Welcome to 99 Cigars!

Welcome to 99 Cigars!

Not that I have a ton of time on my hands, but 99Cigars began as an extension to my cigar notebook where I just didn’t have the room to say all the things I wanted to say. Besides, what’s the point if you don’t share your experiences? So, here it is.

99 Cigars is my cigar odyssey, and yeah, I plan to sample at least 99 cigars and beyond and share what I’ve learned – the cigars, the culture, the market, events and all the cool gadgets. 99 Cigars is not intended to be a how-to, but if you learn something, great! It is NOT my intention to flame any brand (no pun intended), any person or aspect of the culture, accessory or article and by the same token, it is not a place bent on playing favorites. Like any journey of discovery, my intent is to objectively share my experiences (as best I can) – good, bad or ugly –  in real time without bias. Of course, a love of cigars is highly subjective and like many I’m partial to certain brands, blends and vitolas and when appropriate I’ll let you know which ones and why. But, I’m also one to often try something unheralded or even unheard of.

** This blog should not be confused with an outdated Blogspot site titled “99 Cigars” which I have no connection with. **

Full disclosure: I dip Copenhagen snuff, so my tobacco addiction began a long, long time ago. I am not employed by or consult for any brand, vendor or company even remotely connected with cigars or the tobacco industry. My experiences and thus my knowledge is my only credibility, but I’m not an aficionado, a connoisseur, a know-it-all or a snob and do not strive to be. In fact, quite the opposite. At the end of the day, I’m simply a passionate BOTL who loves cigars and appreciates the fact that an exchange of info can lead to something new and interesting! Finally, The cigars you see on this site are all purchased by me or gifted to me by close friends and family.

For me, cigars are not a vice, but rather a passion. Like music or guns to some or cars and wine to others, cigars offer a lifestyle – a personal way to interact with the world and savor its rewards. Personally, its not just about special occasions, being trendy, socializing and its not just about a weekend foursome on the lynx. Don’t get me wrong, all those aspects of one’s life are important. During my journey, I try and keep an open mind and sample many cigars of all ilk. I do have my favorites, those I’m not fond of for a variety of reasons and there are those that may warrant a second shot as my palate evolves. So, I take pictures of everything I smoke and will post them along with other photos. I’ll give you the Full Monte – vitola, origin, blend (eg binder, filler, wrapper), where I got it, how much it cost, my full review, whether or not I may smoke it again, ad nauseum.

 

First, a little history

It all started for me back in high school in the ‘80s. Yep – mullets, parachute pants and Vans (ok, maybe an earring or two). I fondly recall some fishing/camping trips with my friends where we’d grab some Swisher Sweets from a local ice house (what we call convenience stores in Texas), some Southern Comfort from our upper classmen friends and then sit around a fire and awkwardly try to appear as if smoking cigars and drinking whiskey at 15 was something we normally did. We all knew of course, the first guy to gag, choke or cough would be pelted with a barrage of “what a pussy!” or “does your Mom gag too?”. Unfortunately, too many times I was that kid. This was just boys being boys out for some harmless fun, and I had a blast. But outside of that I had no interest in smoking anything. I watched my Grandmother die of emphysema. I grew up an asthmatic kid in a family of cigarette smokers, including my parents, and a world of second-hand smoke. Good times.

I don’t recall exactly, but it was the mid to late ‘90s when a friend of mine and I took a camping trip to Laguna Seca in Monterey, California to watch the MotoGP races. Along with a cooler filled with beer, we stopped to pick up some stogies. Essentially this was just an extension of my high school exploits, but this time there were Cohibas, Punchs and Padrons. Did we know what we were doing? Not a chance, but the salesman saw us coming. It was like a scene out of American Werewolf in London when David and Jack first go into the “Slaughtered Lamb”. As we walked in, the din of laughter and talking ceased and everyone in the joint turned to look at us. That rated about a 9.0 on my sphinct-o-meter. Another important difference was this time it was oddly enjoyable regardless of how naive I was. Perhaps the alcohol was playing keep away with my intelligence, but there was that cool, manly factor and the way the cigar felt in my hand…and laughably, probably how I looked. The taste wasn’t entirely repellent and overall I came to a simple conclusion: I knew I would smoke them again.

Over the next 10 years, I would occasionally smoke a stick, you know, for a special occasion here and there. Someone would share a Montecristo at a graduation or a God-knows-what at a wet t-shirt contest. All the while I was learning bits and pieces of the cigar world, but truly not paying much attention. I knew I liked it, knew enough to be dangerous, just hadn’t zeroed in what the attraction was. I didn’t know a vitola from a viola, but I was the only person in my family who smoked cigars, and at least by all appearances enjoyed cigars and, good or bad, that made me special (insert pariah metaphor here). Soon, I was occasionally hitting the local humidor for a handful of sticks, because I was, after all, the family aficionado. Of course, I’d stick with what I knew, the usual suspects Padron, Cohiba, Punch and Montecristo. Like Flounder requesting ten thousand marbles, occasionally the bemused humidor sales folks would turn me on to something new like an Ashton or a Macanudo when I’d ask to see their Montecristo collections. Nonetheless, it was still the same ‘ol – smoking for the sake of just… well… smoking a cigar because I sure as hell couldn’t tell you where it came from,  or even what flavors were present. I’d say to myself, ‘All tobacco comes from South America, right, so who cares’. Sure, I learned what a Churchill was and the difference between a cutter and a punch.  Do I really need to light this cedar thingy?

 

 Ignorance is Bliss

I figured I had arrived when I received my first humidor – a gift from my wife. Season to 70%? Check. Calibrate the hygrometer? Pain in the ass, but check. Fill the humidifier with distilled water? Check. Shit, you mean I have to continually fill the damn thing? Check. Toro? That’s a bull, right? Perfecto? Yeah, that’s how you describe the dairy hammers on the chick lounging by the pool, right? Yep, I had a humidor full of cluelessness. I may have gone full retard, but I was living large, looked cool, was hip and didn’t care. Welcome Tatoo, Rocky Patel and Drew Estate. At least I was broadening my interest in other brands all the while impressing my friends with my smoking skills and cigar etiquette, whatever the hell that meant.

So, we get into the 2010s and now I’m imparting my growing but still limited cigar wisdom on friends. They seemed to take it all in and in some cases, it grew on them as well. Some of my friends started to experiment with brands I’d never heard of while I was reluctant to leave the loving and familiar bosom of my Montecristos and RyJs. This would continue until a couple of humidors later.

My problem was, I wanted to smoke cigars but wasn’t interested in cigars. I was inexperienced and perhaps just lazy and didn’t consider that there might be aspects to cigars I would enjoy. It was just something to do. Something adventurous, cool – perhaps even Avant-garde. Was I simply doomed to relive the high school camping trips over and over, like Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day? The scene: You’re having a good time, sitting around the fire pit with your friends putting a dent in that tub of Arrogant Bastard. You’ve up the ante by taking a few shots of Don Julio and now you and your friends have just finished singling along, and shredding the lyrics, to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. All of sudden you say, “hey, let’s grab a stogie” thinking ‘this will be fun.’ If this was going to make the evening better, I still didn’t have a clue as to why. In my mind, smoking a cigar was simply a way to extend the adventure without fully realizing that, like French toast at Grandma’s, it would also manifest itself as a snapshot inextricably linked to a memorable evening shared with people you care about – a celebration or accomplishment. Conceptually, sure, this is one of many ways cigars can enrich our lives, but at the time a subconscious one to me at best. So, two things helped bring the whole cigar mojo home: some simple, sage advice and some guy by the name of Litto Gomez.

 

Don’t Rush it

It was early Winter. My wife and I decided to go check out a cigar tasting at one of our local humidors. They were offering free beer, freebies and a rep from LFD (La Flor Dominicana) was going to be there. My wife had recently given me a couple of LFD special editions for my birthday that I liked, so I was interested to see what else they had. We dragged a couple of our friends along and made an evening of cigar tasting and more drinks by the fire pit.  I picked up a dozen or so various sticks and we made it a great evening ending up back at the fire pit filled with music, Tequila and good times. I found I was fond of two popular and critically acclaimed sticks, but alas, my interest seemed superficial. I was barely scratching the surface and that bothered me.

Fast forward a couple of months, and for the first time I was actively doing some cigar research online. In researching a particular LFD cigar, I read a review by a patron of the site. Three words stuck in my head. Don’t rush it. Hit me like a ton of lead. I promised myself the next cigar I lit I would soberly do my due diligence, take my time and see what happens.  That weekend, I sat out on the back patio alone with one of my LFD’s. It was midafternoon and a beautiful day. I looked at the cigar. A long, tapered perfecto body with an Oscuro wrapper and lighter-colored rings at the head and foot. The composition was solid – tight and compact. I took a whiff of the foot and it was a rich, wonderful bouquet of aromas. I took out my 4-jet Firebird and lit her up. That was when it happened.

Bingo. Bam. Hooya. That proverbial ‘A ha!’  moment, kinda like when you figured out the ‘hammer-on’ technique in a guitar riff. That first puff was a silky smooth burst of complex flavors.  Don’t rush it. Let it burn for a minute or so. Now, another drag. Wow. After a few minutes, I admired the nice even burn. Don’t rush it. Another drag. Hmmm, notes of nuts, coffee and toast with some hints of cedar. As I was enjoying myself, I just began to enjoy the day. Had some good tunes on. I thought about how green everything was becoming. All the trees gently swaying in the breeze. The blissful sounds of country living. The blue sky. The Roses, Amaryllis and Impatiens beginning to bloom. I went somewhere else. Time slowed way down. I wasn’t thinking about anything anymore. I was totally relaxed, at peace. Holy shit! – is this what people mean by Zen? I went back to my LFD and just observed it in my hand. There was a single ribbon of smoke from the foot as if waiting for my command, developing an even, bright gray half-inch ash. I resisted the temptation to suck that thing down like a straw in a Long Island Iced Tea. It was delicious – the whole experience was –  and I wanted more. Don’t rush it. I stuck to my guns and was rewarded with silky, floral clouds that danced around me. But wait. It wasn’t a special occasion. It wasn’t a party or celebration. It wasn’t a lubricated pub crawl. Its just a plain ol’ Saturday afternoon and it was just me and a cigar created by Litto Gomez. It all came together – a good cigar, patience, a desire to be inquisitive and the right atmosphere. I took a picture and texted it to my friend because, I mean, I had to share this moment with someone! I would never be the same. After those awkward high school camping trips and 20 odd years of random cigar huffing, I no longer just smoked cigars. I became a student of cigars. Life is good.

 

Honey, I’m gonna go smoke a cigar

I’m fortunate because I have a beautiful wife who not only puts up with my new passion, as long as it is outside, but also indulges in smoking a stogie with me from time to time. Ok, here it is, a gratuitous sexist comment – a woman smoking a cigar is hot! Ok, ok not a forest troll…a decent looking woman. I even bought her, her own humidor, shaped and painted like a grand piano (she’s a music teacher and choral director). I also have a handful of friends who like a good stick occasionally. One of my best friends, Raphael or “Raff”, was someone I introduced to cigars and now, after a few years, he and I share cigars, compare notes and basically bore the shit out of our wives talking about cigars, among other things. No, no, no…not like nerdy gamer types – we do it in a very cool, Steve McQueen kinda way. Yeah… we’ll go with that.

I now have 3 humidors holding roughly 200 cigars including the first box of 24 I purchased earlier this month. Up until that point it was all samplers, onesies, ones my friends had given me, etc. Whenever I feel the tug, like after work or a Sunday afternoon by the pool, I’ll look through my humidor like a kid in a candy store… ok, it’s actually more like a wolf in a butcher shop.

So, fellow cigar mavens, read on and share the love. Since the LFD ‘M’ is technically the first cigar I truly smoked, I’ll give you the run down on that one and several others in my next posts. If you have any recommendations, please send them my way. Strap yourselves in…In Fumo Pax!

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