All posts by Pippin

I am a part time journalist and a full time cigar and pipe tobacco reviewer. If you enjoy "the leaf," Why not join us over at Cigarweekly.com. I personally have 30ish years of knowledge to share and I consider myself one of the lesser experts.

Crowned Heads Triple Review

This Article was featured on Cigar Weekly Magazine on October 31, 2016

Crowned Heads is a boutique brand committed to producing high-quality cigars that combine tradition and innovation. The company’s cigars are highly regarded by the premium cigar industry and smokers alike. Cigar Weekly member Jon Huber is a member of their team. And according to Huber, business is booming for Crowned Heads. New at the 2016 edition of the IPCPR were two lines – Las Mareas and Le Carème.

* * * * *

The Las Mareas is produced by the Garcia family (of My Father fame) using a Corojo wrapper.

I pick up hints of nutmeg and cocoa from the wrapper and foot. The construction is beautiful, with one vein running at an angle from the first third down. A clean clip with my Palio enables a satisfying medium cold draw. This is one of Jon Huber’s Crowned Heads marque, so I am going in with high expectations. The cold draw proceeds to yield notes of leather and cocoa.

The initial post-light draw does not disappoint either. Full flavors of well-aged tobacco with leather and subtle cocoa notes are evident. And lots of smoke adds to the satisfaction of this cigar. The medium grey ash is very solid, and the burn very clean. Yes… This really is a very well-constructed cigar.

I feel I must slow down, as the generous draw will get hot if I don’t. Otherwise, this is a lovely cigar that is developing almond notes as it progresses.

At the one-third mark, the burn is still even and the ash firm. The flavor continues to be leathery with nutty undertones, while some pepper in the nose has developed.

The ash continues to hold firm just past the one-third point, further confirming that this is a very well-constructed cigar. Nevertheless, I go ahead and dump the ash to avoid dropping it in my lap.

By now, this very smooth smoke has developed a touch of vanilla. At the halfway mark, the smoke is cool and very flavorful, and the burn remains very consistent. The cocoa detected in the pre-light has yet to emerge, yet distinct pepper notes remain on the finish.

Crowned Heads Triple Review 2

Two-thirds of the way in, the flavor profile is distinctly aged tobacco with hints of leather. A very subtle note of almonds remains. The burn remains straight, and the ash is still very solid.

The medium to full smoke remains consistent approaching the end of the cigar. What heat has developed is easily countered with small purges. Finger burn becomes an issue with one inch left, and I elect to put the cigar down.

The Las Mareas represents a most interesting cigar, with enough complexity to keep me interested all the way to the end. I’ll score it 8.75/10. It’s a very good cigar.

* * * * *

The Le Carème is produced by Ernesto Carillo, and incorporates a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Sumatra binder and Nicaraguan filler. It is available in four sizes. There’s also a sampler that includes one of each size. Crowned heads is sometimes associated with in-your-face strong cigars. This time the blenders have opted for a more creamy stick – thus the aptly named Le Carème.

Crowned Heads Triple Review 3

The wrapper and the foot give off definite notes of creamy tobacco. The bunch is solid but not hard, and the cigar clips easily, thereby providing a nice firm draw. The initial draw is pleasant and creamy, with a bit of spice.

Unlike the hard and fast tobacco notes of some Crowned Heads marques, this cigar starts in an easy and very pleasant mode. Like most Crowned Heads, though, it produces plenty of pleasant smoke and burns perfectly straight.

I can’t get over how well this cigar is smoking. Even though it’s so creamy, it still manages to pair perfectly with a Lagunitas IPA.

At the one-third mark, the creaminess kicks up a notch. There’s also a bit of a stronger tobacco note to enhance the flavor. The whitish ash is strong enough to resist a light tap. A light purge defeats the slight heat that has started to build, and the ash falls about halfway along its length. Meanwhile, the strength is building, but not unpleasantly so. This cigar is evolving into exactly what one expects from a Crowned Heads – a solid cigar full of flavor.

Given the lovely creamy start and solid build, I’ll give this one a 9.5/10.

* * * * *

I’ve also decided to include a review of one of the firm’s banner marques, Jericho Hill. This name, and the names of all of the vitolae, are inspired by the song ‘Cocaine Blues’ by Johnny Cash. Here, I’m reviewing the 12 Honest Men Lancero.

Crowned Heads Triple Review 4

The dark smooth wrapper is capped with a pigtail. The cigar offers up aromas of tobacco and leather, a firm bunch and a medium cold draw.

I find the initial draw a bit tight, but the Lancero still produces plentiful smoke and flavor. I note strong, but not harsh, flavors of a tobacco barn on fire – woody with lots of rich tobacco and a hint of panic.

The medium grey ash is very firm, and the burn perfect. One of my favorite things about Lanceros is how quickly the flavors develop. The panic is now gone, and the cigar has developed a rich leather undertone.

At the one-third point, I begin to feel confident that this cigar will be outstanding all the way to the end. It’s rich and smooth, and the abundance of smoke is keeping it in my fingers, and not resting on the ashtray.

One quick touch up about halfway through keeps the burn nice and even. I love Lanceros, and I will still say that the 12 Honest Men qualifies as one of my favorites. This cigar makes me proud to count Jon Huber as a cigar friend. It is so good that it brings me joy to know that I have four more in my cabinet.

The somewhat tight draw is not a problem, as it means I will have more time to enjoy this cigar. It also makes me want to listen to Johnny Cash while smoking it. And now I am!

Crowned Heads Triple Review 6

The heritage of this cigar makes it all the more enjoyable. Jon and the folks at Crowned Heads have a real knack for naming their cigars. If I had chickens, Egg Sucking Dog would apply to one of my dogs.

Back to the cigar… It continues to be a wonderful smoke. Two-thirds of the way through, the smoke is still developing, with cedar, leather and a nuttiness all apparent.

Another one of my favorite aspects of a Lancero is how cool the smoke remains as I smoke it. And this cigar is no exception. At this point, I am not looking forward to having to put it down.

Wonderful flavors and good complexity earn the 12 Honest Men a solid 9.75/10. Excellent job, Crowned Heads.

Rubbing Elbows and dropping names

Creating, blending an manufacturing tasty cigars is a talent that was on show in July at the  ICPCR trade show. Those who do it exceptionally well become superstars and are sought after and easily recognizable.

My wife and I attended and covered the 2016 show. I tried to tried to not fawn over every superstar I saw but sometimes I couldn’t resist. This is just a small representation of the cigar community elite at the show but these are the ones I posed with for posterity.dsc04350

Your humble narrator with Christian Eiroa of CLE, formerly the creator of Camacho cigars. His booth was well planned and represented the lines created by his family.

dsc04487

My lovely wife with Michael Gianinni of General Cigars Foundry brand. A true maverick in his field. His cigars and his boxes were as interesting as his outfits.

dsc04343

I love this one. That’s Edgar Hoill. To all you photography nuts, yes, THAT Edgar Hoill, who also designs one of my favorite cigars.

dsc04302

Me with Jon Huber, long-time CigarWeekly member, former CAO ambassador and currently with Crowned Heads cigars. He brought a new style to the industry along with interesting blends and flavors.

dsc04430

My personal favorite, Hamlet Paredes, former master blender at the Partagas factory in Havana, now working on his own line, the Tabaquero, with Rocky Patel. This is the fourth time I have talked to him. And yes, he remembered me.

So, maybe I posted this as proof that I know my way around the cigar industry, or maybe I’m just a narcissist. You’ll have to ask my wife.

Long ashes and smooth draws everyone!

Protocol – Backing The Blue

“Protocol is one year old this year,” said Bill Ives, co-founder and owner of the Protocol brand.

What began as a ‘local’ limited-release cigar company has grown from 5,000 cigar runs to over 40,000.

Originally available in Robusto, Toro and Gordo sizes, the firm’s range has grown this year to include a Lancero, which is getting rave reviews.

“The Protocol Lancero is being introduced as a small-batch production depending on its success with possible increased production in the future,” said Ives.

Protocol was launched at the 2015 IPCPR in New Orleans. The company, known as Cubariqueno, was created by two police officers, Juan Cancel and Bill Ives. The cigars are produced at the La Zona factory in Esteli, Nicaragua under the supervision of Erik Espinosa.

The Lancero sports a beautiful dark and smooth Ecuadorian Habano Oscuro wrapper with a firm bunch. The foot smells of leather and cocoa. I get an easy clip and a perfect cold draw.

An easy light leads to a nice full draw with plenty of smoke. Notes of tobacco, leather and cocoa emerge along with a bit of pepper on the nose. A light sweetness from the wrapper lingers on the lips. The ash is light grey and the burn is razor straight.

Protocol Backing The Blue 2There is a slight harshness near the beginning that disappears almost immediately. The leather and cocoa notes are complemented by a Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout. Smooth nutty notes also emerge as the flavor develops.

Tobacco notes subdue into a smooth creaminess that takes the flavor to another level. The creamy cocoa notes make the flavor quite exquisite. The ash is not flaky, but taps off easily every half inch or so.

No ‘double clutching’ is needed to produce plentiful smoke from the perfect draw of this cigar. And even deep draws don’t heat up the smoke. The uncut remainder of the cap unravels, but this has no negative effects. The smoke is thick enough to allow for smoke rings.

The tobacco notes return for the final third of the cigar without affecting the creaminess of the smoke. As is the case with most Lanceros, the flavor continues to develop for a truly complex smoke. Pepper notes then return to complement the overall flavor spectrum.

At about one inch, the cigar becomes too hot to hold, but it still qualifies as a nubber. Fractions off for two touch-ups – 9.5/10.

Protocol Backing The Blue 3Also new this year is the Probable Cause line, which includes a Robusto and a Churchill. The Probable Cause is wrapped in Mexican San Andreas Maduro leaf with Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan filler.

“We are classifying Probable Cause as a medium-strength cigar with full flavor,” explained Cancel.

The dark oily wrapper smells like a tobacco barn, and the foot of the cigar smells of earthiness with a touch of spice. The bunch is firm but not hard. A clean clip on a medium box press gives a perfect cold draw.

The initial draw produces strong tobacco and leathery notes, much as one would expect from a Maduro. The box press is easy to hold and draw on. Plenty of rich smoke is produced with each draw.

Some pepper in the nose develops to enhance the tobacco and leather notes. So far, this is a typical Maduro profile with a perfect burn.

Paired with a Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout, the cigar retains its tobacco and leather notes with a bit of earthiness.

As with the Protocol Lancero, there is enough smoke for smoke rings from single draws. The smoke is also staying quite cool, and the burn remains perfect. The wrapper is leaving a pleasant tobacco aftertaste on the lips.

Protocol Backing The Blue 4The medium to light grey ash is very solid. Approaching the first third, the flavor profile has mellowed some to settle into a nice creaminess. There is still a pleasant peppery note in the throat and nose.

There is absolutely no harshness to the smoke approaching the halfway point. The ash is firm and the burn remains perfect. So far, this is a most pleasant cigar.

Just past the halfway point, the cigar starts to heat up a bit, indicating that I need to slow down some. The perfect draw, however, makes that difficult.

The flavor then develops a sweetness, replacing the tobacco notes and complementing the creaminess. This is becoming the ‘perfect’ Maduro cigar.

During the last third, the heat stabilizes. The flavor is still creamy, with a touch of sweetness. Only when approaching the last inch does the heat become an issue.
A solid 9.5/10 overall for this excellent Maduro cigar.

After three samples (two Lanceros and the Maduro), I can say that Protocol cigars belong in every humidor, especially of those who like medium to full Maduros and Oscuros.

IPCPR 2016

The 2016 International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Trade Show in Las Vegas was probably the most spectacular yet. Vendors and retailers were literally everywhere. It was a great thing that we decided to cover all four days, or we would have missed several interviews with more popular vendors on the floor.

The most encouraging aspect of the show was the overwhelming response of the vendors and retailers to the FDA information seminars. There was standing room only, and some people had to wait outside because the room was at fire marshal capacity.

As for the FDA, the language of its new guidelines, which force manufacturers to get approval for anything released after Feb. 15, 2007, is so vague that a lot of the industry is concerned about what exactly the guidelines mean. At best, it’s the FDA trying to get deeper into the pockets of the industry. At worst, it’s an aggressive attempt to destroy the industry as we know it.

In the meantime, most vendors were doing business as usual, releasing new blends and chasing market share as usual. There was a wide variety of new products from lots of people, plus a good sampling of re-releases of older blends (popular in their previous releases) that will also fall into the ‘grandfathering’ part of the FDA standards. Trust me: there are some smart people in this industry.

One notable exception is a major vendor with no new lines this year. Instead, they were assuring other people in the industry that they were being extremely proactive, and had hired their own team of lawyers to deal with the issue. Also, as you may have read here on CW, the IPCPR, CAA and CRA have joined together to file an injunction/lawsuit that challenges the over-reaching language of the new regulations. Now they need a judge to rule on it before August 8 to have immediate effect.

Busy all day every day, we were there from doors-open to doors-closed for three and a half days, systematically covering the trade floor to gather as much information as possible so we could pass it on.

Lists

Having seen it before, I just took another look at Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 of 2015 list. I know, it’s easy to hate on CA, but there are just some major holes in this list that cannot be ignored.

Tabaclera by Hamlet – Produced by the former master roller at the Partagas factory in Havana, Hamlet Paredes left Cuba and went to work with Rocky Patel. The cigars are full body/full flavor and have an amazing mix of flavors that pretty much have to be experienced. This cigar also does not get overly hot as you smoke it. I shared one with a friend last weekend and he commented that he needed a “roach clip” because he wasn’t ready to put it down. Recently Hamelt made an in-store appearance here in San Antonio and he is outgoing and friendly. And watching him roll a 36″ culebra (he said it was enough tobacco for 15 robustos) was fascinating. His 20+ years of rolling experience was evident as he made it look so easy.

Sobramesa – This brand was developed and brought to market by Steve Saka after he left his position of CEO at Drew Estate. This is a medium-to-full body and flavor cigar that everyone should be smoking. Once again, the flavors are hard to describe in words but are outstanding and need to be experienced.

Edgar Hoil OSOK – Produced by Chistian Eiroa, I was expecting an outstanding cigar. I got more than I bargained for. I just can’t get over how good these cigars are. Lots of flavor, body and smoke from this full body cigar always leaves me wanting more.

Perdomo Craft Series Sungrown – The entire craft series, specifically blended to go with craft beers, is outstanding, but the sungrown, paired with a 110 IBU triple IPA, was just mind altering. As with all Perdomo cigars, it smoked very cleanly and, as I mentioned, it paired perfectly with one of my favorite beers.

As I said at the beginning, I’m not “trashing” CA, just pointing out some very good cigars that I believe are better than several of their choices. I also go by the motto, “smoke what you like, like what you smoke.”

I’m looking forward to the 2016 IPCPR in Las Vegas to see what new offerings there are; I also plan to spend some time with smaller brands to get their reaction to the new FDA rules. I fear that the 2017 IPCPR may be much smaller because of the cost of government over-reach.

Spring Pollen and Cigars

Definitely not a good match.

My smoking has been fairly limited over the past few weeks because I really believe that trying to smoke when I have allergy attacks is a waste of a good cigar. Can’t taste anything.

That said, I had a pretty clear weekend last week, so…

PDR 1878 SG robusto

Perfect wrapper, good bunch and heavenly fragrances from the wrapper and the foot with a generous draw.

Smoked with a Freetail Pinata Protest red wit brewed with ancho chilis, a perfect match for a sungrown wrapper.

This cigar could be a meal. Initial flavors are peppery toasted tobacco with hints of Milanesa. Razor straight burn and no excessive heat. Lots of smoke to complete the experience.

Firm grey ash held past 1″, I almost always knock the ash off at that point to check the burn, which showed slight coning but perfectly even.

Purged at 2/3 point to mute the heat that had built up, cigar cooled back down niceley. This will be a nubber.

The beer/cigar combination was perfect. 5/5. Joe Bob says check it out!

Cigar/beer pairings

That I know of, there are now three (Drew Estate Smoking Monk, Quesada and Perdomo Craft Series) lines of cigars specially blended to enjoy with a fine cigar.

Here’s my opinions on what to drink when you’re smoking.

Connecticut wrapper: pick a fine lager or pilsner (no Bud or Miller please).
Sungrown: A very good IPA (or double IPA or Triple IPA [Stone RuinTen is my personal favorite for a good sungrown]).
Rosado: A good brown ale, but not too strong. Arrogant Bastard, for example, will overpower the cigar
Maduro/Oscuro: There are a plethora of wonderful Porters and Stouts (a really good coffee or chocolate stout go especially well with a nice strong maduro).

If you, like me, are an aficionado of both fine cigars and fine craft beers, feel free to chime in on your favorite pairings.

I got a bad one. What do I do?

It eventually happens to all of us. You get a cigar that is underfilled/overfilled, plugged, or just does not taste good to you. But you spent good money on it. So what do you do?

If it’s a matter of disagreeable flavors, try purging your cigar. Hold your lighter near the burning end of the cigar and blow through the cigar. This will cleanse trapped gases that can cause bitterness that will mask the true flavors of the cigar.

If the cigar has serious construction issues (underfilled, where is it too “mushy” when you roll it between your finger and thumb, or plugged, where it is like sucking on a pencil) there are a couple of options.

For soft cigars, smoke very slowly and purge often. It will burn hot and uneven, but if you are careful you can salvage the smoke.

For plugged cigars, you can try using a draw poker, which is a metal rod you push through the center of the cigar to attempt to break up whatever is blocking the air flow. This can happen if a leaf or two get twisted together and form a hard spot. If the draw poker does not work, put the cigar back in your humidor and give it some serious time. As it ages the obstruction may shift or relax.

The other option is to cut the cigar up and shred it into pipe tobacco. Of course, if you don’t smoke a pipe this is pretty much pointless.

And yes, there will be cigars with perfect construction that draw and burn well that you just do not like. Most people tend to soldier through it so they don’t feel like they wasted their money. That’s an option, but I generally just put the cigar down in the ashtray and let it go out, replacing it with something better.

If you smoke cigars long enough, you will come across cigars that are either flawed or that you just do not like. I tend to buy smaller cigars when trying something new. It’s a lot easier to put down a corona than a churchill when it comes to feeling like you wasted your money.

Tabaquero by Hamlet Paredes

(First part of this was written in November of 2015, the revisit is current)

Ever since getting to talk to Hamlet Paredes at IPCPR last summer I have been anticipating his new line Tabaquero hitting the market. I pre-ordered a five pack of coronas from an online vendor and received them last week. After letting them settle for a bit I had one Saturday night following my son’s wedding. It did not disappoint.
If you are unfamiliar with Hamlet Paredes, he worked at the Partagas factory in Havana for 20 years, becoming the master roller. He defected to the US in 2014 and went to work for Rocky Patel in Florida. His Partagas custom cigars always had a unique flavor and were much sought after and his own line I hoped would be just as good.
When I got to talk to Hamlet at the 2015 IPCPR in New Orleans he was very excited to be promoting his cigar for the American market.
CI describes the cigar this way: “Tabaquero comes draped in a San Andres wrapper concealing binders from Brazil and Mexico, and Nicaraguan long-filler. Medium-bodied, and containing Cuban-esque richness, flavors abound including spice, cocoa, coffee, pepper, earth, and subtle cream.
These are very dark wrapped cigars with good smooth construction. Firm, but not too, to the touch, with nice aromas of well-aged tobacco from the wrapper and the foot. Cut very cleanly with a Palio, and the pre-light draw was easy without being loose and had light hints of various flavors including tobacco and spice.”
My initial draw was a bit strong, but it mellowed quickly to a nice blend of tobacco and spices with undertones of cocoa and earth. The ash was nice and firm.
At about the half-way point a distinctive undertone of pepper starts to build.
The excellent construction of this cigar allowed for the smoke to stay cool and pleasant, which allowed a creaminess to develop.
It finished clean with no harshness in the after flavor and the cigar burned razor sharp with no touch-ups required.
The Tabaquero produced more smoke that you might expect from a corona. It smoked very much like a Habano and was easy to enjoy down to the nub.
I cannot in good faith compare these to Hamlet’s creation with Cuban tobacco; however, given the wide variety of leaves he had to choose from, he did an excellent job with the blend, binder and wrapper to create a most enjoyable cigar. I am definitely looking forward to smoking more of these in different sizes to see how well the filler competes with the wrapper, as a corona’s flavor is generally dominated by the wrapper.
Construction – 5
Burn – 5
Quality of flavors – 5
Overall impression – 5
5/5 Stellar cigar from one of the best in the business. Joe Bob says check it out.

Revisit

Smoking another outstanding Tabaquero Corona by Hamlet Paredes today. Love these cigars!
Beautiful smooth dark wrapper, very fragrant wrapper and foot, firm but not hard bunching, perfect pre-light draw.

Clipped and lighted perfectly and immediately produced ample flavorful smoke. Cocoa and leather notes with some pepper in the back of the throat and the nose.

A slight run was easily corrected and the cigar burned evenly thereafter. Woody notes picked up at 1/3 adding to the other flavors. This is a full bodied cigar with complex flavors that develop nicely as the cigar progresses.
I might be a bit biased as I always enjoyed Hamlet’s Cuban blends whenever I could obtain them.
Backed the cigar with a Sierra Nevada Otra Vez, which complemented the flavors of the cigar to perfection.
Second third was more flavorful as the tasting notes picked up and some cinnamon emerged; one of my favorite flavor profiles. A slight run was easily corrected and the even, flat burn continued. Hints of nutmeg emerged as I approached the final third.
One slight tear, which was my fault from removing the bands a bit too quickly, but it had no impact on the quality of the smoke. Cigar did not get warm until well into the final third, causing me to slow down, which was no easy task with a cigar this flavorful. It cooled back down as I slowed my smoking.
Excellent cigar that impressed me from light to nub. Get your hands on some of these stellar cigars. 5/5, Joe Bob says definitely check it out!
And huge kudos to Rocky Patel for picking Hamlet up to add to his already excellent line.

Clipping your tapered-head cigar

Tapered cigars (perfectos, torpedos, pyramids, salomoes, etc) are quite popular, and, in my opinion, should be cut slightly differently from round vitolas.

First and foremost, you need to use a quality cutter. I am partial to the Palio, but also own and use Xicar. Both feature very sharp blades that do not dull quickly and carry a warranty.

For your perfecto, I recommend cutting off approximately 1/2″ at an angle not to exceed 30 degrees. The angle opens up more surface for your draw and will gum up less than a straight cut.

I also do not recommend re-clipping. If your cigar does begin to gum up at the tip, re-clipping might be your only option (and, in my opinion, means that you did not clip enough initially). The main problem I see with re-clipping is the potential damage to the wrapper leaf. Even with a high-quality cutter, the wrapper is now moister than when you first cut it, which can cause an uneven clip and even a tear.

Many of my favorite cigars are tapered at the end, and I am very pleased with the results of clipping at an angle.

The Forbidden Fruit

Like many cigar smokers, you may wonder what the big deal is about Cuban cigars. A friend may have actually gifted you what he thought was a Cuban but was a horrible fake (they exist more than you might think).

With the advent of Nicaraguan tobacco grown in the Estelli region, the finest Cuban tobaccos have some serious competition. The quality difference between the 2007 RTDA and the 2015 IPCPR was amazing. Sure, there were some “misses” in the boutique companies, but these were rare and there were many more quality boutique offerings.

So, back to the question; what makes a Cuban cigar so special. It’s hard to pin down, but there is a certain quality to the flavors that is hard to nail down. And not all Cubans are created equal. A Vegas Robainas Familiar will taste quite different from a Cohiba Robusto, a Ramon Specially Selected and a Partagas Serie D No. 4. And that’s just a list of robustos. You also have Petite Coronas, Tre-petite coronas, Piramids, Churchills, Double coronas, and large selection of Figurados.

If (when) the trade embargo comes down, experiment. You will initially be put off at the cost, but as their competition thrives, their prices will moderate. Also find a good cigar shop. Many will offer reasonable memberships complete with discounts, and for a bonus cost you can rent a locker so as to never find yourself in the shop broke and cigarless.

I hope you are finding these articles interesting. (Hell, who am I kidding, I hope you’re reading them.) I’ve been smoking cigars for about 30 years know and have picked up some valuable information along the way that I would like to share with you, both in this blog and in my reviews published @Cigarweekly, your one stop internet destination for all things cigars, pipes, libations, music, politics and travel. And lots of humor.

Music to smoke to

Today, to accompany my Flor Cana and Illusi0ne 88 Robusto (see my cigar reviews on Cigar Weekly) I opted to hit “shuffle” on my iPhone. This ranged from Robert Earl Keane, Tom Waits, The Ramones and Mozart, to name a few.

To say that the music added to the enjoyment of the cigars would be a gross understatement. The true standout was George Jones’ He Stopped Lovin’ Her Today. This song always brings a tear to my eye, but in a good way.

Other songs that stood out were The Germ’s Lexicon Devil and The Ramones cover of Love’s 7 and 7 is.

If you don’t listen to music while you enjoy a cigar, you are missing an outstanding experience.

ICPCR winners (this man’s opinion)

Looking back at what can only be described as a stellar show in New Orleans, the 2015 ICPCR yielded a vast field of competitors for your hard-earned cigar dollars.

According to Cigar Afficianado magazine, My Father Le Bijou takes top honors, but I would like to offer some alternatives to this hard-to-find cigar that also earned a permanent place in many humidors.

Christian Eiroa’s CLE, who make their own wonderful cigars, has produced a boutique brand “designed” by photograoher Edgar Hoill. Known by his photographic creed, “One Shot One Kill,” or OSOK, his Nicaraguan tobacco cigars are something to be noticed. I especially like the Travesio, a 5.5″ “pyramid” with 1/2″ unfinished foot. It lights easy, smokes clean, and gives you more flavors than you expected, even when your expectations were high to begin with.

At the end of 2014, Rocky Patel scored a major coup in the cigar world by hiring Hamlet Paredes, former master roller at the Partagas factory in Havana, following his emigration from Cuba to the United States. Hamlet now has his own line distributed by Patel, the Tabaquero, and they are quite special. Immaculate construction, complex flavors and a medium to full body make this a cigar to keep around.

The rep we spoke to at the Alec Bradley display gave us samples of what he said was the only cigar at the convention to pre-sell out (we didn’t verify this claim, but it still sounded cool…), the Sanctum. A medium bodied beauty with lots of complexity and variety of flavors, the Sanctum should please anyone who likes premium cigars.

Curivari’s owner, Andres Throuvales, was probably the most engaging person we met at the show, and his Buenaventura line has been pleasing smokers ever since. I personally like all Curivaris, and the Buenaventura is no exception. Very pretty cigar with lots of flavor and lots of smoke in a medium-bodied presentation. Definitely worth finding if you have not seen or tried them.

USA Distribution had a very small corner booth at the show, complete with a live roller they hired from Bobalu Cigars in Austin. They were showing and sharing a cigar they called Hidden Treasure, and it is aptly named. Primarily Dominican tobacco with a nice dose of ligero leaves made for a very pleasant smoke that was smooth but still had enough strength to keep my attention. Unfortunately, like their name, they are so far a bit hard to find, but rest assured they are worth the effort.

New in 2015 but released prior to the show, the Perdomo Craft series made quite an impression. Specifically blended to match up with craft beers, the maduro, sungrown and Connecticut lines all lived up to their billing. My favorite was the sungrown paired with a triple IPA, although the maduro with a strong stout was a very close second. And the Connecticut with a lager was also an excellent pairing. If you are a fan of craft beers and enjoy them with your cigars, this line is not to be skipped.

There were many many other cigars worth mentioning, including the Euforia by GMD, Garo’s excellent maduro, the Arandoza red, white and blue lines, and too many others. It was an excellent show with very few low points. I look forward to the opportunity to cover future shows and share what I have found.

Sungrown-Craft Series

This is the first of three reviews I will post on the Special Craft Series. In case you are not familiar with these Perdomos, they were specially blended to complement craft beers.

For the sungrown I chose a Stone Brewery RuinTen triple IPA. It is recommended for Amber, heavier Lager, IPA and Oktoberfest brews.

Prelight: Earthy aroma with light floral notes, immaculate construction, perfect cut with my Palio. Nice smooth pre-light draw. Looking at the foot of the cigar I counted two or three ligero leaves, so I know it would have plenty of flavor. Also notable is the almost full-coverage band that tells you which beer to pair with the cigar.

First draw had a hint of bitterness which quickly disappeared. Flavors quickly settled into a medium-to-full profile that was quite pleasant. Taking a sip of the beer really opened up my palate and added to the quality of both the smoke and the beer. The pairing was perfect.

The almost white ash held nicely to about 2″ before I tapped it off to keep from getting a lapful. Stayed consistent throught the entire cigar.

The floral hints I detected pre-draw disappeared when I was smoking. There are some light spicy notes that are accentuated if you let the smoke escape through your nose, which is my general habit.

For smoke volume I very highly recommend double- or even triple-clutching (warm-up puffs before taking a deep draw). This adds massive amounts of flavor, and to the cigar’s credit, did not make it smoke hot; in fact, the smoke only became hot as the nub became too hot to hold and I had to put it down in the ashtray.

Throughout the cigar it burned evenly (once very minor wrapper adjustment, probably from double-clutching), and never developed stickiness from tar build-up at the tip.

Depending on how fast you smoke, this cigar will last you one to two hours. Took me about an hour and a half, and I tend to smoke faster than some.

Perdomo set their sights on a cigar to go with the aforementioned beers, and in my opinion, knocked this one clean out of the park. 5/5. Joe Bob says, “Check it Out.”