Since August of 2015 I’ve been a weekly contributor to Smooth Draws Radio Show.
Friday January 20, 2018, the driving force of the show, Gary Laden, passed away and it’s been heartbreaking.

Gary will always have a place in my heart.

I started listening to his broadcast, then called Cigar Guys Radio Show, basically from its inception.

The 1st time I called into the show was in April of 2015.
The Cigar Question of the Week was:
“What do you like to pair with cigars?”

I wanted to get his take on a Brad Paisley interview in Cigar Aficionado, quoting this from the pages of that issue:

“His (Paisley’s) band members tend to enjoy the cigars while sipping a fine whiskey, or a glass of wine.
But the nondrinking Paisley has his own favorite beverage when savoring a cigar …

“If you have a Yoo-hoo with a cigar, it’s like a s’more,” Paisley enthuses. “Anything chocolate is fantastic. A hit of chocolate takes the bite away. A chocolate milkshake with a cigar? That’s just decadent. Grape juice is good, too. Anything thick and sweet is pretty cool. I think I’d like port, if I did that.” … from Cigar Aficionado

Gary thought that was great input and I thought Gary was great for being so open-minded about cigars & pairings.

Cigar Guys Radio Gary Val IPCPR2015When he learned I’d be working with Daniel Marshall at the Daniel Marshall Cigars and Humidors booth during the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers (IPCPR) show in New Orleans that July, Gary came by the booth and that’s where I had my 1st of many photos taken with him.

A couple of weeks after #IPCPR15, I asked Gary if I could do a Twitter #CigarHerf to correspond with the show broadcast.
He loved the idea and couldn’t wait to get a global ‘herf started every week.


Gary would send me the script and I’d tweet the content, with corresponding pictures of the hosts & the guests – of which there were many, but some of the 1st were Jose Blanco, Oscar Rodriguez, Mike Bellody, Nick Perdomo Jr., Fred Rewey, Jerry Garrett, Sean Williams & Enrique Sanchez Icaza.

Gary would also do features & contests with cigar accessories like Xikar & Boveda Inc. to help novice & experienced cigar enthusiasts better understand options available to them.

I’d categorize all the segments & photos that made up the show.
There was Doc’s Diversions and #SmoothDraws-University that brought together great educational aspects of cigars, like Jorge Armenteros of Tobacconist University.

And who didn’t love the ever popular “Long Ash or In The Trash” where the hosts would give their opinions on super-fun themes that Gary would present?!
All the Smooth Operators had fun casting their votes on the topic throughout the weekend.
Recently the panelists expanded to include Smooth Operators, with long time listenere Bob Langmaid being the first.
Gary was always looking for way to get the fans onto the #SmoothDraws MainStage.
A totally generous man.

Gary created a segment for me to talk about wine & spirits and was always eager to try a new “dram” … a word he found particularly endearing.
The segment we did for Canadian Whisky gave Davin de Kergommeaux’s book “Canadian Whisky – The Portable Expert” a boost in on-line sales throughout the U.S.A.
It was those behind the scenes experiences that made the show so exciting & gave me a sense of purpose.
I will forever be grateful to Gary for seeing the big picture.

We were part of Whiskies Of The World #ATL, where Gary, Nicholas, Adam myself & others from the #SmoothDraws Team would host the Cigar & Whiskey pairing event.

Gary was one of the 1st radio celebrities in the United States to honour World Whisky of the Year winner Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, enjoying an in-studio tasting with John Stegenga & Alan Friedman.

Gary warmly welcomed everyone to the studio, whether they be cigar people or whisky people … like Raj Sabharwal.
“Doc” loved Scotch … and he loved Canadian Whisky.
He found a new favourite when Raj brought in Stalk & Barrel Whisky for the in-studio tasting.

I’ll always be grateful to Gary for making the show diverse, yet keeping it related to the #Cigar lifestyle, which he loved.
And he fought for #CigarRights … supporting the mandate of Cigar Rights of America and International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers (IPCPR).

He completely embraced every aspect of the cigar lifestyle, working tirelessly to secure interviews from influencers of that lifestyle, including Reinhold Widmayer from Cigar Journal to Darren Cioffi of Cigar Smoking World Championship fame and Franca Comparetto of Cigar Sense.
Every interview brought new insights to great cigar experiences, illustrating the never-ending optimism that cigars bring, like the journey of Hamlet Paredes & Rocky Patel Premium Cigars.

And, of course, there were the hundreds of followers – the #SmoothOperators, who tuned in from all around the world.
Gary loved each and every one of you, truly embodying the cigar-lifestyle mantra of us being one big cigar-happy family.
Gary was especially fond of being able to meet so many of you at the various LIVE remotes the Smooth Draws Radio Show did.
He’d even get on the phone to talk to fans in other countries, like Kenneth Rosal & Mike Simpson in Canada.
Gary also enjoyed seeing & hearing from Nigel Baird from the U.K. … whose cigar & accessory collection astounded him!
Every single Smooth Operator was important to Gary, and to name a few … Vern Coleman, Wes Smith, Travis Burne, Ricardo Nascimento, Nathan Caliendo, Craig Graydon, Jerry Vogler Jr, Jeff Botl, Gerald McIntyre, Lloyd Bunce, Don Stuike, Cliff Wilson … and so many more!
Gary would have loved to have visited each of the 44 States & 24 Countries that had Smooth Operators tuning into the show to meet all of them personally.

#SmoothDraws just kept getting bigger & more successful over the years, with Nicholas Syris, William Cooper, Michael “The Burner” Turner & CigaRobbie coming on board as hosts through the history of the show.
Their expertise, cigar knowledge & stellar reviews had a big impact on all the #SmoothOperators.
The #SmoothDraws #CigarHerf was a global meeting place for everyone to ‘herf on Saturday. Jenny Hatton was brought on-board as one of the #CigarHerf coordinators.
Coordinating the phone calls behind-the-scenes was Adam Heffner, followed by Jay Finch.

Gary especially loved having his adored wife, Susan Fidelholtz Laden, with him in-studio, as well as behind the scenes of the show.
His friendship with executive producer Chad Potier serves as an inspiration to how cigars can bring people together in unexpected ways.

Gary, myself and all the Smooth Draws team, did so many things cigar-related, and we bonded over many premium cigars.
I visited Atlanta on a several occasions for some great fellowship & event attendance.
We traveled as a group to Nicaragua for our inaugural #PuroSabor experience in 2016.
The very 1st night aboard the Lake Managa cruise, we were able to meet Eric Newman of J.C. Newman Cigar Company, who later came on the show for a 2-part interview about the history of his cigar company.

While in Nicaragua, Gary particularly enjoyed the visit to Flor de Caña Rum … and who can blame him? It is really a fun place to visit and perfect for picture taking, with the Flor de Cana Train!

The following year, Gary & Nick did the Smooth Draws Radio Show show from the Plasencia Cigars Factory in Nicaragua.
A ground-breaker in cigar radio!

Whenever I was around Gary & the Smooth Draws Team, I always had my camera ready, to capture and archive, various cigar & cigar lifestyle photos to have on hand in case we needed them for the show.
This week, during Nicaragua’s #PuroSabor18, some of our friends & #SmoothOperators like Rod Zdebiak & Tomz Cigarz, have been posting fantastic photos of their experience … and I’d think – “that’d be a great shot to include during the #SmoothDraws #CigarHerf” … only to remember that the show I’ve been a part of for over 100 weeks has now changed forever.

Recently a new segment was introduced on the show.  It was called: Legends of the Leaf. It was intended to profile the producers of cigars & such.

I think Gary Laden should be bestowed the honour of the Greatest Legend of the Leaf.
He dedicated his life to cigars and brought great joy to so many.
Truly a legend.
Always Remembered.
Never Forgotten.

Gary Nick Will Chad Susan


“Street Legal. Race Proven”

Capital Ford GT Front and Side
Ford GT. Showroom: Capital Ford. Regina SK #YQR

When I found out that Capital Ford in the prairie city of Regina Saskatchewan, Canada, had one of only a handful of 2017 Ford GT’s in its showroom, I couldn’t wait to see it!
This is the model that won 2016 Le Mans … exactly 50 years after it first won that gruelling 24hr race.
Not only that, it was a crazy good top-ten finish … two GT’s finished in the top 3.
No. 68 crossed the finish line first.
No. 69 crossed the finish line third.
No. 66 crossed the finish line fourth
No. 67 crossed the finish line ninth.

Fort GT Crossing the Finish Line
Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Point of Note: This winning Ford GT has a deep connection to Canada: “First unveiled to the media at Le Mans last year, the Ford GT’s Le Mans victory comes 395 days after the car turned a wheel for the first time on May 20, 2015, at Calabogie Motorsports Park in Canada”

When it won LeMans, the Ford pride was apparent:
“A Herculean effort from the Ford Chip Ganassi team has transformed the car into a Le Mans winner in just over one year”

Photo Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

“This is an historic moment for the Ford Motor Company,” said Bill Ford, executive chairman, Ford Motor Company.
“We dared to dream that we could return to Le Mans, 50 years after the incredible 1966 win, and take on the toughest competition in the world.
The pride we all felt when the Ford GT crossed the line at Le Mans is indescribable.  The team that designed, built and raced the Ford GT has worked tirelessly to bring us to this result and I am proud of each and every one of them.
The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team demonstrated the spirit of Ford, that of innovation, determination and true teamwork.  We cherish our history and heritage, but today we made history again and I couldn’t be more proud.”
– Bill Ford. Executive Chairman – Ford Motor Company

It’s also a big win for the City of Regina (pop: 193,000).
There’s only 2 dealerships in all of Canada that have this car.
Capital Ford, and every other recipient, had to apply for it and then wait for a response.
I can’t even imagine the excitement when the news dropped that Capital Ford would receive one of only a thousand made for the entire world.

Capital Ford GT Full car
Ford GT in the Capital Ford Showroom

The Capital Ford edition hasn’t yet seen the highway.
It’s only been driven from the lot into the showroom.
But wow! What a feeling when you 1st lay eyes on it:

“The Ford GT is the ultimate expression of form following function. Its teardrop-shape body is the result of extensive work in the wind tunnel.
Its carbon-fiber body and its 647 horsepower 3.5L EcoBoost® V6 engine are the ultimate expressions of technological innovation”

Capital Ford GT Front w Sign above
Photo Credit: @ValBradshaw

I asked the friendly salesperson “Why? Apart from LeMans, what is one of the most impactful reasons this car was developed?”

His answer: “To show what an automaker is capable of
… by this he meant – the V6 engine has the same motor as Ford Trucks,  the 3.5 EcoBoost V6 … just tuned a little differently.




Capital Ford GT Michelin Tire
Michelin Tires. Ford GT

As I was taking the photos, I noticed the tires were Michelin.

I asked one of my favourite car guys, Gord, why Michelin was chosen.
His answer: “There’s not very many makers producing tires for cars that can hit the kind of  high speeds the Ford GT is capable of”.

Here’s a couple of links for videos of this amazing car.

Find out why Doug DeMuro thinks it’s worth every penny of its $500,000 USD price:
Doug DeMuro on the Ford GT

No surprise that Jay Leno has a Ford GT in his garage!
Jay Leno’s Garage – Ford GT

Check out the Ford website:
Ford GT

Having a #CigarHerf can be a great team-building experience for any Cigar Clubs that will be visiting a Cigar-Friendly corporation.
I’ve been asked by corporations for suggestions on planning a Cigar Herf for customers to make the best use of Social Media opportunities.
Here’s some guidelines for hosting a corporate event catering to a cigar club.

4 weeks before the event:

1) Secure the email addresses of all attendees. Build a database for now & the future.

2) Once email addresses are secured:

  1. a) Create a unique event hashtag for the ‘herf. Communicate it to the email addresses asap, asking all participants to start using the hashtag on their Social Media Accounts.

As the #CigarHerf organizer, I’d also start searching for that hashtag daily, so I can comment/retweet/repost.

  1. b) Email all the attendees photos of the host’s logo & images of products which they can use to attach to their social media posts. I’d even go so far as to give them “prepared” Tweets, measured into 140 characters. That way the attendees could just copy and paste.

3) Set the Budget for the culinary aspect, as well as all other incidental costs.

4) Secure a caterer or create the menu for food & refreshments. 

Remember to ask the cigar club contact person if any people in their group have dietary restrictions – dairy, gluten, etc. in order to provide culinary options for all attendees.

Ensure plates, knives, forks, spoons, napkins are factored into the budget and purchased in advance of the event.

Are alcohol beverages being considered? It’s always fun to try a combination of beverages as part of the “tasting & pairing” experience with Canadian Whisky, Scotch, Bourbon, Rum or cocktails.
However, keep in mind, the group must have alternate transportation to ensure there’s no drinking & driving.  Rules are getting tighter and it’s very risky for a company to host an event where alcohol is served. Providing a safe ride home must be a consideration.

5) Company Banner booked & confirmed for the meeting room.

** Note: I’d have a photo of every participant in front the the logo’d banner. Ensure the attendees feel like a star when their photo & name appears on the host company’s Twitter / Facebook / Website.

2 Weeks before the event:

1) Do a press release, announcing *Name of Company* is opening their doors to the ‘herf community for a #CigarHerf.

Make it “news” so the cigar bloggers & the Cigar radio shows can add it to their line-up of cigar news & events.

2) Accessory Inventory: 

Determine how many people will be in attendance.

Make sure there is one deep Cigar Ashtray for every 2-4 people.
Ensure you have enough: Lighters. Matches. Cedar Spills. Cutters: Guillotine / V-Cut.
Research Social Media sites for corporate ID’s ie: Boveda. Xikar. Colibri. Canada Humidor … tag them in all your Social Media posts.

Are the participants bringing their own cigars for the event?
Be prepared to have cutters available for every ring gauge, even those big cigars.

3) Buy the Water Bottles in advance.

Now it’s time to: Set the scene / storyboard the end-game.

In what type of room is the herf being held?
Is it classroom style?

Will each participant be sitting with a table in front of them?
If so, create an 8.5 x 11 placemat they can use as a backdrop for photos and to take notes of the cigars they’re smoking & the beverages they’re enjoying.

The placemat would have the Company Logo & images of the products I’d want to be retained in their memories.

Ask the organizer if the visiting group has a logo or a specific identification artwork –  add it to the placement / tasting mat as well.

Is the setting Lounge Style? 

Then I’d be prepared for a very relaxed setting where there’s the chance the host will lose the concentration of the participants very quickly. Keep them interested with enough background information to keep them engaged.
If there’s a guest speaker, have them move through the room to touch-base with every participant.

Day of the Event:

Start with a Tour of the Venue if it’s being held at a corporate location.

1) Participants sign-in sheet at entrance:
Name / email address / Twitter Handle / FB ID / Instagram ID & including a waiver, approving release of any photos that contain their image.

2) 10 minute ( or less ) talk about the company. 10 minutes for Q&A.

3) Cigar Pairing exercise with water / coffee / tea. Ask the attendees “How does each change the impression of the cigar aromas & tastes?”

4) Goody Bag upon exit – preferably with images/logos of the host company.

5) Individual Photos in front of host company Logo’d banner

6) Group photo. Company Logo’d banner / signage visible.


Remember to say Thank You to everyone involved in the success of the event.
Keep notes to ensure “best practices” are retained for future events.

On a final note, always be thinking about the kind of photos the attendees will be taking during the ‘herf. Many of the attendees will be taking photos for their own Social Media accounts. Try to keep natural and indoor lighting considerations in mind so photos don’t have flash reflections off glass windows, etc.

Happy ‘herfing!


It’s the 4th year of Canada’s largest indoor cigar & spirits event in Canada.
“You can’t do this anywhere else in Canada” – Louise Batonyi.
We’re here LIVE at Rocky Mountain Smokeout!
170930 RMS Entrance Sign
It’s a great #Cigar event that brings together #Cigar enthusiasts who travel far & wide to attend the event.
Headliners included:
Alan Rubin from Alec Bradley Cigar

170930 RMS Alan Rubin & Val
Alan Rubin -Alec Bradley Cigars





Nick Melillo from Foundation Cigars made the trek to Kananaskis Country to join in the Rocky Mountain Smokeout. It was great visiting with Nick during the luncheon where we had the chance to chat with the cigar producers.

170930 Nick Melillo & Val RMS
Nick Melillo – FoundationCigars

Steve Ricker from Dominion CigarsSteve-Ricker

Fernando Zacharias from Espinosa Cigars
Fernando Zacarias Espinosa RMS


Rocky Mountain Smokeout is the best #Cigar event you’ll find anywhere in Canada.
The headliners are top-rate and the ambiance is perfect for anyone who enjoys a premium cigar. The entire weekend is filled with masterclasses and pairing events.

Many thanks & acknowledgement to the driving forces behind RMSmokeout which includes Louis Batonyi from Canada Humidor and Jeff Lawrence of Cheap Smokes & Cigars.

There’s hundreds of #Cigar aficionado’s here, including Don Stuike @donthecigardon, Mike Simpson @Mike_W_Simpson, Steven Hyde @kolumbo29 and
James Turner, here with John Reiner @cigarsurgeon.
170930 James & John RMS 2017

Kensington Wine Market has Evan pouring some fantastic drams! KWM is one of the partners, pouring great whisky & spirits like the Berry’s 40yo Blended Scotch Whisky.
170930 Berry's 40yo KWM

Foundation Cigar
Dominion Cigar
Alec Bradley Cigars
Kensington Wine Market
Cheap Smokes and Cigars
Canada Humidor


Robbie Burns: Born: 25th January 1759
He wrote poetry & enjoyed Scotch Whisky until 21st July 1796

Robert Burns: National Poet of Scotland.
In 2009, Robbie Burns was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish TV.
Robbie Burns Day is celebrated worldwide  at the end of January.

Let’s talk Scotch Whisky
Scotland is split into 5 whisky producing regions:
41 Distilleries in the Highlands
50 Distilleries in Speyside
 – which is within the Highlands.
To quote my good friend George Grant of
Glenfarclas Scotch Whisky … every Speyside is a Highland …
but not every Highland is a Speyside.
13 Distilleries in Lowland
best known from this region would be Auchentoshan
03 Distilleries in Campbeltown
they’ve got Springbank.
08 Distilleries in Islay
revered by Peat-heads who seek out the smokey aroma’s & expressions of Islay Scotch Whisky.

 Let’s take a look at a few different Scotch Whisky expressions:

Robbie Burns NAS – No Age Statement
Isle of Arran Single Malt Scotch.
Isle of Arran – 7th largest Scottish Island.
Population 5,000.
American Oak ex-Bourbon casks.
Finished in ex-Sherry hogsheads.
“The Color is described as that: of Ayrshire Sunshine”
“A true drop of Liquid Poetry”

 AnCnoc 12yo
Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Very approachable in both aroma & flavor.
A malt with an excellent price point & taste profile.
Great for people new to whisky & appreciated by experienced drammers.

Balvenie DoubleWood 12yo
Highland Single Malt
Matured in American ex-Bourbon Casks
Finished in Sherry Casks – which can impart more sweetness, dried fruits, depending on the type of Sherry cask.

Why do distilleries choose to mention the different casks used for maturing their whisky?
A lot of the flavour of whisky comes from the oak casks in which it rests until it’s bottled. There’s a big difference in the type of casks used for Scotch Whisky … both in price and in flavour profile.

American Oak used for 1st fill Bourbon Casks are
valued at about $150.00
 impart flavours of light vanilla, coconut and toffee.
French Oak / Barriques are smaller than American casks and are valued at over $1500.00.
French oak has a different grain and imparts vanilla & caramel flavours.

When you consider the price differences in American vs French vs European oak alone, that means the type of cask used will influence not only flavor, but the final price to the consumer.

 Highland Park 18yo
Orkney Single Malt

Highland Park is one of only a handful of distilleries that still retains a traditional malting floor.
Highland Park turns each batch of malt by hand.  It’s a physically demanding, time-consuming process.
Think about it …  shoveling grain. All day.

Highland Park 18yo will have a slight peatiness to it.
Peat is that smoky characteristic sometimes found in Scotch whisky.
The Orkney islands, home of Highland Park, have an abundance of sweet, heathery, peat.
Peat is used to heat the barley so germination can take place, changing the starch to sugars which can be distilled.
Subsequently, the smokiness from the peat imparts a smoky flavor into the liquid.

Lagavulin 16yo
Islay (pro: eye-LAH) Single Malt
Massive smokey – peat aroma & flavours.
Nose: Peat
Palate: Peat
Finish: Peat
Iodine overtones. Brine-iness / Salty.
Meaty and woody-like oak influence.

 So, on January 25 remember to raise a dram to Robbie Burns.
Recite some poetry and enjoy the warmth of fine Scotch Whisky.




When it comes to Thanksgiving Dinner, choosing the wine is actually pretty easy.
I let my guests enjoy 2 wines, a Riesling and a Pinot Noir. Both are very pleasant on the palate and pair well with a variety of foods.
One of the things you want to keep in mind with any food pairing is “sauce”.
You want to pair the wine with whatever sauce is on the table.
There’s usually at least 3 sauces on any Thanksgiving table … gravy, cheese sauce and a sweet & tart Cranberry sauce.

This year, I’m going with a Lingenfelder Riesling. It’s light, refreshing and has the right amount of acidity to take on some of the fatty components of the gravy drizzled over the mashed potatoes, turkey & stuffing … as well as the cheese sauce often used for Brussels Sprouts.
For the red … I picked up a nice Pinot…

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