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.

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.

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.

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.

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.