Monday, November 17, 2008

The Don Lino's Africa

The Africa was created by Don Lino after a trip to the Dark Continent. Upon his return, he desired to commemorate his trip with this cigar. It is a fitting homage to the mysterious land that has amazed countless travellers over the centuries. This cigar is exotic and rich, powerful and subtle all at once.

I appreciate it when a company makes an effort to make the cigar look nice. Quality in a gentleman's cigar is more than the blend and the flavor, it should also improve the general appearance of the smoker. But a fine-looking cigar also speaks to quality - as a general rule, if they are going to the trouble of making the box and the band look brilliant then the quality of the cigar will usually follow.

The bands are beautiful - the giant “A” draped with a zebra striped background looks classy and exotic. It also helps that the oily dark red-tinted wrapper looks good enough to chew on - this cigar is as much an accessory to a man-about-town as it is a quality smoke.

The Africa's taste is poweful, but subtle - the thickness of the smoke and the finish tell you it’s going to be a true gentleman's smoke without burning your tongue on black pepper. This cigar has a very pleasant taste (a bit of leather, a bit of earthiness and a bit of spice)that fills the palate and stays there long after you have finished. Like a good wine, you can still taste it long after you swallow. My tastes usually run to the stronger blends, and this one more than satisfied me. It burns cool and keeps it flavor and strength consistently, although I would not plan on smoking it down to the nub without a meal in your belly - it is strong enough to make your head spin.

I rate the Africa a 3.7 on a four-point scale. The Africa tends to burn unevenly, and requires signifigant attention and touching up. It is a small complaint to be sure, but it keeps this cigar from besting the America as my favorite afternoon smoke. Its style brings it back among the best.

The Editor is concerned that you are still reading this article instead of purchasing an Africa for yourself. He encourages you do hurry up and procure one at your earliest convenience.

The Sopranos from CAO

Each time we turn into The Sopranos we get to see Tony Soprano in his car, lighting up a cigar as the opening credits roll. So it is fitting that HBO should extend a meaty palm to CAO and license the Sopranos edition of cigars. In 2005 they did just that, and at the RTDA that year CAO unleashed three sizes of pricey Sopranos smokes.

The smallest of the three sizes, the Associate, a standard robusto at 5 x 52. Also available are the Soldier (toro) the Boss (double corona) and the just released “Tony Soprano Signature,” an extra-large toro with a 60 ring gauge.

The wrapper used for the Sopranos series is Brazilian mata fina. I was interested for this reason to see how it would compare to CAO’s Brazilia line, which uses a Brazilian arapiraca leaf rather than mata fina. The cigar is completed with a Honduran binder and an interesting combination of Nicaraguan, Dominican and Columbian filler. Columbian leaf is a rarity as well, but CAO has used it before in their CX2 double-cameroon sticks.

I was frankly quite surprised by the Associate. I was expecting something along the same lines as the Brazilia Gol! — something rich and spicy. Instead, the Associate turns out to be a sweetheart.

The wrapper on this cigar is an attractive shiny maduro, and the roll is flawless. It fired up without a hitch and burned straight all the way. It forms a solid white ash that wants to spend some time with you before hitting the ashtray.

The first flavor is a delicate sweetness, a smoky maple syrup. The smoke is surprisingly light and smooth, and at no point did it develop any kind of bite. There is a hint of licorice, but that’s it from the spice cabinet. The base flavor is earthy, but even this is fairly muted. Mostly this is just a very relaxing easy-going cigar. Toward the end it turns up the chocolate. After removing the band and nearly burning my fingertips I laid this one to rest.

The Sopranos “Associate” is a refined and relaxing cigar that took me by surprise. It’s not the powerhouse I expected, but considering the fact that my expectations were based on a fictional family of mobsters on television, perhaps I get what I deserve.

The America From CAO

This cigar is appropriately named. An American - It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t, and it’s VERY good at what it is. I didn’t get “subtle” tastes, like toast, or cocoa. Just a rich tobacco flavor that was consistent and extremely tasty throughout. Like an American, it doesn’t pretend to be fancy, it steps up and gets the job done...

In the current market, of “High Strength” cigars that seem to sacrifice taste for intensity, this cigar gets it right. Strength, WITH flavor. The strength is not overpowering, but this cigar is NOT to be smoked on an empty stomach. It is a perfect after dinner cigar - bold and strong, and richly flavored. The burn was better than I expected from a “Barber Pole”. Burning slightly unevenly, but spiraling to match the cigar. The thin pinstripe overlap really helps the burn here.

The pre-light draw was perfection. Unlit, you can already taste the flavor this cigar is going to provide. When I lit up, I was rewarded with a huge mouthful of thick, creamy, smoke. It was like drinking the flavor, rather than smoking it. It built slowly, almost imperceptibly, as I continued. By the end, I was in love, and I did not want the experience to be over.

As far as Appearance, this cigar is a handsome edition to my humidor. The Natural wrapper peeks out, in a strip, about 1/8” wide, spiraling down. This “pinstripe” gives the cigar a unique and very appealing look. The two wrappers are nice and thick, holding the cigar together nicely, with little risk of ruining with a bad cut.

This smoke is best paired with something non-alcaholic and mild - Sprite (left to sit for about 10 minutes), water, or a similar beverage.   It is also a long smoke - a full hour to hour and a half.  I rate the America a 4 on a four-point scale. I highly recommend this cigar to anyone who favors rich flavors and strong, manly tastes. This cigar is as close to absolute perfection as a cigar gets this side of Saint Peter's gate.

Cigar: CAO American
Type: Potomac
Size: 5 x 56
Wrappers: Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro and Shade
Binder: Brazil
Filler: Ligero from Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Italy, and USA

The Editor would suggest that you purchase an American right away, but that would be one less for him, and so he will not.

Cigar Basics

It you think that all you have to do to exude an air of class while smoking a cigar is inhale (which should not be done) and exhale, do not go near a cigar before reading this. Cigar smoking is a culture in itself. You must know how to choose a cigar, cut, light, and finally smoke it.

Choosing a Cigar
When purchasing a cigar, either from a tobacco shop or a website, there are certain things you should keep in mind:

The length and diameter of the cigar is related to the intensity of the cigar. If you're a novice cigar smoker, you may want a longer, thinner cigar (with cooler smoke) rather than a small stubby one, which may make you cough. Verify the quality of the cigar by squeezing it slightly to make sure there are no lumps in it, and check to ensure that the tobacco at the end of it is not discolored. Avoid purchasing cigars with discolored wrappers.

Cigar Types
Although cigars are broken down into groups, depending on where they're made and the tobacco leaves used, here are several categories of cigars classified by their shape and size.

Measures 7 inches by 47-ring gauge (refers to the measurement for the diameter of a cigar). Named after Winston Churchill himself, who made the cigar one of his trademarks.

Corona (not the beer)
Measures 6 inches by 42-ring gauge. The standard by which other cigars are manufactured, the corona has an open foot (the end you light) and a closed head (the end you smoke), which is usually rounded.

Has a pointed, closed head.

5 inches by 50-ring gauge.

Has a pointed head, closed foot and a bulge in the middle.

At 7 inches by 38-ring gauge, these are usually longer and thinner than coronas.

Three Panatelas braided together to form one cigar.

8 inches or longer, this large cigar usually has an open foot.

Similar to the torpedo, except that it has two closed ends with a bulge in the middle. A rounder cigar.

Cutting the cigar
The aim of cutting the cap on the head of the cigar is to create enough of an opening to smoke the cigar comfortably, while maintaining the original shape of the cigar.

Biting the cigar is not a cutting method. Not only is this ineffective since your teeth are not real cutting tools, but you will look nothing like a gentleman while you're spitting out the leftover tobacco.

Straight cut (most recommended): Use a single-bladed cutter to horizontally slice off the head in one quick chop. With this single, swift motion, you lessen the probability of tearing the cigar's wrapper.

Before cutting, bring the blade down towards the cigar, just enough to tap the it, to ensure that your blade is positioned properly and aiming at the right spot on the cigar. The bull's eye is right where the cap of the cigar meets the wrapper, leaving sufficient space to ensure that enough of the cap is left surrounding the wrapper, preventing it from falling off.

With a double-bladed cutter, chances of making a clean cut are increased and you're less likely to tear the wrapper with the blade, since the cigar is being cut from both sides simultaneously.

Lighting the Cigar
Now that you've come this far after choosing your cigar and cutting it to perfection, you don't want to mess up all that work or tarnish your image by lighting the cigar the wrong way. It's best to light a cigar with a cigar lighter, as the sulfur from matches may spread to the cigar and alter its smell and taste.

If you must use matches, use longer ones - short ones make it hard to light a cigar, especially on the first couple of attempts.

Before lighting the cigar, you must "toast" it. Hold the cigar between one and two inches above the open flame, and rotate the cigar so that the tip of the flame barely touches the foot's edges. This warms the foot, allowing for a more even burn upon lighting. As you light the cigar, rotate it so the flame lights every part of the foot evenly - this is important, as an even light will help keep the cigar from burning unevenly.

Finally, smoking it
Proper etiquette calls for removing the band at some point whilst smoking the cigar. The reason you need to keep it there before smoking it is to prevent the tobacco from tearing, but once the cigar's lit, you don't need the band anymore.

Enjoy and savor the cigar, but do not inhale! After 12 puffs or so, remove the band, which will probably be falling off on its own thanks to the heat. Finally, sit back with your cigar in one hand and a glass of port, cognac, bourbon/scotch, or wine (preferably cabarnet sauvignon or mourvedre) in the other.

The Editor contributes frequently to Liquid Ether, and would like more contributors to this publication. Intersted parties can reach him via electronic mail.