Cigar Review: Epicurean Carnavale Lancero

4 May 2015

CarnavaleOn Friday, it was announced that Gary Griffith had stepped down as head of Emilio Cigars, House of Emilio (the distribution arm of Emilio and several other boutique lines), and the Delaware Cigars retail shops. The announcement referred to this development as Griffith’s “retirement,” noting “his legacy will continue through the brands he’s helped, the distribution company he led, and the cigars that he blended.”

One of the brands Griffith “helped” is Epicurean, which is still part of the House of Emilio. “Epicurean Cigars was created under the careful eye of Steven Ysidron with its focus on handcrafted, small-batch salon cigars,” reads the Epicurean website. “Steven started making cigars in the late 1980s with his father and the Fuente family in the Dominican Republic. In 1999, Steven and his family started producing cigars in Nicaragua.”

Epicurean boasts brands like Gonzo Santeria, AG Vintage 2007, AG Azul Vintage 2008, Santeria Mojo, and Gonzo Vintage 2007. Last September, the Plasencia-made Epicurean Carnavale started hitting retailers in 4 sizes that retail for $9-10 apiece. The blend features a Jalapa Habano Oscuro wrapper around American, Honduran, and Nicaraguan tobaccos (including ASP Estelí Ligero, which are some of the most sought-after leaves around).

The box-pressed Carnavale Lancero samples I smoked for this review all had seamless surfaces and only the thinnest veins. The feel is moderate to moderately soft, and a simple V-cut is all that’s needed to establish an easy cold draw. Off the foot, there’s plenty of pre-light sweetness and earth.

Once underway, the initial profile has plenty of oak and dried fruit with lingering cedar spice. From there, coffee takes center stage, while some sweet chocolaty notes add balance. The texture is bready. Black pepper only becomes evident with frequent puffing, especially if smoked through the nose. At the midway point and beyond, there’s ample bitterness, salt, and earth along with rich tastes of espresso and cocoa.

Construction is solid with average smoke production, a stable ash, smooth draw (especially for a Lancero), and a mostly straight burn line that requires only a few touch-ups along the way.

I’d recommend the Epicurean Carnavale Lancero to anyone looking for a medium-bodied, coffee-centric Lancero. While some additional age would likely round off the edges, right out of the gate this cigar is worthy of an admirable rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Quick Smoke: Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie UF-13 Dark

3 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.”

UF-13

The UF-13 comes pre-loaded with the pedigree of its Único Serie predecessors. And the cigar is also beautiful, what with its unique cap and gorgeous Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. Fortunately, I can say with a great degree of certainty that you won’t be disappointed by this $14 smoke—that is, if you can find it. Dark chocolate, charred oak, and fleeting sweet notes characterize the full-bodied profile. And in keeping with the Drew Estate tradition, construction is top-notch.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Dueña Belicoso

2 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.”trinidad-reyes-sq

la-duena-belicoso

I noted last year that although I really enjoyed La Dueña when it was first released, the later iterations didn’t quite hit the mark in the same way. With that in mind, I revisited the cigar this week by smoking the Belicoso size. The Broadleaf-heavy line still features dry chocolate flavors, wood, and black coffee. What’s missing is the sweetness and depth that really made it a standout. Ultimately, this Belicoso version is not as good as I remembered (hard to say if it’s time or just the vitola), but the conclusion is inevitable. In it’s current form it’s a solid smoke but hardly a standout.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 428

1 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.

American Barrel-Aged1) Yesterday Camacho announced American Barrel-Aged, a “complex and intense” cigar with “bourbon barrel-aged Corojo at its heart.” The first release under Camacho’s Master Built Series, the blend is “constructed almost entirely of American-grown tobacco including a Broadleaf wrapper, binder, and filler, along with maduro filler tobacco from Pennsylvania,” reads a press release. “One leaf of the six-year-old, bourbon barrel-aged Corojo tobacco was added to the recipe and is the main component that amplifies the complexity of the blend.” The cigars retail for $10 to $12 apiece and are being supported by a nationwide tour beginning on June 8 in Orlando and ending December 19 in Tampa. Dylan Austin, director of marketing for Davidoff, had this to say about American Barrel-Aged: “This project marks the first time a Camacho core line has been made outside of Honduras and we are extremely proud of what our master builders in the Dominican Republic have brought to life. Barrel aging is a very tedious and hands-on process. We are aging around 2,000 pounds of Corojo filler tobacco and rotating the barrels one leaf at a time every few weeks. Each batch takes a full five months to complete and requires constant attention to ensure the proper journey for this special tobacco.”

2) La Flor Dominicana has announced its 2015 Tobacconist Association of America (TAA) Exclusive Series. The TAA 47 (5.5 x 52) will begin shipping to TAA retailers in late May in 25-count boxes with an MSRP of $9. The Dominican-made blend includes an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, Nicaraguan binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. You can find the list of TAA retailers here.

3) Legislation introduced by four Democrat senators would raise federal taxes on all tobacco products. The so-called “Tobacco Tax and Enforcement Reform Act” purports to, among other things, fight tobacco smuggling by raising the federal tax on cigarettes from $1.01 per pack to $1.95 per pack. For other tobacco products, including cigars, the bill would “set tax rates… at an equivalent amount,” presumably increasing federal taxes by 94%.

4) Inside the Industry: Rocky Patel’s The Edge brand was first introduced in 2004, and the new Edge A-10 celebrates the line’s tenth anniversary (the delayed release was supposed to debut in 2014). The dual barberpole-style Honduran and Costa Rican wrappers are the same wrappers used on the original Edge Corojo and Edge Maduro. The cigar also has a Honduran binder and Nicaraguan and Panamanian filler.

5) Deal of the Week: This “five great cigars” sampler features, you guessed it, five excellent cigars for just $26. Included are the Kristoff Galerones DR4 Toro, Curivari Gran Rey Belicoso, PDR 1878 Habano Robusto, Avo Classic Robusto, and the Asylum 13 Robusto.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Camacho

Cigar Review: Casa Fernandez Aganorsa Leaf Maduro Délire

30 Apr 2015

casa-fernandez-aganorsa-maduroFirst, a confession. These cigars were in my humidor far longer than I intended. Two Délires were included in a package I received from Casa Fernandez last fall. They got misplaced in my humidor, and I only came across them the other day.

Relieved to have finally found the cigars and eager to give them a try, I lit one up almost immediately.

Going into it, I had some reservations. First, I’m not a big maduro fan, though I do enjoy some of them occasionally. Second, and significantly more important, I’m more than “not a fan” of the Mexican San Andrés wrapper, though, again, there are exceptions.

So, how’d it do? Well, at the start I was a bit concerned. There was a back-of-the-throat sharpness that wasn’t particularly pleasant. But that disappeared within, literally, a few puffs and it was smooth smoking thereafter, particularly as this proved to be one of the San Andrés exceptions. I found none of the disagreeable dirt taste I frequently associate with this leaf.

What I did find was a lot of flavor in the aged Aganorsa tobacco that serves as filler and binder. The Délire is a complex smoke with tastes of burned coffee, sweet black cherry, wood, and leather. I also found the typical maduro sweetness weaving in and out along the way.

Strength was, for me, certainly enough to make an impression but not at all overpowering. Obviously, I can’t say what, if any, impact months in the humidor had, but my guess is that it wasn’t significant.

Construction for the Miami-rolled, lightly-pressed toro was excellent, with an even, slow burn and a tight ash. The draw was near perfect in each of the two samples.

The 6.5-inch, 50-ring gauge Délire (French for “delirium” or “frenzy”) is one of four vitolas in the line and has a more than reasonable MSRP of $8.90. They come packaged in boxes of 15.

I recommend you try this cigar, whatever your general preference. I think you’ll find it a highly engaging and satisfying smoke. I give it a solid four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: San Lotano The Bull Robusto

29 Apr 2015

Not long after The Bull was released nationwide, my colleague reviewed this cigar and awarded it a four-stogie rating. Flash forward to about a week ago, when I found a stash of Robustos in my humidor, each begging to be smoked from beneath yellowed cellophane.

San Lotano The BullThe Bull was originally distributed by the parent company of Cigars International, but last spring was joined by the rest of the San Lotano lines offered through A.J. Fernandez’s regular distribution channels. It’s marketed as a bolder (and more expensive) alternative to the popular San Lotano blends.

The Bull features an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper around Nicaraguan tobaccos that were grown on A.J. Fernandez’s farms. Four box-pressed sizes are available: Toro (6 x 54), Torpedo (6.5 x 54), Gordo (6 x 60), and Robusto (5 x 54).

The latter retails for about $10 and sports a dark, velvety exterior with thin veins beneath a cedar sleeve. Each of my three samples had a few bumps and tears in the wrapper, which is frankly a little annoying given the premium price tag. The pre-light notes remind me of sweet milk chocolate an oak.

On the palate, The Bull Robusto is full-bodied from the get-go with notes of espresso bean, black pepper spice, and a sensation I can only describe as Nicaraguan zing. The texture is thick and leathery. Ligero strength is evident, as is a taste of sweet cream that helps offset the dark, rich flavors in the foreground.

In my colleague’s review from April 2014, he wrote, “The Bull lives up to its billing as a more powerful smoke, while maintaining an inviting, smooth balance.” I wholeheartedly agree. While the Robusto is bold in taste and strength, the cigar is nevertheless approachable. Credit its balance. As The Bull progresses, tastes of cream, peanut, and sweet cedar prevent the profile from becoming too one-sided.

True to the A.J. Fernandez reputation, I have no qualms with this cigar’s combustion qualities. It burns like a champ and smokes like a chimney. Expect a straight burn line, solid ash, clear draw, and above-average smoke production.

Yes, by most standards $10 is a considerable sum for a five-inch stick. But if you crave flavor, strength, and also balance, The Bull Robusto is worth every penny. I concur with my colleague in awarding it four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Five Best Buy Bourbons for the Kentucky Derby, or Any Day

28 Apr 2015

best-buy-bourbons

The Kentucky Derby is as close to a bourbon holiday as we have in America. So if you’re thinking of running to the liquor store to pick up some bourbon for the Run for the Roses, here are five best-buy bourbons, plus some honorable mentions worth consideration.

What do I mean by a best buy? I mean bourbons that over-perform their retail price and aren’t overly difficult to find. While you wouldn’t find a $200 bottle of bourbon on this list, Elmer T. Lee ($32), Pappy Van Winkle 15 ($80), or George T. Stagg ($80) would all make this list if you could easily find find them at suggested retail price. (Elmer T. Lee has been missing from most shelves for around six months at least, and Pappy and George T. Stagg have been highly allocated for years and regularly sell for many times their retail price.)

So without further ado, here are five best buy bourbons that provide good bang for the buck.

Old Grand Dad 114 – Costing barely more than $20, this is a connoisseur’s bourbon at nearly bottom-shelf prices. It features intense flavors, high proof, complex wood, and sweetness. (FYI: Old Grand Dad 114 is essentially a less diluted version of the 80-proof Basil Hayden, which sells for double). My only hesitation with putting it on this list is that sooner or later enough people will discover what a gem this OGD114 is and it will become overly difficult to find.

Weller 107 – Two or three years ago, Weller 12 ($30) would take this spot, but now people are buying every bottle they come across at retail price. This 107-proof “Weller Antique” is itself quickly becoming a little harder to find, but at $25-30 it remains a quality example of the slightly sweeter stye of wheated bourbon that makes people drool when it’s in a bottle with the words Van Winkle on it.

Buffalo Trace – It’s not a small batch or single barrel, nor does it carry an age statement guaranteeing a certain number of years in the barrel, but the eponymous bourbon of the famed Buffalo Trace Distillery delivers the goods. Vanilla, toffee, wood, and fruit make it pleasant neat, and the price ($25) makes it easy to pour into a cocktail.

Booker’s – I’ve noted before that Booker’s ($50-60) is a bit underrated, and I stand by it. Brash vanilla and wood mean it isn’t for beginners, but it is dangerously tasty and, best of all, available at almost every decent liquor store or bar with more than a handful of bourbon offerings.

Four Roses Private Barrel Selection – The entire Four Roses line is excellent (even the standard Yellow Label) but the Private Barrel Selections ($50-70) are truly world class. Because each barrel is a store pick, this is a bit tougher to find, but fortunately it isn’t impossible yet. Each of Four Roses’ ten recipes takes on its own character, but none that I’ve come across have disappointed.

Honorable Mentions: Old Forester, Very Old Barton, Jim Beam Black 8 Year, Bulleit, Eagle Rare 10 Year, Blanton’s.

For more excellent bourbons, see my lists of Five Good Bourbons Under $30 and Five Good Value Bourbons Under $20.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys