Dedicated to my enjoyment of Cigars and Pipes

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Montecristo MTD White Toro

I went to the humidor this week for our Sunday smoke and this Montecristo called out to me.  I have always been a fan of any Montecristo, but I discovered the white a couple years ago and really enjoy them.

This one did not disappoint.  It was a well constructed stick with a slightly larger ring gauge.  It was a nice calm day with almost no wind and this cigar held its ash down to the last as it burned evenly throughout.  It produced a rich smooth smoke with a slightly nutty mild to medium taste.

Overall an excellent choice for a beutiful Sunday afternoon in Kosovo to watch the snow melt.  Highly recomend the MTD Montecristo White Toro.

Until next time watch your ash....

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Partagas 1845

Every Sunday our smoke club tries to get together for a weekly smoke.  The weather has not cooperated the last couple weeks due to the cold and snow.  We currently have 30+ inches of snow on the ground.  This week four brave souls joined me.  I decided to try a Partagas 1845 toro.

This was very pleasurable smoke as I tend to enjoy a maduro and a bit of a stronger taste.  This cigar fit the bill as it has a medium to full taste.  The only concern I had was that it burned a bit uneven and required me to re-light the unburned wrapper a couple times which can happen with even the finest smokes, but I still find annoying.  One criteria I use to judge a fine cigar is how well it hold the ash.  My feeling is that if a cigar holds its ash it a good sign of a well constructed cigar.  This Partagas did very well as it produced over a 3" ash before the wind won out and knocked it off.
I would give the Partagas 1845 an above above average rating for a medium to full bodied smoke and would recommend to others and more importantly buy again.

Until next time watch your ash....

Meerschaum Pipes, a good investment

Classic Lattice-Gift from Turkish Officers

As mentioned in my previous post I am relatively new to pipe smoking having just started in 2008.  After I was given my first pipe and started to do some research I discovered I was doing a number of things wrong after reading an article online, pipe smoking 101.  The two primary offenses I had committed was smoking my lone briar more than once a day (not resting it) and smoking multiple blends in my lone pipe (flavor ghosting).

First Pipe Hand made by a friend
With time on my hands and money in my pocket I went on a search to expand my pipe collection as pipe smoking 101 told me that I should:
1. Not smoke a pipe more than once a day and then rest it for a full 24-48 hours to allow it it dry out.  Over smoking a briar pipe can cause it to absorb excess moisture and crack if it gets hot while wet.

2. Ideally have a different pipe for each blend of tobacco as some tobacco (especially aromatics which I enjoy) to avoid ghosting.  Ghosting is when the tobacco flavor from one blend is absorbed in to the wood and then leaves a trace of flavor in future smokes no allowing you to truly taste the new blend.

Initial collection
As a result I was able to add a hand full of lovely briars to my collection thanks to online retailers and e-bay at the fraction of the retail cost.  I discovered estate pipe market (previously owned) was an excellent way to expand my collection with name brand pipes without paying name brand prices.  Some of these pipes were in like new or never been smoked condition.  If they had been smoked it did not matter as a little more research taught me how to properly restore an estate pipe with a alcohol treatment and other methods.

Soon I was set with pipes dedicated to 3-4 of my favorite blends and still able to enjoy more than one bowl a day using a different pipe all while following the rules.  After all I am a rules guy with over 20 years in the military.

Like all rules I soon discovered discovered there were exceptions to the rules.   One day while browsing I stumbled across this gorgeous hand carved  white pipe that looked like a claw holding a egg.  It did not look like any other pipes I had seen and had a really funny name, "Meerschaum".  As a result I launched into another fact finding mission to learn all I could about these meerschaum pipes.

I soon learned that meerschaum was indeed a different kind of pipe that was very popular with many pipe smokers.  I also learned that meerschaum is a fairly soft mineral that is mined only in Turkey and has been used to make pipes for a long time dating back centuries.  This mineral has many qualities that make it desirable for use with pipe smoking.  Some of these include:

1. Smokes cooler than wood pipes
2. Can be easily carved into decorative artwork
3. Over time with use meerschaum gradually turns color taking on it own charatcer
4. Generally Meerschaum does not ghost, so multiple blends of tobacco can be smoked in the same pipe
5. Unlike wood pipes meerschaum pipes can be smoked more than once a day and do not need to be rested

Wait a minute a pipe that I can smoke multiple blends in and does not have to be rested lengthy periods of time.  As a new pipe smoker who wants to try multiple blends I say sign me up!  I most definitely needed a meerschaum to add to my growing collection.

Servi-Meerschaum Eagle Claw New
I started scouring the web for meerschaum pipes and discovered they could range in price from as little as $20 up to hundreds as apparently there are master carvers out there that only produce a limited number and their work is highly sought after.  Just like briar pipes there were many standard shapes and sizes, but unlike briar pipes there were also some very intricate works of art.  I soon learned that the classic eagle/dragon claw that first caught my eye was the style I wanted so I went on the hunt.  Late one night on e-bay I took the plunge and $42 later with shipping I was going to be the owner of a Servi-Meerschaum XL Eagle Claw pipe.  At the time I did not realize how good of a buy I had scored as apparently Servi is one of the more well known carvers and I later learned the exact same pipe sold in retail stores for as much as $275.  Probably a good thing I did not know as I would have never enjoyed and abused it as much as I did in the harsh environment of Afghanistan.

Servi-Meerschaum Eagle Claw after a few months
When the pipe arrived I was in awe as to the detail of the carving and the shear size compared to some of my more traditional briar pipes.  Best of all it was a great smoker and soon became my go to pipe on almost a daily basis as I was new to pipe smoking and eager to try new blends I had purchased or other generous smokers had sent me as samplers.  After only a few smokes I noticed the color change phenomena taking place around the rim and upper part of the bowl that started as pinkish red and turned to golden shades of brown over time.  While I still enjoyed my briar pipes it was clear to me that at least one well crafted meerschaum should be in every pipe aficionado's collection. 

Since that time I have acquired five more meerschaum pipes through purchase or gifts and absolutely love them.  At this time I only have three in my collection.  This is due to the fact that I broke one (valuable lesson learned) and two were stolen including my prized Servi-Meerschaum Eagle claw.  As a result of personal experience and research I have learned some basic guidelines when it comes to meerschaum pipes that I always share with fellow smokers who are considering acquiring one.

1. Meerschaum is a bit more fragile than the standard briar pipe.  They should not be avoided for this reason, but just treated with a bit more care, they come with a custom fitted hard case for a reason.  They are  probably not the best pipe to take hiking or other outdoor adventure.  I am not saying you have to treat them with kid gloves, just be aware that you cannot beat them up and probably not the ideal pipe to smoke while you are working or doing something where you might drop it.  I have two meers with me on my current deployment.  One stays in my office and the other in my room.  I just do not take them out on missions with me as I might do with some of my other pipes.

2. Always handle meerschaum pipes with relatively clean hands.  They are coated with a thin layer of bees wax which seals them and helps them color over time.  As a result when the wax becomes warm it will tend to pull dirt and oils form your fingers which will result in slight discolorations.

3. Despite the fact that meerschaums generally smoke cooler than briar they can still get hot usually from chain smoking.  You want to avoid this not so much because of cracking issues, but you can burn protective wax coating off again resulting in poor coloration.  If you are smoking a meer ideally you are taking your time and enjoying the experience.

4. When purchasing a meerschaum go with a quality vendor/manufacture and look for "block" meerschaum as apparently there is a movement to manufacture cheap pipes that are not carved from a single block.  There are some deals out there, but the quality is not always the same.   Because meerschaum is a mineral no one can be sure of how it will react to heat if there is an imperfection.  I recently had a pipe given to me as a gift that was made by a reputable vendor.  After the third smoke a hair line crack started to form due to a defect in the mineral.  The vendor offered to replace it for me o charge.  Not all will due this, so be sure of who you are dealing with.  Sometimes spending a bit more is worth it.

5.  Finally, if buying in person ask to run a pipe cleaner through the pipe as the alignment of the tenon and drilled hole in the shank can be off making it difficult to clean.  It is OK if you have to remove the stem and can get a cleaner through, but you want to make sure you can get pipe cleaner down to the bowl.   I did have an issue with one pipe that resulted in clogging and I accidentally broke the pipe when I tried to clear it and make the hole bigger.
Current Eagle Claw and Servi-meerschaum Military

Pipe smoking is a very relaxing hobby for in general.  Add the nuances of a quality meer that changes color over time that takes on its own character and it is that much more enjoyable for me.  As stated above, I think every pipe smoker should have at least one meer in their collection if for nothing else it will allow you to try new blends without the concern of ghosting in a standard briar pipe.  Just educate yourself ahead of time so you can avoid some of the costly mistakes I made.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cuban Cigars..are they really just hype?

Just about any cigar enthusiast can probably remember the first time they smoked their first real Cuban cigar.  My first one was in Cozumel, Mexico in 2004.  My second and third were on the Cruise ship that took me there and brought me back before we returned to the U.S.  I will be the first to say they were outstanding smokes.  I would also say they were outstanding smokes not just because they were Cubans, but because I knew what I was looking for and picked higher rated cigars from Cohiba, Romeo&Julieta and Partagas.

Over the years I have observed that there is an attitude out there among non-smokers, novice smokers and some vets alike that if it is not a Cuban cigar it is not any good.  I simply say this is not true and many of these people are overpaying for what might be an otherwise average cigar. 

Since those first three Cubans I have had the opportunity to smoke several others during my deployments and travels abroad.  I will say some were excellent and some were well.....average at best.  This is because as any true aficionado will tell you the quality of a cigar has more to do with how it is constructed then where it came from.  In today's market there are many non-Cuban cigars available that are just as good as many that are made in Cuba.  Yes, Cuba is still known as the Cigar capital of the world, but due to global economics and the demand for high quality cigars they no longer have the strangle hold on the market they once enjoyed.

Today there are many cigar publications out there with rating systems that also support my argument.  It is fairly easy to compare and contrast the quality of cigars with the information that is readily available online and in print.  Any cigarwith a rating over 90 is usually considered above average to excellent.  When you look at many of the ratings for Cuban cigars there a many that only score in the mid to upper 80s while there are many alternative Dominican, Nicaraguan, and others, many of which that are made from Cuban seed tobacco, that score just as high and many higher than true Cuban cigars.  I will never begrudge anyone who enjoys their Cuban cigars as long as they are willing to acknowledge that nowadays there are many non-Cubans that are just as good.

The reason I personally do not smoke more Cubans is two-fold.  First, I live in the USA and until things change Cuban cigars are still technically illegal (call me a Boy Scout).  Second, they are just not worth the cost to me.  Even when I travel and find them in foreign shops they are still two-three times the cost of what I can pay for a comparable non-Cuban cigar.

I know there are many out there that have their sources and are willing to pay the prices for the status of saying they are smoking a Cuban.  I also know that many will continue to think that Cuban cigars are the only great cigars just because they do not know any better.  As for me and my wallet we will gladly enjoy the many alternatives that are legally available in the U.S. and abroad at a fraction of the cost.  To those that have to have their Cubans for status and can afford to do so I say good on you, but it is a luxury I will choose to pass on.

Don't get me wrong if I am somewhere where Cubans are legal and I am offered one I will gladly light up and enjoy the smoke and camraderie.  I am just not going to seek them out and pay top dollar when I can get 2-3 equivalent non-Cubans for the same price.  I guess for moral and economic reasons I refuse to give into the hype.  In the meantime I know Cubans will continue to enjoy a solid reputation as they should, but no longer are they in an elite class all their own.

Until next time watch your ash....

Friday, February 10, 2012

Pipe Or Cigar...Maybe both?

Welcome to my Second post in this blog.  This time I am going to compare my cigar and pipe smoking and which is least in my opinion. ;)

Hmmm........Tough Choice


I started smoking real cigars in 1999 during a training deployment to the Dominican Republic.  Prior to that I had infrequently smoked a few drug store brands which I now affectionately refer to as the floor sweepings from good cigars.  Not long after my trip to the Dominican Republic and being exposed to the qualities of a good cigar I made a point to secure a nice cigar for special occasions and events.  At Christmas 2001 I received a nice 200 count humidor that I have maintained since at home.  Over the years I have tried many blends and types of cigars to include several fine Cubans during my travels.  I became a subscriber to cigar publications and would classify myself as an occasional aficionado making regular trips to the local B&M and a few online orders

Camp Black horse Cigar Club, Afghanistan 2008

Then in 2008 I was deployed to Afghanistan.  As part of my packing list I included my travel humidor and a small black book which I had started to tape labels from every new cigar I smoked and take a few notes to keep a record.  Due to the generosity of several individuals, a B&M and the guys at (Then club stogie) who donated cigars for the troops I had the opportunity to smoke and amazing variety of cigars during that deployment.  Don't get me wrong being deployed away from home and family to a combat zone sucks, but the generosity of these people made it much more bearable.  During this period I had the opportunity to sample more cigars than I ever would have otherwise.

First Pipe
It was also this deployment that introduced me to the nuances of pipe smoking.  Before I left a good friend and fellow officer who I had enjoyed many a cigar with gave me my first pipe.  It is a beautiful large briar.  To make it even more special he had made it himself as he had taken up pipe making as a hobby and was selling them on consignment.  He provided me some basic instructions, a tin of MacBaren Vanilla Cream and a wood tamper.  It is this friend I now hold responsible for my new found love of pipes. 

Those that have been deployed know there are times when you are extremely busy and then periods of intense boredom.  As a result I had the opportunity to search the web and learn what I could about pipes in my free time.  I stumbled across a site that is now called that is devoted to cigars as well as includes a nice pipe forum.  I continued with my love of cigars, but also explored more on pipes.  Thanks to online shopping and e-bay I soon had a collection of several pipes as well as a variety of fine tobaccos some of which were given to me as samplers from other online smokers who were strangers to me, but shared the love of pipe smoking.

Cigars vs. Pipes

Pipes in Afghanistan
 As I acquired my collection of pipes I was amazed by one thing, the cost comparison of smoking a pipe vs. cigars.  At the time I could get a tin of Quality pipe Tobacco for $7-10 which would provide 20+ smokes depending on the size of the pipe I was using.  If I were to buy the same quality box of cigars it could easily cost $75-100+ for a box.   Hmmm....something did not make sense, I enjoyed cigars, but economically pipe smoking seemed to make more sense.  On top of that I could acquire several types of pipe tobacco for the cost of that one box of cigars. 

Another issue I noted was that while I thoroughly enjoyed a cigar not all those around me enjoy the the cigar smell and I have experienced the occasional odd look or wrinkled nose when in public.  This phenomenon has never been the case when I have smoked a pipe and in many cases I have received complements from non-smokers when enjoying an good pipe.  It has even gone so far that some of my non-smoking friends have actually encouraged me to light up while sitting around a camp fire.

The choice seems simple pipes easily win out over cigars.  Sure you have the initial cost of a nice pipe which can range from $5(corn cob) to hundreds depending on your taste and budget with many nice ones in the $20-60 range.  Despite the initial cost if treated properly a pipe can last a lifetime and you cannot say that about cigars.  While I enjoy maintaining a collection of cigars when you use a cigar as it is intended (smoke it) in the end you end up with nothing tangible to show for it except a empty humidor and hopefully a good memory with friends.

Arguments against Pipe and Cigar Smoking

Today we are faced with many in society who make claims that all tobacco products are evil.  I will never say that smoking of any kind of tobacco is good for you, but at the same time I do not feel that all tobacco products are equally as bad.  I credit this to the fact that unlike other tobacco products where manufactures add nicotine this is not the case with the majority of pipe and cigar tobacco.  Personally I do not feel I have developed and addiction to either like many some will claim will happen with all tobacco products.  As stated I will not claim they are good for you, I am just saying that I think it is a choice we make and one that should be made in moderation like all the good things in life.  I know that currently I can walk away from either at any time as I do so quite often when the weather is not favorable for enjoying either.  You will not catch me in the rain or freezing cold smoking and there are many times throughout the year I go without smoking either for weeks at a time.

So What is it Cigars of Pipes?

Current Desk-top
In the end the answer is both cigars and pipes for me in moderation.  You will likely always find one or more well stocked humidors in my possession, but it will likely be a pipe that I smoked most recently.   If you are currently a cigar aficionado I would encourage you to give a pipe a try even if just a corn cob at first, but be careful it is a slippery slope and in no time you can find yourself owning a few pipes and several tobaccos all for less than the cost of that next box of cigars.  :)


Current Pipe Line-up

Despite the many advantages of pipe smoking over cigar smoking both are still a luxury item in my view.  I doubt I will ever give up cigars as long as afford the occasional indulgence and the same for pipes.  I will admit more often these days I prefer a good pipe over cigars probably four to one, but a fine cigar with friends is still a good thing.

I will always enjoy an occasional cigar, but if I had to choose between the two I would have to go with a fine briar or meerschaum pipe with one of my favorite blends every time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Setting Up a new Humidor

Welcome to my new blog dedicated to my enjoyment of Cigars and Pipes.

Afghanistan 2008
I decided there was no better way to start this project than with a tutorial on how to set up a new humidor.  This information comes from my personal experiences and a lot of reading.  There are many opinions on what can be used to keep your cigars at optimum humidity for an enjoyable smoke.  This tutorial will address the minimalist approach to get a new aficionado going with a desk top humidor using readily available commercial products versus some of the very unique custom methods that are out there.

I am currently in the military and deployed overseas.  The below method is geared toward my fellow service members as to what can be done in a deployed environment relatively inexpensive to ensure your prized smokes last even in harshest conditions of a deployed environment where humidity levels can be brutal to cigars.  The RH reading in my room is currently 35% which will quickly dry out a cigar.  I now own a total of four humidors and have used this basic process for all of them including the one pictured below.

Obviously, the first step is to acquire a humidor.  There are many options out there for desk top humidors that vary in price and size.  I would encourage someone just starting out to do their research and decide what they think is best for them.  Above all you need to know that price does not necessarily mean quality.  There are many affordable options out there if you know where to look.  The humidor pictured below was purchased for $30 and included 10 premium cigars as an introductory offer from a very popular online vendor that I found in the back of a magazine.

A humidor has three primary components:

1. The Humidor-air tight wood box usually lined with Spanish cedar.  No matter how nice it looks, the most important feature is that it is airtight and has a good seal.

2. Humidification device -provides the appropriate level of humidity for your cigars usually 65-70% RH

3. Hygrometer-Device that measures the relative humidity.  There are many makes and models including both analog(dial) and digital.  Do not assume the hygrometer that comes with a humidor is accurate or works properly.  There are ways to check which I will describe.

Once you have selected the humidor that is right for you and bring it home you will need to take the time to properly set it up and "charge" your humidor.  The time you take now will ensure your humidor will provide years of enjoyment.

New Humidor
When your humidor arrives or prior to purchase if doing so in person ensure that the humidor itself is not damaged if it was shipped and that it does the basic job of providing a air tight compartment to store your cigars.  If you are buying in person you will want to perform a visual inspection.  This will include making sure there are no visible gaps and that the lid appears to tightly seal.  You can take this a step further by performing the dollar bill test.  Lay a dollar or piece of paper on the edge of the humidor and close the lid on it.  Then try to pull the paper out.  If it pulls easily a tight seal does not exist.  Do this on all sides.  Ideally the dollar will be difficult to remove and feel like you might tear it.


The first thing you will want to do is make sure you have a properly calibrated working hygrometer.  If you already own one that has been calibrated you can move on the charging you humidor.  If this is your first humidor you will need to calibrate the hygrometer and make sure it works.  The most common method to verify a hygrometer is called the salt test.
Salt Test
1. Secure a common bottle cap from a plastic soda bottle
2. Fill the cap to the top with table salt
3. Place several drops of water in the salt so that the salt is completely saturated, but does not drip
4. Place the hygrometer and the cap in a sealed plastic zip-lock bag
5. After 6 hours the hygrometer should read 75% RH
6. If it does not there is usually an adjustment screw in the back of an analog hygrometer that can be turned to make it 75% or a calibration button on a digital hygrometer that you will need to press and hold.
7.  Your hygrometer is now calibrated and ready to use.

As mentioned earlier there are many styles of hygrometers both analog and digital.  The key is to ensure yours works properly.  Many prefer digital, but they are not required and I also use analogs once have verified they work.  The key is to think about how much you plan to spend on your cigars and decide if spending an extra $15-25 is worth protecting your collection of cigars.


Charging Humidor
 Once your humidor is unpacked and you have a working hygrometer you will want to charge the humidor.  To do this place a small glass or container of distilled water in it along with a calibrated hygrometer and close the lid.  This is where patience will be important as you will need to leave it like this for 24-72 hours.  When humidors are constructed they use kiln dried wood.  When you receive it the wood is very dry.  Placing the distilled water in it and sealing it will allow the wood to absorb the water rehydrate.  Within 72 hours the wood will be come saturated and you should get a constant reading of 70% on the hygrometer.  Skipping this step could be very detrimental to your cigars.  If you immediately place your cigars in a new humidor or one that has not been maintained the humidor will likely dehydrate your moist cigars as the dry wood absorbs the available moisture.  The other note is once you set the water in and close the lid walk away and forget it for at least 24 hours.  Continuing to open the lid and checking it will only delay the process and make it take longer.


Once you achieve a constant reading(70%) you can remove the container of distilled water and place your charged  humidification device in the box.  I suggest you leave it this way for another 12 hours to ensure the device you are using will keep the humidity at the proper level.  Most humidors come with a foam style humidifier device.  These will work, but is is very important that you only use distilled water or better yet a propylene glycol solution as the foam humidifiers are prone to mold issues.  A step up from the standard foam humidifiers are ones filled with beads designed to better hold solution and release moisture over time.  The other readily available humidifier I chose to use are humidity beads that are formulated regulate the humidity at a pre-determined % for a certain size humidor based on keeping them moist.  I chose to use ones that come in a jar (2oz or 4oz) made by Xikar.  With these you simply unscrew the lid and place the jar in the humidor periodically checking the fluid level.


Once you are confident the humidor is ready you can start to stock it with your favorite smokes.  I would suggest you only fill it to about half capacity initially to make sure your humidification device can keep up especially if you are using a foam model that typically comes with a humidor. 
Over the next week or so continue to monitor and stock the humidor  up to the capacity you intend to keep on hand.  Again, try to avoid constantly opening the lid as this will cause fluctuations.

Most importantly enjoy your new humidor and treat yourself to a good smoke.

If you want to read more on this or other cigar related topics I encourage you to read as well as search the web and visit sites like where I obtained much of my knowledge over the years. forums:

Until Next time.....