FOHcus brings you Rob's transcript of his recent Shanghai trip. A great little yarn and visual account of what was obviously a thoroughly memorable experience. We hope you enjoy reading it!
Musings From Shanghai: Tour Report.
By Rob Ayala.
It was at a little delicatessen in Maiori on the Amalfi Coast when the idea came to Rob Fox and me. We were together at Maiori for the June 2015 AmiCigar hosted by Gino and his remarkable crew of friends. What a fantastic week!
Now it is one of my few strengths to be able to sniff out a little bar or club off the beaten trap. In this case it was a delicatessen run by Federico and his good wife and they were marvelous. Each day we would sit on the barrels outside, smoking fine cigars, eating fabulous local cheese, meats, vine ripened tomato’s, figs and all while drinking copious amounts of Amaronne. Rob and Stuart Fox are brilliant company. I like having mates who make me look sane. I suspect they think the same.
It was over a bottle of Amaronne that we conceived the idea of a joint dinner in China for 2016. There wasn’t a lot of detail discussed. I had a friend in George Chen who owns Shanghai’s best steak restaurant in Roosevelts with an impressive Divan. George loves cigars and so I touched base, he was thrilled, a date was set and the Fox/Ayala expedition had no turning back.
Cigar dinners and follow up functions are not easy to plan. Huge kudos to George and his team (Yvonne, Joyce and staff) for making it seamless. Rob and I arranged the cigars in Bolivar Belgravia 2015 GB RE, Romeo y Julieta Prince of Wales 1982, Ramon Allones Celestiales Finos 2009 AP RE.
Did I say George had a steak restaurant… throw that out the window. Here was the menu.
The dinner was on Saturday night. I flew into Shanghai on the prior Wednesday evening. Rob Fox and Justin Seldis (Founder of Cigar Traveller Lighters) flew in on Thursday Morning. It had been a year since I have seen them in London. Hugs a plenty ensued and once they were set we were all off down town for a cigar at the Metropole followed by lunch at a local Chinese restaurant where we introduced Foxy to the joys of braised goose feet with white beans. He declined. However by the end of the week he was eating everything and anything.
How could you decline this!
The three of us had agreed prior to arriving in Shanghai to bring 30 cigars each for the 5 days but nothing too special. I was the only one who complied albeit I thought I had some crackers in perfect 2001 SLR Lonsdale’s, Vintage Monte 2 etc. Justin decided that closer to 100 cigars would be appropriate including Cuban Davidoff, Russian Regionals, Vintage Ramon Allones, Vintage Lusitania, Vintage Connie 1’s etal. I love Justin. Foxy was much the same. Paid no heed to what was agreed upon and just had some absolutely cracker cigars. In my defence I did bring three boxes of Bushido for the follow up Tuesday event which left plenty left over.
On the Thursday night we caught up with George Chen. To say that everyone hit it off is an understatement. Lifetime friends were made well before the end of the week. George has a capacity to give of himself unreservedly that is rarely seen. Foxy and Justin are the same.
For the two days leading up to the gala dinner on the Saturday I would like to tell you that we worked hard in preparation. We didn’t. By day we drank great wine and ate some of the best Chinese food available from 5-star to corner stalls. We talked, laughed, drank some more and smoked brilliant cigars. By night we partied in Shanghai until 4am. The dinner was proving to be a potential respite and before long it arrived.
Justin, Foxy and myself.
What a spectacular event! Kicking off at 7pm, the room was already full which is surprising as the Shanghai crowd are notoriously late in arriving. With 70 people we had to split the groups into 4 rooms but it worked well under Georges supervision and planning.
After a brief introduction, Rob and I delivered our opening speeches and before long we were winging it. Personally, I thought we were hilarious
What a great night. Everything from the food to the cigars to the wine and service was exquisite.
I have done enough cigar events to know when something is on song. Havanathon has taught me that the strength of any event comes down to the people attending. Everyone on that Saturday night in Shanghai had an absolute ball and the vibe manifested itself throughout the room.
The best cigar of the night was Rob’s Romeo y Julieta Prince of Wales 1982. After a subdued start in the first inch it came alive and burst with power and flavour, spices overflowing and yet it had balance in spades. The cigar has another decade in it at least.
Rob and I went and spent time with all the guests. We were both humbled by their welcome, hospitality and genuine interest in the diversity of our own businesses. In the end, regardless of nationality or experience, we are bound together by a love of cigars. Cigar people are in the main good people no matter where you go.
2016 marks my 20th year in the Cigar business. Rob Foxes goes back a couple of hundred years. Now while JJfox and associated entities has rubbed shoulders with monarchy, aristocrats and politicians since 1787. My cigar business was borne at the dawn of the Internet and rubbed shoulders with pornography on one side and erectile dysfunction pharmaceuticals on the other. Yet, Foxy and I are peas in a pod, just different sides of the same cigar coin.
George and myself doing the rounds.
The dinner ended with a Question and Answer session that would have made Habanos s.a reel. Imagine, real answers to real questions. Not one HSA cliché. Our industry is made up of the good the bad and the ugly. You might as well call it.
The dinner ended up well past midnight and both Rob and I were invited out by Clarence and some of his crew who flew in for the event for an early morning “Hot Pot” supper where Rob was introduced to a “scare the white man” feast inclusive of cows throat, pig intestines, goat intestines and duck kidney. Rob had never been able to handle real “spice” before that night. Post that dinner… I never saw him sweat once regardless of how hot the dish was or how “foreign” the contents!
Naturally all good suppers in Shanghai are followed by great karaoke. Clarence took us and his fantastic group out to a HTV which was pure fun in a private room big enough to be a house and complete with pool table/bar etal.
Now, I am blessed with the knowledge that I cannot sing. Foxy missed that blessing. Thankfully the rest of Clarence’s crew are bloody excellent! Thank you for a great night!
Where are we… Sunday?...We went birko.
Monday…we had a follow up one on one gathering with guests from Saturday night and smoked Bushidos. We then went birko.
Tuesday…we went birko extreme …went to dinner with George and ate some sensational food!...then went birko again.
Wednesday…wrap up, long lunch, long flight home.
All in all, one of those trips that you remember for a lifetime. Old friends that you embrace, new friends that you look forward to sharing time with again. Just once in a while you are entitled to drink from the trough of excess. We guzzled.
To George, Rob Fox, Justin Seldis: I am a wealthy man while I have friends such as yourselves walking beside me.
Next stop, Havana, November. Look forward to seeing many of you there!
If the purpose of matching a designated cigar with a specific drink is to enhance the enjoyment of one or preferably both then pairing an aged Sait Luis Ray Double Corona with Appleton's 21-Year-Old Rum is hardly a big risk. Frankly, I am in the camp where you could link the SLR with mud and the Appleton with strips of hessian and I'd be happy. Together, magic.
The SLR was from 2005 and it has settled into a subtle, mildly flavoured yet complex smoke. Gentle hints of fig and spice but it never takes long for that tell-tale note of sweet apricot – sometimes dried apricot, sometimes apricot kernel and other times, ripe apricot fruit and even on occasion, a delightful apricot marmalade – to emerge. Every now and again, this can be a more general stonefruit character but for me, there are few cigars which offer such a definitive stamp as to their heritage. This cigar left me with burnt fingers and if one wanted to give it a score, for me, 97.
The Appleton 21? It is at the absolute pinnacle (in truth, they also have a 50-Year-Old rum but they only made around 800 bottles of it, I believe) of rums produced by this old and venerable Jamaican producer – the only rum producer of any real size and note in the world which can genuinely talk terroir, as the entire supply of sugar cane it needs for the molasses to make their rums is grown on its own estate – all 4,600 hectares of it. Others will source their molasses from farms and growers, as well as their own plantations, or simply buy them on the open market.
This is a wonderfully complex spirit with an array of flavours – caramel, orange peel, walnuts, leather, nutmeg, white chocolate and plenty of spices. Not that I have been able to find confirmation, but my feeling is that the majority of rums used for blending for the final product come from the end of a distillation in a pot still, before we get to the overly strong fusel oil notes that must be discarded. It has the richness found there. Also, be aware that this is a rum which would be an ideal rum for those who don’t like their spirits overly sweet (alternatively, it would not suit those who like their rums with a reasonable degree of sweetness).
As a match, to be honest, the rum can handle a more powerful cigar than the SLR DC, but that does not mean it needs one. The complexity of both cigar and rum seem to fit together like hand in glove – iron fist in velvet glove, if you like. The caramel notes of the rum and the stonefruit of the SLR work a treat. This is one of those, surprisingly rare, occasions when both cigar and rum shine solo but together, take each other to new heights.
- Ken Gargett.
The Cuban Allure.
A Newbie Viewpoint.
By Steve McCarthy.
Chartered to do some marketing work for El Presidente (Rob, for those who don’t know) a year or so ago, my first port of call was to research FOH—what they did, who they were, etc. As never having been a cigar smoker (or smoker of any kind) I began by trying to understand the allure of the act itself. You see, I’ve never really trusted the whole connoisseur scene—in any realm: wine, food, art, and so on. I enjoy all those things, of course, but I never have the motivation to go beyond the poetry of the thing. The rhyme of experience. That’s always enough for me. I rarely go deeper; unless it’s literature; then, I can usually waffle on with the best of them. Otherwise, I’m more your connoisseur of the sausage and egg mcmuffin. I could write a review on all the variations of that tasty little bugger till I became demented by my own prolixity and was locked up for the preservation of the greater good. But for the so-called serious stuff, there always seemed to me to be a significant amount of pretence involved. A certain bullshit detector was always set off inside me.
Watching FOH.tv reviews turned all that on its head. Yes, folks. Believe it or not.
It actually shouldn’t be too hard to convince anyone who has taken on an FOH video review about its allure or validity as a cigar resource. Firstly, the setting: the back deck at Ken’s place (no offence, Ken) pretty much allays any idea that someone is trying to win you over via appearance. And the superficiality so often associated with pretence is noticeably devoid as you start essaying the rapport between two guys who simply portray an undeniable honesty toward getting to the heart of the cigar in hand—to unravel the angels and demons of its nature. No punches pulled!
In sum, the video reviews put the hook in me. Big time. I watched a whole bunch of them in a row. Instantly addicted. Ken and Rob’s banter alone was sufficient to provide enough intrigue. And, of course, it’s worth noting that the right combination of personalities can be very persuasive on screen, but what really gets you hooked is the cigar lingo and the realisation of the complexities involved in the cigar itself—flavours, construction, draw, ring gauge, wrapper sheen, and so on... Cigar smoking immediately appeals as a life experience one shouldn’t miss out on—like good red wine or genuine craft beer or whiling away the hours in a fine old pub in Ireland in front of a pint of Guinness (or twelve).
So I decided I was all in! I would take this experience on. It seemed every fibre of my being was willing it so. It’s a mistake to resist such things. (Usually. Watch out for heroin, sheep shagging, and women when applying that rule. Or any combination of the three.)
Thus, after a brief consultation with Rob to garner his advice as to a good place to start, the Partagas Maduro #1 was chosen as the initial ticket for me. This cigar was recently video reviewed and scored somewhere around the high 80’s from Ken and Rob, so it seemed a decent place to kick off for a complete newbie such as me. When I told Rob I liked a good beer, he suggested a nice stout would go well with it, something to complement the chocolate notes. My mind immediately went to Young’s Double Chocolate Stout as the perfect partner in crime. So I rustled up two of those, also rustled up a mate who smoked (and who was also interested in giving the Cubans a go), and we sat back on a quiet deck at his place in Ashgrove and settled in for a slow burn of an afternoon—literally!
What followed was utterly grand: good conversation, a good laugh, and—after the initial woozy, all-at-sea feelings from the first-up tobacco hits had subsided—the cigar experience quickly became something of a unique pleasure, something I felt I wanted to enjoy again and again. As the Partagas Maduro #1 burned down to its stub, the anxiety and disappointment of knowing the experience was coming to an end was the best pointer as to how much I truly was enjoying it. The smoky tastes on the tongue, the kinaesthetic appeal of the smoking process itself, the visual splendour of the accumulating ash, and my own burgeoning review notes forming in my head. Yes: an instant expert; a real wanker. Had I become what I formerly loathed? Let’s see:
Chocolate. Yep. I taste that. And… Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate… And probably a bit more chocolate. And a definite smoky taste… Yeah.
Well, whatever the case, the point is the allure of the experience was considerable, and the experience itself was considerably worth it! For those on the precipice, I say, dive in!
Consider me hooked!
(Photo attached is the 2nd round ticket, not the Partagas; solo effort while writing and sinking a bottle of red. Happy days.)
...pork chops too. Everything is cooked on the grill. Don´t hesitate trying the Octopus al pesto. That will make you believe in God, if you ever lost your faith.
A cigar friendly place that welcomes smokers making it the right place for a gathering since it can easily host up to 60 guests. They have a humidor inside but smoking is only allowed outdoors. Cellar is packed with a decent wine list to complement your meal, but they offer a wide array of booze when it comes to Tequilas and Vodkas. Enhanced by the garden lightning, the whole place invites you for yet another visit. Service is top quality, always looking after the diners. Love the way they bring beers swimming in a bucket of ice.
Booking is recommended especially on weekends.
One more tip: Bring your own cigar and watch the sun goes down on the ocean.
Address: 14th St. & 1st Ave, Miramar, Playa
Owners: Raoul & Nadia
For bookings: + 53 7 209 6889
Every day from 12:00 m to 12:00 am.
by Ken Gargett.
So, the Lord High Grand Poobah of FoH has requested I provide an occasional contribution on wine or cigars or fishing or whatever it is that springs to mind – actually, he rather insisted it be on cigars but if I set the parameters early, then perhaps I will have some leeway down the track.
You want to do the same? You want to write. Jump on board but beware.
Most of what I do pertains to wine and I know, you are thinking of spending your days travelling around our beautiful wine regions, drinking fabulous wines, meeting great people, going to all sorts of wonderful vertical tastings (I haven’t been to one for at least, well yesterday to be honest, but it was at least a week before that since the last one), getting endless samples of the good, the bad and the ugly (and trust me, some of them are very ugly indeed). In short, a dream life. Okay, it does have its advantages but let me tell you it is not all beer and Bordeaux. Or perhaps a visit to the fields of Cuba? Tossing a line in somewhere exotic? No one really needs to do it but I am glad I am the one who is.
In other words, you want to become a writer. Think carefully. And if you have completely taken leave of your senses, you may decide you want to actually make a living from writing. Sit down, crack a beer and think again.
Perhaps you’ve taken Ray Bradbury’s words to heart, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you”. I think the thoughts of E. L. Doctorow are more to the point, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”
First, to take up this madness, assuming you have not just jagged the winning ticket in Gold Lotto, you must have given up any pretence to a financially secure or rewarding life and be prepared for a very grumpy bank manager (this is balanced by the fact the every wine writer has an extremely happy dentist - we are the guys that put their kids through school and send them skiing in Aspen every year). Someone once described a wine writer as the guy lording it up the pointy end of the plane on his or her way home from a vertical tasting of 50 years of Krug, only to be sitting on an overturned wooden wine box, watching his black-and-white tellie and eating microwaved baked beans while at home (half right, sadly not the first half). Think of it as a five star lifestyle on a half a star pay.
Secondly, accept that as much as you might enjoy your new career, no one else thinks it is a real job (take that as a badge of honour, if you like). Think of it this way, you are on a ship and it is sinking. The life raft has places for ten survivors and there are eleven of you. What chance do you think you have of a spot? What skills do you really think you can bring to the desert island? Recommending different coconut milks with the raw fish and berries? Personally, I have absolutely no chance at all of a spot in the life raft – I used to be a lawyer. Well, a small possibility. If one of the other floundering around in the drink makes his quid from flogging cigars...
Then we have the editors and sub-editors with which to deal (though, of course, in this instance, I'm sure that they are all absolutely first class). I once had a sub-editor who also wrote a column. Could never work out why all my best lines never made it into my column, until I saw them appearing in his. Granted, they have deadlines and if we miss ours, they miss theirs. It will come as no surprise that, to the best of my knowledge, Rupert Murdoch is yet to hold over one of his dailies because the wine scribe was late.
It is not all fun. I remember back when I used to ghost write ‘Don’t Buy Wine Without Me’ (nothing like sneaking in a subtle plug). Let me assure you, it involved many, many days of tasting and just as many days chained to the machine (it may have been slightly less if I had not had to ring the dills that think they are a big telco in a big pond, but in reality, would struggle to string two tin cans together with a cord, to get back on-line on a daily basis). It is not easy to come up with several hundred witty, concise, erudite reviews, all subtlely different. And the tasting can be fun but if you think slogging through a large number of casks and enough sauv blanc to fill Queensland’s dwindling dams is a joy on a cold winter’s morning, think again.
Some practical advice from an unknown author, “Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.”
Perhaps the last word should go to Peter De Vries, “I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork” or Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith, “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”
Next time, you'll get a real column. Perhaps.
...when hopping in the old American cars en route to Old Havana every day for rehearsals and fun. The Cruise Show was a success, at least so they say.
Without further ado, music started playing and ethereal girls started strolling up and down the Prado, the famous promenade setting the boundaries between Havana Centro and Old Havana, which was turned into a catwalk in a matter of days.
I was not able to be a part of that, but I managed to get some pics, some outdoors and casual but there were also some studio pictures as shown here.
Enjoy the pics below. Cigars played a part in the show as well.
...where 73 were US. While docking at La Marina Hemingway in Havana, they would start unpacking stuff and downloading BBQs, sausages and bikes. Some were unfolding chairs for kicking back and relax while lightning a cigar and have some beers. Thought I could get along well with these guys easily.
After 4 days of fishing, we saw some good captures on video since they have to comply with the ¨catch and release¨ rules. They could keep anything but the marlins or sailfish. There were some yellow fin tuna ready to cook though.
Some of the boatnames were funnier than others. Here´s a list.
Get a lot. Damn Yankees. Reel Xcape. Champagne Lady. Salinity. Rose. Yellow Hammer. Mad Hatter. Philosophy. Lady Simone. Smooth More. Emily Bliss. Hi-Ho. Reel Party. Hope. Amapola. Isla Mist. Reel Excuse. Della Ann. Karma. Sand dancer. Contender. Wayne´s world. Anet among others.
Well, the first place went to Charlie from Un…believable and second and third were also going for the boats of the Stuart Club. That night on stage, the President of the Club was very thankful to the authorities and the event organizers when all of the sudden he announced they were going to have a raffle. That was unexpected. And certainly the Cuban authorities at La Marina wouldn't let him to do so. Funny anyway how the microphone was off immediately afterward.
They all had a great time here aside from the temporary setbacks and the last minute renovation works conducted at La Marina. Even my cigar buddy Toby was indeed enjoying the day. Till next year, anglers.
Here at FOHcus, as well as occasionally blowing our own trumpet, we don’t mind blowing others' either… Wait, that didn’t come out right. Look, let’s just say that FOHcus has been created as a place where others can voice their opinions, too, not just us. Quality blogs and articles are what FOHcus is looking to promote, so that we can all immerse ourselves a little further in the Cuban cigar culture and its surrounds.
Something interesting, something funny, something well-written, something to sound a little high note for the day, or any combination of those things. If we can find it out there, then we’ll bring it to you here—
So, here are just some examples of the quality blogs and magazine or review sites we know about:
Nino’s Flying Cigar
The 'Dirty' Ashes
Keith's “Lights Sirens and Cigars”
UK Cigar Scene magazine
Top shelf cigar publication, one of the best in the world.
Great review site. The serious and not-so-serious.
A little video from the Cigar Audit lads:
To match, the Limited Edition Laphroaig 15-Year-Old Malt, which was released for the 200 anniversary of the distillery. A lovely mix of orange rind notes and those lovely Islay peaty, smoky characters, with hints of cinnamon. A supple texture, a little spirity and plenty of length. A superb spirit.
Partagas LE D2 2003 – Laphroaig 15-Year-Old Malt
I have a dilemma. Granted that in the overall scheme of things, this is likely to be seen as a First World problem unlikely to occupy the great minds of our era, but it is a dilemma nonetheless.
Recently, Rob and I enjoyed a couple of stellar cigars (thanks Bill), but no spoilers as to exactly what they were (stand by for a future video). Suffice to say that they were one of the great cigars from one of the top Houses and they had considerable age. They were in perfect condition. Rob suggested that cigars do not get any better. And then gave it 97. My argument was that if they don’t get any better, why not 100? For mine, I vacillated between 99 and 100 and eventually fell into the latter.
All good, so far. Actually, all very good, so far.
The problem arose last night when I had a Partagas Limited Edicion D2 from 2003. Lord, take me now. Simply one of the greatest cigars I have ever had, right from the first puff. Prior to this, there was a Hamlet DC I smoked at the Jose Marti Airport late one night while waiting for a flight home. This matched it.
An absolutely entrancing, captivating cigar that just blew me away. As good as the previous cigar (the one smoked with Rob) had been, this left it in the dust. Concentrated and powerful, yet finely balanced. Opened with a strong roasted nuts character and moved through leather, cinnamon, spices, dry honey, nutmeg, warm earth and molten chocolate. Wonderfully complex. Utter heaven. 100 from the first puff to the very last (with blistered fingertips, as I desperately tried to hang on for every last waft, like some sad addict). It had the richness, balance and complexity that one expects in the best from Partagas and also that lovely dark molten chocolate of the finest LE’s. if there is any complaint, it is simply that, at a bit over an hour, it was all over far too quickly.
So, having given the earlier smoke 100, what the hell do I do now? 110? I would if I could. For now, until some of the world’s great minds apply themselves to this and come up with an answer, I’ll simply give them both 100 and be thankful.
To match, the Limited Edition Laphroaig 15-Year-Old Malt, which was released for the 200 anniversary of the distillery. A lovely mix of orange rind notes and those lovely Islay peaty, smoky characters, with hints of cinnamon. A supple texture, a little spirity and plenty of length. A superb spirit.
Together the malt and the cigar melded immaculately. Each offered their own idiosyncrasies and the rich expressions they each possess individually, met in an explosion of joy. A truly beautiful combination.
A further dilemma. If you have something as good as this cigar, should you even try and match it with anything? It was a fabulous team, but did it enhance the cigar? Probably not really, though it certainly didn’t detract. The idea of matching, whether it be food and wine or spirit and cigars is to improve the overall experience. If it doesn’t do that, should you bother?
It has always puzzled me the way certain wine geeks get so absorbed in the match. For me, if you are enjoying the wine and you are enjoying the food, provided they do not demonstrably clash and detract from each other or the overall experience, then you are good. If they enhance it, a bonus. Same with this. Love both and that, for me, is usually enough. That they melded superbly was a bonus.
All things being equal, if someone walked up to you and offered you a drink – a choice being the Perrier-Jouët ‘Belle Époque’ Blanc de Blancs 2002 (a bottle is worth many hundreds of dollars, if you are lucky enough to find this glorious, Audrey Hepburn-elegant champagne) or a rough young earthy red costing perhaps a tenner for a bottle...
Upmann Magnum 50 – Cardrona Rose Rabbit/Talisker Dark Storm
All things being equal, if someone walked up to you and offered you a drink – a choice being the Perrier-Jouët ‘Belle Époque’ Blanc de Blancs 2002 (a bottle is worth many hundreds of dollars, if you are lucky enough to find this glorious, Audrey Hepburn-elegant champagne) or a rough young earthy red costing perhaps a tenner for a bottle (if it even comes in a bottle), unless one had an aversion to Champagne, my guess is that most of us would crawl over broken glass to get to the Belle Époque (for our American cousins, I believe you might know it better as one of the series in the flower bottles). I know I would.
Now, say that person had just served you a big slab of juicy, dripping, ever-so-rare steak and then gave you a choice of those two drinks. Suddenly, unless you were simply a fizz freak, or had no real interest in matching your food with the most appropriate wine (and I know many people for whom that applies and good luck to them), you might not be so keen on the champers. Understandable – the young earthy red is likely to be a far better fit with the rare steak.
The point is that merely because one drink has a more impressive pedigree and/or reputation or even if it just costs a lot more thsn an alternatove, it is not always the better choice with certain foods. The same goes for matching drinks with cigars. If someone offered me a choice of, say, the 1961 Mouton-Rothschild or a decent but basic rum as a match with almost any cigar, I have no doubt the wiser choice is the rum, as a decent rum almost always works better with a cigar than any red, no matter how good. Okay, in all honesty, I’d go with the Mouton but only because I want to drink it, not because it would work better.
With cigars, it is normally easy to try a few different drinks with any smoke to work out what works and what does not. Do not assume that because you have a wine or spirit that you love that it will automatically match a cigar you love.
One cigar which for me is really smoking beautifully at the moment is the Upmann Magnum 50, a bit of a whopper in ring gauge (yes, there are plenty bigger but that doesn’t make it right), with my current box having a code of EMA May 08. The cigar was in immaculate condition but opened a fraction harsh. This very quickly dissipated and the cigar settled down and slowly revealed its glories. Dense smoke, a little leather, creamy coffee, early notes of tobacco leaf and an array of spices, with an intense nuttiness emerging in the second half, along with a touch of almond creaminess. A few lighting issues towards the finish but no dramas. A complex and strongly flavoured smoke.
To match? Two very different drinks.
First up, from New Zealand, a new distillery in the Central Otago region doing some fine gin and also a delightful Orange Liqueur they call ‘Rose Rabbit’ (NZ$130). It was 45%, but to be honest, I would never have picked that. It seemed so much lighter. They make it by soaking Kiwi oranges in their own “un-aged” malt whiskey before enhancing the sweetness. I loved it by itself – perfect for a summer afternoon. Bizarrely, my first impression was that it had strong grapefruit notes (nothing wrong with that) though with time, that soon did evolve into a more sweeter, orange-y character. A fresh, vibrant drink.
Next, Talisker’s ‘Dark Storm’, a malt from the Isle of Skye. Originally a duty free offering, but I believe that might now have been expanded? A lovely golden malt with gentle smokiness and slight orange peel touches. Teak, linseed oil and a more powerful and richer drinker.
Both were thoroughly enjoyable but the complexity, the slight smokiness, the extra power and richness of the Talisker carried the day. The drive of the citrus notes from the Rose Rabbit worked well and it was certainly far from a disaster but the power of the cigar worked better with the malt.
Prior to the new rebuild of FOH there used to be a blog section. I did a writeup on my first trip to Havana. For those interested, read on.
Disconnect to Connect.
I’ve been in IT for over 15 years. And that has meant being tethered to a wireless device or computer for a large percentage of those years. Sometimes, I still hear my old pager in my head or feel a phantom vibration on my belt. It was the worst feeling, getting called after hours. However, with those devices came responsibility and some good money was made. So, I cannot curse the beeps and rings too badly. Nowadays my IT career has veered away from the operational aspect over to a tactical one. I design and manage IT processes. And while I’m no longer tethered, I’m still attached. However, going to Havana would change that.
Havana was going to be a clean break for me. My cell service does not work there. It was the first time I was somewhere where I could not be reached by phone or email and it felt great. I disconnected. And yet, I connected, in a different, more personal way. It was great to be a Luddite for a week. Though I must admit. I did have access to a cellphone to call home.
Our trip took place during the Partagas Festival week. And while we had no tickets to the official events, we had plenty of company in the form of cigars smokers from all over the world. This was a great chance to connect. First off, there were seven of us from Toronto and one from Montreal that had made the trip down. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew of folks to go with. Many cigars were smoked, rum, beers and mojitos downed and serious amounts of balls were busted.
We hooked up with the Australian contingent or Rob (Prez), Rob (Aussie Italian), Rob (doing it for the kids), Nate (of the loud shirt) and wine maker; Gary Farr. Again, lots of laughs. It was great reconnecting with the Prez and meeting the other gents for the first time in person. I also had the pleasure of meeting AJ Patel from the UK and Rob Fox of JJ Fox. They were cordial, easygoing and very generous. They represent their trade majestically. Hats off to you two gentlemen.
I also had the opportunity to meet Nino in person. We had only corresponded briefly over email when he kindly donated some cigars to the 2012 Toronto Herf. I really enjoyed spending time with him over cigars, wine, rum, etc. I hope I did not talk off your ear too much Nino, especially with the aviation chat. Jose Candia (aka Punch Joe) was also present and is a quality guy. Thanks for everything you did for us. We also ran into Hamlet a few times. He’s always good for a few laughs. And let’s not forget his custom rolls. Always a treat.
For the first few days I could hardly believe I was in Havana. I could smoke just about anywhere, the cigars were plentiful and cheap compared to the bloated, tax saturated pricing here in Toronto. Whenever I go on vacation, I have little issue with getting into a relaxed state. For some reason, it was a lot easier to do so in Havana. And best of all, I had a near zero tech footprint. My phone was useless, my tablet was on the fritz. The only electronic device of any use was my beat up iPod. And I was OK with that. At home, I do spend a lot of time online whether for work or personal use. I’m not a huge fan of cellphones even though I spent most of my career in telecommunications. My cell is a cheap, pay as you go device and I barely power it up as I hate being called on it. I’ve learned over time to untether myself a little bit. Havana gave me a taste of breaking the bonds completely. And I enjoyed it. It was a trip back in time. I disconnected to connect. I can’t wait to do it again.