Cigar Review: Oliva Hellion Devil’s Due

After the success of the Wrath line from Oliva came their follow-up: The Hellion: Devil’s Due.  I smoked a Robusto, measuring 5 x 54.  The Hellion is handmade in Nicaragua with a Habano wrapper grown from a Cuban seed, and Nicaraguan long filler.  This cigar is considered a “puro” meaning the binder, wrapper, and filler all originate from the same place–Nicaragua in this case.

The construction of the Hellion is solid, with a dark appearance and smooth surface.  It is firm to the touch, and slightly spongy.  Sweet notes of leather and fresh soil are present in the nose before lighting and it presents a stiff but not unpleasant draw.  The unlit flavor is sweet, earthy, and green with hints of leather and hay.

Upon lighting I notice that the foot burns easily and emits a smoky aroma of burnt alfalfa.  My first draw was earthy and sweet with floral notes that continued through the first tercio (first third of the cigar).  From the start the Hellion has flavors of deep cedar wood, rich leather, and raw cocoa nibs, with a waxy feel in the mouth.  The slight bite of black pepper is present and subtly compliments the earthy flavors.

Moving into the second tercio the flavor of cocoa nibs evolves into a more refined chocolate taste with a red wine finish.  The cedar gives way to dark wood, toasted but not burnt.  Thick leather sapor pleasantly permeates the second tercio and continues into the third, along with earthy, woody character.

The third tercio is no less pleasant than the first two–an important characteristic of fine cigars.  The earthy character is maintained, decreasing only slightly in sweetness and never taking on a burnt taste.  Cocoa notes fade away, and hay darkens to smoky herbal flavor.  There is little tar build-up in the head, which makes the entire smoke more pleasant.  My only complaint about the Hellion is that my wrapper began to unwind, as did my smoking partner’s, during the first part of the third tercio.  The stiff draw present on pre-light quickly resolved itself at the beginning of the smoke.

The Oliva Hellion Devil’s Due may pair well with a sweet red wine with a mild flavor.

Summary:  The Oliva Hellion: Devil’s Due is a great every day cigar and can be enjoyed socially or in solitude by cigar aficionados of all experience levels and tastes.  It has a medium to full body and medium flavor, and satisfies without overbearing the palate.  This cigar may be a good choice for occasional cigar smokers and beginners, as the sweet floral notes are easily detected and appreciated.  Still, experienced smokers will appreciate the nuanced cocoa and woody earthiness present throughout.  This is, in my opinion, a cigar to keep in the humidor.

Beard 911: Dry, brittle, flaky facial hair

I live in a cold, dry climate and my beard naturally lacks moisture so I have to bolster my hair’s minimal moisture with conditioners, oils, and balms.  Many beard oils are available on the market today and most of them are pretty good.  Things to look for when selecting a beard oil or balm is an avocado, almond, grapeseed, or coconut oil base.  These oils are similar to the oils in human skin and hair, and are therefore more easily absorbed than other oils.  Organic, all-natural, and vegan oils are readily available if those kinds of things are of importance to you but that all comes down to personal preference and I am ill-equipped speak to yours.

I make my own beard oil and beard balm from scratch using a variety of carrier and essential oils, beeswax, and natural conditioners.  In a future post I will be providing a few recipes and sources for supplies in the event that you want to try your hand at making your own beard-care products.  For now we’ll focus on the process of repairing damaged hair and keeping it supple and healthy.

The first step on your journey to a healthy beard is to trim all of the dry, split ends away with a pair of barber’s scissors.  A decent pair can be had for 15 bucks on Amazon or at your local drug store.  If you’re particular, you can find a pair just for your beard.

To begin you’ll need a beard wash.  The hair on your face is very different from the hair on your head, and regular shampoo can dry out and severely damage your beard.  Again, I make my own beard shampoo but there are many quality products available for purchase as well.  Look for a gentle, castille soap based product, or simply use liquid castille soap.  As far as commercial products go, I fancy Bluebeard’s Beard Wash.  It does a great job cleansing without drying out my hair, it smells great, and it contains deep conditioning oils that repair damage.  Apply your beard shampoo, homemade or commercial, just like your normal shampoo.  Your beard may require a couple of weeks to adjust to the new soap, but once it does you’ll be thrilled with the results.

Once you’ve washed your beard with a gentle shampoo you need to use a heavy conditioner in the shower during your normal routine.  I don’t make my own conditioner, and instead use Mane N’ Tail conditioner, originally made for horses.  The best thing about Mane N’ Tail is that it’s made to be rinsed out like most human conditioners, or left in the hair all day which is my preference.  I chose this conditioner because it’s less expensive than making my own conditioner and it works like a dream.  A little goes a long way, and I’ve only had to buy one bottle in the past year.  If the idea of using a veterinary product on your face is weird for you or if your beard is in really bad shape, Bluebeard makes an intensive repair rinse-out conditioner that works wonders despite being pretty pricey.

Once your beard is trimmed, washed, and conditioned, you can towel dry it and comb in your favorite beard oil.  If you’re new to the world of beard oil, I suggest Badass Beard Care’s Sandalwood and Vanilla .  It is specifically formulated to stop beard itch, nourish hair, and minimize dry flaky skin.  I’m intrigued by The Blades Grim‘s “Smolder” oil, but I haven’t had occasion to try it.  If you check it out, please drop me a line and let me know what you think.

I follow up my homemade beard oil with a beard balm made from beeswax, lanolin, and conditioning oils.  Balm not only seals in the moisture from the oil but also helps style and tame bushy beards like mine.  When I don’t have my own concoction, I use Wild Willie’s Beard Butter.  The consistency is good for my course facial hair, it smells amazing, and I like the effect it has on my beard’s texture.  I always comb in my balm to ensure even distribution throughout my beard.

I also take vitamins to promote hair growth and I’ve noticed a colossal difference.


Taming the Beast: Beard combs and brushes

Some men are lucky enough to have straight, easy to groom facial hair.  If you’re one of those men, I’d be happy to send you passionate hate mail if you leave your address in the comments.  If you’re like me and have a mane like a bramble bush, a good beard comb and/or brush is essential to avoiding the classic caveman look.  Available choices for combs include plastic, wood, bone, and horn, while brushes are available in natural and synthetic bristles.

I strongly recommend steering well-clear of plastic combs and brushes because they build up static electricity that can make grooming difficult.  Plastic tends to catch and pull the hair a bit more than wood or horn too, which can be painful and is hard on your beard.

Wood and bone/horn have their own advantages and disadvantages, and the choice ultimately comes down to personal preference and hair type.  I prefer horn because the tines are smoother, causing less tug-n-pull.  Horn is also non-porous and therefore water-resistant.  Unfortunately the non-porous nature of horn and bone means that it does not absorb oils and lotions.  Wood will absorb whatever you put in your beard, holding it for future combings and conditioning your beard longer when you don’t have your oils on you.  This also means that wood is more likely to be damaged by exposure to water–including a quick wash cycle in your laundry…which has happened to me more than I care to admit.

Still, washing a horn comb isn’t brilliant…

Synthetic brushes are cheap, but you get what you pay for and natural bristle brushes aren’t much more expensive.  Natural bristles absorb any oils or lotions that you use in your beard already, conditioning the bristles against wear and leaving trace residue in your beard when you groom it.  Brushes give a different texture to the beard hair, slightly polishing the strands and softening them without the tug and pull of a comb.  On the other side, brushes don’t tame scraggy beards as well as a comb and may leave the beard puffy.

I haven’t actually used this brush, but I’ve heard very good things about it and it looks like a great product. The other advantage to this set is that it comes with a comb.  Although the comb is made of bamboo rather than horn, it will give you an idea of the difference between a brush and comb if you’ve never used either.

There are many natural horn combs and brushes available, but my absolute favorite is the EQLEF Buffalo and Sandalwood Beard Comb.  I find that this comb is thick enough to put up with my abuse, large enough to use for my head and facial hair, and smooth enough that it doesn’t pull my beard.

This one is a decent economical option for shorter, thinner beards but I noticed that it pulled my hair quite a bit (especially after 3 or 4 wash cycles).

If you’re not sure if a comb or brush is better for you, there are some great sets available that include both along with balm, oil, or both.

Going to Dinner pt. 1: Preparation

Dining customs are awkward and confusing to most.  Upon arriving at formal dining events, many don’t know the names or purposes of the place settings before them nor are they familiar with customs surrounding propriety.  If you weren’t of the good fortune in childhood to attend cotillion or finishing school, formal affairs are foreign territory.  We’ve compiled a guide from various sources such as The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette.  We’ll walk through a virtual “tour” of a formal dinner as it progresses, from arrival to departure, identifying rules and customs to observe throughout.  In addition to the information here there are many guides available to help ordinary folk not only survive, but enjoy, formal dining affairs.

The most important and least flexible rule of conduct is that: Culture drives etiquette.  In foreign cultures one must be aware of one’s surroundings and of the rituals of one’s company.  Here we discuss predominant culture in the United States, so prepare to adapt these rules as necessary.

Making Preparations

Gentlemanly conduct begins before the dinner party while grooming and dressing.  Take care to be presentable and appropriately dressed for the occasion.  Formal dinners are classified by the type of dress required, and A Gentleman Gets Dressed Up offers advice for gentlemen lost in the details.

While Black Tie is considered the epitome of formality, White Tie is actually a step-above.  Because white tie affairs are so rare these days we won’t go in depth.  Simply understand that there are very specific rules for white tie dress, and the attire is more like a uniform than a fashion choice, specifying garments, colors, and even materials–White tie events are hardly an opportunity for creative expression.  The Gentleman’s Gazette outlines faux pas in their cautionary article.

“Black tie” means that a tuxedo is expected.  Variations you may see are “Black tie only” or “Black tie required.” These come across as demanding and are less common than the simple “Black tie,” but the three are synonymous.  A reasonably priced, well-made tux can be had for around $100.  Attending a black tie affair in inappropriate attire is an affront to the hosts and an embarrassment to oneself.  Shoes should be brightly polished and must match the slacks.  The rule is simple: attend in true Black Tie attire or regretfully decline.

“Black tie invited” or “Black tie optional” indicate that the dinner is formal in nature but that tuxedos are optional, though often suggested.  It is better to wear black tie attire to these events, but it is acceptable to “dress down” a bit.  Should one choose to attend a “Black tie invited” party without a tuxedo, one should have a sharp, fresh haircut and wear a fitted, dark-coloured suit with a simple tie.

Other dining events to which you may find yourself invited are as follows:

Semiformal or Business Attire 
Wear a dark coloured business suit – preferably with a matching vest, a dress shirt with a tasteful tie, leather shoes with matching socks (black shoes for black or grey suits, brown for blue or brown suits), and a dress belt to match the shoes.  I prefer the look of a well polished black leather Oxford over a brogue, but that’s all personal stylistics.  There’s no need to spend more than $100 on dress shoes if you dedicate some time to learning how to properly polish them.

Business Casual
A dress shirt and blazer, casual button-down, or a nice polo shirt would all be appropriate here.  One may choose to wear slacks or khakis with dress shoes or loafers.  Business casual events are perfect for trotting out fun, patterned shirts and ties inappropriate for formal affairs, though ties are optional.

Casual events require nice denim, khakis, or proper shorts and a plain t-shirt or polo without print or logos. Loafers and sneakers are appropriate choices for footwear.


A brief note on hair, beards, and grooming.

There are many popular hair and beard styles, and it is possible to be presentable with long or short hair on the head and face.  Beards should be well-groomed: I don’t mean short, I mean well-groomed.  Bushy manes should be tamed with beard balm or styling cream (Wild Willie’s is an excellent choice) and a natural horn beard comb.  Long hair should be kept neat and pulled back in a bun, and medium or short hair must be neatly groomed.  Care should be taken that hats do not “muss” the hair.  Cologne should be tasteful and not overpowering.  Opt for a sophisticated scent that fits your personality–something grown-up like Habit Rouge by Guerlain, available on Amazon.

Cigar Review: Cohiba Edicion Limitada 2015

My father received this as a gift from an employer a few months back and it’s been in my humidor ever since.  We had a Thanksgiving get-together and broke out a few cigars.  Dad, being a new cigar smoker, didn’t particularly enjoy the Cohiba and gave it to me.  In short, I was not impressed.  It was a serviceable cigar, but nothing great and it had several major drawbacks.

To begin, the unlit aroma was sweet and earthy with notes of old barn.  Not the dirty kind of barn, but the warm, comfortable, inviting kind of barn.  My first red flag was that the cigar was incredibly difficult to cut.  It seemed like the tobacco was spongy–almost rubbery, even.  The draw on this cigar was nearly impossible, but I lit up anyway.  The thing burned slow and was very difficult to smoke due to the stiff draw.

The first tercio had strong bread flavor, sprinkled with walnut notes and dried grass.  The flavor was very pleasant and unassuming.

Going into the second tercio the cigar took on a roasted flavor but kept the earthy barnyard and grass notes.  Unfortunately I didn’t make it through the second tercio before the tar build-up became too thick to get any air through.

Overall the Cohiba Edicion Limitada was disappointing.  Despite it’s good flavor, the draw and tar made the smoke impossible to enjoy.