Ho Ho Ho, How’d It Go?

Now THAT is a Christmas Tree!It’s an anticlimactic Boxing Day here at the desk in the Manastery. (For those of you who don’t know, that’s the official, wife-recognized name of my office cum cigar lounge and library. However, she also calls one of the closets “the pantry“. Hey, You win some, you lose some.) Christmas has come an gone, and breaking with about five years of tradition, I’ve spent the day working instead of wandering the streets of a distant city looking for an exotic drink and bite to eat. Like any other day, the sun is out, a cigar is blazing and my wife keeps peeking her head in to remind me about the chores I’ve been putting off. Doesn’t sound terribly inspired does it?

I may be in a bit of a blue funk over the day after Christmas, but Christmas itself was actually a lot of fun, and pretty restful. As much as I enjoy travel, it was nice to not have to deal with airports, hotels, and over packed luggage. Though I do have to say I miss the holiday change of scenery.

My favorite part of this Christmas was my elaborate plot to sneak some presents for my wife under the Christmas tree. The execution of said plan involved pretending to be intoxicated (which wasn’t too much of a stretch with the assistance of dollar beer night at a nearby Irish pub) and playing computer games until my wife was sound asleep. Once I was convinced she was out cold, and after I got a few past an acceptable number of levels on the game, I sprung into action. I retrieved the carefully hidden gifts and the secretly stashed wrapping paper and got to work. I knew my devious designs were a complete success when angrily muttered at me for staying up so late as I hopped into bed. And the best part is she walked past the presents several times before she noticed they were there!

We also had a friend over for a late Christmas lunch, which gave us the opportunity to “entertain” as they say. The multi-course lunch and nice place settings were good fun, the highlight of the evening was several hours of competitive rounds of bowling, baseball and golf, compliments of my Nintendo Wii. As much fun as it is to play by yourself, it’s even better to go head to head with friends. (Is there a better party game than the Wii?) By the end of the evening, our friend was determined to get a Wii of his own, once they’re a easier to find.

But what my cigar smoking brethren are wondering right now is, what cigar did I smoke to celebrate the holiday? I’m not going to tell you. I’m going to show you!

Ashton VSG Enchantment
Hard to go wrong with an Ashton VSG Enchantment!

What was a surprise was how little time I actually had to enjoy a fine cigar. I didn’t get one in Christmas Eve, but I did settle down with a fine cigar once my Wii-playing buddy hit the road. And I made the most of it. If you think you see a paper clip in the picture, your eyesight isn’t failing you. I didn’t have a toothpick handy, and a paper clip affords one a nice little handle for that treacherously shrinking bundle of tobacco joy.

Though I didn’t take any notes for a proper review, I can tell you it I tasted excellent leather, caramel and toffee flavors. And as you can see, the burn was immaculate. All in all, it was a fantastic end to a very cozy Christmas. Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to smoke for New Years!

How was your Christmas? Did you enjoy a fine cigar? (Or for non smokers, a fine dessert or great beverage?)

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Los Blancos Primos Habana Criollo Rosado

Los Blancos Primos Habana Criollo RosadoIs it just me, or has time been flying by at Concorde speeds the past couple of months? Every time I turn around, it seems like another week has gone by, and the post I just wrote is now an ancient internet relic. And just now I’m realizing I almost didn’t write anything at all this week! (I also notice I seem to have had this Tuesday thing going. You probably thought I planned it that way. I’m willing to let you keep believing that.) So it’s time for a new post. And why not make it a cigar review post?

The cigars I smoked for this review I knew very little about while I was smoking them. The sum of my knowledge regarding these smokes was the “Primos” part of the name, and a sense of gratitude to Tex Cigars for sending them to me. According to some schools of thought, that may make for a more honest review. Of course, I messed all that up by doing a little research. The Primos Habana Criollo Rosado is a bundled cigar put out by Los Blancos. According to the website, the cigar is on the fuller side of medium, and full of subtle nuances that “the discerning palate will enjoy.” Discerning palate? Hey, that’s me! (Isn’t it?) But enough of what the folks in the Los Blancos marketing department think of the cigar, let’s see what I think.

Cigar Stats:
Size: 6 x 52 (toro)
Wrapper: Nicaragua
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru
Smoking Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Beverage: Water
Price: ~$2.50 (buy ‘em here)

The Pre-Smoke
As you would expect from the name, the cigar does have a bit of a reddish look to the wrapper. But when I took a closer look, I noticed some interesting things. A couple of small spots with a greenish hue and the darkened imprints of the binder veins in the wrapper. On one cigar, these darkened vein-rubbings kinda looked to me like Kanji. (Which you gotta admit is kind of cool.)

And if you think I’m crazy to liken the darker spots in the cigars wrapper to Kanji, just wait until I tell you about the band. It looks to be full of Masonic symbols! (OK, I admit it, I went to see National Treasure last night, and I’m convinced that an elaborate set of obscure clues will lead me to untold riches, beginning with this cigar band.) Well, almost. Instead of a square forming a ‘V’, you have swords. And then there’s the five hands clasping together in a star shape over a scroll of paper. Hey, this can mean only one thing: Los Blancos are the super secret descendants of the Knights Templar. But before I embark on an tale of international intrigue, I better finish this review.

The scent of the wrapper was a light sweet barnyard that became richer and more chocolatey at the foot. After testing and finding the cigar to be pretty consistently firm, I clipped the cigar with my flamboyantly-red (and increasingly dull) Xikar to take a cold taste. I tasted a rich dark chocolate.

The Burn
In the three cigars I smoked for this review, I found a fairly consistent burn scenario. The cigar starts off burning even, but starts to lose the plot a bit by the latter point of the second third. Generally speaking, one side burns faster toward the end of the second third, and requires a bit of correction. But once corrected, the rest of the cigar burns a bit more evenly.

In two of the three sticks, the draw was irreproachable. As for the third, it started off tighter than I prefer, but loosened into an acceptable draw. Even at it’s tightest, it wasn’t bad enough that for a minute I considered tossing it out. It was only a slight irritation.

The Flavor
The cigars opened up with a earthy, nutty couple of puffs before becoming woodier and spicier in flavor. The spiced didn’t last long though, and shorty I was tasting toffee, caramel and sweet coffee. In one cigar, I noted that it tasted very much like brown sugar. These sweet flavors carried the cigar through the first third.

In the second third the cigar became creamier, and I detected at different intervals more brown sugar, berries, cinnamon and a sweet grain flavor that I’ve been trying to name for a while now. Having toured a brewery or two in my time, I think it reminds me of some of the grains used to make beer, because every time I taste this sweet grain flavor, I immediately think of beer. (Either that, or I need to join AA pretty soon.)

Some of the sweetness and the vegetal and grainy flavors remained in the final third. I also noted some chocolate as the body picked up a bit. But by the final third, I had the distinct impression that the show was over, and smoking the last half of the last third was like sitting in crowded parking lot after the game waiting to get out. Well, that’s probably over stating it a bit. I didn’t find the final third to be unpleasant, it was just obvious that the magic was gone.

Speaking of the body, I’d say that this cigar is pretty solidly medium in body, but I hesitate to say medium-full as shown on the official website. But of course, I’m an intentionally slow smoker. Faster smokers may find that the added speed brings the cigar into the medium-full range.

The Price
Who can complain about a two and a half buck stick? Thomas Marshal (who should be portrayed in a movie by William H. Macy), Woodrow Wilson’s Vice President famously said, “what this country needs is a good five-cent cigar.” With inflation taken into consideration, I think we have a candidate for the title here in the Primos Habana Criollo Rosado! (Did I just give away the verdict?)

The Verdict
As the saying goes, this cigar is a bargain at twice the price. It definitely exceeded my expectations of a bundled cigar, and I can see why Jarrod from Tex Cigars started carrying them. To paraphrase what he told me, he smoked one, and without even knowing what it was or who make it, he knew he had to carry it. Good call, sez I. Anyway, I owe them a big thanks for sending the cigars my way to review, and ask that if you’re interested in trying these out for yourself that you consider buying them from my friends over at Tex Cigars!

And don’t be afraid to let me know what you think of them! From time to time, readers leave mini reviews in the comments, and I welcome that!

Liked It: Yes
Buy It Again: Yes
Recommend It: Yes

The Cigar In Action
Here like one of them new-fangled movin’ picture things is the cigar in action.

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Sickness, Dehyrdation and The Palate

Happy Shootin’ DudeEven though I’ve been over my lovely little case of bronchitis (and pink eye too!) for a couple of weeks now, I seem to still be experiencing the side of effects of said malady. Don’t worry, I’m not sick, and the nagging shallow dry cough has hit the road for new throats to set up camp in. What I mean is that a lingering case of dehydration may have been adversely affecting my cigar smoking experience, and as a result, my reviews for the past week or two.

It all came to a head when I realized I was starting to get headaches at the drop of a hat. Smoke a cigar, get a headache. Drink a cup of coffee, get a headache. Drink a beer or a glass of wine, get a headache. And for me, as for the average hung-over reveler, headaches are a symptom of dehydration.

Until I realized I, like the state of Georgia, was undergoing a serious drought, I thought I’d lost my tolerance for stronger cigars. Cigars that I could normally smoke one after another on an empty stomach (probably not a good idea, actually), were suddenly working me over like a loan shark collecting an overdue debt. As you can probably guess, this was a little unsettling. I write regular reviews for the Stogie Review (and irregularly here), as well as spending a lot of times at herfs. Being knocked on your ass by a medium-strength cigar at a herf is the kind of thing that makes you lose a bit of credibility as a cigar reviewer. And look like a pansy. Since I don’t actually know if I command any credibility to begin with, I gotta focus on avoiding the floral resemblance.

During this period of dehydration, when my noggin wasn’t being knocked around like the steel ball in a pinball machine, I noticed that every cigar I smoked was unusually spicy. My palate was surprisingly sensitive to the acidity and pepper flavors in cigars. But after an aggressive re-hydration campaign, the same cigars were noticeable less spicy. And that’s fascinating. What this seems to indicate is that even pairing a cigar with water in an attempt to get a good, unaltered read on the flavors may be a flawed idea. Smoking a cigar without a drink will be a different experience that smoking one with water, because the presence of additional water has an impact on how your palate detects flavor.

Of course, some people already know that a very cold or iced beverage deadens the taste buds. (Ever wonder why cheap beer is served ice-cold?) As part of my recovery process, I’ve been trying to drink room temperature water to avoid irritating my throat. So I’m not just talking about the turning you palate into a flavorless tundra.

So what should you, as a cigar smoker take away from my random, unscientific, anecdotal thesis? A couple of things:

  • If you find your cigars are suddenly kicking your butt, you might be dehydrated. Trying drinking a bunch of water an hour or so before you light up. Consider having some more water with your cigar. Remember that coffee is actually a diuretic! (A very tasty one, given.) Without realizing it, your cup of joe may just be dehydrating you! And keep in mind some areas become drier in the winter, so your environment may be working against you!
  • If you find that your cigars seem pretty bland recently, cut back on your fluids while you smoke them. Or maybe considering smoking your cigar with something warm like tea. If cold beverages deaden your taste buds, it stands to reason that a warm beverage will wake them up.

But what about me? I read your blog, and I don’t smoke cigars! Well keep in mind that the very same palate I use to enjoy the finer qualities of premium tobacco is the palate I use to evaluate red wine and the presence of possible poisons in my wife’s cooking. (She seems to have the mistaken idea that I have a large life insurance policy in her name. The joke’s on her, I’ve left everything to the neighbor’s Chihuahua!)

But if the preciseness of your palate is not a big concern to you (or maybe even a liability if you live on Taco Bell and Schlitz malt liquor), you still should be aware of the importance of water. After billowing plumes of premium tobacco smoke, water is probably the most important thing we can consume on a daily basis. I did a quick search of the web for the effects of dehydration and came across this website that alleges the lack of water is tied to everything from Asthma to diabetes, arthritis, heart burn, back pain and migraines. And you know what? I believe ‘em.

Drink up!

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Standercizing: The New Workout Craze

Heed the sage words of Brian!I’m writing this standing up. That’s right, standing up. Why the heck am I doing that, you ask? Well the latest word from the ever changing, constantly surprising medical research community is that standing up may be every bit as important in determining the size of your waist line as regular exercise. Seriously! But don’t take my word for it, here’s an except of the stunning revelation:

“In most cases, exercise alone, according to a team of scientists at the University of Missouri, isn’t enough to take off those added pounds. The problem, they say, is that all the stuff we’ve heard the last few years about weight control left one key factor out of the equation. When we sit, the researchers found, the enzymes that are responsible for burning fat just shut down… [In tests] After the animals remained seated for several hours, ‘the enzyme was suppressed down to 10 percent of normal,’ Hamilton said. ‘It’s just virtually shut off.’

That’s right, sitting on your posterior may be why that jelly donut you had in the break room is now taking out a mortgage on a lovely little 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom cellulite ripple on your thighs. (The thighs is one place the subprime mortgage crisis hasn’t reached yet.)

But could losing pounds be as simple as standing around like an angst-filled, high schooler in the mall? I’ve decided to check it out in the days since I read the article. Instead of vegging out in the evening on the couch wasting my time watching crummy television programming, I’ve been standing up, wasting my time watching crummy television programming. And you know what? I have noticed a few subtle differences. To begin with, there’s no convenient place to stand and watch the boob tube in my living room.

After the end of first evening, I noticed my lower back and my neck were aching. That wasn’t terribly surprising. Part of my IT geek union membership involves an aptitude for endurance slouching. (The union better not find out about all this standing and good posture, they may revoke my membership.) More importantly, I slept like a log that night. Petrified wood. We’re talking some seriously awesome sleep. The kind of sleep that makes waking feel like crawling out of a warm, deep, fuzzy hole. The only problem with sleep like that is you gotta wake up sometime. If it weren’t for work, I think I had another four hours in me.

In the following days, I also notice the scale seemed to be reading slightly lower figures than normal. However, I don’t know if I can attribute it to standing or to lack of exercise. Due to a recent case of illness, my work out regimen was temporarily put on hold. And as you probably know with muscles, if you don’t use ‘em you lose ‘em. So it’s a toss up. And it probably doesn’t matter anyway, because a boozy weekend virtually erased any losses in the weight department. In either case, my sleep continued to be great.

Another interesting thing happens when you exercise the erectus ability we inherited from homo erectus. You tend to move around a lot. Before you know it, you be absentmindedly doing little chores that you would normally ignore whilst crashed on the couch. Even if you’re in the zombie-coma state that often accompanies a day spent in front of a computer screen swigging coffee, I noticed that after about 10 or 15 minutes, you kinda wake up and feel a bit more energetic. This also makes sense. I noticed when putting together the stats for my post on the exercise prospects of the Nintendo Wii that my heart rate sitting down was as much as 20 BPM less than it was while standing.

So is standing up the new Atkins Diet? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say no. Though I am trying to come up with an entire line of gimmicky products to sell to gullible people who slavishly follow fad diets. (Got any ideas?) I’m calling these people “Standercizers”. (I’m willing to license the term “Standercize” for a small fee! Hell, I’ll even throw in some neon 80’s leg warmers!) Seriously though, while I don’t see standing up a realistic way of losing weight or gaining fitness, I’m going to keep doing it as long as I keep getting the awesome sleep.

The more important issue here is not whether or not standing will actually make you lose weight. It’s about how incredibly fat and lazy have people have to be to not spend any time standing up during the day. When doctors have to advise you to stand up, much less work out, there’s a problem. (I’m envisioning a gym full of large sweaty people on recumbent exercise bikes here, and it isn’t pleasant!) Stand up people! Wait, don’t just stand, Standercize!

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