Reviews

World of Whisky: Let the Journey Begin

Monday, June 11, was SWAM’s first World of Whisky event beginning the journey in Japan.  Although we were not in the country of Japan, we had their finest whiskies.  This tasting was very special to me because over the years we began collecting Japanese whiskies.  Friends would travel to Japan and asked if there was anything we wanted.  Of course we seized the opportunity to have them bring back Hibikis and Nikkas.   The collection grew enough that it was about time to share.  Perhaps the journey should have began where ‘whisky’ was invented, nevertheless, we have been doing Scotch tastings for awhile and taking this detour would be a nice beginning from the obvious.  Here’s the line-up.

Nikka Gold and Gold:  We prepared it Manhattan style.  It was a lot more  smokier and very savory.  I’m beginning to prefer this style of flavor over the traditional Manhattan.   Paired with a Banya Cauda Mousse or anchovy mousse with tempura and fresh vegetables.  The smokey, sweet manhattan matched well with the saltiness of the Banya Cauda.

2-  1 1/4oz.  Nikka Gold and Gold
1- 1 oz. Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth
dash of Fees Bros. Aromatic Bitters
Stir in ice, strain into a martini glass garnished with a maraschino cherry

Chichibu ‘Ichiro’s First’ 3 year Single Malt:  At 61% ABV, taking it neat was too ‘hot’ to appreciate.  After a couple drops of water, the whisky opened up and shined..brillantly.  Whisky Advocate named this whisky Japanese Whisky of the Year in 2012.  The uniqueness about the Chichibu was the aroma of sandlewood.  The sandlewood profile came from fermenting the malt in mizunara, Japanese oak, vats.   For a young whisky it had viscosity and richness.  We paired this with the Bain and Kumamoto oysters.  After gobbling up the delicious and sweet oysters, a nice treat was adding a little Chichibu into the oyster shell and tossing it back to help cleanse the palate.

Suntory Hakushu 12 year Single Malt: Making it’s debut in the Hawaii market, we were very excited to try the Hakushu.  Slightly smokey aroma but not as earthy as the Nikka.  There was lightness about the 1 2 year old.  It was subtle in flavor.  Paired with a Smoked Chicken Hash and Hamakua Caprese Salad with a cherry balsamic vinaigrette, the salad kicked up the Hakushu’s flavor with more acidity.

Suntory Yamazaki 18 year Single Malt:  The dark caramel color, sweet butterscotch on the nose, and the Yamazaki 18  just glided on the palate.  Silky, Silky, Silky.   Paired with the Pan Seared Scallop with a Hibiki 21 glaze and a Braised Pork Belly with Watercress Waldorf  Salad.  This pairing done me in! The Yamazaki 18 with the Braised Pork Belly was absolutely sinful!  It felt sooo wrong eating all that sticky sweet gelatinous fat and washing it down with the 18 year.   The Yamazaki cut the pork fat in to butter.  OH…it was incredible.

Suntory Hibiki 30 year Blended:  Not available in the United States.  Four years ago, we bought this Hibiki 30 for around $500/600 US dollars.  Currently 2012, the bottle is now priced at $1000 US Dollars.  Smooth and rich with figs and cocoa.  This whisky was paired with Hacho Misa Glazed Lamb with Daikon and Wild Mushroom Gratin.  Frankly, I couldn’t help but take two bites out of the perfectly cooked dish and called it quits.  I was full to the gills!  The lamb was tender and the 30 year added a more smokier finish to the lamb.  I didn’t know which one to continue on further.  I chose the whisky and took home the lamb.

Nikka Taketsuru 17 year Pure Malt:  A generous gesture from one of our guests, Mika Hill.  She offered her bottle for the dessert course.  The Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme with Fig Jam was a home run with the Nikka 17 year.  The 17 year has a faint nutty and  chocolate flavor but paired with the pot de creme enhanced the velvetly chocolate notes.  It was a pleasant surprise to have a whisky unexpectedly paired with the dessert finale.

Kyle Matsumoto and his team at Off the Wall Restaurant did a magnificent job pairing Japanese whisky with their style of food.   What an incredible evening to start our journey.  It will be challenge to find another great food pairing for our next destination….. Scotland!

Off the Wall Restaurant

Chichibu Distillery

List of  Suntory’s Award Winning Whiskies 

List of Nikka’s Award Winning Whiskies

Category : Blog &Reviews &Spirits

HOPZ Cigar: Cigar for the Craft Beer Lover!

We had just received a shipment of Makers Mark Cigars that are packed in glass test tubes and found that a few of the cigars were broken during shipping!  We contacted our local rep and also the national rep, Eric of Makers Mark Cigars, about the disaster and without hesitation replaced the broken ones.   In addition,  Eric sent us a few samples of the new HOPZ Craft Beer Cigar.   In 2009, we met Eric at the cigar trade show over in New Orleans.  Because of our relationship with Makers Mark Bourbon, we picked up the cigar.  The Makers Mark cigar is a Dominican long-leaf “infused” with the bourbon.  The bourbon never actually touches the leaf.  The result is a smooth, flavorful cigar, medium bodied and a great match with Makers Mark Bourbon!  The bonus is that it comes in its own humidor.  The glass tube is sealed with the signature Makers Mark Wax!  It’s now one of the best-selling “flavored” cigars that we carry.

Now HOPZ, on the other hand, had us worried.  Imagine smoking hops?  The smell alone is gonna get us thrown in jail as the Humulus Lupulus (hops) are cousins of the Cannabis!!!  We found out the actual method of getting the hop taste is similar to the Makers Mark cigar.  It is infused with Centennial Hops, known for a more fragrant, floral aroma and not too bitter flavor.

As we opened the tube-yes this one comes in its own humidor as well,  there was a distinct smell of hops, flower and of course tobacco.  Afraid that this one will taste like bitter cardboard, we fired it up….

The first few puffs had the same hoppy/flowery flavors.  With this cigar, it’s not spiced like the typical bombs that we like to chew on.  Getting down to the first half, it burned quite nicely and like many of the “flavored” or “infused” cigars, it did have some large flakes of ash.  The heavy hoppy-ness blended into the Dominican Republic tobacco and the flowery aspects were well hidden.  It was a light to medium bodied smoke that was quite clean with a slight integrated sweetness.

The second half burned almost the same as the first with the sweet hoppy/ leather-like flavors coming through.  We smoked down to the nub of the cigar.  It took about a good 35-40 minutes (sampled the petite corona – 5 x 38)

Admittedly, we were looking for some flaws to not want to get this cigar, but in the end we found it to be quite balanced and not over hoppy or sweet and more importantly none of that cardboard tasting stuff either!  Pair this with an IPA from Yeastie Boys or the Dead Guy Ale from Rouge that has an IBU of 40 on a scale of 100.  Either way, it looks like we will be getting some of these HOPZ in soon to pair with our wide selection of Craft Beers.  The cost of the cigar will be about $12 for the Toro (6 x 50).

Category : Cigars &Reviews

2011 Top 25 Cigar List of List

Below is a list of cigars that our friends at HalfWheel.com put together.  This the “List of List” that was compiled by Charlie Minato and combines all of the top cigars from 41 blogs and publications that were compiled in 2011.  This must have been a huge task to compile these numbers and we are happy to see a bunch of cigars that SWAM has (or had) on this list! Check back with us as we are getting a bunch of new cigars in this year!

 

CONSENSUS TOP 25 FOR 2011

1.     Undercrown (Drew Estate | La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate | Estelí, Nicaragua)

We got the Robustos in-stock!

2.     San Lotano Oval (A.J. Fernandez | Tabacalera Fernandez | Estelí, Nicaragua)

3.     E.P Carrillo NWC (E.P. Carrillo | Tabacalera La Alianza S.A. | Santiago, Dominican Republic)

We got the Robustos in-stock!

4.     Emilio Grimalkin (Emilio Cigars | My Father Cigars S.A. | Estelí, Nicaragua)

5.     Casa Magna Domus Magnus (Quesada/SAG Imports | Plasencia Cigars S.A., Estelí, Nicaragua)

We had the both the Optimus and the Primus….

6.     Adrians CroMagnon (Adrians/Galveston Bay Tobacco LLC | n/a | Estelí, Nicaragua)

We are trying to get this one…

7.     Tatuaje La Casita Criolla (Havana Cellars | My Father Cigars S.A. | Estelí, Nicaragua)

We had the Corona and Corona Gorda….

8.     Tatuaje Black Label Petite Lancero (Havana Cellars | My Father Cigars S.A. | Estelí, Nicaragua)

We had only one box…

9.     Four Kicks (Crowned Heads | Tabacalera La Alianza S.A. | Santiago, Dominican Republic)

10.  Quesada España (Quesada/SAG Imports | The Quesada Factory | Licey, Dominican Republic)

11.  My Father Le Bijou 1922 (My Father Cigars | My Father Cigars S.A. | Estelí, Nicaragua)

12.  Illusione Epernay (Illusione | Fabrica de Tabacos Raíces Cubanas S. de R.L. | Danlí, Honduras)

We got just a few sticks left!

13.  Quesada Oktoberfest (Quesada/SAG Imports | MATASA | Santiago, Dominican Republic)

14.  Tatuaje Avion 2011 (Havana Cellars | My Father Cigars S.A. | Estelí, Nicaragua)

This is something we are getting in the future!

15.  Emilio AF1 (Emilio Cigars | Tabacalera Fernandez | Estelí, Nicaragua)

16.  Padrón 1964 SI-15 (PILOTO Cigars Inc. | Tabacos Cubanica S.A. | Estelí, Nicaragua)

We are trying to get this one in…

17.  Room 101 Namakubi (Room 101 Cigars | Tabacos Rancho Jamastran | El Paraiso, Honduras)

We are trying to get this one in…

18.  Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial 2011 (My Father Cigars. | Estelí, Nicaragua)

19.  E.P Carrillo Edición Limitada 2011 “Dark Rituals” (E.P. Carrillo | Tabacalera La Alianza S.A. | Santiago, Dominican Republic)

20.  La Flor Dominicana Colorado Oscuro (La Flor Dominicana | Tabacalera La Flor S.A. | Tamboril, Dominican Republic)

We just ordered the Double Ligero and the Air Bender from them!

21.  My Father El Hijo (My Father Cigars | My Father Cigars S.A. | Estelí, Nicaragua)

22.  Viaje Exclusivo Tower Cigars 45th (Viaje Cigars | Fabrica de Tabacos Raíces Cubanas S. de R.L. | Danlí, Honduras)

We got some personal stash of this one!

23.  Tatuaje Fausto (Havana Cellars| My Father Cigars S.A. | Estelí, Nicaragua)

We got the Robustos in-stock!

24.  Tatuaje The Wolfman (Havana Cellars| My Father Cigars S.A. | Estelí, Nicaragua)

We had just 2 boxes of this limited run…

25.  Man O’ War Armada (Cigars International | Tabacalera Fernandez | Estelí, Nicaragua)

For more in-depth analysis go to www.halfwheel.com for more information.

Category : Cigars &Reviews

The Pilgrimage to Whisky Fest 2011

The Pilgrimage started at HNL International Airport Gate 16, standby status. To my luck, I was the last person called for the last available seat on Delta Flight 1152. Flying standby was incredibly stressful especially when everything hinged on this one flight. Thank goodness! I was on my way to San Francisco.  All I could think about was my strategy on what table to hit first.

Whisky Fest 2011 did not disappoint. In attendance was my favorite Master of Whisky, Tom Turner with his lovely wife, Stephanie. The Third and Fourth Generation of Van Winkles were on hand answering questions from sloppy drunkards. It was entertaining to watch the stately Van Winkle handle the demanding questions. Not a ‘wrinkle’ under pressure. Kudos! Also representing their respected distilleries were Master Distillers from the Four Roses, Compass Box, Hudson, and Anchor.  After two hours of ‘sampling’ I’ve narrowed down my overall favorites and of course all of them are not available in Hawaii.

High West:  This was the first table I sampled. The most memorable whiskey by far was the 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan.  Everyone around me raved over the 21 yr Rocky Mountain Rye, but I wanted more 36th’s deliciously rich, slightly spiced, velvety smooth barreled Manhattan.  High West was the first legalized distillery in the State of Utah in 2007.  Utah, known to be alcohol unfriendly, was ironic to insure it would be the last state to end Prohibition.   It was their crucial 36th Vote against the 19th Amendment, hence, the tribute to the Barreled Manhattan. How does a distillery opererating since 2007 have a 21 yr old rye? The Rocky Mountain Rye was a rye barreled in used American oak. These barrels were found in a Kentucky warehouse and were saved from being shipped off to be blended with Canadian whiskies.

Hudson:  Fond of it’s petit packaging, short from a full sized bottle but far from short on flavor.  Hudson brought five of their whiskies  and the one that stood out was the New York Corn Whiskey.  The sweet corn aromatics from this white whiskey was never ceasing.  I loved it.  Opened since 2001, Hudson became the first whiskey distillery in New York since Prohibition.

How do young distilleries compete with the demand for aged whiskies?  Many are using smaller casks to age the whiskey with enough wood influence to give the whiskey its depth of color and richness in flavor.  Hudson also uses sonic maturation to help vibrate the whiskey into the wood.  The whiskey spends less time in smaller 2 gallon barrels compared to years in a much larger 53 gallon barrel without sacrificing flavor and color.

Compass Box:  The only scotch to make my favorite list.  This year I did not concentrate much on the scotches but when I saw the Great King Street, I had to sample it.  Compass Box, known to have brought the ‘cool’ factor back into blended scotches,  also sampled their famous Peat Monster, Spice Tree, and Hedonism.  Great King Street is blend of 51% Lowland, 23% Northern Highland with malty/fruity notes, 18% Northern Highland with grassy/perfumed notes, and 8% Speyside.  Rich, toasty, with hints of vanilla.

Four Roses:  I really wish Four Roses were sold in Hawaii.  It is one of my favorite Kentucky bourbons.  What is so impressive about them is how they represent themselves at a tasting like Whisky Fest.  During the VIP hour,  Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge, ‘nosed’ some of our glasses to make sure we did not have scotch residuals and then rinsed it with a Four Roses bourbon prior to trying the 2011 Limited Edition Small Batch.  I love when people involved with the product they created want to you to experience it correct and untainted.

As much as I wanted to feature every distillery I tried,  these four distilleries made an impression on me with quality of product, packaging and a passion for why they were at WhiskyFest.   One day I hope to sell these great products in my store but for now I’ll just have to patron another establishment and sip on them sparingly.

Category : Reviews &Spirits

Small Scale Black Lager Tasting

Black lagers are filling the market as quickly as Honey Bourbon.  Few of the SWAM buddies got together and chipped in to do a black lager tasting.  Guinness Black Lager recently launched their new addition to the Guinness family and we wanted to compare all the black lagers that we currently have for sale.  We posted the pictured of the line-up on the SWAM Facebook Fan  Page and we got a few responses as well as patrons on the following day asking about what our thoughts.  The line-up consisted of and it’s in the order of best to worst..

Sam Adams Black Lager:  Clearly the winner by far.  The dark roast flavor had depth and body but not to heavy like an ale.  The rich creaminess of the lager goes down very smooth and without the bitter stickiness.

Baltika #4 Original Black Euro Lager:  This was a toss up between being no. 2 and no. 3, I gave it the second best because there was hint of malt candy like Whoppers.  It was brighter in flavor than the Sam Adams and not as toasty.

Asahi Kuronama Black Ale:  Okay there’s an ale in this tasting but Japanese ales taste more like lagers.  Does it qualify?  Obiviously the Kuronama did not have the body and flavor to hold up to a black ale.  This beer is for people who want to enjoy a dark beer on a hot summer day.

Guinness Black Lager:  I did not like this beer at all.  With all the hype, I had big expectations for Guinness’ new edition, but it fell very short.  The beer was thin, flavorless and too light ~ an almost black lager.   Better off drinking the Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, now that’s a winner.

Category : Beers &Reviews

Kosher Wine 101: The Blessed Wine for any Occassion

This past Thursday Tasting was a real treat to sample Kosher wines, an unfamiliar category.  First thought that comes into mind is ” are Kosher wines serious wines?”   That’s an objective question which can be taken as an insult depending on who’s your audience.  After doing a little research on what makes a wine Kosher certified, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a serious wine with complicated restrictions that go beyond a Rabbi overseeing the cleansing of the equipment and blessing the wine.

To be a certified Kosher wine, gelatin and casein are prohibited in the wine making process.   Fining wine means eliminating the sediment or clarifying the wine from its cloudy appearance by using gelatin or casein.  Casein is a milk protein and gelatin is a collagen found in animal bones.  Most collagen comes from pigs and some casein comes from goat or sheep’s milk which are by products from animals prohibited under Jewish Religious Law.  Kosher wines use isinglass derived from fish bladders to fine wines.   Also, only Kosher enzymes may be used for fermentation.  Any enzyme coming from the legume family such as rice, corn, soybeans are not acceptable.   During Passover, the restriction becomes more stringent which no derivatives of any of the five grains: wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye may be used.

Kosher wines also prohibits hybridization in the vineyard which means no other plants may be cross bred with the grapes.   Hybrid grapes are important due to their tolerance to phyloxera and other fungal diseases.  However, there are Kosher acceptable inter-specific hybrid grapes where one parent is a European grape.

In the past, Kosher wine is synonymous  to mevushal or boiled wine.  Boiling the wine greatly altered the tannins and flavor of the wine. This strict requirement distinguished Kosher wines as tasting ‘different.’   A modernized process called flash pasteurization has minimal effect on the flavor, potential aging and is favorable with non-kosher wineries .  Flash pasteurization abides with Kosher certification.

So does the wine taste good???

Golan Heights Winery, Yarden, Mt. Hermon White Wine 2010:  Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc blend.  Light and feminine.   Lemon, lime, and hint of flora aromas.  Refreshing dryness without being bitter, alcoholie, or sharp.  Great summer wine.  Certified Kosher for Passover.

Golan Heights Winery, Sion Creek Red Wine 2007:  Sangiovese, Syrah, Gamay Noir, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo blend.  I found this wine to be slightly maderised, or oxidated.  After knowing more about Kosher wine making, I can understand there will be a pruney aroma and cooked cherries.   The vintage may also contribute to the flavor and aromas.   Perhaps a current vintage might have a more brighter flavor.

Golan Heights Winery, Merlot 2008: 100% Merlot.  Slight tar hint on the nose.  Light tannins, very quaffable and easy drinking.

Galil Mountain Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009:  100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Pinch of menthol or eucalyptus on the nose.  Very light tannins, fruit forward with dark cherries.  Crowd favorite.

 

Category : Reviews &Wine

The Smoke Line Up at Smokin’ Swings

 

Pinar del Rio Cigars

Pinar del Rio is the most western provence in Cuba where 70% of the premium Cuban tobacco is grown.  Like their namesake, Pinar del Rio Cigars produces great cigars!  We were introduced to both Abraham Flores and Juan Rodriguez of PDR back in 2009 during the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers trade show in New Orleans.  The cigar company is based in New Orleans where they also own a cigar bar on Canal Street called Don Leoncio, a popular hang out after the trade show.   Abe and Juan showed us their brand and sampled us on the cigars.  Made at their factory in the Dominican Republic called La Fabrica, each premium cigar is expertly hand-rolled.  At that time we had a small table top humidor that featured a small selection of cigars and didn’t have much room for new product.  We explained that once we expand to a larger humidor, PDR would be one of the first to be added.  Finally, our humidor space expanded and during this year’s IPCPR, as promised we placed our first order with them.  To our knowledge, SWAM is the only retailer in Hawaii that has PDRs! We just got in the new PDR 1878 series in 4 different sizes and blends and also the Liga Especial Reserva Superior!

The 1878 “Black Band” Capa Madura arrived to us in 2 sizes (Robusto and Toro).  It is a medium to medium plus body cigar that has a smooth flavor.  Toast with a slight sweetness to the finish.  They are using a Brazilian Maduro wrapper on this which is the reason for the slight natural sweetness.  Nicaraguan/ Dominican filler with a Dominican binder.  This pairs well with a shot of Makers Mark Bourbon.

 

The 1878 “Red Band” Capa Oscura also came to us in 2 sizes (Corona and Lancero).  There are only 1500 boxes produced of the Capa Oscura which is a puro or cigars pure in origin, this one being from the Dominican Republic. These have great flavor as well, the spice and nuttyness come through on the palate as well as the woodsy-ness and leather aromas.  These are dark oscura and many think that it is a stronger cigar, but darker doesn’t mean stronger, just riper. This is a medium bodied cigar that produces a lot of smoke!  A little more complex smoke, this pairs well with the the new Makers 46 Bourbon.

The Liga Especial – Reserve Superior or the “Silver Label” of the line is a Limited Edition cigar that debuted at the IPCPR trade show this year.  The blend is an all ligero or top leaf selection, which makes for a full-bodied, powerful smoke.  The flavors are hinted with leathery tobacco, slight hint of coffee and bitter chocolate.  We are fortunate enough to get a shipment of the Gran Toro in on this order but don’t think we are able to get another. As a pairing, we like the full strength of this cigar with Jim Beams new Devils Cut.

The cigars are priced from $5.99 up to $7.99 for the 1878s and $8.99 for the Limited Edition making them one of the best values in our humidor!

 

Martin Family Cigars

One of our very first experiences with a cigar representative was with the lovely Maria Martin.  Back then, she was working with Christian Eiroa for Camacho Cigars.  She has since moved on to co-found the Martin Family of Cigars and the Pedro Martin line.  SWAM is proud to say that we were the first account in the nation to order the line and it was all due to the personality of Maria, fun, energetic and a wealth of tobacco knowledge!  Her background stems from her father, the late Master Blender Pedro Martin and founder of Tobaccos Tropical where she was the President of the company, and then as the National Sales Manager for Camacho Cigars.  Maria Martin is a real success in an industry dominated by men.  Together with Ammer Cabrera of Martin Family cigars, they are producing cigars with accolades from the critics.  When we got the samples of the cigars in January, we immediately placed an order for them.

Pedro Martin “Ruby”

This cigar is made in Esteli, Nicaragua in a small factory using about 20 of the top rollers that worked for Tropical.   It is a medium-full cigar that has a Nicaraguan filler and binder with a sun-grown Corojo wrapper.  Spicy from the start that mellows out through the rest of the cigar as it shows cedar, a touch of nuttiness and over all is very complex cigar.  A brandy on the full-flavored side like Comandon Cognac or Hennessy would go great with this smoke.  The pricing for the robusto is $7.99 and the torpedo is $8.99.

 

Gran Habano

George Rico – crazy, unconventional, controversial.  These are the kind of words that come into our minds when thinking of Gran Habano and George. Crazy – At our first IPCPR, he showed off a 19ft /1900 ring gauge cigar at the show and recorded as the largest production cigar in history! Unconventional – At this year’s IPCPR, Gran Habano showcased an Ice Cream Truck as the backdrop of the booth.  Controversial – the new “Zulu Zulu” packaging depicts African children holding AK-47s.  Florida graffiti artist and Rico’s friend, Kid, was commissioned to do the artwork.   Many in the cigar community downplayed the use of the images saying “it exploited children.”   In actuality, a portion of the “Zulu” box sales go to Invisible Children an organization committed to bring awareness, support, and justice for the war affected children in East Africa.

We are getting 6 cigars from the Gran Habano line including 2 from the STK line “Zulu Zulu”.

Gran Habano #1 Churchill is filled and bound with Nicaraguan tobacco and wrapped in an Ecuadorian Connecticut leaf.  It is mild to medium but don’t confuse strength with flavor of creamy and nuttiness with toasty flavors.  Perfect with a Bailys or our new Qream Liquor.

Gran Habano #3 Shorty Robusto is a medium to full bodied cigar with Nicaraguan, Mexican and Costa Rican fillers, bound with Nicaraguan Habano and wrapped in a Nicaraguan Habano leaf.  It is a rich blend that is complex and will be one of our favorite smokes.  Because of the fuller body, this should match well with some of the lighter single malt scotches like Glenlivet.

Gran Habano #5 Rothchild is the strongest blend in the bunch using Nicaraguan, Mexican and Costa Rican tobaccos but more ligero leaves in the blend.  It is held together with a Nicaraguan Habano binder and wrapped in a Nicaraguan Habano leaf.  It has a noticeably red tint on the wrapper that we like and the power of this cigar really shows.  If you like full flavor/full strength cigars, have it with a smoky, peaty, scotch like Ardbeg or Laphroaig!

Zulu Zulu STK Lancero is a personal blend made by George Rico that was created just for him to smoke.  He decided to release a limited number to select retailers across the country in two different wrappers.  The one we fell in love with was the Connecticut.  We had the pleasure of being invited to George’s suite at the Venetian where we were introduced to the new cigar.  After a whole day of smoking (about 5-7 cigars) at the IPCPR, we thought that the cigar was not going to show well.  To our surprise, they not only did it come through on the strength but had great flavor! It was so good that we smoked it down to the very nub!  This is a cigar that measures 7.5 inches by 40 ring gauge.  We don’t know any of the details of this cigar as the filler or binder but it is one of the best Lancero sized cigars that we smoked.

These may well be the value smoke in the humidor for us as the pricing for the Gran Habano is going to be $4.99 for the Rothchild #5, $5.99 for the Churchill #1 and Shorty Robusto #3.  the Zulu Zulu will be at $9.99 and we are only getting 2 boxes.

Smokin’ Swings Cigar Event Information

Category : Cigars &Reviews

A Bitter Obsession

I am obsessed about bitters. If there’s one spirit that I have to have in my personal bar other than whiskey,  it would be bitters.  I first came to love bitters when I had a bad case of hiccups.  My friend splashed Angostura bitters on a lemon wedge and that was the end of the hiccups.  The taste had an unusual, herbal bite.  I enjoyed that sensation of stimulating my saliva glands.  Now, the medicinal elixir-cure-all is a part of my dining out routine.  Some of my favorite bitters are…

Campari, an Italian aperitif, is an infusion of herbs and fruit.  Historically,  the distinctive bright red color was produced from crushed cochineal insects which carmine dye is derived.  I prefer to sip my Campari neat and after dinner.  It helps  ease digestion after a full meal.  Most fine dining restaurants will have Campari available.

Bonal, a French aperitif, is ‘an infusion of gentian, cinchona (quinine) and renown herbs of the Grand Chartreuse mountains in a Mistelle base.’  I prefer mixing Bonal with a rye whiskey.  It’s a classic cocktail that is making a come back with the rise of mixologists behind the bar.

Amaro,  an Italian digestif or after dinner drink, is a maceration of herbs, roots, bark, flowers, and citrus peels in alcohol.  The maceration is normally aged in casks to soften out the flavor.  I prefer to sip an amaro neat as well.  There are many producers of amaro and one of my favorites is Zucca.

Peychauds, originally an apothecaric tonic made famous in New Orleans, is now produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.  Bitters are a key ingredient to the Sazerac  and Old Fashion cocktails.  Another famous and one of the oldest surviving producers of aromatic bitters is Angostura.  At one point Angostura ran into a shortage NOT because of the ingredients.  There was shortage on BOTTLES.  The worldwide shortage led to rationing and hoarding.  Problem solved, they found a new supplier and Angostura is back on track.

Cocktail Bitters, like Peychauds but with flavoring ingredients suitable for pairing with clear or brown spirits, enhance drinks with a simple dash.  For example The Bitter Truth, from Germany, has a Xocolatl Mole Bitter or Chocolate Bitters to spice up the flavor of an aged rum or reposado tequila.  The citrus bitters like lemon and grapefruit pair well with a clear spirits such as vodka, gin, and silver tequila.

September is Bourbon Heritage month.  PREP! September will creating the classic cocktails using bitters.

Category : Blog &Spirits

Coo Coo for Coconuts: Vodka, Rum, Shochu, Beer, Syrup, Milk, Water….

Did I forget to include anything else?  Like macadamia nuts, there is a world shortage on coconuts but one wouldn’t know it because it’s everywhere in the beverage world.  Coconut flavoring has come a long way from tasting and smelling like sun tan lotion.  Coconut drinks have developed into something more exotic than drinking out of coconut and adding a cocktail umbrella.  

Kai Coconut Shochu.  Two of the fastest growing beverages, coconut water and shochu, combined to make one winning product.  Shochu is a distilled spirit normally from rice, but can also be distilled from sweet potatoes, barley, and buckwheat.  The alcohol proof is 48 or 24% alcohol which about half the proof of vodka.  The trend is using Pan-Asian flavors like coconut water, lemongrass, yuzu, and ‘matcha’ green tea.  Coconut water is gaining popularity because it’s ‘fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie, super-hydrating, and naturally rich in electrolytes.’ There is a subtle flavor, but it does not taste like Mounds or Almond Joy.  In my opinion, it tastes more like Horlicks Malted Milk tablets.  The Kai Coconut Shochu does have a slight sun tan lotion aroma but not offensive.  The Horlick maltiness is ethereal and finishes without the burn.

Malibu Black Coconut Rum.  Malibu’s newest addition to their rum family.  The Black is at 70 proof or 35% alcohol compared to the Original is 42 proof or 21% alcohol.  The Malibu Black uses aged rum which gives the rum it’s darker color.  A rule of thumb that we use is the higher the alcohol percentage, the less sweeter the liquor will taste.   The Malibu Black resembles in flavor to a spiced rum with a hint of coconut.  There are nuances of toffee and vanilla on the nose and palate.

Hawaiian Coconut Vodka.  We have all ready mentioned Dave Flintstones’ Hawaiian Vodka on a previous blog, but it’s well worth a second shout.  Hawaiian Vodka is small batch, artisan vodka made in Honolulu, Hawaii.  The Hawaiian Coconut Vodka is very much like the Kai Coconut Shochu but with a more silkier texture and lingering flavor.  It tastes much like haupia, a favorite luau dessert.  I wished it was called Hawaiian Haupia Vodka, but it would be a little harder to market…i understand.

Maui Brewing Co. Coconut Porter.  When this beer first debuted, there was a lot of skepticism about the coconut ‘flavoring.’  Critics were shushed because the Maui Brewing Coconut Porter took Gold Medal for the Herb & Spice category at the 2006 World Beer Cup.  The aroma is full of rich, roasted nuttiness.  There is a slight hint of toasted and salted coconut.  Maui Brewing Co. toasts the coconuts themselves to insure the flavor.

Why we are coo coo for coconuts?  We live on a island where the palm trees sway.

Category : Reviews &Spirits

2011 IPCPR (International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailer Association) Recap

This month we got the opportunity to spend time with a bunch of our cigar suppliers up at the IPCPR trade show in Las Vegas.  We made commitments to the newest and most sought after sticks out there. Our recap on the brands soon to arrive: Pinar del Rio, Viaje, Tatuaje, SAG and the Miami Cigar Co.

Pinar del Rio.  We first met Abe Flores co-founder of PDR back in 2009 at the IPCPR in New Orleans.  We were very enthusiastic about the brand but unfortunately our humidor was too small and did not have the space.  Today the humidor space is not a problem, so over the past months we secured the Liga Especial, only offered at the trade show, a 6 x 54 ($9.99 per stick), 1878 Reserva Dominicana Oscura in both the Corona ($5.99) and the Lancero ($7.99) and the 1878 Cubano Especial Maduro in both Robusto ($5.99) and Torpedo ($6.99).  Abe is a good guy that supports the industry and it shows in both the flavor of his cigars and competitive pricing.  Think about reserving a couple of these sticks because it will go like hotcakes!

Viaje.  Andre Farkas, the president of Viaje (journey) Cigars, hails from the City of Angels and came to the show with his guns – well BOMBS- a blazin’!  We ordered the Oro in both Robusto size ($9.99) and the Torpedo ($12.99).  We first smoked the vitolas back in 2009 and they were damn good.  Viaje branched off with a series of Limited Edition cigars that were named after military munitions: “MOAB” (Mother of all Bombs), “WMD” (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and the “Daisy Cutter”.  These were all full bodied cigars that had great depth of flavor.  We also ordered two new lines of his Skull and Bones Limited Edition called “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”.  We haven’t gotten word if we will get these in for sure but we are crossing our fingers.

Tatuaje.   We met Pete Johnson of Tatuaje Cigars through Bernie Leong of The Havana Club Honolulu while participating in the No Joke Smoke event.  Pete has been a regular guest at the No Joke Smoke for the past three years.  Today, Tatuaje is one of the fastest growing and HOTTEST brands in America!  With his standard line being the most “Cubanesque” of any cigars outside of Cuba, he is the originator of the modern Bad boy cigars.  The first thing you notice about Pete is the amount of tats on him, hence the cigar company “Tatuaje” or tattoo in Cuban.  His Limited Edition cigars sell out within hours (not days or weeks or months) and they always deliver with flavor and intensity!  We are getting in the Black Label Petit Lancero ($10.99) and the new La Casita Criolla which is all broadleaf in the filler, binder, and wrapper.  The corona will go for $7.99 and the corona gorda for $8.99.

SAG or Fonseca.  Manuel Quesada is the owner but, his nephew, Terence Reilly, is in charge of the US operation.  We met Terence while visiting Hawaii last year.  He says that he is also the head janitor, painter, office clerk and everything else that Uncle tells him to do.  We understand all too well about family operations. Casa Magna, which was the Cigar of the Year in 2008, came out with a line extension called “Domus Magnus” smooth and full.  We are getting in the “Optimus” size or 5 ½ x 52 box pressed.  This one will go for $8.99 and will sell out fast!

Miami Cigar Co.  Nestor Miranda heads the operation. Recently we brought in the “Para Japon” cigar that supported the relief efforts in Japan, a not so typical contribution.  Our contact is Nilo Perez who we met at the tradeshow.  Nilo is a very outgoing guy and a wealth of knowledge.  Because of Nilo, we are bringing in the “La Serena” line of cigars in both the corona ($8.99) and belicoso ($10.99).  You can’t miss these cigars because of their humangus bands!  They look uber-lux cool. La Serena cigars are made by Don Pepin Garcia and uses broadleaf wrappers which gives it a fuller bodied smoke.  We are also are bringing in the Nestor Miranda Art Deco “Coffee Break” a full flavored cigar that measures 4.5 x 50.

Later in the year, look for EP Carillo, Padron Family Cigar, Grand Habano, the new Liga Privada Under Crown and Hoya de Nicaragua’s “My Uzi Weighs a Ton. “  We can’t wait for our new stuff to arrive! ~For now all smoked out

Category : Cigars &Reviews