Some Thoughts on Aging Cigars

Some Thoughts on Aging Cigars

When talking to people about aging cigars, and for that matter smoking cigars, I often find it useful to relate the process and experience to wine. There are a lot of parallels. Grapes and tobacco are agriculture products. From one year to the next grapes grown from the same vines have different qualities and so do tobacco leaves coming from the same field and seed-stock. This all makes sense right? Each year the amount of sun, shade, rain, average temperature, and other daily variations affects how the plant grows.

WineFermentationOnce harvested, grapes are crushed and put into tanks where, adding a little yeast, sugar is fermented into alcohol. Tobacco leaves are dried (cured) by hanging in warm airy barns, then fermented by being pressed together into “pilons” roughly 8’x8′ pallets stacked from a few inches off the floor to about 5′ in height. The pressure, heat (135F) and reduced oxygen environments in these dense stacks causes chemical changes in the tobacco that produce all the different molecules (and the carcinogens by the way) that we sense as aromas and flavors in the tobacco when we smoke it. These include esters, aldehydes, alcohols, ketones, lactones, and so many others I’ll just call them “aromatic molecules”. The process also produces huge amounts of ammonia, something you notice immediately when you step into a tobacco fermentation room. Grape fermentation takes a few days. Tobacco fermentation takes some (sometimes many) months while each pilon is regularly rotated (inner leaves going to the outside and outer leaves to the middle) to insure that all the tobacco gets an equal amount of pressure and heat during the whole process.

PilonPictureAfter fermentation, alcoholic grape juice is typically put into oak barrels and left in a controlled temperature and moisture environment for one to two years, sometimes more. Here the parallel between wine and cigars breaks down a bit. Few cigar manufacturers age their fermented tobacco before sorting the leaves and rolling cigars. Padron is the only manufacturer I know (there are perhaps others) who age their fermented tobacco for two or more years prior to rolling from it.

Once wine has aged for a few years it is bottled. Often bottles are made from a single type of grape. Such wines are called varietals. In California (for example) a wine must be at least 75% from one grape type and one year (it might be a blend of the same grape variety from different parts of the field) to be called a varietal, sirrah for example. But many wines are also blends of several different grapes quite possibly from barrels of different ages. Cigars are almost always like these blended wines. Any number of leaves from different tobacco plants are used in the manufacture of cigars, and the presence of some leaf from long-aged tobacco is common in limited-release blends. Usually the limitation is the amount of aged leaf available to the manufacturer!

Once wine is bottled it is shipped. When cigars are rolled they are rested for two to three months (and sometimes more) in slightly drying conditions. This allows them to shed any remaining ammonia and let the hundreds of different flavor and aroma molecules meld. At the end of this process, the cigar should smoke (burn, draw, smoke-output) and taste more or less as the blender intended. Following this rest, cigars are boxed, shrink-wrapped, and shipped. It’s at this point that we pick up the wine parallel again.

Some time is consumed shipping wine and cigars from manufacturer through distributor to retailer and finally to our hands. Wine is very vulnerable at this stage. Heat a bottle of good wine to 100F in a hot warehouse or truck for a day and the wine will most likely be ruined. The whole wine supply chain normally stays climate controlled. Cigars are a bit more rugged. A few days too hot, cold, moist, or dry doesn’t seem to bother them much. I do not know if cigars are climate controlled in the journey from factory to retailer (for economic reasons I would tend to doubt it) where we hope they are kept properly! I routinely have cigars ground shipped from the U.S. East to West coast in all seasons, a 5-7 day trip. I doubt they are climate controlled anywhere in this journey, although many retailers do put little Bovida packets in their shipments for just this reason. Out of hundreds of boxes a few arrive a little dry or moist, but most are just fine.

So open a bottle of new (say 2 year aged) wine and a cigar ROTT (that’s “right off the truck” if you don’t know that one yet). The wine tastes good, and the cigar likewise. Of course we don’t know how long the wine or the cigar has been with the retailer. With wine this can be a big problem and many aficionados buy their wine directly from the winery — wine clubs are hugely popular in California for this reason. This can be a problem with cigars too, but we rely on our retailers to hold the cigars in a reasonable environment. I’ve received boxes of cigars with two year-old dates stamped into them. All of these cigars were fine, and delicious, but of course I don’t know what they would have tasted like two years prior.

Let’s make believe that our bottle of wine left is barrel and our cigar its factory a few months ago for the sake of comparison. What happens when we leave the bottle and the cigar to sit for a while in conditions appropriate to each? Sometimes some magic happens.

After say a month the wine should not have changed much at all. Wine flavors evolve because hundreds of flavor molecules interact within the wine. The water and alcohol make chemical reactions possible between these molecules and new molecules are produced. This process happens more quickly in the barrel but it continues in the bottle although of course without the barrel’s influence. Cigars are a different story. The cigar’s environment isn’t liquid. Chemical reactions (and molecule formation) in fermentation are a product of heat, pressure and reduced oxygen. Although different tobacco leaves (and combinations of flavor molecules) are brought into contact when a cigar is rolled, there isn’t any heat or pressure to induce further chemical changes that form new molecules except by the break-down of existing molecules.

Cigars flavors don’t evolve so much because molecules are being combined, but because existing molecules break down and/or evaporate! Some of the break-down products of aromatic molecules are also aromatic with completely different contributions to the overall flavor of the smoke. Most importantly, these volatile molecules break down and evaporate at different rates. Resting the cigar causes a slight re-adjustment of proportions in its flavor molecules. In some cases (although this shouldn’t happen) a manufacturer releases a cigar a little too early and there is still some ammonia evaporating from its leaves. It might also arrive a little dry or moist. A few weeks to a month in our humidors will acclimate the cigar to our preferred smoking environment. Often the most pungent and sharp (ammonia being a serious offender here) molecules evaporate the fastest leaving a cigar noticeably more balanced after a few months rest, perhaps something the blender intended.

As rest extends from a few months to a year and more it becomes aging. Wines age slowly protected as they are by thick glass bottles and corks that let, at most, a few air molecules in or out of the bottle. Cigars continue their evaporation/break-down progression. As cigars age over a few years, the proportions of aromatic molecules remaining in them change dramatically and as one would expect this has a great impact on their flavor. Relatively speaking, a wine changes as much in ten years as a cigar does in two. In the wine’s case, some molecules have broken down, while various new ones might be built up but none of these molecules gets out of the bottle! In the cigar’s case, everything is about molecular proportions changing as volatile molecules break-down or evaporate from the cigar.

After two years, a cigar having relatively few aromatic molecules when it was young has almost nothing of them even if the cigar is kept in good condition. The leaf might be perfectly smoke-able, it just won’t have much flavor in it. By contrast a full flavored cigar with relatively many volatile molecules in its youth might still have quite a few left after two years but their proportions will have changed dramatically. Molecules that contributed little to the cigar’s flavor years before might now dominate. After a while most of what is left in old cigar leaf is sugar and amino acids that are too big to evaporate. When burned together they form pyridines and pyrazines which are responsible for the dominant note in cigar smoke (fresh or aged), but do not by themselves have much nuance in aroma or flavor. It’s all the other extras, if any, that add the flavors and aromas we look for in cigar smoke.

Here’s where things get interesting and the cigar-wine parallel comes back full force. Sometimes a good young wine is even better in five years, and sometimes not. If good after five years it might be bad (or even better) after ten. There are wines that are characteristically better or worse aging performers, but that is only broadly true and bottling (different years) of the same grape blend can vary here. In the end, when sampling a ten or twenty year old wine (even kept in perfect conditions) you just have to see how it comes out. The same thing happens to cigars. As the proportions of flavorful molecules change the cigar’s taste profile changes and much of the time for the better up to a point. Most smokers agree that cigar flavors are a bit less sharp, more rounded, balanced, and even a little sweeter after a few months rest. This seems even to happen with cigars whose tobaccos are considerably aged prior to rolling. Sometimes (and much here depends on the individual palate) this improvement continues up to a few years, but sometimes it doesn’t and the cigar becomes hot, flat, and uninteresting.

As with wine there are characteristic tobaccos that age well as compared to those that do not, and at the same time there is a lot of individual variation from year to year and manufacturer to manufacturer. I mentioned palate above. Wine experts tend to agree about a given wine. Most will agree about flavor improvement or lack of improvement and in what way the flavor changes with age. There is much less agreement among cigar smokers. There are cigars I believe taste better fresh and are less flavorful after a year or more. Others will feel just the opposite about the same cigars made about the same time from the same crop! I’ve also had cigars that were, to me, mediocre when fresh (other smokers loved them) that were far tastier after two years forgotten at the bottom of my humidor.

Do I age my cigars? Well I buy cigars by the box and I have many different cigars so even when I’m smoking through a box “quickly” it takes about six months. A box of more expensive cigars goes more slowly and I will always have one or two cigars remaining after a year or more. Finally I have deliberately set cigars aside for two years just to see how they evolved. In some cases the results were excellent, in others, not so much. What about the plastic wrapper on many cigars; on or off for aging? I happen to like the plastic, it protects the cigar, but I often cut the foot off of it to let the cigar breath a little more. I do this when transferring cigars from box to humidor so it just remains that way if the cigar ends up aging. I have however also aged cigars that had no plastic wrap to begin with. If your humidor is properly maintained you shouldn’t have any problem with or without the plastic.

I do urge you to give cigar aging a try if you can, another dimension to the hobby. At the same time I don’t sweat it too much. Most of the time my cigars taste fine ROTT and a couple months rest never hurts them. As I’m smoking mostly less expensive cigars these days the more expensive sticks I yet have are going slowly, but I still smoke them now and then. I probably have a dozen cigars over two years old, but that seems to be the limit to improvement for most and some are past their peak at that point. I recently had a four year old cigar and it was delicious with a rich brown sugar flavor. But it was a one-of-a-kind gift and so I have no idea what it might have tasted like when younger.

This link will take you to a good technical paper on the chemistry of cigar tobacco in particular with comparison to cigarette tobacco preparation. It is heavy on the anti-cancer angle concerning tobacco, but the list of chemicals and other components of fermented tobacco is really good.

Giving credit where credit is due, the pictures above of fermentation tanks come from the Hoga Company and pilons came from Google photos via RobostoJoe.

Here is a link to another aging essay by RobustoJoe who gets the credit for the pilon picture. On the whole he and I agree, but he claims that fermentation continues as cigars age, something I think is not correct.

Smoke ’em up BOTL and SOTL. Have fun!


Another Interesting Pairing Experience

STrumBlanco9pairSo this was interesting. This rum dropped off my favorites list some time back, but I found a bottle at 20% discount so I thought I would try it again and see why. I also chose, more or less randomly from my collection, this Blanco 9 lancero to smoke. I reviewed the cigar some time ago. Let me quickly describe the rum and then I’ll get to the pairing.

Santa Teresa 1796 is a Venezuelan rum and was the third rum I began to drink after my local retailer ran out of Mocambo 20 and Pampero Anniversario R.E. Upon first trying it, I loved it and drank it almost exclusively for most of a year until I began to try and buy a greater variety of rums. Soon it became too expensive at my retailer. I had a few bottles so I still returned to it frequently, but as my experience with other rums grew I found I favored it less and less. This really became apparent to me when my retailer restocked Mocambo and Pampero and I found those to be every bit as interesting as they were before I ever tried Santa Teresa.

A medium yellow amber in the glass with medium legs and light on the nose. There is little alcohol, some bright apricot and perhaps banana along with a darker prune background and a little brown sugar and caramel. Tasting the rum first it is smooth, only moderately sweet (sugar tests show at most 7g/liter which isn’t much). It is a little creamy, and one gets a sense of mixed bright and dark fruit along with brown sugar, caramel, and warm baking spices. But the whole profile is flat, sort of combined together into one flavor with no layering. The rum is very smooth with a nice creaminess and no young alcohol or varnish notes, just a little warming going down. The finish is short though not at all bitter with quickly vanishing fruit-flavored caramel notes. The rum certainly isn’t bad, just not as complex, rich, and layered as I’ve come to enjoy in many other rums I’m drinking these days.

But you just never know what a drink’s flavor profile will do to a particular cigar until you try them together. Now as you can see from my review of the Blanco 9 sometime back, I thought the cigar was good but not great. So it took me by great surprise when, having smoked a half inch or so of the cigar I took a nice swallow of the rum and then turned immediately to the cigar. Wow! Brown sugar sweetness, the aroma of balsa wood (very sweet smelling wood when fresh), and something like cinnamon popped out of the cigar. I got a similar effect each time I sipped the rum at least through the first half of the cigar. After that the effect faded, but perhaps my own palate was becoming a little desensitized. Hard to say with these subjective experiences, but throughout I noticed that when I took a good pull on the cigar and then tried the rum, the rum seemed even flatter that I first thought.

In any case, another example of a pretty good pairing, at least how the rum enhances flavors in the cigar even when neither the drink nor the cigar are top-of-the-line items.


A Pairing that Really POPS!

DMRomaNeandI’ve been pairing rums with cigars for some years now. My method is pretty random. I choose a cigar I want to smoke and a rum I want to drink. They are both always good, and sometimes I get lucky. The rum noticeably enhances some element of the cigar’s profile or more rarely the cigar does something for the rum. The reason the latter direction is more rare is simple. Let’s face it, smoking, especially cigars and pipes, dulls the palate. Smoke desensitizes our taste buds and the delicate nerve endings in the nose. The whole point of the drink (alcoholic or otherwise) is to wake up those taste buds and aroma sensors so they are ready for the next puff.

I’ve had dozens of rums over the years and many more different cigars so the number of combinations is very large. To my great surprise and delight this particular pairing was more interesting than usual.

Dos Maderas 5+5 is a triple aged rum. Blended from Barbados and Guyana rums, it spends 5 years in Oak casks in the warm Caribbean, 5 more years in Spain in sherry casks, and then 2 more years in older sherry casks (why don’t they call it 5+5+2?) according to this rum ratings site. The rum is dark and sweet but not overly sweet and sherry notescome through clearly  in the taste.

The Roma Craft Neanderthal (the one pictured is the SGP vitola a short robusto (4.25×52) sporting a Mexican San Andreas maduro wrapper, Connecticut broadleaf binder, Nicaraguan fillers (according to this review from Stogie Guys) and also Dominican leaf and a Pennsylvania double ligero! It packs a wallop in both flavor and nicotine strength, a very delicious cigar.

So I poured the rum and lit the cigar enjoying the first quarter inch or more while the rum breathed a bit. I took a good sip of the rum (delicious) and then another puff of the cigar. That’s when the magic happened! The cigar is normally a flavorful mix of sweet leather, roasted nut, dark coffee, and a rich sweet woodiness. But the flavor after sipping the rum really popped! Not just some of the profile, but all of it! My tongue tingled in the smoke. That has never happened before. Not just one or two elements of the cigar’s profile became stronger, they all did. Sweetness, leather, nuttiness, coffee, and everything else was enhanced! I was amazed. No pairing I’ve tried so far between any rum and any cigar had this kind of dramatic effect! I thought maybe this first hit was a fluke, but as I continued to smoke the cigar and sip the rum it happened every time down to the last half inch of the cigar!

The rum is moderately expensive (by my standards) in the $40 range and the cigar is also expensive (around $9 at the box level) but if you have a chance to try this combination I highly recommend it. I have one other vitola of the Neanderthal (the petite corona from the Roma Craft Sampler) and I’ll see if the combination works the same with that one. There are other vitolas of the cigar as well. If anyone tries one of these Neanderthals paired with a glass of Dos Maderas 5+5, I’d appreciate hearing what you thought!



Cigar Review: Asylum Nyctophilia

20160120_131410-2I’m smoking an Asylum Nyctophilia TAA cigar from Tampa Humidor. This is an amazing smoke for $5.50! Supposedly this “all maduro” cigar sports a Mexican San Andres maduro wrapper, with all maduro Nicaraguan binder and fillers (otherwise unspecified). I’ve smoked a half dozen of these now, the experience is pretty consistent.

20160120_134144-2On the wrapper and foot I sense rich organic dirt, manure, barn yard, and a little floral perfume. The wrapper is dark oscuro-chocolate in color, mostly smooth, a few veins, and a little oily. It looks beautiful. Well packed there aren’t any soft spots. Straight cut, perfect draw.

20160120_140049First flavors include some white pepper, and dark earths, cedar, burnt sugar, and some warm spice. Coffee and semi-sweet chocolate notes go in and out. Burn stays near perfect, the draw is just right, and there is lots of creamy smoke. In the second third there is a little more pepper, sometimes spearment, leather, and burning wood like the sweet smells of a home fire place. In the last third I sense something like wintergreen (flowers?), more pepper (but never too much), less sweetness, chocolate disappears, and something like heavily roasted vegetables. Lots of flavor layers here changing throughout the cigar. Even at the last half inch there was both sweetness and other flavors. The cigar never seems to go beyond the medium side of medium-full in nicotine strength. Really, this is a very well balanced cigar.

20160120_142711-2I haven’t tried one of these early in the day with coffee, but I suspect it would be a good pairing. I’ve paired these with a number of rums. The pictures show Gosling’s Black Seal, but both Mocambo 20 and Pampero Anniversario R. E. are better with this stick.

I understand that these are something of a special release for 2015 only, but there are still boxes of these to be found. If you like really rich darkly flavored cigars, you will enjoy this one.


Rum Review: Gosling’s Black Seal

20160120_121615I’m always looking for a deal for myself and my followers and this rum might be the best deal of all.

Gosling’s Black Seal was supposedly named because the cap used to be sealed with a black wax. It isn’t any more, just a red plastic screw cap, but it does fit the bottle well and closes more securely than most of the pressed metal caps you find these days. Should have a cork of course, but then few rums at this price have that. Bottled at 40% ABV there is no age statement on the bottle.

20160120_134235A dark mahogany in color, it is not the darkest rum I have, beaten out by several others, but it is quite pretty. When you swirl it in the glass you get many thin legs forming that very slowly run down the glass blending together as they go. It looks thick. On the nose I sense tobacco, prune, raisin, a little alcohol, dark brown sugar, chocolate, and a little light molassses. There are no acetone or varnish notes telling me the rum has some age to it. There is creaminess on the tongue, but not so much as suggested by the legs. I am struck by a hint of black cherry which I haven’t ever noted in a rum before. Also brown sugar, and caramel medium finish. On the swallow there is a little heat but the rum is smooth. There is no bitterness in the after taste, and the rum gets a little creamier as the glass goes down. The major flavor notes seem to be the dark fruit and dark brown sugar. According to the master list of rums and their sugar content, there are only 11 grams of sugar/liter added to this one, a moderate amount, but by no means excessive compared to some.

All in all surprisingly complex and interesting rum if not quite as integrated as some. I’m not saying this is the best rum in the world, or even in my modest collection. But at $19 (BevMo in the U.S.) for a 750ml bottle it is the best bang for the buck out of all the rums I’ve tried in the last 4 years! It works well with cigars too. A Nyctophilia I smoked recently with it got enhanced charred sugar and woodiness out of it, while lighter cigars seem to get a little sweeter. I think there are better, more general, pairing rums but this will work and for the price, if you like rums at all, you have to try it. Would I buy it again? I already have!

Rum Review: English Harbour

It has to be said that I have grown very fond of this rum and mostly because it presents my palate with something different every time I try it. Perhaps that is the bottle itself evolving. I am about 4/5 through my first bottle of this rum now over about 2 months. That isn’t a lot of time for bottle-evolution, but enough, or perhaps my own palate has evolved into appreciating this sort of profile.

EnglishHarbour2verysmall The label says the rum is 5 year old Antiguan. That’s a good age for a rum, a little young of middle age. If this is representative of an “Antiguan style” I look forward to trying other examples. In the glass it is a light amber about like Barbancourt 5 Star (an 8 year-old). Swirled it forms thin legs. On the nose there is alcohol but not as much as in younger rums, and the acetone or varnish notes characteristic of younger rums are present but left in the background. There is apricot, some orange, and banana in the nose. I don’t notice any darker fruit but there is some nice woody sweetness in the background also so the fruit doesn’t overwhelm the nose like the orange does in Pyrat XO for example.

EnglishHarbourVerySmall On the tongue, sipped neat from a glencairn glass, it has a glassy crisp feel. Sometimes I detect a minimal creaminess and other times none at all. I get hints of brown sugar, and caramel but not the burnt caramel notes of much darker rums like Mocambo 20. A little fruit, orange and apricot, carry over from the nose. When first sipped, even after sitting out in the air for 10 minutes, there hardly seems to be any flavor at all, but still a detectable brown suger sweetness that goes down easy. The finish, at the beginning a little bitter, seems to vary from short to medium. It lets you know there is some alcohol there. As the glass is sipped the flavors seem to enrich and the rum gets distinctly sweeter and creamier.

One of the things that makes this rum so interesting to me is how it changes from the beginning to the end of the glass. Caramel comes into the flavor, along with a hint of warm spice taste like cinnamon and nutmeg. The creaminess is never very strong but it is detectable. Bitterness disappears from the finish which gets sweeter and longer. What starts out thin with bare hints of flavors becomes rather deeper with flavor hints that come and go with each sip. This is moderately priced rum. It regularly goes for near $40, but can be found around $35. I am struck by how at first sip I wonder if it’s worth that price, but by the end of the glass I know this won’t be my last bottle!

EnglishHarbour3verysmall As for cigar pairing, it works well with a Drew Estate Papa’s Fritas and L’Atelier’s la Mission. The nose alone brings out some extra sweetness in these cigars. It isn’t as generally a good pairing as some of my other rums but I haven’t tried it with every cigar I have either. As always, your palate may vary on this and it isn’t bad. Sometimes the cigar affects the rum more than the other way around! Try everything.

My scoring system is simple. Would I buy this rum again for $35-$40 or not? Yes I would. It is both tasty and real without the artificial notes of many other popular sipping rums these days. Good stuff!

Three Books on the Intersection between Theology and Cosmology

As of January 2016 I have 3 books published for Amazon Kindle. These are “Kindle Only” books for now meaning you can’t get a paper copy. But if you are reading this then you have the technology to read these. The “Kindle App” is free and available on just about any phone, tablet, or computer on the market anywhere in the world today.

Below I briefly describe the three books. If anyone is interested in discussing them, please comment here and I will start up a book-specific category to continue the discussion. General discussion about all of them (they are related after all) can take place in the comment stream below. Each book title (below) serves as a link to the book on Amazon.

firstBookCover“Why This Universe: God, Cosmology, Consciousness, and Free-Will” ($3.99 Amazon Kindle June 2014)

This book was the outcome of some few years of readings by today’s physicists and philosophers on the broad subjects of cosmology, physics (quantum mechanics, relativity, especially the nature of time), and the puzzling nature of consciousness. It is also based on what might be called a theory of God found in “The Urantia Book” published in 1955 by The Urantia Foundation but now in the public domain. Some very good Kindle editions (click on the book title link above) of this book are only a few dollars on Amazon. My own book begins with a brief (and very over-simplified) sketch of the nature of God as presented in “The Urantia Book”. I use just enough of that book’s metaphysics of God to demonstrate that it properly accounts for the present physics we understand (relativity and quantum mechanics) and in addition it accounts for the presence and content of consciousness. With these in place I go on to discuss the “human experience” both personally (as a subjective individual) and historically (the human collective on Earth).

None of this discussion is taken to be any sort of “proof of God”. Rather, it is an attempt to show that by fitting all of what we experience under this particular sketch of God’s nature we can not only explain what we experience, but are justified in inferring something of what must occur in our (possibly very distant) future.

secondBookCover‘A Theological Reflection on “The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time” (Unger/Smolin 2015)’ ($2.99 Amazon Kindle April 2015)

In early 2015 Roberto M. Unger and Lee Smolin released a seminal book: “The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time”. In this book they argued (separately) that time was in fact the principle characteristic of the physical universe, even more so than space. They are both very articulate and make their case well. There is nothing theological about their view, indeed Smolin explicitly rejects any chain of explanation that points “outside the physical universe”. I wrote a review of this book that can be found on Amazon with this link. 

I thought the Unger/Smolin book deserved a more extended review than I could work-up for Amazon. That led to my second book: ‘A Theological Reflection on “The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time” (Unger/Smolin 2015)’ The extended review takes up the first half of my little book here while the second half is a commentary on something I noticed when reading the Unger/Smolin book. My own first book also afirms the “reality of time”. That is, in it, I conclude that one of the consequences of The Urantia Book’s theory of God as I sketch it is that time must be real and must more or less have the qualities that Unger and Smolin both believe it has.

More or less, but not entirely. In particular, I note that what is differs between us cannot be reliably tested. The idea that time begins with this universe and the big bang or that time retreates indefinately into a past beyond the beginning of our present universe are equally unmeasurable. If Unger and Smolin are right, then the conditions of the transitions from “one universe phase to another” as Unger puts it, are so severe as to preclude our ever having evidence that could only emerge from a past universe. In the second half of my book I discuss implications of this difficulty for Unger and Smolin. The bottom line is that whether you take a theological view of time’s beginning or a “time goes back indefinately” view there will be no way in principle of ever telling the difference observationally. Anything that might be taken as evidence of a “past before the present universe” might easily be a phenomenon resulting from the extreme conditions at the opening of the present universe.

thirdBookCover“God, Causal Closure, and Free Will” ($3.99 Amazon Kindle January 2016)

My third book is something of a combination of the first two. In the year and a half between the first and third books I read more books on the subject of quantum mechanics, cosmology (particularly the Unger/Smolin book), consciousness, and theology. As in my readings prior to the writing the first book, much of the discussion in these books came down to the relation between time, causal closure, the evolution of consciousness, and the nature (and possibility) of free will. Using the Unger/Smolin hypothesis of time’s fundamental reality and the evolution of cosmological constants and laws, the third book sets the sketch of The Urantia Book’s theory of God into a context of physical transformations in cosmological history. I distinguish two broad kinds of transformations called “small” or “little” and “large” or “big” emergences.

Small emergences are new qualities in the physical universe that appear automatically when physical conditions are right and all the necessary ingredients are present. A well known example are the qualities of liquid and solid (ice) water that are not to be found among the properties of hydrogen and oxygen alone nor their behavior as a gas.

Big emergences require something more than merely a combination of physical ingredients under the right conditions. They require additional information. No one disputes that additional information is necessary for the physical universe to have life and then consciousness. Rather the dispute is over from whence that information comes. Without something like God, it can only appear by accident and the issue then turns to whether that is likely or even possible. In the first book, information theory was addressed separately from other parts of the investigation. In this book, it is more central. There is less cosmology here but a greater emphasis on the distinction between our epistemological arena (what we can know in our experience) and what we must infer exists metaphysically thanks to certain qualities of human consciousness. In particular the phenomenon of self-consciousness, timeless identity of the person, and the scope of free will are examined in more detail. Free will of the human variety is more fully distinguished from that exercised by animals, and it is more extensively related to the purposelessness of physical mechanism under causal closure.

I know that most of those who follow my blogging so far (mostly about my other hobbies) are not as deeply interested in these subjects as I am. Those of you who might take an interest, and particularly those who come here seeking a discussion forum about these books are welcome to comment and start that discussion.


Foreign Agent Cover

My novel, published in 2021. Foreign Agent by Matthew Rapaport

More to come later.



I’ve been pairing cigars with rum for about 4 years now. My selection method is haphazard but I’ve managed to hit many of the classic sipping rums along the way. I’ve probably gone through 40 bottles of 20 different rums, there being many repeats on the list. I’ve tasted a dozen others here and there, and by tasting I mean a glass or two. That’s not a lot of tasting experience by most standards around here, but I have noticed some things and the strangest of these is more about my own palate than about the rum! Before I get on with the story I note that everything described below is sipped neat, no water, no ice. I have had these drinks with a little water and on a hot summer day (when does that happen around here?) over ice, but mostly its about neat.

Before I got into rum, and besides coffee, I paired my smokes with cognac, sherry, and most often with Irish Mist, a concoction of Irish Whiskey and a honey liqueur. The effect comes out to be sweet like a liqueur, but not as sweet as many others like Drambuie, Bennedictine, or Grand Marnier. There’s the occasional beer with cigar if I’m at a HERF, and I keep a good cognac (sealed) around in the event anyone ever wants some. I also have an unopened bottle of Irish Mist around 3 years now because it seems to be all about the rum. I have ventured out of the rum world a few times. There was a bourbon I liked, a rye, and even a scotch I could almost appreciate. Almost, but I can’t drink more than a glass of bourbon without being sick of the flavor. With scotch I can’t even finish one glass. Rye is a little easier, but it also gets uninteresting fast. Years ago, before cigars, I did drink an occasional rye and bourbon. Scotch never appealed. But none of them ever became a passion or even passing interest.

I got into rum when someone on a cigar forum suggested that coming from the same part of the world, cigars and rum that is, they should go well together. I had a small bottle of Pyrat XO I used for cooking. Poured myself a glass and took a sip. Very sweet and bright with fresh orange. Almost as sweet as Irish Mist, but its bright frutiness didn’t make me think of cigars. I visited a local retailer looking for something besides the giant brands like Bacardi and Captain Morgan. I was looking for something of a higher class, but not expensive either. Just a few dollars more than the Pyrat XO there beconed a bottle of Mocambo 20 Year Rum. That was a wake-up slap in the face! Gone the alcohol-acetone aromas and bright orange of the light-colored Pyrat. Instead dark, burnt notes of wood, coffee, tobacco, hints of trecle (burnt caramel) all in a rich meld led by the wood. Compared to the Pyrat, and especially the Irish Mist the Mocambo was only slightly sweet and even that was a dark burnt sweetness. Just enough to notice, little enough that it didn’t seem to be a “sweet drink”. I liked it right away and as it turned out so did the cigars. It tasted great with everything I was smoking at the time, and the cigars in turn complimented the flavors of the rum.

Following my second bottle of Mocambo, my retailer sold out of it. Next up was the slightly more expensive Pampero “Anniversario Reserva Exclusiva”. Also very dark and a little sweeter than the Mocambo, but lacking the burnt flavors. The dark fruit like raisins and prunes came through along with hints of molasses, and some warm baking spices. It was deeper and richer than the Mocambo, without its burnt woodiness. Again I liked it and it went well with my cigars. Two bottles later, my retailer ran out of that one too! Next in line I discovered Santa Teresa 1796. The prices were inching gradually upwards. The Santa Teresa is a medium colored rum. Darker than the Pyrat but lighter than either of the other two. It was sweeter too, but not yet as sweet as the Pyrat. I liked it also. Creamier than either of the darker rums, it had a mix of fresh and dark fruit flavors, brown sugar, and caramel.

It was while I was drinking the Santa Teresa that I began tasting other rums. I was in Vegas for a week and had a couple of glassses of Zaya (horrible like someone dumped a teaspoon of sugar into every glass) and more glasses of Zacapa XO (much better, but too expensive to try again since). There followed a succession of trials and bottles, Papa’s Pilar light (very young with strong alcohol and acetone notes, and a huge hit of sugar cane sweetness in the finish) and dark (heavy molasses and caramel on the finish), Angostura 1919 (one of those that has changed much for me) and 1824 (dark, sweet, the creamiest rum I’ve tasted), El Dorado 15 (sweeter than any of the others mentioned so far but with a funky note I’ve since come to associate with pot-still rums), Dictador 20 (clean, crisp, deep in dark fruit, trecle, and bitter coffee. Only a hint of sweetness), Brugal 1888 (moderately sweet, many very subtle flavors), Flor de Cana 12 and 18 year (sweet, creamy, nice meld of bright and dark fruit with brown sugar and caramel but I had so much of this rum over 10 days in Nicaragua I got tired of it), Dos Maderas 5+5 (dark and sweet, but not overmuch. Delicious with very strong coffee and sherry notes along with a little tobacco), Old Monk (an Indian rum, moderately sweet with a rich background of baking spices and trecle), Atlantico Private Cask (apricot and bananna, too sweet, and a bit of a flat profile), Pusser’s Navy Rum (the king of pot-still funk, warm spice and molasses/caramel richness all colored by the funk), Appleton 12 year (pot-still funk a little brighter but thinner and a tad less sweet than the Pusser’s), Barbancourt 5-star (the closest I’ve come to a true “agricole rum” made from sugar cane juice and not molasses. Sweet but not too sweet, bright with a subtle mix of light fruit and brown sugar) English Harbour 5 year (glassy, crisp, with a thinner finish that reminds me of a young Dictador), Gosling’s Black Seal (black cherry and other dark fruits, moderately sweet) and Diplomatico (the “Reserva Exclusiva” being rich and very sweet, a tasty liqueur but not a rum, and the “Reserva” a less sweet version I like better).

There were more besides, but these bottles were getting expensive. There are some in the list above that were just too expensive to buy again like the Brugal, Diplomatico R.E., Angostura 1824, Atlantico, and Dictador 20 among others. Even the Santa Teresa got too expensive and dropped out of the rotation for about a year. It was during this time that a group of people I worked with began to get together at the end of the work day once a week and sample various drinks. There were other rums like the Australian Bundaberg Over-proof (the only 53% ABV rum I’ve been able to try), and also bourbons (I especially liked the Four Roses Yellow label). I also attended some tastings at a local retailer. That added some scotches, more bourbons, and ryes to the list but nothing moved me to buy a bottle. I was discovering a lot of very good rums in a price range below $40. Of those rums I now keep around (I yet have one unopened bottle of Santa Teresa), only the El Dorado 15 is more expensive. Of particular note, the Pussers, Appleton, Goslings, and Barbancourt are all $25 or less!

Now all of this history brings me to the last and sad part of my story. After a couple of years trying all of the rums listed above I bought another bottle of Angostura 1919. In my early days, just after, the Santa Teresa got too expensive, this was my favorite rum! Now, after all the rest, it tasted terrible! Much sweeter than I remembered it and laced with vanilla it just seemed very artificial. Papa’s Pilar dark was yet another. A rum I loved when I first tried it, it was way too sweet and artificial tasting when I tried it again. The same thing happened with my Santa Teresa! It went on sale so I bought a couple of bottles. Not as bad as the Angostura or Pilar dark, but still much sweeter and flatter in profile than I remembered it. Somewhere along the line I picked up another bottle of Atlantico Private Cask, and that was way to sweet. Was I just getting used-to and enjoying less sweet rums, even funky rums like Pusser’s and Appleton 12? Mocambo and the Pampero A.R.E. appeared again at my retailer and on sale too. I hadn’t tried these again in almost 3 years. Would they be terrible too? No as it turned out they were both great and pretty much as I remembered them. The Mocambo 20 in particular was an instant hit with my cigars. So it is about the sweetness. I am liking less sweet rums, or when they are somewhat sweet, rums with that funk (Pusser’s, Appleton 12, and sweetest El Dorado 15). The more sweet rums just aren’t that interesting now because the sweetness seems to dominate everything else.

English Harbor (5 year old Antigua rum) is an interesting case. Most of the rums in my open bottle rotation at the moment taste pretty much the same as I remember whenever I try them. But the English Harbour tastes different almost every time. Sometimes it’s thin, glassy I call it. Other times I can sense the cream. There’s always caramel and little hint of sugar cane, but sometimes there’s dark fruit or a little tobacco and other times not. Sometimes the finish seems too short, and then again, it can be at least medium-long. I pour a glass of this rum, let it sit for a few minutes and sip. I ask myself if I will buy this ($35) again, but by the end of every glass I know I will!

There are a few I need to try again. Dictador 20 (about $65) is too expensive for me now, but if I see it on sale I will snap it up. Same with Brugal 1888 ($65) which might be too sweet for me now. My retailer was out of Old Monk ($35) but I need to try that one too. Given my less sweet leanings I know I will like the Dictador even more than I did the first time around. I’m curious about the moderately sweet warmly spicy Old Monk, and the subtlety of complex flavors in the Brugal.

So my rum palate has definitely changed over the years, and more so than my cigar palate. Like the rums, some cigars drop out of my rotation only because they’ve become too expensive. Others drop out because I’ve found much better cigars at their otherwise low prices. I’ve gone back to some of those older lower priced cigars and none of them are as good as those in my present collection. Back to rum, it seems to be the sweetness that makes the most difference, but that doesn’t explain everything. I recently finished a last bottle of Diplomatico R.E ($65) I had around for a while, and it was still delicious even if it seems more like a liqueur than a rum. So it isn’t just sweetness alone. The Angostura, Atlantico and Pilar Dark are good examples. Not only are they too sweet, but there is an artificialness to them that is off-putting even besides their sweetness.

Here’s a few websites with lots of rum reviews and other interesting features about the world of rum.

The Rum Project

The Rum Howler Blog

The Fat Rum Pirate

The Ministry of Rum

Inu a Kena



LEAF by Oscar Cigar Review


Those of you who have not seen one of these cigars are in for a treat. Each stick is individually wrapped, not in plastic, but in tobacco leaf, “the LEAF’s” signature gimmick, and it’s a good one! The leaf (or leaves, there’s often two on my sticks) are pliable, moist, and protect the cigars. They smell great too. My 20 lanceros (7″x38) came in a tight bundle, not a box. The bundle wrapped (4×5) in their own cigar leaves bound with a soft and thick paper band of the same material that bands the individual leaf-wrappers and the cigars themselves. The whole effect from bound bundle to the cigar is much like a multi-wrapped Christmas present in our favorite kind of paper — cigar leaf! The binder and filler are Honduran, while the lanceros come in four wrappers, Honduran Connecticut, Nicaraguan Jalapa Maduro, Honduran Corojo or Ecuadorian Sumatra. My bundle is the last of these. Love that Sumatra wrapper!

After removing the outer wrapping leaves the cigar is knarly! There are lumps and bumps here and there a softer spot on some of the cigars but not all. A cigar gets no points off for being rough looking, I don’t mind. Tell the truth the rough look is appealing to me. Perhaps the filler has a texture that is hard to work with, or the roller (torcedor) is a person who who has not yet mastered the craft but is trying hard and stretching his skills to do so! I admire that person whomever she or he may be. A lancero is hard to roll. Rough looking or not, uneven packing has to ding a review on construction grounds, but I’ve smoked 8 of the 20 in the bundle and only three had noticable unevenness besides right at the foot where they were all a tad soft. But remember this was a bundle not a box. Harder to protect a bundle and lanceros are a bit delicate. Easy to imagine the feet getting a little too pressed in shipment.

The big construction points for come down to how the stick smokes. Of the 8 I’ve smoked one was pretty plugged and another other plugged up here and there throughout the smoke. Luckily I have a tool and both cigars were fixable. Yes, I boast a 7″ draw tool! The remaining 6 cigars, including the one I’m smoking now, had a perfect draw for me. Just a little more than the slight resistance I look for in a robusto or even a corona. Perfect “tightness” for a lancero. To me the draw, and whether a good draw stays consistent throughout the smoke, are the two most important “construction” features of any cigar. Next is how much smoke gets produced. All of these have been very good smoke producers. A nice creamy smoke too, not at all harsh.

Most of these sticks hit some point, some softer spot (noticible or not) and just went out. But lanceros are the easiest cigars to relight! This construction-related issue is not really a problem here. The burn-line stayed pretty even on all but the plugged sticks. Ash hangs around for about an inch. When the draw was good (6 out of 8 so far), it remained consistent throughout the smoke! That’s an accomplishment in a lancero! One more thing. The wrapper leaf did not split, crack, or unravel anywhere on any of the smokes so far, nor did they arrive damaged in any way though unprotected by a box. I suspect the moisture and cushining effect of the outer leaf-wrappers contributed something to this.

If the cigar smokes well (draw, smoke, etc) then the flavor is what makes or breaks it. These sticks are tasty. Roasted nut, brown sugar, sweet woodiness, maybe leather. There are other flavors I’m not quite identifying but they come and go. You catch a hit of flowers sometimes and nutmeg. Much of the flavor is in the retrohale, but this cigar has an easy nose. There doesn’t seem to be much pepper until the last two inches or so when it comes up on you. Of course much of this might be the result of my pairing experiments and so my rum adled brain!

Actually I’ve paired half of these with coffee in the morning. Everything works with coffee. These are on the mild side of mild-to-medium until the last third and so a great morning smoke. The other half I’ve paired with various rums of my present collection and the one that works best seems to be the Barbancourt 5 star, a light amber-colored rum whose mild sweetness and fruity but subtle profile seems to let the full range of cigar flavors shine through.

For me the cigar stays tasty all the way down to the last inch. Spices and sweet woodiness emerge here and there in the retrohale all the way down. It never gets stronger than medium, but being a long cigar it can still have an effect. It has enough flavor all the way along to be smokable any time of the day. A few seemed to smoke pretty fast for a lancero lasting just over an hour, but as I smoke more of them I see they go almost an hour and thirty, about average for a lancero for me. Every individual cigar has its own character. Physically speaking, the way they smoke, these vary more than most others I know, but everyone of them delivers the same smooth and sweet flavors. There is a lot here to recommend. Would I buy these again? This is my first venture into LEAF by Oscar because they normally are too expensive for me in my presently semi-retired state. But they are easily worth their standard prices and I won’t hesitate to snap up a deal on these when I see them.

Over-all construction grade: A-
Over-all flavor grade: A+

Do You Water Down Your Whiskey?

Do You Water Down Your Whiskey?

It’s been a while since I’ve added to this blog. I finished up my third book (Amazon Kindle, “God, Causal Closure, and Free Will”) my free wheeling review of the intersection between physics and theology should you be interested.

Meanwhile I have learned much, experimented, and read more books. One of those books was “Tasting Whiskey: An Insider’s Guide to the Unique Pleasures of the World’s Finest Spirits” by Lew Bryson. This book is about whiskey, all kinds of whiskey. Mr. Bryson is careful to point out that rums, brandies, and other drinks, while sharing in common with whiskey both distillation and barrel ageing, are not whiskey. Whiskey comes from grain, wheat, rye, barley, corn, rice, and many others far less common, but only grains can make genuine whiskey. I’ll defer to his definition here. Rum is not whiskey it’s rum, and that works for me. Much, in fact just about all, of what Mr. Bryson says about the process of tasting whiskey applies to other distilled spirits if not all of them. In particular it applies to spirits meant to be sipped, and that certainly applies to brandies and rums.

In his delightful little book (highly recommended by the way) Mr. Bryson spends time in a few places to discuss mixing water in whiskey. This isn’t the first place I’ve heard about the reasons for this. A number of YouTube video whiskey (and rum) reviews include this step in the tasting process. I know it is common to add a little water to all of the whiskeys and rums. You don’t see it very often with brandies and cognacs. Adding just a little water to a dram of whiskey is supposed to enhance the flavors of the drink for two reasons. First by lowering the percentage of alcohol in the glass you reduce the masking effect of alcohol fumes and alcohol on the tongue. By taking out some of the fire (so it is said) you taste more of what is behind it. Second, there are flavor chemicals in the whiskey (called esters) that become surrounded and locked in by alcohol molecules. Adding a bit of water unlocks some of these bonds freeing the esters to make a greater difference to the nose and the tongue. There is more to the story, Mr. Bryson spends a very good chapter on the subject discussing for example how ice changes a whiskey’s flavor. But for now, this is enough to get us started.

Before I got into rum I was pairing cigars with various brandies, cognacs, and liqueurs, in particular a liqueur called “Irish Mist” which is a blend of some Irish whiskey and a concoction that is supposed to be something like “mead”, a wine made from honey — quite possibly the oldest kind of wine known. Irish Mist is sweet, sweeter even than all but the sweetest rums, yet still not so sweet as other liqueures like Drambui or Grand Mariner. I was casting about for another kind of spirit to pair with cigars. I’ve tried a few (even good) ryes but they came across a bit too bitter for me. Likewise scotch, not bitter, but something else, something oily I never quite got past. Tried a few bourbons that were good but by the time I’d had a few glasses from any given bottle (and I mean over a week) I was sick of the flavor. All of these were drunk neat because, so I thought, that was the proper way to understand the flavor a blender was after. A few of these drinks ended up poured over ice but that left a very watered down drink that, to me at the time, was nothing but a washed out version of the same whiskey neat.

Then I tried rum. It happened to be a Pyrat XO which happens to be a pretty sweet and fruity rum, almost but not quite as sweet as Irish Mist. It was the perfect step for me. I found an entry into a spirit category that has as much variety within it as all the other whiskies and brandies put together. In the past four or so years I’m drinking rum I never seem to have more than a dozen different rums in my collection, but I’ve gone through at least one bottle of some 50 rums and find a variety of contrasting flavors that will likely keep me busy for many more years. Until a few weeks ago, all of these were consumed neat with the exception of a few parties in Nicaragua where the only rum I could get (Flor de Cana) was always served on the rocks. That turned out OK (and I’ve had lots of FdC neat too). I usually manage to nurse a single dram through a whole cigar, even a 90 minute cigar, but at those parties I was smoking 2 or 3 cigars a night and I had to spread the drinks out over a longer interval.

That brings me up to a few weeks ago. Having read Mr. Bryson’s advice to add water I decided to try it with a few of my rums. All of my rums are between 40% and 42% ABV (alcohol by volume) by far the most common alcohol concentration in the rums I find around here. There are a very few “over proofs” like the Austrailian Bundaberg at about 53% ABV, but its pretty hard to find anything above the usual 40 or 42%. These are the same percentages you find in brandies and likewise Irish Mist. Same with most of the whiskies. After some years of drinking spirits with this much alcohol I am used to it.

Over the past few weeks I’ve taken to sipping a bit of my rum neat and then adding a tiny bit of water, maybe 5 drops in an ounce of rum. I swirl it around, sip again, and sometimes try another 2 or 3 drops. This can’t have much effect on the percentage of alcohol, but even that little bit of water quiets whatever alcoholic heat the rum carries. Most of my rums are already very smooth. The heat I get out of them is not at all harsh or unpleasant to my palate. Even so the 5 drops or so makes a difference. I can still taste the alcohol, but there seems to be much less of it. This is particularly noticeable on the nose, particularly with a younger rum. The alcohol no longer seems to overwhelm the aroma, something that also happens, to a lesser extent, if you just let the rum sit out in the glass for 10 minutes or so before nosing it. Though I don’t particularly smell any new aromas after adding the water, the old ones are still there.

When I taste the watered down rum I taste, well, watered down rum. To me it’s a little like slightly too-weak coffee. You get that flavors are there (though I don’t detect any new ones) but something of the body seems to be missing. I think the bottom line here is that I’m used to the full strength product which, remember, is only 40% ABV or so. When rums (and whiskies) come out of a cask they can be 60% or even 70% ABV. To get them to 40% the blenders add water! So if you are drinking rum (or whiskey) at 40% ABV it has already been considerably diluted. The results aren’t all bad. When I add a little water to Pusser’s or Appleton 12, some of the funk gets toned down. Perhaps people who don’t otherwise like that flavor will find it palatable that way.

I haven’t tried this will all the rums in my present collection of open bottles but I’ll get around to it. I want to understand what this process does and I know my palate has grown used to the undiluted (at least beyond 40%) product. So far I haven’t had that “ah ha” experience and I know I have to give it a fair shot.

So I return to what I said back in part III of my pairing article. Drink what you like and like what you drink. If adding a little water to your rum (or whiskey) works for your palate then by all means add water! I might not appreciate the effect, but you might. Experiment with your own taste. No one else is going to do it.