Last month I had the pleasure of taking a day trip to Nassau Bahamas. My one and only plan was to visit the Graycliff Hotel to learn about their cigar making process, techniques and the quality that’s synonymous with the Graycliff brand. Graycliff Hotel was purchased by the Garzaroli family in 1973 and is the premier five star hotel and restaurant on the island as well as housing the largest wine cellar in the Caribbean. The historic mansion and its property boasts a welcoming reception area, opening air dining and Himalayan salt pool, all of which cater to the cigar enthusiast.
Upon entering the hotel you can smell the sweet aroma of a cigar in the lounge. With antique leather chairs, showcases of spirits, paintings and a piano you quickly envision a sense of calm and quiet reflection that guests enjoy puffing away on any given day. My wife immediately lit up a petit corona and sunk into a leather chair perusing the extensive spirits listing. Within a few minutes we were greeted by a lovely woman who guided us to the Graycliff Cigar Factory. We could have easily wiled away the afternoon enjoying cigars and spirits right there however I needed to visit the factory where they make the cigars I’ve enjoyed for the past sixteen years.
As we made our way through the old stone walkway palm trees adorned the property along with statues and an elegant pool that truly gave you a sense of the sophisticated history of the hotel. Just before we approached the factory we were taken back by the largest Cigar Divan I have ever seen. The Divan had a large ceiling with fans, lounge chairs, couches, wrought iron tables and a free standing humidor. This is the perfect respite to grab a cigar from the factory and sit with a smoke enjoying the scenery. I’m sure it was no coincidence that the divan is right by the entrance to the cigar factory.
The steps that lead to the Graycliff Cigar Factory:
Upon entering the factory there is a lounge and bar offering espresso and spirits. Alongside is a cabinet humidor containing six lines of the Graycliff portfolio. The represented cigars where: Graycliff Originale, Graycliff Professionale, Graycliff Emerald, Graycliff Crystal and Graycliff Espresso. I was met by Adam Collins the General Manager for Graycliff. Adam is a very personable individual who greeted us warmly. As we shook hands I was given a Graycliff Professionale PG and lit it up immediately. The sweet and earthy flavors of the Professionale made it the perfect first smoke of the day. As we entered the epicenter of the factory which is their boutique rolling room I observed several rollers meticulously rolling vitolas for various Graycliff lines. Graycliff prides itself on perfectly rolled cigars and seeing firsthand you appreciate the dedication to the craft. Adam oversees the day to day operations as well as maintains the quality control and works on blends. In speaking with Adam you can see the passion in his eyes and the excitement he gets from working on a blend and speaking about the factory.
One particular roller that caught my eye was a gentleman rolling what appeared to be a free-form cigar or a cigar without a mold. This is extremely difficult to do as keeping a cigar’s measurements and consistency takes a keen eye and skilled hand. The individual in question was Master Roller Miguel A. Lavadie Duconger who is one of the last free form cigar rollers in the world. As it turns out he was rolling the John Howard Graysmith line which is the ONLY commercial line of cigars dedicated to the free hand cigar rolling style. Miquel makes the cigar using the “Entubado” method which takes the individual filler leaves and rolls them into scroll-like tubes placing them next to each other in the bunch. This method although more time consuming creates more airflow and a better draw and burn making it a more satisfying cigar of very high quality. Watching Mr. Lavadie Duconger work was observing a master at his craft. I’ve visited cigar factories before, seen rollers at their respective tables and even watched rollers attempt free hand cigars but NOTHING like the quality and consistently I saw at the Graycliff Cigar Factory.
Master Roller Miguel A. Lavadie Duconger rolling “Free Form”
The John Howard Graysmith which Miguel is responsible for has two vitolas: “Cannon” a 60 x 7 Parejo and “Buccaneer” a 60 x 7 Piramide. Both cigars have uncut or “shag” feet. The JHG line pays homage to the original way cigars were rolled as well as a nod to the famous pirate John Howard Graysmith whose exploits were legendary and who built the Graycliff Mansion.
John Howard Graysmith Buccanner and Cannon Cigars:
As impressive as the rolling room was Adam took me to the aging room where cigars are stored, bundled and readied for future shipping. Adam oversees fermentation and processing which is a testament to his hands on style of management and adherence to complete quality control. Returning to the rolling room I was able to light up a Graycliff Espresso Pirate which is my personal favorite of the line. The Espresso pirate yielded rich notes of mocha, leather and a bit of spice. The cigar was wonderfully balanced in the medium to full bodied range.
As I toured with Adam he took me down a hallway which I would call the “Cigar Education Wing”. Part tobacco education part museum this area sports framed cigar posters such as tobacco leaf classifications in which primings of each leaf are listed, cultivation methods, manufacturing, and the history of cigar making. Walking the hall and reading the informative descriptions gives a cigar enthusiast quite a lesson on how a cigar goes from the field to your hand. This is the first of its kind I’ve seen and shows how the company wants their consumers to understand the process as well as enjoy their cigars.
Cigar Education wing:
It was at this point I met up Paolo Garzaroli president of Graycliff Cigar Company. I’ve met Paolo on several occasions and I can say he has a true passion for quality, tremendous vison and is a gentleman who believes in family and building relationships with people. Paolo directed me to the display cases that showed cigar memorabilia such as presses, molds and cutters. On the adjacent wall there were photos of celebrities enjoying Graycliff cigars and even such luminaries as Nelson Mandela. The impact Graycliff has had on the industry and consumers is demonstrative in these photographs.
Showcase of cigar memorabilia:
Celebrites and Heads of State enjoying Graycliff Cigars:
Much to my dismay I had to leave all too early as I had a ship to return to. Visiting Graycliff was a priority as well as the highlight of my trip. I thanked Adam and Paolo profusely for the cigars, tour and hospitality. If you visit the Bahamas you NEED to visit Graycliff or do one better and stay on the property. You will be educated, satiated, and puffing away in paradise. I will return as a guest and spend more time at Graycliff which I now call the “Cigar Oasis”.
This evening I was fortunate enough to try the 50 by 50 Pinot Noir. The story behind this wine is unique in that it’s a creation of Gerald Casale founding member of the prolific band DEVO. During the late 70’s and early 80’s Gerald and the band began to tour the world extensively. When given the opportunity to visit vineyards in Italy, France, Spain and other regions Gerald jumped at the chance to learn and discover the pleasures of wine. As the story goes his love specifically for Pinot Noir came later on around 1990. Having been fortunate enough to taste the legendary Domaine de la Romanée Conti with friends the love affair began. Years later Gerlad began creating the 50 by 50 Pinot Noir in Sonoma County. The name derives itself from the blending of a 50/50 blend of two Pinot Noir clones; the Pommard and the 667 Dijon clone. Produced in a Burgundian style this Pinot Noir is a treat for the senses. Below are my notes and rating. Enjoy!
Appearance: Beautiful light brick color.
Nose: Some bright cherry and red fruits with a bit of cinnamon and spice.
Taste: This wine starts off with upfront flavors of cherry a bit of ripe strawberry and cola. Mid palate shows almost coffee like notes with spice and cherry intermingling. The finish smacks of red berries, fresh sage and earth which linger on and on. With some decanting this wine opens up to reveal tart cherry, all spice and a pronounced finish of earth and coffee. Stylistically this Point has the ripe red fruit flavors of a Californian Pinot Noir along with the richness and elegant finish a good Burgundy possesses. This wine is harmonious and for the price of around $34 a very good value for a wonderful pinot Noir.
Rating : 94 points non-blind.
Conclusion: Gerald’s passion for wine is evident as demonstrated by his excellent Pinot Noir. Make no mistake this is not a vanity project from a celebrity but an homage to true fans of the grape with all the care and attention clearly shown here. This is a wine I recommend picking up before it sells out!
Last night I had the pleasure of smoking the Illusione/Smoke Inn collaboration which marks the 9th edition of SI’s Microblend series. The Illusione “Pactum” which gets its name from the Latin verbiage “Agreement”, or at that time in ancient Rome it came to mean a “Gentleman’s Agreement”. I can say knowing Abe and Dion personally these are two true gentlemen who seek to provide the highest quality in a cigar for the connoisseur. Being a big Illusione fan I was very excited to try this smoke and here is the first exclusive review you will find. Enjoy!
Vitola: Boxed Pressed Robusto
Wrapper: San Andres Capa Fina Maduro
Dimensions: 5 1/2 x 56
Appearance & Construction
The Illusione Pactum has a gorgeous chocolate wrapper with a nice sheen and slight veins on the sides. The box press is perfect and there are no soft spots with a feel of well packed tobacco inside. The dry draw yielded raisinated flavors and a cocoa sweetness.
Taste & Smoke Characteristics:
Lighting up the Pactum greeted me with earthy characteristics and a distinct sweetness from the wrapper. The first third of the cigar brought on some full tobacco flavor due to the higher priming from the Nicaraguan filler leaves. The ash was sliver and gray and fell off on its own. Midway the cigar brought out a bit of wood, hay and a slight gingerbread note. All the way the Pactum gave the sweetness from the San Andres ‘Capa Fina’ maduro cover leaf which really balances out the smoke. The final third gave a lot of the similar flavors as the last half which is not a bad thing at all. The combination of wood, sweet and rich tobacco hit all parts of the palate and gives you an excellent example of what a balanced smoke is all about.
I have been continuously impressed with Abe’s Microblend series not just as a concept but knowing the personal attention he gives to each blend and working with the brand owners. Dion of Illusione is a master craftsman and a perfectionist in what he puts out. When these two make a “Pactum” you can rest assured you are getting a smoke worthy of the Roman Empire. Pick these up before they sellout as other Microblends have.
Avialble at Smoke Inn shops and their website if you are intrested:
This past week I was luckily enough to meet with the creators of the Hispaniola brand of cigars. Hugo F. Melo, a modest gentleman described with passion his families long history in the Dominican Republic working tobaccos. After generations of distributing aged product for other cigar companies Hugo felt it was time to venture out with his own brand that is Hispaniola cigars. Recently FTNYC had reviewed Hispaniola’s El Trabuco 1844 which received high praise from our staff. Today I smoked their Tres Carabelas cigar and my findings did not disappoint. Enjoy.
Wrapper: Havano Oscuro Vuelta Arriba
Size Robusto- 5″ x 55
Appearance & Construction:
The wrapper of this cigar had a nice oily sheen and shows the classic dark color of a Havana Oscuro wrapper. The cigar had some slight veins and a few soft spots to the touch however the foot showed some nicely packed tobaccos. This was extremely well rolled and visually appealing.
Taste & Smoking Characteristics:
The dry draw showed wonderful coffee and wood notes with a salty finish. Upon lighting the cigar offered some dark espresso, oak and leather flavors. The finish was salty which is something I really enjoy in a fine smoke. Midway a bit of spice kicked intermingling with espresso and a touch of graham cracker. The leather seemed to pick up a bit with the salty finish balancing it out. The final third delivered espresso character at its fullest with leather in the background. A well balanced cigar from begin to end.
The breadth of knowledge from the good people at Hispaniola shows in their Tres Carabelas blend. The draw was superb and the robusto size is a perfect showcase for the tobaccos in this cigar. Tres Carabelas gives a medium to full bodied smoking experience and can easily be appreciated after a fine meal. For those who want an elegant experience in cigar smoking Tres Carabelas is a cigar you need to get your hands on.
I was lucky enough to smoke another one of Rafael Nodal’s Aging Room creations in this beautifully constructed perfecto vitola the M356 Forte. Rafael of Boutique Blends has hit the mark with his small batch Aging Room cigars and thus far I haven’t found a blend that I didn’t enjoy fully. The M356 line features an extremely limited blend of tobaccos from the Dominican Republic with a Habano seed wrapper and the taste profile was something else. Enjoy.
Appearance & Construction:
The cigar has a lovely sheen to the wrapper that is silky smooth to the touch. A noticeably firm cigar that seems full of tobacco with no soft spots. There were some slight veins around the stick but that didn’t detract from the classic appearance of this well rolled perfecto.
Wrapper: Dominican Habano Seed
Size Perfecto- 5 7/8 x 40/56
Taste & Smoking Characteristics:
As I gave a nice size clip to the tapered end of the cigar I got a firm draw that gave a toasty dry draw of nuts and earth. Upon lighting I was greeted with toasty oak and earthiness. As the cigar developed spice and graham cracker intermingled around the coating of my mouth with a roasted nuttiness on the finish. The draw continued to be firm yet delivered a cacophony of flavors ranging from earthiness, spice and some full tobacco notes. Midway the Forte had flavors of hay, cinnamon and a bit of citrus on the end. The final third is where the Forte shined as the roasted nuts and spice returned to offer a satisfying finish to the cigar. The stick throughout was a medium plus for me and provided flavor profiles I enjoy the most in a cigar. Although the burn could have been better I smoked this stick down.
Rafael Nodal has impressed me once again with his Aging Room Boutique Blends. Despite a firm draw which can be typical for this vitola, the quality of tobacco was stellar. The changes in flavor as the cigar progressed showed craftsmanship in the blend and made for a truly Small Batch stick. If your local tobacco shop carries Aging Room I would recommend grabbing any blend as everything I’ve smoked in the line is smoking well right now. Grab a BIG batch of these!
Recently I had the pleasure of smoking the new Flagship cigar from Sindicato aptly called “Sindicato”. The cigar is blended by Arsenio Ramos at the Casa Fernandez factory and is something to behold.
Appearance & Construction
The box press along with its excellent construction make it one silky smooth stick that I don’t know if I should smoke or take a bite like a chocolate bar. The pig tail cap is expertly crafted which makes it all the more attractive. I thought box pressed Behikes at first glance which ain’t a bad thing, and when I clipped it the draw was perfect.
Wrapper: Shade Grown Corojo Jalapa
Binder: Esteli Double Leaf
Filler: Jalapa and Esteli
Size Robusto- 5 x 54
Taste & Smoking Characteristics
The dry draw on this cigar yielded some sweet raisinated flavor. Upon lighting the sweetness continued along with some cedar and slight pepper. The spices were really unique and although I had trouble depicting what they were I enjoyed them very much. The spice lingered on the finish and tingled the lips. Midway the cigar transformed to more of that sweet cedar and some rich tobacco notes emerged. The shade grown Corojo Jalapa wrapper was sweet and worked well with the blend. In the final third the spice picked up along with a little more fuller body. At this point the richness of the cigar created a long finish with wonderful flavor. The complexity here is a testament to its quality and the maker. I smoked the Sindicato to the nub.
I haven’t had the previous incarnations from the Sindacato portfolio but if they are anything like their namesake you are in for some wonderful cigars. The Sindicato delivered a blend of sweetness, spice, cedar and tobacco with such complexity that it’s no surprise it comes from the Casa Fernandez factory. What’s interesting to note is that Arsenio Ramos blended each vitola slightly different to adjust the flavors properly to each size. A lot of cigar makers make a blend for a cigar and simply use the same blend for every size in the line. This can leave some sizes in a line tasting muddled or unbalanced. The attention to detail shows as each size I smoked was complex and balanced in its own right. Sindicato has a hit with these smokes. I know Smoke Inn has them in stock for the moment so grab them while you can!
Smoke Inn: http://www.smokeinn.com/eshop/Sindicato.html
During one of our cold and dreary winters here in New York I invited some close friends to my house for a grueling task. I wasn’t asking them to move furniture or paint rooms which are the archetypal favors you may rope a friend into. No, this was a “chore” most mates would jump at the chance to aid in. The call I placed was to ask if they would assist me in rating a vertical of Pappy Van Winkle 15, 20, and 23yr. old bourbon. Needless to say both friends didn’t seem to mind lending a hand or their taste buds. However in order to gather sufficient and comprehensive results I had to put a few key methods into place.
First I chose these two friends for particular reasons. Although I had many people offer to “help” out with my study I felt I needed some specific tasters. One of them has tasted many a fine bourbon yet still considers his tasting acumen as” budding” and continuing to develop. Also this individual doesn’t covet any booze or cigar and price and/or hype never sways him. I can always count on him for an honest assessment and he is one friend who even keeps me grounded at times. The other person has never tried bourbon but is a big fan of wine with a developing palate enhanced by his extensive Sommelier certification coursework. He is an asset to the study as he has the ability to recognize taste but no preconceived notions on what bourbon should be.
Second we had to do this study blind. In order to score without bias we needed to NOT be aware of what we were drinking. Each bourbon was covered up by someone not participating in the study and each bottle labeled simply 1, 2 & 3. We were poured each one in number order and utilized the UC Davis College Wine Score Card which applies to spirits as well. This card has a point system broken up into 3 categories with a scoring system for each category. The categories were Appearance, Odor, and Taste. Each category was noted and then given a score. The scores were then added up for a final scoring on that particular spirit. The highest total score that can be achieved is 25 points on the UC Davis College Wine Score Card respectively. The results and ratings below are listed highest to lowest scored with tasting notes as well as the year of the bourbon. The results were quite surprising. Enjoy!
1. Pappy Van Winkle 20yr. Old Bourbon- 20 Points. We found that this bourbon was the sweet spot in terms of the time Pappy should be aged in barrel. The color was a wonderful golden amber with a honeyed hue and a touch of rose’. The first nose gave off alcohol aromas some vanilla and slight spice. Initial tastings had vanilla, baking spice and oak with medium intensity. The mid palate was smooth and refined with oak vanilla and earthy characteristics. The finish was long, rich and continued with an interplay of spices, toasted oak and vanilla. An extremely balanced bourbon with a length that beats many I’ve tasted.
2. Pappy Van Winkle 15yr. Old Bourbon- 18 Points. The color in the glass was that of caramel and toasted almond. Nosing gave off aromas of cinnamon, citrus and spice. This bourbon had a weighty mouth feel with earth and vanilla dominating. Midway caramel, butterscotch and a bit of toasted oak came through. Some “bourbon heat” kicked in for a moment before finishing with a long caramel/toffee aftertaste. This was a medium intensity bourbon and we all felt it was a fine sipping spirit.
3. Pappy Van Winkle 23yr. Old Bourbon- 17 Points. The color on this bourbon was medium with an amber hue. There was a more intense burn on the nose with some vanilla coming through on the second impression. There wasn’t much more on the front of this offering. First sip yielded baking spice, wood and coconut. Midway gave a lot of earthiness along with baking spices and some more vanilla and caramel. There was a lot of heat present and the finish took on a long earthy and spicy character. This bourbon came on with intense spice, heat and wood no doubt due to its aging however we did not feel the extended time benefited it.
The lineup and copious note taking
So after a long hard afternoon which trickled into evening we concluded our findings. Having drunk these bourbons for years I wasn’t surprised to see the 20 yr. old the best in taste, flavor and finish as it has always been my personal favorite. We were all surprised to find that the 23yr. old scored the lowest in our tasting. This wasn’t a bad bourbon at all in fact it is of extremely high quality. The additional aging however seemed to overpower some flavors which seemingly hurt its scoring. What makes blind tastings so interesting is that you remove your preconceived notions and are forced to focus on the sight, smell and taste of the product alone. I would recommend getting some friends together and try a blind tasting. It can be done with any spirit and you may be surprised at what you THINK you like. I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding friends to lend a hand in this endeavor,I sure didn’t.