From the Ninja's Desk - New Year's Eve 2016
It’s time for another installment of From the Ninja’s Desk. It seems that every time I take a trip, it is time for another blog post from me. It works for me this way actually. I get to talk about the cool trips I take and the cigars I smoke all at the same time. Hanukkah started for me last weekend, and I drove the 8 hours North to celebrate Christmas with 2 of my ex-girlfriends in Charleston, SC for the long 3-day weekend. I left after work on Friday evening, and after getting a late start, I pulled into Charleston around 3 AM. Now normally on an 8-hour drive, I would have smoked at least two cigars, but something more like three or four but on this trip, I just wasn’t feeling it. I had my dog in the car with me; it was chilly, and I had left my hoody in the back of the SUV and kept forgetting to grab it on the two stops I made so I just somehow didn’t have a cigar at all on the way up. So, I pull into Charleston, drag my stuff into the house, get the dog, Elvis, situated and say hello to Steph and Eileen, my exes; whom I would be staying with for the weekend. Steph and Eileen are both cigar smokers, so I was not too concerned about getting some cigars in over the course of my time there. I settled into bed and woke up about 4 hours later ready to rock out my Saturday and get things moving.
Steph and Eileen both had to work at least part of Saturday leaving me mostly on my own for the bulk of the day, so I did a bit of exploring. I went first in search of the closest Piggly Wiggly. For those of you not in the know, Piggly Wiggly is a chain of grocery stores in the Southeast. I was going there in search of t-shirts that they sell with their logo on them for myself and some friends of mine that live in other states as well as to pick up some desserts for our Christmas Eve gathering for eight later that evening. I bought two shirts and a hat and made my way over to the salon next door to see what the wait time was for a fresh cut. Wait time would be about 30 minutes so I decided to pop into the liquor store next door and check out the bourbon selection there as I had to get my annual gift for Eileen, a bottle of Maker’s Mark. It is somewhat of a long running joke; as we're both members of the Maker's Mark Ambassador's Program that sends you a Maker's Mark themed Christmas gift each year. This year it was mistletoe for your Maker's Mark bottle, last year it was ear muffs for both you and your bottle. The gifts are cute and the program is free to join. Shortly after you join, they actually label a barrel with your name and 7 years later, they contact you before your barrel is ready to be bottled in case you'd like to make a trip to the factory to purchase and wax dip a bottle from your own barrel or some gimmick like that. More information on the Ambassador's program can be found here.
Perusing the options, I was able to sample a few selections, including Bulleit Rye, Larceny Bourbon, Four Roses Single Barrel, and a few others as well. I did something bold and broke the tradition, deciding instead to get her a bottle of the Larceny and about ten airport bottles of various bourbons and whiskeys so she can sample some new stuff and perhaps find a new favorite or two for herself. The lady helping me asked if I was looking for anything special and I said that I was always on the lookout for unique stuff and she asked my price range, and I stated that I did not want to spend much more than $50 a bottle. She said then what I have to recommend today is just a bit above that at $55, it just came in today, and I only have one bottle. There was a guy that asked me to hold it for him for half an hour, but that was 4 hours ago, and it seems like you know your stuff. At this point, I recognize that she is trying to sweet talk me into buying this bottle, but if it is a reasonable enough price for what it is, I will seriously consider buying it especially if I cannot find it or haven’t seen it recently in Florida. So, I let her show me the bottle and it is a bottle of Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon. And what a sexy bottle of bourbon it was. Now this is not something that I know much about, nor is it a bourbon that I have had before, so I tell her that I have a hair appointment next door and that I am going to think about it before deciding but not to hold it for me.
I walked next door and uneventfully got my mohawk tamed back into shape. In case anyone is wondering, I take the sides down as close to the skin as the stylist can. In this salon, the closest they could go was a 0 on the clippers or no guard, which is disappointing to me as I much prefer a straight razor shave on the sides or a fade into the mohawk but the local barbershop was closed. Oh well, there’s always next time. While getting my hair cut, I decided to wait on buying the bottle of bourbon. I wanted to peruse r/bourbon on Reddit first to see what my fellow bourbon aficionados had to say about it and which other bourbons might have similar taste profiles.
Next, I ran back to the girls’ place to let Elvis out in the back yard for a few hours now that it was sunny and about 65 degrees and I made a phone call to the local Nissan dealership to see if they could squeeze me in on Christmas Eve for a quick oil change. They not only had time, but they were also only 3 minutes down the road and charged a super reasonable $33 for my Rogue SUV, who is now more than 2 months old and still doesn't have a name. In and out of the dealership with an oil change, car wash, and fluids all topped off in under 30 minutes. Now that's what I call great service and they did it all on Christmas Eve with smiles on their faces. They did indicate that I needed a new battery, but I will take that up with my dealership here at home because I just bought the car two months ago, I should not need a new battery and have a dead cell already. If you have any name recommendations, please feel free to put them in the comments below.
It is now about three o’clock on Saturday, and we will have guests arriving starting at about six, so I swing back home to Steph and Eileen’s. I pick up Eileen, and we head to the grocery store to grab the last of the stuff that we will need to host both Christmas Eve dinner for 8 and Christmas dinner for about 10 or so. Note that I STILL haven’t had time for a cigar in here yet, but I have slipped in a few airport bottles of bourbon, whiskey and rye throughout the day. So far, I have tasted some Larceny, Knob Creek, Bird Dog Flavored Whiskeys, and a special treat of Angel’s Envy. Surprisingly, the Larceny and Bird Dog are not half bad for the price. I would stock my bar with either of them for the price with the Larceny taking a small edge. Larceny is a newcomer to the bourbon world. It is a wheated bourbon like Maker’s Mark or the elusive Pappy Van Winkle, but at roughly $20 a bottle, it is a bargain. A few drops of water I found open it up and make it sing beautifully for the price. I get dinner started with Steph and kick back as our guests start arriving and we all shared an awesome dinner together.
We spent a good portion of our dinnertime together trying to figure out what kitchen gadget someone found in their kitchen was. A friend sent the picture below to someone we were having dinner with to see if we could figure out what it was because no one they were having dinner with knew what it was and lo and behold we couldn't figure it out either. I'm going to send a cigar prize pack to the first person to tell me what it is and how it is used because we've searched to the end of Google and back again a few times, asked our mothers and grandmothers and no one seems to know the answer, so I'm hoping that one of you among our list might know the answer.
Steph, our friend Cara, who had been at dinner with us, and I decided at a quarter to midnight that we were going to take a drive to visit a friend in Myrtle Beach that has been having a rough time lately.We left Eileen home with her girlfriend Melissa and the Elvis doggy. This is where I FINALLY get to have a cigar.
Now, the cigar itself has a bit of a backstory. We LOVE all of our customers but even among our customers, we each have our favorites. Well, one of my favorites is a gentleman by the name of Feisal Rauf. He is an Imam in the Muslim faith, which by it’s loosest definition is the “person who leads prayers in a mosque” or “a title of various Muslim leaders.” He is the leader and founder of the Cordoba House based in New York City. He does great work for the advancement of American Muslim identity, interfaith dialogue, denouncing extremist Muslims and being a voice for the moderate Muslim. He also happens to be an avid cigar smoker with exquisite taste. Back in early October, we were running a special on the Oliva Serie V Melanio cigars, and he decided to purchase a box of the Petit Coronas on my recommendation, having never smoked them, with the caveat that he gift me two of them for a future blog post review.
So, it is on this night, on this car ride, that I have decided finally to enjoy one of the two smokes. I pull the cigar out of the travel humidor and inspect it well. Large, double bands adorn the smallest vitola offered by Oliva in this line, and they are almost too big. The cap is well applied and cuts cleanly off. The Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper is a tan brown and is somewhat veiny. The wrapper is a bit on the rustic and rough looking side, but the cigar itself is constructed well in incredible fashion with hardly any visible seams and a fantastic box-press.
My cigar was a bit on the dry side, so I am going to have to check the other one and my travel humidor to make sure that it is holding humidity properly. This cigar was not too firmly packed but it was not too loose either, I would say that it was just about right. The draw was good, and the burn line held nice and straight and razor clean all the way through the full length of the cigar. I did not need to touch-up or anything throughout the entire smoke.
When it comes to flavor, one certainly knows that they are smoking a Nicaraguan cigar here and if you were smoking it blind, from the onset, you might be surprised to find out that it was not a Pepin pepper bomb but rather an offering from the Oliva family instead, that you were smoking. It opened with a massive blast of cayenne pepper spice and a sweeter finish of caramel, cocoa, toasted nuts, and some latte-like notes. The first few puffs were so strong with the pepper spice that if you were not careful, prepared for it, or an experienced smoker, it may be enough to make your eyes water on a retrohale, and it would likely make the back of your throat tingle some.
Once I made it through the first few puffs, though, I was pleasantly greeted by notes of dark black cherries, iced tea, wood and hints of toffee, or maybe the toffee was left in my teeth from the candy I had eaten earlier, but I am pretty sure it was in the cigar! All in all, this was a full-flavored, complex cigar and aside from the initial Pepin-like spice-bomb blast at the onset, the strength had been a staunch medium, and the smoke had remained relatively smooth.
The flavor picked up steam into the second third of the cigar, and it mellowed out a bit melding together to create a harmonious experience of cocoa, earth, spice, toasted peanuts, caramel, and leather. The spice settled out in the second third fairly significantly unless I retrohaled, in which case, I had to prepare for a knockout punch. There was an introduction of a salty sweetness and dryness to this smoke that I have not experienced with many other cigars before, and the smoke output is ridiculous, think Liga-like. You will also find a slight bitterness to this third of the cigar akin to an espresso, but I found it complimentary to the cocoa, toasted nuts, and caramel notes and not off-putting at all. Even while driving down the road at speeds of up to 85 MPH with the windows down and the heat on, what can I say, we are a weird bunch, the ash stayed on in 3/4”-1” chunks each time and it was not flaky in any way. It was firm and a beautiful white-gray the whole way.
Since I’d already removed the lower band in the second third, it was getting to be time to remove the upper band coming into the final third, but I had to give it a little more time for the glue to loosen. I hate when folks rush into removing the band before the glue is a loosened and then complain when the wrapper gets ripped when they remove their cigar band too soon. So, instead, let us take some time to examine some of the flavor notes that made this Oliva Serie V Melanio Petit Corona a full-bodied and a full-flavored cigar in its last third. I got great notes of leather, oak, cedar, spice, and toasted nuts in the forefront along with some of those dark black cherries from the first and second thirds, cocoa, earth, and some vegetals on the finish. All told, this was a much smoother smoke towards the end than it was at the onset. I would not necessarily call it creamy as some others have, but I would say that it has smooth-like qualities, I think from the toasted nut flavor kind of like peanut butter. With the top band now long gone and my fingertips about to be set aflame, I dropped the nub of the Oliva Serie V Melanio Petit Corona into my Xikar Executive Portable Ashtray Can, put the lid on it and called it the end of a great cigar experience.
I can almost hear you all saying, wait a minute here Jessica, how can you write such a detailed review of a cigar if you were driving the whole way. Well, you see, I use this awesome little app called ColorNote combined with the Voice-to-Text feature on my Android phone to take notes on things while I drive. It works out pretty darn well for me. (That, and I always smoke at least two cigars for each review I do, so I smoked a second cigar on Wednesday this week to confirm my notes…)
So, we get to Myrtle Beach, swing by our friend’s house, and spend some time with her just making sure that she knows that she is loved and cared for. When she opened the door at around 1:00 AM and realized that we drove 90 minutes in the middle of the night just to say hello and hang out for an hour or so, she was pretty floored. We stayed and talked and had some coffee for a little while and then got back on the road to head back to Charleston. We rocked out to tunes and just enjoyed the ride back in general.
Once back in Charleston, we found that Eileen had gotten us all matching Christmas pajama pants and had left them out for us. Cara got her breakfast casserole, (I linked to a similar recipe, ours used bacon, diced potatoes and red peppers and onions as well) started in the crockpot and we all settled into bed for the arrival of Christmas morning.
Cara and I were the first ones up the next morning, and we decided to watch some TV and talk for a bit before waking up the rest of the house. When Cara and I went out back to let the dog out, we realized that we turned the crockpot on, but in our exhaustion had forgotten to plug it in, DOH! Instead, we ate some snacks and dinner leftovers and turned on the crockpot for real this time knowing that we would be hungry and eat it later. I started my day with a Casa Magna Pikito Colorado as it is an enjoyable little smoke that is jam-packed with flavor. I love cigars that have cherry notes in them, and this one delivers there as well while adding notes of almond butter, baking spices, cedar, leather, and earth. While it was not super cold in SC, it was certainly way colder than I am accustomed to in South Florida. It was about 55 degrees early on Christmas morning, and this little smoke was all I needed to get my day started while sitting outside in my pajama pants and a t-shirt. It was just what the doctor ordered. The rest of the house woke up eventually around 10, we exchanged gifts and hung out talking and laughing and some of us started our drinking around 11:30 or so.
I made a quick run to the convenience store for ice and a new lighter as mine had run out of butane and the can I keep in my car was apparently empty as well. While there, there was a line of people about 15 deep and quite a few customers in the line, including the guy behind me, were getting agitated which was stressing out the poor woman working in the store alone. When it was my turn to pay, I looked at the lady and smiled wide, said Merry Christmas and got her to lock eyes with me. I asked her to take a deep breath with me and smile. Then I said to her, “Look, it’s Christmas, you’re one of the only places open in the neighborhood I’m sure, or these people wouldn’t be here waiting on line. They’re already here, and they’re not likely going to leave and go somewhere else, so let them get agitated and cranky and ruin their own Christmas. You can choose to let it bother you or not, go as fast or as slow as you are comfortable going knowing that you are the only one here for the next X hours and that you have to maintain that pace. I’m sure these nice people will understand, just be sure to smile and wish them all a happy holiday, and I’m sure they’ll be okay in the end. I work customer service also, and I know that being nice and apologizing for the wait goes a long way. So, I’m going to apologize now to all of them for holding up the line, but it looked like you needed a quick break. I’d also like to pay for the 40 the man behind me is buying.” The weight that was lifted off her shoulders was visible; she stood taller, she smiled wide and said, “Thank you. That was a wonderful gift, and I guess that he appreciates the gift too.” I apologized to everyone in line for taking so long, wished them all a joyful Merry Christmas and left the store.
I could continue for another 3000 words and bore you with how I ended up with the gift of lunch and drink of that same Willett Pot Reserve from two of my favorite guy friends at my favorite BBQ Joint, Swig and Swine, on Monday. Or, how upon tasting it at Swing and Swine, I fell in love with its buttered popcorn uniqueness, so I went back to the store and bought it.
Alternatively, I could tell you about the rest of my adventures on Christmas where my new friend Mickey let me shave his mustache off his face and how much fun that was. See, his Dad was never around to teach him how to shave, so I took it upon myself to teach him some tricks of the trade as traditional wet shaving is another hobby of mine. I used one of the new shave soaps I got as a Secret Santa gift for Christmas made by Jon Conley of Uncle Jon’s Soaps in Maryland and a double edged razor that I had brought with me from my buddy Bryan Abernathy at the Tampa Shave Company.
Eventually, though my trip had to come to an end, so I loaded up my royal, loyal Rogue on Monday, swung back through the Piggly Wiggly to pick up yet another shirt for another friend. I snapped this quick photo in awe of their growler station stocked full of local beers. I so wish we had these here in Florida! If I thought the beer would still have been in prime condition 8 hours later when I got home, I would have gotten two small growlers full, but that was not likely going to be the case. Oh well, something to look forward to on the next trip.
On the way home, I managed to smoke two cigars, a Tatuaje Tattoo Universo and a Herrera Esteli Norteno Lonsdale. Both were great cigars that I have smoked before and will smoke again on any given day. The Tatuaje is a great budget $5ish stick that comes in cabinets of 50, packs of 10, or as singles from us here at CigarPlace.biz. The Herrera Esteli Norteno Lonsdale comes in boxes of 10 or as single cigars making them a bit easier to add to your humidor when you are looking to indulge a little as they cost about double what the Tattoos do.
In any case, I am about to sign off here as I need to pick two cigars to smoke for New Year’s Eve and Day. One as the last cigar of 2016 and one as my first cigar of 2017, so if anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear them in the comments below. If you have any other comments or questions about my trip, I would love to hear those too.