Thursday, December 14, 2006

Venezuelan Cigars II :: A Response From Alberto Farinez

After writing that entry, I received a response from Alberto Farinez Lapioli of Farinez Cigars in Venezuela. Read below:

Subject: Venezuelan Cigars
From: Alberto Farinez Lapioli
Date: Fri, November 24, 2006 4:56 pm
To: Keith

Dear Keith, Your opinion about Venezuelan cigars is what every body believes, in other words is the general thinking and not without reason. It is my goal to produce true and respected cigars in Venezuela, not quite simple but I think I am already on the right track. I would really appreciate your honest opinion about Farinez Premium Cigars. How can I send you a sample? I would like for you to take the Mundano, since you liked so much the Cohiba Siglo VI. Please find attached a presentation. Best regards,

Alberto Farinez Lapioli

I did a little research and it looks like Don Alberto is a successful marketer of some exclusive pleasures. I bumped into an article that said an Alberto Farinez had brought an award-winning premium Venezuelan Rum to market called Ron Macuro. I have not tried this rum, however it was a Gold Medal winner in the Premium Rum section on the Ministry of Rum website, where I have tried several of the other Rums in that winner's circle- for it to be even close to the Zacapa, it must be good.

The Farinez cigar website is currently under construction, but can be visited here. The presentation he included said 100% of the tobacco is from Venezuela. As I mentioned, I am not sure if this is good or bad, but it is professed in such a way, that I have to assume they have something good. Their tagline, "Enjoy the ritual of sharing..." appears throught the presentation slides.

Rum AND Cigars... This whole thing interests me, perhaps I am jealous. It is like having a sportscar AND a speedboat... like having an attractive mistress and a an even more attractive wife... but I digress. Admitadly, I am not much of a rum drinker, but rum and cigars are a truly delightful comination. I recall few better memories of my travels then that of smoking a nameless cigar and sipping Havana Club Anejo Blanco (straight no ice) in my dear Pinar Del Rio. This quite a traditional pairing.

Presentation appears to be faultess on both accounts (seen above). The jar/canister presentation for the cigars is very distinct. Is there more to come? Could this be the a new Davidoff of South America? Only time will tell, but I am going to do my best to get my hands on both the rum and the cigars to judge for myself.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Smoke your cigars, and do not apologize to anyone!

I bumped into this interesting story about a New Zelander, Doctor, and Health Spokesman getting into hot water for smoking a cigar with U2. First of all, it was a cigar (not a cigarette), secondly it was WITH U2 (and I do not even like them that much, but I respect them greatly), and lastly SO WHAT.

I know a very fine gentleman here in Costa Rica that was involved with sports administration at the national level that was in the same situation. The press wouldn't let up. You know what, he kept smoking. Dr. Sackcloth. I recommend you do that same. Enjoy it- you only live once, and I am sure the stress that the press has put on you for this little incident is far worse for you than any hypothetical heath issues caused by the cigar. Don't let the press or social correctness prevent you from enjoying this fine experience.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Venezuelan Cigars

I want to see a non-doctored photo of Hugo Chavez smoking a "Vohiba Lancero" before I smoke one of these. Ok, I admit it- bad joke... but I have to have some fun.

Honestly, I have never smoked a cigar from Venezuala, atleast not that I can remember. This is an interesting article that deserves a little read.

Everyone claims to have cigars that compare with the Habano, but in my opinion few have come even far from close (if that makes sense). Don Miguel Patino, president of the Bermudez tobacco factory in Venezuela, makes this claim. Don Miguel, I wish you the best.

Next trip to the states, I will see what I can find and give them a try.

Read the article HERE

Friday, November 10, 2006

Cuba Defends its Rights to Cohiba Cigars

Cohiba Tug Of War
This situation will only get more difficult if/when things change. I have heard opinions that the non-Cuban companies that market the non-Habano Cuban brands have made deals with the original families that "lost" these historical brand names- most of which have left Cuba.

Cohiba, however, is different in that it was created after the Revolution. I feel that the historical brand names will end up back with the owners at the time of the Revolution, but what will happen with Cohiba? There are two Dominican Cohiba brands... Time will tell. On this one, I side with Cuba. I think that Cuba/Habanos S.A. will have the international right to this brand name.

I sometime think that Cohiba, now the most well respected brand name, was an brilliant positioning move by Habanos S.A. that will give them the ability to produce cigars for the U.S. market sometime in the future. An established name, that was not acquired by "eminent domain."


Read more at ACN - Cuban News Agency

Thursday, October 26, 2006

TC-Keith's Long Cigar Ash

I thought I would give it a try with a Piramide. Not too bad, but I was stressed out the whole time.

I did find it was like seeing how far a car will go on empty however... I found myself wondering how much more time I could hold it before it fell on it's own.

epilogue: The ash ended up in the ashtray, I broke down.

I am going to stick to frequent ashing, I am a simple man.

p.s. Do you like my son's swing in the background?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Cigar Ash Obsession Part II - Ash Color

cigar ash balanceAs a follow up to my previous post, I wanted to make a short post about Cigar Ash Color.

I will be the first to say, that there is nothing more beautiful than that WHITE ash... white like coconut shavings, powdered sugar, or snow... connected to that dark wrapper. Like a yin and yang of new and old- unused and used... but I digress.

White cigar ash is not always a good thing. White ash, in many circumstances is the product of chemicals, processing irregularities, and God knows what else. Some of these things could be dangerous. I never like the idea of my cigars having chemicals added... it just seems TOO "corporate tobacco" to me.

My simple point is that white ash does not always mean we are talking about a quality wrapper/cigar. That is a misconception that I have heard brought up many times.

Cuba is known as the cradle of the best tobacco in the world, but it is not necessarily know for being white. In fact, I had a conversation once with a older Brazilian who is a long time cigar lover that has been going to Cuba for a long time. He was explaining to me that Cuba was know that "latierra de la ceniza negra " or "the land of the black ash." Although I have not confirmed this with any other source, he informed me that since the beginning, Cuba was known for it cigars with dark ash. He is of Italian decent, and a tradition of "old world" smokers.

I have heard of and seen some wrapper leaves that burn very white; Criolle (Criollo), Corojo, and other unknowns coming out of San Juan y Martinez. From what I have heard, the curing process is very specific and the soil is prepared with things like peanut shells. BUT - In Cuba, we are talking about an all natural process.

I have smoked many great cigars without white ash, some had had nearly a black ash- In fact, I am smoking one right now. On the other hand, I have smoked some great cigars with a white ash, but be do not let your self be fooled into thinking that white ash is a sign of a good cigar.

As always, smoke what makes you happy- but do not get caught up in the legends.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Cigar Ash Obsession

Some time back I wrote a piece about wrappers (click here) where my goal was to point out some misconceptions about the wrapper. I will reiterate, that the wrapper role is mainly cosmetic, so get what you prefer... on that same note, there is a similar situation with cigar ashing.

One of the greatest things about cigar smoking is that there are no rules. Everyone likes different vitolas, cuts it differently, and smokes it differently- and as long as the smoker enjoys what they are doing- it is fine.

Ashing is an odd on for me to observe. I recently bumped into Show Me Your Ash, and it made me think about writing a post on the subject. I know nothing about the site, but they have a nice collection of photos if you follow the link.

The one that concerns me is the long ash. It is so very popular, but so nerve-racking. I say nerve-racking because I am a cautious guy, and too many times I have lost an ash on my shirt, pants, or worse (like the floor of my mother's house).

Sometimes I get nervous (mostly when I am drinking) just looking at a long ash, imagining the where and when it might fall. Like driving in a car on "E," and every block (like every puff) makes me more and more nervous.

I understand that a solid ash is the sign of a good cigar (but so is body and aroma)

I am a "no-ash" guy. I flick or twist it off as soon as I can. In fact, I picked up the habit somewhere of crushing the ash, and pushing it to one side of the ashtray. In addition, I am an animated talker, and I can't be waving my hands with an inch of ash ready to fly off.

For those of you that like to hold your ask, the trick is to be very cautious when you are taking a puff. When the ash is warm it is at it's weakest. After the cherry cools a little, the ash will hold to it better.

As always, do want makes you happy- but be cautious, especially if you are wearing white...

Monday, September 11, 2006

I will never forget

The Twin Towers
5 years ago today

Santa Ana Bus - Old Road to Santa Ana - Near La Luz Hotel

Sitting in a bus on my way to work. My wife also had bussiness in town, so she was at my side. I got paged. "Keith, turn on the news." I read on my pager. Never could I have imagined what was happening. Never will I forget, where I was, who I was with, or what I was doing. Forever changed.

Cigar Hunting In San Jose, Costa Rica ::: Part 2

San Jose Costa Rica
Based on my previous post, I received an email asking for further detail, so we will continue the conversation a bit... Thanks Phil

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: True Habano's in San Jose
From: "Phil"
Date: Sat, September 09, 2006 4:09 pm

What a refreshing relief to find your commentary on finding true Cuban cigars in Costa Rica (San Jose). I found an article back in 98 that talked about how to identify a falso, but Im not sure if it remains true today. I've pasted it into a MS Word document that Ive enclosed.

I was planning on visiting the La Casa Del Habano in San Jose but Im not sure if they will try and sell me fake Cuban cigars. If I come in looking like a tourist who does not know much about Habanos, might they try and rip me off? Or will I be safe in that store? Should I inspect them according to the enclosed article?

I will be there in November. What can I expect to pay for a box?


-----Original Message-----
From: keith
Sent: Sunday, September 10, 2006 11:25 AM
To: Phil
Subject: RE: True Habano's in San Jose


The article looks fairly dated, but there is some good information in there. The truth is if someone wants to produce a fake box of cigars, everything except the tobaccco can be produced here (In Costa Rica), Cuba, even in the US. The cigar falsification industry is huge, world wide. The only trick to buying is buying from a trusted dealer.

La Casa Del Habanao is pretty trusted in my opinion. I used to know the general manager there well, but he has recently moved on. I use the term "pretty trusted" becasue I do not know who is running the place now, and what has happened at other places is that their own staff was bringing in fakes and selling them. I doubt that is happening, but it is a risk.

I doubt that they will take advantage of you as a tourist. Although some places in Costa Rica use that philosophy, La Casa Del Habano is owned by an Italian family who knows that you can "shear a sheep many times, but skin it once." They should try to make you a long term client, but if you like send me a list of what you might be looking for and I will write you an estimate on what they should cost- just so you can be safe. Prices depend greatly on what brands and vitolas you are interested in.

If you are interested in a boutique cigar, I will recommend Don Benigno. I smoke his cigars almost exclusively with the exception of gifts and reviews. They are excellent, and go for $100 to $200 per box (depending on vitola). They are sold at a popular mall on the west side of town call "Plaza Major." If you can pick up a few sticks, and if you are interested in purchasing by the box you can visit the factory and get a nice little tour.

Drop me a line with what you are looking for,


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: True Habano's in San Jose
From: "Phil"
Date: Sun, September 10, 2006 11:24 am
To: keith

Thanks Keith, great info.

I saw your blog post on Don Benigno and was thinking of checking that out.

Ok, you've uncovered my ignorance in regards to cigars. I'm very much a novice who doesn't get much past smoking a mild Macanudo but wants to take advantage of my trip to Costa Rica.

So I like mild cigars. When I drink an IPA, a harsh cigar makes it impossible as an IPA is a strong beer and they are too powerful as a combo.

So I know enough to know that I've probably not tasted a truly good cigar (not sure if Macanudo's are considered good quality). I say mild probably because I've had some harsh cigars... I don't smoke cigarettes...

So what do you think? I've looked at all the various brands of cuban's, but figured I would ask the shop owner when I get there to recommend something for me. If you can help me out that'd be great.

Perhaps this should be on your blog as comments to help others? I got your blog info from a forum poster on a message board as a quality blog with good info. I sure appreciate your time in this matter!


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: True Habano's in San Jose
From: keith
Date: Mon, September 11, 2006 12:39 am
To: Phil


First of all, thanks for the repeated kind words about my blog, I hope that people find it useful, so thanks for saying as much. Greatly appreciated.

Excellent idea on posting the messages! I don't post emails because I worry about jeopardizing people's confidence (and I hate to ask). I have made a Part 2 of the Cigar Hunting post that is on my blog.

No need to be bashful, we were all novices at one time- and as a very serious cigar smoker, I am glad to see the hobby/pastime grow. Before moving abroad, I smoked many Macs, they are indeed mild, but I still smoke one from time to time. I still find mild cigars pleasing to the pallet. You are right on however, take advantage of this trip to check out some new cigars.

On that note, let me explain that Cuban cigars are strong, but they are not harsh. Even some experienced smokers that have not had access to Cuban cigars make the mistake of thinking that they are mild, because they are not harsh. You will have one up on them.

Cuban tobacco should not burn or scratch the throat. They are smooth and creamy. If you inhale a little, you will see their strength, but it is not necessary. It is hard to say where to start, but make sure you buy some singles before buying a box. Mareva is a great starting point, but if you are feeling adventurous, you will enjoy a Robusto.

In terms of brands, the best is Cohiba. All the of parts of Cohiba are from the Vuelta Abajo zone of Cuba- it is the best of the best. That being said, the other big names are all respectable as well- don't get too caught up thinking a Limited Edition is something special, normally it is just means a different wrapper and additional ring.

Prices start around $350 a box, but you are looking at more for some of the more popular brands. A box of Cohiba Robustos will be about $500. I should point out that cash (dollars) should get you a discount over using a credit card.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.



Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Cigar Hunting In San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica is a great place to visit, and a wonderful place to live, however in the world of cigars, it has it's darker side.

San Jose is kind of like the Mos Eisley of the world for cigar smoker... As Obi-Wan put it, it is a "wretched hive of scum and villainy."

You are certainly think... "How can this guy say something so strong about San Jose, Costa Rica... this is his adopted home... how bad can it really be?"

Well, yes- my words are extreme, but only because I recommend that you hunt, shop, and buy with EXTREME caution.

My research show that there are no less that 40 cigar producers in the country. However, if you look in the yellow pages, you will only find one. I understand that the yellow pages is not a great guide, and it is a bit of a mafia in itself, but use that example as a metaphor for the situation in Costa Rica.

As many tourist locations outside the US, there is a huge market for fake Cuban cigars, however due to Costa Rica's popularity combined with it's proximity to Nicaragua (to provide rollers and tobacco), the number of fake cigars out there is enormous.

Nearly everyone know the street is full of fakes, but that is not where it ends. Many hotels, restaurants, and even tobacco stores are tainted- mainly unknowingly, others foolishly.

That being said, there are a number of places where you can find real Cuban cigars. La Mata De Tobacco (Multi-Plaza), Don Benigno Cigars (kiosk in Plaza Mayor), La Casa Del Habano (San Pedro near the mall), to name a few.

There are good and bad fakes, and you my find a fake cigar that you enjoy, but truth be told, it is not right, proper, or healthy (who knows how the tobacco was cured).

I am writing this because it is very important to me that cigar smokers get access to great cigars, and purchasing fake cigars in San Jose, Costa Rica is bad for tourism, but is worse for the cigar smoker who gets them.

Proceed with caution when cigar hunting in San Jose, Costa Rica. There are plenty of opportunities to find the "real deal" so do not be foolish. Enjoying a great cigar is a wonderful experience, and following my advice can make that wonderful experience a reality while on a trip in San Jose.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Don Benigno Story...

Don Benigno Cigars was created nearly 10 years ago in beautiful Costa Rica, although the story of Don Benigno, and his family's tradition of cigar rolling began generations before.

Don Benigno Arronte was was born in Pinar Del Rio, Cuba in the 1950s. Pinar Del Rio, right in the middle of the Vuelta Abajo region of Cuba, is known as the international capital of tobacco cultivation. Pre-revolution Cuba had hundreds of cigar factories throughout the country. One of these factories, Ceniza (Spanish for ash), was owned by Benigno's grandfather. Benigno, at a very young age, was involved in Cuba's tobacco world.

In those times, most affluent (and often most experienced) cigar smokers would not be caught dead smoking a brand name Habano, rather they had a personal tabaquero, or cigar roller. Their tabaquero, often a friend, would roll them the best cigar possible, using the finest materials and strictest quality controls. One of Benigno's uncle's, Jose, was a reknown master cigar roller and personal tabaquero for many prestigious friends and clients, mainly from Spain. It was this uncle, that taught young Benigno how to roll cigars. Jose loved to roll cigars, and rolled his own cigars up until his death several years ago.

Following the Revolution, the needs of Cuba changed, and the Ceniza Cigar Factory closed as the large cigar factories of Havana took precedent. Professionally, Don Benigno and his family pursued other callings. Don Benigno studied education, and became a history professor, but his love of cigars and cigar rolling never ended. A life long smoker, he rolled his own cigars while living in Cuba. Not only were the name brand cigars too expensive for the average Cuban, but he was unable to find a cigar that consistently satisfied his needs as a smoker.

In 1997, Don Benigno immigrated to Costa Rica and immediately pursued a career in his true calling, cigar rolling. Starting with basically nothing but his skills and bare hands, Don Benigno Cigars was born. First on his kitchen table with the most basic tools, Don Benigno quickly gained notoriety in Costa Rica's cigar smoking circles. Shortly there after, Don Benigno opened his first Cigar Shop in a historical district of San Jose near the city's beautiful National Theater (Theatro Nacional) where he rolled cigars and administered the store.

After building a solid clientèle, and wanting to focus more on the production of his brand, Benigno and his wife rolled cigars full time in there home. Don Benigno was please with the success of his signature cigar brand, and with the help of a close friend and fellow cigar smoker Gary Naffer they developed a logo, rings, and a box design, and registered the brand. These designs have not changed since their creation.

Within no time, Don Benigno knew that they were going to be unable to keep up with demand, and had to find additional cigar rollers to help produce the now popular Don Benigno Cigar. Starting first with one, and incrementally adding more, Don Benigno hired career cigar rollers from Costa Rica. Knowing that he needed to instruct them in the meticulous art that had been passed down to him, Don Benigno cautiously moved them through the ranks in his family workshop. But, being trained educator, he had great success teaching them his family's methods.

Today, Don Benigno has become the Cigar Guru of his adopted country, Costa Rica; he has been interviewed by the local media both for feature pieces as well as a source in cigar related articles, he is frequently visited by national and international dignitaries who are (or become) friends and clients, and hundreds of tourists annually are introduced to his cigar when they arrive to Costa Rica and ask, "Where can I get a great cigar?"

The story continues today, in a quiet suburb of San Jose he produces his cigars with the tradition of excellence that he was taught in his youth. Don Benigno Cigars are a limited production that cigar aims to satisfy the most demanding smoker. His commitment to quality, skilled methods, and impeccable final product have distinguished Don Benigno as a True Cigar Master.

For More Information about Don Benigno Cigars, see the link in my earler post.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Long Time Coming

Take a look- He is a great man with a wonderful cigar. Story coming soon...


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

My Humidor

I did a little inventory and cleaned out my humidor today- since it was out of the way, I decided to take a photo. It would seem tht I am a Piramide lover... but is itn't really that. I am all over the map when it comes to vitolas.

As you can see, I even have another pipe and a baseball bat (crossing) in there. I must admit tha I enjoy mixing it up a bit while smoking. I certinly do have my preferences, but I like a little bit of everything.

Speaking of which... I need a smoke. Enjoy! Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 03, 2006

A True Tobacco Pipe

On a recent trip to a special Island a "brother" of mine made me a handful of tobacco pipes. I had actually seen them before, but I had never smoked one sober. It was a real treat indeed.

This cigar was made completly by hand... rustic, yet beautiful. A full flavor (look at the start), but not too harsh.

If you can belive it- it burned evenly from the start... This was a a great memory of a wonderful trip.

Thank you Michel... Posted by Picasa