Saturday, December 30, 2023

Afternoons Are For Coffee & Cigars

At least the ones during vacation. Friday afternoon, during the midst of a week of eating and drinking celebrations, it was time to relax for a creamy coffee with my cigar. Whipping up a quick cappuccino, I grabbed a Caldwell Lost and Found Paradise Lost and headed to the deck while the family continued to binge on the College Bowl games. 

The Paradise Lost Robusto was part of the October Luxury Cigar Club package. As with many of the monthly selections, it was an unfamiliar stick, and I needed to do some research. The Lost and Found line stems from a collaboration between Robert Caldwell, of Caldwell Cigars, and Tony Bellatto from La Barba Cigars. The pair searches cigar warehouses for forgotten blends from various manufacturers and brings them back in limited releases. As a result, the cigars already have some age on them, although the original blenders and exact components may be unstated or unknown. The Paradise Lost seems to be a rerelease of an older find. Of course that may all be speculation on my part, put together from a few quick internet searches. The important point is the smoking experience.

The Lost and Found Paradise is a 5 1/4 x 52 Mexican San Andrés wrapped robusto. The binder is Dominican, with Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos making up the filler. It's a smooth chocolate brown stick. The band graphic, at first hard to make out, is said to be the a silhouette of the partners walking on a beach.

Initially the flavor profile was on the mild side. Sweet, nutty, and charred butter notes come to mind. The flavor profile slowly built to include toasted bread and grains. The burn was even, excepting one point where a "woodpecker hole" burned open about 3/8" down from the burn line. However the burn progressed past that point easily with no further issues.

As I got down to the last quarter of the cigar, the flavor profile changed significantly. Black pepper and tobacco notes came in. The bitterness also built. I found the experience less enjoyable and ended the smoke at about 65 minutes.

On the whole, the Lost and Found Paradise Lost provided an enjoyable smoke and, while the coffee lasted, made for a pleasant pairing. And now I was refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the weekend.


Friday, December 29, 2023

Five O'Clock Friday: Exercise Is Important

Keep moving this weekend.

I have it on good authority that using the opposite hand to add bourbon to your coffee doubles the benefit.


Nacho Cheese Flavored Booze - No Thanks

I've run across some odd food-flavored spirits. Peanut butter flavored whiskey, and banana whiskey are two frequently seen in the stores. These variations don't interest me, but I can see some natural flavor relation there. But the flavored booze phenomena has ventured into the absurd. Now someone has created a Doritos® Nacho Cheese flavored spirit.

Doritos partnered with Empirical, a high-end innovative spirits company, to create Empirical x Doritos® Nacho Cheese Spirit. It’s a clear, savory nacho-cheese alcohol that actually tastes like Doritios, even down to the feeling like you’ve been munching on some chips.

Empirical was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2017 by Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen. In the early days, Williams, a former chef at Noma, was moving from working on a prototype still to a larger one, and wanted to see what kind of things he could use to make different spirits.

“I was doing a ton of testing with every single botanical I could think of like parsley, oysters, chicken skin — just running as many different things through it [the still] as I could to get a sense of the different maturation levels, but also what kind of flavors we could extract and harness through this bespoke kit that we built,” Lars said.

Don't get me wrong, I love Doritos®, in all its many flavor variations. But this concoction gives me pause, and a small gag reflex. Reading that the creator also tried flavoring with oysters and chicken skin doesn't add to the attraction. For there adventurous, the Emipiral website also provides cocktail recipes using their creation.


Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Saturday Night Rabbit Hole Heigold and Foundation Olmec

After shooting the IDPA match in the morning, I was looking forward to winding down the day with a good cigar and beverage. As is usual after a day on the range, I was tired and ready to relax.

After opening each drawer in the humidor multiple times I finally decided on the Olmec from Foundation Cigars. Olmec is a 2022 release from Nicholas Melillo, and as with many of his cigars, pays homage to tobacco history. The cigar pays tribute to the Olmec civilization which lived the tobacco-growing San Andrés region of Mexico. The Olmec are believed to be early partakers of cigars. 

This 5 x 50 Robusto has a dark chocolate San Andrés maduro wrapper, with binder and fillers from Nicaraguan. The filler tobaccos are said to be baled and aged for three years after fermentation. The wrapper leaves also undergo a low temperature slow fermentation process preserve the oil content and enhance their flavor.

A strong flavor profile of espresso, charred meat and pepper great the palate. That is balanced by sweet molasses and dark chocolate. I've smoked several of this and they have all performed well, and remain flavorful with no bitterness right down to the warm nub.

The selected bourbon accompaniment was Rabbit Hole Heigold Bourbon. Heigold is a high rye whiskey with a mash bill of 70 percent corn, 25 percent malted rye, and 5 percent malted barley. It is bottled at 95 proof. Caramel, ginger, and brown sugar waft from the glass. Sipping brings a sweet combination of brown sugar, gingerbread, and cinnamon. It's almost like a glazed cinnamon pastry. The rye influence arrives in the finish with a pleasing spicy heat. I first tried Rabbit Hole products a few years back during a work trip to Louisville. We've since started seeing the products more in Virginia, but supplies are sporadic and limited. This is definitely one to look for.


Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Last IDPA Match of the Year

I was happy to close out the year, and kick off my Christmas vacation, with a morning of IDPA with friends at Cavalier range.

Leaving the house on Saturday morning I questioned my sanity as the car thermometer started out showing 30°, which I watched tick down to 27° as I drove on. Fortunately, when I arrived at the range, with the sun doing its work, the temperature was up to 37°. The day would at least creep up to the low 40° range. 

The crowd was smaller than usual, and we were divided into two squads of around 16. For this match I again shot my Compact SIG P320. In deference to the cold, and simply for practice, I used my winter carry setup of OWB carry holster and a winter jacket, instead of the competition holster and vest.

Our first stage was a fun field course that started with two close targets in the open. Moving through the course of fire we engaged targets at varying distances. 

The second stage our squad shot was also a field course. This time the unloaded firearm and all magazines were placed on a table. This was my second best stage with just two points down. 

The next bay we entered held two short standards stages. The first had three close head shot-only targets, a target that required a wide swing to the left, followed by swinging back right and engaging a target downrange partially hidden by barrels. All targets required a minimum of one hit. Despite taking two shots at the far target I managed to hit the barrel with both. 

The other short course involved just three close targets. One, a head shot with a non-threat over the rest of the target required one shot first, followed by two shots to each of the others. This is one of those stages that can tempt you to go too fast. To my delight, I came up shooting fast and smooth, completing the challenge -0 and finished 10th of the 33 shooters in all divisions.

This next stage created a bit of confusion during the stage briefing. It was, in the end quite simple, but the directions given complicated the matter I thought. From a seated position, there was an array of five targets with non-threats and vision barriers obscuring much of the target area. There were also four targets to the sides, located near and far. Due to the rules of priority, both of the outer two closer targets had to be engaged prior to engaging the rear two. The line of targets in the center could be engaged anytime. Most shooters simply went left to right across the front and middle, finishing with the two back targets on either side. 

Our squad ended with a minimally Christmas themed stage, where our magazines started in a wrapped box. Our firearm was holstered and unloaded. Copious fault lines through the course fire gave us plenty of movement to multiple positions of cover. It also gave me the opportunity to completely skip engaging one target and earning both two misses and a procedural error. Sadly, being the last stage I didn't get to wipe that from my memory by shooting another stage.

All in all, it was a fun match and I was happy to have the chance to get to the range, shoot a bit, and visit with friends. I finished way down in the overall standings, but was generally happy with how I shot, barring some mental errors with the game part of the sport. Any day on the range is a good day. Besides, I was on vacation and there were good cigars and drinks ahead.


Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry Christmas

As we begin the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, I wish all of you a peaceful and blessed Christmas season. May the joy of Christmas remain with you all the year.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment, 
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth 
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, 
because he was of the house and family of David, 
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child, 
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, 
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields 
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them 
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, 
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy 
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David 
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: 
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes 
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
    “Glory to God in the highest
        and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
 -- Luke 2: 1-14

Also, as I frequently remind people, the season of Christmas only begins today, December 25. This joyous celebration continues until the Feast of Epiphany on January 6. The birth of Our Savior is an event worthy of more than a single day of rejoicing. 

 🎄 Merry Christmas To All! 🎄

Saturday, December 23, 2023

And the Sun Came Out

A gray weather week capped off by a sunny afternoon.

Not much more needs to be said.


Friday, December 22, 2023

Five O'Clock Friday: Vacation Edition

It's vacation! Fun times ahead.

I'll be over here . . .


Hibiki Whiskey and Room 101 Send Nudes

A mid-week opportunity to enjoy a cigar and a drink arose somewhat unexpectedly. Despite the cold temperature outside I couldn't resist taking advantage. I grabbed a Room 101 Send Nudes smoke from my humidor, and grabbed the bottle of Hibiki Harmony Japanese Whisky I've been eyeing.

I've actually had the whiskey sitting on my shelves for a couple years. Despite the fancy attention-getting faceted glass bottle, it had not been visited recently. I've been wanting to drink it again, but newer bottles kept getting my focus.

Hibiki Harmony checks in at a mild 86 proof. The golden liquid has a pleasing floral and honey aroma. In the sipping, the whisky comes alive. It's light, and flavorful at the same time. Fruit, honey, cinnamon, and a host of other notes blend into a palate pleaser. The finish is clean with a touch of sweetness and heat.  I'm a jaded bourbon lover, but the bright, mild Japanese whisky was most delightful. 

The unbanded Room 101 Send Nudes cigar was included in the November Luxury Cigar Club monthly shipment. I knew Room 101 by name, but that's about the extent of my familiarity. The only description provided was of Nicaraguan binders and fillers. The Toro sized stick appears to have Habano wrapper of some ilk. I admittedly was not expecting much excitement from the stick, and figured it would be worth the risk of lighting it up in the cold.

Immediately upon lighting it, I was hit with a burst of pepper. Wow, I was not expecting that. As the cigar progressed to the halfway point, the spice diminished. It was still there in the back, but balanced by black coffee and woody notes. It remained a flavorful smoke until I had to put it down. While at the start the smoke overpowered the Hibiki a bit, the combo developed into an enjoyable pairing.

One of the banes of cold weather smoking is occasionally a wrapper will crack and explode from the cold, dry air. About the midway point of this cigar I noticed some minor flaking of the wrapper, which the burn easily passed by without any issue. Along about the start of the last quarter, the wrapper developed more significant cracks along its length. At one point I actually heard a "pop" as the wrapper split. It was below 40° at this point, and I was leaning over the propane heater, which may have compounded the issue.

Ah well, my glass was empty and my hands were cold, so I didn't try to salvage the last bit. It had been a surprisingly enjoyable break, and I felt no disappointment with the either drink or the cigar.


Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Cappuccino and Southern Draw Brimstone Lonsdale

Saturday afternoon provided the perfect time to enjoy a smoke on the deck. Enough chores were completed, and we'd returned from a fun, and filling, lunch out. I brewed up a couple cappuccinos and headed for the screened porch with mine. I opted for a Southern Draw Jacobs Ladder Brimstone in Lonsdale format to accompany the milky coffee.

Southern Draw Jacobs Ladder Brimstone is a full bodied cigar. It sports a USA Broadleaf wrapper and binder. The strength is enhanced by a triple ligero filler blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos. This Lonsdale vitola is a 6 x 44 stick.

The smoke is a robust blend of dark chocolate, roasted coffee, dark fruit, along with a pepper spiciness. The burn needed just one touch up, due to my inattention. The boldly flavored smoke was smoothed by the creamy, slightly bitter coffee drink. The two flavor profiles complimented each other to perfection.

Most of my smoking time is accompanied by listening to music, most often blues selections. I'll turn some classic jazz frequently, especially during afternoon smokes while relaxing with coffee. This time, within a few minutes of lighting up, no less than three neighbors fired up their leaf blowers, which served to drown out any musical enjoyment. The cacophony of small engine noises provided a less than ideal background. However, I did give me a pleasurable satisfaction knowing that my own yard cleaning chores were completed and off my list.


Monday, December 18, 2023

Wilderness Trail Bourbon, Hamlet Tabaquero, and Caramel Popcorn

A pairing, plus one, of sweet treats kicked off the weekend. Cold, and rain, and chores, not to mention my day job, had conspired the past week to prevent relaxing with a good smoke. Finally, Friday evening combined with warm weather (relatively speaking) offered a break. 

The Wilderness Trail Small Batch Bottled in Bond Bourbon was picked up during our Thanksgiving travels. The wheated bourbon is released in small batches of 18 barrels, this bottle is labeled 18K0722. The whiskey is aged 5-6 years. The aroma has vanilla and caramel aromas with a hint of alcohol. Upon sipping a strong oak presence joins the vanilla and caramel. A hefty dose of cinnamon and pepper spiciness rounds out the finish. I get a little heat for interest as well. I found it to be an especially enjoyable libation. Wilderness Trail products are not common on VA ABC shelves, but I'll keep an eye out for others.

For the smoking pleasure of the evening I grabbed a Hamlet Tabaquero. This stick was from a box I picked up in September 2022. That was right after it was announced that Hamlet Paredes was leaving Rocky Patel, and the Tabaquero line was being discontinued. The 6 x 52 Toro uses a San Andrés wrapper, a Nicaraguan filler, and San Andrés and Brazilian Mata Fina double binders. It has a creamy sweetness, with milk chocolate, cedar, earth, and oak.

The Tabaquero has been a long time favorite of mine. This was the sixth from the box of twenty. Unfortunately, the previous five all had some sort of burn issues that ranged from mild to serious, with the frequent touchups hampering the experience. This one however, was flawless. Exceptionally so. For the entire 90 minute smoke the char line was even and the smoke production plentiful. Even the best cigars often require some touch with the lighter, usually in the last quarter or so. Perhaps the 14 months of humidor time helped to mitigate any issues from unknown storage conditions prior to my receiving the box. Since I'm rationing the remaining cigars, it may be a while before I find out by smoking another.

And the third part of the trio was some caramel popcorn. That decadent treat is from a Christmas food gift sent by a family member. In my defense, there was no "Do Not Open Until Christmas" label on the box.


Friday, December 15, 2023

Five O'Clock Friday: Budget Busters

Bourbon does some damage too. 


Rocky Patel Disciple and Smoke Wagon Bourbon

After an early dinner this week I escaped to the screened porch for a relaxing smoke and bourbon. I've been looking forward to enjoying the Rocky Patel Disciple from the five pack I grabbed a couple months ago. I remember from smoking the cigar a couple years ago that it was a strongly flavored, robust smoke. Therefore I selected the Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered Bourbon as the accompamiment. 

This bottling of Smoke Wagon Uncut Unfiltered comes in at a hefty115.9 proof. The proof provides a smack of heat that should go well with a potent cigar, and provide a nice foil to the cool evening air. The bourbon is rich in oak and maple notes. A heat dose of cinnamon also joins a candy sweetness for a bold drink.

The 6 x 50 Toro Disciple has a dark maduro San Andrés wrapper and binder and fillers tobaccos from Nicaragua. I got notes mainly of espresso, black pepper, and cocoa. Throughout the 90 minute smoke the cigar wasn't coming across as strongly flavored as I recall. All the expected flavors were there, but in a muted ensemble. Was it the cigar, or simply the strongly flavored bourbon? I wasn't sure. Admittedly, I did acquire the cigars from an online discounter, something I rarely do. Could they be old? Or poorly stored? The cigar was still enjoyable, but I am very interested in smoking the next one on it's own.


Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Rocky Patel Conviction Sweepstakes Winner!

This past summer I entered the Rocky Patel Conviction Sweepstakes. I submitted my and promptly forgot about it. Then in August I received a direct message on my Instagram account that I had won the Grand Prize. My first reaction was "What sort of scam is this asking for my mailing address?" I bit of research later, and a memory refresh, I realized it was for real.

It took nearly two months for the package arrive. Inside was a large leather bound travel case, complete with an Envoy lighter, a promotional cutter, two logo rocks glasses, and cigar travel trays. The case also has space for bottle of whiskey. I quickly realized the heavy glass Luminoso ashtray was missing. Frankly, that was the piece of the prize I was most excited about. I messaged the company and they let me know the oversight would soon be corrected. 

And it was, in spades! When the ashtray arrived, the package included a few other goodies. By way of apology they also included a leather cigar case, a Poseidon triple cutter, an Artisan lighter, and another Envoy lighter.

The sweepstakes was part of the promotion of the new Rocky Patel Conviction cigar. That is a cigar I'd love to try. Though, even as a fan of Rocky Patel, at $100 a pop it's highly unlikely. Maybe they'll have another contest!


Monday, December 11, 2023

Chilly Night Sip and Smoke

It always takes me a while to adjust to winter, especially when I'm hoping to enjoy a cigar. In the early weeks of the cold season, more often than not I'll simply forgo that after-dinner pleasure. Hence, the reduced posting this time of year. The thing is, once I do venture out, it's generally not as unpleasant as I feared. Such was the case on a recent evening. 

I turned on both the portable propane heater and the infrared table lamp heater, grabbed a thick leather jacket, and headed out. I selected a smaller, more budget cigar in the Crowned Heads Juárez, just in case I decided to quit early. I went more robust with Maker's Mark 46 Cask Strength. I needed the "warmth."

Crowned Heads Juárez OBS is a 4 3/4 x 52 Robusto with a chocolate Mexican San Andrés wrapper, Ecuadorian Sumatra binder, and filler from Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The stick has an MSRP of around $6.00. It's a mild to medium profiled smoke with notes of chocolate and leather. There's a hint of raison that comes in the finish. As I began the smoke, I thought to myself that I may have "overstepped" with the bourbon selection. The burn remained even though at times I had to double puff to keep the smoke production up. 

Maker's Mark 46 Cask Strength is one of my favorite members of the "regular" Maker's Mark lineup, though it is at times hard to find. The ramped up version of the standard 46 "French Oak" expression is bottled at 110.1 proof, at least in this bottle. I've seen various proofs, all around the 110 mark. Aromas of caramel and wood char predominate. The flavor notes feature caramel, brown sugar, and sweet bread. Cinnamon and a light alcohol warmth round out the sip. The finish is clean and relatively short.

Although the cigar was on the milder side of medium, I was still able to enjoy the flavor, without it being overwhelmed by the bourbon. As I slowly sipped my drink and enjoyed the cigar, I became mostly unaware of the cool night air. However, near the end, the fluttering flame on the heater reminded me that a run for more propane is on the agenda.


Friday, December 8, 2023

Five O'Clock Friday: Always Be Optimistic

Though sometimes it doesn't matter.

Here's to the weekend


Thursday, December 7, 2023

Sunday Afternoon Cigar and Coffee

In the midst of a hectic weak with no chance for a cigar, so as a tonic I'm reflecting on a restful Sunday afternoon. Last Sunday after Mass and a delicious brunch, I tackled a purge of the "junk drawer" in my dresser. (You know the one.) After helping with some outdoor Christmas decorating I felt the day slipping away so I declared an end to chores. Offering to make Colleen a cappuccino helped to sway her as well.

I had already decided on the cigar for the day, the Black Label Trading Company Bishops Blend Novemdiales. 

The Novemdiales is the 2023 version of the annual Bishops Blend release. The Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper is change from the Ecuadorian Maduro wrapper of previous releases. An attractive Ecuadorian Habano binder, and a mixed filler of Nicaraguan, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania broadleaf tobaccos complete the blend. The Bishops Blend has always ranked high on my list, and the "boosted" Novemdiales for 2023 is exceptional. 

The full bodied smoke has a flavor profile rich with dark fruit, bitter espresso, along with strong cedar and pepper spices. One smoked previously seemed to be overly packed and took some extra work to smoke, but this example was near perfect. 

While I was smoking and sipping, the clouds even gave way for a bit, the warm sun on the cool day adding to the pleasure. The creamy cappuccino provided a nice foil to the bold cigar. The large coffee treat didn't last as long as the cigar, and I was uninspired to go inside to prep another, so finished by sipping plain water. Not as delightful for sure, but the rest before the new week was most welcome.


Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Happy Repeal Day

On December 5, 1933 the nightmare of Prohibition finally came to an end. Utah became the 36th state to formally ratified the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution. The 18th Amendment which had unsuccessfully attempted to ban alcohol in the United State was officially repealed.

Unfortunately, the Prohibitionists are still out there. Freedoms once lost, are rarely restored. So responsibly enjoy an alcoholic beverage today and celebrate the gift of personal choice.


Monday, December 4, 2023

A Warm Evening Respite

We spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Orlando to take in the ESPN Events Invitational college basketball tournament. It was a different sort of vacation for us, but thoroughly enjoyable. Thanksgiving dinner consisted of court side hotdogs and bottom shelf Scotch. I didn't get in a lot of whiskey shopping, but did pick up a few bottles that are unavailable or hard to find in Virginia. It's been a busy week since our return, with inhospitable outdoor weather, but the weekend brought a bit of a respite, and the chance to open a new bottle.

After an early dinner, with the temps hovering a low 60°, I grabbed the St. Augustine Port Finished Bourbon, along with a CAO America cigar.

The bourbon was one I picked up on a whim. I was intrigued by the port finish, and wanted a "souvenir" from the local area. (It was that or a gator head.) I also like the old school bottle style. I've found these finished bourbons generally pair quite well with cigars. St. Augustine Distillery sources port wine barrels from the local San Sebastian Winery to finish their straight bourbon. The barrels then go back to the winery to finish more port wine. Yeah, technically it's a "port-style fortified wine" but no need to be pedantic.

Bottled at 102 proof, the bourbon is an attractive ruby color. The aroma brings notes of dark fruit, caramel. In the appearance, aroma, and flavor profiles, the port influence is unmistakable. The flavor is bold and rich. Dark cherries, fig, and raisons come to mind. There's also a creamy caramel sweetness underlying the fruit. The finish is long, as black pepper comes to the foreground and lingers. I found it a rather enjoyable drink.

The CAO America is a cigar I've not smoked before, and only recently picked up a few to try. This Potomac vitola is a 5 x 56 Robusto. The red, white, and blue label color scheme sits on a barber pole wrapper of Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro with a thin strip of Connecticut Shade tobacco creating the barber pole effect. The wrapper covers a Brazilian binder, which in turn hides fillers from Dominican Republic, Italy, Nicaragua, and the USA.

The cigar is medium bodied with notes of leather, nuts, milk chocolate, and cedar. The flavors are consistent throughout the smoke. The smoke production was rich with an even burn. I enjoy cigars that put out copious smoke without requiring touchups. The plentiful smoke brings lots of flavor to the palate. The ash was solid and the cigar finished with just three, long ash sections left in the ashtray, and no flakes on my lap.

The cigar and finished bourbon paired well together.  I enjoyed about a 45 minute smoke before reaching the warm nub. Retiring inside, the St. Augustine Port Finished Bourbon merited another pour for both Colleen and I to enjoy as a late night libation.


Friday, December 1, 2023