Cigar Review: Sobremesa

This offering from Saka cigars features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over a Mexican San Andreas binder and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size reviewed here is the Elegante en Cedros – a 7″ x 50RG Churchill vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw producing ample medium-bodied smoke. Core flavors of earth and leather out of the gate with a substantial but not overbearing red pepper blast on the retrohale. There’s also a tinge of bright cedar on the nose.

Getting into the first third we see many of the same flavor notes, but with the addition of a light roast coffee – akin to a breakfast blend – on the draw. The body flavors also see a bit of an uptick and they are now solidly medium/full. The smoke is very creamy and thick on the palate. Overall the flavors are definitely on the savory/zesty side.

The second third brings a very welcome transition as the earthiness takes a back seat and brings in a note of dry unsalted nuts and a distinct creamy note with a slight tinge of sweetness. The pepper and cedar notes remain, as do the coffee and leather. Very complex blend but no one flavor dominates any of the others.

The final third sees another shift, but this one more subtle as the coffee takes on a distinct dark baker’s chocolate bite. The pepper also dies down somewhat. Ending at 1 hour 50 minutes for a truly impressive burn time and bringing in a matching medium/full nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a burn that wasn’t totally straight but didn’t need any manual correction, which was impressive given how windy it was when this was smoked for review. Ash holds on solidly for a third of the stick at a time. High quality self adhesive band that removed easily without damaging the wrapper.

Overall a very robust and complex smoke that leans strongly toward the savory side. I would have liked a bit more sweetness to round out the package but otherwise it was a very nice smoke for sure, though I do prefer Saka’s Mi Querida over this one. Pair with a sweet red wine or a nice rum to balance out the relative dryness of the stick. Rating: 4/5.

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Cigar Review: Epicure Short Salomone

This 6″ x 54RG “Salomone” (seriously – how many fucking spellings are there of this shape?) vitola from Crux Cigars features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and long fillers.

Using one snip with my Colibri V cutter, the first light revealed a perfect draw producing plentiful medium-bodied smoke. Dry, heavy wood dominates the flavor with a tinge of black pepper on the retrohale.

Getting into the first third we see more of the same, but with the addition of a dried roasted nuts and the pepper backing down. The body settles into a mild/medium and a slightly sweet cream enters the mix.

Getting into the second third we see a very welcome transition as the woody notes take a back seat and are replaced by a tinge of vanilla. I also detect a fleeting hint of cocoa, mainly on the finish and retrohale. Everything is smooth and well blended. Only subtle changes toward the final third as the cocoa is now on the draw also and the vanilla takes on a hint of a spicy note. The body also ramps up slightly again, wavering between mild/medium and straight medium. Ending at 1 hour 5 minutes for a truly impressive burn time for a Connecticut and bringing in a subtle nicotine strength.

Flawless construction featuring a razor-sharp burn and the ash holding on for solid third chunks at a time. The band slid off easily without damaging the delicate Connecticut wrapper.

This is one of those few Connecticut cigars I actually enjoyed. A great morning smoke, it went beautifully with a Sumatra Mandheling coffee. Rather pricy for a mild stick at $13/pop, but worth it to kick-start an epic day. These will enter rotation for me. Rating: 4.25/5.

Wine Review: Tortoise Creek “The Chelonian” 2014

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It’s been a good long while since I’ve done a wine review so I figured I’d do one tonight.

This California Zinfandel from Tortoise Creek weighs in at 14.6% ABV. I like a good Zinfandel but I’m kinda picky about them, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked it up, especially given the price point. I was very pleasantly surprised by this one though!

Pours a deep burgundy color. Thick streaks of lacing when swirled, owing to its slightly higher-than-average alcohol content. Nose consists of raspberry, a touch of caramel and alcohol astringency. Medium bodied flavors of plum, black cherry, toffee and a hint of spicy vanilla. Finish is long and somewhat hot with a cinnamon afterburn.

For about $13/bottle you can’t go wrong. This is a great everyday wine that’s not too sweet or dry and easy to please.  Surprisingly complex for its price point, it went well with the pictured Blanco Nine JT Limitado but would also be a great dessert wine in my opinion. Rating: 4/5.

Review: UWELL Crown 4 Checkmate Kit

Today we’re reviewing a vape mod and tank – the UWELL Crown 4 Checkmate system. To say I was in dire need of an upgrade to my vape setup was an understatement so while in San Antonio visiting my beloved neuro-sister Laina I went ahead and bought a new setup recommended to me by the attendant on duty at the previously reviewed Valkyrie Vapor Shop.

So what’s included in the starter kit? Everything you need except for juice, batteries and a charger. The kit includes the mod itself, 5 mL Crown 4 tank pre-loaded with a 0.4 ohm kanthal dual vertical coil, spare gaskets, drip tip cover, optional 6 mL “bubble” glass and a 0.2 ohm kanthal dual vertical coil, 3′ Micro USB charging cable and user manual.

Concerning the mod itself, the power range is from 5-200 watts in power mode (limited by max voltage, obviously) and 200-600 degrees F (or 100-315 degrees C) in temperature control mode. The output voltage ranges from 0.7 to 8 volts and reads coils ranging in resistance from 0.1-3 ohms in power mode and 0.1-1 ohm in temperature control mode. While it is possible to use the unit as a passthrough (i.e. vape while charging), the manufacturer does not recommend this practice. I am unsure if this device has smart charging/overcharge protection (it is not listed in the manual) so until I hear otherwise I would not recommend overnight charging, etc.EDIT 4/24/19: UWell has assured me this device does have overcharge protection. Of course, you can buy extra batteries and an external charger if you wish, but always remember batteries stay together as a set and never mix batteries.

The mod will accept two high-drain 18650 rechargeable batteries with a 3000 mAh capacity for a very high battery capacity. The battery cover is held on by a magnetic enclosure, as seen here:

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Charging with the Micro USB cable from a 5V/2A wall charger unit is fairly fast – approximately 2 hours from about 30% to a full charge. As with all rechargeable batteries it is not recommended to discharge them fully prior to recharging and also don’t overcharge. One other word to the wise – do not, and I repeat, DO NOT use an iPhone wall plug to charge the device. Those are only rated for 1 amp. Not only will charging take longer but you’ll over-stress the iPhone charger, leading it to get very hot and risk a fire.

So that’s all the technical stuff, now let’s discuss aesthetics. The fit and finish are top-notch. This system is available in a variety of colors to suit your own personal decor. The silver version was what the shop had in stock when I bought it, which is visually striking and high contrast:

57533070151__4b50d754-ac06-4a53-9666-3d6d0e62c9f7The filigree is visually interesting, clean and well-executed. The 5 mL glass has a streamlined appearance with the metal base and cap, which I prefer over the 6 mL glass which has the appearance of a “bubble.” I prefer the streamlined look of the 5 mL, though if you vape a lot it might be worth sacrificing some aesthetics for higher capacity (or, if you just like the look of the bubble glass; beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all). EDIT 4/8/19: Since I’ve found I need the extra capacity I’ve switched the glass out for the 6 mL bubble, sacrificing aesthetics slightly (to my eye):

The base of the unit is fitted with rubber “feet” as to not damage any delicate surface you might set it down on:

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As far as accessing the built-in functions of the system, it’s very simple. The unit is 5 clicks on/off of the power button within two seconds. The +/- buttons on the bottom can be used to adjust your wattage (power mode) or temperature (TC mode). The system has various protections built in, from overheat protection, short-circuit protection, low battery protection, reverse polarity protection and you can lock certain functions or all functions with the prescribed combination of button inputs as well as switch between power and TC mode. Also, the mod will cut off after 10 seconds of holding the fire button down.

The tank is a top-filling tank so you can get it really full as opposed to a bottom-filling tank. To fill the tank simply turn the cap 90 degrees counterclockwise, remove fill and replace. Replacing the coil is just as easy and is accomplished by removing the base and simply pulling the coil out and pressing a new one in. Of course, always remember to prime the wick prior to installation and even then let is soak for a few minutes prior to vaping. Whereas the tank has a delineated “minimum” line, I wouldn’t recommend taking it down this far. Always keep the juice at or above the top of the wick hole for maximum saturation to avoid dry hits.

Now, onto the part you’ve all been waiting for: actually using the device. The device has a nice heft and weight in the hand without being too heavy – it definitely feels solidly built.  The side-mounted fire button can easily be actuated and accessed no matter how you choose to hold the device. This is going to sound very Texan of me, but for me it feels most natural to hold the device as one would hold a handgun or pistol and fire the unit with my “trigger finger” (I told you that would sound Texan!).

The device easily produces thick, rich, flavorful clouds of vapor. I have only used the dual vertical coils personally (as I prefer kanthal coils for safety reasons), so I cannot comment on the mesh coils or any other temperature control coil. The manufacturer specs 60-70 watts for the 0.4 ohm coil using full airflow, however I found this to be too hot for my personal taste (note that temperature is subjective). I found I liked this coil at 50 watts instead, with fully open airflow:

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The 0.2 ohm vertical coil is speced for 70-80 watts, however again, I found that to be too hot for my taste. I settled on 60 watts for this coil as it yielded a cool, smooth vapor, again with a fully open airflow:

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I did get a bit more intense flavor and cloud from the 0.2 ohm coil, hence I’ll settle on it. Again, I’ve not tried the other coils for reasons mentioned above.

While it doesn’t do much to talk about battery life and coil lifespan as those vary so much from person to person depending on power setting, how much you vape, type of juice, etc. – for me I got a solid 2 days of vaping on a single charge and a coil lasts me about 10 days using an 80/20 VG/PG juice that’s actually pretty dark in color. I’m not a very heavy vaper though (maybe 1 tank/day) so use that to gauge what your own expectancy should be.

Maintenance and cleaning are very simple – just wipe down with a dry cloth every so often and dab up any excess juice in the drip tip with a paper towel. Due to the design of the tank and coil, this tank does not leak, which is a real plus especially for someone coming from bottom-fill tanks where the coil directly touches the heating element on the mod.

So, with all that, can I find any real drawbacks in the system? Maybe a couple of minor ones. First is what I assume to be the lack of overcharge protection (man it’d be nice to be able to charge overnight!). Second you can only adjust power, etc. in whole number increments. Usually this is precise enough, but some might like something in between there. Other than that I don’t know as though I can find fault with the system, unless I were to get really technical as some reviewers can.

And that’s about it! The bottom line this is an excellent mod and tank system either for someone just getting into sub-ohm vaping or an experienced vaper. I’m very well pleased with it and I think you will be too. Thanks to Josh at Valkyrie for recommending this system to me! I’d easily rate it a 4.75/5 – it vapes great and just plain looks cool.

Cigar Review: Pier 28 Habano

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This offering features an Ecuadorian Habano Rosado wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and  Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. The size reviewed here is a 6″ x 46RG Corona Gorda vitola.

First light reveals a perfect draw and putting off ample medium/full body smoke. Flavors of a very dry hay/grass followed up by a bitter pepper and bright cedar on the retrohale (man I hope it gets better; not my preferred flavor profile!).

Settling into the first third we get many of the classic Rosado shade Habano flavors – unsweetened cream, leather and nuts still with a background tinge of the hay. The bitterness has worn off while the cedar and pepper remain.

We see a very welcome transition in the 2nd third as the hay wears off and a bright dried pineapple note joins the other flavors. The hay rears is ugly head again in the back so I ended it prematurely at 55 minutes which is still not a bad time for a small ring gauge. Subtle nicotine strength.

On the plus side, this cigar was well-constructed with a very straight burn. Short ash, but that’s to be expected with a small ring gauge. High quality self-adhesive band that was easy to remove.

If you like the above flavor profile this is definitely one to check out, but for me personally this one missed the mark. I imagine some would enjoy it though. If you like that sort of dry, vegetal flavor profile definitely check this one out though. Rating: 3/5.

Review: Valkyrie Vapor Shop (San Antonio, TX)

Very rarely is a place I visit on vacation so epically awesome that it deserves its own review, but I feel this place is because it might very well be the best vape shop I’ve ever been to.

So Laina was running low on her vape juice and we had nothing better to do so we decided to venture over to the shop she gets her juice and equipment from. I was game; I’ve been vaping on and off over the years too (it’s the next best thing to my premium cigars after all!). She got some juice and we just chilled and chatted for awhile while Josh (the person on duty) mixed up her juice and went from there.

I figured I hadn’t gotten juice in awhile so I figured I’d get some. Josh was very personable and helpful (and just plain fun to BS with!), immediately recommending a flavor upon learning what flavors I like in vape juice (chocolate and mint flavors) – their “Polar Express” flavor which is supposed to be like a York peppermint patty. I tried one pull of the sample tank and I was sold – it was absolutely delicious. I had him mix up two bottles for me to take on the road on the spot, opting for a 1mg nicotine concentration in their standard blend of 80/20 VG/PG:

Yes, you read that right – 1mg. Here’s what sets them apart from everywhere else I’ve been – their nicotine strengths can be had in increments of 1mg/mL. Standard is increments of 3 and that’s just too much in my opinion. Many people might in fact be in between levels ideally but have to either settle for a step higher or lower depending on the user’s wants/needs (or mix two levels together). This is not ideal. It’s best to get the right level right off of the bat. As someone who never smoked cigarettes but does enjoy a little bit of the brain boost from the nicotine (note that cigars don’t really have much nicotine at all), 1mg/mL is perfect for me. I’ve tried 3mg in the past but it’s always been too much for me, so I’ve been stuck with 0mg (boo!).

So that’s all fine and good, but how is the flavor and vapor production (after all that’s what ultimately matters right)? The VG-heavy blend has just enough PG to carry the flavor but not too much to make the hit harsh. Even taking big direct lung inhales from a high-powered sub-ohm mod the vapor goes down smooth and cool without irritation or sting. Of course, as with all mainly VG juices, this stuff produces thick, rich clouds of vapor. The nicotine used is high quality and (at least at the lower concentration) had no effect on the flavor from the taster. Some lower-quality nicotine sources can impart a very peppery flavor to the juice and totally ruin the taste.

Josh was also helpful in aiding me in choosing a new mod as mine prior was older than shit and I was in need of an upgrade. After some exploration, I settled on the UWell Crown IV Checkmate system (again, review to come soon):

Anyway, if you’re in the San Antonio or surrounding area, definitely hit these guys up for your vape needs. Josh was awesome and Laina assures me Mike (the owner) is equally awesome. The juice is very high quality as are the mods, tanks, etc. they stock (they have a very rigorous quality control standard they put their stuff through before they stock it – another commitment to quality). Even though I’m not local to San Antonio (yet!), I will continue to get juice from them with the help of Laina. 😉

Anyway, this place is enthusiastically recommended. You just won’t go wrong when you get your juice and supplies from them.

Cigar Review: Mr. Brownstone

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This offering from Esteban Cabrerras features a Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro wrapper over Ecuadorian Habano binder and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size reviewed here is a 6″ x 52RG Toro vitola.

First light reveals a slightly snug draw but producing ample smoke. Medium bodied flavors of a light earth, maple syrup and oak with a peppery/spicy finish.

Getting into the first third the body seems to waver between medium and medium/full. We see the same great flavor profile as the first light but with an added dimension of a milk chocolate toward the start of the draw and the sweetness coming up a tick. The smoke has a thick, chewy quality on the palate and is very smooth. The flavors are well blended with no one flavor dominating.

Getting into the 2nd third we see a subtle shift as the earthiness takes on more of a very distinct leather note as it takes on a rich creaminess. Everything else remains and the draw opens up to even what I would consider slightly loose by this point. The final third doesn’t see any additional changes and keeps the flavor profile consistent, with the exception of the body now being solidly into the medium/full category. Ending at 1 hour and 15 minutes for a solid burn time for a Toro vitola and entering only a subtle nictone strength.

Excellent construction with a near razor-sharp burn, but the paper band was a real pain to get off – I had to grab it under the foot to tear it off (sacrificing a tiny flake of wrapper leaf). Ash holds on about an inch at a time.

This was a solid offering all around. It would have been a 4.5/5 if not for that stupid paper wrapping (which adds nothing to the cigar and is pure marketing BS), but the issues therein cost the cigar a half point in my final ratings so it came out to 4/5. It is a highly recommended cigar that would go great any time of day and whatever you want to pair it with.