Monday, January 23, 2006

Mardi Gras and Cigars in Mobile, AL 2004

Mardi Gras and Cigars in Mobile, AL
March 13, 2004

Cigar Weekly member Todd Crandall (sevenmag) attended the lesser known Mardi Gras festivities in Mobile, AL, where Mardi Gras in America actually started. Here he presents us with a review of the parades and the cigars he enjoyed while attending.


I always take a cigar to the Mardi Gras Parades, usually not anything of any real dollar value, it's a hectic evening and sometimes you just have to toss the thing because there's just to much going on. But some nights when I know the crowd will be big and I need to get there early, I will grab a favorite.

This is Mobile's Mardi Gras, a family oriented version. The one I grew up with and love dearly. This is easily my favorite time of year.

Friday, February 7: Conde Cavaliers
Founded in 1977, the Conde Cavaliers is a young Crewe, but have quickly grown into one of the largest parading societies. Founded as a way for a workingman to join a Crewe that had no way to inherit a membership in any of the old groups. Now they have 13 themed floats and the three usual Emblem floats. This years theme was "Games People Play" with the Olympics, Casino gaming and Monopoly represented, just to name a few.

As usual the Cavaliers did a great job of starting things off. Sixteen big floats loaded with drunk maskers that were throwing plenty of goodies. The emblem floats never change; the Cavalier Express is a train, the float with the Conde Cavalier Emblem complete with a rearing horse who's testicles are gold leafed. And he's ridden by a Cavalier. Then there's the Joe Cain Coal Wagon. After that the theme floats come by. All were spectacular. Overall a great parade.

On the Mag scale of 5 thumbs up I give it 4

On the way out the door I grabbed a connie #9m out of a bundle I bought in early 2001.

Age had been a friend to this cigar. It was great, rich chocolate and toasty flavors along just a hint of black pepper. I hope most of this bundle are even close to what this smoke was. I'll be working them over pretty heavy over the next two weeks or so and I could be in for a real treat.

Friday, February 13: Order of Inca
Founded in 1956 the Incas have great looking emblem floats with the Inca Sun God and all the riders with large feathered headdresses. Callouts at the Ball are a real treat with Sun God all dressed in Gold and a headdress that rivals the trains on some of the Royal Family's wedding gowns. These are my favorite of them all.

Back to the parade. You would think that with all that dusty Old Mobile money these guys could spring for a few of the new larger floats. Even so the ones they had were done well and they took full advantage of their parade date falling on Friday the 13th. They themed the parade "Superstitions" and had floats with all things scary on them. Nine of them, and of course the three emblem floats bringing the total to 12. The only real knock on these guys is that they don't throw much. So I'm only giving them three thumbs up.

The cigar that night was an Alec Bradley HSG. Toro. I like these cigars. Well made and a good value. A solid medium/full cigar with a light brown Sun Grown wrapper. Good core of sweetness and some pepper to go along with it. It turned out to be a good choice, a nice strong cigar on a cold windy night.

Saturday, February 14: Maids of Mirth and Neptune Daughter's
The Parades that usually run at this point in the yearly schedule (the parades fall in the same order every year) were rained out and moved to Sunday. They are reviewed in the order that they ran.

Sunday, February 15: Order of the Pharoahs
The Pharaohs ran their 19th parade on Sunday afternoon. Another very young society, and they are still parading like it. Small floats with little coming off them. They need to take some lessons from some other Crewes that have been at it even less time. They get a whopping single thumb for this years efforts.

On Sunday night the rescheduled Maids of Mirth celebrated their 55th year with a theme I liked: "Celebrations South of the Salt line". The theme floats were built around all of our local festivals. A great idea being that Mardi Gras is Mobile's oldest festival. They have two emblem floats followed by 7 theme floats. This is one of three, of what I'd call the older all female societies, and they act like they know what they're doing. Even being re-scheduled they still did a good job of making sure we all went home with plenty of worthless junk. That's saying a lot, as usually they have all day to get wound up and whiskied up and then there's a ball to go to. But not on a rain out day. Just for that they get four big thumbs.

Immediately following them was another one of the all female groups" Neptune's Daughters". They've been around less than 10 years, they lease floats from the Conde Cavaliers but it's still fun to catch some more beads and other goodies. It helps make the parade longer. With only 9 floats in the first parade they add a few extra at the end. I'll give them four thumbs up, because it's been a while since I've seen that much stuff coming off floats.

I didn't take a cigar with me that night. It was wet and threatening rain. I probably could have gotten one in but it would have been a job just to keep it lit.

Monday, February 16: Crewe of Marry Mates and Mystical Ladies
The next night was another pair of short parades, hosted by young societies. Two groups of leased floats, some Inca and some Conde Cavalier. The Crewe of Marry Mates (a society of Married Couples) and The Mobile Mystical ladies. Each society has only been around for about 10 years, but they try hard to make sure we all have a good time. Putting the two parades together is a good idea for them. I'll give this pair a three.

It was just too friggin cold to smoke one and enjoy it that night. The season fell early this year so the cold has been a problem.

Tuesday, February 17: Order of La She and Order of Venus
Next up is another pair of babies in the Mardi Gras world: The "La She's" along with the "Order of Venus". More leased floats from the gals of Venus, but the La She's own their own. Two emblem floats and 13 theme floats, and the theme was "Somewhere In Time". Having 15 total floats have put them in the same size range as some of the old guard. They've also earned a reputation as good throwers. They get a good score of four.

The cigar of the night was a Torano Exodus gold perfecto. These guys know how handle the H2k wrapper. A great looking, oily leaf to be sure. Another solid performer from Torano. Loads of smoke, and a solid ash along with a perfect burn. Wonderful flavors in this cigar included cocoa, vanilla, a slight herbal flair and a nice amount of spice. I finally had to toss it when I couldn't hold it without burning myself. Remember, I'm at a Mardi Gras parade and I can't really watch what I'm doing with a really short nub. So they get tossed at about the 1 to 1.5 inch mark. This one was the best of the group up to that point.

Thursday, February 19: Mystic Stripers Society
Thursday night officially kicks off the parades that are generally referred to as the big ones. This one is the "Mystic Stripers Society", founded 65 years ago and trademarked with the striped emblem floats. The Tiger, the Zebra and The King Striper float which is followed by the Anniversary float that's full of convict attired maskers, and let's not forget the Title float with the theme "MSS Declares War". Eleven theme floats came by depicting scenes from battles like Waterloo and Midway. Another wonderful parade from the Mystic Striper's who also know how to fill the bags of children of all ages. The first perfect score.

The cigar for the this parade was an Oliva "O" Ole. The robusto of the line. I've had the box for about two years, and they've aged wonderfully. This cigar was wrapped in a beautiful dark brown Ecuadorian Sun Grown wrapper from Oliva Farms. One of the best wrappers around IMO. It produced loads of rich flavorful smoke. Strong, sweet and with a hint of citrus and herbs. A delight to my Lower Alabama redneck palette. Perfect burn even on a cool windy night. When it hit the street along with the other stuff nobody wanted to pick up it was completely spent. Not even a BigO toothpick could have salvaged anymore of it. It's no wonder these are some of my favorite cigars.

Friday, February 20: Crewe of Columbus
Friday night saw Mardi Gras get into full swing big time when the "Crewe of Columbus" took their 83rd trip through the streets of downtown Mobile. Founded in 1922 the COC has 6 trademark floats. Three depict the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, then the Crew's emblem float with a big globe rotating in the center, and that's followed by the title float. The most spectacular of the 6 is Isabella the three headed 50 foot long sea monster. Right behind her are the theme floats. This year they represented "Friday Night at the Drive Inn." with movies like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Godzilla, Ben Hur and my favorite of the night "Creature from the Black Lagoon". Of course there were others, 13 total. Add the emblems and that made for ample chances to fill a big bag with trinkets and Moon Pies. And believe me, they threw plenty of them. The best parade of the year so far. This Crew gets an easy five.

My smoking experience didn't live up to the parade. I started out with a La Escepcion IV Tapa Negra 48. This cigar had little to no discernable flavors. I hung with it until I got past the little Maduro strip on the foot. I really didn't have much hope for it to start with, it just seemed gimicky to put those strips on what was a really good cigar in the first three series. I thought it might pick up once I got past the maduro foot but it didn't come around. So I pitched it. I think I'll just stick to the old ones.

Fortunately I took a backup with me. A Floridita from Costa Rica given to me by my buddy Stogie5150. A toro sized boxpressed cigar with a medium brown tissue thin wrapper. There's a story behind these but I can't remember it. I'm pretty sure it's a Don Douglas product that was originally blended to be a Bahia. I do know they were selling them in bundles for a bit, and now they're gone. That's a shame too, I really enjoyed this one. A straight forward medium bodied smoke with a good profile. It falls into that old catagory "One dimensional, but a good dimension". Sweet and rich and a good long finish. It took some touch ups and a couple of re-lights but overall an enjoyable cigar. I'd like to have more.

Saturday, February 21: Mystics of Time
Saturday was the big night for the "Mystics of Time". In just 56 years they've become easily the favorite parade of the year. Due in large part to Vernadean, Verna and Dean. Three long serpentine dragons that weave their way through the streets, coming right up to the crowd and blowing smoke on everyone. They also throw beads with dragons on them and those are probably the most popular throw of the year. This year's theme was "Lost Civilizations in Time". Easter Island, Nirvana, Atlantis and Knossos were just a few that were represented, with 13 in all. Combined with the three dragons and two emblem floats with Father Time in his usual position on top of the clock gave us 18 to enjoy and catch throws from. As usual though, either Vernadean, Verna or Dean broke down and stopped the parade for a while but this happens every year. Overall another great effort from boys of the MOT. Four thumbs.

The cigar for the parade was a CAO MX2. It was the first one I've had, my buddy spiridon brought it to me from the RTDA. I liked this one and it was a good choice for the night. The wrapper was closer to oscuro than maduro and not the prettiest leaf I've ever seen. But that wasn't a problem, it tasted and smoked great. A good medium bodied cigar with loads of flavor. Maybe not the most complex in the world but enough going on to keep my interest. My only complaint would be that it was just to sweet. But I'd smoke more of them. If you like sweeter cigars these are the ticket.

Sunday, February 22: Joe Cain Precession
This is the best story about a parade yet. Sunday was the "Joe Cain Precession" named after Joe Cain, the man that revived Mardi Gras in the Port City. It originated here in 1703 and went through many changes over the years leading up to the Civil War, which brought it to an end (at least temporarily). In 1866, Joe, who was unhappy with the Reconstruction occupation of Federal troops, dressed up as a Chickasaw war chief named Slacabamorinico. He rolled about town on a charcoal wagon, raising all sorts of Cain. (Yes, that's how the phrase originated) Him and his buddies tossed small trinkets at the feet of the Federal soldiers and Mardi Gras was reborn here in Mobile. The following year in 1867 a formal parade was organized for Shrove Tuesday and it's been going on ever since. The review of this year's edition of that parade is coming up.

Now the Joe Cain Parade is basically about 30 busses, semi's and large flatbeds loaded down with maskers. Each one is it's own so called mystic society with names like Order of Pie and Knights of Daze, all throwing all the usual goodies. It's a big day with a family fair, the parade, a race and several other events going on downtown. It's a fun parade but it's far removed from the usual ones. Given that I'm not going to rate it, but we had a great time as usual.

The crowd is so big and since we had to get there early, I knew I'd have time to enjoy a good cigar before the parade started. So I grabbed a San Cristobal La Fuerza. A good choice, everything you want out of a good Cuban cigar. Tons of flavor, complexity, and just the right amount of strength. At about the half way point the flavors seemed to explode. I didn't think it was possible but the flavors just suddenly became more intense. What a great cigar, it was a shame when that set of beads knocked the nub out of my mouth. Good thing it was all but done anyway.

Monday, February 23: Infant Mystics
Every once in a great while I get lucky. Tonight was one of those nights. We decided to take a chance and brave the rain for the Infant Mystics parade. They were founded in 1868 and are one of the oldest Mystic Societies. Well the rain held out just long enough to get them past us and there were so few people it was like our own private parade. It's a rare treat but if you want to take advantage of an opportunity like that you've got to take your chances with the weather. Tonight it paid off big time. The only problem is the bands pull out, so there's no break between floats, and that's when I check them out. So my review of this parade will be lacking. The theme was good: "The Wonders of Our Waterways", but them I'm always partial to any theme with a local flavor. Every float showed us something about our local bays and Gulf Coast. I'll have to hold off on any rating but it's not because they don't deserve one. I was so busy with Little Mag catching stuff that I just didn't give everything the attention it was due.

I started not to take a cigar at all tonight because of the weather and we waited until the last minute to leave so I didn't think I'd be able to get a smoke in. I changed my mind on the way out the door and grabbed a Romeo y Julieta TPC of unknown year. Not the prettiest wrapper I've ever seen, and it wasn't the best TPC I've ever smoke either. It wasn't bad but usually these are much better than this one. This example was just flat and didn't have the usual depth of flavors and strength that you can expect from this vitola. Could be from the 00 crop that just didn't produce many good cigars.

Tuesday, February 24: Order of Athena, Knights of Revelry, Comic Cowboys and Order of Myths
It finally came to an end today. The festivities started out with the "Order of Athena" just as they have for the last 50 years. We always get a little bonus from the Athenas, when they finish their brunch they do a procession on foot to the float loading. It's a nice touch and a good way to get things started. Luckily where I've been setting up camp for nearly 20 years is on the 5-block stretch they take. Once the parade got started, it was a perfect example of Mobile Mardi Gras at its finest. I love their emblem float with Athena in her chariot being pulled by two huge smoke breathing cobras. The theme was "I love a Parade" with all sorts of parades being represented. I gotta say, this is my favorite of the women's Crewes. I'm giving them a four.

Next up were the "Knights of Revelry". They ran today for the 130th time. Their emblem float is my all time favorite. A jester rides high atop the float in a champagne glass, and chases death by beating the float with inflated pig bladders. The jester's name is "Folly" and he chases death and all other evil spirits away with all the noise he makes with the bladders. One day I'm gonna catch a set of them. Their theme was a Salute to Dr. Seuss. All the kids favorites came by today and these guys were doing all they could to make sure we all had plenty of Moon Pies, beads and candy to bring home. One of their best efforts in years. An easy four thumbs up.

Right on their heels were the "Comic Cowboys". Founded in 1868 this group is completely different than any other Mystic Society. They don't build the big elaborate floats, they use old flatbeds with wooden signs and roast all the local and national celebrities. Stabs at all the usual suspects were there, Alabama, Auburn, Local politicians and a few at Michael and Janet Jackson. A few I caught myself laughing out loud at. They even took a couple of shots at the new California Governor. The members of the Comic Cowboys don't ride in their own parade. They hire others to do it. Anonymity is a big tradition with those guys.

Tonight, if the rain holds out, will the "Order of Myths". Founded in 1867 it's our oldest parading Crewe. I won't be able to give you a review since I'll be at home for that one. They run an old traditional route different from all the others. Their emblem float has a Jester and a Skeleton, Folly chasing Death. The Jester chases the Skeleton around a broken pillar. The Broken pillar of life. It's the Grand Finale of Carnival here. Overall another great season, but I'm glad it's over. I need some rest.

I got in two cigars today, both were stellar. I started off with a RyJ Ex. #4 from 00. A great start for the day. Full bodied and rich. Exactly what I expect from the Romeo y Julieta brand. After that was a PAM. Maybe the best cigar I smoked during the whole season. Perfect burn, great flavors and complexity. Could be as much to do with the fact that the weather had started to improve and I was really enjoying the day downtown with my family and friends.

I hope everyone enjoyed the reviews as much as I've enjoyed sharing the season. I smoked cigars that would fit anyone's tastes and enjoyed almost all of them. Just goes to show you there's a cigar for every mood, occasion and situation. I think I'll try doing this again next year.

No comments: