Cigar Review: Oscar 2012 Barberpole

This offering from Oscar Valladares features a striped Barberpole consisting of Candela and Mexican San Andreas wrappers, Nicaraguan binder and Honduran and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size smoked for review is a 6″ x 52RG sharply box pressed Toro vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw putting off plumes of mild/medium bodied smoke. The signature Candela flavor starts things off – vegetal, grassy, with a glycerin sweetness. A hint of pepper to start.

As the cigar develops the body ticks up to a medium as the San Andreas starts to engage. A very complex blend of flavors – still with the Candela flavor package but an addition of a rich cocoa, a slight creamy note, a heavy earth and a substantial pepper blast. Everything is seamlessly blended. No one flavor sticks out.

The flavor package was consistent start to finish, which was fine by me as it was so complex and so well done it kept my interest. Ending at 1 hour 45 minutes for a truly impressive burn time for the size and the strength matches the body at a medium.

Flawless construction throughout with a burn line about as good as you can expect from a Barberpole – no touch ups required. Short flowery ash though, so be aware of that. Band is high quality and self adhesive and removes without damage to the wrapper.

This cigar will have wide appeal. Fans of both Candela and San Andreas will find something to like about this cigar. With its middle of the road body and strength profile, it would be a great cigar for any time of day and will pair well with just about anything. At about $8-9/stick, this is a great value for what you get. Rating: 4.5/5.

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The Gluten-Free Cigar Lover: What To Drink With Cigars

So it’s been about a week and a half since I found out that I have Celiac disease and I’ve been gluten-free for almost a month now. During that time, I have only had one accidental exposure and oh man did I feel it! I guess that’s why I never knew it before – I had gotten so used to the reaction I didn’t even notice it, then once my body’s defenses had reloaded, I get glutenated and bam, misery!

Anyway, today’s topic is going to be what to drink with your cigars if you’re gluten-free. Of course, some of my old favorite pairings are a no-go now (namely stout beer and Scotch/Irish whisk(e)y), but I’m slowly discovering new alternatives to pair with my cigars that I think my fellow Celiac and NCGS folks will love.

Coffee, of course, goes without saying:
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The nectar of the gods – naturally gluten-free, a great cup of plain black coffee is almost a universal pairing with a fine cigar, and is naturally gluten-free and, if you’re watching your calories, has only 2 calories per cup! Of course, experiment with different blends and roasts to find your favorites to pair with what cigars, but you’re sure to find a coffee that goes with just about any cigar.

You’ve seen me pair red wine with cigars a lot too:

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Wine goes without saying as gluten-free as it’s made from grapes. Much like coffee, red wine is almost a universal pairing. With a range of varietals of red wine (from a mild Pinot Noir to a hefty Cabernet Sauvignon to everything in between), you’re sure to find a red wine that goes with just about any cigar out there. Match the body of the cigar to the body of the wine for best results.

If liquor is your preference, a nice dark rum is an excellent pairing:

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Rum is distilled from sugarcane, which is naturally gluten-free. Think a nice Flor de Cana with a medium to full bodied cigar for a ultra smooth smoking and drinking experience. Rum doesn’t have the afterburn that a whiskey would, so it won’t stand up to the ass-kicker cigars, but it’s got quite a variety of cigars to pair with it.

Now, for my new personal favorite pairing, brandy:

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Brandy is simply distilled wine, so no grains are present in the mash. Laurence Davis, owner of Sautter Cigars in London, UK, is on record as saying “brandy goes unbelievably with a cigar,” so I tired it. Man oh man was he ever right! A nice brandy (the above shown is E&J’s Very Special) goes great with a medium/full to full bodied cigar and gives me that afterburn I crave that I lost when I had to give up whisk(e)y.

One pairing not pictured here is a nice mimosa. A mimosa paired with a mild cigar is a great way to kick-start your day, is all gluten-free and absolutely delicious.

As far as some others I’ve talked to, I know a number of people who like vodka with cigars, however I’m not a fan and some vodkas can be glutenated so be careful. I’ve heard gin less commonly being paired with cigars, but some people I think like that too. Tequila I can’t see going well with a cigar but maybe it can.

Finally, closing this post out I’d like to make some comments about whisk(e)y. I’ve heard mixed reports on it so I’ll share my impressions. It seems that some Celiacs and NCGS people tolerate whisk(e)y OK while others seem to react to it the way they would if they ingested glutenated food or beer. Whereas most whisk(e)y that’s been tested meets the US FDA’s definition of certified gluten-free (less than 20 ppm), I think the root of the problem lies elsewhere.

My theory is that distillation actually breaks the gluten down into its individual peptides. Just which peptides are present in any given whisk(e)y we’ll never know. Also, no two people react to the exact same subset of gluten peptides. As such, I theorize that the ones who can tolerate whisk(e)y are not reactive to the peptides found in it, whereas the ones who react to it are. If we have the technology to test them for specific peptides, why aren’t we doing it?

As such, I am laying off whisk(e)y for now, especially in the early goings while my body heals itself. I might try reintroducing it at some point down the road to see if I can handle it. If I can, great. If not, oh well. I’ve found so many great alternatives anyway!

If I have any gluten-reactive cigar lovers who follow me, I’d like to hear from you. What do you like to pair with your cigars? I’m always wanting to learn more and try new things. Comment with your favorite pairings!

Cigar Review: Southern Draw Rose of Sharon

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This offering from Southern Draw cigars features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. The size smoked for review is a 6″ x 52RG box pressed Toro vitola.

The first light revealed a slightly snug draw but producing ample creamy, medium-bodied smoke. The first light flavors revealed a general nutty flavor profile supported by a big pepper blast on the retrohale. Fairly plain out of the gate, but ramped up quickly.

As the cigar develops into the first third, a rich bouquet of smooth flavors enter in – the nuttiness takes on a distinct cashew note and is followed up with notes of sweet cream and vanilla extract. The pepper is still very present on the finish and retrohale. All flavors are very well blended and nothing dominates over the others.

We see only a slight transition into the 2nd third as the pepper starts to diminish slightly, allowing a heavy, aromatic oak to enter the mix. The final third saw another subtle shift as the vanilla started to diminish and the pepper ramped back up. Finishing out at 1 hour and 20 minutes for a very impressive burn time for a Toro sized stick and bringing in a surprising medium nicotine strength.

The construction was absolutely perfect with a near razor-sharp burn all the way down and the ash holding on solidly for a third of the cigar at a time. High-quality self-adhesive bands that were easy to remove and did not damage the wrapper leaf in any way.

Wow, is the paradigm shifting when it comes to Connecticut blends? I’ve gotten a number of them recently that have defied my expectations for what a Connecticut would be. Maybe we’re seeing a market trend toward more flavorful, complex Connecticuts? I hope so, as I do like to smoke milder cigars in the morning (my palate is quite sensitive).  This one is definitely in the upper echelon, right up there with the previously reviewed Henry Clay War Hawk and the Blanco Liga Exclusiva de Familia.  Great with a nice strong, dark roast coffee. Rating: 4.5/5.

Phoenix, You’re A Fine Girl

Wow. Just, wow. That’s about all I can say right now.

Since we’ve already secured me a place to live, that freed Laina and I up to have some fun the rest of my vacation week, and that’s exactly what we did today when we took Phoenix out for a 330-ish mile (530-ish km) road trip end to end today, on some of the most fun terrain I’ve ever driven any vehicle on.

We set out around 11:30 AM for Kerrville by way of Texas State Highway 16, a route I had ridden with her once before that I just knew I had to drive Phoenix through. Multiple elevation changes and twists and turns galore – some rated as low as 15 MPH “safe speed.”

15 MPH? Heh, is that some kind of a joke? Well, maybe not if you’re driving a big-ass pickup or SUV, but Phoenix in her low, sleek Jetta GLI profile? Try like 35-40 MPH negotiating those. Whatever the road threw at us she powered through consistently 20 MPH above the specced speeds, never leaving the demarcations of the lanes. Lots of down and upshifting, revving the engine hard, but never turning the wheel more than about 60 degrees in either direction. You could totally feel the G-Forces as we navigated the terrain, but at no point was she at the remotest risk of rolling over or tumbling down a hill.

We arrived in Kerrville for a nice lunch at their location of Fuddruckers (or, as we jokingly call it, “Ruddfuckers” :-P). Surprisingly, I’d never been to a Fuddruckers in my life. I went out on a limb and orderd an elk burger, on a gluten-free bun and loaded it up with various toppings. It was absolutely delicious.

After re-fueling our tanks (as Phoenix had gotten a full tank of Chevron Techron Supreme earlier in the day), we set back on the return trip, which I drove even slightly more aggressively than on the trip up. Again, she totally owned it, but we weren’t done yet!

On a total limb, we decided to take a side trip to make the loop known as “The Three Sisters” or “Texas’ Twisted Sisters” (which consists of Ranch Roads 335, 336, and 337). Let me tell you what – that name is no joke. Steep hills, tight turns, switchbacks and a hairpin all rolled into one. Once again, Phoenix never missed a beat as I dropped her into the lower gears, powered through the turns much faster than rated (including a hairpin rated at 10 MPH that she negotiated at 30 without blinking an eye), and powering up the steep grades, revving to the redline.

To say it was a total adrenaline rush would be a gross understatement. We lost cell signal in many places, leaving me wondering if we were really on the right path or we were just totally lost. I almost had a panic attack, but Laina (bless her heart) kept me focused through it all as I drove it in hard and made it stick. Sure, we had a couple of incidents of wildlife that we had to evade, as well as a construction zone, but never a hiccup through any of it.

Before I knew it we were right back to where we started, completing the loop end to end. High as a kite, and in desperate need of a piss, we stopped into a Family Dollar to relieve myself and then completed the journey back to home HQ (which I can now call it such as well).

Of course, all this going on while Laina blared her tunes in my CD as we sang along (well, she sang along and I made my pathetic attempt to, best described as caterwauling) shot the shit, punctuated by our ritual belching and throat clearing contests at times, and she totally entertained me by her facial expressions and random exclamations as I negotiated the obstacles. She even went so far as to tell me how impressed she was with my skill level, and I hadn’t even driven like that ever in my life! I guess it comes naturally to me.

Maybe I should consider a weekend gig of being a stunt driver for car commercials? You know, those car commercials that say “professional driver on a closed course – do not attempt.” I’m sure they make good money.

At any rate, needless to say Phoenix really impressed me today. This might be the first time she’s been driven for the purpose she was designed for. Make no mistake about it, the Jetta GLI is, for all intents and purposes, a sportscar even though it isn’t listed as such. It shares nothing in common with the “regular” Jetta and it might damn well be the best car VW builds (assuming, of course, the proper maintenance schedule is followed). After that outing, Laina and I ultimately agreed that despite the initial issues I had, I made the correct choice when I opted for her over the Honda Fit.

So as to what kind of trouble we’ll get into the rest of the week, we don’t quite know yet. All I know is this might be my best vacation ever.

 

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.

Full Review: MacLellan Revelation Bagpipes

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Alright, now that I have a few playing sessions on these, I feel like I can give them a full review of this instrument (highlights, lowlights, etc.). Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Roddy’s pipes, but I’ll do my best to be as objective here as I possibly can.

To save time, I won’t go much into detail of the unique features of this bagpipe, which you can read about in my previous post so you know what I’m talking about as far as that’s concerned. Also, for reference, my full test setup was as follows: Ross suede bag, tube trap, Kinnaird Edge drone reeds.

So let’s start off with the cellulose polymer lined drones and the silica cartridge stocks mentioned prior. How well do they really work? The answer: very well indeed. As mentioned prior, I completely removed my canister drying system and replaced with just a simple tube-style water trap. I am an oral firehose, so some kind of canister or dessicant system is a must for me, so reducing to just a tube trap was a real torture-test of the moisture resistance of this bagpipe.

After an hour long session of playing, I disassembled the bagpipe and noted the following: 1)  absolutely no visible condensation on the drone reeds, and 2) only the slightest bit in the drone bores. There were no visible beads in the bores, but the polymer lining appeared to be slightly wet. Nowhere near enough to condense on the surface and dribble down into the drone reeds to cause tuning or stability problems. Though my tube trap was totally full and I dumped about a shotglass worth of water out of it, the silica and polymer did an excellent job of removing the rest. I’m so impressed I’ve decided to also just run my ABW set out of the silica cartridge stocks for the superior moisture control, thus removing the need for a bulky, heavy canister.

Drying out the stock cartridges couldn’t be easier – simply remove them from the instrument and allow them to air dry naturally. For quicker drying, a hair dryer on medium heat can be used for 20-30 seconds. You do not want to microwave these the way you would a canister system, for it could distort the shape of the cartridge and not allow it to be reinserted.

So we’ve established that this bagpipe does have superior moisture resistance, better than many wooden bagpipes I would imagine and definitely better than every other Delrin bagpipe out there. So what about the tone and air efficiency? Concerning air efficiency, it’s got the same air efficient profile of my ABW MacLellan, so I noticed no difference there (it surprised me initially when I got my first MacLellan how little pressure was required to produce a superior sound).

Tonally speaking, this bagpipe is a total winner. It lives up to the claim of sounding more like a wooden bagpipe. There isn’t any of the harsh, brassy, metallic tone that’s often found in all-Delrin bagpipes. The cellulose polymer lining does a fantastic job of tempering that, giving a more natural, wood-like tone. Compared to my ABW set, the drones aren’t quite as loud, but have more than ample presence. Maybe Robertson-esque or Lawrie-esque is how I would describe them (not quite as loud as a classic Henderson, but not as subdued as a classic Glen, MacDougall, etc.).

The bass drone features a great depth and richness of sound, which are complemented by warm, ringing, but not bright, tenors. The blend is steady, seamless and brought out many rich, ringing harmonics in the three chanter/reed combinations I tried with these pipes. Those combinations being: McCallum McC2 solo poly w/Husk reed, MacLellan standard solo delrin w/Apps G3, Dunbar/JM Aurora solo poly w/Troy McAllister reed, all 3 the same strength (about 23-24″ H2O – very light but necessary for me). The drones went well with all the chanter/reed combinations, and save for some adjustment of the tuning screws to pitch each on the tuning pins, I didn’t have to touch the reeds. Of course, each chanter/reed combo retained its unique tone and pitch, as to be expected, but all were a great blend. Though all chanters tested were solo chanters, I’m sure they would go equally well with a band chanter.

My preference was the JM, but that’s with any setup as it is slightly lower-pitched than the other two, which is my liking (probably the lowest pitched solo chanter around – Jim McGillivray and Dunbar did a great job designing it and it sounds fantastic. It also has a fairly narrow finger spacing making it very comfortable to play).

As far as downsides, there were a few to note, but I already knew these things going into it. The first thing to note is the weight. Delrin is a fair bit heavier than wood, and the pipes are noticeably heavier than my ABW set in the same drone profile and with very similar adornments. However, removing the canister system negated this effect and actually resulted in a slightly lighter setup than my ABW set with canister. The other is the blowpipe, which seems to have a small-ish bore and is slightly restrictive. In its place, as I have for the past several years, I play an aftermarket blowpipe from Peter Crisler, which is wide-bored, adjustable, and has absolutely no restriction whatsoever. Lastly, and this is very minor, but the cartridge stocks have a rather large outer diameter to accommodate the cartridge. This can make fitting to certain pipe bags with grommets/collars a bit of a challenge. I had to work to get them into my Ross bag, and I’m sure a Bannatyne or Canmore bag would be an even greater challenge.

All in all, color me impressed. Roddy really has elevated the Delrin bagpipe to heights beyond any other before it. Not only is it more moisture resistant, the sound is virtually indistinguishable from a wooden instrument, while retaining the durability and resilency of Delrin that make it the ideal material for playing extreme heat, cold, wet, dry, etc. environments that would likely damage a wooden instrument. Sure, there are production Delrin instruments from other manufacturers that are half the price or less depending on decoration, but the extra cost and wait is well worth it for a superior instrument.

I highly recommend these pipes.

PS: I tried to capture a sound clip, but I don’t have any professional recording equipment and my phone and computer mics were overpowered by the sheer volume. I’ll try to get one sometime if I can get some better recording equipment.

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.