Commentary: A Good Omen in Fight Against FDA Cigar Rules?

26 Jul 2017

FDA-cigars-large

For the first time in a while, there is reason for real optimism about the fight to overturn the onerous FDA cigar regulations. Living and working in Washington, I’ve learned to take optimistic reports from advocates about forthcoming progress on an issue with a grain of salt, since people often mistake their own enthusiasm and passion for confidence in the impact they are having.

Frequently, a better measure of progress is what those on the other side of the issue are saying and, most critically, doing. That’s why the actions of a group of anti-tobacco organizations this week should give those opposed to the FDA rules some hope.

On Monday, six so-called “public health” organizations filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed by the Cigar Association of America (CAA), International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR), and Cigar Rights of America (CRA) challenging the FDA’s rules that cover cigars.

The cigar groups’ lawsuit, filed in the DC Circuit Court a year ago, challenges the rules on various grounds that the regulations were enacted improperly and exceed the authority granted to the FDA by Congress when it passed the Tobacco Control Act in 2009. A similar lawsuit was filed weeks earlier by cigar-specializing Florida attorney Frank Herrera on behalf of Global Premium Cigars, maker of the the 1502 cigar line.

According to attorneys who have been on both ends of such challenges to agency regulations—both challenging government regulations and defending them on behalf of government agencies—the uphill battle the cigar industry faces in its lawsuits is that courts generally give agencies deference when it comes to exercising rulemaking authority. Under a controversial judicial doctrine known as “Chevron deference” (established in a 1984 Supreme Court decision), judges give administrative agencies a wide berth to interpret the scope of the authority granted to them by Congress.

The reason the anti-tobacco groups motion to intervene can be seen as good news is the groups cite the FDA’s delays and apparent reluctance to defend the rule in court as reasons they should be allowed to become a party in the case. They want to join the lawsuit to defend the rule because they don’t think the new Trump-appointed leadership at the FDA will vigorously do so.

If the FDA does eventually tell the court to hold proceedings while they contemplate new rulemaking to pare back the regulations, suddenly the challenge of administrative deference becomes a strength for cigar groups opposed to the rules. The fact that the Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA the option, but not the obligation, to regulate cigars and other tobacco products (beyond cigarettes and smokeless tobacco) would suddenly be the biggest weapon against anti-tobacco groups seeking to keep the rule in place.

So while Monday’s motion to intervene isn’t proof the FDA is going to reconsider the FDA rule, and ultimately only an act of Congress can provide more definitive protection for the industry against overbearing regulations, it is surely a good sign. Let’s hope theses anti-tobacco zealots are correct, and the FDA is preparing to roll back FDA regulations that threaten the innovation, competition, and creativity that makes handmade cigars so interesting and enjoyable.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Cigar Review: Espinosa 601 La Bomba Warhead 2013

24 Jul 2017

There was a time when the cigars in the EO Brands portfolio—particularly 601 Blue, 601 Red, and 601 Green—were mainstays in my humidors. Back then, Erik Espinosa and Eddie Ortega were still in a partnership, and the 601 line was produced by none other than Don José “Pepin” Garcia at My Father Cigars.

In 2010, Rocky Patel bought a 50% stake in EO Brands, which also owned Cubao, Murcielago, and Mi Barrio. Then, in early 2012, Eddie Ortega announced he was leaving the company and starting his own outfit called Ortega Cigars.

Today, Erik Espinosa operates Espinosa Premium Cigars, which runs out of Espinosa’s La Zona Factory in Estelí. Among his creations is Warhead, a semi-regular, limited edition offshoot of the La Bomba line that replaces La Bomba’s Nicaraguan Habano wrapper with a dark Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper (but maintains La Bomba’s same Nicaraguan binder and filler recipe). To date, there have been three Warhead releases, each made in a single vitola: 2013 (6.5 x 54, 20,000 total cigars), 2014 (5.5 x 56, 20,000 total cigars), and 2016 (7.5 x 38, 5,000 total cigars).

Back in 2013, I paid about $11 apiece for three La Bomba Warheads. This original Warhead is easily differentiated from its successors because the 2014 iteration says “Warhead II” on the foot band, and the 2016 model is a lancero with a green foot band. For some reason, I didn’t touch these cigars for four years but am nonetheless dedicated to recording a review.

Maybe it’s the age, or maybe this is the way Warhead was originally shipped and presented in 2013, but the extra-long pigtail cap fuse has been compressed into the surface of the wrapper. That wrapper, by the way, is dark and rustic with a few large veins. The slightly box-pressed cigar is firm with no soft spots. Once clipped (I used a double guillotine and snipped into the cap removing the entire fuse) the cold draw is moderately firm. At the foot, I find pungent notes of cocoa powder and dark chocolate.

After setting an even light, I am greeted by an initial profile of espresso, black pepper, burnt marshmallow, and leather. The flavor is bold and full-bodied from the get-go, and the texture of the smoke is silky, cool, and moist. After about an inch, the strength mellows slightly and the addition of savory roasted nuts contributes some nice complexity. Thereafter, the taste remains fairly unchanged until the end.

The physical properties are imperfect but not burdensome. Expect a solid gray ash and a mostly well-behaved burn that only requires an occasional touch-up here and there to stay even. My main complaint is the draw. While I had anticipated it might open up after the first third, it remains fairly tight until the end, resulting in below average smoke production.

The four years of rest in my humidor may have taken some of the edge off the strength. Even fresh, however, I suspect Warhead would still be less powerful than the original La Bomba blend by virtue of the replacement of the Nicaraguan Habano wrapper with a Connecticut Broadleaf maduro. Whatever the case, the 2013 incarnation of Warhead is an enjoyable smoke with plenty to offer. But it’s also unlikely to blow anyone away. That’s why, all things considered, I am settling on a score of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Grand Classe (Original Release)

23 Jul 2017

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.”

In 2012, Illusione’s Dion Giolito introduced this cigar as a small batch exclusive to his Fumare store in Reno, Nevada. In 2013, a second La Grand Classe Rex debuted. This year, the cigar is back as an Illusione-branded line in a petit corona format with a Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. Today, I’m smoking my last cigar from an original box of the 2012 release. The un-banded cigars came in a cardboard box with simple stickers for the logo and seal. La Grand Classe 2012 (5.5 x 52, $5.99) features a dark Mexican wrapper with some notable water stains around Nicaraguan tobaccos. The medium- to full-bodied cigar burns flawlessly with charred oak and earthy flavors with ginger and pepper spice. I wasn’t a huge fan of these when they were first introduced, probably in part due to my general aversion to Mexican wrapper leaf, but age has made me appreciate this cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Azan Maduro Natural Campana

22 Jul 2017

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.”

Azan is an old Cuban brand that was revived by Roberto P. Duran and reintroduced in 2013. Today, there are three Azan variations: White, Burgundy, and Maduro Natural. Maduro Natural includes filler tobaccos from Estelí and Jalapa, a Nicaraguan binder, and a dark Ecuadorian Corojo wrapper that reportedly takes over 22 months to process. This Campana (5.5 x 52, $10) had been resting in one of my humidors for about three years (though, with its nearly flawless appearance, I’m not exactly sure how it escaped the flame for so long). Once lit, it exhibits a rich profile of coffee, black pepper, cinnamon, roasted nuts, and cocoa powder. My hesitation in awarding a full recommendation is a result of the temperamental combustion qualities. The draw is tight and the burn line erratic.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Plasencia Makes First IPCPR Appearance, A.J. Fernandez Launches Enclave Broadleaf, and More

21 Jul 2017

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post our sampling of cigar news and other items of interest from the week. Below is our latest, which is the 540th in the series.

1) Not to be lost among the many news items circulating in the wake of last week’s IPCPR Trade Show in Last Vegas was the debut appearance of Plasencia Cigars at the industry’s most important event. Plasencia has long been known as a leading producer of premium cigars—and is currently the largest grower of tobacco in Nicaragua and Honduras—but this is the first time the company participated as an exhibitor at the IPCPR Trade Show. This is also the first time they’ve had their own cigars to showcase. The highlight of the Plasencia booth was the new Alma del Campo, the second of five cigars in the “flagship” Alma Series (the first cigar in the Alma Series, Alma Fuerte, was introduced in New York in 2016). Alma del Campo is a Nicaraguan puro using only Plasencia-grown tobacco with five sizes retailing in the super-premium $13-17 range. Plasencia also introduced the Cosecha Series, a mellower, Honduran-wrapped line with fives sizes selling in the $10-13 range. According to a press release: “Plasencia Cigars was founded in 1865 by Don Eduardo Plasencia when he began growing tobacco in Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Since then, first in Cuba, and subsequently in Nicaragua and Honduras, five generations of the Plasencia family have been growing some of the world’s best tobacco… Today, Plasencia Cigars manufactures more than 40 million handmade cigars per year for many of the world’s top cigar brands, growing tobacco on more than 3,000 acres in several locations throughout Central America. Launched in 2016, Plasencia’s namesake branded cigars are distributed in the United States by Miami-based Plasencia 1865.”

2) Another IPCPR news item we’d like to highlight is the debut of the first A.J. Fernandez cigar to use a broadleaf wrapper. Enclave Broadleaf, as it is called, is the follow-up to the original Enclave blend, which was introduced in 2015 with an Ecuadorian wrapper. In addition to its dark Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Enclave Broadleaf sports Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It will be sold in three vitolas: Churchill (7 x 52, $9.50), Robusto (5 x 52, $8.50), and Toro (6.5 x 54, $9). In addition to making his own cigars, A.J. Fernandez is well known for crafting cigars for other companies; while this is the first broadleaf-wrapped cigar under his own brand, he has used broadleaf in cigars for other companies before.

3) Last week, the Washington Post published a story on Omar de Frias, who left a high-paying job at NASA to chase his dream and start his own cigar company, Fratello Cigars. The story is well worth a read, but so are the comments, which demonstrate the nasty anti-tobacco vitriol which has become so acceptable in today’s society. In a Facebook post about the reaction, Omar de Frias observed: “I laughed at many of these comments, specially at the one guy who wants me to die. Then I thought about how ignorance is probably one of the biggest issues we face as a society and our industry.”

4) Florida Senator Marco Rubio took the opportunity to voice his concerns about the FDA’s premium cigar regulations at an Appropriations Committee hearing regarding a bill for FDA funding. In his statement (audio above), he bemoaned the “extremely adverse and what I hope are unintended consequences” of FDA regulations on premium cigars.

5) From the Archives: People spend a lot of time deciding what cigar to smoke, but probably not enough time deciding which cigar shop to frequent. In this article from 2009, we discuss what to look for in a good cigar shop.

6) Deal of the Week: For today only, here are 100 deals, including cigars from Mi Querida, Ashton, Oliva, My Father, Rocky Patel, Davidoff, Drew Estate, CroMagnon, and more. Free shipping is included on any purchase. If you really want to stock up, add promo code “GBP20D” at checkout to knock $20 off an order of $150 or more.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Plasencia Cigars

Cigar Review: Lost & Found Backdoor Bambi

19 Jul 2017

In 2014, Robert Caldwell, Jaclyn Sears, and Tony Bellatto announced Impromptu, a line of limited release cigars sourced from the aging rooms of various factories. Later, the enterprise would be renamed Lost & Found Cigars.

According to Robert Caldwell: “Over several months I have been traveling all over the world spending a lot of time in the Caribbean and Central America in many tobacco fields and factories. Along the way I stumbled upon certain cigars that really left an impression on me. My friends suggest we share them with our friends and customers. These are very special cigars, made with rare tobaccos that have been aged to a point seldom enjoyed by most of us. I cannot take credit with making these beauties, nor for bringing them to you—just for discovering them.”

As I’ve noted before, the line’s popularity is a testament to the difference marketing can make; after all, someone else couldn’t sell the cigars in a previous form. The well-aged cigars are released in small batches emphasizing their limited availability, under a catchy, off-beat name with corresponding art.

Two recent releases were Suavesito (rolled in 2010) and Backdoor Bambi (5.5 x 46). Rolled in 2008, Backdoor Bambi uses Corojo, Habano, and Negrito tobaccos, but no other details about the blend are disclosed, including where the cigar was made. Unlike Suavesito, which is a new addition to Lost & Found, Backdoor Bambi was one of the first releases back when the enterprise was still called Impromptu. While the original release came in a metal jar, the 2017 edition comes in boxes of 12 with each cigar carrying a suggested price of $12.

The cigar features a leathery medium brown wrapper. Once lit, I find bready spice, dried fruit (think cinnamon raisin bread), plus sweet Cuban coffee.

It’s a medium- to full-bodied cigar with lots of leather and spice, especially towards the second half. Construction is perfect, with an open draw, even burn, and a sturdy gray ash.

Although the price is a bit high, this is a well-made spice-forward smoke that probably has benefited greatly from almost a decade of age. (It’s also far better than the Suavesito.) That earns the Lost & Found Backdoor Bambi a rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Villiger La Flor de Ynclan Churchill

17 Jul 2017

Among the many new cigars introduced at the annual IPCPR Trade Show in Las Vegas last week was La Flor de Ynclan from Villiger Cigars. Actually, in the this case, it’s more accurate to say La Flor de Ynclan was re-introduced; Villiger originally debuted the line, which takes its name from an old Cuban brand, back in 2007.

Ten years ago, a “small batch” of La Flor de Ynclan was crafted by Villiger with unsatisfactory results, leading to a decision to cease production. This 2017 re-introduction, therefore, isn’t merely a second go-around with the same recipe. It has been re-blended by José Matias Maragoto—overseer of all Villiger-made product in the Dominican Republic—to feature an Ecuadorian wrapper, Indonesian binder, and Nicaraguan and Dominican filler tobaccos.

Villiger got it right this time, according to Heinrich Villiger, chairman of Switzerland-based Villiger Soehne AG: “The La Flor de Ynclan cigar has been an ongoing labor of love for us. We feel that there is a difference between a good and great cigar, [and] Matias Maragoto and I hope you feel the same.”

La Flor de Ynclan is handmade at the ABAM Cigar Factory in the Dominican Republic in three formats: Robusto (5 x 50, $11), Torpedo (5 x 52, $12), and Churchill (7 x 48, $12). In addition to the new recipe, each has a redesigned band to maintain branding consistency across the Villiger portfolio (the 2007 La Flor de Ynclan band depicts an enrobed woman posing with two spears and one hand atop a globe).

The Churchill sports a slightly pale wrapper with plenty of tooth, minimal veins, ultra-tight seams, and a few splotches of harmless discoloration. The cigar is moderately firm—and the cold draw is a little stiff—yet the foot shows a cross-section of loosely packed tobaccos. The gentle pre-light aroma is of damp wood and sweet hay.

The draw opens nicely once an even light is established. At the outset, La Flor De Ynclan boasts a mild- to medium-bodied profile of oak, sweet cream, almond, cinnamon, and caramel. The texture is smooth and the smoke is cool. After about half an inch, a wonderful savory flavor of roasted peanut emerges to add depth. Thereafter, the taste remains fairly consistent throughout, save for the additions of white pepper, dried fruit, and hints of cocoa.

Construction is just about perfect. The burn line is straight and true down to the nub with no need for touch-ups along the way. The ash holds incredibly well off the foot, the draw is moderate, and the smoke production is agreeable with a mouth-wateringly sweet aroma.

Clearly, this is not an inexpensive cigar. It’s also not a cigar that’s likely to satisfy if you’re looking for a full-bodied experience. But if you seek a milder smoke with well-balanced complexity and ample nuance, the Churchill from La Flor de Ynclan will not leave you disappointed. I award this Villiger creation a very admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys