Monday, June 1, 2020

A Wee Bit of Normality

Around our house we are especially pleased to see the month of May be done. Was it really only 31 days? Seems much longer. Like everyone else of course, we've been dealing with the "COVID-1984" restrictions. On top of that, we've had work being done on our house for the last several weeks. A kitchen renovation was planned long before the Chicom virus was in the news, but the work commenced in May. It's bad timing to be kitchen-less at the same time restaurants are closed. It's bad timing to have construction going on in your house when you are locked down at home. Once the kitchen work was done, we had painters in to refresh the entire first floor. Surprisingly, the painting was more disruptive to life (and work from home) around the house than the kitchen activity. But, that's all done now. This will be the first week in a month we had our house to ourselves. Of course, there's a lot left for us still to do, as we haven't fully moved all our stuff back into place yet.

On Saturday, after some work sorting house out, I picked up a friend and we headed over to the Olde Towne Tobacconist outpost at 1781 Brewing for an afternoon of visiting, beer, and cigars. It was extremely pleasant to sit outside, talk to other humans, and just enjoy the nice weather. Saturday evening, Colleen and I sat in our refreshed living space and enjoyed a relaxing dinner, all the while making plans for the next projects.

Sunday was glorious by virtue of finally being able to go to Mass, as the governor has now granted permission for worship to resume in our part of the state. We had to wear uncomfortable face masks, but it was Mass nonetheless. Even though the church was sparsely populated, we were able to celebrate live and in-person, rather than via an online stream.

In the afternoon we took advantage of the weather to enjoy the outdoor setting at 1781 Brewing. I believe it was the first time in 2020 that Colleen and I were able to get away from the house for an afternoon of relaxation. There was no live music playing as so often happens in the warmer months, but the sun was shining and the beer was good. And there were smiling humans out and about. Patrons were limited to two inside at a time when ordering beer or wine, but the outdoor space was full of "physically separated" families and dogs. 

The cigar lounge is closed on Sunday for sales so I had brought along my own options for smoking. After grabbing a mug of 1781 Brewing Farmhouse Pale Ale, I lit up a Rocky Patel Vintage 2006 Sixty



I typically enjoy darker beers with cigars; stouts, dopplebocks, even a red ale, are frequent choices. But I do enjoy hoppy beers, though they aren't always the best cigar pairings. The Farmhouse Pale Ale is a moderately hopped ale that strikes a nice balance of citrus and fruitiness. The hop notes leave a clean, short finish on the palate.

The cigar is one of my favorites, the Vintage 2006 in the 6" x 60 vitola. A Mexican San Andrés wrapper,  USA Connecticut Broadleaf binder, and Nicaraguan fillers combine to make a flavorful but not overpowering smoke. Dark chocolate, oak, leather and a mild sweetness predominate. It all works extremely well with the mild hop and fruit notes of the beer. It's a long smoke too, requiring a refill of my mug. 

We were later joined by some friends who happened to be out taking advantage of the beautiful environs and new freedoms as well. We enjoyed catching up with them as we wound down the afternoon.

Yes indeed, the weekend brought a bit of normality to our lives, despite the news of the anarchists around the country using a tragedy as an excuse to bring their cowardly violence to bear on innocent people. Let's pray that we are soon able to get back to peaceful living, and the restrictions on free movement and free enterprise will soon be a thing of the past. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Memories: Cigar Shopping in Dublin

The other day, while listening to a CD from a pub band we saw during our last trip to Ireland, I started looking through the photos I had taken in the Emerald Isle. Some of those photos brought back memories of the tobacconists we visited while in Dublin. I've previously shared some of our pub adventures from that trip.

The first stop we made was Peterson of Dublin. Peterson's is well-known as a pipe shop, but they do have some cigars in the downstairs part of the shop. 


At the base of the stairs, there were stacks of empty Cuban cigar boxes.



Also a display of cigar molds. 



The basement cigar area had no staff, and no one appeared to be coming down to offer any assistance, so our visit was short and we continued on with our walk of the city

Our next destination was the Irish Whiskey Museum, which just happened to be located right next door to the famous James Fox Cigar and Whiskey Store. Both stops were places I had been anticipating with much excitement.



All the cigar sellers we visited, had cabinet style humidors instead of the walk-in humidors frequently seen in the States. They also appeared to sell only Cuban cigars. I do know that regulations prohibit the selling of both Cuban and non-Cuban versions with the same name in the same place.



I enjoyed perusing the selection at James Fox, though it was a little frustrating due to Irish tobacco label laws. Regulations enacted in 2017 severely restrict the labeling on hand rolled cigars. Label designs are restricted to a specific gray scale color, as well as a single font selection. In essence, everything looks the same. Like most tobacco laws globally, the laws are simply "feel good" rules, in theory designed to prevent youth from spending their money on tobacco. In reality, few underage youth are buying expensive hand-rolled cigars — especially expensive Cubans. (Not surprisingly, tobacco laws typically have higher taxes associated with their passage.)



The staff at James Fox was friendly and helpful. I enjoyed a pleasant conversation with the clerk before choosing a small sampler pack for purchase.


All too soon, it was time to head off to other stops, even though my traveling companions were being most gracious and patient with my diversions from sight seeing.

The final stop was the interestingly named Decent Cigar Emporium



The shop was located up a narrow flight of stairs. This was the only shop I saw which appeared to have a lounge. However, in speaking with the staff, I learned the lounge is only for sipping coffee, as indoor smoking is banned in Ireland. I somehow neglected to take any photos inside at this stop. It was late in the day, and I suspect exhaustion was setting in. 



I enjoyed the visits to the cigar shops in Dublin, and had some pleasant conversations about cigar smoking in Ireland and the United States. My purchases were limited, mostly for fear of damage and packing issues while continuing our trip. The six purchased sticks, with their proper Irish labeling are below.



Fortunately, once the cloaks are removed, the wonderful labels are still attached.



Despite the visits to the cigar shops, I smoked just one cigar the entire trip. And that was the previously mentioned Fratello Bianco Boxer I had brought with me. That stick was enjoyed outside the magnificent Cahernane Manor House Hotel in Killarney.



I've only smoked a couple of the Cuban cigars I've acquired, but don't have any plans to store them long term. The others will be consumed in the not too distant future.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Another Interesting Stout and Cigar Pairing

After a long-waited IDPA match on Saturday, I sought out another cigar and beer pairing with which to relax before dinner. Looking through the bottle reserves in a dark basement corner, I came across a bottle of Ommegang My Watch Has Ended Imperial Brown Ale. Reading the beer's description, it immediately struck me that a Micallef Grand Bold Maduro would make a fine accompaniment to the ale. 

The stout poured a rich dark brown, with a short beige head. The aroma was a pleasant sweet malt with a hint of chocolate. The flavor profile followed with semisweet cocoa and toffee notes. Mouthfeel was creamy with a short sweet, but not cloying, finish.



The Micallef Grand Bold Maduro is a 7x50 Churchill, featuring a dark Ecuadorian Broadleaf wrapper, over Nicaraguan binder and fillers. The full-flavored smoke offered nutty, wood, and espresso notes. There's a hint of sweetness that complimented the beer flavors quite well. A few salted cashews brought out to snack on were a fitting addition to both the beer and cigar.

I enjoyed this pairing, or actually trio, very much. The Micallef is a smoke I've recently come across and have enjoyed several times lately. Each time I smoke it down to the very end, this time accidentally burning my finger tip as I let it drift too close to the nub. 

I had plans for an after-dinner cigar and beverage as well, but the evening passed with other mindless distractions, ice cream and a movie, to be specific. However other pleasures were still in store for the long holiday weekend.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Finally. Some Shooting. Finally.

It's been a while, for sure, but I finally got to enjoy some shooting activities this weekend when the monthly IDPA match at the Cavalier Rifle and Pistol Club resumed after a break for the Wuhan virus. I hadn't shot for nearly three months, and my range bag literally had dust on the top. The weather, which has been all over the place of late, cooperated this morning with the temperature hitting the low 80's.

The first stage our squad shot consisted of six targets spread out across the bay and hidden by various walls and non-threats. The targets were visible as you moved across the stage along a railing. With proper planning, they could all be seen from two positions. It was a good shake off the dust stage.



The next shooting challenge was a line of seven targets all shot while standing behind a table. The starting position was with the unloaded gun on the belt, and the first magazine held in both hands. This was my best stage overall, despite fumbling the start by missing the slide with my racking hand.



An unloaded gun start was also featured on the next stage. This time, the all magazines were required to be stowed on our person. Since I only use two magazine pouches, that meant starting with the first mag stuffed in my waistband. This load went more smoothly than the previous start. After loading and engaging three close targets, we made a somewhat awkward transition around a barrel and wall to the next point of cover and engaged two more targets. At this point, the gun was emptied of the 10 starting rounds, but my brain was ready to fire the "extra" 11th round, as if it was a loaded gun start. That momentary confusion resulted in my doing a standing reload, instead of more efficiently reloading while moving to the last point of cover. There are still some cobwebs to be dusted off it seems. 



The next stage was rather interesting, and had us shooting from a semi-enclosed space. A triangle formed by stack of barrels and a fault line, restrained all shooting through narrow openings between the barrels. The targets were arrange in a "V" that came to a point centered down range. Shooting the targets in priority meant alternating sides as you shot targets at varying distances. The first two targets, mid-range, where the ones visible at the start. Those were shot, then the shooter moved slightly forward, making the closest targets visible, before moving focus to the threats further down range. Shooting among the barrels gave the added distractions of bouncing the sounds of gunfire and the flying brass back to the shooter. Once it was all said and done, it was a fun stage to shoot. 



Finally, we got to the stage we had been hearing about all morning. A two-string scenario stage, shot with the support hand only. String 1 started with the loaded gun in our support hand, with the barrel touching a mark on the wall. We then engaged two targets to our left, and a third around the left side of the wall. The second string was shot to the opposite of the stage, engaging one open target to the right of the wall, then moving forward to find two more target around another wall. 



Seeing friends at the range had been a long-missed pleasure. The idea of not shaking hands in greeting and being reminded to "stand six feet apart" puts a damper on the reunion, but it was still a fun morning. I really don't understand why it's called social distancing, there is nothing social about the restrictions being imposed upon society. Perhaps compliance conditioning is a better term. 

Shooting the five stages took only about two hours. I was pretty satisfied with how I shot, finishing 4th of 13 in SSP. I was a little slow in my movement, and certainly a little sloppy in shooting. However, I had no targets that scored lower than -2, had no hits on non-threats, or procedural penalties. All in all a very good morning and a welcome sign of more matches anticipated soon.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Fine Cigar and Ale Pairing

When the work week was done, and Friday dinner complete, it was finally time to kick off the holiday weekend with a cigar and a beer on the deck. I had recently come across some 2013 bottles of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale in the basement, and had already earmarked at least one of them for this weekend. Perusing the humidor for a suitable companion to the strong beer, I selected an Oliva Serie V Maduro Especial Torpedo. I retired to the porch for what I knew would be a pleasant flavor experience.



The Bigfoot Ale was a good as I remembered it to be. While savoring the flavor, I realized that it had been several years since I had enjoyed this annual Winter release from Sierra Nevada. The mouthfeel was full, and mildly carbonated. It sports a sweet malt backbone that finishes with the rich bitterness of hops. Even after nearly seven years of "cellaring," the full hop bitterness is still strong on the palate. The 9.6% ABV was barely detectable, the alcohol well masked by the strong bittersweet flavors.

The Oliva Serie V Maduro Especial is one of my favorite smokes. It sports a beautiful Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and fillers, creating a full bodied smoke. Rich flavors of cocoa, coffee, roasted nuts, and cedar made for a fitting companion to the rich bitterness of the beer. The cigar gave a nearly two-hour smoke with a perfect burn from beginning to end.



All too soon the cigar neared its end, though outlasting the ale in my glass. I held on to the hot nub for as long as I could, the flavor never wavering. This was a thoroughly enjoyable combination, and one worth repeating. While my stock of 2013 Bigfoot is limited, I just happen to have bottles from other years stashed away. The Oliva stick was the last of my stock, but that shortfall is easily remedied by a trip to my local tobacconist. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Slew of Weekend Treats

The weekend was mostly more of the same, although there were a few niceties thrown in to the mix. Lord Northam has granted a few freedoms to his subjects in some areas of the state, so we saw a bit of normality. I had already squeezed in mowing the lawn on Friday, which left my Saturday morning a little more open, so I drove over to the local chain coffee franchise and treated Colleen and myself to a cup of frou-frou coffee. As I sat in the drive-thru line that wrapped twice around the building, I anticipated what I predicted to be a great cigar pairing.

I had first smoked the new Rocky Patel Number 6 last fall at a local lounge. I found the cigar to have an enjoyable flavor, but not the robust bold notes to which I typically gravitate. However, as a morning cigar with coffee, it held great promise.



Coffee, earth, and a touch of sweetness come through in this smoke. As predicted the pairing with the creamy coffee was delightful. The one cup of coffee was insufficient for the two hour smoke from this toro size cigar. I made my myself a mug of rich, french roast to enjoy. The cigar was just as pleasant with the coffee black as it was with the milk-rich version. Though one of the mildest cigars from Rocky Patel, the Number 6 has plenty of flavor to remain interesting to the very end.

Saturday's other treat, was the arrival of a summer fun care package from Tröegs Brewing. Samples of four of their summer ales were included. It's been a while since we were able to review some beers, so it's with much anticipation that I look forward to cracking those in the near future.



On Sunday, we shopped for, and then planted some new ornamentals around the house. The labor done, Colleen and I decided to take advantage of the government "permission" for restaurants to serve patrons at outdoor seating. We headed over a local ice cream stand and treated ourselves to some good ol' fashioned banana splits. These were the real deal; three flavors of ice cream, strawberry and pineapple toppings, whipped cream, cherries on top, and even some peanut sprinkles. We sat outside, at tables, and there were other people at nearby tables, and for a moment we could all forget about the plan-demic. And the splits were delicious!

Photo by Colleen

Coming home, we decided we weren't hungry for dinner. No surprise there. So I retired to the porch with a cigar. Going to the extreme flavor opposite of Saturday morning's cigar I opted for a La Flor Dominica Double Ligero Maduro. This LFD is a full-bodied, full-strength smoke, and one I enjoy regularly. Since I was still stuffed from the afternoon "dessert" I opted for only my bottle of water to accompany.



As is obvious from the above photo, my beverage choice soon changed. After smoking the cigar for a bit, I realized it really needed a pairing stronger than water. I grabbed a bottle of Woodford Reserve Double Oak and poured a wee dram. Perfect. In fact, I added a few more pours before the smoke was complete. The strong espresso, dark chocolate and cedar notes complimented the oaky richness of the Bourbon in a wholly satisfying manner.

Despite ongoing pandemic pandering, there are signs of a return to normalcy and commonsense appearing. Getting out and about, though to a limited extent, and enjoying a number of my guilty pleasures over the weekend was a welcome respite. The upcoming week looks to be cooler and wetter, which will be beneficial to the new plantings. I am stuck inside working anyway. Here's looking forward to next weekend, which happens to be a three day break. There might even be a return to shooting in store!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Old Fashioned

My favorite alcoholic accompaniment for a fine cigar is a good beer, or a good Bourbon. Colleen and I enjoying experimenting with various cocktails, but when it comes to mixed drinks, I truly enjoy the simple Old Fashioned. The classic drink is a an excellent mate to a fine cigar.

While the variations on this drink are innumerable, this is the recipe I've adapted for my taste.
2 ounces 4 Roses Single Barrel Bourbon
¼ ounce Simple Syrup
3 dashes Angostura Bitter
3 dashes Regans’ Orange Bitters
1 Orange Peel
1 Luxardo Cherry
1 Large Ice Rock 
In a rock's glass, combine Bourbon, Simple Syrup, and the Bitters. Give it quick stir. Add in one large ice cube. Garnish with the Orange Peel and a Luxardo Cherry. 
Enjoy. Repeat.
The single large ice cube is a must as far as I am concerned. I rarely add ice to my whiskey, but if I do, it must be a slow melting single rock. They're a pain to make, but we keep them on hand nonetheless. If a Luxardo Cherry is not available, skip it. Please, no Maraschinos. 

I rarely have just one.

With Fratello D.M.V. Virginia


With Fratello Navetta Inverso

Monday, May 4, 2020

Sunday Afternoon Beer and Cigar Pairing

On Sunday we finally got to a point where we needed to head out for a few supplies. Walking the aisles of the store I was reminded why I dislike crowds and shopping in mega-stores. That disdain made all the greater dealing with the dystopian drama of face masks and directional arrows herding people like sheep. On the bright side, I also stopped into another store and picked up a few more cigars to put in the humidor for another day.

The shopping chores done, I needed a strong beer and a strong cigar. The development of a sunny, warm afternoon made the deck all the more welcoming. I checked the beer fridge and found a Founders KBS Espresso. The bourbon barrel-aged stout gets the addition of espresso beans during the aging, and checks in at a respectable 12% ABV.

A hearty beer merits a hearty cigar. I grabbed a Blanco Nine JT Limitado that's been aging in my humidor for almost two years. The limited edition cigar actually has a warning on its website, "WARNING!! 100% LIGERO." I've seen reviews with folks counseling on the strength of the smoke. I've always been a fan of extremes, whether it's beer, whiskey, or cigars, so was looking forward to the adventure.



The stout features a flavorful mix of bourbon, caramel, and coffee notes. The alcohol content is well masked, with no harshness noticed. Definitely one you want to sip and savor.

The Blanco cigar did not disappoint and complimented the beer to perfection. Cocoa, leather, espresso, and cedar spice were present throughout the nearly two hour smoke.

I nursed my beer through about the halfway point of the smoke. The nicotine strength didn't make itself felt to any extreme. Maybe the effects were checked by the alcohol strength of the Founders stout. In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed both.



When the smoke was finally finished, it was time to fire up the grill and prepare some spicy barbecued chicken for our dinner. Sunday was certainly a full-flavored sort of day.


If you're interested more cigar and beer pairings, as well as other tidbits that don't make the Musings, check out my Instagram content.