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  1. All things being equal, if someone walked up to you and offered you a drink – a choice being the Perrier-Jouët ‘Belle Époque’ Blanc de Blancs 2002 (a bottle is worth many hundreds of dollars, if you are lucky enough to find this glorious, Audrey Hepburn-elegant champagne) or a rough young earthy red costing perhaps a tenner for a bottle... Upmann Magnum 50 – Cardrona Rose Rabbit/Talisker Dark Storm All things being equal, if someone walked up to you and offered you a drink – a choice being the Perrier-Jouët ‘Belle Époque’ Blanc de Blancs 2002 (a bottle is worth many hundreds of dollars, if you are lucky enough to find this glorious, Audrey Hepburn-elegant champagne) or a rough young earthy red costing perhaps a tenner for a bottle (if it even comes in a bottle), unless one had an aversion to Champagne, my guess is that most of us would crawl over broken glass to get to the Belle Époque (for our American cousins, I believe you might know it better as one of the series in the flower bottles). I know I would. Now, say that person had just served you a big slab of juicy, dripping, ever-so-rare steak and then gave you a choice of those two drinks. Suddenly, unless you were simply a fizz freak, or had no real interest in matching your food with the most appropriate wine (and I know many people for whom that applies and good luck to them), you might not be so keen on the champers. Understandable – the young earthy red is likely to be a far better fit with the rare steak. The point is that merely because one drink has a more impressive pedigree and/or reputation or even if it just costs a lot more thsn an alternatove, it is not always the better choice with certain foods. The same goes for matching drinks with cigars. If someone offered me a choice of, say, the 1961 Mouton-Rothschild or a decent but basic rum as a match with almost any cigar, I have no doubt the wiser choice is the rum, as a decent rum almost always works better with a cigar than any red, no matter how good. Okay, in all honesty, I’d go with the Mouton but only because I want to drink it, not because it would work better. With cigars, it is normally easy to try a few different drinks with any smoke to work out what works and what does not. Do not assume that because you have a wine or spirit that you love that it will automatically match a cigar you love. One cigar which for me is really smoking beautifully at the moment is the Upmann Magnum 50, a bit of a whopper in ring gauge (yes, there are plenty bigger but that doesn’t make it right), with my current box having a code of EMA May 08. The cigar was in immaculate condition but opened a fraction harsh. This very quickly dissipated and the cigar settled down and slowly revealed its glories. Dense smoke, a little leather, creamy coffee, early notes of tobacco leaf and an array of spices, with an intense nuttiness emerging in the second half, along with a touch of almond creaminess. A few lighting issues towards the finish but no dramas. A complex and strongly flavoured smoke. To match? Two very different drinks. First up, from New Zealand, a new distillery in the Central Otago region doing some fine gin and also a delightful Orange Liqueur they call ‘Rose Rabbit’ (NZ$130). It was 45%, but to be honest, I would never have picked that. It seemed so much lighter. They make it by soaking Kiwi oranges in their own “un-aged” malt whiskey before enhancing the sweetness. I loved it by itself – perfect for a summer afternoon. Bizarrely, my first impression was that it had strong grapefruit notes (nothing wrong with that) though with time, that soon did evolve into a more sweeter, orange-y character. A fresh, vibrant drink. Next, Talisker’s ‘Dark Storm’, a malt from the Isle of Skye. Originally a duty free offering, but I believe that might now have been expanded? A lovely golden malt with gentle smokiness and slight orange peel touches. Teak, linseed oil and a more powerful and richer drinker. Both were thoroughly enjoyable but the complexity, the slight smokiness, the extra power and richness of the Talisker carried the day. The drive of the citrus notes from the Rose Rabbit worked well and it was certainly far from a disaster but the power of the cigar worked better with the malt. KBG
  2. If the purpose of matching a designated cigar with a specific drink is to enhance the enjoyment of one or preferably both then pairing an aged Sait Luis Ray Double Corona with Appleton's 21-Year-Old Rum is hardly a big risk. Frankly, I am in the camp where you could link the SLR with mud and the Appleton with strips of hessian and I'd be happy. Together, magic. The SLR was from 2005 and it has settled into a subtle, mildly flavoured yet complex smoke. Gentle hints of fig and spice but it never takes long for that tell-tale note of sweet apricot – sometimes dried apricot, sometimes apricot kernel and other times, ripe apricot fruit and even on occasion, a delightful apricot marmalade – to emerge. Every now and again, this can be a more general stonefruit character but for me, there are few cigars which offer such a definitive stamp as to their heritage. This cigar left me with burnt fingers and if one wanted to give it a score, for me, 97. The Appleton 21? It is at the absolute pinnacle (in truth, they also have a 50-Year-Old rum but they only made around 800 bottles of it, I believe) of rums produced by this old and venerable Jamaican producer – the only rum producer of any real size and note in the world which can genuinely talk terroir, as the entire supply of sugar cane it needs for the molasses to make their rums is grown on its own estate – all 4,600 hectares of it. Others will source their molasses from farms and growers, as well as their own plantations, or simply buy them on the open market. This is a wonderfully complex spirit with an array of flavours – caramel, orange peel, walnuts, leather, nutmeg, white chocolate and plenty of spices. Not that I have been able to find confirmation, but my feeling is that the majority of rums used for blending for the final product come from the end of a distillation in a pot still, before we get to the overly strong fusel oil notes that must be discarded. It has the richness found there. Also, be aware that this is a rum which would be an ideal rum for those who don’t like their spirits overly sweet (alternatively, it would not suit those who like their rums with a reasonable degree of sweetness). As a match, to be honest, the rum can handle a more powerful cigar than the SLR DC, but that does not mean it needs one. The complexity of both cigar and rum seem to fit together like hand in glove – iron fist in velvet glove, if you like. The caramel notes of the rum and the stonefruit of the SLR work a treat. This is one of those, surprisingly rare, occasions when both cigar and rum shine solo but together, take each other to new heights. - Ken Gargett.
  3. Here at FOHcus, as well as occasionally blowing our own trumpet, we don’t mind blowing others' either… Wait, that didn’t come out right. Look, let’s just say that FOHcus has been created as a place where others can voice their opinions, too, not just us. Quality blogs and articles are what FOHcus is looking to promote, so that we can all immerse ourselves a little further in the Cuban cigar culture and its surrounds. Something interesting, something funny, something well-written, something to sound a little high note for the day, or any combination of those things. If we can find it out there, then we’ll bring it to you here— in FOHcus So, here are just some examples of the quality blogs and magazine or review sites we know about: Blogs Nino’s Flying Cigar The 'Dirty' Ashes Steve Griff Keith's “Lights Sirens and Cigars” Aizzudin’s UK Cigar Scene magazine Top shelf cigar publication, one of the best in the world. Cigar Audit Great review site. The serious and not-so-serious. A little video from the Cigar Audit lads:
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    FOHcus - Writing

    by Ken Gargett. So, the Lord High Grand Poobah of FoH has requested I provide an occasional contribution on wine or cigars or fishing or whatever it is that springs to mind – actually, he rather insisted it be on cigars but if I set the parameters early, then perhaps I will have some leeway down the track. You want to do the same? You want to write. Jump on board but beware. Most of what I do pertains to wine and I know, you are thinking of spending your days travelling around our beautiful wine regions, drinking fabulous wines, meeting great people, going to all sorts of wonderful vertical tastings (I haven’t been to one for at least, well yesterday to be honest, but it was at least a week before that since the last one), getting endless samples of the good, the bad and the ugly (and trust me, some of them are very ugly indeed). In short, a dream life. Okay, it does have its advantages but let me tell you it is not all beer and Bordeaux. Or perhaps a visit to the fields of Cuba? Tossing a line in somewhere exotic? No one really needs to do it but I am glad I am the one who is. In other words, you want to become a writer. Think carefully. And if you have completely taken leave of your senses, you may decide you want to actually make a living from writing. Sit down, crack a beer and think again. Perhaps you’ve taken Ray Bradbury’s words to heart, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you”. I think the thoughts of E. L. Doctorow are more to the point, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” First, to take up this madness, assuming you have not just jagged the winning ticket in Gold Lotto, you must have given up any pretence to a financially secure or rewarding life and be prepared for a very grumpy bank manager (this is balanced by the fact the every wine writer has an extremely happy dentist - we are the guys that put their kids through school and send them skiing in Aspen every year). Someone once described a wine writer as the guy lording it up the pointy end of the plane on his or her way home from a vertical tasting of 50 years of Krug, only to be sitting on an overturned wooden wine box, watching his black-and-white tellie and eating microwaved baked beans while at home (half right, sadly not the first half). Think of it as a five star lifestyle on a half a star pay. Secondly, accept that as much as you might enjoy your new career, no one else thinks it is a real job (take that as a badge of honour, if you like). Think of it this way, you are on a ship and it is sinking. The life raft has places for ten survivors and there are eleven of you. What chance do you think you have of a spot? What skills do you really think you can bring to the desert island? Recommending different coconut milks with the raw fish and berries? Personally, I have absolutely no chance at all of a spot in the life raft – I used to be a lawyer. Well, a small possibility. If one of the other floundering around in the drink makes his quid from flogging cigars... Then we have the editors and sub-editors with which to deal (though, of course, in this instance, I'm sure that they are all absolutely first class). I once had a sub-editor who also wrote a column. Could never work out why all my best lines never made it into my column, until I saw them appearing in his. Granted, they have deadlines and if we miss ours, they miss theirs. It will come as no surprise that, to the best of my knowledge, Rupert Murdoch is yet to hold over one of his dailies because the wine scribe was late. It is not all fun. I remember back when I used to ghost write ‘Don’t Buy Wine Without Me’ (nothing like sneaking in a subtle plug). Let me assure you, it involved many, many days of tasting and just as many days chained to the machine (it may have been slightly less if I had not had to ring the dills that think they are a big telco in a big pond, but in reality, would struggle to string two tin cans together with a cord, to get back on-line on a daily basis). It is not easy to come up with several hundred witty, concise, erudite reviews, all subtlely different. And the tasting can be fun but if you think slogging through a large number of casks and enough sauv blanc to fill Queensland’s dwindling dams is a joy on a cold winter’s morning, think again. Some practical advice from an unknown author, “Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.” Perhaps the last word should go to Peter De Vries, “I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork” or Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith, “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Next time, you'll get a real column. Perhaps. KBG
  5. The Cuban Allure. A Newbie Viewpoint. By Steve McCarthy. Chartered to do some marketing work for El Presidente (Rob, for those who don’t know) a year or so ago, my first port of call was to research FOH—what they did, who they were, etc. As never having been a cigar smoker (or smoker of any kind) I began by trying to understand the allure of the act itself. You see, I’ve never really trusted the whole connoisseur scene—in any realm: wine, food, art, and so on. I enjoy all those things, of course, but I never have the motivation to go beyond the poetry of the thing. The rhyme of experience. That’s always enough for me. I rarely go deeper; unless it’s literature; then, I can usually waffle on with the best of them. Otherwise, I’m more your connoisseur of the sausage and egg mcmuffin. I could write a review on all the variations of that tasty little bugger till I became demented by my own prolixity and was locked up for the preservation of the greater good. But for the so-called serious stuff, there always seemed to me to be a significant amount of pretence involved. A certain bullshit detector was always set off inside me. Watching reviews turned all that on its head. Yes, folks. Believe it or not. It actually shouldn’t be too hard to convince anyone who has taken on an FOH video review about its allure or validity as a cigar resource. Firstly, the setting: the back deck at Ken’s place (no offence, Ken) pretty much allays any idea that someone is trying to win you over via appearance. And the superficiality so often associated with pretence is noticeably devoid as you start essaying the rapport between two guys who simply portray an undeniable honesty toward getting to the heart of the cigar in hand—to unravel the angels and demons of its nature. No punches pulled! In sum, the video reviews put the hook in me. Big time. I watched a whole bunch of them in a row. Instantly addicted. Ken and Rob’s banter alone was sufficient to provide enough intrigue. And, of course, it’s worth noting that the right combination of personalities can be very persuasive on screen, but what really gets you hooked is the cigar lingo and the realisation of the complexities involved in the cigar itself—flavours, construction, draw, ring gauge, wrapper sheen, and so on... Cigar smoking immediately appeals as a life experience one shouldn’t miss out on—like good red wine or genuine craft beer or whiling away the hours in a fine old pub in Ireland in front of a pint of Guinness (or twelve). So I decided I was all in! I would take this experience on. It seemed every fibre of my being was willing it so. It’s a mistake to resist such things. (Usually. Watch out for heroin, sheep shagging, and women when applying that rule. Or any combination of the three.) Thus, after a brief consultation with Rob to garner his advice as to a good place to start, the Partagas Maduro #1 was chosen as the initial ticket for me. This cigar was recently video reviewed and scored somewhere around the high 80’s from Ken and Rob, so it seemed a decent place to kick off for a complete newbie such as me. When I told Rob I liked a good beer, he suggested a nice stout would go well with it, something to complement the chocolate notes. My mind immediately went to Young’s Double Chocolate Stout as the perfect partner in crime. So I rustled up two of those, also rustled up a mate who smoked (and who was also interested in giving the Cubans a go), and we sat back on a quiet deck at his place in Ashgrove and settled in for a slow burn of an afternoon—literally! What followed was utterly grand: good conversation, a good laugh, and—after the initial woozy, all-at-sea feelings from the first-up tobacco hits had subsided—the cigar experience quickly became something of a unique pleasure, something I felt I wanted to enjoy again and again. As the Partagas Maduro #1 burned down to its stub, the anxiety and disappointment of knowing the experience was coming to an end was the best pointer as to how much I truly was enjoying it. The smoky tastes on the tongue, the kinaesthetic appeal of the smoking process itself, the visual splendour of the accumulating ash, and my own burgeoning review notes forming in my head. Yes: an instant expert; a real wanker. Had I become what I formerly loathed? Let’s see: My review— Chocolate. Yep. I taste that. And… Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate… And probably a bit more chocolate. And a definite smoky taste… Yeah. Well, whatever the case, the point is the allure of the experience was considerable, and the experience itself was considerably worth it! For those on the precipice, I say, dive in! Consider me hooked! (Photo attached is the 2nd round ticket, not the Partagas; solo effort while writing and sinking a bottle of red. Happy days.)

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