Cigars Direct Cigar of the Month Club

Bless the fine people at Cigars Direct for sending an especially tasty Cigar of the Month Club selection. Here’s what it includes:

Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 – Can’t go wrong with a RP Vintage.

La Gloria Cubana Serie R — I gave the Serie N an impressive 94 last year. I can’t wait to try it.

Partigas 1845 — Love Partagas! Don’t know too much about this one, but I’m seeing a lot of scores in the 90s on line.

CLE 2012 — Heard a little buzz last year about this cigar out of Honduras, but know nothing about it. Nice Connecticut wrapper. I’ll let you know.

E.P. Carrillo INCH — This is the one that really caught my eye. A big 64 ring gauge (so it’s an inch, get it?) Maduro beauty. A monster. I’ll have to set this one aside until I have some time (and don’t need to sleep anytime soon).

Check out the Cigars Direct Cigar of the Month Club here:

Cigar of the Month Club

I’ve said it here before. You send me free cigars, I’ll say nice things about you too.  But I will say, I really look forward to my box of “surprise” cigars every month.  I don’t always love every one, but I have been introduced to a lot of great cigars I probably never would have tried over the years.

It’s a Good Time to be a Craft Beer Drinker

I received another press release from the Brewers Association today, announcing its “Legislator of the Year” awards. Reps. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) were recognized for their stewardship of the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act (Small BREW Act – clever, eh?).

Yeah, yeah, thumbs up, congratulations and all that, but I did find the release interesting as regards the current and proposed tax rates, and the explosion of small brewers. In a prior article I talked about the excise tax on beer and why six million barrels has become the magic number as to what constitutes a small brewer, but here are the actual dollar amounts.

The Small BREW Act (which has failed to pass thus far but is being taken up again this month) aims to recalibrate the federal excise tax rate structure to further foster the growth of the craft brewing community. Currently, brewers producing less than 2 million barrels of beer per year pay $7 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels they brew, and $18 per barrel on every barrel thereafter. If the Small BREW Act is adopted, the rate for the smallest brewers and brewpubs would be $3.50 on the first 60,000 barrels. For production between 60,001 and 2 million barrels the rate would be $16.00 per barrel. Any brewer that exceeds 2 million barrels (about 1 percent of the U.S. beer market) would begin paying the full $18 rate. Breweries with an annual production of 6 million barrels or less would qualify for these tax rates.

Nationally, small and independent brewers are a big boon to the economy. These small businesses employ over 100,000 full- and part-time employees and generate more than $3 billion in wages and benefits. They also pay more than $2.3 billion in business, personal and consumption taxes. In 1976, there were approximately 30 small brewers in the United States. Today, there are more than 2,000.

The 70’s must have been some thirsty times.

Make Your Last Beer Ever a Shock Top?

Given my prior post, this very entertaining commercial from Shock Top caught my eye. Shock Top beers are made by Shock Top Brewing Company in St. Louis, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Bush InBev. The fact that many might think they are drinking a “craft beer” when they are drinking a Shock Top has the Brewers Association’s panties in a bunch, and the association singled out Shock Top in its “Craft versus Crafty” campaign.

It is therefore amusing that Shock Top responds with this commercial that ends with the line:

“When there is only time for one more beer, make it an award-winning handcrafted Shock Top.”

What is a “Craft Beer”?

What is a craft beer?

Which ones are “craft beers”?

I received a press release today from the Brewers Association, “a trade organization dedicated to small and independent American craft brewers.” The Association has started a “Craft vs. Crafty” campaign, trying to get the word out that you might not be drinking a “craft beer”, as the Association defines that term, even though it appears to be one. Here is how the Brewers Association explains it:

“Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace. Many started producing their own craft-imitating beers, while some purchased (or are attempting to purchase) large or full stakes in small and independent breweries.

While this is certainly a nod to the innovation and ingenuity of today’s small and independent brewers, it’s important to remember that if a large brewer has a controlling share of a smaller producing brewery, the brewer is, by definition, not craft.

However, many non-standard, non-light “crafty” beers found in the marketplace today are not labeled as products of large breweries. So when someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it’s from a craft brewer, since there is no clear indication that it’s made by SABMiller. The same goes for Shock Top, a brand that is 100 percent owned by Anheuser-Bush InBev, and several others that are owned by a multinational brewing and beverage company.

The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers. We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking.”

I don’t like the sound of that. Is the Association calling for some sort of labeling requirement? “Warning: This beer is manufactured by a big, faceless conglomerate. You should not think this is a craft beer.”

That’s just silly, and I think the Association is confusing definitions and missing a point here. The term “craft brewer”, as the Brewers Association is trying to define it, has its roots in the tax code, by which breweries making less than two million barrels of beer per year are given a break on the excise tax. But it does not follow that because a brewery doesn’t qualify for a tax break, it can’t produce a craft beer. I don’t qualify for the Homeowners Property Tax Credit, so does that mean I’m not a homeowner? In my world, the IRS doesn’t get to define what constitutes a quality, craft beer. This is America, damn it.

I’m glad that the big boys are recognizing that beer drinkers are becoming a more discriminating lot, and I welcome them to the craft beer market. The reality is that if one of the big boys wants to sell a high quality “craft beer”, it will likely be produced in large quantities — that is their business model and they have the distribution channels to move more beer. We tend to think of a craft beer as coming from a small brewery utilizing quality ingredients, but the recipe and ingredients can be scaled, and the beer doesn’t cease to be a craft beer at some arbitrary production number.

Equally foolish, how does ownership percentage dictate what is a craft beer? For example, if struggling Brea Brewing Company persuades Anheiser-Bush InBev to buy a 51% interest in the brewery so that Brea Brewing can continue to make its truly awesome beers, then beers like its famous Hoppy Easter are suddenly no longer craft beers?

The problem is that the Brewers Association wants to use the definition that a “craft brewer” is one with an “annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent ownership by an alcoholic beverage industry member”, and doesn’t want anyone to use the term in a way that doesn’t match that definition. No, Brewers Association,  that is the definition of a small brewery, or call it a small craft brewer if you prefer, but size of the brewery does not dictate the “craft” going into the beer. “Craft” is defined by Webster’s simply as “skill in doing or making something .”

Groupon Code for Craft Beer

Coincidentally, here is a Groupon from my favorite cigar lounge, touting Blue Moon as a craft beer.

Incidentally, the number had previously been set at 2 million barrels per year, following the tax code, but last year the Brewers Association slapped its forehead and said, “What were we thinking? What we meant to say was 6 million barrels. Yeah, that’s the ticket. You’re still a craft brewer if you’re making less than 6 million barrels per year.” Many suspect this was done to keep Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) in the fold, but whether that is true or not, it shows the arbitrariness of defining “craft beer” by the amount of beer put out by the brewery.

So, the Brewers Association’s definitions of “craft brewer” and “craft beer” are officially rejected. Here is my definition of a craft beer, and I hereby proclaim that any brewer that creates a beer that matches this definition may call itself a craft brewer, at least as to that beer:

“‘Craft beer’ refers to any well-made, interesting beer sporting ample flavor and quality ingredients without overuse of adjuncts such as rice and corn.”

Yes, I cringe when I hear someone say, “I’m a big craft beer fan, I drink Blue Moon all the time.” I would much prefer to see craft beer fans supporting their local breweries. But thank God that when I go to a bar with just a few taps, I have the option of getting a Blue Moon or Shock Top, and not just Bud or Miller.

By all means, Brewers Association, encourage your members to prominently exclaim on their bottles that they are true craft beers as you define that term. And by all means, promote “drink local beer” campaigns to get beer lovers to support their local breweries. But don’t call for the major brewers to adopt your definition of what constitutes a “craft beer” and proclaim that what they brew is not worthy of that designation. That’s just not true beer lover behavior.

Be sure to also visit the discussion of what constitutes a craft beer at, where it is agreed that the size of the brewery does not define whether it produces a craft beer.

Also, here is a great video that captures the attitude of people who want to make beer something elitist. Here the self-proclaimed beer expert opines that “craft beer sucks” and only beer from “nano-breweries” is acceptable. Kind of like what the Brewers Association is trying to do. Listen for the names of the beers near the end. Very funny.

Man sentenced to 37 months in prison for Cuban cigar smuggling

No harm in smuggling a few Cuban cigars back into the country after a trip abroad, right?

Tell that to Illinois attorney Richard Connors. After bringing some cigars into the country way back in the 1990s, he was finally sentenced to 37 months in prison, fined $60,000, and disbarred!

As to the disbarment, the ethics board found that Connors had engaged in criminal acts that reflected adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer. It also found that his conduct “tended to bring the legal profession into disrepute.”

The judge must have been a cigar fan, because in the ruling the court went on about Cuban cigars in particular and cigars in general. “It is undisputed that the leaves grown in the fertile soil of the Vuelta Abajo, in the western province of Pinar del Río, cultivated and prepared according to centuries-old traditions, produce an incomparably smooth, pungent, and full-bodied smoke,” the court wrote. “Actually, all cigars do,” the court said in a footnote. “As Rudyard Kipling noted in The Betrothed, ‘[A] woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke.’ “

Before you panic, you need to know a couple more details. First, this wasn’t a situation where Connors was taking the bands off a few cigars and bringing them back from Mexico. According to the ruling, Connors made more than 30 trips to and from Cuba from 1996 to 1999, bringing back as many as 46 boxes of cigars on one trip, with a value of about $350 per box. Second, the only reason Connors was busted was because his ex-wife ratted him out. Yes, she decided to get back at her ex by notifying the U.S. Customs Service of his side business.

Hell hath no fury . . .

Cigar Shoot-Out: Romeo Y Julieta 1875 Reserve v. Man O’ War Virtue v. Garcia & Garcia My Father

I had a relaxed weekend, and that gave me time to smoke a few cigars. Here are some quick reviews of the cigars I tried.

Cigar Review Romeo Y Julieta 1875 ReserveRomeo Y Julieta 1875 Reserve

I reviewed the Romeo Y Julieta 1875 recently, and about the only thing I could say to recommend it is that it might make a good golf cigar due to its construction. I was curious to see if the Reserve might be better.

I was pleasantly surprised. This was a good, creamy cigar with a nice taste pallet, along with perfect construction and burn. Far better than the standard Romeo Y Julieta 1875. This one gets an 86 on The Morris Scale. Here is how Famous Smoke Shop describes it:

With their dark, rich-tasting, U.S. Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Romeo Y Julieta 1875 Reserve Maduro Robusto Maduro cigars are the perfect addition to the renowned Romeo y Julieta selection of fine premium cigars. A tasty Nicaraguan binder and a hearty blend of Nicaraguan, Peruvian and Dominican long fillers offer a deep, full-bodied, and complex smoke with a sweet aroma and a much richer flavor. Fans of Onyx Reserve will also enjoy this blend.

Cigar Review Man O' War VirtueMan O’ War Virtue

The Man O’ War Ruination has become one of my favorite cigars, so I ordered some as part of a Man O’ War sampler pack that included the Man O’ War Virtue.

This one disappointed. I took into account that whereas the Ruination is a full-bodied cigar, the Virtue was intended to be on the mild end of the spectrum. I do have a bias toward stronger cigars, but I can appreciate mild cigars. The Virtue is not a cigar I can recommend. No complexity; in fact no taste at all. It was like puffing on a big cigarette. A 72 on The Morris Scale.

Here is the description from Cigars International:

Man O’ War, the recently crowned king of full-bodied, has just dropped another bomb. This time, a milder handmade – Man O’ War Virtue – and it is spectacular. Dressed in a seamless, silky-smooth Connecticut-seed wrapper grown in Ecuador and generously filled with Nicaraguan long-fillers, Virtue is brimming smooth and creamy complex flavors. Mild to medium-bodied, but filled with richness and flavor, Man O’ War Virtue is impressively complex and refined. Note of oak, cream, nuts and a toasty-but-buttery smooth finish make up the core profile. Subtle hints of white pepper and sweetness round out the mix. Well-made, perfectly blended and extraordinarily tasty – Man O’ War Virtue sets the new standard in Connecticut wrapped cigars. Perfect in the morning, perfect after a big meal, just perfect.

My Father Cigar Review Garcia & GarciaGarcia & Garcia My Father

This was the best of the three. A great cigar, yielding copious amounts of flavorful smoke. A 92 on The Morris Scale.

Here is how describes the My Father:

Considered to be the most prestigious blend released by Tabacalera My Father, My Father is another flavorful concoction offering a full-bodied character with a long, full finish.

All cigars coming from Tabacalera My Father incorporate traditional Cuban characteristics, from the entubado style bunching (folding the filler tobaccos in an accordion fashion) to the triple caps used at the head of each cigar. These traditional Cuban methods enable the cigars to burn and combust perfectly, which in turn creates intense amounts of complexity followed by a smooth and enjoyably long finish.

My Father is excellent in terms of quality, construction, and complexity. This blend consists of specially selected tobacco grown at the most prestigious farms in Esteli, Nicaragua. The wrapper is a beautiful Ecuadorian grown Habano-Rosado leaf, which is combined with a Nicaraguan binder to create a full-bodied complexity that is earthy with spicy undertones but expels a phenomenal aroma. Each size comes packaged in elegant boxes of 23, all featuring an old Cuban-style presentation.

Tonight’s Tasting: La Gloria Cubana Serie N and Pilsner Urquell

I put together a great pairing tonight, selecting a big Glorioso La Gloria Cubana Serie N and, to set off the bold cigar, a nice crisp pilsner beer.

La Gloria Cubana Serie N

A real beauty with a very dark, Oscuro wrapper. I thought I might have scratched it with a drawer in the humidor or something, because there was a light spot on the wrapper, but then I realized it’s an “N” imprinted on the wrapper. Nice touch.

Nice rich smell before the burn. Perfect construction with no soft spots, and the cut held up to my now all-time favorite cutter.

Review of La Gloria Cubana Serie N[We interrupt this review for a quick discussion of cutters. I have a punch on my keychain at all times. I always liked that it gives such a consistent cut because then when I discuss the draw of the cigar, I know that it is not a function of my cutting job with a guillotine cutter, which can smash the cigar or cut too deep, depending on my cutting skills. Recently, though, the fine people at Drew Estates gave me a hat and cutter, similar to those in the photo. The guillotine cutter has a face plate which only allows the cigar to be inserted only a tiny fraction of an inch. The resulting cut is wafer thin, and always exactly the same (although that does mean that mob guys could not use it to cut off fingers like you see in the movies). Add to that some super sharp cutting blades, and this is one fine cutter that never mashes the cigar or cuts too deeply. I’ve used every type of cutter over my 30 years of cigar smoking, and for me this style of cutter is the way to go. Now back to the review.]

The Serie N is part of the La Gloria Cubana line, and is made with the aforesaid pitch-black Oscuro wrapper leaf, and a proprietary Nicaraguan binder and filler blend. The burn was absolutely textbook, and released great billows of smoke. The taste was great with no bitterness, consisting primarily of coffee, spice and cocoa. Like a good cigar should be, the Serie N was great throughout the burn, while at the same time presenting different tastes. I give the Serie N a 94 on The Morris Scale.

I enjoyed the Serie N so much I scouted around for a five pack and found a deal going on at Famous Smoke Shop. The Glorioso size goes for about $7 a stick on most of the retail sites, but Famous is offering the “Maduro Wingman #5″ sampler for $36, which included five of the Serie N Gloriosos, and five Oliva Cain 660 Maduro (6 x 60). The Oliva Cain 660 is also a great stick, so you’re getting ten memorable smokes for $3.60 each. A screaming deal. The deal only goes until October 3, though, so I hope you saw this review in time. As always, not a sponsor and no kickbacks, just passing along a good deal.

Here’s how Famous Smoke Shop described the Serie N:

La Gloria Cubana Serie N is a sister brand to the critically-acclaimed La Gloria Cubana Serie R. Proprietary Nicaraguan tobaccos are married with La Gloria’s signature Ecuadorian Sumatra wrappers. Through artisanal blending and by employing specific frontmarks to maximize the unique flavor, this stimulating, full-bodied offering is punctuated by spicy notes and balanced to reveal a refined smoke. An extremely well-executed cigar, and a must-have for any well-stocked humidor.

For a more detailed review of the La Gloria Cubana Serie N, see this very good review on Cigar Coop.

Beer Review Pilsner UrquellPilsner Urquell

I’m not ashamed to admit that I like a good pilsner. It’s understandable that some beer snobs like to cop an attitude about pilsners, given that there are so many terrible pilsners. But don’t be a hater. A good pilsner can refresh like no other.

The Urquell, made in Czechoslovakia, pours a gorgeous gold, with a nice smell of toasted bread. The taste of hops come through in this pilsner, with a very nice crispy, carbonated mouthfeel. The taste is citrus with a very pleasant bitter follow through. A very good imported pilsner, rating it a 92 on The Morris Scale.

Beer Fest Review: Septemberfest 2012 at Santa Monica

Septemberfest 2012 Santa MonicaThe Septemberfest in Santa Monica, put on by Drink Eat Play, is one of my perennial favorites. What’s not to like? Over 150 different beers served in unlimited quantities right next to the ocean. Add to that not one, not three, but TEN food trucks and a really good band called Petty Cash (covering the songs of Tom Petty and Johnny Cash – get it?), and you’ve got yourself a great day of beer drinking and socializing. Some of my favorite breweries present were Deshutes, Old World, Bootlegger’s, Eaglerock, Noble Ale Works, Fireman’s, Venice Beach, Tap It, Bierbitzch, and Primo, to name just a very few. Anchor Steam was on the list, but I didn’t realize until after the function that I had never seen them. I don’t know if they failed to appear or I just missed their booth.

Septemberfest 2012 Santa MonicaIf I had to find something to criticize, it would be the lack of any shade. Even with the breeze off the ocean, it was a bit warm for part of the beer fest. One of the breweries – the Old World Brewery out of Phoenix, Arizona – came with an absolutely brilliant, inflatable pub. Picture one of those bounce houses you see at kids’ parties, but with a pub inside instead a trampoline. Not surprising a brewery from Phoenix would come equipped with a respite from the sun. And speaking of brilliant, some attendees brought folding chairs with them and set up their own place to get out of the sun in the shade of one of the food trucks.

The sun was really not an issue, but some shade would be a nice addition. Note to Drink Eat Play: Since you already sell VIP admissions, make it a little more VIP by adding a VIP tent where attendees could relax out of the sun.

But sun aside, this was one great Beer Fest, and if you reside within a couple of hours drive, one you should plan to attend next year.

Santa Monica Beer Festival 2012

Beer Festival Septemberfest 2012

Beer Festival Septemberfest 2012 Santa Monica


Some Women Get It

Appreciation of Cigars

“There’s something about smoking a cigar that feels like a celebration. It’s like a fine wine. There’s a quality, a workmanship, a passion that goes into the smoking of a fine cigar”.   — Demi Moore

Cigar Reviews of Camacho Maduro, La Palina Classic, and Room 101 at Crush & Roll

Cigar Reviews Camacho MaduroI attended the Crush & Roll 2012 event in Paso Robles, California which, as the name implies, is devoted to cigars and wine. First, some quick impressions of the event, and then I’ll rate the cigars provided at the event.

Crush & Roll 2012

This was my first time at Crush & Roll event in Paso Robles. We were headed to Carmel for another event, and it worked out that we could stop at Paso on the way for the Friday part of the two day event.

The event was a little surreal at first, when compared to other wine fests I have attended. It was held at the Paso Robles Event Center, which is a small, fairgrounds sort of venue. When we arrived, there was not a single sign or any other indication that a function was occurring. We circled the venue, looking for any sign of a wine festival. I even checked the tickets, to see if I had confused the date. The date was right, so we wandered onto the grounds, and sure enough, there it was. I didn’t do a head count, but I would estimate about 150  were in attendance.

First the good news. We were given commemorative wine glasses, along with tickets for three cigars. Upon entering the event, I was very pleased to find that they were also serving up some fine craft beers by Stone Brewing Co. and Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. The beer and wine were very good, as was the live music by a group called The JD Project. Dinner was just okay, consisting of tri-tip, salad, beans and bread. It all came together for a pleasant evening of wine, beer, cigars and music, supporting the Project Manana charity.

Now for the bad news. As mentioned, this was a two day event, and you could buy tickets for just Friday or Saturday, or a combo ticket for both days. However, we Friday-only attendees were treated like second class citizens. They were selling raffle tickets, but the big prizes would not be awarded until the following day and you had to be present to win. That’s fine, I don’t have to participate in the raffle, but the detail that really torqued me was the table selling cigars. Get this. They had five-pack bags of some good cigars for sale for $25, but if you bought them, you could not actually take possession of them until the end of the event on the following day, due to some local ordinance that prohibited selling tobacco products on the premises during an event. So, again, Friday attendees were left out.

I still enjoyed the evening, and I won’t go so far as to say you should not attend, but note to organizers: Don’t offer a Friday event day if it is going to be so limited. I can’t see myself attending again, but if I did I would only attend on Saturday.

And then there were the cigars . . .

Cigar Review Camacho MaduroCamacho Maduro

The price of admission ($50) included dinner, three cigars and unlimited tastings of beer and wine. (I don’t know if it was actually intended to be unlimited tastings, but no one cut us off.) The first cigar, a Camacho Maduro, looked promising. Nice construction with a dark maduro wrapper.  Indeed, the description of the cigar sounded extremely promising, since it is an all maduro cigar. Unfortunately, the draw was so loose it was like smoking a toilet paper roll, and as is usually the case with a loose roll, the smoke was very hot. Even if I could have gotten past the draw, the taste was nonexistent. Admittedly, I did not smoke the cigar to the nub, and it could be that it would have undergone some mystical transformation in the final third that would have changed my mind, but after about ten minutes with this stick I had to toss it. Life is just too short. A really bad cigar.

Cigar Review La PalinaLa Palina Classic

The second cigar was a La Palina Classic. I wanted to like this cigar, because it was new to me and I always look for hidden gems, and because the representative was very passionate about it, discussing the rarity of the tobacco and the Brazilian wrapper. While better than the Camacho Maduro because the draw was acceptable, we are talking gradations of bad in terms of the flavor. Perhaps the taste provided by a Brazilian wrapper is an acquired taste, but I could find nothing to recommend the La Palina Classic

Room 101

Room 101 is made by Camacho, and comes in different blends. I missed the name of the cigar, so I can’t be precise with what I was smoking, other than the band said “Room 101″. That’s unfortunate, because this was an enjoyable cigar. Construction and burn were perfect, and unlike the prior cigars, this one had some complexity, with tastes of leather and spice. Thankfully, the “Roll” part of the Crush and Roll festival ended up on a high note.