Kentucky Derby, After the fact…

I am sorry to say that my credibility as a writer and gentleman of the south has come into serious question. The Kentucky Derby, the storied Run for the Roses, one of the most dearly loved southern traditions has come and gone without so much as a single written word from me. I am ashamed. Not only is this a beloved piece southern, and, indeed, American culture, but it is also a celebration of my favorite potent potable – Bourbon. The saddest part is that I had been preparing for it. I had done my research, made my handicaps, polished my julep cups, gone through several drafts for posts, and when the time came to pull the trigger, nothing. I didn’t even watch the race (well, not live anyway.) Life just got in the way. There is, of course, no excuse for this, and there must be major atonement before I feel fit to sip bourbon from a silver cup once again.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the posts from all the numerous sources I follow that covered the Derby. Garden & Gun did a great job with write ups leading up to Churchill Downs. Brooks Brothers had exquisite seersucker all lined up for Derby Day. Vineyard Vines was at Lexington in force. But alas, this year, I did not participate at all.

Congratulations to American Pharaoh for the Derby win. Not that it matters, but my picks did well too. I never like picking the favorite. It’s too obvious, the odds are never good, and it’s just not as much fun.  I had both Dortmund and Firing Line to show (meaning make it into the top three… one of my favorite bets, as it requires significant research, but not the meticulousness that comes from those pros who win trifectas… with no small amount of luck.) so had I placed a bet, I would have walked away a winner.

I am considering wearing a white linen suit to work as a way of making up for my lack of a southern drawl this past weekend. Any other suggestions for retribution would be greatly appreciated and heartily entertained.

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Cinco De Mayo! (Plus Tequila Review)

As Cinco de Mayo draws to a close I feel I would be remiss in not making at least some note of it… especially considering I currently find myself in Southern California, where the Mexican holiday has no small amount of traction.

Contrary to popular belief, and as I am sure my readers have heard many times today, Cinco de Mayo is not, in fact, the Mexican independence day. Rather is commemorates the Battle of Puebla, and the Mexican victory over the forces of Emperor Maximillian I of France. I know, I know, it was the French… big deal right? Actually, yes, it was. Keep in mind that during this period of history the French army was not that far removed from the age of Napoleon. They had one of the finest and most modern armies in the world, and they were still more than a decade away from being crushed by Germany (the first time) in the Franco-Prussian War. Mexico held their own with a military that was still recovering from a significant thrashing (The Mexican War) that was far more recent than Waterloo. It is also worth noting that Mexico’s defeat of France was a good thing for the United States as well, since it ensured European powers would no longer dominate colonial holdings in the Western Hemisphere. The US likely would have become involved on the side of Benito Juarez against Maximillian’s troops, had we not already had a full dance card fighting in the Civil War.

So, by all means, raise a glass to Mexico and their victory in the Battle of Puebla. The last thing we want is French influence right there on our door step. (oh… ummm… Sorry Canada. Well, this is awkward)

Anyway, in recognition of General Juarez’ victory, tonight I will be sipping some Comisario Anejo Tequila. Note that I said sipping, not taking shots. Anejo tequila gets its dark caramel color from barrel ageing, much the same as a fine scotch or bourbon does, which imparts all the smooth, subtle flavors that we have come to associate with that long, respected, and labor intensive process.

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The Comisario Anejo has a solid, complex nose, with notes of caramel and toasted sugar to go right along with the peppery aroma that tequila is so known for.

The flavor is spicy with sweet undertones, and a more subtle agave bite than other, less refined tequilas. It resonates heat the same as a good bourbon, but without the chewy mouthfeel,  The richness is there, but thinned out by the agave’s spice.

It finishes with a peppery, sweet palate that is subtle, complex, and thoroughly enjoyable. Do yourself a favor the next time you’re in the market for a tequila and indulge in an anejo. Ditch the shot glass and sip it from a whisky tumbler. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll never think of Cancun the same way again.

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Bespoke Suits and tailoring in the United States

I saw this article a few days ago and I found it really interesting: Want a Custom Suit? Good Luck Finding a Tailor!  – without reading through it line by line, the article discusses how the art of fine tailoring is in danger of dying off, and there are just far too few people willing to go through the training that it takes to build a custom suit from scratch. There is a reason for that though.

A good suit is certainly a thing of beauty, but a bespoke suit – something made to measure, specifically for an individual, is something on an entirely different level. Reading this I thought to myself that there just has to be a pretty fair amount of tailors in the US, right? I mean places like Brooks Brothers, Gary’s, and Ermenegildo Zegna all pride themselves on custom tailored suits. But, for the most part, these are not bespoke per-se. Certainly the tailors at these storied institutions can take an off the rack suit and form it perfectly to a discerning customer, but most anything that would be made to measure would be outsourced significantly.

Thinking more about this, I realized that I have two bespoke suits, and both of them were purchased overseas. The process was long and time consuming, but elegant and dignified. Choosing the cloth from bolts of fabric, the initial measurements, and the discussion with the tailor of what I wanted – two button, slanted breast pocket, no pleats on the trousers, uncuffed legs, etc. Then remeasuring, forming, fitting, and several more bouts of measuring and tailoring until everything was perfect. The suits had the added advantage of coming with tailored dress shirts, also made to measure, and French cuffed, at my request. I have had these suits for several years, and still love them. My fiancé has pointed out several times that I have had them a while, and I might need to invest in some newer suits, but every time I put one on she admits that they do, indeed, still look great. In hindsight, this process is not really something that can be done in the US at what most would consider a reasonable price. The tailors of Savile Row in London are famous for their outrageous prices, and the same could be said for many boutique shops in New York City or Los Angeles.

There does seem to be a shortage of tailors in the US, but a part of that may be that there has also been a shortage of demand in the last few years – or even the last generation or so. It is not an easy profession to break into, and the training and skill required are significant, but as with any product or service in a capitalist society, a demand will create a market. A bespoke suit is an experience unto itself. When people start to realize that, and begin to be willing to pay more for something other than “off the rack” then tailors will see more demand, hire more apprentices, and the process might, through competition, become more cost effective and efficient. It all begins, however, with the consumer knowing what he wants in a good suit, and being willing to go out of his way to get it.

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How I smoke, or, The Art of Smoking a Cigar

What do I look for when I smoke a cigar? How do I evaluate it?

I have had some questions recently as to how I rate or evaluate the cigars that I smoke, and overall, what I look for in a puro. There are lots and lots of resources out there that can tell you what cigars ought to be evaluated on. There are some very impressive charts and graphs that smokers are encouraged to fill out every time they light up a cigar. Just as there are wine snobs and beer snobs, there are, indeed, cigar snobs too. I do evaluate the cigars I smoke. This post, however, isn’t about all the intricacies that go into rating a smoke, or putting a score to it. This is more about what I look for when I am simply enjoying one.

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First I look at the appearance and feel of the wrapper. Is it smooth? Ridged? Oily? Dry? Does it have a soft give when you squeeze it, or does it crack? Good cigars should be tight, but still soft, and with a bit of a give. If you hear cracking when you squeeze it, then it might be a bit dry. I like mine a little oily to the touch, but this is by no means a must.

The pre-light aroma can tell you a lot about the cigar. This is the actual aroma of the tobacco leaves. Once it is lit, that’s where the magic happens, and the artisan blends really come together to give off a luxurious smoke, but before hand, that is when you get the real feel of the growing, the curing, and the aging. Soft leathers, hints of coffee or tea, woody or oak aromas, these all come out before a cigar is lit, and they are what I look for.

When lighting a cigar I look to make sure that it lights quickly and without much effort or puffing, but yet doesn’t flare or start to burn immediately. I toast the end before I start to draw in, making sure that the tobacco is hot enough to take the flame and begin to smolder. The first, initial draws, can be hit or miss, and I generally ignore the nuances of the smoke when I am still lighting it. They can come off as harsh or too hot, and I don’t find them to be a good indication of the rest of the cigar.

Many smokers tend to divide a cigar into thirds as they smoke it – subconsciously if nothing else.   This rule is a good general base, but sometimes I find the pieces and parts to be a bit more complex than simply well-defined thirds. Like a wine that gets better as it breaths, you can see the nuances and complexities of a cigar change and open as it goes on. Please do not take this to mean that the best part of a cigar is in the end – indeed, there is typically a sweet spot in any smoke, where the flavor and enjoyment hits a peak and then begins to drift away. Keep smoking until you no longer enjoy the experience – more often than not, this will lead you right past the wrapper.

The first third of a cigar is typically where it opens up. This will give you sharp, clear, distinct flavors that really bring your senses into play. In this third you will start to look at the way the cigar burns. Even if it was poorly lit, the burn should start to even itself out and balance itself. This is the mark of a well-made cigar, and the burn line should stay somewhat level all the way towards the end.

As you smoke it down more towards the middle, the flavors will start to mellow, smooth out, and mix together. This is where a lot of the complexities and nuances come in, so you’ll want to pay attention to what you’re smoking. The second third, I have found, is typically where the sweet spot is located. This is the point where I find the most enjoyment and the richest, smoothest flavors.

Be careful around this point not to let your cigar go out. Tradition says, and this may very well be the Irishman in me, that if your cigar burns out, then you’re talking too much and not listening enough. I hate having to relight a smoke. The taste is typically bitter and rough, and while it can mellow itself out and return to a state of bliss somewhat quickly, I never enjoy the experience of bringing it back around. Take a break from your part in the conversation and relish your cigar. This is where the very best smoke comes from. Savor the velvet.

You’ll also want to pay attention to the construction of the cigar. Don’t knock off the ash, but rather, let it fall off on its own. This is one of the big differences you will see between experienced cigar smokers and those who just puff occasionally, as an expensive substitute for the inferior tobacco that is a cigarette. A long, firm, grey/white ash is the mark of a well-made cigar. If it starts to fray or deteriorate quickly, then there may be an issue with the filler, binder, or any other aspect of the construction.

The last third of the cigar should be the finishing touches – like coming down from the climax of a good book. It should tie all the flavors together and slowly wind you down into a satisfied state of relaxation, not end abruptly and leave you wanting more.

Rudyard Kipling – one of my favorite poets, also penned some of my favorite lines when describing cigars in his poem “The Betrothed”:

“Counsellors cunning and silent – comforters true and tried…

…Thought in the early morning, solace in time of woes,
Peace in the hush of the twilight, balm ere my eyelids close”

That is what I look for when I light up, and how I enjoy a cigar. Drop me a line if you’d like, and let me know what you think, and how you smoke. I hope you got something out of this, and enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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Wine Review: 14 Hands “Hot to Trot” Red Blend

14 Hands “Hot to Trot” Red Blend

Vintage: 2010

Country & Region: Columbia River Valley, Washington

Tasted Where & When: 26 May, 2013 – Back patio with a Graycliff Lancero

Color: Very dark with a purple tint

Clarity: Clear, with no sediment, but far too dark to see through the body

Aroma: Deep, rich aroma; Very full, with notes of black pepper and currants.

Flavor: Taste comes out with a bit of spice and nutmeg. It thought it was sweet, but my tasting companion disagreed. Overall, the flavor was very smooth and pleasant.

Comments: Very good, considering many regard blends as being inferior (I have seen some compare then to a blended scotch vs a single malt, though I don’t think that is a good side by side) the flavor and feel was quite pleasant overall. This is one that I would definitely consider drinking again.

Rating: 7

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Where have all the Matchbooks gone?

Where have all the matchbooks gone?

Not long ago we had a power outage in my area, and as with any good prepared family, we broke out the flashlights and candles and went about our business without much fanfare or loss of productivity. We didn’t have much of an issue lighting the candles because of the butane grill lighter that we use for lighting our gas fireplace, but I distinctly remember thinking that there just HAD to be some matches around the house somewhere. True enough, I had a small box of matches right next to my humidor with my cigars, butane lighter, and cutters, but only the one. I am a cigar smoker – I should have tons of matches. I remember in my younger days my mother had an old glass vase (it was a hurricane lamp if memory serves) just filled with matchbooks and match boxes of various varieties. This addition to the coffee table wasn’t just useful… the look was visually stunning. It was colorful, elegant, and understated. The vase full of matchbooks spoke of restaurants, pubs, bars, museums, hotels, and country clubs we had visited from a wide arrange of cities, states, and even different parts of the world. It spoke of adventures, travels, and curiosity, though I don’t even remember a conscious decision to bring back matches.

These days the only times I even see boxes of matches are when I am at a tobacconist buying some new cigars for my humidor. The smoking ban in almost every restaurant in the country is partially to blame for this – it no longer meant that there is a need for baskets of matches at every concierge desk or hostess table. I don’t begrudge this to society, as I cannot stand cigarette smoke and I am perfectly fine without it interrupting my meals, but it should also be said that the ability to produce fire at any given time is certainly a formidable tool for a gentleman’s proverbial kit bag.

So, after the power outage incident, and the realization that my butane cigar lighter was quite nearly kaput, I have come to the decision that I will endeavor to recreate my mother’s vase full of matches. Now I just have to find a place that still has them.

Who out there does something similar? Where did (do) you get your matches from? Any hotels, clubs, or restaurants still offer these to their guests? Let me know in the comments!

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Wine Series: J. Lohr Merlot – “Los Osos”

A continuation of my long suffering wine series – recording online the infernal scratches of my pen in a notebook. I am going back in time quite a bit with these, as my blog publishing has no where near caught up with my wine consumption. This particular wine was enjoyed during the week preceding my graduation with my MBA, with all the duly applicable festivities that went along with it.

J. Lohr Merlot

Lohr Melot “Los Osos”

Vintage: 2010

Country & Region: California, Paso Robles

Tasted Where & When: 25 May, 2013 on my patio, with family and good company

Color: Dark red, very deep

Clarity: Clear, though quite dark

Aroma: Rich fruits, heavy, deep, full aroma of cherry and plum

Flavor: There is definitely that bit of a bite that is common to melots, but without the heavy tannins that are normally associated with them. The J. Lohr is smooth and fruity.

Comments: This is a very nice merlot. Quite pleasant. I enjoyed this wine with a very good Berger & Argenti cigar which did not seem to inhibit the flavor. This merlot was smooth and fruity with heavy flavors of dark cherry, but not sweet. Sufficiently tart with tannin, but not like many of the heavy merlots with significant bite behind their fruit. I will definitely drink again.

Rating: 7+

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Antique Pipe Case

One of my followers on Instagram, @elderwoodpipes, asked for more information on a series of posts I made yesterday featuring an antique rolling leather pipe case. Pushing myself to write more, I figured I would use this opportunity to give some more information and a bit of an explanation.

A while back I wrote about an heirloom pipe cleaning solution (note: this is not a solution to clean heirloom pipes – the solution itself is the heirloom) that came from my mother’s cousin, Clint C. Given, Tobacconist, of Montgomery, Alabama. The recipe for the cleaning solution was found amidst a large amount of papers, correspondence, and accoutrements of the tobacconist’s trade that I had inherited. One of these was a black leather rolling case that had two adjustable leather straps running the length of its interior. Snuggly nestled within the se straps were various tampers and bowls made from metal, glass, ivory, and silver, that are used to tamp down loose pipe tobacco into the bowl of a pipe before lighting. This type of rolling pipe case is not common, despite being an antique, – with most similar products being more of a pouch for loose tobacco with the occasional slot for a pipe or tool. This leads me to believe that it may not be a pipe specific case at all, but something more for a high end tool set or something of the sort. This, however strikes me as somewhat less romantic and I will choose to use it for the more gentlemanly activity of protecting heirloom pipes and their associated tools.

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This, of course, invites a future blog on the various cigar cases that exist on the market, and what I use. How do you transport or protect your pipes, tobacco, or cigars?

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Update

So, I haven’t really posted much in a while, and for that I am quite remiss. To paraphrase Kipling (which I do quite a bit) – There are a million reasons, but not a single excuse. Between a full time job, several part time projects, continuing my service in the military, wedding planning, and all the other mundane taskings of life, I have not forced myself to sit down and write nearly as much or as often as I should. I shall endeavor to remedy that.

I have, however, continued to be active on Instagram and Twitter… you can see my twitter feed on the bar to the right of this post, and you can follow me on instagram at @gntlemanscholar Instagram – I post lots of cool things on there from cigar reviews, to trips to the Getty, to fashion pieces. It is quick and easy and offers a lot of instant gratification, but it is a poor substitute for sitting down and actually writing an article.

I hope anyone that actually reads this will accept my apologies and continue to appreciate and share my work and opinions. Thanks

G-Man

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Psyko seven robusto – Ventura cigar company

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Psyko seven robusto – Ventura cigar company

I did not have a favorable initial impression of this cigar primarily because of the extravagant marketing behind it. I am a fan of Ventura Cigar co, and they have had some excellent smokes in the past, but I am more partial to the history and tradition behind cigars, and those packaged as such – a lot of the newer labelled cigars strike me as too gimmicky, catering to the new cigar smoker in order to bring in new customers. Unfairly, I often associate these cigars with subpar smokes made for those who don’t pay close attention to what they light up. That being said, I found that the Psyko seven was precisely in line with what I have come to expect from Ventura Cigar company.

A medium to light smoke, this robusto lit up quickly and began burning well without much coaxing from the match. It has a fair volume of flavorful smoke with a pleasant, round mouthfeel. There is a flavor of toasted almonds with a soft leather aftertaste. It is earthy, and subtle, with some dark fruit notes as well.

The cigar burned a bit uneven, but the firm ash kept this from being an issue. I chose to forego my typical rich bourbon with this cigar for fear that the heavy flavor of it would overwhelm the cigar. This shows how much I enjoyed it if nothing else. There will be time enough for whiskey later. I found the sweet spot for the psyko seven to be about halfway in. This is where the burn started to even itself out and where the stronger fruit flavors came out – something not too common in many of the heavier, oaky cigars.

Garish packaging aside, I am glad that I have a few more of these in my humidor.
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