Friday, December 7, 2018

Ditka says he’s smoked his last cigar — unless the Bears win it all 

Close, but no cigar . . . Legendary Bears coach Mike Ditka, a stogie lover who suffered a massive heart attack last month, may have taken his last puff. But … hold the match … and strike up the band! “My cigar smoking days have ended, but I’ll tell you what,” Ditka told Sneed from his Florida home late this week. “If the Bears win the Super Bowl, I WILL light up a victory cigar. And I’d smoke the whole damn thing!” In a phone interview, Ditka said he plans to return to Chicago from Naples, Fla., in May. “My wife and I deal with life as we are going through it and I have nothing but good memories especially of the Bears,” he said. “I love [quarterback Mitch] Trubisky. I don’t watch football as much as I used to, but I don’t miss a Bears game. “If someone is going to beat the Bears, it’s going to be an all-day job,” Ditka said. RELATED: Mike Ditka home for hospital and “doing well” Reflecting on his most recent health scare, Ditka, 79, opined: “Look, everything is good, but not as good as it could be,” he said. “But I have lived a life of no regrets. It is what it is. Four stents and a pacemaker was rough. But ya gotta look at the odds. “I’ve had a blessed life. I’ve had a great run. I’d do it all over again. Well maybe not everything. “What just happened to me, most people don’t come back from. I’m lucky I’m still here. I’m going to go ahead and enjoy my life. I still play golf every day. I play with my wife, Diana, and others. I’m just going to be more laid back.` “When I had the surgery … it may have banged me up a little bit in terms of my golf game. I am not complaining … but hey, it is competition. Ditka enjoys a cigar in 1987 | Sun-Times file photo “I don’t drink. I’m trying to eat healthy. “I want to enjoy whatever life still holds for me at my age. “And it’s going to be great to be able to celebrate another Christmas. We don’t need anything and do not have to worry about buying gifts. We took care of the kids,” Ditka said. Any special wish heading into the New Year? “You know what, I get upset at things like politics,” said Ditka, who has been an avid Trump supporter. “But, I think we have to understand we have to do what is best for this country and remember we have freedoms here that no one else has and so many opportunities,” he added. “Everyone just needs to stop whining about Democrat and Republican parties and just enjoy what we have. It is a good country.” But the last word came from Diana, who was sitting on the couch with her husband during the interview. “It’s already Christmas for me,” she said. “I am so, so glad my husband is still here. It is a great gift from God.” Go, Bears. Go, Diana. Christmas cards . . . • Gift gab: Mayoral hopeful  Bill Daley  claims when his legendary father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley, was alive the Daley kids were allowed to start opening presents on Christmas Eve, but hizzoner would never open any of his gifts until Christmas morning. • The ballet beat: A speedy recovery to Ashley Wheater, the Joffrey ballet’s brilliant artistic director, who has been recovering from back surgery at Rush University Medical Center. Wheater, a former ballet dancer, notes the Christmas Eve performance of The Nutcracker will be dedicated in honor of Robert Joffrey, the ballet company’s first artistic director. Sneedlings . . . Yum. Opera diva Renee Fleming spotted recently at Les Nomades, a favored intimate dining hideaway of Cloris Leachman, Michael Caine and Bernard Haitink, a guest conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. . . . How time flies: Rev. Gregory Sakowicz ,  Holy Name Cathedral rector, will be providing the Christmas midnight Mass WGN-TV commentary for the 34th consecutive year. . . .  I spy: Singers  Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes  spotted dining at TAO recently. . . . Ditto for Sydney  “Handmaid’s Tale” Sweeney. . . . Saturday’s birthdays: Ted Cruz, 48; Meghan Trainor, 25; and Jordin Sparks, 29. . . . Sunday’s birthday: Jim Harbaugh, 55; Susan Lucci, 72; and Eddie Vedder,  54. . . . And a special pre-birthday shout-out Dec. 26 to my trusty legman Francesca Gattuso,  who puts up with me.


The limited edition Cohiba setting the cigar world on fire 

It was shortly after nine in the morning on November 8 last year, and Edward Sahakian, proprietor of Davidoff of London, had just opened his shop. This is not the busiest time of day for a cigar merchant, so Sahakian usually takes the opportunity to sit in one of the shop’s leather armchairs and read the paper. He was about to do exactly that when a woman came in. Although not a native English speaker, she kept repeating the words “Cohiba Talisman”. The preceding evening had seen the worldwide launch of the new Cohiba limited edition Talisman at the Corinthia Hotel and although she had not been at the launch and had most likely not even tasted the cigar, she wanted 100 boxes. Sahakian, mindful not to disappoint 100 of his regular customers, offered to sell her a box. The purchaser was the first of many from mainland China and within days the retail prices of boxes had doubled to around £1,200. “I had never seen anything like it,” says Sahakian. “When I took my first delivery of Cohiba, in the mid-1980s, it was quite unknown. People were asking what it was, how to pronounce the name and so on.” And then came the 50-ring-gauge Cohiba Robusto in 1989. “The Robusto was the first of the Mohicans,” says Sahakian. “For quite a while, the Cohiba Robusto was the largest girth Cuban cigar you could get alongside Hoyo Epicure 2 and Series D No 4 from Partagas.” And this year, the cigar responsible for starting the Cohiba frenzy all those years ago is available in a very special limited edition: the Cohiba Robusto Reserva, made from tobacco aged for at least three years before being delivered to the factory. This new release is the latest instalment in a narrative that traces its roots back over half a century to the Cuban Revolution, just after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nuclear Armageddon averted, at last Castro could turn his mind to truly important matters, not least the aroma of his driver’s cigars that perfumed the interior of his Oldsmobile. The cigar roller was summoned into the Comandante’s presence and henceforward became the roller by appointment to the revolutionary elite. One thing led to another and, in 1966, a brand was born, taking its name from the indigenous Taíno word for the bunched leaves of tobacco that Columbus had seen being enjoyed by the island’s inhabitants on his arrival. Initially Cohiba cigars were used as diplomatic gifts; they only became commercially available in 1982 and eventually made it to the UK in 1985. A box of Cohiba Siglo VI Gran Reserva can fetch up to £9,000 When the Cohiba Robusto launched, just 25,000 were made for the whole world. Of course, now a 50-ring-gauge cigar is standard, but I remember it seeming a forbiddingly indulgent cigar at the time.  However, the power was like that delivered by the effortlessly torquey, turbocharged V8 of an old Bentley; the smoothness was due to the additional period of fermentation undergone by the seco and ligero leaves on top of the usual three fermentations – a process that lowers the nicotine and acidity. Moreover, the tobacco used in the blend is harvested from what are considered the five best plantations in the Vuelta Abajo: La Perla and Santa Damiana in San Juan y Martínez; and Cuchillas de Barbacoa, La Fé and El Corojo in San Luis. The range grew quickly and acquired the name Linea Classica, to differentiate it from the slightly lighter Linea 1492, or Siglo range, which made its debut in 1992. A good Cohiba reminds me why I started enjoying cigars. The character develops throughout the life of the cigar, the flavours are rich and mouth-filling yet subtle and nuanced, and the strength is there but kept in the background to provide a framework for the flavours. Like a symphony, there may be moments when the whole orchestra is involved in a towering crescendo and at other times a single instrument performs a haunting solo. In my opinion, among the standard lines of Cohiba, the most likely to deliver that experience will be the Siglo VI that appeared in 2002. Like the Robusto at the end of the 1980s, this cigar set standards for the years to come. A totally new vitola called cañonazo, it was the first parejo (straight-sided) Havana cigar to have a ring gauge of more than 50 (52 in this case). “We experiment within Cohiba, and we will always launch new products within the brand,” Inocente Núñez Blanco, Cuban co-president of Habanos SA, explained to me in Havana earlier this year. “We will always try to surprise with very novel products,” confirms his Spanish counterpart Luis Sánchez-Harguindey. Indeed, the 21st century has seen the Cohiba brand become the most avant-garde, as well as the most prestigious, of Havanas. There have been seven limited editions: the first in 2001; two years later, Cohiba became the first brand to be offered as a Reserva and subsequently there has been a Gran Reserva and, this year, the Reserva Robusto; in 2007, the new Maduro range of Cohiba debuted with a dark wrapper and a sweeter taste; 2010 saw the arrival of the Cohiba Behike range, launched in three fashionable heavy-ring gauges (52, 54, 56), using the small but flavourful medio tiempo leaf that occurs only in exceptional years; and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the brand in 2016, commemorative humidors were made for the first-ever 60-ring-gauge Havana, the Cohiba Grandioso. Such innovations have had a huge impact on the popularity of the brand and nowhere has this been more strongly felt than in China. “It is exactly the same as when the Chinese were introduced to Latour and were told, ‘This is the brand that has the recognition and shows where you should be in society’,” says one British collector who prefers to remain anonymous. This has translated into a scramble for almost any cigar with the yellow, black and white Cohiba band. “The Chinese market has a voracious appetite for Cohiba and in particular EMS (English Market Selection), such is their fear of fakes,” says Mitchell Orchant, proprietor of C Gars. “I have gigantic shops around England and a tiny shop in Mayfair; this summer, my Mayfair shop did twice as much business as my next biggest store. Often customers would be spending between £3,000 to £20,000, on Cohibas: walking in and wiping us out. We would be resupplying the shop twice a day.” Rising demand has compounded the effect that recent bad harvests have had on the availability of larger-size Cuban cigars. Even Siglo VI are very hard to find and there is a Behike drought, pushing prices up to £250 a stick for the most popular Behike 56. But this is just nursery slope in terms of pricing for super-premium Cohibas. Edward Sahakian describes the prices as being a little like the stock market in that they move on a near-daily basis.  At time of writing, he reckoned that among the limited editions, the 1966 from 2011 could fetch upwards of £350 a cigar; double coronas from 2003 were approaching £450 each; and 2004 Cohiba Sublimes £500 per cigar. His son Eddie commented that the Siglo VI Gran Reserva box of 15 cigars would easily command £9,000 “if you can find one”. Anniversary cigars fetch even more: Majestuosos (released for the 50th anniversary and sold in 1966 humidors of 20 cigars) can cost up to £1,000 a cigar. “Original” Behikes from the 40th anniversary have been said to fetch between £4,000 to £5,000 per cigar. And should it ever be sold singly, the fabled Grandioso is likely to have a five-figure price tag. The first‑ever 60-ring-gauge Havana, the Cohiba Grandioso, was made for the brand's 50th anniversary I recently came across a 1966 in the bottom of one of my humidors – where it had been lurking since 2011. I set fire to it and can report that it kept developing throughout the next 45 minutes to an hour. Sometimes the flavours were of almonds, at other times it was like having a blanket of cashmere and vanilla laid gently over the tongue. The pleasure of stimulating every part of the palate is only part of Cohiba’s preeminence. “Collecting Cohibas rather than smoking them has become a huge factor,” explains Manu Harit, cigar development manager of The Arts Club. “People love the magical rarity: what money cannot buy is the thrill of the chase, and the satisfaction of finding a box or even a single cigar.” Of course, each time a Cohiba is smoked the remaining ones become just that little bit harder to find, lending them an almost unicorn-like status in the pantheon of Cuban cigars. Over at Birley Cigars, the shop next to Five Hertford Street, there is a new generation of cigar lovers in their 20s who have only heard of those cigars, so there is considerable excitement when they first set eyes upon them. “Some people talk about the Cohiba Sublime as if God had blended and rolled it,” says Jemma Freeman, managing director of Hunters & Frankau, the UK importer of Havana cigars. She believes that the mystery cloaking these special cigars accounts for much of their appeal. “Nobody knows how many they make, none of us knows when, or indeed if, we are going to get a shipment.” And, of course, desirability is only heightened by the prolonged shortages of Behike and Siglo VI. “For the time being, people are trained into this ‘see it, buy it’ mentality,” she says. In other words, conditions are set for a perfect storm around the arrival in the UK of the Cohiba Robusto Reserva during the peak buying season of late autumn and early winter. At the time of going to press, there is no fixed date but I daresay we will know when we see pre-dawn queues outside cigar merchants – as plutocrats prepare to battle it out for what I am sure Sahakian is already calling “the next of the Mohicans”.  436


Flavor of Havana Is Not Just for Cigar-Loving Neighbors in Aurora 

A friend who used to be a regular at a cigar bar called Flavor of Havana recommended the place to me for its karaoke night. I was skeptical at first about whether the bar was really a neighborhood hangout or just a specialty shop for cigar aficionados, but one visit set me straight. Located in a strip mall at 2295 South Chambers Road in Aurora, Flavor of Havana has the same things you'd find in any neighborhood bar — namely, TVs playing sports, booze of all kinds and a variety of locals hanging out. I stopped in on a Sunday, and even though the Broncos weren't playing, there were other football games on as well as The Waterboy, that Adam Sandler football flick from the ’90s. Our female bartender was rocking a Looney Tunes ensemble and keeping the strong drinks coming while helping those who wanted to smoke cigars or hookahs. Continue Reading We joined a few guys drinking and smoking hookahs in the small but nicely appointed bar filled with plush lounge chairs, leather booths, small tables and a long high-top bar.  Behind us, a walk-in cigar humidor enclosed in glass displayed a wide selection of cigars. Customers sipped bottled beers and mixed drinks in cocktail glasses and red solo cups. Some preppy-looking guys in the lounge seats smoked cigars, and a few guys in jerseys and hoodies sat next to us at the bar. The room was dark, but with a hint of black light that made my light-colored nail polish glow a bit, but that didn't make it feel too clubby — just more like a house party trying to be a little fancy. But unlike some hookah bars that allow customers between the ages of 18 and 21, Flavor of Havana is definitely an adult hangout. EXPAND I don't know much about cigars, but that looks like a pretty big selection. Sarah McGill There's no kitchen at Flavor of Havana, but the team will gladly heat up some frozen Rocky Mountain Pizza for hungry customers. Folks also order food from nearby spots in the adjacent strip malls in this part of southeast Aurora. For special occasions, such as customer-appreciation events or holidays, catered food is brought in. Jay McKnight has owned the bar for eight years; he and manager Evelyn Garcia keep the humidor well stocked and provide a wide variety of spirits at the bar for all tastes. Even before McKnight took over, smoking was a draw, as the previous establishment was called Smoker's Paradise. Pick your poison: cigars, hookahs, mixed drinks or beer. Samantha Morse Despite the cigar and hookah smoking, Flavor of Havana also tries to appeal to neighbors just looking for a good deals on drinks. Happy hour is no joke, running from noon to 7 p.m. every weekday, and other weekly events add variety. There are drink specials on Football Sundays, karaoke on Wednesday night, $10 hookahs on Mondays, and often DJs on Fridays and Saturdays. Gender equality here equates to Gentlemen's Night on Tuesdays, where guys drink free from 8 to 10 p.m., to balance out the same special for Ladies' Night on Thursdays. Indoor smoking may be a rarity these days, but in every other way, Flavor of Havana is a typical neighborhood bar — friendly, welcoming and inexpensive. The hours are noon to 2 a.m. every day but Sunday, when the doors open at 10 a.m. during football games and 2 p.m. the rest of the year. Visit the bar's website for a list of hookah and cigar brands. Sarah is a contributor to Westword's Food & Drink section and can be found exploring Denver's neighborhood bars. She is also a ghost story and karaoke enthusiast. Despite not being from Colorado, Sarah and Denver have been in a long-term relationship and it seems like this one might be for real.
I don't know much about cigars, but that looks like a pretty big selection.

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