Three Ways New FDA Regulations Hurt Cigar Smokers

I’m sure that everyone has heard enough about politics in the past few months to last a lifetime. The presidential election, nationwide protests, and international concerns have filled our newsfeeds and conversations constantly. At Cigar & Whiskey, we vastly prefer to not get political and focus on reviewing great cigars and drinks, however recent FDA regulations have the potential to significantly impact our hobby and we feel our audience should know about it.

Our friends at Famous Smoke Shop recently put together their cigar rights portal. It features a ton of great information on the new FDA regulations and gives information on what we can do to keep it from hurting cigar connoisseurs and retailers. We took a look and wanted to call out a few of the major impacts these regulations can have.

1. Unlawful Designation of Tobacconists as “Manufacturers”

Under new regulations, tobacconists who blend pipe tobacco or put together cigar samplers can be labeled as “manufacturers”. Despite the fact that they had no role in growing or aging the tobacco, and are simply offering it in different configurations to the end user, now they are labeled as much a manufacturer as those who do so.

The reason for this is pretty simple. Manufacturers are subject to many harsher regulations that retailers. From a customer perspective, this has two major negative consequences. First, retailers now have much less incentive to put together their own blends or cigar flights (many of which reflect years of expertise and pairing knowledge. Second, those who do continue the practice will have to raise prices significantly to account for the regulatory burden. In either case, it’s a lose-lose for the tobacconist and the customer.

2. No New Cigars Can Be Introduced Without Prior FDA Approval

Many boutique cigar brands produce amazing stogies, even without pre-existing distribution channels or massive capital investment. Now, it will be much more difficult for new cigars to reach the market because any new cigar must be pre-approved by the FDA. Of course, this process is neither fast nor cheap.

The only brands that will likely be able to shoulder this burden are existing market players, and even then expect to see variety of cigars decrease substantially as each cigar must be able to pull its weight financially in the wake of an onerous approval process.

3. Free Samples Are Banned at Cigar Shops and Events

This one may sound pithy, but the inability for shops/brands to promote new products has major implications. Many smokers fall in love with a family of cigars as a result of a sample had from a rep or store owner, and taking away that ability simply limits exposure to already niche products.

In addition, from a philosophical perspective this also stings. Why limit the ability to market products (even ones that are approved by the FDA) to willing adult buyers? Certainly shady tactics and underage targeting should be squashed, but this regulation does little but hurt boutique brands and keep consumers from trying new product.

There’s a lot more to dive into here, and I hope everyone reading this will take a few seconds to dive into Famous’ portal to learn a few things you can do to help curtail these harmful regulations. And not to worry, we’ll be back soon with some tasty reviews!

Bobalu Cigar Company 20th Anniversary Tribute

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We’ve mentioned before but it’s worth reiterating: Bobalu cigars will always remain near and dear to my heart. That’s because they were the first cigars that I ever really loved, and they really opened my eyes to the flavor possibilities that premium cigars could hold.

To commemorate years of handmaking cigars, they recently released a special edition 20th Anniversary Tribute cigar. It is a dark-wrapped stick with smooth seams and a very slightly toothy texture. It’s band features the city of Austin skyline, referencing the downtown location that has served as home base for Bobalu and its core of dedicated fans. After I’d admired my hometown depiction long enough, I gave it a cut and started toasting.

I’ol admit, I was a little nervous on this one. I have sometimes encountered construction issues with Bobalu cigars (in the distant past, and infrequently), and I really did not want that to be the case here. I am pleased to report that it was not. The initial draws offered the perfect amount of resistance, and it burned evenly throughout the entire smoke. Flavor-wise, the first third offered nutty pecan flavors and toast. Very subtle sweetness from the pecan meant that the smoke was not at all cloying, nor was it particularly rich. However, it was deep and very enjoyable.

The second third saw a subtle shift in the flavor, with the pecan and toast becoming more woodsy, almost oaky, though never quite touching that kind of campfire smoke taste. There was a touch of cinnamon here as well, along with a hint of paprika. Regardless, none of these flavor popped, but maintained that very gradual shift into focus.

The final third maintained the theme of “smooth transitions”, though this time even more subtle, and nothing lingered long. For a few moments I’d detect some significant dark caramel flavors, almost burnt. Then they would dissappear and return to the woodsy flavors I’d been enjoying. It was an interesting experience, just as the cigar would shift into the background of conversation then it would smoothly pull focus again.

This cigar is worth seeking out, certainly if (as I’d imagine is the case for most of my readers) you haven’t tried a Bobalu cigar before. However, if you are already a Bobalu fan, this is a must try and a worthy tribute to the brand. A very interesting cigar that, for me, reminded me why I fell in love with stories in the first place.

Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Personal Reserve

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It’s no secret that Arturo Fuente makes some damned fine cigars. Many of his lines, including the famed Añejo and Opus X, rank among my personal favorites. So, when I discovered the Don Carlos personal reserve I knew I’d be in for a real treat.

The packaging on this cigar is handsome, very classic Fuente styling with just enough gold to exude class without being gauche. The cigar is also beautifully wrapped, with flawless construction aesthetically speaking. I gave it a classic cut and toasted it slowly with a soft flame lighter. This was a stick worth paying extra attention to.

The first few puffs gave me a combination of leather and black pepper. The pepper pops waned and (excuse the metaphor) it began to feel as though I was sinking into a well worn recliner. The strength was perfectly balanced and highly conducive to lounging. Call this a stress relief cigar. The smoke production was also impressive, nothing too strong but enough to feel substantial and give a very creamy mouthfeel.

The second third saw the leather flavor deepen into a slightly caramelized simple syrup. Rich and deep. The cigar was burning razor straight and was cool to the touch at this point. The value of construction is definitely not just aesthetic here.

The final third brought an even deeper syrupy flavor and an increase in strength. Each puff felt and tasted like molasses dripping off the tongue. However, it never became too cloying. This was a CIGAR, and a very subtle woodsy note did begin to permeate the smoke during the final third.

If I had to describe this cigar in a word, it would be “balance”. Each puff feels complete, and though its not quite as attention grabbing as some of the smokes I’ve tried, it’s one that commands your respect. In the same way that your mind begins to wander to wondrous places even while you enjoy the sensation of a good massage, this cigar is conducive to whiling away an hour or so in near complete relaxation.

 

Bernheim Original Wheat Bourbon

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51% winter wheat, 39% corn, 10% barley malt. 45% ABV.

It’s cold outside now in Austin and we’re back at it with the whiskey reviews. Last week, I wanted to try a new wheat bourbon. I’m only really familiar with WL Weller, a staple over at C&W, and it’s such a reliable bottle that I’ve rarely ventured out to see what else is out there. The Weller, which we’ve reviewed here a while back, features a chewy, satisfying flavor and stays away from oversweet qualities or astringency that might be endemic to a wheat whiskey. It was against the Weller standard that I rolled the dice on the Bernheim Original.

Three of us settled on the porch, each with different cigars but splitting the Bernheim, a few splashes each and neat. By itself, the Bernheim is astringent. If you’re unfamiliar with this taste, do you know how you’ve choked down Robitussin as a little kid, at the direction of a parent or a school nurse? The first part of Robitussin, out of those little plastic caps, is not that bad. It tastes a little bit rich, round, like licorice. But the end – what we call the backsip – is the rough part. It makes you pucker your lips and grimace unrecognizably. The Bernheim, without any water or ice to open itself up, has the same effect. So, because we like to enjoy ourselves and not feel like we are taking medicine, we added some water.

Room-temperature water opened up this bottle very well. The Bernheim only needed a splash, and we could taste some vanilla, cedar and of course the wheat. Grant, who had joined us on the back porch for the night, mentioned that a couple of big ice cubes were his favorite way to water down a nice whiskey. I agree with this. You may taste something different in the drink when the ice is at various melted levels; we were fresh out of cubes, so water had to do. Either way, we were drinking a wheat bourbon on the back porch – hard to complain otherwise.

Even though some water saved the night, it’s difficult to justify the Bernheim Original for the price. The 750 ml bottle ran for about $28, the same price point as WL Weller. It’s a thinner, less developed wheat bourbon, and Weller is just the superior product in this field. If you happen to need a wheat bourbon for a particular sort of cocktail, the Bernheim is excellent – a couple of days later I used it for a hot toddy kind of drink with a cider, and the sharpness complemented some of the sweetness. But if you’re hoping to sip something straight, neat or with an ice cube, spring for a different wheat bourbon. I’m continuing the hunt for something to beat WL Weller.

The Third Annual Pumpkin Beer Tasting

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Although we are Cigar and Whiskey, we pride ourselves on trying a world of delicious things in the world of smoke and drink. So it was three years ago that we decided that we’d try some pumpkin beers and let everyone know what we thought. Last year we tried even MORE pumpkin beers, then promptly got too drunk and forgot to write down everything (this shall henceforth be referred to as “the lost year”). However, this year we decided we wouldn’t be doing this project justice if we didn’t taste ALL of the pumpkin beers we could find in the central Texas area!

We also decided to base this round on data more than remembering specific taste, because frankly its hard to keep great notes when you’re 40+ beers deep. So, we gave all of our tasters scorecards (there were eleven tasters total) and had them rate each beer on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being “not fit for human consumption” and 5 being “give me the rest of the bomber”. We then combined and averaged the scores to bring you our official ratings for this year!

We’ll include in the list below the name, brewery, and style of the beers in addition to the average rating. If you’ve got any questions or opinions on the beers themselves then sound off in the comments and we’ll do our best to try to remember them…(seriously, next year we’re going to include a better notes section because relying on memory for specific tasting notes is, shall we say, impossible).

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the list!

Name Brewery Type Score
Black’O’Lantern Wasatch Stout 4.27
20 Pounds of Pumpkin Samuel Adams Ale 3.82
Pumpkin Ale Whole Hog Ale 3.82
Pumpkin Ale Upslope Ale 3.82
Pumpkinator St. Arnold Imperial Stout 3.73
Pumpkick New Belgium Ale 3.45
Imperial Pumpkin Smash Crown Valley Stout 3.45
Krunkin Pumpkin Karbach Ale 3.27
Nightmare on 1st Street Off Label Imperial Ale 3.00
Leinenkugel Harvest Patch Shandy Leinenkugel Shandy 2.86
Harvest Pumpkin Ale Blue Moon Ale 2.82
Imperial Pumpkin Harpoon Imperial Stout 2.82
Pumpkinhead Shipyard Ale 2.64
Pumking Southern Tier Imperial Ale 2.64
Imperial Pumpkin Porter 26 Epic Imperial Porter 2.55
Pumpkin Massacre Infamous Porter 2.55
Pumpkin Seasonal Wasatch Ale 2.45
Punk’n Uinta Ale 2.45
Funkier Pumpkin Boulevard Brewing Company Spiced Sour Ale 2.45
Headless Gentleman Imperial Bourbon Porter Strangeland Brewery 2.45
Pumpkin Spice Latte Buffalo Bayou Ale 2.45
Imperial Pumpkin Porter 15 Epic Imperial Porter 2.36
Wick For Brains Nebraska Ale 2.32
Pumpkin Spice Latte Breckenridge Brewery Stout 2.27
Punkin Ale Dogfish Head Brown Ale 2.27
Sleepy Hollow Five Stones Ale 2.27
Pumpkin Patch Rogue Ale 2.27
Funk’N’Patch Uinta Ale 2.18
Punkel Lakewood Brewing Company Dunkel 2.09
Smashed Pumpkin Shipyard Ale 2.09
Pumpkin Ale Kennebunkport Ale 2.00
Pumpkin UFO Harpoon Unfiltered Ale 2.00
Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat Shock Top 2.00
Fall Hornin’ Anderson Valley Ale 1.73
La Parcela Jolly Pumpkins Sour Ale 1.55
Rumpkin Avery Brewing Ale Aged in Rum Barrels 1.45
Post Road Pumpkin Ale Brooklyn Ale 1.36
Hooligan North Peak Ale 1.27
Pump(KY)n Avery Brewing Porter Aged in Bourbon Barrels 1.18
Pumpkin Lambicus Timmermans Lambic 0.91
Pinchy Jeek Barl Anderson Valley Bourbon Barrel Pumpkin Ale 0.91
Warlock Imperial Stout Southern Tier 0.91
Pumpkin Latte Martin House Stout 0.73

We’d also like to give a special shout out to WhichCraft Beer Store in Austin Texas for helping us curate our selection this year and offering us a few hard to find selections they were aging. Thanks guys!

 

Tatuaje The Kreuger Halloween Series #9

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I am an enormous fan of horror. I am so, so glad that there is a cigar maker out there who is as well, allowing me to combine two of my great passions. This year I was particularly excited, because the Kruger is inspired by perhaps my favorite classic slasher, Freddy Kruger from the Nightmare on Elm Street series. In the past, I have been impressed by the quality of these cigars (because it would be incredibly easy to make them purely as a gimmick and still get sales). I’d have to see if the streak continued.

To start, this vitola is really unique. It’s a box-pressed torpedo that has length similar to that of a Churchill. I have not done any additional research to confirm this, but my theory is that it is supposed to be reminiscent of one of Freddy’s finger-knives. I’ll choose to believe this, because it’s just too cool to think otherwise. The wrapper is slightly rough and mottled, with a slightly slanted cap. It gives off a smell of damp earth and pepper even before the light.

The first third was frankly kind of shocking (in a good way). There were rapid transitions and pops of flavor that made every puff a unique experience. I got pink peppercorn, maple syrup, and little bits of crystalline sugar flavors. There was also a slightly tannin quality to the taste as it lingered. This was overlaid over a bright cedar flavor with a touch of brassiness. This absolutely commanded attention and made it a really interactive smoke.

The second third really saw the cedar deepen. I also got a sweet hay flavor. The pepper took a backseat at this point but the strength of the cigar also gradually ramped up. A rich fruit taste also appeared, something like apple or apricot.

The final third brought really deep leather flavors, a resurgence of black pepper, and some more maple sweetness. The flavors remained fairly constant during this third, but the strength was definitely up there.

This cigar was incredibly fun to smoke. I made the comment as I got into the final third that this length was perfect because I fell in love with it and still had plenty to go. Freddy Kreuger may be a horrifying nightmare, but his cigar is an absolute dream to smoke. They’re out now, so pick one up while you can!

La Palma Dominican Maduro Corona


If you visit Denver Colorado, you will be very tempted to drive everywhere particularly if you are near the outskirts where several of the craft breweries call home. It’s wide open, with plenty of industrial warehouses, body shops, and shipping businesses. However, resist the temptation. You will stumble upon many absolutely hidden gems. Although they are not located in an obviously close area, in about half an hour I ran across an urban winery, chocolate tasting room, several breweries I’d never heard of, and finally a tucked away cigar lounge with a serious focus on rum. That’s where this current tale was written.

Being out of town, I’m usually interested in the novelty of a new store. I try to see the new blends that may have come out that are yet unavailable in my area or simply difficult to find. In this case I asked the proprietor for a recommendation for “something new and/or particularly interesting” in his humidor. He mentioned some Tatuajes and Illusiones (excellent choices to be sure), but then said “I actually have my own blend that I sell here”. Bingo.

Now, if you’ve been to some smaller cigar shops, you’ll know that many times this is an iffy proposition. To be honest, they are usually fairly amateur. However, I am one to judge a book by its cover for better or worse, and these were clearly thoughtfully packaged. I probed a bit further, and realized after some minor discussion that this was no throw-away blend. This was an enthusiast who put together something interesting that he personally wanted to smoke. When he mentioned his specific pairing preference (Cuban-style rums) that these were particularly blended for, I knew I had a winner in hand. So, I cheerfully purchased a corona (his preferred Vitolo, and usually mine) and bellied up to the bar with a nice glass of Viscaya 21 rum (another personal recommendation – normally I’m fairly confident in my drink selections, but I’ll never pass up a personally curated experience from the blender himself).


The cigar opens up with several big flavors, all vying for dominance in the first third of the stick. I got black pepper, cedar and cinnamon in equal measure, though the cedar began to soften into something more syrupy as the the third progressed, and the cinnamon melded beautifully as the black pepper gave way slowly until it added just a touch of heat on the retrohale. The flavors linger for a long time on the tongue, and here’s where the dedication shines through. This particular blend accentuates and mitigates the somewhat cloying sweetness of the rum, forming an elegant marriage that, though perhaps overwhelming on an invidual basis, morphs into a whole substantially more elegant than the sum of its parts.

 The second third really accentuates the smoothness while adding just a touch of caramel and sugar cane without losing that toasted cedar flavor in the first. Again, these tastes are powerful, yet they don’t overwhelm the rum and vice versa. I’ll also add that the venue is the perfect place to enjoy such an experience, plush with leather couches, a well-placed ventilation system, and electing hanging lamps. It is down to earth but luxurious. The conversation with Clay doesn’t hurt either, he’s a great conversationalist and worth the seat at the bar alone. 


The final third of the cigar is an extension of the second, the flavors continuing to meld with the occasional pop of pepper as if to remind you that you’re smoking something interesting and you oughtn’t to drift off in the clouds of perfumed smoke too much. No doubt that you need to pay attention to the rum as well, though they meld so beautifully that is honestly hard not to just sit back and drift off into introspection. 

I’ll say a word on the construction of the cigar as well. There are two kinds of excellent construction: those that perform well consistently, and those that recover without any real babying. This cigar falls into the second category. Several times I was sure it had gone out and would require a relight, but a few puffs brought it easily back to light. It kept a sharp burn throughout and never had any major issues.


If you ever find yourself in Denver and want a very chill cigar smoking experience, look up Palma Cigars and settle yourself in. The blender/proprietor, Clay Carlton, will treat you right. He’s also a fervent support of our troops and has sent cigars overseas for years. It’s a great place, a great cigar, and well worth your money and your visit.

The Patoro Churchill Serie P – Dominican Standby with Brazilian Kick

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Stephen lit up a Patoro Churchill the other night during a poker game. I have to admit that it stank. Stank like I’ve never smelled stank before from a cigar. Wet-dog-smell stank. Ol’ Steve had put in some new Boveda packs into his coolidor, and while the packs tend to even out over about a week’s time or so, it sometime takes a while for the humidity to level out. This was a new cigar, too, and it may have been wet from the store to begin with.

Either way, Stephen got me a Patoro Churchill for my birthday, as well, so I can’t wet-dog on him too much. Mine “felt” like it was at a good temperature – neither spongy and full of humidity nor dry and crisp like kindle. The Patoro Serie P is a relatively new line with Dominican fillings and bindings, but with a Brazilian wrapper. This turned out to be my first Brazilian-wrapped cigar since I smoked the CAO Brazilia Gol in 2011.

Immediately, I knew that I’d gotten a Patoro in better condition than Stephen’s. The cigar lit with ease, the smoke production was immediate, with an easy and graceful draw.

The first notes kicked off with chocolate, cream, and a little char. This lasted for about 20 minutes or so, and soon it turned into a mellow, low-key flavor profile. Many cigars don’t follow the rule of thirds, in which the flavor changes up over the course of the experience. While the smoke was tasty (and not reminiscent of an old, mossy children’s pool, as Stephen’s smelled), it was mellow and low-key to the point of blandness. The flavor never changed afterwards. I don’t want to down on this cigar – it required no maintenance at all and let me talk on the porch without having to pay too much attention to it. But the Patoro never really grabbed my attention in the first place. Still, a birthday cigar is a birthday cigar, and it was a perfect choice for an easy, relaxed, run-of-the-mill night.

At $12 a stick, the Patoro might be a little too pricey for an everyday or regular smoke. And I can’t recommend it on a special occasion, since there are plenty of other cigars at that price point that would offer a little more variety and excitement. Still, if the box was uneven, perhaps Stephen and I both missed a delicious one. Looking forward to trying it again.

Yamazaki 12 Year

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I have never tried a Japanese whisky before, though I’ve been intrigued by them for quite some time.

My fascination began in 2014, when Suntory’s Yamazaki Sherry Cask ranked first in the Whisky Bible, unseating both Scotland and Ireland for the title of best whisky. Yeah I know. Holy shit.

Anyway, I’d been tempted before by other Japanese whiskies but felt I needed to hold out for the Suntory Sherry Cask. So, I passed up other acclaimed brands, including the also-legendary Nikka. I needed the best.

And so it was that I found myself in Swifts Attic, a fantastic Austin dinner place with a rotating and delicious whisky menu. I debated for a while what to get, and then I saw it. No, not the Yamazaki Sherry Cask, but the equally appealing (I’d had a Manhattan before hand) Yamazaki 12 Year. Fuck it, thought I. I’m gonna do this.

I bothered the bartender (a cute blonde with that decidedly “Southern thing” going for her) and asked her to pour up the Yamazaki for a tasting. She kindly catered to my bullshit and obliged, giving me one neat, one with a cube, and one with a splash of water.

I’ll start with the neat. The nose on this thing was potent. I got rubbing alcohol accompanied by a bright polished brass aroma and a touch of smoke. Though it was Japanese, the aroma reminded me of an intense Islay Scotch. The taste was similarly intense thought slightly fruity, giving me fresh black cherry, peat, cane sugar and Mediterranean spices.

The splash of water did change the nose of the drink slightly, dulling the brass a bit but keeping the smoke. However, the flavor profile remained mostly the same. It would take more than a splash to temper this beast.

Finally I tasted the drink with the ice cube. This version unlocked many more of the subtleties of the Yamazaki 12 Year. I got ginger, browned butter, dried cherry, and sea salt on the nose. I took a sip and was rewarded with delicious cherry flavors, more of the browned butter, and a taste of caramel that had been cooked just a touch too long. It was complex and rich.

Overall, I’d say the Yamazaki 12 Year was unexpected, but mostly because I didn’t know what to expect! The flavors were a bit too harsh neat, but they really shine when brought down a bit by an ice cube (or to a lesser extent by a splash of water). Check it out if you want a challenging drink. This is not something to sip casually. Give it some attention though and you will be rewarded.

Edradour 10 Year

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What is it about gifted whisky that makes it taste so much better?

I’d like to attribute it to the kindness and thought that goes into it (and don’t get me wrong, that does play into it). But even more than that, I love the thrill of tasting a bottle that I didn’t select myself. Whether the giver selected it because they assumed I’d like the profile, or because it’s one of their old favorites, it always brings to mind a curated experience. It communicates something nonverbally between friends, and translates taste from one person to another. Plus whisky you don’t pay for is just damned good.

So it was with the Edradour 10 Year, a birthday gift from my good friend Venkat. I’ll admit I had never heard of this single malt scotch before, but I was eager to give it a try. The label is rustic though elegant, bringing to mind some of the classic distillery styles that doesn’t capitalize on minimalist pretensions. The color is browned butter and it has a fragrant floral/honey nose.

I poured it with a single large ice cube in my standard style and immediately took a sip to taste the largely undiluted character of the drink. Even in this state it had a smooth, rich caramel flavor cut with just a hint of campfire smoke. The taste lingers, offering just a hint of red apple on the palate.

As the cube melted and the conversation became more relaxed, so too did the flavors. Although I’ll admit that I finished the drink well before the cube melted considerably, it held its character even as it mingled with the water. The only thing that changed was the beverage became more refreshing. I drank it at night, but I could imagine this being the perfect scotch to enjoy with a splash of water after a day of yard work.

Even more impressive from a pairing perspective was its ability to hold up to the Opus X I smoked with it. Normally scotches require a certain amount of peat or smoke to achieve this, but the Edradour 10 didn’t waver despite its sweeter flavor profile.

I’d highly recommend this bottle. Once it’s finished I will seek it out again (assuming I can’t convince Venkat to give me another).