CCP 060 | Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru

Mr. Sam is a great cigar that’s been around for quite some time, but the Black Diamond, Insidious and Acid Blondies are on top as the best sellers for the last two months. Among the three is the Insidious that’s been drawing people in with its distinct mildness. However, this mildness doesn’t quite compare to the super smooth Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru. It’s a 20-year old cigar that no one makes anymore, but is still an awesome smoke with a subtle earthy sweetness and smells good from the first whiff.

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Lane Oden Selling Cigars | Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru | Mr. Sam

I’m Lane. I’m hanging out with Sean and Harris. What’s up?

It’s been a long time. I know there have been some changes over there. Lane, I heard that you’re working there. We’ve got a lot of new things to talk about.

I started hanging out at the cigar shop on the weekends, working Saturdays at Trussville, Harris’ original store, and working Sundays at Patton Creek which is the one that’s closest to my house. I’m spending some of my free time at the store. We had some hours we needed picked up. My wife wanted to get me out of the house sometimes. We both had needs and we filled them.

We’ve talked about having someone with passion selling cigars. Would you say that that’s translated into some sales with you being there? I have a feeling it does.

Definitely. That made such a huge difference. We’re excited to have Lane helping us with a few things.

I have some fairly big shoes to fill at both stores, but I know that Scott over at Patton Creek has done a good job building the Sunday business and I have not messed that up.

I didn’t think that you would, Lane. When you have passion for something, it usually translates into sales or into getting people excited about the product. I had no doubt that you would do that. I have no doubt I would do the same if I were in there. Unfortunately, I’m in an area of the country that when it’s cold out like this, it is so hard to sit down and have a smoke. I’m out there when it’s 45 and it is cold.

CCP 058 | Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru

Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru: When you have passion for something, it usually translates into sales or into getting people excited about the product.

You’re supposed to get some nice warm weather, aren’t you?

It is going to be a weekend of cigar smoking. Harris has been so kind to send me five cigars and I’m looking forward to every one of them. Harris, how does your wife stand you coming home from the cigar shop every day? If I’m not at the cigar shop, I might smoke one cigar on the days that I smoke, maybe two if I’m at the beach or something like that. It is nothing on a day where I come into the cigar shop at 10:00 AM and stay until 8:00 PM. It is nothing for me to smoke four cigars in a day, and I love every one. I come home smelling like an ashtray from a cigar lounge.

I think she’s gotten used to it over time. When I get home, I just go straight and change clothes.

The HAZMAT shower?

Yeah. I just go ahead and just do it right off the bat. That helps too.

When I go to the cigar shop to have one, and I’ve done it twice over the last month, I don’t pass go, I just go right into that shower because my daughter is the worst. She’s like, “Dad, you smell like a cigar. Go take a shower.” I don’t even mess around. I just walk in and go take a shower.

I’m not exaggerating when I say four sticks a day. I literally walk into the door, get the place open, pour a cup of coffee and find something with a Connecticut wrapper that I brought in or that I picked up off the shelf or whatever, and set it on fire because I know that by the end of the weekend, my palate is going to be torched.

Since you’ve been smoking so many cigars, you’ve probably tried some new ones. Which ones have jumped out at you? What do you love right now?

CCP 058 | Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru

Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru: I had the My Father La Antiguedad and it was a well-balanced medium body. It was a pretty good smoke.

I had the My Father La Antiguedad and it was a well-balanced medium body, typical of My Father’s lines. It was a pretty good smoke. Most of the stuff that I’m smoking still ends up being stuff that I’m working on my humidor. The La Antiguedad was the one that Harris passed to me for a website review, so I went ahead and did that. I smoked it early in the morning before I had smoked anything else so I could still taste it. I smoked a PDR 1878 Capa Oscura. That was a fantastic smoke. There are a lot of La Palina’s on my list that I would like to get my hands on.

We have a lot of La Palinas coming in. The El Año?

Yes, which I did enjoy. I want to smoke the Illumination. I smoked the Mr. Sam, like the TAA and Nicaragua Oscuro lines, but I’ve been surprised to see how many of their cigars I haven’t set on fire yet.

Is the Mr. Sam in stores now?

Yeah. We have some in.

When did they start coming? That’s brand new. I don’t see them yet at the cigar stores around here.

It’s been around. It’s a little more of a limited production though. I have to look it up, but it’s one we don’t have all the time. We only have one box.

What are you smoking now? Harris, you said you had an interesting one. What’s the deal?

I’m smoking an interesting special cigar since it’s my birthday.

Happy birthday. That’s right, 36.

I have a vintage cigar. It’s the Punch JG Grand Cru. It’s not made anymore. It’s from right around 1997. It’s around twenty years old. I had a customer that had a collection he wanted to sell so I ended up picking up a few of these from him. They’ve been resting in the humidor and it’s the first one I’ve smoked.

It is super smooth. We’re talking about how time mellows out cigars and stuff like this, but this is smooth. It had an earthy sweetness going on and a pre-light draw.

Subtle flavors.

There are a lot of cigars that you take that first whiff of and think, “I don’t know about this.” This one smelled good from go.

For everyone out there, you can keep a cigar for twenty years and have it be awesome when you smoke it.

CCP 058 | Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru

Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru: You can keep a cigar for twenty years and have it be awesome when you smoke it, if you keep it humidified.

If you keep it humidified. These seem to have been very well-preserved. They look like they came off the shelf, with cellophane and everything, You should just try it.

The cellophane wasn’t yellowed or anything. I took a picture. I’ll get it up on Instagram and Twitter. I got a picture of one before I lit it.

Save that wrapper.

I do have one of these for you. I’ll stick it in your next shipment.

Hopefully, those bands will finish my project. It might, it might not, I’m not sure yet, but I can’t wait for it to be done because I’m going to have it framed and matted and stuff. It should be cool. I didn’t tell you but I am moving to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Is it for sure?

It is 98%. I’m looking for a house. We’re house-hunting. I’ve got five brokers working on it for me. I’m nervous but excited. I don’t know if the Amish are big cigar smokers but we’re going to find out.

You already have the beard. Are you becoming Amish?

No, I’m not. I know where we’re going to move, I just don’t know what house we’re going to move into. Manheim Central is one of the winning-est football teams in Pennsylvania history. Public school, smaller, but that’s where Quinn would go to high school. It should be interesting. I know that Pennsylvania football is pretty good, one of the best. They always put it in the top five, but we’re in Lancaster County so it’s not exactly a metropolis. We’ll see how he does. He can’t wait to move. He’s excited. I’m nervous. I’m a Chicago guy, 45 years here. It’s going to be very different but we’re going to make the best of it. It’s going to be a good time.

The other good thing about Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has zero cigar tax. Cigars are going to be cheaper there.

I went to dinner there in downtown Lancaster. There is a nice cigar bar right across the street from the restaurant. I’ll hit it up when I go. Our plan is to be there July 1. I’m excited, afraid, a new chapter. What’s cool about that area is that you are very close to everything. You’re two hours from Washington, DC. You’re two hours from New York. You’re 45 minutes from Gettysburg. You’re two hours to Baltimore, an hour and a half to Philadelphia. There’s a lot of culture there. What do we have here? Chicago and then Milwaukee. I don’t think anybody’s getting excited about Milwaukee. You can go to St. Louis, that’s four hours away. That’s it. You’re going to have to go visit Juliet? Not exactly a tourist attraction.

CCP 058 | Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru

Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru: Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has zero cigar tax. Cigars are going to be cheaper there.

Football is going to be weird. I don’t even know if I’m, going to be able to coach this year because I know no one there. It will be good for the family. I’m going to continue smoking cigars. I’m thinking about putting a smoking room in the basement if we have a walkout. I don’t know how to do it without infecting the rest of the house. Do you have a room, Harris? Can you smoke at the house?

I just have a little screened-in porch. I go up there with the heater. That works really well because it doesn’t get quite as cold here.

Does anyone you know have a smoking room in the basement where they have a smoke eater and a fan out a window that works?

Yeah. I definitely know some guys around here that do that. Most of the time, they’ll have a combination of exhausting air bringing in fresh air. There’s a company called FilterMate.com. They make the systems that we use at the store but they make smaller units that integrate into your HVAC system at home. You can set up a separate filtration system if you want to do something big. Most guys just put something down there and it will smell a little bit like a cigar but it will keep the rest of the house from smelling like it.

What exciting is happening? I know that one of your stores, you’re turning it into a whiskey, scotch stuff, craft beers. Why don’t you tell people about it? It’s a great idea. Has it gone through or has it started yet?

Yeah, we started. It’s probably been about two months. It’s off to a good start.

Four nights a week, Thursday through Monday.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday and then Monday, 4 to 10. We have craft beer and wine all the time.

Is it better than you thought? Is it not as good as you thought? Tell me about your expectations and how that’s come through.

It all took a lot longer than I thought to finish and get all the licenses. I didn’t know what to expect. I figure it would take six months to a year to get traction. It’s about how I thought. Every week we get a little busier.

How early are you open?

10:00 AM.

Even on Fridays and Saturdays?

Yes. Our landlord cuts off at 10:00 PM but we do have a patio we’re about to open up. When the weather is nice, that might stay open a little bit later.

We started a whiskey website and my first batch of content was all about scotches. For those of you that don’t know, it’s been almost eight years I haven’t had a drink. I said to my wife, “How did I miss the scotch thing?” I drank the shit out of just about everything. Scotches and whiskeys completely passed me by. It sounds like a fun thing. The problem is that I’d probably end up drinking too much of it. Is the scotch a big thing in your store?

It is. Bourbon and scotch are the two things we have by far the most of.

We have some rum too.

Scotch is pretty interesting because when you get into the higher-end ones, there’s all different types and really specialized ones.

Do you drink it?

Yeah, we do.

I lean way more to bourbon than I do scotch. I’ll drink scotch here and there but it’s not going to be what I’d pick for the most part. I had some Macallan 12 somewhere. Bourbon, people talk about flavors of caramel and vanilla being the dominant flavors. When people start getting into scotch-tasting, they’re like, “It tastes like peat and leather.” Fantastic. That’s just what I want to drink.

I don’t like the peaty, leathery scotches, but that’s a whole different segment that has none of that. I like those a little bit more.

You start into getting into the lower-end Johnnie Walker and stuff like that, like Johnnie Walker Red and Johnnie Walker Black. It tastes like it’s been run through a charcoal grill. There is great scotch out there. There is absolutely scotch that I enjoy and is worth drinking, but it will get away from you real fast.

It’s smoother than bourbon when you get in the higher-end ones. We have one back there, it’s Balvenie Caribbean Cask that is just super smooth and just great subtle flavors. That’s what I like about scotch more than bourbon. When you get into the better ones, they’re much smoother, much more subtle flavors than bourbon that even if you get into the higher-end bourbons, they still got a lot of punch.

CCP 058 | Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru

Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru: Balvenie Caribbean Cask has super smooth and great subtle flavors.

All whiskeys, all brandies, all of those drinks are going to have some natural heat on them. That’s why the snifter is a big part for tasting and stuff like that when you start drinking those whiskeys neat. Lay it over the top of a cup of hot coffee and it will release a lot of the aromas and flavors that you don’t necessarily get even drinking it at room temperature but especially on the rocks.

Scotch snifters are made so the heat of your hand warms the scotch up. Heat definitely releases the flavors that you don’t taste according to experts out there. I was looking at different bottles and different reviews and I’m like, “I’m thinking I may want to pick that up.” It’s a habit I should keep in check. Good things are happening and I don’t know if I need to start drinking.

I had to draw on the cigar, it’s a little tight but not too tight.

That’s what happened to mine. I cut mine a couple of times before I settled in and got it. Now that I’ve cut it wide open enough, the draw is really good. I may retouch it with my lighter but it’s not because I’m correcting the burn. It’s because I’m trying to get some flow out of it. It gets you right on point now.

It was a torpedo, right?

Yeah.

I usually cut torpedoes pretty close to the edge of the cap. I don’t like a hard draw. I’ll throw a cigar off if it’s too much. Of all the cigars that have come in since the beginning of the year, what seem to be the best-sellers other than obviously the La Flor Dominicana in general? I know the ones you sent me. What do you have in there? You’ve got a Flor de las Antillas, a My Father Maduro. We’ve got the OpusX 20 Year?

Yes, you have the last remaining one of those. I was moving some boxes around and I found it. I was like, “This was for Sean. I lost it for a while.”

I’ve got that. Did I get a Black Diamond?

Yeah, you did, a Diamond Crown Black Diamond and Liga Privada No.9.

The reason I wanted the No.9 is because I’ve only smoked one of them.

You’ll taste Graham Cracker when you smoke it.

I’m going to try.

It’s going to be there.

I know that we’ve talked about our love for the T52. I wanted to give the No.9 a couple more shots to earn that back. I know so many people love it so there’s got to be something there.

That’s totally how it happened with me. It took me smoking a dozen of them before I got it, but I got it. It was never, “I don’t like this cigar.” It was a, “This doesn’t line up with what I tend to smoke.” When I found a note in there that I identified with, I was like, “I get it.”

I’m looking forward to it. Believe it or not, my humidor is pretty full. I just was in the mood for something different. They’re all ones that I’ve smoked before. I’ve got the Camacho Barrel-Aged. I’ve got a Camacho Connecticut that I love. I’ve got a Rocky Patel Connecticut. I just wanted something different. That’s why I was like, “It’s going to be a beautiful weekend. I’m going to go smoke a cigar with my dad and so I’m going to smoke something good.”

There have been some surprises out of what I’ve seen with the other store that I worked at. I’m working three out of four at this point. I’ve seen a lot of Asylum, like the Gordo-sized Asylum Insidious in both wrappers.

Insidious is a big seller.

What else?

I’ve been surprised at how few of the Rocky Patel Fifty-Five have sold because I think that’s a fantastic smoke. That’s really one of the best Rockys that’s come out in the last three or four years.

CCP 058 | Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru

Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru: The Rocky Patel Fifty-Five is one of the best Rockys that has come out in the last three or four years.

I haven’t had one yet.

It’s good. They make one that’s about the size of my VSG Enchantment, so that makes me happy. What else do we sell a lot of?

Did you say you sell a lot of Insidious?

Yeah. You would not believe, all day long on Sunday.

I must have smoked three of them.

We had a guy celebrating his birthday at Patton Creek and every time I turned around, somebody was buying an Insidious. The Gurkha Cognac-dipped one, sell a bunch of those.

In surprising numbers.

Even the ACID Blondies come and go. There are a lot of those that move.

The Kubas have got to be the most popular, right?

The Blondies have been more popular from what I’ve seen.

Kubas and Blondies are top two. The Blondies are a real small size and the Kubas more of a Toro size.

You know what my favorite ACID is after smoking a couple of them? Obviously I don’t smoke them anymore, but I do like the Toast. It’s pretty good. If I was going to smoke an ACID, that would be the one I would smoke. Any new cigars that are flying off the shelf?

We’re in a slow time of the year for new things, but of the newer things released by Oscar are The Oscar from Oscar Valladares.

Is that a new line by him?

It is. It’s his newer line, a step-up from the Leaf by Oscar. It’s in this really cool packaging. He took all the cigar presses and routed them out and made them more like they could be cigar boxes. It’s really cool. It’s a dark cigar but has a candela wrapper, the green wrapper over it. It covers the band too. You have to pull that off. The cigars are dark and oily, just dark, rich cigars. To me, a little but stronger than the other Leaf by Oscar cigars. They’re more expensive too, more in the $12 to $15 range. When we first got them, I wondered, “I don’t know how these will do.” They’re a little more expensive but they’ve been very popular.

CCP 058 | Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru

Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru: The Leaf by Oscar is a dark cigar but has a candela wrapper. It’s also dark and rich.

Lane, have you seen that? Have you seen them get off the shelf pretty quick?

Yeah. The Leaf by Oscar Sumatra has really been moving lately.

I feel like anything he makes right now really does well.

I smoked that Rocky A-10 Edge, the barber pole. That was a pleasant cigar. One of the guys that works for me during the week came in to visit at the cigar shop, because I hired two cigar smokers. One of them came in to hang out for a little while and I told him if he came in, I’d light one of those up. He wanted a price on a box of them.

The Rocky Patel?

Yeah, the A-10 barber pole has been one of the most popular newer blends too.

It wasn’t a gimmicky barber pole either. A lot of times, you will get those and think, “It’s flashy.” It is what it is. This was a very mellow maybe just short of medium-bodied easy smoke. It’s got a Corojo and Manduro wrapping.

What made you jump into working for the store? I know that you’ve got some goals and stuff. What made you do it?

My wife and I have refocused some of the things that we’d like to see work out over the next four or five years. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Dave Ramsey. Back before we got married, I went through some of his debt snowball stuff. A big part of me proposing to her and why the timing worked out the way it was is because I didn’t want to be paying off the first marriage while being in the second marriage. He’s got baby steps that go on beyond that. He’s got steps for building up a specific number of months of expenses worth of savings, contributing a specific percentage to your income, and then eventually doubling up and beating on your mortgage once everything else is done. We’re trying to get a couple of steps deeper into that, get the down payment right for a place at the beach for a little while. You may see fewer beach trips this year. That’s what I’m hoping to get out of it. Jen commented at first that it would be a good experience anyway because if one day I did move to the beach, it would provide additional opportunities.

When you go to the different stores, do you find that each store has its own personality, that certain cigars sell differently at stores in Birmingham?

Some. Patton Creek and Vitola are probably, Harris, what you would consider to be your higher-end stores.

Probably so.

This one is probably super high volume, especially on the weekends when all the people are out. With Trussville being the original store, it’s got a pretty broad mix of folks in there too just for where it is and everything. The three stores that I’ve worked at, I’ve seen people in the flavor case, I’ve seen people in the main humidor. I sold a guy ten pipes and some pipe tobacco this past weekend. It’s been all over the place at all of the stores. I wouldn’t say there’s been any shift. I’m watching the Asylum Insidious fly off the shelves of all the stores.

I’m glad to hear that. I just didn’t think it was that popular. From what I can see around here, although they are at the stores, I don’t see people grabbing them as often. I’m always fighting people around Camacho or Drew Estate. That’s where they’re at.

I don’t want to name drop or anything. I’ve been surprised of the amount of current-ish and former NFL talent that live in Birmingham because they all hang out with me now.

We had a guy on Friday and Saturday at Trussville too, a guy that grew up here locally. He is currently a free agent. He played last season for an NFL team. I think he’s a nose tackle. He was in Friday and Saturday last week. He walked in and people were like, “That’s a big dude. We’re going to joke with him and see if he wants to play in the NFL.” He’s like, “What do you mean? I’m still trying to play in the NFL.”

What does he smoke?

He was smoking the Insidious but he bought something else too. I don’t recall off the top of my head what it was.

Insidious, one of our guys put it well. He calls it the Gateway Cigar. People that come in, they’re like, “I just want to try a cigar. I don’t know what I’m doing.” It’s a good one for them to try because it’s super mild and lean, that little vanilla on the cap. It really draws them in and they’ll keep smoking those or they’ll start smoking other things.

CCP 058 | Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru

Vintage Punch JG Grand Cru: Insidious is a good one for them to try because it’s super mild and lean, that little vanilla on the cap.

I’ve had people come in and say, “I’ve never smoked a cigar before. Is there something you’d recommend as a starter or something with training wheels on it?” I said, “Start here. Start here. Start here.” I point out three or four cigars, with the Insidious in the middle, the ACID Blondies there, there are plenty of Connecticuts. I’m steering people away from Cameroons for lighter-bodied cigars because I don’t think a brand new cigar smoker is going to get a whole lot out of them. I’ll put three or four cigars in their hands and say, “These are all safe recommendations if you’ve never really smoked a cigar before. Pay attention. Tell me what you like and don’t like about these, and then we can get more focused later.”

The Leaf Connecticut is one of my favorite Connecticuts. In fact, it probably is my favorite all-around Connecticut. It’s fantastic. The Shade is another one, but the Leaf is my go-to when I want something light but complex. It’s got a lot of different things going on. There’s a ton of citrus in there that is clear as day. If you’re looking for it, it’s right there. I like it. I’m a fan.

There was a college-aged girl in the store on Sunday and she had enough rewards points. She was due to My Father three-pack sampler. Somebody grabbed one off the shelves and they were all dark black wrappers and everything. She said, “What’s the flavor profile and strength on these?” I was like, “I don’t think this is right, hold on.” I went back in and found one of the real My Father sampler and said, “This is going to be better. You’re going to get that Nicaraguan flavor profile but these are all going to be fairly medium body. None of these are going to make you green around the gills when you’re done with them.” She was 5’4″ and 110 pounds. Some of the cigars that guy was trying to hand off to her, just based on what she told me, were going to knock her over.

That’s so important because if she has a bad experience, she might move on from cigars.

Had I not smoked the right one to start, I might have moved on too.

I run into people all the time who say, “I tried a cigar and I don’t like it.” I’m like, “There are a lot of different ones. You may have just tried the wrong one.”

There’s no question. Because I’m not smoking a lot, I tend to gravitate towards Connecticuts because they’re mild. My palate’s different because it’s not built up. Things that I thought weren’t very strong six months ago, I’m like, “This is rough.” Mid-summer, it won’t be an issue again.

We had a guest that was talking about that. I think it was the Kristoff at the time who talked about your palate and how often it changes. That’s why you like different things because it constantly changes.

What are your top five cigars that they should go out and try, new, newish, that you got in the store that they should try?

One that comes to mind is Padron No.90 in the Maduro, a great new one that’s fairly new.

Lane, how about you?

I would have no problem pointing anybody at the Rocky Patel Fifty-Five. From last year’s trade show, the AVO Fogata is a step in the right direction, letting Davidoff spread their wings and get something that they don’t normally do.

That’s three. We got two more. Two more top five.

I would say, The Oscar by Oscar Valladares.

I’m not giving one. I haven’t smoked enough to give an opinion.

I want another five good ones.

I feel a lot of pressure because I have to pick one.

I’m really liking the Oro from Fratello.

Gary is a big fan of that one too.

It’s Ecuador Connecticut, medium body Connecticut that’s really nice.

The Jaime Garcia has been popular at Trussville too.

I’ve never had one. The Fratello, it’s been a long-time. Fratello Cigars, does he live there in Birmingham?

No. Omar worked for NASA.

He worked for NASA. I remember talking to him.

You’re thinking of Caldwell whose mom lives here.

His mom lives in Birmingham?

Yeah. He went to high school in Birmingham for a year and then got shipped off somewhere.

No, I’m talking about GTO. He lives in Birmingham, right?

Yeah, an hour away. He’s been here a while. Oscar Rodriguez.

It’s awesome catching up. If we do it next week, if we wait a week, I’ll have way more to jump in on because I’ve been smoke-free because I can’t do it. It’s been so damn cold. Hopefully there’s a break in the weather, over 60°F for three days. It’s going to be a dog shit’s smorgasbord this weekend. When you got snow in the backyard, there’s nothing you can do. Have a great weekend.

Thank you, Sean.

We’ll be catching up.

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