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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:
  4. 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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