t actually relate to either topic of the fiction challenge lyric really.

Given the above, the one lyric that stuck out in my mind more than any other was the lyric “slightly worn but dignified and not too old for sex,” which is what leads me to this week’s pick: “When All Is Said and Done” by ABBA (written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus).

Here’s to us. One more toast, and then we’ll pay the bill
Deep inside, both of us can feel the autumn chill
Birds of passage, you and me
We fly instinctively
When the summer’s over and the dark clouds hide the sun
Neither You nor I’m to blame when all is said and done

In our lives, we have walked some strange and lonely treks
Slightly worn, but dignified, and not too old for sex
We’re still striving for the sky
No taste for humble pie
Thanks for all your generous love and thanks for all the fun
Neither you nor I’m to blame when all is said and done

It’s so strange, when you’re down, and lying on the floor
How you rise, shake your head, get up and ask for more
Clear-headed and open-eyed, with nothing left untried
Standing calmly at the crossroads, no desire to run
There’s no hurry anymore when all is said and done

Standing calmly at the crossroads, no desire to run
There’s no hurry anymore when all is said and done

As a bonus pick, I’m including Pierce Brosnan’s and Meryl Streep’s performance of the song from the motion picture adaptation of Mamma Mia!. Granted, even *I* sing better than Pierce Brosnan (which isn’t saying much), so if you haven’t seen the movie you might want to have a tissue handy because you might cry from laughing so hard at his pathetic attempt at singing (and Meryl Streep isn’t much better either)…

I know the song probably has absolutely nothing to do with the theme itself, but it’s one of those topics I just could not relate to in my own life so I had to go with what came to mind right off. Sorry; hope to atone for my lackluster pick next week.

Beer/Cigar Reviews – Headless Gentleman, Storm King Nitro, JNV Connecticut and Marrero Fuerte Gran Toro

Welcome to another edition of my beer and cigar reviews where we take a look at some notable (and other not-so-notable) products. Let’s just get right to it! We’ll start with the beer reviews as we always do:

Headless Gentleman

This is a pumpkin ale hailing from Strange Land Brewery in Austin, TX. It comes in at a fairly heavy for the style 8.9% ABV and an unspecified IBU or gravity rating.

Had on tap at Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House in Dallas, TX. Surprisingly dark pour for the style – a very deep red amber color; not unlike some porters. Nose consisted of notes of caramel, pumpkin and nutmeg. Palate follows the nose almost exactly but with the addition of a creamy note – think almost like pumpkin pie topped with whip cream. Spicy, warming finish. Smooth and easy drinking; very pleasing.

Though not the most intense pumpkin beer I’ve had, it was pleasant enough and I did enjoy it. I’d drink it again. Rating: 4/5.

Storm King Stout Nitro

Storm King is an American imperial stout hailing from Victory Brewing Company in Downington, Pennsylvania. It weighs in at 9.1% ABV and an unspecified IBU or gravity rating.

Had on nitro tap at Goodfriend. Pitch black pour with the typical creamy nitro head; the head appeared a creamy brown color and laces the glass like crazy. Aromas fairly one-dimensional consisting of pine, alcohol and a bit of coffee. Similar flavor profile too – dominated by a bitter espresso note and a piney finish. Maybe a hint of dark chocolate under it. Thick body with smooth carbonation and nitro mouthfeel; but the excessive bitterness made it a bit hard to drink.

I normally like this style but this one really missed the mark for me. I found it plain, dry and bitter. Part of it might be the nitro, but otherwise I didn’t really enjoy this one too much. Rating: 2/5.

JNV Connecticut 

I’m reviewing two different vitolas of this blend as an example of how ring gauge can have some affect but mainly I was just really hoping to like this cigar because it’s such a good value for money (as well as the rest of the previously reviewed JNV line) but unfortunately it was like a typical Connecticut experience for me.

Torpedo (7″ x 54RG)

One snip with the Cuban Crafters Perfect Cutter was all that was required to get a very open draw. Mild draw flavors of a subtle sweet cream. The finish and retrohale ramp up to mild/medium and bring in a zingy wood and a straight tobacco – kind of your typical Connecticut experience.

This stayed consistent start to finish, ending at 45 minutes for a very fast burn; not too unusual for a Connecticut. No nicotine strength. Great construction with a razor-sharp burn.

Lancero (7.5″ x 38RG)

First light revealed a perfect draw producing ample medium bodied smoke. Save for slightly more intense flavors the core blend was exactly the same as the Torpedo – a slight creaminess, straight tobacco and a zingy wood on the nose. This is a prime example of how the wrapper contributes so much of the flavor to the cigar and how ring gauge can affect the intensity of the smoke.

Perfect construction with razor sharp burn as above, but a very fast 35 minute burn time.

Honestly, if you’re a Connecticut lover I imagine these would be right up your alley, alas I’m just not. To me Connecticuts are just too mild and plain for my liking; I tend to prefer something with more substance and complexity. As such, please take the following ratings with a grain of salt: Torpedo 2/5 and Lancero 2.5/5.

Marrero Fuerte Gran Toro

The Fuerte in Gran Toro is a 6.5″ x 54RG box pressed offering from Marrero Cigars. Mad in Costa Rica, this cigar features an Ecuadorian Oscuro Habano wrapper over Ecuadorian binder and Costa Rican long fillers.

The first light revealed a very loose draw producing voluminous, thick, medium bodied smoke. Flavors of a smooth earthiness and a sweet creamy note. A balanced but not overbearing black pepper bite on the retrohale.

Getting into the first third the body flavors ramp up to medium/full and the earth moves more toward a leather, which mixes well with the cream. Also entering the mix are a medium roast coffee and a fleeting hint of cocoa. The pepper gradually dies down and is replaced by a metallic twang on the finish and nose.

The 2nd third remains more the same but the sweetness morphs more toward a caramel. The last third takes on a very heavy earth and leather, dropping the sweetness and bringing in a red pepper (as opposed to black), and joining it is a bright, aromatic pine on the retrohale. Ending at 1 hour 35 minutes for an impressive burn time, probably just right too – the strength matches the body at a medium/full in the end; resulting in a pretty serious buzz.

Construction was very good with a good burn line. The burn wasn’t totally razor sharp and did require a couple of small corrections but I won’t fault it for that – this is to be expected from very dark, thick wrappers on larger ring gauges.

This cigar was amazing. It was bold, complex and transitional and packs a punch. For about $8.50/stick this is a great bang for your buck compared to what you’re getting. Rating: 4.75/5.

That’s a wrap. Hope you enjoyed.