Friday, April 7, 2017

The Loss of Advocacy

"Of all men’s miseries the bitterest is this: to know so much and to have control over nothing."- Herodotus, The Histories
There are moments of helplessness in my life that I have become accustomed to; fleeting but poignant instances where I can only watch as the storm before me finally makes landfall. It is my personal bugbear the past few years. I don't say this as a preface solely to garner pity in order to balance out the fact that I never write on this damnable website. I say it because, for once...for one beautiful, blissful second, there is something I can do, no matter the personal cost.

I have been smoking cigars since 2005 and reading about them for as long. Back when I started, the vast array of information pertaining to cigars was not housed neatly on servers. It was not accessible with a quick click. You got your information from magazines and the hushed whispers of store owners who knew more than you did. There weren't many magazines, either. There was Tobacconist magazine, which you could only find at a few cigar stores...and there was Cigar Aficionado.

At the time, Cigar Aficionado was...pretty good, although that may be the rose-tinted glasses. It had full page articles on cigar regions or manufacturers, discussion of trends, and the eponymous ratings everyone was so delighted to slap on any promotional literature they put out. But, as the years passed, it started to slip. The golf section went from a small page in the back to a feature. The ads for watches costing a years worth of my tuition became larger and more frequent. But most telling of all...was the cover. Older copies of Cigar Aficionado prominently displayed it's logo in large font proclaiming, to those that picked up the tome: "This is about cigars and you'll be damned if you think otherwise." But gradually...the word "Cigar" got smaller. And smaller. And the word "Aficionado" got bigger. And bigger. This is what Cigar Aficionado looked like in 1996.










This is what it looked like in 2006:





And this is what it looks like now.


By 2026, I fully expect it to look something like this:



You can even see, based on the stories featured on the cover, the dramatic shift of Cigar Aficionado's focus from the cigars themselves to the "lifestyle" that comes with it. In 1996, the big focus was famous people who smoked cigars, reviews of maduro cigars, and the latest Cuban crop. In 2016, the biggest stories are golf, Vegas vacations, and an interview with an actor.

It broke my heart to watch Cigar Aficionado change and by 2012, I just stopped buying it. It had no information in it that I didn't already know by the time it came to print and I had to stop playing golf back in 2004 when I had my spine fused from T2 to L1. I was fresh out of college, having worked only six months, and was getting ready to have my 29th surgery so the $20,000 Rolex watches they were trying to peddle were a pipe dream of the highest order. And by that time, other magazines had come out. Cigar Press was around, even if it meant I had to drive to Albany to get it. European Cigar Cult Journal was beginning to be stocked by the local Barnes and Noble. And Cigar Snob was beginning to hit it's stride in terms of writing. I was never crazy about having models plastered all over it but it was better than ads for Mercedes-Benz. So I dropped it and never looked back.

Well...I did. Sort of.

In 2010, M. Shanken Communications purchased Malt Advocate, a magazine devoted to whiskey and whisky and however you want to spell it. It was a fantastic magazine, helmed by John Hansell with Lew Bryson, who ended up becoming a good friend, doing some serious editing and journalism work. It was a smart magazine in every sense of the word. The articles delved into the technical aspects of distilling that whiskey nerds like myself enjoyed while also not overloading the reader. The reviews were some damn crisp copy, even if I never could agree with any of the tasters. And the ads...were about whiskey, just whiskey, and they were tasteful and muted. It was a daisy of a magazine and I loved it immensely. So watching Shanken purchase it had me quaking in my boots. M. Shanken Communications helmed Wine Spectator and...

Cigar Aficionado

At first, things were okay. They changed the name from Malt Advocate to Whisky Advocate which I actually agreed with. They didn't touch beer so "Malt Advocate" was kind of a misnomer. And the writing was still snappy and fresh. But by about 2012...the ads began. It was slow at first, almost imperceptible. The ad-space began to get larger but I didn't mind, as long as the writing was there. Then, the ads changed. The first cigar ads began and my stomach clenched. But it was just one ad, it will be fine! Then more came.

More and more ads came that weren't focused on whiskey. It was all cigars at first which I could tolerate because at least it was in my wheelhouse. But the quality of the articles began to landslide. Solid articles of technical interest fell by the wayside, replaced by fluffier pieces about travel and hotels. It was related to whiskey, sure, but it wasn't ABOUT whiskey.

And then Lew left.

I feel like there is no shortage of coincidence that his name rhymed with "glue" because it seemed like he was the only one keeping it together. After his departure, the floodgates opened. The last issue I flipped through, the Winter 2016 Ireland issue, had a two page spread about golf in Ireland. The thing I had loved was gone and my money with it. I didn't renew my subscription.

Yesterday on Facebook, John Hansell stated he was stepping down, after 25 years, as the Publisher and Editor of Whisky Advocate effective at the end of April. I knew this writing was on the wall but it hurt to see it. But what hurt even more was the release from M. Shanken Communications, entitled "Exciting Changes Are Afoot for Whisky Advocate." Not only did it state that M. Shanken will be taking over as editor for Whisky Advocate but also (in regards to avenues of growth):

"As everyone knows, M. Shanken is fortunate to have two of the world’s leading luxury lifestyle magazines, Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado. We understand luxury consumers in these segments. Our vision is to build a third franchise with our deep understanding of spirits and lifestyles. We’ll develop Whisky Advocate as a lifestyle magazine rooted around spirits in general and whisky in particular. That will mean more fine-tuning of the editorial content. We’ve recently added to our stable of gifted writers, aiming at a wider consumer audience." - Marvin Shanken, 2017

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby "the loneliest moment in someone's life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly". I can agree with that sentiment. Over the past three years, I have stared into the yawning abyss of impossible choices and floundering moments as the full brunt of life's fury has crashed upon the rocks of my soul. In every instance, the choices I've had to make and the things I've had to deal with were inevitable and unavoidable. I could just nod my head in dumb acquiescence and hope that it wouldn't tear me apart. But none of it has torn me apart quite like this, despite the fact that I CAN do something. To see a thing you love die is painful. But to think it would be a magazine is boggling compared to what I've been having to deal with.

I wish them luck in their endeavors, truly. The writers at Whisky Advocate are some of the best voices in the industry and I am sincerely glad that they are getting a wider audience who will listen to them extol the virtues of whiskey.

But I will not be one of them.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Cornell and Diehl Small Batch: The Beast - Friday, April 29th

I'm fairly sure there are eldritch gods at work. If this post makes it out, please send help in the form of sage, salt, and maybe a barrel of rum.

In my first review of the Cornell and Diehl Small Batch line, I talked about how I used a pipe to meditate. I thought it was all in good fun and not something that anyone would actually take seriously.

I was wrong.

I am not sure what cruel and dark machinations are going on at Cornell and Diehl but what I DO know is that they have a preternaturally acute knowledge of my life. How else could you explain their recent blend, The Beast? It arrived on my doorstep with no warning, no notice. Seeing that it was from Cornell and Diehl / Laudisi Enterprises, I opened it like the fool I am. What horrors were nestled in-between the paper cushioning that cradled the demonic tin? What did I release from Pandora's Box?

I tried, to no avail, to contact them at Smoking Pipes. They said that they were very busy with the Chicagoland Pipe Show but I know lies when I hear them. They had gotten their evil tendrils into my sanctum sanctorum; answering my questions, calming my fervor, and heeding my pleas didn't matter anymore. Their work done, they retreated to silence. They will watch and wait as I damn myself through my own hubris.

MY HUBRIS. Oh how my vanity bested me. To be chosen to review such a coveted blend should have struck me odd but no, I deemed myself worthy to smoke it. Nay, not just deemed, but exclaimed. I should have known by the writing on the tin. Scrawled on the back in neat font, the tin reads:

"Legend has it that Aleister Crowley, famed adept of the Order of the Golden Dawn and founder of the Ordo Templi Orientis, is purported to have made a habit of smoking rum-soaked perique as a meditative aid."
In my hubris, I failed to read between the lines. How would they have known that I required a meditative aid? These blends were months in the making, were they not? How could they have foreseen what prose would fall from my digital quill? How could they cater to my whim in advance? But pride blinds quicker than then brain can register. I assumed that it was happenstance, a mere coincidence. Now I know that they have signed deals with ancient gods to ensure my fate. Here is the date of "manufacture" of the blend:


4/11/16. The evil was sealed in steel days before it arrived on my doorstep. What a fool, am I.

My last mistake was opening the can. I fear to take a picture of it lest it's evil be transmittable but whatever iota of malice that is transferred to you can only pale in comparison to the guilt I would feel should you accidentally buy a tin due to ignorance. Here, gaze quickly and remember all you can.




Should you ever cross this can, call a priest. Call several priests. This is the blend itself. Once again, look quickly. Note it's darkness, as if it is sucking in all light and warmth.


Do you have it in your mind now? Good. Now you shall be safe from rogue bundles and bags of this tobacco intent on corrupting you and your kin. Be wary in the coming days. It will be out there. It will have no label, no markings. An innocent bag of fragrant tobacco, drawing you in to sacrifice your soul.

Oh, but the fragrance. The tin is a heady smell truly befitting an occultist's smoke. It is of rich rum and smoke, like the belly of an ancient ship. Mingling between it is a peppery spice and subtle berries. It creeps into your nose and roosts, constantly fraying at your consciousness until you give in. You will yearn for it as you have yearned for nothing else in your life. It will break you to it's whim. You will pull some out and let it dry as the Nelson's blood used in its sacrifice leaves it damp but pungent. As it dries, the aroma will continue to haunt you until your willpower breaks in twain. You load a pipe-full and seek a secluded spot to rest your abnormally weary bones. And as the flame caresses it, you are lost.

The taste is like falling down a mine-shaft of hedonism. At first, the flavor of aged rum, cinnamon, and berries comforts and consoles you, telling you that all will be okay. But as you are swaddled in it's warm and blissful embrace, the ground comes up fast underneath you. By about midway through the bowl, the rum and berry flavor becomes less prominent...and The Beast comes out. It is not a mindless, ravenous demon, no. It uses it's silver tongue and guile to charm you. The Virginia cavendish and Perique base comes alive; oak and peppercorn dance between fleeting glimpses at the rum that has left you cold and alone. The dark fired burley gives a brimstone-esque flavor of nuttiness tempered with the fires of Hell. The black cavendish finishes with a slight sweetness, leaving you desperate for another puff. And you will. Oh, gods help you, you will.

It is too late. I can feel the corruption spreading. They released The Beast today and, if luck would have it, all of the tins are gone. Do not seek out this tobacco for it will destroy you mind, body, and soul. It's succulent flavor and alluring odor are but a guise. Do not seek out the tin. Do not unleash The Beast. For the tin is a pale horse looking for a rider...and hell comes with it.

I...I need to calm my nerves. Soothe my aching soul. On͜e m̢o͜re͏ p͜i҉p҉e̢ f̷ull͢ shóu͠ld do i͢t. Yes, just one more. Gi̷v̶e͏ ͞mè t̨ime to̴ ̧re̶st̀ a͏nd ͏t͟h͝i͟nk. The tin is still full, I am not lost yet. I ̕͢á͘m ͏s̵ơ̴ ̸̨w̷̧e̡a̸̧͡ŗy.́ ̡̕Me̶ḑ͢͢i̕͡tàti̴͟o̶̷̢n̷̢͝ ̷w̵͠ou̕l̵͝d͏́ b̡e ̶̕g͟òơ͜d̸͝͠.̸̛








J̃̊ͤ͒ͭͩ̊̆͒͗̌҉̨̜̗̝̬͕̩̞̜̖̯̺̤̝ų̴̵̬̫͈̹ͨͮ̒̉̑̏ͫ͊̓ͤ͊̃ͧ͂ͩͫs̷̛̼͍̮̤͙ͫ̊̈̆̀͜ͅt̸̷̡̘̼͕̭̥̖͙͍̳ͭ̎ͪ́̉̊ͣͥ̐ͤ̀͢ ̨̙͎̲̝̰͍͔͕͓̙̯̥̖͚̗̂͋̓͗͘͡o̴̥̫̲͔͕̟̥̗͙̙̘̞̲͔͇̪̱͐̑́͋͒̓ͭ͂̔ͥ͂͡͡n͂ͬ̉̋̆ͧ̂̆̽̇ͦͤ̚҉͓̤̤͕͉̩͕̭̜͚̖̥̳̰̝͈͚̫͍ȩ̻͔͓̭̣̻̳͒̓͋̏̂ͥ͋͆̑͂ͦ̌́͜ͅ ̡̢̰͎͎͍̮̞̹͖̬̲̗ͫ̅̉́̒̎ͥ̅͒̆ͩ̅̆ͨ̇ͭ͒̚͞mͨͦ̿ͥ̑̏̐͌ͮ̈ͤ̈̉͏̺̮͙̫̪̠̹̣͔ȍ̸̡̨̮̰̳͉͕̩̣̪̘͔ͨ̍̀ͯ̉͐ͅͅŗ̢̨͕͉̣̦̣̥̰̩ͫ̑̈̎͒ͧ̎ͯ͋̄̒e̵̳͕̼̹̒̎ͫ̋̿͊́ͭ͋̀͆͜͜͟ ̷̝̻̫͉̫͓̝̀̂̔̌͗́b̛̛͖̤͈̬͊̏ͩͤͦ͜ͅoͤ̾̃ͫͫ̈́͊ͮ̓͗ͣ̎ͨ͛̈͛̃̓͜҉̷̰̦̞̟̫̖̖̻͙̝̠̟̮̜͈͕̫͔͟w̖̞̺̱̫̻͔̼̯̗͈̣̦̌͂ͭ̇͌̀ͪͤͣ̔̉ͤ̈̔̊͝l̫̝̩̥͚̝̟͚̟͉̼͕̬̮̖͙̱̬̿̑ͥ́͂ͫ͟͢͜.̡̒ͨ̇̿͋ͧ̉ͬͣͤͫ͑ͦ̓̚͏͇͚̦̟͕̺͓̩̦͖̲̣͢͡͝

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

White 2 Tea Unboxing

I never liked the phrase "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Of all the things you could do with lemons, that's what you choose? Lemons are so much more utilitarian than that. How about "When life gives you lemons, make limoncello. Also maybe some whiskey sours. And some lemon marmalade." Much like life, don't limit yourself to just one option.

However, when life gives you a White 2 Tea Odds and Ends Weekend sale, the ONLY option you have is "order lots of tea." I'd never actually ordered from White 2 Tea before because a) I'm poor and b) shipping is astronomical. But after yelling at Paul on Twitter for awhile (several months, really), he relented and sweetened the pot for me. He told me to "go for broke" and he'd take care of the shipping because he's a fantastic person. Or he's just tired of me haranguing him on Twitter so maybe jamming some puer in my mouth will stop me from pounding away at my keyboard like a gorilla with rabies. Either way, it worked and I decided to throw enough cheddar at him to keep him in grilled cheese sandwiches for a few weeks. And since unboxing posts are all the rage right now (I actually think I missed the popularity mark by about 3 years), I decided I'd document peeling away the swaddling from my tea baby.

I put in the order on February 29th (lucky) and it arrived March 16th. I expected this, honestly. I think Paul had to back-pack to the shipping office near his tea cave in China so I figured it'd take a bit to get here. Also, ordering a plant product packed into brick form from China means a healthy perusal by U.S. Customs. But after patiently waiting (something I am not particularly good at), my cardboard crucible of joy arrived.

Kinda beaten up:


To be fair, it's actually not bad considering it traveled 11,722 km / 7283.7131 miles (as the crow flies) to land at my doorstep. I was worried that the cakes might have been cracked so I hurried to pop it open. Luckily, my fears were unfounded because it was packed VERY well:



Look at it. It's not the Ark of the Covenant so your face is safe. Cracking open the box released a smell that I have trouble describing. It was, in part, the funk of pu er. But it was also something else. It was the smell of...well...China. A smell that lingers faintly in the background at the Asian grocery store I go to. The smell of a different world, one that I can't place. Earthy, slightly spicy, a bit pungent. So, naturally, I huffed the box for awhile because I am deranged.

After a few good snorts, I pulled out payload:


Next came the scissors and began to disassemble the pile.


I ordered two cakes and four samples. Since I ordered over $50 worth of stuff, I qualified for a free piece of tea-ware. Paul also threw in a few bits and bobs as well, which were much appreciated. We'll start with the samples. Each were 25g and individually sealed.



This is probably my favorite one and I haven't even tried it yet. 2015 Milk, Cream, And Alcohol (Raw). Milk And Alcohol is TECHNICALLY a song by Dr. Feelgood. This is true. However, "milk, cream, and alcohol" is actually a reference to the lyrics of John Lee Hooker's "Serves Me Right To Suffer". And I love John Lee Hooker. A lot.


2015 Little Walk (Raw). This will be the only time I actually go for a walk.


2015 Pretty Girls (Ripe). Every time I see this one all I can do is hum Pretty Women from Sweeney Todd.


2015 Brown Sugar (Ripe). "So smooth you'll say 'Shit, Damn, Motherfucker.' " Now, on to the cakes!




2006 Old Bear Fangcha (Raw). Recommended to me by a few people (one of which I have a feeling it's named after). A supposed smoky bruiser of a tea that will hold up to tobacco pairings and cocktail usage. Probably should have bought another.


2015 Old Reliable (Ripe). Pu er is expensive. Really expensive if you decide to delve into buying whole cakes or even, heaven forbid, full tongs. So finding a cheap, quality cake is like nuclear fusion: possible in theory but borderline non-existent in practice. So I went for a cake of the Old Reliable because it was cheap and I wanted a full cake. We'll see how it drinks and, after that, if I can resist buying a tong.

Now, the miscellany!



2015 Smooch (Raw). An adorable little "travel size" cake that Paul threw in for me. I love smooches. Also, I love Hugs. Those white chocolate Hershey Kisses? I love those things. Sorry, I had white chocolate while writing this and I'm still thinking about it.



A White2Tea branded pu er cake pick. Perfect for prying apart cakes, chipping ice, and murdering Morrie in a Cadillac Eldorado.


An absolutely delightful teacup. Which makes me think he's psychic because I have a gaiwan and a pitcher but no teacup to drink from. So this was pretty handy.

All in all, pretty good haul. I'd like to thank Paul at White2Tea for putting up with me for this long and for (potentially) putting up with me even further. I encourage you to order from him because he's cool. I don't know how his tea is but if it's anything like him, it's gonna be good.

-Bacchus

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cornell and Diehl Small Batch: Straight Up English - March 17th, 2016

Life, lately, has been quiet. Contemplative, even. One would think that accompanying a time of reflection and solitude, a pipe would be clenched between teeth, slowly wisping smoke upwards as a smudge-bundle for the brain.

Truth is, I haven't smoked a pipe in years.

It's not that I haven't wanted to. I have. I spend INORDINATE amounts of time researching pipe tobacco blends, following new releases, building wish-lists. But...I haven't. I've been smoking cigarettes like a fool. A life of hasty kips out the door for a gasper before retreating to the warmth. It is a habit of a frantic mind, a mind frazzled by stress and excessive bodily wear-and-tear. Enjoying a pipe requires time and, frankly, a relatively serene mind. Many people say that the time they spend smoking a pipe is akin to meditation. I find my zen in video games and Youtube clips of people eating MREs. So pipes...pipes have fallen by the wayside.

However...the call of research and development has brought me back to the briar. A few weeks ago, Adam at Smoking Pipes sent me a message on Twitter. Not unheard of; we chat all the time. But in this message he had a favor to ask: try out a new pipe tobacco soon to be released. This piqued my interest. What was being released? I hadn't heard of anything from Laudisi Enterprises. So I inquired. He told me that Cornell and Diehl was coming out with a new line of limited-run tobaccos called Small Batch. He told me that the first release was to be an English blend, titled simply "Straight Up English."

I LOVE English blends.

I accepted (hence me writing this). He even sweetened the deal with a few other samples that I'll get to in a bit. But more important than the samples was this burgeoning feeling that it was time to pick up the pipe once more. Once again take up the art of fumigation meditation. A week later, a package arrived with the samples.

So...what IS Straight Up English? Well, this is the infographic that Adam sent over.


It gives a rough idea of what's going on in the tin. I asked for further clarification and he linked me to this quote on Pipes Magazine Forum.
  
"To tell true, the Virginia's interplay with the Latakia is the focus, but the White burley offered texture and underlying strength. The blend's single largest component is actually Bright Virginia from our supply of really special Canadian crop from 2013. The color, aroma and uniquely zesty sweetness of this stuff is just lovely to work with. But what this Bright has going for it in terms of character and sweetness, it lacks in the Nicotine department. And in my opinion, a lot of English or Balkan or Latakia blends tend to leave me wanting more strength. Thus, the small addition of White Burley helped to soften the Brights, and up the "Umph" a bit, though without focusing in any overt way, on the flavor of the Burley. Think adding flour to gravy vs. baking bread."

I have to admit, I've never finished smoking an English blend and then said to myself "I wish that had more nicotine" but that's just me. If I want nicotine I'll go for rope or just have a cigarette. But rounding the Virginia with Burley seems interesting. Personally, I like the contrast of the citrus from the Virginia and the clout of Latakia (like a hot-smoked lemon) but I'll give it a go.

The latakia makes it levitate.

Sample arrived as above and caused my desk to smell like a fall burn-barrel at a citrus orchard. Opening it up and pouring a bit out to inspect it revealed:



I'd pin it as a "rough and ready" ribbon cut. It's almost like a combo of ribbon and ready rubbed but that might just be me being out of the whole pipe tobacco game for so long. Loading it into my Missouri Meerschaum Country Gentleman presents no problems. It's a bit chunky but it's easy enough to pack and the perfect humidity.

In terms of flavor, well, the latakia is the first thing that hits the palate. It gives color and personality to the blend with its smokey flavor that fades to an almost black pepper spice. The core of the blend is the Virginias. Less of the citrus flavor I associate with Bright Virginia but more of an almost woody, cedary flavor. And at the very end is the Burley, giving a subtle nuttiness and almost creaminess.

This blend is a simple but well-crafted oak table. The latakia is the stain of the wood, providing the pop and color to the wood underneath. The Virginias are the solid oak planks, providing richness and backbone. And the Burley is there to sand the table smooth and reveal the grain. It's not fancy, far from it. It focuses more on complementing the Virginias than the marriage between the Latakia and Virginias that other blends do. It's not an after-dinner English, it's very much an all-day English. It can be smoked from your first cup of tea in the morning to the post-dinner brandy at night. That being said, I found it to be a bit light for my tastes. I like an English with a bit more clout. It has enough to it to make it an all-day smoker but not enough to make you pay attention. Even though I'm making it out like that's a bad thing, it's not. It's a solid smoke. Perfect for lighting and then staring off into the distance.

Perfect for thinking.


-Bacchus

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Blue Collar Reviews Series

I'm broke.

There are many definitions of broke. Some people have their version of broke, some have others. For some, being broke means they can't afford something new and shiny; a big ticket purchase like a car or house. For others, it's that they don't have any expendable income. For the unfortunate few, it's a case of barely making ends meet.

These are not my definitions of broke.

I'm not broke. I'm not even broke. 

I am BROKE.

This is how many dollars I have to my name:


That's not a lot of dollars. I mean, it is in comparison to what some people make daily around the world. But considering I owe, monthly, in excess of $900...that's not many dollars. I try not to let it get to me. I don't buy much anymore. I save and scrimp at all costs. I wait and hope that disability comes through which should cover my loan payments and supplemental insurance to complement Medicare. I eat enough cheap tuna that I probably have severe mercury poisoning. Luckily, my parents are helping through this tough time. I love my parents.

Okay, shit, this is a super depressing start. Lemme see if I can save this.