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|| News Item: Posted 2002-05-27

The Count on Cigars: Stronger Smokes & New Rum
Muscle cigars * Montecristo rum * Check that Humidor for Summer

By Eric Risberg

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Similar to the muscle cars of the '60s and '70s, every new cigar I've had since last fall has been a souped up, throaty, beefier version of the cigar line's existing ones. Partagas now has a Black Label, the Dominican Cohiba makes an Extra Vigoroso, La Gloria Cubana has Serie R, Davidoff has its Millenium Series, Avo its Signature line and so on.

Following the introduction of the highly sought-after Ashton VSG more than two years ago and a poll last October in which 75 percent responded that they enjoy smoking strong cigars, nearly every major player in the cigar industry has responded. With many experts claiming that Cuban cigars are missing ligero, the strongest part of the filler tobacco, this new breed of muscle cigar is a lot stronger than many modern Havanas and strong enough to make many experienced smokers feel lightheaded.

The selection available is incredible, with most brands having anywhere from three to ten sizes available. Partagas, for example, makes a Magnifico, 6 inches by 54 ring, retailing for $4.95; a Piramide, 6 inches by 60 ring at $5.95; a Bravo, 4 _ inches by 54 ring, and a Clasico, 5 inches by 54 ring. Note the large ring gauge. This is another industry trend that can provide one with a cooler smoke and more complexity.

However, I have found that some of these large ring gauges are just too big. A La Gloria Cubana Serie No. 6 I smoked was so large at 60 ring gauge that a small tear in the wrapper made it almost impossible to draw on the cigar. I smoked another one with a perfect wrapper, and while I liked the taste and aroma, the large ring gauge drew too much smoke, which I found unpleasant.

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Among my favorites are the new Ramon Allones made by General Cigar. At less than $4 for a robusto-sized Gustoso, this is a bargain and was one of the smoothest I tried. Ramon Allones has been absent for many years in the U.S. The old Ramon Allones natural was one of my favorites that I haven't seen since Dunhill had its old store on Union Square in San Francisco where the Niketown store is now located.

Also to be tried for a special occasion is the Davidoff Millennium Churchill, which MLB's Rich Pilling first put in my hands last year after Barry Bonds broke the home run record. He searched far and wide to get me something I hadn't tried, and he did with this one. While at the top of the price chart around $21, this is a rich, toasty cigar that reminded me of a Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey Churchill. Davidoff also makes a robusto, Lonsdale, and petit corona in the Millennium Series. I have also enjoyed the new Montecristo Serie V, a Cameroon-wrapped mini belicoso.

Recently I tried one of the Partagas Black Label Bravos as well as the new Bolivar cabinet robustos. Let's just say that after smoking them, especially the Partagas, I felt like my mouth was getting numb and that I had been to the dentist. Both gave me feeling like a nicotine-Novocain rush. Some may like this; I didn't. Both seemed to be devoid of flavor as well.

For those that enjoy the very popular Fuente Hemingway Short Story and want to take it up a notch, try to get your hands on one of the Ashton VSG Enchantment cigars. A 4 3/8 inches by 60 ring gauge figuardo, which is tapered at each end, it is a very flavorful bomb. While 60 ring gauge sounds large, that is the ring gauge at the lit end. For those that don't have a long time to devote to a cigar, this small cigar packs a rich punch that reminds me of a Cuban Partagas D Serie No. 4, but in a smaller torpedo shape.

Feeling rummy?
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To soothe the palate while smoking one of these new cigars, there is a great new rum currently available in Las Vegas that should be available in Chicago, New York, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco later this year. Montecristo Rum is distributed by Sidebar Spirits LLC, a Las Vegas based company. Retailing for $30 a bottle, this rum is the creation of Tim Haughinberry and the owners of Freyboy Tobacco in Las Vegas. The blend of 12 and 23-year-old rums aged in American oak barrels (previously used to age bourbon) is produced in Guatemala. The makers paid a royalty to Altadis USA, the parent company of Montecristo Cigars, for the brand name. It is located on the web at for more information.

With just a few ice cubes in a small cognac glass, a couple shots of this rum along with Ramon Allones Gustoso made for a great combination and perfect way to end a long day.

Spring cleaning
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As warm summer days approach, now is a good time to clean out your humidor, check and fill your humidification devices, look over your cigars for bugs, and then place your humidor in a place where the temperature gets no hotter than 70 degrees.

Happy smoking this summer,
The Count

("The Count" aka Eric Risberg is a staff photographer with the Associated Press based in San Francisco.)

Related Links:
Montecristo Rum

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