Cigar Review: Bellas Artes Maduro

This offering from AJ Fernandez features a Brazilian Mata Fina Maduro wrapper of a Mexican San Andreas binder and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size smoked for this review is a 6″ x 54RG box pressed Toro vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw producing thick plumes of medium/full bodied smoke. Heavy earth and black pepper dominate the first few puffs, supported by a soft creamy note.

The first third builds on the opening puffs with the introduction of a rich dark chocolate and espresso on the draw and adding a red pepper element on the finish. There’s a very subtle sweetness that ties it all together, but it’s a very heavy, dark flavor package. The smoke is very heavy on the palate also.

Getting into the second third the pepper and spice slightly diminish and the earthy note morphs into more of a leather. The final third drops almost everything but the leather and a slight spice – quite plain toward the end. Ending at 1 hour for an average burn time for the size and bringing in a matching medium/full nicotine strength.

Flawless construction throughout with an absolutely razor sharp burn line. Ash only held on for about inch or so chunks but didn’t upset the burn any. High quality self-adhesive bands that removed easily without damaging the wrapper.

I’m torn on this one. The first 2/3 of the cigar was great with lots of complexity. The last third, quite frankly, was boring. This cigar would have been much better had it been a more consistent blend (even as much as I enjoy cigars that have transition points and keep things interesting). Still a good option for a bold red wine, imperial stout beer or bourbon after dinner though. Priced fairly at $9/stick give or take. Rating: 3.75/5.

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Cigar Review: Montecristo White Series

This offering from Montecristo La Romana features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. The size smoked for review is the Rothschilde, a 5″ x 52RG Robusto vitola.

First light reveals a perfect draw. Good smoke output with mild/medium body flavors of salted nuts, a slightly sweet cream and a bit of a pepper on the nose.

Getting into the first third the creaminess comes up and the sweetness more pronounced. There’s also a yeasty bread note coming in. Everything is exceptionally smooth and very well blended.

This cigar was consistent start to finish with major transitions points, save for the pepper diminishing and being replaced by an effervescent slightly spicy ginger note on the retrohale. Ending at 50 minutes for an average burn time for the size and no detectable nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a near razor sharp burn. Ash holds on about half the stick at a time. High quality self-adhesive bands that removed easily without damaging the delicate Connecticut wrapper leaf.

A mellow smoke for sure. Nice enough for in the morning with your cup of coffee, but this one failed to wow me in any way. Not overly complex nor transitional, this might fit the bill for an average Connecticut smoker but I’m more picky about mine, especially for the price (approximately $11/stick). I’ve found a handful of better (IMO) Connecticut cigars for lower cost. With that, my rating comes out to 3/5.

The San Antonio Chronicles Episode 6: Marble Falls and Other Tidbits

Yet another San Antonio weekend has come and gone for me, and the more I visit there the more I get the itch to move. Between the much better vibe and it killing me to be apart from my twin soul sister, I’m almost at the end of my rope with regards to shitty ass Crapilene. Mercury Direct Station hits at approximately 11:00 PM Wednesday so then it’ll be time to get busy looking for places to live.

So I got in Friday evening as I always do, this time in a loaner vehicle as Phoenix is in the shop for some major surgery. Apparently she actually has a bad fuel injector (which I have never experienced in any other car I’ve owned) and the fuel system cleaner wasn’t enough to burn all the carbon deposits out. So far, between new plugs, new coils, a fuel injector and a carbon cleaning, we’re at about $1,250 worth of repairs on a car I have only had a month and a half. Needless to say the extended warranty has already paid for itself.

Anyway, I digress. I get in, and shortly after unloading we head out to Sushishima for a totally gluten-free sushi feast and, for me, a side of hot sake. From there, it was to her place for “happy hour” (which usually means a shot or two of Flor de Cana 12 and a nice strong cigar, and just a mixer of rum/soda and her vape for her). The night capped off by hanging out, watching a movie together, and lights out.

After a morning coffee and smoke Saturday, we ventured out for Marble Falls to visit a little hole in the wall diner called Tea Thyme. What makes this place so special is that it is 100% gluten-free. That’s correct. No navigation of the menu, no nothing. I ordered the same as Laina – the “Not Picky Tacos” (if I remember correctly) and they were heavenly, as was their chocolate chip cookie. Followed up the diner with a quick stroll in the park and then back to SA to chill for a bit.

That afternoon, after chilling, we set out to try to find Laina some thrift store jeans to hack up into DD’s (as she’s just been borrowing a pair of mine that had gotten too snug for me). We tried a couple of Goodwills but came up empty, and remembering Mercury is still retrograde, decided to pause that project for now and then ventured back over to The Cove for dinner.

Dinner at The Cove is always great; great burgers (which can be had with a GF bun or just lettuce wrapped), with some great GF sides too. I also ordered a couple of what I was told were gluten-free beers, however on further examination they turned out not to be GF at all. Omission beer says “brewed to remove gluten” and on the bottle it said “made from barley malt, this beer might contain gluten.” I’m glad I read that before I even took a sip. I was left feeling I had thrown money away on nothing but it’s a learning experience. Then it was again back to her place, where we had happy hour, jammed out for a bit, then called it a night.

Sunday morning started off with the usual routine of a nice smoke, after which we geared up for the day. Alas, before we got going, we just had to pause for a little “mirror selfie”…

…and then off to a little coffee shop called Mildfire for a little pick me up. I had the Americana Espresso which was delicious and gave me a good jolt. Just as we were about to take a bathroom break and leave, the barista pulled me aside and told me my shorts were “beautiful” and how she admired my confidence and said that I was the person she wants to be. I of course thanked her dearly, and had her come around front for a big, warm hug.

From the coffee shop, we went and had a delicious lunch at Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill. They were out of GF pita bread but I was still able to get a feast fit for a king even without bread. Leaving feeling satiated, we ventured to the vape shop so I could load up on my vape juice and then went back to her place.

Once we got back, it was time for a movie, and one I needed to see because it’s life-changing. If you’ve not seen it, I fully recommend Defending Your Life. It’s light-hearted but very inspirational. After the movie, which made me both laugh and cry, we flipped it over to the IndyCar race in mid-Ohio and watched a real thriller of a race.

By the time the race was done, my time was about gone so it was then I packed up and we said our teary-eyed goodbyes for now. I departed SA at 5:30 PM and arrived in Abilene right at 9. Luckily Laina was able to accompany me by phone for most of my journey.

Anyway, that’s what went down this time, but a few of interesting things happened on the side. Remember I said earlier that pair of DD’s Laina is borrowing from me were too tight for me now? Well I decided to try them on again for a moment, and lo and behold I can actually button them again! They’re snug, but I can button them easily. Three months ago I couldn’t, which means I’ve dropped a not-so-insignificant amount of weight without even trying. The only thing I’ve done different is being GF part-time and reducing my beer consumption, further adding credence to the gluten reactivity theory.

The second thing is I never knew how addicted I had become to my phone/computer and social media. This time around I did something different at Laina’s request – when we went somewhere I left my phone behind. I didn’t realize how much of our time together I was wasting on my phone, which was causing me to disengage. I did feel like the time we spent together this time around was much better quality and that I maybe should put the phone away more often in everyday life.

Lastly was what happened after I got back to Abilene. Since having been gluten-free since Thursday afternoon, last night I reintroduced gluten. Not long after dinner last night I had stomach cramps and nausea that lasted well into mid-morning today. In my mind that all but cements it for me. As soon as I get by blood drawn for the reactivity panels, I can go GF full-time and I intend to do so. For now, since I have to consume some, I’ll moderate my intake and cut beer entirely. That seems like a good initial step.

Anyway, that’s that for this trip. Stay tuned for more developments as it’s about to be crunch time.

Cigar Review: Micallef Herencia Maduro

This collaborative offering from Micallef and Gomez Sanchez family cigars features a Pennsylvania Broadleaf Maduro wrapper over an Ecuadorian Sumatra binder and Honduran and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size reviewed here is a 5.5″ x 52RG box pressed Belicoso vitola.

After two cuts with the Cuban Crafters Perfect Cutter, the first light reveals a perfect draw producing thick plumes of medium bodied smoke. Notes of rich cocoa and leather on the draw followed by an ample pepper and spice on the finish and retrohale.

Getting into the first third we see the same general profile with the exception of the initial pepper and spice blast dialing down a bit, allowing an aromatic bright cedar to join the retrohale.

The cigar was consistent start to finish in the flavor profile. Ending at 40 minutes for a rather short burn time and with a subtle mild/medium nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a near razor sharp burn. Ash holds on about a third at a time. High quality self-adhesive bands that came off cleanly without damaging the wrapper.

This was a nice enough smoke but man I was left wanting more time out of it. That’s the way it goes sometimes though. This would be a good option for a morning or lunch time smoke when you just don’t have much time to commit, but at $10/stick not exactly a good value for money. Great with a cup of coffee or a lighter red wine like a Pinot Noir. My final rating on this came out to a 3.5/5.

Gluten-Free Beer Review: Redbridge

redbridge

Staring in the face of the real possibility of gluten reactivity, the biggest hurdle for me to clear is going to be the beer issue. I’ve tried a few gluten-free beers in the past, but they were totally lackluster and not really worth drinking, let alone reviewing.

Alas, times are different now for the gluten-free world at large and things have gotten better. Maybe they’ve also gotten better in the beer world?

Anyway, Redbridge is a sorghum-based amber/red lager made by Anheuser-Busch. It weighs in a 4% ABV and an unspecified IBU rating. So what does this beer have to offer? Let’s find out.

Drank straight from the bottle so I can’t comment on color, but looking at the appearance of the beer through the bottle suggests a light golden color. Aromas of citrus hops come through the nose, as well as a glycerin-like sweetness from the sorghum. Flavors were very interesting and much more like that of an American pale ale than an amber lager – pale malt sweetness/breadiness supported by a bite of piney and grapefruit hop notes. Pretty thin/light in body and with high carbonation; this one is easy to kill several of.

Honestly, I found this beer to be very good. I got it to go with my gluten-free mushroom-Swiss burger at The Cove in San Antonio and it was a great pairing. The Cove is a great option in SA if you want a great gluten-free burger and fries, and obviously they have gluten-free drinks too. Oh, and the staff is super friendly and helpful. The bartender that day? As I paid out my bar tab and returned to my table, she noticed my lower half wear and gave me a pretty high compliment – “Oh, I love your shorts!” Never did I think I would get paid a compliment on my “Davy” Dukes but then again San Antonio and Abilene are totally different animals.

Anyway, I’m just glad I have at least one beer option should I have to make the commitment to gluten-free full-time. I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve not written a beer review in a long time, and that’s the reason – I don’t drink much beer anymore and what I have had recently in that respect are all previously reviewed beers. Alas, I might specialze in gluten-free beers in the near future as I try more. Bartender lady assured me she’d have some more different ones back in stock in a couple of weeks, so when I’m down there again it’ll be worthy of exploration.

Whatever the case, I’m giving this one a rating of 4/5. I would definitely drink this again.

Cigar Review: The K by Karen Maduro

This offering from Karen Berger cigars is a Nicaraguan puro. The size smoked for review is a 5″ x 52RG box pressed Robusto.

The first light reveals a perfect draw producing ample medium bodied smoke. Core flavors of a smoky meat draw followed by a peppery finish and retrohale with a tinge of cedar.

The cigar develops beautifully in the first third retaining the first light flavors while adding a deep, rich, creamy chocolate onto the draw – almost like a malted milkshake. Think of the flavor profile as going to a 50s diner and ordering a chocolate malt with your burger. The pepper and cedar remain on the nose. The smoke is very thick on the palate – almost “chewy.”

No changes were noted in the flavor profile for the 2nd third which was fine by me because I was totally digging the flavors. The final third showed the smoky quality (don’t laugh!) getting more intense as the body ramps up to a medium/full. Ending at 55 minutes for a good burn time for a Robusto and bringing in a medium nicotine strength.

Construction was very good with only slight variations in the burn line that did require correction at the halfway point. Ash held on for half the stick. High quality self adhesive bands that removed easily and did not damage the wrapper in any way.

This cigar had a very unique and delicious flavor profile that kept me wanting more. With its medium blend profile, this is a great option for a mid-day or lunch smoke. Would go well with coffee, red wine or maybe even a nice mimosa. A little pricy at $9.50/stick but well worth it for the flavor profile. My final rating on this stick came out to 4.25/5.

Cigar Review: Henry Clay Warhawk

This cigar features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over a Connecticut Broadleaf binder and Honduran long fillers. The size smoked for this review is a 6″ x 50RG Toro vitola.

First light reveals a slightly snug draw but producing plentiful creamy medium bodied smoke. Core flavors of a sweet nuttiness on the draw with a heavy oak and pepper finish and retrohale.

Getting into the first third the draw opens up to the perfect resistance and the smoke retains a medium body as the pepper diminishes somewhat allowing a hint of cocoa to enter the draw. I have to say not quite my expectations for a Connecticut wrapped cigar.

The 2nd third sees not so much a transition as an addition to the already complex flavor profile. Everything holding at medium body, but the finish adds a note of yeasty bread to the mix.

A slight shift in the final third as the nutty flavor transitions to a thick, creamy leather note and the pepper dropping off almost entirely. Ending at 1 hour 15 minutes for an impressive burn time and bringing in a surprising medium nicotine strength kick.

Construction was very good with a razor sharp burn line and high quality self-adhesive bands that removed effortlessly and did not damage the wrapper. Short, flowery ash so be aware of that though.

What a surprise. Definitely exceeded my expectations for a Connecticut blend. At about $8/stick it’s very reasonably priced too. Great morning or mid-day smoke with some great coffee spiked with Bailey’s, Chila or Rumchata. Rating: 4.5/5.