Alabama Mussels Flex, Atlanta Gets All Pruney

Happy Shootin’ DudeWhat do fresh water mussels on the coastal shore of Alabama have to do with Atlanta? The first answer that comes to mind is “who cares?” A slightly more accurate, and possibly less interesting answer is, a lot. Right now the shellfish on the gulf coast of Alabama are lazily soaking a constant flow of three billion gallons of fresh, Georgia drinking water, compliments of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a very parched, very unwilling state of Georgia. That’s three billion gallons a day.

Still doesn’t add up? Well, the story is that Georgia is going through a record dry spell. The majority of Georgia’s drinking water is held in a huge man-made reservoir named Lake Lanier. What makes things interesting is that Georgia isn’t actually in control of this lake. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is running the show there. And they’ve determined that the endangered Fat Threeridge and Purple Bankclimber mussels on the gulf shore need constant flow of fresh water from the state of Georgia to keep them healthy. To accomplish this, they are draining billions of gallons of water from Lake Lanier, which is already at historic lows. (Don’t ask me exactly how the water is getting all the way down there, the process involves at least three different rivers that are a bit difficult to track on Google maps. There’s an explanation of it in this article on the AJC website.)

Up until today, I was among the ranks of the populace that takes things like watering restrictions and stories about drought with a grain of salt. “Our clean water being dumped by the ton in the sea for snails during a drought? Meh, typical government idiocy,” I thought with a shrug. This isn’t the first dry year I’ve seen in my short history in the area. And since I don’t have any greenery to maintain, the watering restrictions aren’t relevant to me. Every time I turn on the faucet, I get water, no problem. But then I heard that Atlanta has about 150 days worth of water left before people turn on the tap and hear it give a dry sputter. Holy crap! I like drinking water. I tolerate bathing. I’m kind of used to both!

And then I heard something else. While Georgia has instituted a complete ban on outdoor water activities and is asking it’s residents to find ways to reduce consumption, Florida and Alabama is doing nothing. Nothing! It seems they have no official process in place to handle drought conditions. That’s right, people in the regions slurping down billions of Atlanta’s drinking water to keep a handful of Mollusks nicely moist are still out there washing their Cameros and splashing about on their Slip ‘n Slides. Memo from Georgia: Take care of your own damn shellfish!

As if that weren’t bad enough, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recently admitted to a colossal screw-up. In the early days of the drought, they drained off too much water. Way too much water. Billions of gallons of water. Officially, a faulty gauge is being blamed for a loss of two feet of water from the lake, though the truth of the matter is that local residents repeatedly warned them, and the Corps ignored the warnings.

Unbelievable, huh? What if I told you the story isn’t finished? No way! You say. Way, sez I. Apparently the state of Georgia has taken the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to court to get them to stop pissing away our water. That’s right. This very moment countless gallons are still coursing their way toward ungrateful slimy critters in shells. And those stupid mussels too. (I kid, I kid! I couldn’t help myself! I like Florida. And Alabama… well, hey!) And you know how rebellious us Southerners can be (I guess I’m guilty by proximity), there’s even talk about seizing control of the dam on the lake from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Damn, all this writing is making me thirsty. I guess its time to stockpile bottled water.

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Ancient Nazis and Random Swastika Buildings

Crazy Swastika-Shaped Navy BaseYou may have heard about it by now, but it looks like Atlanta is the secret home to a former Nazi S.S. Agent. Man, just when Hollywood seems to finally be abandoning the very, very tired Nazi-as-arch-villain plot, this happens! Seriously, does anybody else throw up their hands when the secret bad guy in a movie or a TV show turn out to be a really, really old Nazi? Are we that short on plausible villains?

But I digress. 85-year old Paul Henss is said to have been a former guard at a concentration camp, and a trainer of vicious attack/guard dogs and dog handlers. Apparently when he filled out his immigration papers back in 1955, he conveniently forgot to mention his former evil employer. (He has the memory of a politician!) In the video footage I’ve seen, he denies that he had any knowledge of the massacres taking place with his assistance.

The issue being debated now is whether or not to deport Henss back to Germany. It’s a tough call. The guy has lived here for 52 years, and up until now has never been anything but a normal citizen. It’s also possible that he really didn’t do anything intentionally evil as a 19 year old guard. As Henss himself stated, the even the Pope was part of the Hitler youth. It wasn’t exactly something you could avoid back in the day. And well, he’s just old and his poor wife is devastated. The deportation process just might kill him, her or both.

On the other hand, he did lie on his immigration papers. And it’s just as likely he’s at least bending the facts a bit now when he defends what his service entailed. If he really was directly, and knowingly involved with any atrocities, he deserves no sympathy. And it’s not as though he’s being brought up on charges (at least not yet), he’s just being sent home. What do you think?

What I really want to know is how they managed to track down Henss after all these years. As a Law and Order: Criminal Intent junkie, I really want to see the detective work. Heck, I’ll even let Hollywood run with this one, last, secret Nazi story just to find out. (I promise not to throw my hands up in the hair!) Because apparently, even Frau Henss had no idea about his dubious past.

In the process of reading up on this unusual story, I came across something even crazier. And, as you know, I have a weak spot for crazy stuff. It seems that there is a swastika-shaped US Navy base in Coronado, California. Seriously! And get this, the building was built in the sixties! Yep, well after the swastika was firmly established as a symbol of evil in the western world.

Apparently because the design is only visible from the air, it wasn’t deemed to be a problem when they discovered what one hopes was just an unfortunate coincidence. (You can see what it looks like from street level in this picture-happy post.) And it probably would have continued to not be a problem, if it wasn’t for those pesky Google Earth/Maps kids. Now that the secret is out, there are plans in place to alter the buildings to remove the swastika resemblance.

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Boycott Bullshit: No Cigars Means No Smoking!

Happy Shootin’ DudeThe sometimes loved, sometimes loathed angry, irritable Brian returns today to discuss an issue that’s bothered him for a while now: Bullshit smoking policies. In particular, a policy that both wastes your time and insults you with surprising efficiency.

As I’m beginning this post, I’m on my third attempt at getting lunch. The previous two establishments I’ve tried failed a very simple test and have officially been added to Brian’s Bullshit Boycott list. That’s right, I sick of this ridiculous crap, and I’m not gonna sit idly by and let the anti-cigar bigots continue to operate in ignorance under the radar.

Who’s on the list and how did they get there, you ask? I’ll tell you. And I’m naming names and pulling no punches. I’ve spotted bullshit and and I’m calling the bullshitters out on it. They got on my list by failing a simple two question test.

Brian’s Bullshit Detector Test

Question 1: Do you allow smoking?

If they answer no, they pass the test. I support a business’s right to go the non-smoking route. To be honest, there are places I just don’t want to smoke a cigar or smell second hand smoke. (I know, I know, that’s sacrilege. A crime almost worthy excommunication from the world of premium tobacco. I’ll do my “Hail Don Pepin” penance later.) For some reason, a sushi bar comes to mind here. (You thought I was gonna fail ‘em if they said no, huh?)

If the answer is yes, then the follow up question is asked.

Question 2: Do you allow cigar smoking?

If the answer is yes, then they’ve not only passed the test, they’ve probably just been added to my unofficial list of favorite places. However, if the answer here is no, you’ve just detected bullshit.

OK, so you’ve detected something foul in the state of Denmark, now what? Do you walk away? Do you quietly sit down and abide by the rules? Do you kick the unwitting test-taker in the Jimmy? No. (And please don’t assault the wait staff, they don’t make the rules, they only follow them.) Here’s what you do.

How to deal with a bullshit peddler

Step 1: Educate.
Because they’re not yet sure if you’re a customer yet, you have a captive audience. Tell them that cigars are made of exactly the same thing as cigarettes. In fact, it’s made of fewer things. And cigar tobacco has been aged to reduce the amount of nicotine and other chemicals naturally present in the leaves! (Cigarettes, on the other hand have been processed to increase the amount of nicotine, and contain additives to improve their burn.) Cigars both smell better and release fewer chemicals into the air, making them arguably less of a health hazard. You might be surprised, they might actually agree with you, even though they can do nothing about the policy.

Step 2: Announce your intentions.
Tell them simply, “If you don’t allow cigars, you don’t allow smoking. I cannot support an establishment with such biased and hypocritical policies. I’m taking my business elsewhere. Please pass this along to the management.” Bonus points if you take the time to fill out a comment/complaint form. Doing this makes it more likely that management will actually get your feedback. Kudos to you if you take the time to do it!

Step 3: Leave.
When it comes to the world of commerce, few things speak louder than money. If you continue to patronize a shop with ridiculous and discriminatory smoking polices, you are supporting those policies.

And the Crusader Step: Revisit And Repeat
This step is for true Knights of the Premium Leaf. Brothers of the leaf that want to go above and beyond the call of duty can return to the same establishment in three to six months and repeat the process. You never know, they might change their policies to reflect the feedback they’ve received from cigar smokers, and you might find a new cigar-friendly establishment. If you do, give them your business, and tell them why you’re there! Otherwise, you have the opportunity to strike another blow for cigars and cigar smokers in your community.

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a war in progress. And I’m not talking about Iraq. I’m talking about the war on cigars. This might sound like a tremendous hassle, but if we want to continue to exercise our right to smoke cigars, it’s time we all adjust our dangling man-orbs and make our feelings known the way they’ll be most appreciated. With our wallets. It’s the most powerful weapon we have. (And if you haven’t done it recently, why not head over to the RTDA website and tell your congressman to knock it off with the excessive and punishing cigar tax increase?)

Oh yes, and I said I’d name names. These establishments are the first on the newly created Brian’s Bullshit Boycott list:

  • Taco Mac at Lindberg (Most of them have a stict no-smoking policy, which is fine, but this one allows cigarettes, but no cigars! Bullshit!)
  • Everybody’s Pizza in Virginia Highlands
  • Highland Tap in Virginia Highlands

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Jury Duty: Pauly Shore Not Included

Happy Shootin’ DudeIf my wife was less organized, there might have been a warrant out for my arrest today. On Monday I was sitting in the office doing the things I do for money and my phone rang. It was my wife with some bad news. “Hey, you have jury duty, remember? You need to call this number after 5:00 PM for instructions,” she said and gave me the number. This seriously couldn’t come at the worst time. I’m juggling two jobs, two blogs and trying to beat a business paperwork deadline at the same time. And I think I might be coming down with a cold. And that’s really gonna make my next cigar review difficult.

Crap. Not only do I not have time to watch a bitter couple slug it out in divorce proceedings or listen to a irresponsible booze hound trying to weasel out of a DUI, I don’t have time to do anything about it. So I was told at the juror check in desk. If I had been on top of things, I could have written in for a deferment.

So I spent the morning weighing my options. I’m not 70 or older and I didn’t bring a wig and a walker with me. Looking around, I don’t see any walkers or people wearing gray wigs, so that’s out. I’m not pregnant, and as much fun as that’d be to fake, I’m not committed enough to shave the goatee to pull it off. No kids either, though don’t people make up kids all the time for tax purposes? I wonder how they do that. (That might come in handy now and then again at tax time. Fake kids: the gift that keeps on giving.) OK, short of pleading with the judge, should I get selected as a juror, I’m stuck here in the jury pool stable, crossing my fingers, and waiting on the roll of some mysterious computerized dice.

At that point, the question became, can I get the entire room to participate in a highly coreographed song and dance routine? Looking around I figured my odds were fifty-fifty. I might make it as far as croud surfing while singing the chorus of Cuban Pete before an angry group of potential jurors give me the beating they’ve wanted to give Pauly Shore for well over a decade. The “chick-chicky boom” would be the sounds of peoples sensible shoes digging into my ribs at high velocity. The odds were better than even that I’d deserve it for that.

So that pretty much left me blogging on my crackberry, feeling irritable and drinking coffee. Speaking of irritability and coffee, I have one big beef with this jury duty thing. I had to pay for coffee while I was there. We’re not talking about fifty cents here, we’re talking Starbucks rates. A buck fifty for a cup of dark water? Gas station quality at best, and none of the froo-froo additives? C’mon! The least you can do is provide us with some caffeine so we can stay awake for all this nonsense. Newsflash, some of us don’t function well at 8 AM without some joe. (For me it’s a lot like being in a different time zone.)

If your going to deprive us of our ability to earn our living for the day, you can at least set up a coffee pot in that huge room I like to call the “juror stable”. Am I really asking too much? Don’t you just hate it when you help someone out and are forced to pay expenses that arise from the effort? “Thanks for showing up! Coffee? Yes, we have some I can sell you!” It’s kind of like asking your friends to come over to help you move, and then when everybody’s worn out and hungry from moving your crap all day, you sell them pizza and beer. With a steep mark-up.

And while we’re discussing things that irritate Brian, here’s another pet peeve. We were informed that we’re not allowed to make or receive phone calls in the juror stable. That means that the ringers should be turned off. And if that weren’t completely obvious, they told us that they should be. No excuses. Of course within 30 seconds of the announcement several phones rang back-to-back at full volume. Within ten minutes the lady behind me answered the phone to say “I can’t talk right now” and proceeded have a short conversation anyway. People, if you really can’t talk, press the damn button that sends the call to voicemail. Don’t answer it, because that means you can talk. It’s not a crime to let a call go to voicemail! You’re paying for it, use it. People will understand! This sort of brainlessness isn’t limited to the action-packed world of jury selection, I’ve seen (well, heard) the same brilliance in meetings and in movie theaters. Is it too late to implement an IQ test as part of the requirements of getting a cellphone?

And for the love of God, when a phone rings, do something about it. Either answer it or send it to voicemail. Please, please do something to make that obnoxious noise go away. Don’t just sit there staring at the phone, trying to puzzling out where it’s coming from (“Hmm… Is the 541 area code Tuscaloosa? That reminds me I should call Bob…”) while the ringer blares Barbie Girl. Worse still, do not dance to that ringtone you foolishly paid four bucks to download. We don’t want to hear it, we don’t want to see you jam, make it go away, or we’ll make the phone go away. I won’t tell you where, but I can promise you’ll spend a lot more time standing in the future.

Let me tell you, the end of the day could not come soon enough. The good news is that by 3 PM, my civic duty had been fulfilled, and I walked out of the court house a free man, with a slight case of caffeine withdrawal, a headache and cigar in my teeth. But I was happy. I paid good money for this unexpected afternoon of freedom. It cost me eight hours of pay. But I was off the grid, and I was going to make the most of it.

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The Cross-Country Pub Crawl

Brian and Wife at Cooper Smith’sIt wasn’t planned. Originally, when I was thinking about the roadtrip, I envisioned a rolling herf. A sedan with a perpetual haze and rich smell of tobacco permanently infused into the vehicle’s upholstery. Well, that’s not quite the way things worked out.

It may have been our lack of luck in finding decent tobacconists in our travels. (Google maps, it seems, is unable to distinguish between convenience stores and cigar shops.) Or it could be that my co-pilot, Mr. “Monkey Poo” Harris didn’t like to smoke while he was driving. Either way, the air was a lot less hazy in that cabin than I expected. That isn’t to say we didn’t smoke some good cigars. We definitely did. But what stole the show was the brew pubs and their small scale microbrews.

It started out by accident. We pulled over in Hood River, OR to stop for lunch, and noticed a sign for the Full Sail Brewing Company and decided to stop in to have some good pub food and a beer. Once we were in there, we decided, what the heck, why not do a sampler? And then it happened again in Salt Lake City, UT. After that it became a mission. And then after a few more, we started keeping score. By the end of the trip, we had done samplers at seven different brewpubs in seven different states, and had ranked them from best to worst after several lengthy discussions.

So here’s where we went, what we drank and what we thought of it, beginning with the pub we liked the least, and working up to our favorite. Enjoy!

Squatters Sampler

#7 Sqatters Pub Brewery
Salt Lake City, UT
In spite of the great atmosphere and funny drink names (“Poligamy Porter”) the brews just didn’t cut the mustard. But it’s not entirely their fault, unless you blame them for opening up shop in a city (or state?) that doesn’t allow draught beer to have a higher alcohol content than 3.2%. So as you might expect, these initially promising beers had a very watery, unsatisfying finish. The beers we had here quickly became a yardstick by which we compared other breweries offerings.

5 Seasons Sampler

#6 5 Seasons Brewing
Atlanta, GA
It pains me that a local Atlanta brewpub ranked so low in our esteem. Between the ill-prepared, overpriced food (Four bucks for a small plate of cold edamame? C’mon! And those crutons were very stale!), poor service (our waiter was clearly hating his job) and uninspired beer, we had no choice to put this almost at the end of the list. Almost the end. The beer here, while nothing to get excited about, at least it wasn’t like drinking colored water. There is hope for this place, the two beers they were out of when we visited may be fantastic. And maybe that waiter will wake up and realize his calling isn’t food service.

Bluegrass Sampler

#5 Bluegrass Brewing Company
Louisville, KY
The funny thing about this brew pub is that the best beers they make weren’t available in the sampler! We had several great ones at an Irish pub next door, including a tasty stout that didn’t appear on the menu and isn’t listed on the website. Overall, these beers were kind of hit and miss. Aside from the tasty Bourbon Barrel Smoked Porter and the stout with the long name I’ve forgotten, the most memorable was the Dort which tasted very much like bananas. Very much. Mr. “Monkey Poo” Harris also was very keen on the Drunkelweizen.

Granite City Sampler

#4 Granite City Brewery
Sioux Falls, MN SD
This pub was another complete surprise. By the time we rolled into Sioux Falls, we were dead tired, and would have settled for any place to get a burger before hitting the sack. We walked in, and hot damn, it was a brewery. It was around this time that we realized that our calling on this trip was to sample and review as many beers as possible.

We were a little conflicted about putting this on the list, though. It wasn’t that the beer wasn’t good. In fact, it was all very tasty. The thing is that the establishment isn’t a pure microbrewery. It’s part of a chain. And in an effort to maintain a consistent quality in their beers, their wort/unfinished-pre-beer is shipped in, and the final stages of the process takes place locally. Mr. Monkey Poo is a bit of a purist, but I’m a bit of a slacker. And since I’m the one writing the blog, I’m gonna let ‘em slide on this technicality. They were very nice (the manager came out and talked with us at length about the beer and the business) and the beer was good. That’s enough for me.

I’d say more about the beers specifically, but I can’t seem to get to their beer list on the website! I can say that I don’t recall disliking a single one.

Full Sail Sampler

#3 Full Sail Brewing Company
Hood River, OR
I’m probably a bit biased, as an Oregon native from Portland, but there’s plenty of Portland beer available, so there’s no need to artificially inflate the ratings of an single Oregon beer. As with Granite City’s brews, the entire Full Sail line was very enjoyable, but there was clearly a star of the show. Since I’ve been away, a beer called Session seems to have become a very, very popular brew in the area. And I can see why. I tasted it and was immediately in love. Light, flavorful, crisp and refreshing. An excellent summer beer. I liked it so much, I bought a case of the little grenade-shaped bottles it comes in and drove it all the way out to Atlanta. And that’s saying something. There were only three beers I brought back with me, and the other two were Golden Valley’s Red Thistle Ale and New Belgium’s Fat Tire. That’s very good company to be in. (To be fair, Bridgeport is available out here, otherwise I would have brought that out here too. Though the porter isn’t, and I couldn’t find any… :( )

Funny thing about the “grenade” shape. One of those babies went off between Kentucky and Tennessee! My trunk still smells like beer!

Yazoo Sampler

#2 Yazoo Brewing Company
Nashville, TN
This taster almost didn’t happen. When Google maps lead us to an old warehouse with no signage in a sketchy part of Nashville (complete with bridges and rough looking vagrants hanging out under those bridges), we nearly left. When we walked in and there was no seating, we nearly left. When we discovered that they didn’t sell food, we nearly left. Fortunately, less sober heads prevailed and we worked out way up to the bar and snagged a table at the same time.

As you can probably tell from the picture above, the “samplers” we ordered were less like samples and more like a round of drinks for a sales department lunch. Immediately we had a warm fuzzy for the place, and it wasn’t too long before warm and fuzzy was all we had going on.

It’s hard to say a beer stood out here, they were all excellent. I know I really enjoyed their “Hop Project” super-duper experimental IPA (I forget the exact name), as well as the ESB and the porter. Heck, I just love that they make a porter. I don’t see a lot of those anymore, and it’s a tasty beer.

So there’s good news and bad news about this place. The bad news is that it looks like you can only get their beer in Tennessee. The good news (for me that is), is that it’s close enough for me that I’d consider a quick weekend trip up there to pick up a Growler or two.

If you happen to be passing through the area, don’t miss this gem!

CooperSmith’s Sampler

#1 CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing
Fort Collins, CO
As soon as I saw they had chili beer on menu, I knew I’d found a special place. That’s right, chili beer. As in hot chilis. I know that probably sounds weird, but believe me it’s good. It’s good enough that it’s on their menu year round! It’s more of a distinct jalapeño flavor in the aftertaste than a noticeable flavor during the drink. Think of it like drinking alcoholic nachos. No, on second thought, don’t. Oh yeah, and I forgot about the Cherry ale!

As was the case with Yazoo, the sampler came out looking like the drink order for a group of Irish salesmen. (Kiss me, I’m Irish!) To be honest, I don’t think any of us remember a lot about this evening, other than loving the beer, and the staggeringly large list of available brews. According to the website, there are 14 different beers on tap; several of those being variations on the Pale Ale. That’s what I’m talkin’ about! I really wish more brewpubs did that. Why have one Pale Ale, when you can have three?

In addition to having one of the largest lists of beers we saw the whole trip, it had a great atmosphere and very accomodating staff. We sat al fresco even though the seating area was closed, drinking our many beers, watching college-aged skateboarders falling down stairways and tripping over their baggy crack-pants in the surrounding pedestrian mall. Good times. And to think we probably would never have gone there if New Belgium had been open when we rolled into town!

And with that we’re done. I’ll leave you the way my esteemed friend “Monkey Poo” Harris left us most evenings. Abruptly out cold. Cheers!

Monkey Poo Harris, Out Cold
“Monkey Poo” Harris has left the building…

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Herfs Galore Before Hitting The Road

I’ve made promises to some people to get up some pictures of the recent Blue Havana II herf, but I just haven’t had the time. The road trip approaches, and I’m scrambling to get ready for that and keep up with all my obligations (blog-ligations?). But good news! Jim has already uploaded his gallery of herf pictures, so I’m sorta off the hook. (At some point I will definitely upload the pictures to my online photo galleries, I’m just not sure when.)

The Blue Havana II August Herf
Blue Havana himself, DiscDog, CgarDan and Shelby07 at the Blue Havana II herf

By all accounts the herf was a success and a great deal of fun. Relying heavily on Jim’s pictures, I think we had a total attendance of 15 or 16 people, with ten of them participating in the box pass. His innovative live “Twice Around the Block Pass” was like Christmas in August for the attendees. I don’t think anybody walked away without a treat. (And if you did, it was your own fault, you had two shots at the box!) If you’d like to see how it went down, you can find the complete list of puts and takes, as well as the original box contents on this thread at CigarLive.

Though it was billed as a Camacho “cigar tasting”, last night I joined DiscDog (Every board known to man and a few besides), NNexus (CigarLive) and Justin (Is he on the board yet?) again for what was basically another herf at Highland Cigar Company. A little foolishly, I didn’t bother to bring a supply of cigars along, assuming that there’d be a sample cigar or two at a cigar tasting. I was wrong, at this event, you only get a taste of what you buy. (Of course there was a buy-3-get-a-cigar-of-lesser-value-free deal.) Which, if you think about it, is a bad idea. How on earth would somebody new to Camacho know what to buy? The Triple Maduro is still pretty new, do you really want to buy three to find out if you like it? Unless you’re selling dog rockets and you know it, you only stand to benefit by giving out a freebie or two.

Compare this to the Oliva Serie V event I blogged about a while back. There was a lot of buzz about this cigar, but a lot of words of caution also regarding it’s potency also. Allowing people to try it before they buy it, has resulted in them selling their entire stock out at each event. Heck, I wasn’t planning on buying any, but I walked out of there with all the double robustos they had left! And I know a few people who were initially intimidated by the cigar left the event with a handful and a big smile on their face.

The badness of the no-sample plan is magnified by offending a true connoisseur and cigar board veteran like DiscDog. His opinion of a cigar may affect as much as thousands of dollars in sales. Rumored to have the most splendiferous cigar collection in the state of Georgia (I should know, I’m actively spreading the rumor), he not only didn’t buy a Camacho that night, he didn’t even smoke one of his own. Instead he broke out one of the finest, most exotic cigars any of us had seen in a very long time: A Partagas Culebra, constructed of three, full-sided churchill cigars intertwined.

For a cigar that looks a lot like you’re burning Dilbert’s tie when smoked, it had fantastic construction, easily sporting a two inch ash that even held on even through the bends of the cigar. (Keep an eye on NNexus’ signature on CigarLive, you might get to see what I’m talking about.) I had a puff or two off one of the curly beasts and it had a great smooth flavor with an subtle edge-of-the-tongue spice and a sweetness that built up as the cigar smoked. (Actually, I can’t verify the sweetness, the Camacho Select I was smoking made it impossible for me to tell in the second sample.)

You never saw a happier group of herfers. Did I say “happier”? I meant higher. Those guys were buzzing something fierce by the time the rounded the first bend. Man, I really wish I hadn’t forgotten my camera.

OK, I’m off. The next post you read is likely to be from the road, somewhere between here and Portland, Oregon.

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No, It Wasn’t As Good For Me As It Was For You

Happy Shootin’ DudeSunday afternoon I took a what I thought would be a quick break from my on-the-side I.T. consulting gig to pick my wife up from the grocery store. I didn’t want to be gone too long, because I had plenty of work to do and not a great deal of time to get it done in. So I rushed out to the car, hopped in and started driving away without even bothering to light up my customary short-trip Sancho Panza cigarillo. I didn’t get five feet from my parking spot before I felt it. My vehicle was waddling. Yep, shaking it’s hind-quarters like it was a giant, 6-cylinder fiberglass duck.

Some of you have probably already guessed what’s wrong. But my mind was elsewhere. I checked the dash for the emergency break light. It wasn’t lit. But to be sure, I engaged the emergency break and then released it. I drive a few more feet, and nope, that wasn’t it. My vehicle is still wiggling its butt like the driveway was a catwalk. So I try putting it back in park and then putting it back in drive. A few more feet. Nope, more waddling.

Then a scary thought occurs to me. I might have run over something and somehow got it caught between the tire and the car’s body. It could even now be tearing healthy chunks out of the side of my car. (For that thought alone, I’m adding the “crackpot theories” tag to this post.) My car is no beauty, but it’s no red-neck body-by-Bondo affront to the car gods either. And I’d like to keep it nondescriptly normal.

As I walk around the car, I breathe a sigh of relief. No car chunks on the ground. And then I see the culprit: A flat tire. I was literally driving on the rim of the back passenger-side wheel. I’ve changed flats before. In fact I changed a flat on a large rental van in a gravel parking lot in the rain once. No kidding. But I’ve never changed any flat without a jack before, so I went the easy route. I called Triple A (AAA), and asked a neighbor to pick up my wife.

With nothing better to do, I fire up 5 Vegas Gold and wait for the AAA guy to show up. And if there’s one thing to learn from this little anecdote, it’s that you should smoke a cigar while you’re waiting for AAA. You will have the time to finish it! No matter what they say, it will be at least an hour before they show. Don’t sweat it, smoke it. (Another one for the Quotable Brian!) True to form, about five minutes after I finish that mild, but tasty little robusto, the guy drives up.

Fast forward ahead about an hour and a half. I’m at a local shop having the tire looked at. It doesn’t take long for me to spot a little metallic glint near the outward edge of the tread. I’d been nailed. It had to have been the sloppy bastards working on the condo construction next door. When I drove back from the herf the night before, I must have picked up a little present they left in the middle of the road. So the tire guy starts extracting the nail. Inch by inch. And it just keeps coming! And suddenly, it’s threaded! I hadn’t been nailed, I’d been screwed! And despite the evidence to the contrary (the cigar), I wasn’t enjoying this!

But actually, it all worked out as well as you could ask. Everything was sorted out by 7 that evening. Hey, if you’re going to get screwed, what better time than Saturday night? And what better place than at home? And can you beat thirty bucks to cover all the costs? Sure, the rubber broke, but we were able to plug it up just fine before any real damage was caused. OK, I’m out of innuendos (or in-your-end-o’s as a friend of mine used to say), so I’ll leave it there before this post just gets creepy. How was your weekend?

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Giveaways Galore! The Pre-Release CAO America And More!

The CAO AmericaMan, where does the time go. I can’t believe it’s already been another week. Frequent visitors to my blog will have noticed it’s been unusually quiet this week, will probably be a little concerned about my health. Have no fear, I’m as healthy as an ox, in roughly the same shape, and probably nearly as rational. I’ve just been making my noise and mess on some other blogs. That and working two jobs. I know, I know, the world’s smallest violin is playing just for me.

Here’s what I’ve been up to. Earlier this week, I reviewed the Joya De Nicaragua Celebracion Consul for my buddy Stinkie on CigarBeat. I don’t wanna spoil it for you, but a nearly impervious draw kinda spoiled it for me. And then on the Stogie Review, I continued my video boycott with a text and photo-heavy review of the pre-release CAO America Potomac. Judging by the overwhelmingly positive response to the review, it’s definitely one you want to check out. But be sure to come back here, because you’re gonna want in what’s coming up a bit later in this post. And of course, these reviews will be added to my cigar review index to make sure they’re always easy to track down.

If you’re in the Atlanta area (or anywhere in the south with the desire for a cigar and a road trip), you should join me and a bunch of the guys from the area and the CigarLive forum for the herf at Blue Havana II in Alpharetta, GA. (It looks like his site might be down at the moment, but it’s there! [UPDATE: Link updated!]) It’s happening this Saturday starting at 6:00pm and going until Jim gets tired of all of us and kicks us out of his shop! For more information, check out the official thread on CigarLive. I’ll be there, and if you’re really nice (we’re talking serious brown-nosing, here) I might let you have one of my Gran Habano Corojo #5′s. Trust me, it’s worth that dirty feeling you’ll have inside. ;)

To get things humming again on this blog, I’m starting up another giveaway contest! The last one was so much fun (and generated so much traffic, I won’t kid ya), that I’ve decided to do it again. But this time, I’m giving away two (2, count ‘em, 2) pre-release CAO America Potomacs!

Why do I keep mentioning “pre-release”, you ask? The reason is that it’s been pointed out to me by one of my CAO friends that these won’t be available for around 2 months! That doesn’t mean they’re still rollin’ ‘em like mad (though they might be), it means that the supply is sitting in a warehouse getting some age, which is generally a good thing.

The CAO America Potomac Giveaway rules:

  1. You are allowed two entries to this giveaway. Please note you must be 18 or older to enter. (Sorry, I don’t make the laws, I just try to follow them!)
  2. Your first entry is commenting on this post. Please include the text in your comment “I am 18 or older.”
  3. You may enter a second time by posting a link to this contest on your blog that pingback/trackbacks to this post.
  4. The winner will be drawn on September 2nd, 2007. (Or shortly after. Or whenever entries slow down enough that making everyone wait becomes a pointless exercise. Totally my discretion here.)

Oh but wait, I’m not finished yet. Well, I am, but Stinkie over at CigarBeat isn’t! He’s got two (again, count ‘em, 2) giveaways running on his cigar blog and forum. So this week, you’ve got an excellent chance to really cash in on the generosity of the Brothers of the Leaf (BOTL for short).

Stinkie’s Giveaways

[UPDATE: And now Cigar Jack is in the action, and he's giving away not one, not two, but six (6!) Arganese cigars to some undisclosed number of lucky commenters! Head over now, and enter, the odds are great!]

Best of luck!

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RTDA Houston 2007 In Pictures

And… I’m back. I wish I wasn’t, but all good things must come to an end. Otherwise those good things would become average things. Since I’m already getting search hits for RTDA pictures, now seems like a good time to put up mine. Hopefully they’re up before everyone has lost interest! Once I have a decent night’s sleep under my belt, expect a more thorough write up of the event. (Yeah, yeah, I know, I’ll be the last one to write up my impressions. But like a good cigar, it’s important not to rush these things. And that’s as good an excuse as you’re gonna get.)

In the meantime, I forgot to mention my first review on the Stogie Review. Head over and check out my thoughts on the Rocky Patel Vintage 1992. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I keep talking about writing up. Well, my friends, procrastination has paid off. When I was asked to fill in for Jerry on Fridays, I had a review all ready to go. Now I just gotta figure out what I’m doing for this week! :)

But back to the pictures. Here’s my RTDA experience, in pictures, roughly in the order it happened. Enjoy!

Downtown Houston

Downtown Houston, as seen from 3rd floor deck of convention center.

Cigar People!

Yours truly, Daniel “Stogie” Lopez, Colin Ganley, Dogwatch Dale “Marzipan” Roush

Gentlemen Revelers

Some gentleman revelers at the Hilton Ballroom

Don Francisco

Don Francisco

Blue Havana II

Jim “Blue Havana II” Luftman (Atlanta-based retailer)

Fumee World Heather

Fumee World Heather Waibel and entourage with Yours truly at Slainte Irish Pub

CAO Booth Babes

The CAO Flavorettes

Graycliff Cigar Roller

Graycliff cigar roller

Rocky Patel

Rocky Patel

Carlos Torano

Carlos Toraño

Tim Ozgener

Tim Ozgener and possibly his biggest fan. :)

Red Rooster Chick

I dunno, but she was colorful…

Gene Arganese

Gene Arganese

Bert and Nathan

Bert and Nathan, my favorite Oliva reps

Kinky Friedman

Yours truly and Kinky Friedman, musician and maverick Texas politician

Cano A. Ozgener

Mr. CAO himself, Cano A. Ozgener at the Escape With CAO event

Sondra Hankamer

Sondra Hankamer of Atlanta-based Ash Cigar Co.

Jesse “Cigar Jack” and Denise Nachtigal

Jesse “Cigar Jack” and Denise Nachtigal overlooking the dance floor

Wow, 18 pictures, and the crazy thing is that I missed so many great photo-ops!

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Free Cigar: Brian’s Oliva Serie V Giveaway!

Oliva Serie V[UPDATE: This contest is closed, but a new cigar giveaway contest is now open here!]

Even though I made a point of saying I wouldn’t last week, somehow I still left home on Saturday without my camera. So I have no proof of the things I’m about to say. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

On Saturday I smoked the Oliva Serie V Double Robusto (5 x 54) with Jose Oliva. I’m tempted to lie and say he flew in to Atlanta specifically to thank me for my favorable review on CigarBeat, but even I don’t have delusions of grandeur that large. The truth is that was in town for the final Serie V event before RTDA at Tobacco World here in the Atlanta area. And let me tell you, the event was awesome. Probably the liveliest cigar event I’ve been to yet.

Jose Oliva brought with him an entire entourage of Oliva representatives from around the south as well a catering crew serving up hot pasta. (Oh the irony! To quote myself in my Serie V review: “This is not a post-pasta cigar!” :) But oddly, it did go nicely with the cannolis.) And of course there was a generous helping of store regulars there, happy to help Mr. Oliva burn through that box of free double robustos. The air was thick and hazy with the rich Serie V smoke and there was a lively game of dominoes at a packed table in one corner.

I found myself spending a lot of time talking with the Florida Oliva Rep Burt. The guy is quite a character, and has been with the Olivas since the beginning. He’s been such a part of the Oliva’s success that Jose said of him “he is more Oliva than I am”, and he proudly sports a Rolex that was part of his lifetime achievement award. Burt is the definition of a proud company man, and a skilled salesman. Without even trying, he talked me into picking up a couple Oliva 2006 Master Blends and a couple Padron 1964′s for cigar versus cigar comparison. (I’ll admit, I’m not a very hard sell when it comes to cigars.) So I walked away happy with a fistful of cigars, a Serie V buzz and a lighter wallet.

So after this event and my great experience at the recent CAO event, I’ve decided to make a point to attend more cigar events in the future. (Including RTDA!) But the question is, how do you find out about cigar events in your area? Sure, you can sign up for email updates from your local tobacconist, but that won’t keep you in the know on what’s happening down the road at another shop! And not all the cigar manufacturers’ websites include event information. (So manufacturers don’t even have websites!)

Have no fear, I have the answer for you: Cigar Cyclopedia. This website is a gold mine of useful cigar information. And one of the largest gleaming nuggets is their U.S. Cigar Promotions and Special Events Calendar, which is conveniently broken down by state and in chronological order. (A big thanks to the guys at Dog Watch Social Club for mentioning this in one of their recent shows.)

“That’s great, Brian. But what about this free cigar you mention in the title?” You ask. Wouldn’t it be funny if I never got to that? No? OK. Here’s the deal. Recently Cigar Jack had a contest on his blog for a free t-shirt, and I really like the way he set that up. I’ve been thinking about having one of my own for a while now. But instead of giving away a t-shirt, I’m going to give away a cigar. And not just any cigar! Something that’ll really be a treat.

And, as luck would have it, I had the opportunity to buy a few of the Oliva Serie V Double Robustos at this event. As much as I enjoy these cigars, I think it’d be even more fun to share them. So I’m going to send one of these still unreleased cigars to a lucky reader!

So here’s the Oliva Serie V Giveaway rules:

  1. You are allowed two entries to this giveaway. Please note you must be 18 or older to enter. (Sorry, I don’t make the laws, I just try to follow them!)
  2. Your first entry is commenting on this post. Please include the text in your comment “I am 18 or older.”
  3. You may enter a second time by posting a link to this contest on your blog that pingback/trackbacks to this post.
  4. The winner will be drawn August 10th, 2007. (Or whenever entries slow down enough that making everyone wait becomes a pointless exercise. Totally my discretion here.)

Good luck! If you’re not sure whether or not to enter, I encourage you to read my review of the larger figurado and churchill sizes over on Cigar Beat. While these are smooth and tasty full-bodied cigars, they may be a bit potent (especially at the end) for a newbie!

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