Life, Computers and the Partagas Serie D No. 4: One Man's Journey
I have many fond memories of growing up in the suburbs near New York City. It was the 1960s, and it was a wonderful time to be a kid. The 1964-65 World's Fair in Flushing, Queens, John Glenn's solo orbital flight, the arrival of the Beatles on U.S. soil and getting to know my Uncle Frank - in some way, these all made a lasting impression on me and played a part in forming the person I am today.
I was raised in a simple, two-family duplex. Many of the Italians who immigrated and settled here after World War II found themselves in similar housing. My father, mother and I lived on one side of the duplex, and my uncle Frank and aunt Angie lived on the other. Our two homes had an inside door between them that, with very rare exceptions, always remained open.
Uncle Frank was a short, chubby, gruff appearing man (he's always reminded me of the actor, Danny DeVito, in fact). His looks were deceptive though, as I knew him to be gentle as a lamb. Uncle Frank was also an avid cigar smoker, and the person responsible for introducing me to the sights, sounds and rituals of our very enjoyable and relaxing hobby. He started me down this road by taking me with him on his Saturday afternoon jaunts to the cigar place, as he always called the smoke shop. This wasn't a glitzy, boutique retail store like the ones that now line Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. This was an old wooden floor, Mom and Pop operation of yesteryear. I remember the friendliness of the owners, as well as the relaxed atmosphere.
Once past those swinging glass doors, time seemed to stand still. There was plenty of opportunity to chat about cigars, or anything else for that matter. Although I didn't fully understand it at the time, the ambience of that old shop was intoxicating. Uncle Frank must have taken me to visit the store dozens of times, yet I never failed to see or hear something new and interesting. I loved peering into all of those cigar and pipe tobacco cases, my face pressed firmly against the glass. I marveled at the numerous pretty boxes and thought that there must be something very special inside them. I watched the old men clip and light their cigars, flames flickering subtly low and then explosively high. To some, lighting a cigar was an act to enjoy and to savor. To others, it seemed to be more of a task to get over with. Nonetheless, everyone there had a common interest in at least one thing - a good smoke. In the meantime, Uncle Frank taught me to appreciate the simple pleasures in life.
My Uncle Frank, taken in Ft. Lauderdale, FL 1989
The Sixties and my youth fell behind me. The Atomic Age and slogans like Live Better Electrically became distant memories. It was 1995. I had grown up and moved out into the workplace.
At the time, my boss used a Macintosh computer linked to a 1200 baud modem. He explained to me what a modem did, and how this one was a blazingly fast model compared to his previous one (rated at only 300). My boss had something installed on his computer called America Online. Back then, AOL offers arrived as junk mail with the frequency of a metronome. One floppy disk was all it took to get connected. After giving me a brief primer on his system and a stern warning not to erase anything, my boss actually had the blind faith to leave me alone with the computer for the remainder of our lunch hour. I was hooked. This was when I discovered my very first cigar forum (keyword CIGAR, of course). In my new, wonderful electronic world, I could connect with real people and even learn things! How strange some of those online names (oh sorry, I mean handles), such as Mary App and Wine Boss, were. I bought my very first personal computer about a month later.
It wasn't long before I discovered the real holy grail of communication, the Internet. I had heard of this technical place, a realm of secret bulletin boards and forbidden delights. "I must get there, but how?" Fate soon answered that question for me. While window shopping in a local mall and sifting through some interesting electronic gadgets and a few best selling novels, I saw an innocent appearing, plainly decorated product called Internet in a Box. Internet in a Box seemed to include everything the average Joe needed to get on the Internet. "Eureka, I think I may have found The Yellow Brick Road," I thought to myself. The package came home with me.
Around this same period, Steve Saka (currently President of Drew Estate Cigars) decided he wanted to organize a herf. Little did I know this event was destined to represent the gold standard for quite some time to come. The herf was to begin on Friday October 11, 1996 in Miami, and Steve named it the Little Havana Cigar Tour, or LHCT as it became affectionately known. This gathering was to be a weekend long extravaganza - an elaborate excuse to drink, eat, smoke and enjoy the company of fellow cigar lovers from all over the country. There would be factory tours, rolling demonstrations and giveaways galore. For the first time, I was able to put faces to people who had largely been just electronic names in cyberspace.
Photo taken during the Little Havana Cigar Tour at the Padron factory... From left to right are Bob Curtis, Orlando Padron, Steve Saka, Bob Granata and Jose Padron Sr.
Five-foot tall cigar at the El Credito factory in Miami, FL
Leaf curing in a barrel at the Moore & Bode factory
Sorting leaf in a back room at the El Credito factory
This was also the weekend that gave me what I will call my quintessential defining moment of cigardom - a point in time when I suddenly realized it was really about more than just the cigars.
Friday evening at the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. We were to begin the weekend festivities with a cocktail and cigar party on the Biltmore's gorgeous carved stone courtyard overlooking the water. I drove up to the hotel, in awe of its stately beauty.
The Biltmore is a large, old hotel with many winding corridors. Halfway down one of these hallways, as I was making my way to the courtyard, the moment occurred. I heard Latin music. A scent of floral perfume drifted toward me from the two pretty ladies that had just passed by, and mixed with the tropical humidity and an escalating aroma of cigars. Just then, I turned a corner and found myself at the center of the open-air courtyard. It was beautiful. There were fountains, people milling about enjoying cigars, conversation, music and food. Everyone looked as if they were having such a wonderful time. I instantly knew I had stumbled upon something good - something very, very good. This cigar thing was about much more than just smoking a bunch of leaves. It was about people too.
As the evening progressed, I met all of my fellow attendees. And I can honestly say that I felt a kinship with each and every one. I knew from that day forward that the cigar world would have good things in store for me. I had arrived in more ways than one.
The Biltmore Hotel Coral Gables, FL
The next couple of years were filled with learning more about the cigars I liked, and why. I started to be able to identify where cigars hailed from by noting nuances in their flavors. I recall first being able to tell which were Nicaraguan cigars, due to their distinctive earthy taste. I also thought it was pretty cool to be able to call the way a cigar came across a flavor profile. Of course, I now try to say flavor profile every chance I get.
In the winter of 1998, I found myself back in Florida for another bout with decadence and debauchery - where else but at the LHCT II? Here, I was destined to meet a new but very special cigar friend. Although the Biltmore courtyard experience remained tops in my books, this night would come in a very close second.
After some introductions, a great steak meal and my nearly setting myself on fire while trying to light a cigar with a cedar spill (a hot cinder fell on my grease soaked napkin), a buddy of mine handed me a beautiful looking robusto, my first Partagás Serie D No.4. Now, I already knew it was a popular cigar. And I also knew it was pretty strong, That didn't stop me from asking my friend, "How does it taste?" He simply replied, "Like no other cigar."
So, I proceeded to fire up this new cigar in one of the most perfect environments imaginable - a fine, cigar-friendly steak house overlooking Biscayne Bay. It was night, and friends were all around. As I sat enjoying this great cigar, a good glass of rum and the jalapeño-like spiciness of the Miami area culture, I began to realize (something I certainly know now) that the PSD4 really is unique. And so began my love affair with this notable vitola, created in the year 1845 by Don Jaime Partagás. The Partagás brand is one of the oldest and best known of all Cuban cigar brands. In his book, The Havana Cigar, Gerard Pere describes it perfectly: "Powerful and rapid, it yields a full-bodied aroma, with woody, spicy, very seductive notes. Rich and very present, it is astonishingly nourishing for this brand. A connoisseur's cigar." For me, the Serie D No.4 rarely fails to satisfy. It possesses all of the qualities I look for in a cigar - strength, fragrance, complexity, balance and, of course, that unique Partagás flavor.
The Partagás factory in Havana, Cuba
The Partagás Serie D No.4 cigar
Yet, the wiles of this siren are not always immediately apparent. The Partagás Serie D No.4 can, at times, be fickle and quite confusing to the neophyte. When young, this cigar is very bold and brazen, and possesses an unbridled, edgy quality that's not at all displeasing but more of an acquired preference. For those of us that enjoy such a characteristic, the PSD4 does not disappoint.
As the cigar continues to age, it frequently turns either bland or downright unpalatable. This is the dreaded sick period that some refer to. My sympathy goes out to the cigar lover who has the unfortunate experience of sampling this cigar while it's in the sick period, and ends up dismissing it as unpleasant and not worthy of a second visit. The PSD4 should now rest, sometimes for a year or more.
Patience here will be richly rewarded, as the cigar eventually rebounds with a renewed glory. Lost in the trade is that intense flavor and aroma, but gained is a roundness and complexity within the blend. Neither is better. They are just different, and both worth experiencing. Ideally, one should try to keep a few boxes on hand - some to enjoy young, some put away to age and some mature cigars to be added to one's regular rotation. This strategy represents a good way to tap into the cigar's full potential.
I often wonder what brings me back to the Partagás Serie D No.4 time and time again. Why do I enjoy it so much? There is no simple answer to this question, taste being highly subjective. Still, I think if I had to narrow the allure of the PSD4 down to one quality, it would be that delicious finish.
The PSD4 possesses a very unique and identifiable flavor, akin to what lovers of the popular Montecristo No.2 cite regarding its tangy characteristic. Both the Partagás and the Montecristo show unique tastes that jump right out at you. And you don't need the nose of a bloodhound to appreciate them, either. I sure don't have that sort of olfactory sensitivity. I'm just an average cigar smoker with a very average palate. But I've discovered that lengthy relationships with one or two cigars can go a long way in teaching one the nuances and idiosyncrasies that different vitolas possess. How the factories maintain these unique mixes, decade after decade, is a testament to the blender's craft, and remains a mystery to me.
There are few things in life about which I can definitely be sure. One is that the Partagás Serie D No.4 counts among my top-three favorite cigars. Its flavor is truly like that of no other. I also know my uncle Frank would nod with approval.
Bob Granata (Cloud9Bob) is a born and bred New Yorker with a passion for life, fine cigars and good friends. When not in Manhattan, Bob enjoys traveling to South Florida. There, you just might find him sitting on a bench in Little Havana enjoying the spiciness of a locally rolled cigar, as well as that of Calle Ocho.