Life has changed so much in the last week or ten days, is that all it’s been? It happened so fast, like a nightmare unfolding day after day as businesses close and the lives we used to live interrupted. This isn’t what spring in is supposed to be – it’s supposed to be March Madness, The Masters, baseball beginning to slowly unwind over another summer, vacations, plans for 2020.
Instead it’s closing schools, an economy cut off in mid-stride, jarring orders to stay at home, precautions against a global pandemic unleashed from books or movies – now reality, a battle in our time. In the rush to react, the sense of normal gone – flashes of what’s lost for now break through from time to time – break through the rush of getting through the day, anxious about tomorrow, heartbreak for people across the country facing sickness, and fear and loss.
Many of us have a niche, things we do and share – something that our friends just ‘know’ – a culture, a language, a feeling. It’s odd – many often go through our toughest times alone – others pick us up, console us, lend an ear if not a hand. But all of us at the same time? Not a person among us to say they’ve been through this before.
For those of us gathered here together reading these words, be safe – may we get through this – each of us alone but also together. For now, we might light a cigar, feel the relaxation that comes with the first draw – take a short time out – not an escape but a time to take it all in – remember other times, look an unknown future in the eye. We’re here, we’ll take it as it comes, and we’ll meet again in time. We’ll arrive back where we started and we’ll know each like we never have before. We’ll roll up our sleeves and get it done. We look forward to being here to serve you again in our shops – and while relaxing with a cigar in years to come, appreciate it even more.
Carlos “Carlito” Fuente, Jr. reminisces about his meeting with Cigar Aficionado’s Marvin Shanken at Camp David in the hills above Santiago in the Dominican Republic. During that meeting, a bond was formed to support each other in their love for cigars and all the industry has to offer. Marvin’s advice to Carlito and his father was that “success in life brings responsibility to give back to others that are not as fortunate”. This is truly a philosophy that the Fuente’s have adopted through their community support most notably the Cigar Family Foundation School of the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation in Bonao where over 400 students from preschool through high school are receiving a free education at the non-profit, privately funded charter school.
During a recent trip to the Dominican, our group from Smoke Rings Cigar Bar had the opportunity to stay a few nights at Camp David, located in the Northern Andes overlooking the city of Santiago. We learned about the cultural and historical landscapes of this breathtaking area.
Among its attractions, there is a collection of cars from the 1950’s and 1960’s that belonged to the family of the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the leader and former president of the Republic.
Twenty-six years ago, Marvin had a vision for the cigar industry with the conception of Cigar Aficionado. He believed that once people understood about the craftsmanship of cigars, how to select, cut, and light them, they would become passionate about smoking them; and he was right! As Carlito Fuente stated, cigars are about people…people are truly a blessing. The beauty of smoking a cigar is that it brings people together and that is the reward.
Did you ever look at a premium cigar? I mean, really look at it? The complexity of this hand rolled piece of art is amazing. A cigar is made up of three major parts: wrapper, binder and filler and each piece of the puzzle comes together to form a masterpiece to be enjoyed by any cigar smoker from novice to expert. To truly understand the beauty of a premium cigar, let’s discuss each part in more detail.
To begin, the wrapper of the cigar, which is the visible outer cover leaf, is the most expensive part per pound. The tobacco leaves used for the wrapper need to be perfect in appearance as well as flavorful. Imagine looking at a cigar and seeing a veiny, rough or blemished texture.
This would surely turn off any cigar smoker who would like to truly enjoy the smoking experience. If the tobacco leaves are not up to the standards, then it can no longer be categorized as a wrapper.
Next, let’s talk about the binder in a premium cigar. Generally, you can consider the tobacco used in the binder can be the same leaf that didn’t meet the wrapper criteria. In other words, the binder consists of leaves that don’t need to be as unblemished and pristine in appearance. The job of the binder leaf is to do exactly that….”bind” the filler tobacco together to hold it in place. But there’s more to it than that. The combustion of the binder is also critical. A good-burning binder will often help the filler burn more evenly.
Finally the filler, which makes up the bulk of the cigar, is where the cigarmaker can get creative, using different types of tobacco from various countries and even several different primings from a tobacco plant. Flavor, strength, complexity and burn time of a premium cigar are achieved with the filler.
The key to a premium cigar is the overall construction from the foot to the neatly rolled symmetrical cap. If a cigar isn’t made properly, it will not draw or burn as it should, affecting both the taste and your enjoyment.
Once you have chosen your cigar, it’s time to master the cut, light it and enjoy the smoke. Typically there’s a slight taper at the head of the cigar called the shoulder. You’ll want to cut just above that line finding the balance of cutting off the right amount in order to avoid having too firm of a draw and a build-up of tar in the head. To light your premium cigar, treat it delicately and “toast the foot” of the cigar using minimal direct contact of the flame to avoid the taste of pure char. Use caution when lighting with powerful torch lighters which can easily cause a charred taste.
When it’s time to smoke your premium cigar, don’t rush it, slow down and enjoy the process. If you puff too often, you may overheat the cigar and make it taste bitter. A cigar is made to burn cool and slow in order to enjoy the flavors of the tobacco. Taking a puff about every minute is recommended to enjoy the true meaning of smoking a cigar. And while it may be tempting to tap off the ash of your cigar frequently, leave the ash on for as long as you can. It actually serves as a temperature regulator, keeping the cigar cooler
So the next time you select a premium cigar at Smoke Rings, take a moment to appreciate the masterpiece in your hand before lighting up. Consider the quality of the tobacco and the expertise of the worker that hand rolled it. Then sit back and enjoy a cool, slow burn, preferably in a high back leather chair.
If it’s bigger, it’s got to be better! That mindset has been entrenched in consumers’ brains year after year from marketing company after marketing company, no matter what the product. So it’s no wonder that the trend for a more robust and larger cigar has been gradually making it’s way into the cigar industry as well. Although we like to think of the cigar consumer as a savvy, educated buyer, we cannot help but think there has been some outside influences that have pushed them in the “bigger and bolder” direction.
In years past, most cigar smokers had a brand loyalty and typically smoked the same cigars on a regular basis; but as generations have changed so have their habits. Many cigar smokers adopted a more adventurous taste and attitude with their curiosity taking them in the direction of bolder cigars boasting a larger ring gauge. The influx of varieties of Nicaraguan and Dominican Cigars has opened up the market for this new consumer.
New shapes, sizes, and blends, combined with attractive and modern packaging has given an explosion to the Premium Cigar Industry since the 1990’s. The mild cigars that once dominated the market have been overcome by bolder varietals from prominent cigar makers. The rich, fuller-bodied blends have allowed manufacturers in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua to showcase their abilities. Both countries are now the number 1 and number 2 exporters respectively to the US.
The introduction of the bigger, bolder cigars began with such cigars as the Fuente Fuente Opus X and the La Flor Dominicana Ligero Series. The Ashton VSG followed as did the LFD Double Ligero to continue the trend of fuller-bodied cigars. Recently the introduction of the new Romeo series in the cigar market with bolder cigars and their captivating modern packaging typifies this trend and are somewhat unlike the traditional Romeo y Julieta design.
Cigar Smokers are now fortunate enough to experience new brands being introduced all the time, creating a wider variety in flavor and size. The hype and excitement around new cigar introductions more than peaks the consumers curiosity. Just like every industry, the highs and lows depend on the tastes and demands of the consumer. With cigars, the consumer profile is always changing as cigar smokers seek new flavors as their pallets develop. So what’s up next for the cigar industry? Whatever the consumers want!
Premium Cigars are among the few items that truly are “all natural”. There is no chemical treating, they are free of dyes, and no ripening accelerants are used. Those sweet and spicy flavors occur naturally in the tobacco leaves. Premium Cigar Manufacturers let nature take it’s course to produce the tobacco that will be expertly handled and rolled into a fine cigar. However, as we all know, Mother Nature can throw some curve balls. The master blender must be able to adjust and work effectively with crop variations. Each cigar maker will strive to produce a consistent product with the possibility of slight fluctuations created by weather.
Curious about what it takes before you are able to sit back and enjoy that premium cigar? On recent trips to renowned cigar facilities, we saw the entire production first hand. From start to finish, the components of a cigar will involve well over 200 pairs of hands throughout the process in order to deliver this exceptional handmade product to your humidor. Beginning with the planting of the seeds, to having the leaves harvested and hung in the curing barn, and then piled up for fermentation, each worker skillfully handles the tobacco.
The piles are separated onto drying racks, are then repacked, and are stored for aging. The aged tobacco is unpacked after a few years, rehydrated and separated by color.
The outer leaves used for the wrapper go through a de-stemming process and the filler leaves will have part of the stem removed. The proper proportions of the tobacco are distributed to the rollers where they will bunch and roll each cigar by hand according to the cigarmaker’s blend. The art of rolling the perfect cigar is one that takes years to master.
The finished product is sorted for color consistency and sent back to the aging room. Finally, the cigars are banded, boxed, and sent out.
Along the way, the cigars have also gone through numerous quality control steps, all completed by hand. This entire journey has been a hands-on process with dozens and dozens of skilled labor taking the proper care to ensure a consistent and satisfying smoke. So the next time you enjoy a cigar among friends, remember all the expertise that went into your hand-rolled premium cigar, from start to finish.
Are you ready for some football??! La Flor Dominicana certainly is with their Super Bowl cigar! Even though the Vikings won’t be playing in this year’s game, the fans of this host state can enjoy a special cigar while watching the big game.
LFD is making their special edition football cigar an annual tradition, shipping it to LFD retailers in the host states. This year’s Super Bowl marks the fourth time Litto Gomez and his team are producing this commemorative cigar. The Ecuadorian Habano wrapper blends well with the Dominican binder and filler to produce a full bodied stick. To complete the look of this special cigar, a football-shaped design is carefully carved by hand from Connecticut-seed Ecuadorian tobacco to be placed on the wrapper. Our staff was lucky enough to be at La Flor Dominicana this year and watch the cigars come together first hand.
If you’re fortunate enough to be heading out to the Super Bowl to cheer on your team, swing by a local LFD retailer and grab one of these limited edition cigars…only 450 boxes were produced. Although we don’t have them here in Pennsylvania, we do offer several La Flor Dominicana cigars including a few new ones selected during the LFD Tour (more on that coming soon in this space) at Smoke Rings Cigar Bar where you can sit back, watch the game, and enjoy a smoke on a Sunday afternoon.
Really? Only 25?!! How can they choose? With so many premium cigars on the market, manufactured by well established companies, many generation after generation owned, choosing the top 25 is a task that I’m sure any cigar lover would endure. Fortunately, Cigar Aficionado has taken on that task and has given their expert opinion on what qualifies a cigar to make it to the top 25 each year; however, feel free to keep on doing your own research!
Here’s how the process works:
To start this daunting task of pairing down the hundreds of excellent cigars to just the top 25 for the year, they begin by choosing the highest scoring cigars of the year. Next, the cigars are presented to a distinguished panel of tasters. To prevent any bias, the cigars are repurchased at retail, their identifying bands are removed, and finally, are blind tested through several rounds of tastings. It becomes a cigar competition where only the best of the best will survive! Excellent tobacco crops and masterful blending have made it a difficult task, but the winners have been chosen!
And the winners are…
That’s quite an impressive list! You can view all the details of the Top 25 Cigars at Cigar Aficionado.
Now that we’ve peaked your interest, maybe it’s time to initiate your own Top 25 research for 2018 and see how your favorites compare to next year’s list. You can begin at Smoke Rings, where we have over 100 facings in stock….that should give you a good starting point! Researching the Top 25 is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it! See you at Smoke Rings!
When it comes to choosing a cigar, there are many options to consider…price, body, flavor, size and smoke time. Have you ever walked in to a humidor and wondered where to begin? Instead of selecting a cigar based on the cool cigar band, check out this educational, yet entertaining illustrated guide below. Whether you’re new to smoking cigars or think of yourself as a cigar afficionado, a little education always goes a long way.
Still have questions? Step into our Humidor where our knowledgeable Smoke Rings Staff will be happy to assist in selecting your cigar. See you at Smoke Rings!
Imagine how ridiculous it would be for a state to ban meat in butcher shops and fast food restaurants because vegetarians don’t like it or because consuming it may contribute to health issues like obesity, high cholesterol or diabetes. Outrageous right? Common sense tells you that vegetarians and people who consider meat a health risk just NOT shop at those types of businesses, right?
Yet almost annually, some representatives in the Pennsylvania legislature propose a ban on cigar smoking in cigar stores and cigar bars! The PA House of Representatives is – once again – considering expanding a ban on smoking in all bars, casinos, cigar stores and cigar bars. This bill would badly damage stores like the Cigar Box and Smoke Rings Cigar Bar. Some representatives don’t like the idea of customers making decisions on where to shop or eat, or owners deciding how they run their business. It is another example of the over-regulation of the Nanny State.
Last year, Pennsylvania passed into law a 40% tax on tobacco and vape products to close the budget gap they created. This tax is placed on wholesalers which raises prices for retailers and consumers. Imagine a purchase bought in a tobacco or vape store that used to cost $100 – with the 40% tax the new cost is $140. Then at the register, the state still imposes a 6% sales tax on all $140, another $8.40. So now the total cost with tax is $148.50 – with the state getting $48.50 from you for a legal product that should cost $100. That’s right – we’re now at the point of the state taxing a tax for the excuse of “protecting” the very customers they’re taking money from because of the products they choose to buy and use! If someone took $48.50 from you in an alley, you’d say you were mugged. Our state says you were “protected.”
A ban on smoking in cigar bars would force the closing of Smoke Rings and places like it. Other bars offer a menu of food and drinks. For those types of bars, smoking or not is a policy decision that an owner makes within the current law. In turn, customers decide among countless options where to go for drinks or to eat. At Smoke Rings, the product is cigars – not food. Having a bar that sells cigars and offers a place to smoke them is the entire premise of the business! There is nothing tricky or deceptive about our purpose – it’s very name is “SMOKE” Rings – a pretty good indicator to people. As is – by the way – “CIGAR” Box and Infinity “VAPES.”
Smoke Rings is locally and family-owned by people looking to make a living, pay the bills, raise families. It restored a blighted property to the tax rolls with a first-class establishment. It created several full and part-time jobs which would be lost if it were forced to close. It’s brought people from surrounding areas to Hazleton which benefits the local economy. We’ve supported non-profit groups through fundraising efforts including with local police and fire associations. Is it even remotely right to be forced out of business by the state?
PLEASE contact your state representatives and let them know that you oppose expanding the current law to include cigar stores, cigar bars or casinos. We truly believe that our elected representatives have more pressing priorities than yet more regulations that take away choices and jobs. For these businesses and customers, government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem. At the very least, include an amendment to exempt cigar store lounges and cigar bars – for us it’s not a policy question – it is our business.
With Father’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to choose that unique gift for dad. At Smoke Rings, we highly recommend the La Flor Dominicana TAA 2017 Cigar as a perfect choice! It is a medium bodied 6 x 54 cigar with a Connecticut Broadleaf Wrapper, Cameroon Binder and Filler Tobacco from the Dominican Republic. It starts with a peppery taste with subtle nutmeg, cinnamon and lime, followed by a caramel sweetness. Throughout the cigar, there are notes of leather and nutmeg with a sweet finish. This exclusive cigar comes in a 25 count box and is limited to only 75 retailers and a handful of manufacturers that make up the Tobacconist Association of America.
Stop by Smoke Rings and pick up a few of these unique cigars…they’re sure to be one of your father’s favorite gifts this year!