Archive for Smokes

Smoke Blog: Gurkha Yakuza

Labor Day. I guess Summer’s done, then.

This one shot by in a flash. The daily grind of two jobs played a role in that, I’m sure.

My family has gone back in the house, and as I sit here watching this evening’s backyard bonfire die down, I’m thinking about the long list of things I intended to accomplish over the summer. I haven’t finished a single one.

Shit.

That’s part of why my cigar time is so valuable to me. I’ve talked about it before, how it forces me to slow down and sit still for a while. Sometimes I write a little, sometimes I noodle over work- or family-related things, and sometimes I just plain tune out and chill.

Soon, though, it’ll be too cold. I won’t have this cigar time, and this year that worries me more than ever before. I realize now I need to find a new zen to fill the void. It may be as simple as cleaning the office again, turn it back into a workspace rather than a collection point for all the paperwork and bullshit that stacks up in our kitchen. Reclaim a space where I can spread out with creative and brain fuel rather than chaos and stress.

Or maybe it’s the bourbon and cigar talking.

My last Gurkha Yakuza cigar is burning down with the fire, and I’m not all that sad to see them go. They’re not a bad smoke, but they’re definitely not a casual, anytime cigar for me.

The Yakuza has a medium-full body, with a heavy, leathery smoke that has a subtle bite almost like gunsmoke. Seems rather fitting for the brand. Though the wrapper is on the dark side, it’s not oily or bitter like, say, a maduro, with a lighter taste not indicative at all of what’s to come once it’s lit. And despite the stronger flavor, it doesn’t linger long on the palate or overpower an accompanying drink.

So, while not unpleasant, it demands one’s attention. It’s a quality smoke, like much of the Gurkha line, but not one I’d pass around to my friends who prefer lighter or even flavored cigars. It’ll be one I’d pick up as part of a mixed package in the future, or as a one-off smoke at a shop when I’m in the mood for something heavier.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Smoke Blog: Man O’ War Toro

It’s been a long, odd Summer already.

Not so much bad, but full of ups and downs and several distractions keeping me from the main goals.

It’s a balmy night, and though rednecks are already blowing things up around town, my block is quiet. The Rugrats are in bed and won’t be able to break anything or each other for a while. I’m sipping on my second glass of whiskey and enjoying a Man O’ War Toro. I intended to spend this smoke writing, but instead find myself finding my chill and problem-solving. Maybe this post will help me transition to a little positive creativity.

I’ve enjoyed every Man O’ War I’ve tried, and this eponymous Toro is no exception. It’s a dark and oily beast, but not as bold as a Maduro or Ligero. It boasts a Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan guts, and delivers rich, woody flavors which linger on the palate without turning sour. Tonight’s whiskey is Japan’s The Hakushu and club soda, and it complements the cigar nicely.

This Man O’ War smokes easy and burns smooth, but it’s a needy thing that wants to be held. Ignore it for just a few moments and it goes out quick. Be careful on the relight with this one: a little flame goes a long way. Too much and it will bite back before mellowing out again. The ash doesn’t burn much longer than an inch or so, but it clings well enough that it’s not making a mess of the table or my laptop.

This may be the last of them from my last order, and I think I’ll miss them. They’re in the knuckler category, where they’re a good smoke right down to the last half inch threatening to burn my fingers. I prefer to buy milder cigars in larger quantities for casual smoking and for sharing, but I won’t hesitate to pull the trigger next time I see Man O’ War in a bundle or in special packages.

All told it’s a good, solid smoke for dedicated quiet time.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Smoke Blog: Xikar HC Connecticut

It’s Summer at last! It’s been a long year at the day gig, but though I’ll continue to work through the Summer, things will get a lot easier and I have vacation days to burn before our year rolls over on July 1st.

Summer also means I can sit outside and have a cigar more often, and I’ll have more time to get back to the Smoke Blog entries. I’ve been scouting Cigars International for some great deals to get the humidor stocked, and I started with a killer deal on five different five-packs of cigars. They arrived just in time for the weekend.

I chose to start with the Xikar HC Series Connecticut, a mild-medium blend presumably put together by the same company behind my favorite lighters and humidor gear. They replaced my lighter under their lifetime warranty, so the least I could do is check out their smokes. There are several blends available under the Havana Club label, but the light Connecticut got the nod because I wanted a good range of flavors and strengths in the humidor.

I’ve had two already (it’s been a busy weekend), and I’d call them good but unremarkable. On the plus side, they were both smooth and consistent. They lit easy with no sign of tunneling or canoeing, even in a gentle breeze one night. I loved the clean draw all the way through, and their ash held firm. Definitely a solid, well-constructed cigar.

CI’s info page says these are made with a variety of tobaccos including Costa Rican, Mexican and Nicaraguan fillers with a Sumatran binder. Their name comes from the Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. The combination results in a pleasant enough taste, but there’s nothing that really stood out for me. Just fine for hanging out with friends and talking or watching the fights at our local haunts.

Definitely worth the bundled price I paid, but perhaps not something I would seek out on its own. They’re a cigar I could easily hand off to a friend to enjoy, especially one who prefers lighter flavors and isn’t all that picky. Got a friend into White Owls and gas station smokes? This will make a nice transition to the good stuff for them.

That all said, the HC Connecticut certainly doesn’t turn me off of their line. This is no throwaway smoke, so I’m curious about their other labels, especially the White Shade Grown. Xikar’s/CI’s price point makes them a very attractive deal, especially in mixed bundles. It’s a brand to keep an eye out for when I look for one-off smokes at local shops.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Recovery Mode: ON

It’s been a little over five weeks since I last hit the weights. I was going to start back again tonight, but pain in my right forearm and wrist is still nagging at me, so I opted to wait a little longer.

I beat myself up at first, but then I realized this is the longest break I’ve taken in about four years, so maybe I’m due. Guess I’ll have another cocktail and cigar.

Oh, the pain.

Someone suggested maybe I’m getting too old for this shit. Meanwhile, despite my arm injury, I’m still able to finish karate workouts and run, while they bitch about the pain in their back and knees yet do nothing. I pointed out the difference and they don’t seem to get it. I guess I should do nothing and still be in pain? I’m kind of afraid to see how they’re going to feel in another 20-30 years.

If recovery periods like this are what it takes to free up a little time to work on some writing projects, though, then so be it. This is the first time in those five recovery weeks that I haven’t been tied up at the second job, away with family, or running other household errands I’ve been slacking on.

I’m drowning in a backlog of ideas and stories, and as I sit here looking at my various notes, I don’t even know where to start. In a minute I’ll just pick something and roll.

Let’s see what comes of it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Smoke Blog: Foundry

Warmer weather is finally landing today, which means I’ll be able to sit down for a cigar outside at last. This summer, I expect a fair number of those cigars will come from the Foundry Tobacco Company brand from General Cigar.

Americium Box

Foundry Elements: Americium

A local liquor store has been rotating a few different sticks from the Foundry lines through their humidor, and I have yet to find one I didn’t like. I’ve also purchased a box online and picked up several more from another liquor store’s humidor, and again, I have always been pleased.

Last weekend I had one from their War of the Currents series, and it was a definite win. Smooth draw, clean burn, and a strong flavor without any harsh edges or heat. In short, everything I’ve come to expect from their line.

I enjoy their design, too. There’s a certain hipster quality to it all for sure, but it’s a nice departure from the same old traditional cigar bands and boxes that we’ve seen for decades. I kept the Americium box to carry cigars and supplies in, and it attracts a lot of curiosity from wait staff and other customers in the bar where I usually smoke.

Foundry & Four Roses

Foundry always pairs well with bourbon, too!

The War of the Currents bands are loaded with detail, and the Elements & Musings all have distinct, beautiful bands as well. I really like the metal accents that come with many of their cigars, including a toothed gear ring and a mock electrical fuse. I have a small handful of each floating around my office now.

Unfortunately a lot of these cigars are not available on the online outlets I frequent, and we don’t have a real cigar store around here. When my humidor starts running low, I’ll have to make a few phone calls and take a road trip to a proper smoke shop and see what I can find.

Until then, I’ll be content to keep experimenting with their lines as I find them.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

How to Screw Up a Bourbon Tasting

A liquor tasting should be a no-brainer, right? Have bourbon available, pour some for a customer, hope they buy it. Done.

Someone needs to tell that to our local Friar Tuck liquor store.

I stopped in yesterday with my sons to get some craft root beers, and I saw they had a tasting today including two bourbons: Broken Bell Small Batch and Lexington Bourbon Whiskey.

I show up today, wait behind some people tasting the wines, only to be told, “I don’t know why that’s up here, that was last month’s tasting.”

Three and a half hours into the tasting and nobody fixes it? She still had an open bottle of Broken Bell, but I was told they wouldn’t be opening another bottle of Lexington so I couldn’t try that one. Fail.

I accepted my little sip of Broken Bell. Barely enough to cover the bottom of the plastic shot glass. Look, I don’t expect full shots because they’re not going to send people away hammered, but at least JK Williams gave us enough to really taste when they had an event at a friend’s club.

The Broken Bell wasn’t half bad. It’s price point put it around Knob Creek or Maker’s Mark, but not quite as high as some of the other small batches like Four Roses Small Batch or the premium brands like Woodford Reserve.

Taste-wise, I’d say that works out about right. It’s definitely smoother than Maker’s and Knob, but it didn’t have much character. It’s no well bourbon, just a decent, general bourbon which could be used in a cocktail or taken neat or on the rocks as the mood strikes. It wasn’t special enough to warrant picking up a bottle to explore further, but I’d try it again if a local bar stocked it.

Too bad the Lexington wasn’t available, as it seems to have better tasting notes and reviews on the web.

Ah, well. That’s the general experience at this place: they have a lot of good stuff in stock, both liquor and cigars, but few seem to know or care much about what they have. Their humidor isn’t huge, but it has a wide range from cheap, flavored crap to high-end sticks. Only one guy seems to know much about them. Ask about a liquor they don’t carry, though, and they all just shrug. I’ve struck out at least twice asking for Writer’s Tears Irish Whiskey.

I might have been more disappointed if I’d made the trip just for the bourbon, but I also picked up a couple of cigars and hit a Starbucks for some quiet writing time.

I tried a new bourbon and I made some writing progress, so I’ll just call it a win.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Smoke Blog: Drew Estate Copper Label

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a cigar review. It’s not because I haven’t been enjoying them, just that I’ve been too distracted to sit down and write about them. A local bar has an enclosed porch with a heaters and a nice fire pit, so it’s a great spot to relax and hang out with a cigar and a drink.

It's time. #bourbon #cigar #knobcreek

Of course, rumor has it the laws are changing and anything with a floor and a roof will be considered “indoors” and thus a non-smoking area. I haven’t seen it in the various lists of new Illinois laws coming January 1st, and the wait staff at the bar hadn’t heard anything about it yet, so with luck it’s a ways off for the existing bars—some of whom built enclosed patios to accommodate smokers—or they will be grandfathered in and not subject to the expanded smoking ban.

If the law does change, though, it’ll make for some long Winters with cigars few and far between. Ack. It’s hard to beat noodling on a plot point or a bit of dialog over a cigar.

I’ve certainly survived worse, though. And I’ve certainly had worse cigars than CI’s Drew Estate Copper Label.

CI offered up several Black Friday deals, and the Copper Label looked like a great deal. I got started with their ACID line way back when, and I’ve enjoyed their Natural, Sauza Tequila, and other labels. I felt having something on the mild end of the flavor spectrum would round out my humidor, too, and give me a few sticks to hand to friends who don’t always like darker cigars.

CI describes the Copper Label as a blend of Drew Estate’s Natural and ACID brands, and I’d say that’s exactly right. They smelled both sweet and savory right out of the cellophane, and before I lit up I could taste creamy vanilla similar to the ACID Blondie.

The cream turned bitter on light, but it quickly mellowed again. The strong vanilla quit and gave way to a subtler, creamy flavor that accented the earthy smoke rather than overpowering it. The smoke itself was not unpleasant, and the construction held up well. I think my only concern is going to be burning through them fast enough so the vanilla doesn’t linger in my humidor.

I see now that CI is selling five sticks for $35, so I got them for a little under half price on Black Friday. A steal for a good smoke like this, assuming you’re okay with the sweetness. The Copper Label is not something I’d normally fill my humidor with, but it offers a nice break from the stronger cigars I’ve been favoring lately.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Smoke Blog: Gone to War

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Smoke Blog post. It’s not that I haven’t been partaking, I just haven’t had the time to sit down and collect my thoughts. Tonight I selected a 5 Vegas Gold from a sampler pack I purchased recently, grabbed my laptop, and went out to the porch . . .

. . . only to find a giant spider building a web from my chair to the ceiling.

OH HELL NO!!

Spiders, we’re done. I’ve tolerated you up to this point. I let you build your webs in your nooks and crannies around the porch, including right next to my table. When one built a web between the bushes big enough to trap my kids, I took him out but I agreed to leave the rest alone.

This, though? This crosses a line. My chair is the DMZ. I turned on the lights, grabbed a broom, and Hell came to Spidertown.

The 5 Vegas is now a victory cigar.

It isn’t half bad, either. It has a smooth, easy draw with a lot of smoke. It has a bit more pepper than I expected from a Connecticut wrapper, and I’ve just read that it’s an Ecuadorian Connecticut raised in Honduras. I’m assuming that accounts for the difference, and why it’s included in the medium- to full-body selection in the rest of the sampler I purchased.

The construction is good, and the wrapper is holding up well. The fine ash tumbled on me, which sometimes results in a hotter burn and canoeing, but I’m not seeing that problem here.

I was looking for something a little lighter and creamier tonight, but this is working out just fine. I’d still favor a Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real over this one, but I wouldn’t turn these down for a good deal or as part of another sampler.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Another Year Done

School year, that is.

The students at the day gig finished yesterday, and the teachers will wrap up tomorrow. I work all summer, but I’m looking for this year to be much quieter and more productive than last year.

One teacher has been very helpful in helping me push technology into our district, but he’s retired as of tomorrow. As a parting gift, he handed me a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel.

Now THIS is a gift!

Score. Thanks again, Steve! I owe you a good lunch this Summer, both for this and for all the assists.

Now I’m kicking back on a Whiskey Wednesday with a bourbon and a smoke, reflecting on good times, and getting ready to pound on a short crime piece.

Gotta kick Summer off right.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Smoke Blog: Foundry Uranium

It’s been a while since a cigar kicked my ass, and the Uranium from Foundry’s Compounds, Elements, & Musings line came pretty close.

The CE&M line is Foundry’s small batch, a mix of blends that will even vary within the same box. My guess is the names are all about the size and shape of the cigars first, and then the design of their boxes and bands. There were a few different Foundry options in the humidor I shopped, and I opted for the Uranium mostly because it was a large cigar (7×70) at a very reasonable price ($7 and change).

Uranium on a keyboard

The Uranium is a big one

Because the blend changes, I can’t be sure what I had in my hand. Near as I can tell from a Google search, it was probably some mix of Honduran, Nicaraguan, or Costa Rican tobaccos. It lit up easy and had a very smooth draw given the size. Whatever the mix, I enjoyed it.

Two-and-a-half hours later, the cigar was still going strong. I finished up my work on the laptop (wrapping the second short story in the The Pack series started with “Bravo Four”), got up, and walked around for a moment. The buzz hit me pretty good, then, and I realized I was flushed and sweating despite a cool breeze outside.

Well done, Foundry. Next time I’ll know to save this one for after a meal. At seven bucks, I’d say this cigar is a steal. I’ve also tried a cigar from their main line, the one that comes with a metal cog around the band, and I thought it was pretty great, too.

Foundry is going to be a line I need to explore in a little more depth before the Compounds, Elements & Musings line disappears. I can’t recommend the Uranium to a rookie, but for experienced smokers looking for some variety, give it a shot.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Smoke Blog: CAO Flathead

When I visited my friend John’s man cave for the NFL championship games, he handed me a CAO Flathead cigar. The sheer size of the thing surprised me, and I took it as a challenge.

The Flathead 770, aka Big Block. 7″ long, 70 ring gauge.

I lit this cigar during the 1st quarter of the Seahawks game. Shortly after Richard Sherman’s post-game outburst about three hours later, I stubbed out the last inch-and-a-half or so to get back on the road. Amazing.

The cigar lit easy and drew fine, but one of the box-pressed sides would start to go out from time to time. I blame the ring gauge. It looked like a Maduro, but instead the Flathead sports a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. Inside we’ve got a Habano Connecticut binder and a mix of Nicaraguan and Piloto Cubano Ligero for the filler.

I’ll say now I’ve never had a Ligero I didn’t like, and the Flathead is no exception. I truly enjoyed those three hours with this monster, and when I saw Flathead 660 “Carb” in a local liquor store’s humidor this past weekend, I thought I would try to repeat the experience.

I found the 660 sported the same smooth taste, the same draw and sturdy construction, but did not have as many lighting problems. Of course, it didn’t last quite as long, either, but it was still a damn fine smoke in its own right.

Ligero fans, put this one on your must-try list. Highly recommended.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Smoke Blog: A Cigar Ramble

“Dad, why do you do things that are bad for you?”

The middle son asked me that as I walked out of a local liquor store with a fistful of cigars. It’s a fair question, and a reasonable one for a nine year old to throw at his old man. It prompted a conversation on vice and moderation. This brought on several follow-up questions from the eleven year old, an active participant in his school’s D.A.R.E. program.

Kids aren’t stupid. I answered them straight: “Yep, they’re bad for me, but I like ’em.”

Cigar aficionados can debate the finer points of the chemical content and additives in cigarettes versus cigars, or the differences between puffing and inhaling, but when it comes down to it, there will always be a risk involved in lighting something on fire and taking in the smoke.

Thus, moderation.

Of course, binging on them kind of kills the idea of moderation. I’d been a good boy most of the summer, but after vacation I set out on a mission to burn through the contents of my humidor. I’m pretty sure my doctor would punch me in the face if he knew how many I’d gone through.

But, hey. Stress. And a powerful need to get some writing done.

I did a piss-poor job of keeping track of them or keeping the cigar bands, so I don’t recall what I had. I know two were Tatuaje Little Monsters, both of which were quite good, but the details escape me. The writing needed to be focused on some short work and a comic script, so I didn’t set aside the time for Smoke Blog entries.

I can tell you, however, the Partagas 1845 I smoked tonight blew me away, right from the light. Hints of cocoa on the wrapper, a smooth draw, thick smoke with leathery note, and solid construction all combined for a blissful, relaxing experience. The cigar dude at Friar Tuck assured me I’d enjoy it, and he was dead on.

I needed it. This is the busiest time of year at the day gig, and I’ve been non-stop for a week and a half now. Some weekend work and a lot of time doing extra tasks from home, combined with vendor phone system issues and construction setting me back even more, has had me on edge. I haven’t been able to get to karate class or do my home workouts, much less write.

The Partagas, a glass of Four Roses bourbon & soda, and some mindless browsing through paper notebooks and notebook reviews proved a great way to unwind.

And that, kids, is why some bad things are also good for me.

In moderation.

Now my humidor sits empty on my desk. I’m going to need a box of something to refill it, but I may need to sell some books first. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.