News: Bipartisan Congressional Bill Would Raise Minimum Age for Tobacco to 21

22 May 2019


If you need a reminder that anti-tobacco efforts are often a bipartisan affair, look no further than legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA). The bill would raise the nationwide age for purchasing tobacco to 21.

The federal minimum age for purchasing tobacco products is 18, although state and local governments can set the minimum age higher (14 states have set the age at 21, along with 470 municipalities). Obviously, raising the minimum age above 18 raises questions about why adults who can vote and serve in the military cannot choose whether or not to enjoy a cigar.

The issue of members of the military who are under 21, even if they are deployed overseas, being banned from choosing use tobacco products was previously a hold-up in the proposed legislation. While originally McConnell expressed reservations about such a law applying to service members, he seems to have relented.

The largest cigarette company, Altria, has backed legislation raising the minimum age for tobacco purchases to 21. Notably, both McConnell and Kaine ares senators from states traditionally known for growing cigarette tobacco.


In a political climate that increasingly purports to respect tolerance of personal choice, the double-standard when it comes to tobacco and adults is glaring. As many have observed before, there is no way to reconcile giving 18-year-olds the right to vote and the right (and, theoretically, through draft registration, the obligation) to serve in the military, but not the ability to choose whether or not to enjoy tobacco products.

Although tobacco companies may back the legislation, there is little reason to think that nationalizing the “T21” movement was spreading to all 50 states. Further, to the extent T21 was spreading, it wasn’t likely to be extended anytime soon beyond age 21, which is also when the law limits adults from purchasing alcohol.

Ultimately, given the profile of most purchasers of handmade cigars, raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco is unlikely to have a significant effect on cigar-specific retailers, despite the obvious aforementioned hypocrisy of simultaneously permitting 18-year-olds to both vote and serve in the military. That said, there is the possibility that raising the age for the purchase of tobacco to 21 could slow down efforts to regulate tobacco by the FDA.

As the Tobacco Control Act (which gives the FDA the authority to regulate premium cigars) specifically refers to limiting tobacco usage by minors under the age of 18, there is an argument that a federal tobacco age changed to 21 should result in a reset of FDA regulations. Specifically, for handmade cigars (which were always less likely to be used by minors) there is even less logic for the FDA to regulate cigars on the grounds that it is necessary to prevent youth usage if all tobacco is illegal for those under 21.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Cigar Review: The Wise Man Maduro Churchill

20 May 2019

It’s a distant memory, but I can recall a few things about the 2015 IPCPR Trade Show. The suffocating heat outside on The Strip. The first convention where a sense of FDA foreboding permeated seemingly every conversation. The sheer volume of exhibiting cigar makers, which seemed notably more numerous than previous years. And the buzz surrounding new cigars coming to market from former Drew Estate tobacco men Steve Saka and Nicholas Melillo.

You may recall Melillo, who formerly served as executive vice president of international operations at Drew Estate, announced the formation of the Foundation Cigar Co. shortly before the 2015 convention. Leading up to the convention, we knew his first solo outfit would be headquartered in his native Connecticut, and the first blend would be made at the TABSA (Tobaccos Valle de Jalapa) factory in Nicaragua, using Aganorsa tobacco. But so much remained a mystery.

The mystery was eventually unveiled as El Güegüense—also known as “The Wise Man”—which is a Nicaraguan puro with a Corojo ’99 wrapper from Jalapa that’s described as “rosado rosado café.” There are five vitolas: Robusto, Toro, Torpedo, Corona Gorda, and Chuchill.

Two years later, in 2017, Melillo introduced the predictable second act to El Güegüense: The Wise Man Maduro. I am sure many were relieved to see the challenging El Güegüense (gwe-gwen-se) name dropped in favor of the English translation. Many more were excited to see how Melillo would adapt the successful El Güegüense blend into a maduro format.

The Wise Man Maduro sports a Mexican San Andrés wrapper around Nicaraguan tobaccos from the three primary growing regions: Condega, Estelí, and Jalapa. “I was looking to create a line extension with a whole different level of complexity and the San Andrés wrapper brings just that,” writes Melillo at the Foundation Cigar Co. website. “I have always been drawn to San Andrés, Mexico, and have been buying tobacco there since 2003. The wrapper is one of my favorites, not to mention one of the oldest seed varieties in the world, which predates even Cuban seed. The combination of this unique capa and Nicaraguan fillers makes for an amazingly flavorful smoke.”

There are five sizes available: Torpedo (6.25 x 52), Toro Huaco (6 x 56), Robusto (5.5 x 50), Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46), and Churchill (7 x 48). The latter vitola—of which I smoked three for this review—sports a dry, toothy wrapper with thin veins. The band is very similar to the one found on El Güegüense, except the background color is maroon, not blue. At the foot, I find a mouth-watering pre-light aroma of cocoa and a cross-section of loosely packed tobaccos.

Despite the relative sponginess of the Churchill, the cold draw is actually moderately resistant. It opens nicely, though, once the cigar is lit and underway. The flavors include a complex plethora of baking spices, cocoa powder, espresso, and white pepper. The finish is dry cedar with a hint of cayenne heat. The resting smoke is a delightful blend of cinnamon and cashew.

Critics of San Andrés cigars often cite the tobacco’s tendencies toward “dirt” or “grit.” I know what they mean. That said, the way the wrapper leaf is fermented and blended with other tobaccos impacts the flavor it imparts. Here, Melillo did a fantastic job getting a rich earthiness from the wrapper while avoiding some of the typical San Andrés pitfalls.

Kudos are also in order to TABSA, the factory that crafts this well-made blend. All three of my samples exhibited good combustion qualities. Expect a sturdy gray ash, a straight burn, and average smoke production.

I paid $11 apiece for my Churchills—not an unfair price for a cigar of this complexity and quality. All told, my first experience with The Wise Man Maduro is worthy of an exemplary rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: 601 Red Label Habano Robusto

19 May 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

The entire 601 line has gone through many twists and turns over the years—from new distributors and new packaging, to the migration away from Don José “Pepin” Garcia as cigar maker. The current iteration, while hard to compare to the original Pepin-made cigars, is definitely better than some of the previous post-Pepin 601 Red Labels I’ve smoked. It features red pepper spice, leather, and woody notes. The medium- to full-bodied smoke is well-constructed, enjoyable, and reasonably priced (around $7).

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Gran Habano Cabinet Selection Robusto

17 May 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

I found this cigar deep in my humidor and have no idea when or where I got it. An internet check appears to show that the line is no longer in production, though I wouldn’t be surprised if a few remain on retailers’ shelves. It’s a Nicaraguan puro with a light brown Corojo wrapper in a mild press. It started with an earthiness that soon gives way to a medicinal/mineral taste that’s not particularly pleasant. Strength was medium at most, and there was little of the pepper and spice typical of so much Nicaraguan tobacco. The draw and smoke production were fine, but the burn required several touch-ups. Not one to seek out.

Verdict = Sell.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Todos Las Dias Robusto

15 May 2019

When Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust’s first line, Sobremesa, was announced in July 2015, many were anticipating a full-bodied follow-up from the man who put Drew Estate’s premium cigar business on the map. But Steve Saka didn’t want to give us another Liga Privada No. 9; instead, he gave us something balanced, complex, creamy, and relatively light on spice.

Flash forward to August 2017. Dunbarton’s third line is shipping to the U.S. The buzz is, Todos Las Dias (yes, it’s supposed to be Todos Los Dias, but we’ll leave that story for another time) is Saka’s strongest cigar to date.

“Todos Las Dias is my personal Spanglish translation meaning ‘All the Days,’” writes Saka on Dunbarton’s website. “The workers at Joya de Nicaragua often cringe at my casual butchering of their mother tongue, but in my opinion cigars are far more than a grammar lesson to abide, they are the physical manifestation of a feeling and of an experience. Todos Las Dias embodies the classic bold flavors that represent the heart of their soil’s peppery tobaccos and the labor of their always working hands. For me, this spicy Nicaraguan puro reflects no pretentious airs or any of that ‘notes of pencil lead with a hint of fennel’ nonsense. It is an honest, hardworking cigar intended to be smoked by men who know what it means to be a cigar smoker and never give a damn about what others think.”

The Todos Las Dias recipe calls for a Cuban-seed, sun-grown wrapper around tobaccos from Jalapa and Estelí. Originally, there were four sizes: Toro (6 x 52), Double Wide Belicoso (4.75 x 60), Half Churchill (4.75 x 48), and Robusto (5 x 52). Later, in 2018, a Thick Lonsdale “Mas Fuerte” (6 x 46) was added.

I smoked three Robustos for this review. This vitola retails for $11.45 and, like its brethren, sports dual bands of silver and black. The moderately firm, oily cigar boasts many marks of quality, including a well-executed cap, a tight cross-section of tobaccos at the foot, and a clean surface. That said, one of my samples (the one pictured above and at right) had a wrapper patch job just under the “L” in the primary band.

Once lit, pre-light notes of green raisin and cocoa give way to a bold, full-bodied profile of charred wood, black pepper, and espresso. While the introductory flavor may be straightforward and somewhat brutish, the resting smoke is a mouth-watering aroma of cream, sweetness, and nuts.

After the first half-inch or so, the body and spice pull back a bit. Here, the Robusto is still squarely in the upper reaches of strength and body, mind you, but there’s a little room for some nuance to shine through. I notice cocoa powder, dried fruit, and dry oak. The texture is leathery and palate-coating. The cigar remains in this state until the final puff. Throughout, the combustion qualities are excellent, including a solid white ash, smooth draw, straight burn, and voluminous, dense smoke production.

If you ever get the opportunity to speak with Steve Saka at one of his many in-store events, I highly suggest you take advantage. He has one of the world’s great tobacco minds. At some point, you may hear him say, “If you try to make a cigar everyone will like, you’ll end up with a cigar no one will love.”

Saka has been at the helm of many cigars I love. Top of that list is perhaps the Sobremesa Cervantes Fino. In the case of the Todos Las Dias Robusto, I like the cigar—but I don’t love it. While I can see myself firing it up on occasion after a heavy meal with a stiff drink, its strength, power, and body are too much for me for an “All the Days” cigar. That’s ultimately why I’m settling on a score of three and a half stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Four Roses Small Batch Select

13 May 2019

We’re in a golden age of bourbon, with more choices than ever before (including many craft distilleries coming online). But most bourbon still comes from a handful of companies and distilleries. Big operations like Jim Beam (Clermont, Boston, Maker’s Mark), Sazerac (Buffalo Trace and Barton’s), Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, Brown Forman (Shively and Woodfor Reserve), and Four Roses still produce over 90 percent of bourbon sold.

Compared to the others, Four Roses has always had a rather limited lineup of regular offerings: the entry-level Yellow Label, along with Small Batch and Single Barrel. Beyond those, the only Four Roses you would find are annual limited edition releases and private barrel selections released as one-offs. (The other Four Roses distillate you’d regularly encounter is Bulleit bourbon, which was for many years contract-distilled for its owner by Four Roses.)

All that makes a new Four Roses regular offering a particularly noteworthy and anticipated event. Predictably, that new offering, Small Batch Select, is Four Roses’ most expensive to date (Yellow Label costs around $20 per bottle, Small Batch around $35, and Single Barrel around $45; Small Batch Select costs $55-60).

One of the unique aspects of Four Roses is that it produces eight different bourbon “recipes” with two different yeast strains and four unique mashbills (all of which are employed in the Yellow Label offering). Small Batch uses four recipes, but the new Small Batch Select uses six (two of which are used in both). The mingling of six- and seven-year-old bourbons is then bottled without chill filtration at 104 proof.

The deep copper-colored bourbon features an inviting nose with vanilla, toffee, black cherries, orange peel, and mint. On the palate flavors include burnt caramel, light floral notes, boiled peanuts, candied fruit, bubble gum, and black pepper spice. The finish is rich and long, with cinnamon, salted caramel, and light oak.

It’s a delicious bourbon, one of the best new non-limited offerings put out in the last year. Hopefully they’ve made enough. Small Batch Select was recently introduced in Kentucky, New York, California, Texas, and Georgia, though reportedly the rest of the country will be getting some soon.

With complex, full flavors, you’ll want to pair this bourbon with a similarly rich, integrated cigar. Here are a few cigars that fit the bill: La Flor Dominicana Limitado, Paul Garmirian 25th Anniversary, Ramón Allones Specially Selected, and Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Flor Dominicana “Event Only 2018”

12 May 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

I purchased this cigar, labeled “Event Only 2018,” for $9 at a local shop. Details about this highly limited offering are not known, though I expect there’s lots of Dominican filler from LFD’s La Canela farm. The thick toro, with a nipple-shaped head, is a full-bodied, balanced cigar. It opens up with dried fruit notes followed by spice, leather, and brown bread, and finishes with oak and red pepper spice. Well-constructed, flavorful, balanced… it checks all the boxes for a favorable recommendation.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys