Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dancing with Crowned Heads' Tennessee Waltz

One thing that's kind of amusing to me about the cigar industry is the concept of "limited edition" cigars or "exclusives".

For instance, regional releases that are only available in certain parts of the country.

Basically, people creating scarcity for their product.  It's an old marketing technique that psychology claims to still work but it cracks me up. Seems a bit gimmicky.

Oh, and those "limited edition" sticks that were manufactured in 2010 and still haven't sold out? Yeah, they're really driving up demand by telling me it has only taken 5 years to sell...

Why do I mention it? Well, because of the Crowned Heads' Tennessee Waltz cigar.

The cigar itself is only available in Tennessee. Odd, right? If you have a product that's awesome, why only allow consumers in one area enjoy it (purchase it, use it, while you profit off it). 

Gimmicks or marketing strategy aside, a few thoughts about the Tennessee Waltz, which really is a fantastic cigar.

A look at the Tennessee Waltz cigar by Crowned Heads
The distinct orange band has "Tennessee" written all over it.

About Crowned Heads

If you haven't heard of Crowned Heads as a cigar brand, you're certainly not alone. They are a boutique producer (means low-volume... or at least allegedly low-volume). 

The company itself is based in Nashville, Tennessee. Because, you know, Tennessee is pretty much the epicenter for tobacco growing and cigar activity! :) 

Most of their cigars feature filler tobacco from Nicaragua and from what I can have been exposed to, their construction and smoke-ability is absolutely first-rate. 

The Tennessee Waltz - Construction

Upon picking up the stick out of my humidor, the weight of the cigar struck me. It's heavier than what I expected. A 5.5 x 52 sized stick, I'd call it a gordo but I haven't seen anywhere that Crowned Heads officially names a size for these sticks so I could be mistaken.

Appearance-wise, the stick is fantastic. Seems to be well constructed and looks like class.

I had a small tear in the Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper of my cigar that could have been caused when I removed the orange band from around the stick. I suppose orange was pretty fitting for the Tennessee Waltz. But a checkerboard orange and white design would have been an even better homage to The Volunteer State.

The Tennessee Waltz blend is actually produced by My Father Cigars - in Esteli, Nicaragua.

The Smoking Experience

Tennessee Waltz First Third

I can't say enough about Crowned Heads - the draw was fantastic. While I struggled initially to get a good light on the cigar, I think that was because of my lighting technique more than the cigar.

I recently picked up a big Colibri cigar torch lighter that's been somewhat challenging to use without overheating the cigar so I attempted to display more finesse this time around. It might have led to not enough flame actually hitting tobacco.

I enjoyed this stick on my back patio on a night with medium-humidity and temperatures in the high 70's.
video


In terms of taste - I picked up a bit of spice right from the start. It kind of surprised me to be honest and I was afraid this was going to deliver too much for my tastes. It was downright rude in its entrance into my mouth.

What was happening? I'd found the other Crowned Heads' offerings to be so balanced. How could this cigar bearing the name of my home state be so harsh? 

But... the spice quickly died off to my delight.



Into the second-third of the cigar, I noticed some espresso or possibly mocha notes enter. This was awesome and I was really starting to enjoy the experience. At this point, I'd say there was a little bit of citrus in the flavor profile. I'm not sure what to call it, it wasn't really orange and it was sour like lemon. It was different and I liked it.

Conclusion

These sticks aren't cheap at $10 a pop or so in my local brick and mortar. Would I smoke this again? Absolutely. Did I get as much out of this as I would some of the others from the Crowned Heads line-up, like the Four Kicks? Probably. It's a wash, I really liked the cigar but for the money, I'd probably lean toward some of the cheaper offerings from the company.

Oh, and what the heck is the Tennessee Waltz named after? It's one of the official state songs of Tennessee but certainly isn't as catchy as Rocky Top. :)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Venue Review: The Shed in Maryville, TN

A shot of The Shed at dusk in Maryville, TN
A look at The Shed in Maryville, Tennessee.
Folks outside of the southeast, please bear with me on this one.

I'm guessing you won't find yourself at The Shed, a music venue tied to the Harley Davidson distributor in Maryville, Tennessee anytime soon. We had a chance to see Jason Isbell there and while I was trying to figure out details about the venue, I wasn't able to find much info online.

So, I figured I write up a little bit about what folks can expect if they're heading there and happen to stumble upon this post.

The Venue

A look under the Pavilion at The Shed in Maryville
A look from the back-end of the pavilion to the stage

The Shed is a weird concept in a lot of ways. Connected to a huge Harley Davidson retailer, "The Shed" is really just a covered a pavilion that's located a few miles west of Maryville, Tennessee. (Which is about 15 miles south of Knoxville, Tennessee).

When we arrived about an hour before the opening act went on stage, there were tons of lawn chairs set-up all around the outside of The Shed itself. (Signs indicated you can't set up chairs under the covered portion of the venue). We didn't have a great spot but it wasn't awful either, I'll have more on this later.

There were several smaller, portable type bars set-up all over the place and a big Harley Davidson merchandise tent if you're into that thing.

It's a small-town feel. I'm guessing there was parking nearby for about 400 vehicles and if forced to estimate, I'd guess there were 600-700 people at the show. (These are my unofficial figures).

Further proof of that small-town feel, the main act's tour bus pulled up right next to the stage. There didn't appear to be a green room or any sort of dressing room available. Before the show, we spotted Jason Isbell just standing outside the bus, seemingly to get some fresh air. I wasn't around for a lot of the old-school Buddy Holly style tours but from how Hollywood portrays that era in movies, it reminded me of that sort of environment.

Amenities & Food

Image of The Smokehouse and Juke Joint
A view of the area near The Smokehouse.
It's definitely a unique set-up. There is an indoor bar and restaurant area, known as The Smokehouse. We didn't eat so I can't attest to the quality of the barbecue but it smelled great.

The nice part about the venue is that most things were relatively cheap. The tickets to the concert itself were $20 each, which included parking in lots right next to The Shed. At the bars set-up, we had a couple of beers that ran $4 each, which isn't like grocery store prices but since they had us in the middle of nowhere, it definitely was ripe for fleecing --- which they didn't take advantage of to our delight.

Beer at the Shed
Checking out the local beer, Bluetick Brewery.

Restrooms were an odd situation as well. There is an indoor, permanent style restroom that was incredibly hot and fit the motif of a "shed" well. The sinks inside were large metal tubs like you'd expect to see at a farm. I had to do a double take, at first I thought that was the urinal... which probably wouldn't have been the best place to wash my hands. For the concert, there were about a half dozen portable toilets on-site. I'm guessing these disappear on nights there isn't a live performance.

The Performance

So, we were a bit spoiled in this regard the last time we saw Jason Isbell as he performed at the Tennessee Theatre --- an awesome venue that is gorgeous inside and has fantastic acoustics, in my non-expert opinion.

The Shed wasn't bad. It was an outdoor show so you never know what you'll get in terms of sounds bouncing off things and hitting you awkwardly. In this regard, it definitely passed with flying colors.

The viewing situation was pretty bad, however.

I mentioned earlier that lawn chairs were set-up around the outside. We had a couple in the trunk of the car so we set-up in line with everybody else. We were probably 60-yards from the stage and had a clear view of just about everything.

Then the concert started.

A look at the stage from where we set up

People flooded to the front and blocked out our view. For much of the concert, I couldn't see much other than Jason Isbell's face, when he swayed to the microphone. Even while standing, it was tough to see much --- which was a bit frustrating.

There were several older folks who got up and left out of frustration. We didn't leave as we're a little accustomed to this sort of thing at concerts but it was sad to see those folks who got there, set-up properly where they were supposed to and thought they had a nice relaxing evening ahead leave feeling upset.

Also, as you might expect, Harleys make a lot of noise. There were several times where we heard the crackle of a bike starting during a quiet portion of a song. It's not an ideal situation in that regard and felt a little bit rude of the bike owner --- but what are they supposed to do? Wait until the concert is over in order to go home?

If You Go...

The Shed's primary sign

If you're heading to The Shed for a concert, be sure to pack a couple lawn chairs with you. Even if you're not planning to sit for the show, you'll want them for in-between sets. 

If we could do it again, we'd have set-up our chairs and then stood under the pavilion. You can essentially reserve a seated spot by setting up your chairs and walking away.

Also, plan your night and meals accordingly. 

The concert was set for 6 p.m. according to our tickets --- which was nowhere near accurate. Jason Isbell didn't take the stage until 9 p.m. and Anderson East, the opening act didn't take the stage until somewhere around 7:45 p.m. It seemed like they wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to shop, buy food and spend money on beer before the concert.

Finally, Isbell was great. We wished he would have mixed up his set list a little more from when he played at the Tennessee Theatre a few months back but it was still a great performance. It's easy to see how he sold out four consecutive nights at The Ryman over in Nashville later this year.

If you're unfamiliar, here is a look at Jason Isbell playing The Shed from a few years back:

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Look at the Joya de Nicaragua Celebracion

I got the chance to check out the Joya de Nicaragua Celebracion while walking the dogs last night.

Before I start, you should know: I love Joya de Nicargua. Their Antano 1970 and Dark Corojo blends are a couple of my favorite sticks. Amazing sticks, both of them, as far as I'm concerned.

The celebracion... well, not so much.

A look at the start of Joya de Nicaragua cigar journey
Joya de Nicargua's Celebracion toro cigar

Construction

The biggest problem I ran into was right from the start. I couldn't get a decent draw out of this cigar for the life of me. Like trying to pull a golf ball through a garden host.

As a side effect, there wasn't much smoke produced with this stick either. I'm not a smoke whore like a lot of cigar guys --- but there is something satisfying about feeling and seeing the smoke leave your mouth, you know?

In doing some reading, this cigar was released as a more subtle alternative to the sticks I mentioned above, the Antano and Dark Corojo. So, the lack of smoke makes sense. However, the God-awful draw does not.
foot of the cigar toasting
I kept checking the foot of the cigar, I thought given the lack of smoke I hadn't lit it well but it seems to be fully toasting.

Flavor Profile

I picked up a little bit of a sweet flavor on the front-end of this cigar that was very mild at the start of the stick. Into the second-third of the cigar, there was a little bit more earthy taste that crept in and I would say may be a little bit of nut as well. The flavor wasn't bad with this stick - there just wasn't much of it. I chalk that up to construction.

Ash hanging off a Joya de Nicargua cigar
Not bad in terms of ash, right?

The ash held together very well on the stick, especially when you consider I was out walking the dogs and stomping around. (That movement tends to knock the ash off much quicker than when I'm laid back and enjoying a stick on the deck).

Either way, I can't get past the draw on this cigar. I might try one again but I certainly won't be loading up on a box of them anytime soon.

Rating: 3 of 10

Monday, May 4, 2015

Scrotal Recall on Netflix - A Surprising Review

So, we started to watch this programme, Scrotal Recall, on Netflix about a week ago.

Horrible name, right?
Scrotal Recall Promo Poster from Netflix


Netflix has it dubbed as a "Netflix Original" and so far we've enjoyed other programmes like that (House of Cards, Bloodline, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) so I thought we'd give it a shot.

Turns out, Scrotal Recall is actually a British television series that was created for Channel 4 over in the U.K. That's why I'm spelling program like a twit earlier in this post. :)

The gist of the storyline is this kid (Dylan) in his mid-twenties gets diagnosed in the first episode with chlamydia and then must go back to contact every women he's been... well, "been with" over the past several years.

Dylan, the lead character in Scrotal Recall on a park bench
If you can get past the fact that he looks like a young Harry Dunn (Dumb and Dumber) you'll like him.
Turns out our lead character is a pretty popular lad and there are about 4 seasons worth of episodes to visit with this storyline. Alas, Netflix only has one season up thus far and word out of the U.K. is that the whole program might be a one-and-done series when it comes to the number of seasons made.

Slate said something about the series that I tend to agree with.

"Scrotal Recall is the dry British cousin of Happy Endings. Or maybe it’s How I Met Your Mother without the slather of CBS Velveeta that sometimes made HIMYM cringe-worthy."

I agree with that assessment. The Mrs. loved How I Met Your Mother so I begrudingly would watch with her but there were moments when it just tried way too hard. Scrotal Recall doesn't do the same - at least not nearly with the same wanton intensity as HIMYM.

I didn't expect much from this mostly because of the title. But there's a lot more heart in the storytelling and the characters than I expected. The first episode is a bit slow but if you make your way into the second episode, you might find yourself getting a little wrapped up in it.

I've never been diagnosed with an STD (thankfully) but I remember getting tested in college. That alone was brutal. The nerve-wracking follow-up appointment for the results was horrible so I can't imagine getting the news that you tested positive for something... then having to deal with the decision to either contact previous partners or not. (Luckily, I was never that popular so my list to call wouldn't have been very long!)

As for the series, there are only 6 episodes available to American Netflix subscribers and from what I can tell the world wide web, that's all Channel 4 in England has made. At a half-hour each, that's only 3 hours of your time to check out the series and get a taste for it. It's the best thing to come out of Britain since... well... umm... ever, I suppose.

Plus, since it's British - if you're as immature as me - you'll find just about every joke is funnier when it's told in a British accent.

Anything else worth watching on Netflix? With Mad Men coming to an end very soon, we often find ourselves struggling for entertainment in the summer. (My Milwaukee Brewers being off to their worst start in franchise history means no baseball for me this summer as well!)


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Five Observations and Predictions: NRA AM Post-Mortem

We had a great weekend in Nashville and enjoyed seeing the 2015 National Rifle Association's Annual Meeting at the brand new convention center they built downtown. While hotels were an issue in Nashville (I met several people staying 30-45 minutes away) I suppose it's better to see overwhelming support for the NRA than not enough.

Nashville's "The Stage"
The Stage, an iconic venue/honky tonk in Downtown Nashville.
Still, I came away with a somewhat cynical outlook on things. not necessarily because of the NRA but just because of the world's cyclical nature. After all, what goes up... must come down. At least to some degree, right?

So, without further adieu, here are my top ten predictions and observations from this year's NRA AM. Feel free to disagree with me, as I stated - these aren't meant to be criticisms of the NRA or gun owners but rather where I see things headed as an uneducated fan-boy of the 2nd Amendment.

1.) The NRA is Inflating Their Annual Meeting Attendance Figures
Don't get me wrong, the Music City Center was packed but everything we heard before this year's event was that it was a small venue. "Wait until next year, Louisville's convention center is huge..." was what a lot of vendors who couldn't get booth space were told.

Still, the NRA claimed 78,000+ were in attendance this year, the second highest attendance mark on record. To me, that doesn't add up.

Outside, the parking lots were wide open on Sunday. While the $25 parking spots weren't exactly economy-priced, it seems those spots across the street would have been gobbled up if we were really pushing 80,000 in attendance for the weekend.

Oh, and there's no shame in whatever the real number was. Let's say that 55,000 people attended this year's Annual Meetings. That's still damn impressive to me. 2nd Amendment supporters, traveling on their own buck to support a grassroots cause. Look at the Moms Demand group... they had to bus people in and could only muster about 150 for their "Anti-gun" rally.

I'm not sure who they were trying to reach... fish in the Cumberland River? (Photo courtesy: BearingArms.com)

2.) Glock Will Sell About a Billion Glock 43's. But Not For Good Reason.
I had the chance to fire three magazines worth of the Glock 43 at a media event they held just prior to the start of the annual meetings. It was about what you'd expect from a single stack 9mm pistol at a price point that's higher than many other solid single stacks. (~$540 MSRP to start).

For the money, I think you're better off with a Walther PPS or a S&W Shield.

The Glock 43 I fired at the NRA AM
Behold! The Glock 43 You Waited For!
With that in mind, Glock is going to sell the heck out of the Glock 43. People have waited so long and the Glock fanbase is intensely loyal. There's nothing wrong with this pistol. I just think it's expensive for what you're getting.

3.) The NRA Is A Solution That Is Somewhat Needing a Problem.
Don't get a me wrong. Moms Demand and "Everytown" and all that jazz is certainly a threat but they really aren't organized enough to pose a significant challenge to the power, experience and passion that the NRA and its members exhibit.

"H", for "hell no" or "hilarious"?

It took Wayne LaPierre about 10 minutes to mention Hillary Clinton's name in his address to members on Friday of the convention. I was surprised it took him that long. Federally, politicians are the enemy at this point but that's largely not the case at the local level where the base of the NRA lives, breathes, and goes to the range.

Several states had legitimate conversations this past legislative session about constitutional carry, open carry and in some cases, even firearms sales tax holidays for their constituents. It's not the end of the fight at the local level as several states (California, I'm looking at you) are still breeding grounds for gun grabbers but a lot of states are rolling back restrictions and that's a good thing for gun owners but a bad thing for the NRA as they look to raise money and membership.

Kenny rogers has a tactical beard?
You want to talk beards? Kenny Rogers, now there is a beard.
4.) Tactical Beards Are No Longer En Vogue
Maybe it's spring. Maybe it's the part of the country we were in. Maybe it's a smaller military presence in Nashville than on the west coast. No matter what the cause, there were far fewer tactical beards at the NRA Annual Meeting than I observed at SHOT. This is important. :)

5.) We're Going To See The Industry Get Smaller
There are a lot of folks thinking the next year or so could get very interesting for gun owners, with election season and all. I don't see it happening. Hillary (and all Democrats) know that they need the moderate vote to win in 2016 and in a lot of moderate states, that means guns and the topic of gun control is off the table.

You can't win in the swing states if you talk about taking guns. Colorado, Wisconsin, North Carolina, etc. These aren't states with the independent, gun-loving persona of say, Texas --- but Gun Culture 2.0 and young freedom-minded folks aren't opposed to voting democrat. That is, unless the democrats come out with a platform that hints at restricting freedom and personal liberty. If that's the case, the swing states will go red.

Because of this, you won't see gun control discussed for the next 18 months. It simply won't be a topic that gets talked about. Like it or not, we live in a gun world where fear drives a lot of sales. Fear of a self-defense scenario drives us to carry firearms, fear of an "ammo ban" drives us to pay double the price for M855 and fear of regulation led to the biggest firearms market ever following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.

After Sandy Hook, every veteran and their constable brother who fired a gun once got into the industry and decided to make AR parts. Now, they're hurting financially. If there isn't a panic or cause for demand to continue, they're going to disappear --- plain and simple.

It's not a good thing but it's the logical thing and ultimately, it's capitalism. You're going to see businesses disappear as they can't compete with the big players who have economies of scale, national and international distribution and brands that have been trusted for generations.

Need an example? You're a perspective AR-15 buyer and you can pick up a low-end AR-15 from a local builder in the $700-$800 range or you can buy one from Smith & Wesson for $600. There's a trickle down as well. If you're in the business of manufacturing AR-15 stocks and you're a small player, you likely don't have a distributing deal with a huge manufacturer. What happens to your business when the smaller AR building market dries up? That's right, your business dries up too.

Conclusion
I really enjoyed the weekend and had a blast meeting a bunch of really cool people that I wish I could spend more time with. If there was a way to buy the land and start a real world Galt's Gulch, a lot of the folks I met this weekend would definitely get a plane ticket to join me.

That said, we have to be realistic about where things are going for us as an industry. It's not that the beliefs are any less correct than they were 3 years ago, it's just that the business end of the firearms world is about to be in a significantly different place than it is currently. That money and all the influence it can buy will be sorely missed.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Review: Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl



I picked up this book on the recommendation of a friend.

That recommendation was essentially, "It's an awesome book. The author is German and he wrote the whole thing in about a week."

I was intrigued but really had no idea what it was about. We had just finished a discussion about Richard Branson so I figured it was a book about entrepreneurship or business... or something like that.

Nope. Not even close. And I feel kind of dumb now because the book is fairly well-known and Frankl himself is a pretty big deal.

Victor Frankl as a young physician
Victor Frankl was a German citizen and was Jewish. You can see where I'm headed with this, right?

Yep, Frankl is a concentration camp survivor and his story details many of the things he witnessed, felt and somehow managed to live through at several camps during the second world war.

Frankl, who was a physician/psychologist, or logotherapist if you're familiar with his work, has fascinating insight into the mind's role in ending life. In other words, when do you get to the point where your body just gives up.

Dealing with patience with typhoid fever and helping them cope. Watching his fellow Holocaust victims search to find a way to deal with the tragedy and horror of day to day life, the first half of the book is filled with fascinating and troubling stories about life in the camps.

The second half of the book is a little dry. I'm not going to sugar coat. This is when the psychotherapist inside Frankl comes out. The theory he favors, called logotherapy, revolves around the idea that man's primary motivating force in life is to simply find out what the purpose of his life is.

Here's Frankl speaking in the early 1970's in Toronto on this very subject if you have time for the 4-minute clip:



"We have to be idealists in a way. If we take man as he is, we make him worse. But if we take a man as should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be."

If you're looking for a good read that's fairly easy to get through (at least the first half), I'd definitely suggest checking out the book.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Valley of Ice



First time in a short time that we've had this kind of ice in the Tennessee valley.

I can't distinctly remember having a 1/2 inch coating of ice on everything like we woke up to this morning but I don't think it's been more than a few years.

There's some 'Murica in that photo if you look closely.
Nonetheless, it all led to some interesting photos and views on the dogs' walk earlier today.

It was a little bit eery as things start to thaw out. Walking by homes with icicles falling and tree branches tumbling from the weight of the ice and snow. East Tennessee definitely isn't used to this so when it happens, all the branches from several winters' worth of weight start to fall.

Tree with ice blossoms
Not yet spring.
I'm not an arborist but it looked like that poor tree had started to blossom. We have a lot of dogwoods in the area and several had red buds like that encased in ice.

The pups enjoyed the walk and now both of them are in dire need of a bath. Oh, the joys of winter.