A cigar guru rediscovers a once lost Peruvian leaf, and also creates a unique brand for a recently opened NJ lounge

by Luis Cortez

SMOKE AND SUDS
To those accustomed to pairing cigars with liquor whether rum, tequila, or brandy joining the smoking experience with craft beer might seem an unconventional move, but it can produce wonderful results. To me, a light or medium bodied cigar dancing with a Belgian ale, particularly (all you porter and stout aficionados, take note!), can result in unexpected sensations of honey and wonderfully amplify the earthy flavors of the leaf, and is one of the best ways to spend a summer afternoon I can think of. Duvel’s new Tripel Hop Citra an amazing modern take a classic ale and at a robust 9.5% alcohol is a personal favorite, with its hints of grapefruit, lemon, and pepper.

FRESH FLAVORS IN RAHWAY
Come addition to the local smoke scene in the wake of Smoker’s Den on Irving Street recently closing Rahway’s Sticks Cigars is a handsome expanse of uncluttered and guy friendly smoking lounge interior design (just across from the train station and in the heart of Union County), BYOB flexibility, a handsome deck with cool weather heaters, and a great deal of product expertise.

Fresh Flavors in Rahway

Sticks had been for some time in search of a smoke unique to the establishment, and approached Cortez Cigars this spring to see if I could help them develop a blend and a brand. By the middle of June, it had debuted. We made one size for them: a Toro Grande, with a 54 ring gauge and 6 1/2 inches in length, and it’s a very special experience. We used two varieties of Dominican fillers, along with Nicaraguan filler and a binder also from the Dominican Republic, topped by a Havana 2000 wrapper (one grown in Mexico, and very rare). It gives a perfect ash and medium strength, but with a big amount of taste, including roasted coffee notes and woody flavors.

 

A PASSAGE TO PERU
There is only one grower of Peruvian tobacco whose product I would consider to be suitable for our cigar making: Tabacalera del Oriente, with its production facility and warehouse in Tarapoto, a city in the country’s northern San Martín region and jeweled by Amazonian cloud forest and jungle waterfalls. Seven years ago, I managed to get hold of three bales that allowed me to produce 10,000 cigars: a blend of this magic Peruvian filler, an Ecuadorian Havana wrapper, and a binder from Nicaragua. I dubbed it the Inca, and it sold out in three months.

Timepiece Spread

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Stunned by the success, I was hungry for more bales, but found they were not to be had. Large makers had snatched them up, and so I went on a personal explorational journey of a kind calling the distributor every month for seven years to inquire about availability, and eventually got hold of three more bales, from which I managed to produce a higher yield using a lower percentage of Peruvian leaf. They, too, sold out quickly, and I was determined not to be faced with the same problem again. So, in May, I traveled to Tarapoto to meet the grower family, and after one of the best farm and production facility touring experiences of my career, obtained enough tobacco to last us for years most pivotally used in a product I made in celebration of our business’s first decade of operation: the 10th Anniversary Cigar. (Properly stored, bales of tobacco can last a decade or longer, and, like wine, mature and amplify in flavor over time). Light in texture, with balanced strength and a diversity of tastes it gives flavor sensations of cocoa beans and roasted coffee, with many reporting that the experience is like smoking a chocolate. Eight years in the making I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Feliz Aniversario! Cortez Cigars, 152 Main St., Eatontown / 732.389.0159 / cortezcigars.com

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