The Terracotta Warrior Teaser

Brian's Terracotta Warrior ArmyI’ve been looking forward to it for at least a month. And that might be part of the problem. Because when I look back at Sunday with ancient clay warriors, I kind of feel like I saw the movie trailer and not the main feature film. Oh, but wait, let’s not spoil this before I even discuss the event a little bit.

As people in Atlanta probably already know, the Qin Dynasty Terracotta Warrior exhibit has recently opened at the High Museum of Art. (I’m imagining the numerous disappointed sighs out there when they discover that “high.org” is a website for an art museum. Delicious.) I don’t remember the price of admission off the top of my head, but it is a heck of a lot cheaper than tickets concerts headlining ancient musicians.

What are these Terracotta Warriors, some imaginary person asks? They are the larger than life clay sculptures of Chinese soldiers and generals that were created to assist China’s first emperor in the afterlife. (After kicking a lot ass in life, he looked forward to kicking even more in death.)

In spite of sending out folks to track down his subjects to find all manner of immortality herbs and potions, the first emperor decided to hedge his bets. There was at least a 50-50 chance he’d die one day. He needed to prepare for life on the other side. It just wouldn’t do for his army and deathly possessions to fewer than the other kings he met on the other side. I mean, hey, nobody likes to be the butt of jokes. He had options. He could just have his army killed so he could bring them along. But that had been done before. And his warriors, as good as they were in conquering the warrior states, weren’t perfect. They could be a little taller. And maybe a little stronger. But he really could do too much about that. So he decided to make new ones. Taller, stronger, faster and decked out with really nice weapons. He was a clever guy, actually. Not only would his afterlife army be larger than everyone else’s, they’d be taller by several feet. Guess who will be calling the shots in death-land?

One thing that the first emperor didn’t count on was how unpopular he’d be with those who were still alive. His living enemies set fire to his massive burial grounds and stole his warriors weapons. It might have been too big a deal for the recently deceased emperor if all the supports to his subterranean weren’t wood. But they were and the roof collapsed, smashing and scattering his now defenseless warriors. Talk about damage during shipping. After all that work over all those years, and look who still is the laughing stock of the afterlife. (“You made your soldiers out of what?”)

Fortunately for us, a bunch of smart people with penchants for jigsaw puzzles have reassembled an incredible number of these damaged warriors for our viewing enjoyment.  And with the OK of the Chinese government, they’ve decided to take the Terracotta show on the road, visiting museums all over the world. The show stars crossbow mean, generals, musicians, a chariot driver and even a headless guy with a weight problem. (Known as the “strong man”, but I think really just has a thyroid problem.) And to make sure the show is a success, it returns to China after each exhibit to be “blessed”. (I don’t know what that means exactly, but I’m sure it helps.)

It’s a show that’s really worth seeing, even if it is a little anticlimactic. I had hoped to see a room full of clay soldiers, but what I saw was merely a sampling of what has been unearthed and reconstructed. Probably 10 actual soldiers in total. It’s enough to intrigue and impress, but not to give you a sense of the magnitude of this ancient wonder of the world. To be fair, it would be prohibitively expensive and logistically impractical to ship a small room full of warriors all around the world. And they do try to give you this sense with a massive picture on one wall depicting the warriors in their sunken hallways. I guess it’s time for me to start saving up for a plane ticket.

So you’re probably wondering if it’s worth it to go and see the exhibit. Let me help you in your decision making process with a quick list of pro and con bullet points. (Man, am I helpful or what? Make your checks payable to Brian Hewitt.)

Why you should see the Terracotta Warrior Exhibit:

  • You don’t have the money for a plane ticket to China or the vacation time to enjoy it.
  • How often do you get to see 2000 year old Chinese sculpture? Or 2000 year old anything for that matter? Julius Cesar is younger than these things, and he didn’t hold up nearly as well.
  • It’s always beneficial to admire fine craftsmanship. Whether it be a fine premium cigar, and incredible painting or a clay replica of a ancient Chinese soldier.
  • In spite of being made from only 8 different molds, each soldier his striking unique. Different hair styles, clothing and facial features are suspected to represent a variety of the Chinese ethnic groups of the day.
  • There’s more to see than just the warrior. Coins, replica bronze chariots with horses, birds, art, and even a cool model of the ancient assembly line that assembled the warriors.

Why you might be disappointed:

  • If the exhibit in your museum is roughly equivalent to ours, you’ll probably be done in an hour. And that’s with the audio tour (which is an absolute must). But if you don’t have a lot of time, this could be a plus.
  • You’ll only see 9 or 10 actual warriors.

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Antoni Gaudi’s Barcelona In Pictures 2003

I’ve noticed recently a surprising number of search traffic coming through my blog looking for “Gaudi”. Gaudi, if you didn’t already know is the surname of Antoni Gaudi, a Spanish architect who is responsible from some of the most memorable structures in the world. Many of them located in Barcelona, Spain.

But why on earth am I getting search traffic for Gaudi, you ask? Don’t you pretty much just write cigar reviews? If either of those thoughts came to mind, you have a beautiful, sexy mind. And you’re playing right into my hands. You’re right, I have been spending a lot of time on cigars lately. But I do have other hobbies. Two of them are travel and photography. Back in 2003 I combined all three hobbies and visited Barcelona. You probably didn’t realize it, but if you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you’ve already seen some Gaudi already:

Antoni Gaudi Sun or Star Mosaic

Look familiar? That’s a Sun (or maybe star) mosaic decoration Gaudi designed into the ceiling of one structure at Park Güell in Barcelona. It also happens to be one of my favorite bits of his work I came across while I was there.

This got me thinking. I have a whole bunch of pictures from that trip, why not give those in search of pictures of Antoni Gaudi’s handy work what they want? After a good deal of searching (and a little terror when I thought they were lost), I found ‘em, cropped ‘em and polished ‘em up to make them blog worthy. Though these pictures were taken with my first digital, 2.1 megapixel camera, they’re still some of my favorites. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as well!

Antoni Gaudi\'s Casa Batllo

Casa Batlló, one of a number of intriguing building on the Illa de la Discòrdia block in the Eixample district of Barcelona. This was probably my favorite Gaudi building.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Casa Batllo

A closer look at the alien balconies on the Casa Batlló.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Casa Battlo

The oozing lower windows of the Casa Batlló.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Casa Mila

Not too far away is the similarly wavy Casa Milà.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Casa Mila

The Casa Milà from the sidewalk below. Check out that crazy iron work fencing in what looks like a deck.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Casa Mila

The Casa Milà isn’t just wavy on the outside, the walls, windows, doors and even the stairways on the inside of the building are resistant to straight lines. We couldn’t go in much further than this, as the building is currently in use.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Casa Vicens

Casa Vicens couldn’t be more different that the previous two buildings. Not only is it block and full of straight lines, it doesn’t have an interesting accent mark in the name. (Which makes it a lot easier to type.) Looking at this building still makes me want to play checkers or build legos. Or both. Probably while drinking.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Casa Vicens

A view of the side of the Casa Vicens.

Antoni Gaudi Palau Guell

Palau Güell had a strick policy about photography inside the building, but the rooftop was up for grabs. These are a few of the numerous mosaic chimneys decorating the roof. (I think there are something like seven.) Due to the rather narrow side street it opens up to, a shot of the side of the building was all but inpossible, at least with that old camera.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Park Guell Bench

The famous winding bench at Park Güell. This single bench encircles a large open mezzanine-like area overlooking the entrance to the park.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Park Guell Lizard Fountain

A close up of the mosaic lizard fountain on the steps at Park Güell.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Park Guell

One of the little buildings in Park Güell. This building was under construction at the time, but I think it is used for management of the park. Or a tourist gift shop. One or the other.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Park Guell Sign

The sign on the outer wall of Park Güell.

Antoni Guadi\'s Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia is a massive, unfinished cathedral that Gaudi may be best know for. Even though he didn’t finish it in his lifetime, the construction continued. In fact, it’s still under construction today! (Or at least as recently as 2003.)

Antoni Gaudi\'s Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia is designed to be enjoyed. From every angle. It’s just incredible how much thought went into this structure.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Sagrada Familia

Another shot of the spires of Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, with the city of Barcelona below.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Sagrada Familia

As I mentioned before, the structure is still under construction. In spite of the cranes, this shot gives you a better idea of what the building looks like as a whole.

Antoni Gaudi\'s Sagrada Familia

Before you get sick of looking at the Sagrada Familia, you gotta check out the facade above one of the door. Each of the main entrances have a different, but equally elaborate scene above them.

Joan Miro\'s Woman and Bird

OK, you got me. This isn’t an Antoni Gaudi creation. This sculpture, named “Woman and Bird” was created by Joan Miro, another (a bit less) famous Spanish artist, who I suspect was at least a bit inspired by Antoni Gaudi. This is also located in Barcelona.

Want to see more? Check our my Antoni Gaudi photography galleries.

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New Cigar Shop Finder: CigarPlaces.com

Arganese Double Wrap ChairmansAs I’ve seen it reported on Cigar Command and Today’s Cigar Reviews and News (kudos for the find guys!), there’s a brand new resource out there for people in search of a good place to buy or enjoy a fine cigar. And the best part, it is has an easy to remember URL: CigarPlaces.com.

What the website is, essentially, is a customized mash-up of Google Maps that allows you to ad your favorite cigar-friendly establishment or search for shops based upon a U.S. city. Simple enough, right? But then many of the best ideas are shockingly simple. In speaking with my good friend Jesse from Cigar Jack, our initial thought was “Man, why didn’t I think of that?” With all the frenzied rush to outlaw smoking in every place under the sun, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a place where you can still indulge in a premium smoke!

So Cigar Places definitely a website I’d recommend all cigar enthusiasts take advantage of. If for no other reason than to make it easier for those of us who spend time on the road to find a smoke shop when we find ourselves away from home. As with a lot of things on the web, the more it’s used, the more useful it becomes.

OK, now that I’ve lavished praise on this great new website, here are a few things I’d really like to see added in the future:

  • International listings. I think the site supports this, but it isn’t obvious.
  • The ability to search on a whole state in addition to a city or state.
  • I’d like to see shops in nearby cities as well as the city I searched. Searching for Atlanta excludes shops in Alpharetta. Perhaps this is a feature we could switch on or something.
  • A larger map view. Perhaps a link to go “full screen” or something.
  • Special markers for manufacturers.
  • Maybe some sort of rating or review system. (Yeah, I’m really going out on a limb here.)

Of course, the website is new, and is a great resource as is. I’m just throwing out some ideas. Do you have any ideas? Now go add your favorite smoke shop to the list!

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Arganese Trip: Dominican Republic in Pictures

It’s been a while hasn’t it? You’ve probably been wondering where I’ve been. Well, the quick answer is the Dominican Republic. I spent four days in the D.R. touring tobacco fields and a cigar factory as a guest of Gene Arganese (of Arganese cigars). As a crazed cigar enthusiast, the trip was the experience of a lifetime. One not to be missed, no matter what the circumstances. When Gene generously offered to cover all expenses except airfare, it was a no-brainer. For full a full discussion the things learned about cigars during the tour, be sure to check out the post I wrote for Stogie Review.

In the week or so since I’ve been back, I’ve been spending the time I usually use to write for this blog processing all the pictures I took on my trip. Without further ado, here’s some of my favorites. (To see all 184 pictures, head over to my Dominican Republic gallery.) Click on any of the following to see a larger, higher quality image in the gallery.

Deck Chairs at Casa Arganese
Deck Chairs on the deck at Casa Arganese

Field Worker
Worker in a recently seeded tobacco field

Arganese Greenhouse
The Arganese greenhouse- Home to thousands of seedlings

La Flor de Tobacco Arganese
La Flor de Tobacco Arganese

Worker hanging tobacco leaves
Hanging the tobacco leaves for drying

El Hombre Muy Guapo
El Hombre muy guapo: The field boss (who will pose when flattered)

Monument to the Heros of the Revolution
The Monument to the Heroes of the Revolution in Santiago

Arganese tobacco barn
The field and the barn

Arganese Cigars
The finished product

Bulls on parade
Santiago traffic: Bulls on parade

Arganese Double Wrap Chairmans
A bundle of the Chairman Double Wrap

A Stinkie Ashtray in the moonlight
A Stinkie Ashtray in the moonlight. How romantic!

Again, these pictures are just the tip of the iceburg! I encourage you to check out the full gallery and take advantage of the slide show capabilities Smugmug offers. (Look for the little button in the upper right corner of the page.) Enjoy!

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Dominican Trip Preview: 3 Arganese Robustos

Arganese CigarsIt’s official, I’m heading to the Dominican Republic (map) along with a small group of cigar enthusiasts, thanks to the generosity of Gene Arganese of Arganese cigars and facilitated by the finest cigar forum on the net, CigarLive. (Join up, it’s free!) So like a college student fighting through a Sunday hangover to cram for a Monday exam, I’ve been smoking every Arganese cigar I have so I can speak intelligently about them when I get there. I’m hoping three cigars will be enough, because that’s all I have! In fact the last of the three I’m blazing through right now were part of a 3 cigar sampler I picked up from the man himself at last year’s RTDA/IPCPR.

So when you think about it, I’m kind of a weasel. I haven’t actually bought an Arganese cigar (yet), and yet, I’m going to visit their facilities in an exotic locale. Well, I have an excuse. As of this time of this writing, the Arganese website indicates that their cigars are not currently available in the state of Georgia. And a quick search of several major online cigar retailers came up with no results. In short, I simply didn’t have the opportunity. And that makes sense because Arganese cigars are the new kid on the block. A fresh face trying to get some attention and some respect in a very large, thriving industry full of big family names with long histories.

I think that’s what this trip is about. It’s not about rewarding dedicated customers, it’s about making new customers and generating some word of mouth. And look, it’s working, I’m smoking their cigars and talking about them. Talk about a win-win for everyone involved!

Gene Arganese
Gene Arganese, the man with the plan at RTDA ’07

Oh yeah, one last thing. Before you pound you keyboard into pieces in a jealous rage, or hurl your wireless mouse through a nearby window, you should know that I am paying for the plane tickets. (Too late? Ah well, it was time to upgrade that old hardware anyway.)

So let’s take a quick look at the cigars. This isn’t going to be one of my standard reviews, simply because I like to smoke the same cigar several times to get a good feel for it. Instead, I’m going to write a brief summary of my experiences with the three different cigars that came in the sampler: The Connecticut Ambassador, the Cameroon Chairman and the Maduro Presidente.

Cigar Stats:
Size: 5 x 50
Wrapper: US Connecticut/Cameroon/Brazil
Binder: Dominican Republic, Indonesia
Filler: Dominican Republic
Beverage: Water, Coffee
Price: ~$6.00 (rumor has it)

The Connecticut Ambassador
This cigar was the last of the three that I smoked, and also happened to be my third place pick of the bunch. That isn’t to say it was a bad cigar. The predominant flavor I detected in it was a creamy grain flavor that kind of reminded me of beer. A hefeweizen to be exact. It also had some good sweet flavors that reminded me of syrup at some points and honey at others. As with the rest, the burn on this was without flaw, producing reasonable lengths of solid ash. If you’re a big Connecticut wrapper fan, you can’t go wrong with this one.

The Cameroon Chairman
Picking the silver medal winner of the pack was a bit difficult. I really enjoyed this cigar. Of course, it’s hard to be objective with this one, as I lit this one up upon finalizing the details of my upcoming trip. But there’s no denying that it had a great flavor profile. I got caramel, an interesting smooth citrus flavor and a semi-sweet vegetal flavor I equate with a good Cameroon wrapper. As with the Ambassador, the burn was great, and the ash was the brightest white of the bunch. The Cameroon Chairman is a cigar that’s going on my cigar shopping list. Now I just need to find a place to buy them.

The Maduro Presidente
I didn’t have to think too long about before awarding the gold to the Maduro Presidente. I enjoyed this cigar right down the nub. It’s hard to beat the smooth, rich, sweet cocoa, chocolate, coffee and finally leather flavors I got out of it. The only thing that called this champ’s ranking into question was darker colored ash. I generally prefer a light colored ash on my cigar, but this one was about the same color as the wrapper. Seemingly in a bid to make up for its less attractive ash, the Maduro Presidente held the longest ash of the bunch, weighing in at a respectable inch and a half. But substance won out over aesthetics handily here. Given to buy more of only one of these cigars, I’m buying this one.

What Other People Are Saying
There’s been a quite a few reviews of Arganese cigars around the web. Here’s the word at the virtual water cooler. (Hint: It’s all good.)

My Other Reviews
If you enjoyed this review, why not take at look at some other cigars I’ve reviewed? Check out my Cigar Review Index for a complete list.

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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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And I’m Back: A Quick Note

Brian and Monkey Poo HarrisAbout 3500 miles, a few cigars and a lot of microbrew samplers later, I’m back from the roadtrip. I had hoped to in some way document the adventure on a more “live” basis, but at best our internet access was unreliable, and often complete non-existent. (Who knew my Crackberry’s data service provider didn’t cover the vast open stretches of Wyoming?)

Also, a quick word of thanks to Emon of Emonome and Nicole of Pinch My Salt for the road-trip t-shirts. As you can see in the picture, we put ‘em to good use! In fact, we even did some wash along the way and wore ‘em again a bit later in the trip!

This post will have to be short, I have a lot of catching up to do. Have no fear, the trip not only recharged the batteries, it also provided a great deal of blog worthy material and pictures. The first will probably be our review of the five microbreweries we visited in five different states. But for now, it’s time to finish unpacking, washing and returning email…

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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So About RTDA 2007

Yours truly and Kinky FriedmanNow that I’m somewhat rested, it’s time we talk about this year’s RTDA.

The News

As you may have already heard, this is the last RTDA ever. Yep, no more RTDA. But before you drop your cigar in your lap and catch your naughty bits on fire, that doesn’t mean these conventions are coming to an end. What it means is that the organization is changing it’s name to IPCPR (International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers). The point of this verbose new name, as noted by Cigar Aficionado’s David Savona “gets rid of the words “tobacco” and “dealer”“. The idea was to pick a name that more accurately reflects the members of the organization. “Big Tobacco” is not a part of this group, it’s primarily comprised of makers and retailers of premium, hand-made cigars and pipe tobacco.

The Cigars

CAO America

A number of new cigars were introduced at this year’s RTDA. The one I was most looking forward to was the CAO America. I had a chance to smoke one of these beauties on the second day of the convention, and I really enjoyed it. I’ll save a full analysis for an upcoming review (I have a few extra to smoke), but I can say two things I noticed about it. The first thing is that it burns nicely. Many had expressed concern that the different leaves might cause burn issues, but I’m happy to report that they burned perfectly together. The other thing I noticed is that the America didn’t seem to be a full bodied as reported on the CAO website. However, I must admit that and my palate had a nice even burn by the time I got to this cigar (I lost count of cigars smoked), so I say this tentatively.

Oliva Serie V Lancero

I think the cat is out of the bag on the new Oliva Serie V size. It’s called the Lancero, and my local Oliva rep hooked me up with one from his very small supply. I don’t have the exact measurements now, but it looks a lot like a pencil and is likely a 7 x 40. I’ve very interested to see how the size impacts the smoking experience, and will write it up when I get to it.

Great First Impressions

At a small La Flor Dominicana party in the hazy presidental suite of the nearby Hilton Sunday night, I had the opportunity to try out the un-banded Cameroon Cabinet. Even though it was probably the last of five or six cigars smoked that day, I found the cigar to be surprisingly flavorful and simply delicious. And with the textured, even burn that was my mouth by that evening, that’s really saying something. My LDF rep generously allowed me to take a couple with me, so you can expect a full review on this cigar in the somewhat near future.

Craig at the Cigarmony booth hooked me up with another gem of a cigar: the Gran Habano Corojo #5 Churchill. As with the LFD Cameroon, this cigar broke through the char-barrier on my palate and impressed me with a great spicy flavor and long ashes. After that tasty smoke I made a bee-line for the Gran Habanos booth to beg for a few more. (That is once I figured out which booth was theirs.) And yes, you guessed it, I plan to review this cigar too.

Other Notable Cigars

While I wasn’t able to get my hands on the Ashton’s new San Cristobal, I did luck out with a giant Gurkha Black Dragon (I literally bumped into one that had been dropped!) and General Cigar’s new $40 high-roller the “Stradivarius”. I haven’t decided what I want to do with these guys, though I’m sure once I get around to smoking them, I will definitely write up my impressions.

All told, I came away with a generous, but yet untallied number of cigars from RTDA. I mean no disrespect to any cigars I haven’t mentioned, I simply haven’t gotten them all organized yet. (I was just happy to find them all a space in a humidor!)

The Stories

My favorite story from RTDA is the one I was telling. On the first day as we were making the rounds, my wife kept grabbing the camera and getting up close and personal with the big names of the cigar houses for a picture. (If you met my wife at the RTDA, you know that one thing she isn’t is shy.) I definitely have her to thank for many of the great pictures I put up in the previous post.

It’s interesting how people react to my brash wife and the little bright red camera. Rocky Patel stopped mid-sentence and posed. The guy Tim Ozgener was talking to gave him a big, sloppy kiss on the cheek. (Priceless picture!) But my favorite reaction was that of Carlos Toraño. He smiled for the camera and then told her “that’s pretty camera you have, but what’s behind it is far more beautiful.” Yep, that’s right, Mr. Toraño hit on my wife.

And then there’s Avo at the General Cigar party. Blue Havana II and I were loitering behind a stairway railing, tucked away from continuous flow of people and who comes walking up but Avo Uvezian! He stops on the other other side of the railing to have a look around. Immediately people descend on him to shake his hand and get a picture. I moved back a little to give him some space, and before I knew it, he was standing on my side of the railing. And then he was standing where I had been and I was out in the main channel. Moments later both Blue Havana and I had been displaced. He turned our little alcove into Avo meet-and-greet central. And neither of us know how he did it. I’m thinking it was cigar magic.

Some Thank-Yous

To begin with, I want to thank Jon and Jeff “Jerry Curl” at CAO. These guys are the reason I was able to attend. And the Escape With CAO event was awesome! You guys rock!

And thanks also to the ladies we met from 310 Pipe and Tobacco Shop. They very kindly set me up with their tickets to the General Cigar event.

Another thank you goes to Nathan the local Oliva rep. He hooked me up with the Serie V Lancero from his small allotment of the newest size of a very new cigar.

Also, a big thanks to Mark Neff and Craig from Cigarmony for the pucks (I needed ‘em!) and the cigars. Seriously folks, if you aren’t using the puck-ifier in your humidor, you’re working too hard, and just wasting time.

Thanks to Jim “Blue Havana II” Luftman [UPDATE: Link Updated!] for sneaking me into the La Flor Dominicana party. Not only did I get to smoke a great cigar, but I got a better understanding of the cigar business from the retail point of view. I’m not gonna tell anybody to completely quit buying cigars at the various deeply-discounted sites online, but if you want to keep the great B&M’s around in your area, don’t forget to give them your business too! Your couple of cigars a week, or box a month, or whatever will help ensure you always have a cigar-friendly place to go to relax and socialize.

I know I’m forgetting somebody. If you think I owe you a thanks, consider yourself thanked!

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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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