Quick Smoke: Drew Estate Nica Rustica El Brujito

23 May 2015

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Nica Rustica

As we reported yesterday, Drew Estate has announced a new Nica Rustica size called Belly (7.5 x 54, $7.95) that will be available nationally in September. For now, the only size in the blend is El Brujito (6 x 52), a toro that boasts a rich, full-bodied profile of black pepper, coffee, and leather with some vegetal notes and excellent construction. This Connecticut Broadleaf-wrapped smoke is an excellent way to help satiate that Liga No. 9 craving at a fraction of the price. Of course, Nica Rustica isn’t quite the cigar Liga No. 9 is, but it’s nice to get some similar flavors and textures without worrying about cost or scarcity.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 431

22 May 2015

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post a mixed bag of quick cigar news and other items of interest. Below is our latest Friday Sampler.

Fratello1) Omar de Frias’ Fratello Cigars has announced a new blend called Bianco. The four-vitola line will feature a San Andrés Negro Wrapper, Dominican Binder, and filler tobaccos from Pennsylvania, Nicaragua, and Peru. “We wanted a richer, darker, and a fuller body smoke that would be smooth, complex, and characteristic of our full flavor cigars,” said de Frias in a press release. Bianco cigars will sell in the $8-9 range and be packaged in 20-count boxes. This is the first line to come out of Fratello since the inaugural blend debuted in 2013.

2) Drew Estate announced Wednesday it would be launching the new Nica Rustica “Belly” (7.5 x 54) at a release event at the Louisville Water Tower Park on July 30. The belicoso will sell for $7.95 and begin shipping nationally in September. As with the rest of the cigars in the Nica Rustica line, Belly will feature a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, San Andrés binder, and filler tobaccos from Estelí and Jalapa.

3) Craft rum maker Papa’s Pilar is launching a cigar “co-pack” to select retailers in Florida in celebration of Father’s Day. The gift package includes a reusable cigar humidification tube, a Sosa Classic Natural cigar, and a 750 ml. bottle of Papa’s Pilar Dark (reviewed by us here). Papa’s Pilar Rums are hand-selected from ports-of-call in the Caribbean, Central America, and the U.S. for their age, character, and maturity, and then solera-aged and blended in a unique process using American oak bourbon barrels, port wine casks, and finishing in Spanish sherry casks.

4) Inside the Industry: Gran Habano announced the first official release from the Private Humidor Selection by George Rico. The series represents aged cigars the company says come from George’s private reserve, a cache of 30,000 cigars going back to 2003. The first release, called MLG, is a lancero (7.5 x 38) from a run produced in 2007 and 2008. Only 100 boxes of the $10 cigar will be sold at select retailers in California, Hawaii, and Texas.

5) Deal of the Week: Here’s a no-brainer deal for Avo Classic fans. Buy any box of 20 or 25 cigars (starting at $120) and get a bonus 10-pack of the Avo Classic No. 2.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Fratello Cigars

Cigar Review: J. Grotto Silk Lancero

21 May 2015

j-grotto-silk-lanceroJ. Grotto, a Rhode Island-based cigar brand, makes two lanceros. Two years ago I wrote about the J. Grotto Reserve Lancero. Today I examine the newer J. Grotto Silk Lancero. (The company has four lines, oldest to newest: J. Grotto, J. Grotto Reserve, J. Grotto Silk, and J. Grotto Anniversary Maduro.)

Paul Joyal, the man behind J. Grotto and Ocean State Cigars, says he came up with the name Silk after seeing the wrapper, and its hard not to see why. The Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, reportedly aged three years, is smooth, almost vein-free, and medium brown with a lot of sheen.

Beneath the wrapper are double binders—Indonesian and Criollo ’98 tobaccos—that surround filler sourced from Trojes in Honduras and Jalapa in Nicaragua. I smoked four of the Lanceros (7.5 x 40), which come in boxes of 10 and have a suggested retail price of $7.99.

Off the bat, the J. Grotto Silk Lancero features a mild- to medium-bodied combination of cream and cedar, along with hints of wood and pepper spice. As it develops, the flavors intensify, but the basic formula (cedar and cream with a slight spice) remains dominant.

I waited a while to smoke these because they seemed very soft to the touch when hey first arrived. Ultimately, that didn’t change much after a few months, but it didn’t impact the construction, which was flawless with a razor-straight burn—an impressive achievement given the notably finicky lancero size.

I’ve never seen the J. Grotto Silk Lancero, or even any J. Grotto cigars for sale at a cigar shop I’ve visited, and I suspect that’s true for many readers of this review, too. That’s a shame. The J. Grotto Silk Lancero is an impressive, well-constructed smoke that sells for a reasonable price. Those characteristics earn it a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Aurora 1495 Robusto

20 May 2015

The premium cigar industry’s annual trade show is just around the corner, and that means we’ll all soon be bombarded with a bevy of new releases, marketing hype, and dozens of cigars claiming to be the next best thing. Earlier this week, my colleague penned a thoughtful piece about keeping things in perspective this time of year. For me, it was a reminder to revisit some old favorites before the mad rush to sample and size-up the many new blends.

La Aurora 1495 RobustoThat same colleague also recently reviewed the Churchill vitola from La Aurora 1495, a blend that’s been around seemingly forever. It prompted me to dig through my stash, where I was pleased to discover a five-pack of 1495 Robustos that had been aging for at least a year (probably more like three to four years). In the spirit of revisiting old favorites, I decided a review was in order.

By way of background, La Aurora 1495 commemorates the founding of the city of Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic (no, the oldest cigar maker on the island hasn’t been crafting cigars for 520 years—more like 112 years). “Made from six different types of tobacco, Aurora 1495 is ideal for connoisseurs who prefer a medium- to full-bodied smoke that combines a variety of aromas and offers a flavor of incredible complexity and richness,” according to La Aurora’s website. It boasts an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper around a Dominican Corojo binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua, Peru, and the Dominican Republic.

The 1495 Robusto (5 x 50) can be found for about $3-4 when bought by the box of 25, or about $5 when bought as a single. Despite those prices, in no way does this cigar look cheap once out of the cellophane. The dark, mottled, sun-grown wrapper has a tremendous oily sheen and great texture. The feel is consistently firm, and the pre-light notes remind me of raisin and cocoa.

The flavor starts with black pepper, leather, and tea, buoyed by a core of natural tobacco and a medium dose of Ligero strength with some spice on the aftertaste. Smoke production is slightly above average. After an inch, the spice calms a bit to make way for oak and a creamy sweetness, both of which add balance. At times some bitterness creeps in. The finale witnesses a return to spice.

The physical properties are befitting a cigar from La Aurora. Expect an even burn, solid gray ash, and smooth draw. I found these characteristics to be consistent across all of my samples.

La Aurora’s 1495 Robusto isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it offers a well-balanced, classic profile with medium strength and enough changes along the way to hold your interest. Keep it in mind if you’re looking for a respectable, cost-effective smoke. It earns three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar News: Proposed Pennsylvania Cigar Tax Hike Could Have Nationwide Impact

19 May 2015

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Pennsylvania holds unique influence in the premium cigar industry. Not because cigar tobacco is grown in the state; a small amount is, but not nearly as much as Connecticut. Nor is it because some cigar makers are there; there are many more based in Florida.

What makes Pennsylvania such an important state in the American cigar industry is taxes. Or, more specifically, the lack of cigar taxes.

Along with Florida, Pennsylvania is the only state with no state excise tax on cigars (PDF). But in the budget submitted by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf for fiscal year 2015-2016, cigars would be taxed at a rate of 40% of wholesale value.

This would be a huge hit to the Pennsylvania cigar industry that has grown because of the lack of cigar-specific taxes. (The companies, its employees, and owners, of course, pay plenty of other taxes to the state because of the jobs cigar retailers provide.) Many of the largest online and catalog retailers, including Cigars International (including Cigar.com and Cigarbid.com), Famous Smoke Shop (including its Cigar Auctioneer site), Holt’s, and Atlantic Cigar, have grown in the state for that reason.

While the Republican-controlled state legislature makes adoption of the proposed budget in its entirety unlikely, there is still a chance the tax, or perhaps a lower “compromise” tax, on cigars and other tobacco products could be included in the budget. That threat is significant enough that the IPCPR issued an Action Alert on the issue late last week.

Cigar smokers in the state can contact their state legislators using the IPCPR form.

Analysis

Pennsylvania’s zero tax rate on handmade cigars has made it a magnet for cigar retailers. This has in turn impacted the way cigars are sold and taxed in other states in ways that benefit both retailers and consumers.

The low prices often charged by Pennsylvania (and Florida) retailers who don’t have to pay taxes benefit consumers everywhere by creating pressure on all retailers to keep their prices as competitive as possible. Of course, buying a cigar online means losing out on the personal touch and sense of community that only a brick-and-mortar store can provide. Even so, the competition can make cigars bought in shops more affordable (they don’t want to lose your business to an online operation) even if the prices don’t line up exactly with the sometimes lower price a high-volume online operation can charge.

While local retailers may sometimes resent the competition from online discounters, the truth is they too benefit greatly from lower tax rates elsewhere. Far too often legislators turn to tobacco as an easy target for raising revenue. The simple economics of higher taxes driving purchases to untaxed retailers in other states, however, can undermine the revenue-raising potential of higher taxes on cigars.

In other words, even if you only purchase your cigars from your local cigar shops, increased tax rates in Pennsylvania will, over time, make your cigars more expensive. For that reason, all American cigar smokers should be worried about efforts to raise cigar tax rates in the Keystone State.

Patrick S

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Tip: Don’t Get Slammed on the New-Release Treadmill

18 May 2015

Cigar Shop

One of the great things about cigars is the incredible choice available. Unfortunately, it’s one of the not-so-great things as well.

Every day seems to bring news of a new release, a limited edition, a store special—or, more likely, several of each. One email I received recently touted five new limited cigars. As we approach the annual summer trade show, the stream of new announcements will almost certainly become a flood.

A dedicated cigar lover could go crazy, and broke, trying to keep up.

I suggest you don’t. Go crazy or broke, that is.

Now, I’m not recommending you forgo new cigars. Far from it. I’m just advocating a little thought and preparation to maximize the enjoyment potential of the purchases you do make.

First, remember that selling cigars is not like selling most other consumables. The premium cigar market is small and barely growing, if at all. A large percentage of cigar smokers have only a handful of sticks a week and rarely venture beyond a few brands.

Two companies—Altadis and General—dominate the market; add in a few other big players like Padrón, Fuente, and Rocky Patel, and you see why smaller manufacturers face a tough battle. They’re fighting for a thin slice of a not-so-big pie.

For many of those small manufacturers, social media has had a huge impact. Even though the cigar digerati is a relatively small subset of the market, it’s a vocal and influential component. Generating buzz and producing the next hot stick can make the difference between being a success and an also-ran. All of which leads to more releases, more limited editions, more store exclusives, and on and on.

Here are three thoughts to help you evaluate your purchases:

1) Pay attention to the manufacturers you really like. As any regular StogieGuys.com reader knows, I am a big fan of Aging Room cigars. Their blends just about always appeal to my taste. I’ve even gone so far as to violate a basic rule of cigar purchases by buying a box of a new offering before I’d tried one. Other favorites, like Fuente and My Father, also always get a close look from me.

2) Pay attention to tobaccos. Think about those you like and those you don’t. This can be tricky, I’ll be the first to admit. For example, I generally dislike San Andrés. But there are some using it, like E.P. Carrillo’s La Historia, that I think are terrific. Still, given the choice between a new smoke featuring that Mexican leaf and one that doesn’t, I’ll usually pick the cigar without it. Similarly, recognizing tobaccos you usually enjoy can be a deciding factor.

3) Look at the manufacturer’s output. Some companies put out so many new cigars, it is difficult to believe they all can be special. On the other hand, when someone like Padrón puts a new smoke on the market, it is worthy of special notice.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

Quick Smoke: Avo 2nd Movement

17 May 2015

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Avo’s 2nd Movement is an intriguing combination of some typical Davidoff elements such as a mushroom and grassy flavors with a shade of spice and coffee. The Ecuadorian wrapper is dark and virtually perfect. At 6.25 inches long with a ring gauge of 47, the $11 price tag seems reasonable for the 2014 limited release (1,500 boxes of 20). It’s a fine smoke, though I wouldn’t call it a standout like my favorite Avos. Nonetheless, if you’re an Avo fan, it’s well worth picking up.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: N/A