State of the Humidor Address


“He shall from time to time give to the reader information of the State of the Humidor and recommend to their consideration such cigars as he shall judge necessary and delicious.”

  • Article II, Section 3 of the Good Smokestitution

I stand before you today, as I have several times before, humbly asking for your forgiveness. I did it again, disappeared for months, left you all unsatisfied in your quest for stories uplifted by love, happiness, and Good Smoke. But as I compose this post today on the new laptop my lovely wife Dana got me for Valentine’s Day, I do so with a renewed vigor and the hopes that such a layoff will never happen again.

It’s a shame that I lapsed, because 2015 was as good a year for this blog as I could have ever dreamed of. Site traffic nearly doubled as more of you wonderful brothers and sisters of the leaf stopped by to view tales of personal growth, friendship, and an expected new addition to the family. Even better was the outpouring of support for my four-part series on how to do a cigar tasting and my first sponsorship, the Famous Smoke of the Month. I often feel like I don’t deserve the praise I receive, but hearing from so many of you really warmed my heart.

This past year was also one of tremendous personal successes. Dana earned a long-deserved promotion at work, taking a newly-created position to do the long-term maintenance planning at the company’s most profitable site. The move allowed me to scale back working at the pharmacy and assume a full-time role at home with our son, Benigno. In spending his time with both mama and papa, Beny has developed into a fiercely confident little toddler who loves dancing, chasing the dog, and climbing the stairs.

I cannot overstate how wonderful this change was, as it also allowed me to concentrate more on my freelance writing work. I was published six times in 2015, and had the opportunity to work with the likes of Josh Hutcherson, Jena Malone, Ron Howard, Kat Candler, and Nik Wallenda, amongst many others. The writing scene looks strong this year as well, with one publication in the books and another three on the way.

Beny celebrated his first birthday with wall-to-wall friends and family, Deej and Monica bought their first home, Meagan and Cory got engaged, Eric and Arielle got married. To cap it all off, our family took its first vacation in four years, island hopping around the Caribbean for 10 days in December. It was a truly magical year.

I smoked 17 different cigar brands in 2015, and I have another 42 sticks in the humidor–many of which will be first-timers for me–ready for incineration in 2016. In addition to continuing the story of Good Smoke one cigar at a time, I am hoping to expand on the content you will find here on the blog. From interviews to guest bloggers to poetry, I am expecting this year to be full of written material you will enjoy.

I appreciate you coming back as I look to jump start the blog once more, and I hope that you will continue to meander your way back to Good Smoke. I’ll be here.

Your’s Truly,

W.S. Cruzgriffith

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Good Smoke Presents the Famous Smoke of the Month

Alec Bradley Maxx the FreakOh, hello again. I suppose if you have found your way back to Good Smoke, then you are no doubt here to enjoy the latest installment of the Famous Smoke of the Month. In August, September, and October, we have looked at selections from Famous Smoke Shop’s Cuban Heritage Collection. For November, you will see they quite literally upped the ante. But before we get to that, I have a story for you. A love story.

It’s hard to read more than a couple of posts without coming across my cousin Eric. He is a fixture in the story of Good Smoke because he has been a constant fixture in my life. But over the last three years, Eric’s life has grown to include another, Arielle, and it has been nothing but a blessing.

I love my cousin dearly, but Eric can be a bit reserved. To put it bluntly, he sometimes becomes the human equivalent of Grumpy Cat. It happens to the best of us. With hindsight being 20-20, it’s clear now that Eric was looking for something more in life…or perhaps someone.

I met Arie at my and Dana’s wedding shower. She came with our friend Robin, and had been lifelong friends with Hope, who just so happened to be one of Dana’s bridesmaids. She seemed to be a very sweet girl, and I enjoyed talking with her and the rest of Dana’s hometown friends that had come to celebrate with us. Eric admits that he took notice of her then, but at our wedding a couple of months later he would get his opportunity to shine.

Eric had asked if there would be any singles attending the wedding, and it just so happened there would be one. Literally, one. But, thanks to some quick thinking by the groom, I was able to maneuver Eric and Arielle together on the dance floor. Eric can actually dance, and I knew if they had a minute to talk and enjoy each others’ company they would hit it off. A few short weeks and a required girlfriends interview by Hope, Eric and Arie made it Facebook official that they, in fact, had.

For three years now I have seen the two of them blossom into a beautifully complimentary pair. There is a joviality that Eric has let free with her, and Arie has found a warming sense of love and security with him. On October 30th they married, and last night our two joined families celebrated their commitment to one another.

A great love deserves a great cigar, and for November Famous Smoke gave me the opportunity to go big in honor of Eric and Arielle with Alec Bradley’s Maxx The Freak. Now, when I say go big, I mean a 60 gauge, 6 ⅜ inch double toro Cadillac of a smoke. I have always been a fan of large gauge cigars, and lately the market has been catching up with my trends as 60+ gauges are en vogue. I’m a fan of Alec Bradley cigars, having celebrated my son’s birth, wedding anniversaries, and birthdays with several different blends by the company, so it seemed fitting that Alec Bradley be the cigar I smoke for this wonderful month.

Wrapped in an oily dark cloak of Nicaraguan Habano leaf, the Freak is a well-crafted, full-bodied blend of long fillers from Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras. I rarely see Columbian tobaccos used, and adding to the intrigue of the cigar is a Costa Rican binder. I can say with some confidence that both countries’ tobaccos will be a first for me. A sniff and a cold draw revealed a deep peaty earthiness and hints of wood. Time to light up and see what this Freak has to offer.

The pull was smooth but a little firm, which is to be expected from a cigar of this girth. As I puffed away at the first third, the earthiness from the cold draw came through in full force, blended nicely with notes of freshly brewed coffee. Past the smell and taste of cedar, I have trouble placing specific wood flavors, but there is definitely a profound and bold woodiness coming through, and the aroma coming off the cigar reminds me of the fragrance of freshly cut logs. The second third of the Freak intensified in the wood tones and I started to get a mild undercurrent of spice. In the home stretch, the final third released some surprisingly sweet notes of chocolate and cherries. Think a high-cocoa dark chocolate bar with dried cherries, just the right amount of bitter and sweet to make it bold.

Alec Bradley’s Maxx the Freak is a potent smoke that will take the better part of two hours to fully enjoy. If it takes you less, you risk getting some harsh smoke and a very light head, so pace yourself and enjoy the flavors through a cool smoke. I can honestly say that this is one of the best Alec Bradley blends I have ever come across, and experienced smokers will likely find this a highly pleasant experience. New smokers however, I would wait until you build up your palate a bit.

Eric and Arielle did me the honor of letting me give a speech at their reception. When you find someone to brings balance to your life, every day becomes another chapter in your own personal love story. After anecdotes of Jurassic Park and selections of Klingon mythology, I ended by telling them that, in the story of their lives together, they can expect to find a happy ending.

I can’t think of a happier ending for this edition of Good Smoke.

Your’s Truly,

W.S. Cruzgriffith


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Good Smoke Presents the Famous Smoke of the Month

The premier of The Rusted

The premier of The Rusted

Welcome back everyone for the third edition of Good Smoke’s Famous Smoke of the Month. If you missed them, please check out the posts from August and September. This month’s post is very special to me, and not just because Famous Smoke Shop provided an excellent stogie for October. No, this post may very well me marking a turning point for me as a writer.

When I was in elementary school, the local newspaper held a contest to all children under 10. It was a short essay contest for the 4th of July, and the winner would get their story published in the paper. I wrote a few paragraphs on a day in the life of the American flag we had flying off our front porch. It won first place, and I had the thrill of my young lifetime seeing my name in the byline.

That was over 20 years ago, and not much has changed.

I have had scholarly essays published, performed original works of poetry and music, and every time it’s the same thrill. Most artists will say that they create for themselves and hope that people like what they see. I couldn’t agree more, but I always took a particular pride in my writing because it was my greatest strength.

Those of you who are regular readers of Good Smoke know that I got the idea for this blog from my father who, after suffering a life-changing heart attack, found a love for wine and a passion for writing about it. I wanted to share my passions too, and thus the cigar blog was born. I never expected more than a couple views a week and perhaps a kind word here and there. What Good Smoke turned into was something I couldn’t have expected: a portfolio.

I had always dreamed of a career that involved writing, but couldn’t really fathom a way in. My background was in academia, history and sociology, so fields like journalism or press writing seemed outside the realm of my expertise.

The Standard Hotel in New York

The Standard Hotel in New York

But thanks to my friends Hope and Tara, last September I got a chance to write a listicle for Complex media in honor of Hispanic heritage month. It was a foot in the door for someone who thought themselves legless, and I didn’t look back. Tech articles for Verizon, tourism tips for visiting New York, I took every opportunity that came my way in the hopes of simply seeing my name on the byline once more.

This is an awfully long setup, I know, but there is a reason. My writing this little blog led to an incredibly fulfilling part time job as a freelancer, has yielded some wonderful new connections, and has given me the chance of a lifetime. You see, I begin this piece sitting in the cafe of the Standard Hotel in New York City. Waiting for me upstairs is Josh Hutcherson, Peeta Mallark from the acclaimed Hunger Games franchise. I’m going to interview him.

The View from the Penthouse of The Standard

The View from the Penthouse of The Standard

4:15 rolled around and I made my way to the elevator. Up to the top floor we went, where I was checked in by the event coordinators and asked to wait for Josh to be ready for me. The view from the penthouse was extraordinary. I’ve been to plenty of rooftops and have seen the New York skyline from a number of different vantage points, but this room had nearly 360° of unobstructed urban scenery. That’s rare in the city. After allowing for the actor to enjoy a quick smoke break, I was ushered in to have the biggest interview of my life.

For someone who suffers from occasional panic attacks and general issues of anxiety, walking into a room with someone whose name will forever be attached to one of the most highly-acclaimed and profitable movie franchises in history was no easy task. Thankfully, Mr. Hutcherson proved to be exactly what I had hoped: a down-to-earth, jovial 23 year old man. We had a wonderfully casual chat for about 10 minutes, touching on topics ranging from his first interests in acting to the wage gap and gender equity. After sharing a few laughs, learning about this latest project–a short film entitled The Rusted–and getting his opinion on social inequality in the United States, Josh and I shook hands and I wished him a belated happy birthday on my way out.

The Site of the Premier

The Site of the Premier

Josh on the Red Carpet

Josh on the Red Carpet

I left the building, excitedly called Dana to tell her everything about the interview, and made my way over to the AOL Building on Broadway to prepare for the premier. For those of you who enjoy taking in photos of Hollywood’s top talent donning the year’s top fashions on the red carpet, I cannot convey to you the sheer chaos that takes place. Josh, his co-star Jena Malone (who also hails from the Hunger Games’ cast), Ron Howard, the director Kat Candler, and a 19 year old business major from Florida named Mark Mukherjee were paraded in front of a line of ravenous cameras hungry for the next photo op. The entire time they were bombarded by press, hovering microphones in their faces and calling repeatedly for attention in a frenzy for quotes.

Ron Howard on the Red Carpet

Ron Howard on the Red Carpet

I was completely new to this arena. Armed with my cell phone but casually positioned at the end of the press line, I was able to get in a nice conversation with Ms. Candler and Mark who, in producing a terrifically cryptic movie trailer for this contest, inspired the film we were all about to see. I had the pleasure of standing next to him as the cast and production staff met him for the first time on the carpet, and the look of pure joy and excitement on his face was one of the highlights of the evening. We retreated to the screening room and watched the premier of The Rusted, a psychological thriller that played heavily on the impact of losing a loved one, even if you didn’t have the best relationship.

After the premier and a quick panel interview with the creative team, the junket made its way back to the hotel for the after party. I stood next to Josh’s mother as he, Howard, Malone, and a few others made toast after toast praising the project. I shook hands with Jena, introduced myself to Ron, and showed baby pictures to Kat. It was a surreal evening.

The H. Upmann Sun Grown Magnum and Some Souvineers

The H. Upmann Sun Grown Magnum and Some Souvineers

Good Smoke is all about celebrating the positive moments in my life, and this was certainly in the upper echelon of great opportunities I have had the privilege of enjoying. So I could think of no better cigar to light up in honor of the tremendous day I had just been through than the last in my Cuban Heritage Collection from Famous Smoke: the H. Upmann Sun Grown Magnum.

This H. Upmann line gets its name from the sun-grown Ecuadorian wrapper. Bound with a Connecticut Broadleaf and sporting a blend of Nicaraguan and Honduran long fillers, the Magnum size measures in at a beefy 6 inches by 54 ring gauge.

A sniff and cold draw give off notes of slightly bitter chocolate, like baker’s cocoa. At first light, I anticipated some of the bitterness to come through, but to my pleasant surprise that wasn’t the case. The cigar started off very mild, with a sweet cedar and a light spice through the first third.

The H. Upmann Sun Growns are billed as a medium-bodied smoke, but up until now it has been very much like the other two cigars in the collection: mild and somewhat one-dimensional. That changes dramatically at around the halfway point of the cigar, where the sweet undertone starts taking over the stick and the spice becomes far more pronounced. I’ve had plenty of cigars that seem to change body, but usually it’s a subtle transition, like medium-full to full. With the Magnum it was as if a completely different cigar was rolled into the middle third.

The last third surprises me yet again. While the body maintains the medium intensity, the sweetness almost completely subsides to reveal a spicy leather flavor, much more of a savory sensation and a fairly stark contrast to how the cigar had been smoking. It was here that the bitters also started to rear their head, and it was a slightly harsh finish once the cigar was under the one inch mark. My Magnum required no touchups, had an excellent draw despite being pretty firm, and held a solid ash.

A Champagne Toast With Stars

A Champagne Toast With Stars

Write what you know, speak from the heart, and you never know where you might end up. I started this blog to have a platform with which I could talk about the good that has happened in my life. So often our thoughts get co-opted by what seems to be overwhelming negativity, and I wanted a sanctuary to escape from that mindset with stories of my wife, my son, my friends and family. As a result, I’ve made some great new friends, began on a career path I never thought would be available and, if for only one night, got to go to a red carpet premier and drink champagne with movie stars. That is some Good Smoke.

Your’s Truly,

W.S. Cruzgriffith

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A Handy Little Smoke

The Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Robusto

The Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Robusto

I am a very lucky man when it comes to having a supportive group of friends and family. Never without a kind word or a message of support, they are always quick to remind me of my many skills and traits that they enjoy about me. It’s hard to feel negative when I’m around them, which has never been the easiest task for me.

Still, there is one criticism they could all agree upon: I am functionally useless as a handyman. It’s true, painfully so. I can write a fully-referenced research paper in a matter of hours, transpose the key signature for a string quartet, or wire a surround sound system in an event hall, but ask me to build a bookshelf and you end up with two structurally unsound piles of kindling that can barely hold my own disappointment. It’s ridiculous.

I don’t know how it happened either. I spent an inordinate amount of time with my grandfather, who built houses in Cuba in his youth, his own apartment in our basement in his 70’s, and handled every home repair I can remember until I was in high school. Yet somehow the genetic trait for functional competency with a screwdriver wasn’t passed on. I did crew work for the musicals in middle and high school, but I was mostly there because I felt the actors should have a role in set design as well. It certainly wasn’t to contribute in a meaningful fashion, aside from making a lot of distracting jokes.

Fast forward nearly a quarter century and I meet Dana. Now there is a woman who is the working definition of functional competency. She grew up in a lifestyle where you needed to know how to solve little problems around the house. Dana taught me how to do routine work on my car, she outfitted my tool box with more than just a hammer and some allen wrenches, and yes, she even showed me how to un-screw-up my atrocious book shelves.

In the Summer of 2014, her lessons would have to be put to the test. It was June and Dana was nearing the end of her second trimester, which meant I needed to figure out how to handle some of these projects on my own. I got my first real challenge with our front door; a heavy wooden relic of the 1950’s covered in chipped white flakes of what I could only imagine was lead paint. It was an eyesore, and more importantly, was a health concern with a baby on the way.

Uncle John had been sent over by Aunt Pam with the instructions of, “Teach Will how to do this so he knows how after you’re dead.” Cryptic, yes, but she had a point. John had been our de-facto handyman in the family, but I was a homeowner and soon-to-be a father; there were certain skills I needed to know. So, we went to work replacing the front door.

A shot of the door the day it was installed.

A shot of the door the day it was installed.

Removing the old door was easy enough: we popped off the moulding, cut the outline of the frame, and the leaden monstrosity slid out of the brick without a hitch. John gave me my first experience with a bandsaw and a jigsaw as we cut the new frame to fit the space. It took a little longer than we expected, but in the end the new door slid into place firmly. I caulked the edge, installed a new mailbox, and voila, my first major home repair stood gorgeously before us. Our home had a bright new smile.

To celebrate, I asked Dana to surprise me with a cigar from the humidor. She returned with a stick I had been eager to try but had simply not made the conscious effort to smoke. That night, I would declare my triumph by lighting up the Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Robusto.

I will admit, I had not placed a lot of urgency in this cigar because of a few mitigating factors. I tend to like bigger cigars, and thus my robusto side of the humidor often goes ignored for oft-times significant stretches. The Reserva Real had come in a free 5-pack sampler, and had been aging close to 18 months. Secondly, the line features an Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut Shade wrapper, and by practice I tend to shy away from milder-bodied sticks. Finally, as I mentioned in the first Famous Smoke of the Month, cigars from Altadis and other prominent U.S. distributors had a reputation for overproduction, and it had been a very long time since I had last ventured a Romeo y Julieta because of it. Still, I wanted the adventure, and so I clipped the cap and dove in.

The Reserva Real Robusto is a plump 52 ring gauge by 5 inches long. Underneath the wrapper is a Nicaraguan binder leaf and a blend of long fillers from both Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. As with many of the lighter bodied cigars I have smoked, one of the first distinct flavors I picked up on was a citrusy note, like the lime in a mojito. There was a sticky sweetness to the smoke as well–similar to honey–a very natural and entirely unexpected sensation. The sweetness carried through to the very end, where I picked up on a cafe con leche coffee note. The aging certainly did the trick, as I didn’t get a single harsh burn or bitterness, and there was no need for any touch-ups as the Reserva Real burned cool and evenly until the embers were nearly on my lips. This was one of the mildest cigars I’ve ever had, and could certainly be considered an everyday smoke given the size, strength, and cost, which is about $6 a stick.

Every Cruzgriffith born has slept in this bassinet.

Every Cruzgriffith born has slept in this bassinet.

I have been assured that, in the last year especially, I am far less of a lost cause when it comes to being handy around the house. After the door, I learned how to replace our pipes in the basement, even going as far as to do it without Uncle John’s assistance. I got my first taste of using a chainsaw to remove some overgrown trees around the property, assembled an entertainment center with my brother-in-law Cory that had a parts list 64 items long, and so far I haven’t killed Beny with the bassinet, bouncer chair, and countless toys I’ve put together over the last 13 months.

Dana is still, by a wide and ever-expanding margin, the handiest person in the house, but at least now I can hold my own a little. It’s been a fun experience; I feel much like an old dog learning some new tricks and it has inspired me to be more proactive in addressing little issues around the house. No longer do I take the perspective that Westchester living instilled in me, that you pay someone else to do these things for you. A cigar is nice, but when it comes as the fruit of your many labors, that’s when it becomes Good Smoke.

Your’s Truly,

W.S. Cruzgriffith

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A Memorial of Smoke

“The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

-Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address: November 19, 1863

The Edge Banner

While my study of history is something I take a lot of pride in–I’m considered far more an expert in American History than I am in, say, cigars–I have never been a big fan of military history. I know people who can recite battle dates and troop movements down to the number of infantrymen and cavalry for each side, but conflict never fascinated me in the same way as the massive upheavals in social norms that war, disease, and politics played in our nation’s history. I’m a social historian, a revisionist who champions the nameless, faceless masses that shaped the evolution of the United States.

One of my favorite stories in history comes out of the Civil War. It’s in the early months of 1865, and the war has gone completely ary for the Confederacy. General William Tecumseh Sherman, only months earlier while operating without supply lines deep in Confederate-held Georgia, had marched his troops from the state capitol in Atlanta to the port city of Savannah, literally burning a trail as he decimated military strongholds, transportation systems, and everything else he thought could be used against the Union Army.

Now he has set his sights on the Carolinas in the hope of meeting up with northern forces in Virginia and mounting a final assault on the states in rebellion. It was the final days of the war, and following the Battle of Bentonville on March 21, the last major army of the Confederacy would fall. The conflict between the states officially ended on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse in the home of one Wilmer McLean, who by coincidence had sold his home at the sight of the Battle of Bull Run to escape the horrors of combat. The war was over, but there was still much left to clean up.

Fearing the impending attacks, many of South Carolina’s major cities were abandoned, left ironically to the slaves that had become the focal point of the war. One such city was Charleston, SC, and following the news that the war had ended, nearly 10,000 residents, mostly newly-freed men, exhumed the remains of 257 fallen Union soldiers that had been buried in a mass grave. Preparing a suitable plot in the town’s race track, 28 members of the local church had erected a 10-foot tall whitewashed fence that would outline the final proper resting place of those they called, “The Martyrs of the Race Course,” which they inscribed in black on the fence.

On May 1, 1865, the people of Charleston held a Decoration Day celebration, processing to the grave site singing songs like “John Brown’s Body” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Carried with them were enough spring blossoms, crosses, and wreaths that, according to a newspaper correspondent viewing the day’s events, “when all had left, the holy mounds — the tops, the sides, and the spaces between them — were one mass of flowers, not a speck of earth could be seen; and as the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them, outside and beyond, there were few eyes among those who knew the meaning of the ceremony that were not dim with tears of joy.”

While Waterloo, New York, Columbus, Mississippi, and Major General John Logan all claim to have started the tradition, this Decoration Day ceremony is widely believed to be the birth of the Memorial Day holiday.

I think about that little slice of American history every Memorial Day, and on May 26, 2014 it was no different. I’ve had family members serve in every branch of the military, in times of peace and times of war, and I’m grateful for the dedication they have shown to this country. Both of Deej’s parents served as well, and it just so happened that on this Memorial Day he and Monica were visiting.

Deej's NefastosWe had taken a trip out to my local brick and mortar shop, where Deej got a tremendously good deal on a box of Acid Nefastos. That night, in honor of the veterans in all our lives, I lit up not one, but two Rocky Patel cigars.

Both cigars come from Rocky’s The Edge line, which was the collaborative brainchild of Patel and Central America’s largest tobacco grower, Nestor Plasencia. I had been interested in trying the Edge varieties ever since the Sumatra made its appearance at #24 in Cigar Aficionado’s top cigars of 2007, and this Memorial Day I was going to enjoy the lines’ Corojo and Nicaraguan blends.

We’ll start with the Corojo toro, which for the Edge line measures in at 6 inches and a 52 ring gauge across the board. The Corojo wrapper hails from Honduras, and the binder leaf is Nicaraguan. The blend of long fillers, which are aged a minimum five years before they ever reach the rolling table, also come from the two nations, but Patel also bills the Edge Corojo as having a third “secret” filler. While there is some speculation as to where the third leaves in the blend originate, it can be noted that they are a potent ligero variety that adds significant body to this cigar.

A wide array of sweeter spice rack flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg give way to a black pepper and rich espresso sensation from beginning to end. I’ve seen some reviews that describe the body as a ramp-up from medium to full, but I felt the kick from this cigar at first light. The Edge Corojo is probably best enjoyed sitting down.

For the Edge Nicaraguan, I went with the torpedo. It’s sizes up the same as its Corojo counterpart–6 inches and a 52 gauge–but features a Nicaraguan grown Maduro Habano wrapper. The Edge Nicaraguan is a puro, with long fillers hailing from the three main growing regions in Esteli, Condega, and Jalapa blended into a tremendously balanced, full bodied smoke.

As is to be expected with Nicaraguan tobacco, and in particular the Habano wrapper, the primary note in the flavor profile is spice. There is a wonderful pepperiness throughout the entirety of the stick, but it gives way to a completely unexpected flavor: black cherries. Much the same way I got the distinct taste of apple core from the Rocky Autumn collection, there was a distinct black cherry taste to the smoke. It was like smoking a California Zinfandel, which happens to be my favorite wine, so I found the cherry notes very pleasant.

History isn’t the memorization and recitation of isolated incidents throughout time. History is a study of causality, about how Point A precipitates everything that leads you to Point E. In the end, the debate over whether the first Decoration Day was actually the forefather of our modern Memorial Day is unimportant; America had just finished it’s most divisive period and was looking to honor the memory of those lost in bloody conflict only days later. What army, what weapon, what force could ever combat the sheer power of our national soul demonstrated in the acts of those nameless, faceless thousands in Charleston that morning in early May? History is written in such actions, and we are defined by the ways we choose to rise from the ashes, and hopefully rising with us is a plume of Good Smoke.

Your’s Truly,

W.S. Cruzgriffith

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Good Smoke Presents the Famous Smoke of the Month

Cohiba Red Dot RobustoIt’s that time of the month again. No, not that, I’m talking about the Famous Smoke of the Month, brought to you courtesy of our friends of the blog, Famous Smoke Shop. Last month we gave your tastebuds a Shakespearean experience with the Romeo y Julieta House of Montague. For September, we have a name just as timeless with cigar smokers but with some modern-day twists. Good Smoke proudly presents the Famous Smoke of the Month: The Cohiba “Red Dot” Robusto.

Cohiba is to Cuba as Uncle Sam is to the United States. The cigar line was originally crafted solely for President Fidel Castro and was synonymous with power and status. While the legacy of Eduardo Rivera lived on in Cuba, the post-embargo cigar smoker is probably more familiar with the the Dominican incarnation of the same name. As was the case with Romeo y Julieta’s relationship with Altadis, the distributor for Cohiba is the General Cigar Company. Partagas, Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey, La Gloria Cubana, or Bolivar cigar in the U.S.; these are the old vestiges of the Cuban brands that found a new home in places like the D.R. and Honduras with GCC. While they shared the same names, these non-Cuban line were a whole new entity. 

The Red Dot Robusto is smoke number two from Famous Smoke’s Cuban Heritage Collection. When we think of Cuba, images of sterling beaches, light merengue music, and classic spanish architecture fill the mind’s eye. So, of course, I took the opportunity to bring my Cohiba down to the lovely shores of Long Beach Island, NJ during our annual trip to the Jersey shoreline. What was lacking in traditional Cuban atmosphere–I neglected to drink Cafe con Leche, sing Guantanamera, or wear my guayabera–the roar of the Atlantic and the soft scent of salt in the air more than made up for. Cigars are for leisure, and our friend Justin’s beach house is always ripe with relaxation.

After a day spent splashing our toddler in the waves, bronzing ourselves in the sun, and enjoying dinner at our favorite restaurant on the island, The Chicken or the Egg, we settled in for an evening of mixed drinks and cards. Quickgame, as we call it, is a staple whenever Dana, Justin and I get together, and we find it pairs well with a drink, which this evening happened to be Magner’s hard cider and Jeremiah Weed’s Cinnamon Whiskey. Oh, and lest I forget, the Cohiba.

The Cohiba Robusto comes wrapped in a deliciously soft and mild Cameroon wrapper. Bound in an Indonesian Jember leaf, it sports a blend of Dominican long fillers in a stately 5 inch by 49 gauge stick. A far cry from its single-source Cuban ancestors, the Red Dot line is an interesting worldly blend of tobaccos that brings a contemporary feel to this classic name.

While the line is marketed as a medium body smoke, I have found that there is quite a bit of variance when it comes to this point. I found my robusto very light bodied, while others have said that, without aging, the Cohiba Cameroons can be more towards the fuller end of the spectrum. The natural wrapper is a veiny and somewhat toothy presentation which gives the cigar a rustic street boutique look. The cut was more difficult than I’m accustomed to, but part of the rustic look of the cigar was a somewhat sloppy cap. Thankfully, it still cut cleanly and didn’t effect the draw or burn. A cold draw and quick sniff gave off that trademark Cohiba barnyard blended with light woody tones and cocoa.

First light and, honestly, nothing. No harsh burn or bitterness, but nothing much more to speak of past that either. It wasn’t until nearly the end of the first third that I started picking up hints of cocoa and nuts. The toasted nut flavor would play a role throughout the stick, but the cocoa yielded way to cinnamon spice in the middle third that paired quite nicely with my drink. The final third was more toasted nuttiness, and the cinnamon turned more towards the sweet end than the spicy, which made it a cool, easy finish.

Cigars and Cinnamon WhiskeyThis wasn’t a particularly complex cigar, and I didn’t get the same kind of body off of it as was billed. However, I know that the Churchill of the same line was a completely different smoking experience for me (a story for another day) so it may have just been a byproduct of the different size. To play it safe, I’ll once again give this a beginner’s okay (especially considering it’s a smaller stick and will smoke quicker should my experience with the strength be an anomaly) but I might suggest more experienced smokers try the Cohiba Nicaragua instead.

Much like how the post-Embargo Cuban lines evolved into something new, so too were there some evolutions for many of us this trip. Dana and I gained some new appreciations for the beach as we saw it through the infant eyes of our toddling son, Beny. Justin’s little brother Jordan was just days away from beginning an internship with Disney, and the talk was of new developments in life and love around the table.

Keep your eyes peeled for our next Famous Smoke of the Month in October, and keep blending the new and old with every puff of Good Smoke.

Yours Truly,

W.S. Cruzgriffith

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A Boy is Discovered

El Baton Robusto CorojoThough I rarely partake any more, once upon a time I used to be very into poetry. I love formulaic writing; meter and rhyme schemes, visual wordplay, but in particular I was drawn to the performance art of it all. Artists like Vachel Lindsay, Tom Waits, and the plethora of Beat poets turned the written word into an oft-times caricatured, but nonetheless powerfully entertaining type of page-escaping theatre. The final evolution of which became Slam poetry, and it was this form that I found myself drawn to most of all.

One poem that I remember just piercing its way to my core was “Careful What You Ask For” by Jack McCarthy. It was an homage to his son who passed shortly after childbirth, but the poem opens casually enough with an anecdote of how he cried too often. Be it getting beaten up by the girls on the playground to a touching commercial on TV, Jack couldn’t help but well up at the little things that tugged his heartstrings. The poem seriously changes it’s tone about halfway through with the line “I think all this is why I never wanted a son.”

Most people when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” have some sort of career oriented answer. A doctor, a lawyer, a politician, a teacher. If you had asked the 13 year old me, the answer probably would have been 3rd baseman for the Boston Red Sox. But above it all, the one thing I knew I wanted to be was a father. That hot corner spot would have meant nothing without a little fan at home rooting me on; I always saw a future with a child. Well, a daughter, to be more precise.

I’ve mentioned before, but I am the only son in a family that–after divorces and remarriages–yielded seven sisters. My mother was a member of the National Organization for Women and organizations that helped women pursue careers in ministry, my grandmother was a dominant force in the household, my stepmother queen of her home and all within it. My sisters were wildly intelligent, driven, passionate, and incredibly capable.

And I, well to be honest, I was about as far from the typical boy as you could imagine. Like McCarthy, I cried, often. I loved sports, but I was also heavily vested in musical theatre, literature, and art. I empathized with others, was more happy in support roles than taking the spotlight, and from an early age I found it easier to make friends with women than with men. I got picked on for it, teased for not being macho or daring or crass enough. And it made me worried about the prospect of having a son.

I didn’t know exactly how to be a father to a son because I had never really figured out the art of being a boy myself. Yet two weeks after my birthday we had another ultrasound scheduled in order to determine whether it was a little boy or girl that was about to join our family. The appointment on my birthday had the doctors leaning male, but it was inconclusive. Today, we’d be leaving with a definite.

It took only a matter of seconds. The technician popped on the monitor, and immediately noticed the telltale hardware. Our child was a boy! For years I had wondered how I would take this moment; and in that instant when we were told there was a boy arriving in just four short months there was a joy that washed over me which I couldn’t describe. The hesitation, the questions about my capabilities as a father, my atypical boyhood, none of it mattered.

I had set a cigar aside for each possible outcome, and that night in the glow of our news, I lit up an El Baton Robusto Corojo. The El Baton is a Nicaraguan puro featuring a tremendously well-spiced Corojo wrapper. Long fillers packed into this 5-inch by 54 gauge robusto give the cigar medium-full body that, at least in my experience, pushed far more to the full end of the spectrum. Much like myself the El Baton line has Cuban roots, originally being produced in 1914. It is currently being distributed by J.C. Newman.

I had the cigar aging for the better part of a year, and the El Baton delivered with a wildly complex variance of boldness and sweetness, much the same way a little boy does to your life. A spicy coffee note carried throughout the entirety of the stick, with gracious appearances of toasted nuts, cinnamon sweetness, and raisins that reminded me of tawny port. The brand found its way into Cigar Aficionado’s Top-25 list in 2012, and deservedly so. The El Baton Robusto was a tremendously good cigar for a tremendously good day.

I still cry a lot, it just happens. I cry when Jake Sisko tells his father how much his 16 year-old self needed him throughout his life on Star Trek: Deep Space 9. I cry when I hear the final song on the Les Miserables soundtrack. And I cried the day I found out I was having a son. My wife reminds me often that it wasn’t a strong masculinity or machismo that drew her to me originally, but the fact that I was someone who cared openly and without hesitation; that compassion, empathy, and yes, even the occasional tear, can be manly, and are traits she hopes our son can learn from his father. She also reminds me, quite accurately, that she can cover teaching him how to be tough, which I am grateful for.

Dana and I left the office that day not just with the news that we were having a boy, but, because we always plan ahead, his name as well. Our son was going to be named Benigno Lee, after both my maternal and paternal grandfathers, respectively. They were extraordinary men that did extraordinary things throughout their lives, and I have tried desperately to follow in the path of humility and love that they set forth. It was the only boy’s name we had on our list.

So I prepared myself for our son-to-be with the full knowledge that, as a parent, I could be as tough and as sweet as Good Smoke.

Your’s Truly,

W.S. Cruzgriffith

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A Champagne Birthday

CAO La Traviata Evil Snowman box artAre any of you familiar with the concept of a Champagne Birthday? I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t, I only just discovered it this past December. It’s the same concept as a Grand or Golden Birthday, which is that you give special occasion to the birthday number that corresponds with the day of your birth. For example, if born on the 5th of the month, your Champagne Birthday occurs when you turn five. I certainly feel like anyone born on the first gets screwed in this deal, but it’s nonetheless an interesting way to add some significance.

It was April 29, 2014, and it just so happened that this year I was turning 29. I already had a lot to celebrate: the new house, a baby on the way, and life was going genuinely well. I spent the day with Dana, who a few weeks earlier had helped me pick out a fashionable set of frames for my new glasses. This was a big deal for me, as it was my first updated pair in four years, a fact that included plenty of scolding from my optometrist. We then trekked over to our mechanic, Cliff, who had just finished tuning up my car, a 2004 Anniversary Edition Ford Mustang.

The glasses and car were important because I needed a safe, reliable car and a fresh set of eyes for that afternoon’s entertainment: Dana’s ultrasound. The April 29th ultrasound had been circled on my calendar for weeks, because at this point in the pregnancy the technician would be able to tell whether or not we were having a boy or girl. Dana and I were well prepared with names for either, and we were looking forward to being able to refer to our baby in a far more personal manner.

To this point, getting a clear read on this baby had been nearly impossible. Much like he is today, Beny in utero was a rambunctious ball of motion. His constant rotations and predisposition towards exploring his surroundings frustrated doctors trying to catch his heart rate or gauge his size. His camera shyness was becoming a thing of legend, and unsurprisingly he was still at it during the appointment on my birthday.

Twisting, turning, and refusing to give us the angle we needed, we left the ultrasound knowing that he was 8.7 inches long and weighed 10 oz. The staff gave us the news that they were leaning towards boy, but we didn’t have unequivocal proof just as yet. Still, our baby was growing well, had a strong heartbeat, and was highly energetic. I was thrilled!

We had dinner at Pam and John’s that evening where Dana revealed her birthday present, a gorgeous three-burner grill that I had been eyeballing since the winter. She also had another surprise up her sleeve; that weekend she had Eric, Arielle and Andrew come up to celebrate in style. No, not with champagne, but cigars.

While certainly not in season, I nonetheless couldn’t resist having my favorite cigar line for my birthday, and aging in my humidor I had the limited release CAO La Traviata Evil Snowman. The Evil Snowman, as you might guess, was a special edition of the La Traviata Maduro released in November 2013. With only 21,000 sticks being produced, I felt very lucky to have snagged one. The Evil Snowman is a bolder, spicier version of the traditional La Traviata line, and it certainly delivered one hell of a smoke.

Packed into it’s 6 ½”, 52 gauge frame is a tantalizing blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican Piloto Cubano logn fillers bound in Honduran leaf. The wrapper is the aged Connecticut Broadleaf that has become the signature of the Maduro La Traviata varieties. The spice is instantly recognizable at the first puff and lingers throughout an ever-evolving symphony of flavors. Earthy-chocolate and a juicy wood sensation (think smoking woods like apple or cherry) rise and fall in intensity but always are accompanied by the peppery overtone. It was a flavor reminiscent of Lindt Dark Chocolate with Chili bars, or Mexican hot chocolate. Being also a connoisseur of hot sauces, the chili spice was prominent and unmistakable. A medium-full bodied smoke, this was exactly my kind of cigar.

Evil Snowman RemnantsIt’s hard to convey how wonderful my 29th birthday was. At my core I am a person who loves the simple pleasures in life; time with family, the comforts of home, the little things that make a day that much brighter. As I wrote to my friends and family that birthday, “A new pair of glasses and some repairs to the car bring peace of mind and better clarity of life. Suddenly the peripherals aren’t so vague and the road continues, focused and ever straighter. A new grill means more than just a few steaks, it’s renewed chances to break bread with and enjoy the company of friends. It was a day of accomplishment, a day of fulfillment, and it was splendid.” Another wonderful day in a life of Good Smoke.

Your’s Truly,

W.S. Cruzgriffith

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Good Smoke Presents the Famous Smoke of the Month

Romey y Julieta House of Montague CloseupWelcome back to Good Smoke my brothers and sisters (and cousins) of the leaf. I would like to invite you to a new edition to the blog, the Famous Smoke of the Month! Our friends over at Famous Smoke Shop of Easton, PA have graciously collaborated on a three-part series of reviews. Up first, the Romeo y Julieta House of Montague Toro.

Naturally, as I am a good Cuban boy and the Romeo y Julieta line has a heritage rooted in the island nation, this story begins on Independence Day at an apple farm in New Hampshire. You heard me. This 4th of July, Dana, Beny and I found ourselves trekking out to Future Apples Orchard, the home of Deej’s parents and our regular getaway for visiting our New England friends.

I was armed with two of the House of Montagues in the hopes that smoking them jointly with Deej would lead to a more complete profile of the cigar. Surprisingly, Deej was a little hesitant. Ever blunt in his diagnoses, he asked, “Aren’t these a gas station cigar?” Now, before you set the web page on fire, let me elaborate on what he was talking about.

Like many of the old Cuban lines, Romeo y Julieta is distributed by Altadis U.S.A. It’s hard to go into any cigar shop and not see a plethora of Altadis brands; Montecristo, H. Upmann, Trinidad, Te-Amo and Warlock just to name a few. While such widespread availability keeps the Altadis lines within reach of a huge market, history has shown us that such overproduction can lead to quality issues, which had been the case for years. Only recently, with lines like RoMeo by Romeo y Julieta, Monte by Montecristo, and the Te-Amo Revolution has the American distributor seen any real accolades for their various brands.

Those appearances in Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 were great, but they were a long time coming and it left a number of smokers skeptical. I assured Deej that the times had changed and the cigar was more than worth a shot.

If you haven’t heard about this particular Romeo y Julieta line before, don’t worry, you’re not alone. An exclusive line made for Famous Smoke, the House of Montague is one of two Romeo and Juliet-themed blends, the other being the House of Capulet. The Montague features a delicious blend of Brazilian, Dominican, and Nicaraguan long fillers bound in a Dominican Olor leaf. The wrapper is an aged maduro Arapiraca Brazilian leaf, which was lightly veiny and sweet on the lips. My sticks were toros, measuring in at a stately 6” and a 52 ring gauge.

A sniff at the foot and a cold draw gave impressions of cedary-earth and a chocolatey note similar to baker’s cocoa. We lit up without any trouble, were greeted with an even, slightly firm draw, and quickly started our analysis of the smoke. I certainly had some expectations of what the flavor profile would be based on the description provided by Famous Smoke and other reviews, but nothing prepared me for the first third of the cigar. Floral notes, almost like lilac or lavender, came out prominently with some of the sweeter flavors of cocoa and cedar. As the cigar progressed into the middle third, the floral overtones took a back seat to toasted walnuts, a Kahlua creaminess, and cinnamon spice. The final third opened up more into leathery earthen notes, but still kept the toasted nuts and spice.

Romeo y Julieta House of Montague BoxThe construction of the House of Montague was flawless, as I was able to enjoy this cigar without a single touch up or uneven burn. I had read a lot about the stability of the ash, and that aspect certainly lived up to its billing as I maybe had to ash the cigar three times. While billed as a medium-bodied smoke, I would say that this Romeo y Julieta line is more towards the mild end of the spectrum, which makes it a perfect introductory stick. More experienced smokers may still enjoy the complexity of flavor, much like a fan of big-bodied red wines should try a rose every now and again.

I liked the House of Montague, and at around $6.00 a stick at Famous Smoke it’s a tremendous value cigar. This is going to be a big year for the brand on Good Smoke, as stories including the Reserva Real, 1875, and even the Cuban Edicion Limitada are yet to come.

This 4th of July weekend provided a surprising number of firsts for our friends and family. My son cut his very first tooth after his first time swimming. Deej had his first Romeo y Julieta, which seemed to have sold him on the line. As for me, I got the opportunity to put together this first joint project with friends of the blog, Famous Smoke.

Stay tuned for the next Famous Smoke of the Month, and as always keep your eyes peeled for the next story of a life writ in Good Smoke.

Your’s Truly,

W.S. Cruzgriffith

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Characters and Plot

Another season of Game of Thrones has come and gone, and while a good many characters managed to find a gruesome end in this fifth year of the show I am drawn to the storylines that never made it that far. For every Stannis ended, there is a Rickon, Gendry, or Balon Greyjoy whose start was but only an illusion in the grand scheme. I understand the limitations of having only 10 hours a year worth of material that can be produced, but it’s interesting to see, year after year, who the producers have to let go.

The truth is, a character spontaneously disappearing from the plot is nothing new. Even in the age of Shakespeare, primary antagonists would fail to reach the midway point of the play, and are all but forgotten by then conclusion. While George R.R. Martin maintains a plethora of characters within the confines of the pages in his epic series, the series has proven that sometimes people fall by the wayside, whether we mean for it to happen or not.

It was the night after the Season Four premiere of Game of Thrones that Eric, Andrew, Arielle, Dana and I decided to enjoy a walk around Eric’s neighborhood. Along for the trip were our dogs, Phinneus and Link. Certainly not direwolves (a dachshund and a poodle respectively) but no less important to the story of our lives than Ghost was to Jon Snow. Across the street and down the road we went to meet up with a person who, for more than 20 years, hadn’t appeared in the annals of my story: my Tio Carlos.

I remembered my uncle only vaguely, as I was very young the last time our paths had crossed. Mostly, I stayed updated on his life through Eric, who eventually convinced his father to move out of the city and into the complex across the street from his own. I had only just reconnected with him a few months earlier, at the dinner in which we told Eric, Andrew, and Arie that Dana was pregnant with our first child. It was an unexpected joy to see his excitement, considering how little he had seen of me for so much of my life. It was as if 20+ years had been but the blink of an eye.

I’ve never been that great at keeping up with friends and family, one of the many unfortunate downsides of retreating into yourself as a nervous habit. But the storylines don’t just stop just because the paths no longer bisect with your own, and I have taken great pleasure in hearing that friends from high school, whom I haven’t spoken to in years, have gotten married, bought homes, and are starting to have children of their own. Life is an epic story of many chapters and countless characters, and however fleeting those relationships may be in one’s own perspective, they tend to play out beautifully on the grander stage of time.

As I weighed these thoughts walking up to Tio Carlos’ front door, Eric, Andrew and I also made it a point to enjoy some fine smokables along the way. My pick for the day was a Rocky Patel Nicaraguan Reserve Sixty Maduro. These Nicaraguan Puros get their name from the six-inch by 60-gauge size, and feature a blend of long fillers that, when bundled with a chocolate-brown maduro wrapper, create one of the most well-balanced cigars I have come across in the Rocky Patel brand.

The light took a little effort given the girth of the ring gauge, but once fully lit the Nicaraguan Reserve carried with it a number of sweet tones. There were hints of nuts, cream, and a light woodniess, but always an overtone of mossy earthiness that I could only describe as being akin to peaty scotch. Despite being a medium-full bodied, flavorful cigar, I found this Rocky Patel line to be surprisingly soft and smooth, making it an enjoyable experience for any smoker regardless of experience.

As we sat there staring at the duck pond from my uncle’s back porch, he scolded Eric, Andrew and I for our puffing and asked why I would choose such a hobby. I told him, quite simply, that it was a part of who I am: a Cuban boy whose father, stepfather, and grandfathers had all taught him a love of the leaf. It’s a way of distinguishing myself, of tracing my history, and is a key character trait of Good Smoke.


Your’s Truly,

W.S. Cruzgriffith

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