News: Thirteen Premium Cigars Gain FDA Grandfather Status, Study Shows Youth Aren’t Smoking Handmade Cigars

26 Apr 2017


Although no one knew it at the time, one of most important dates for cigars sold within the United States would be February 15, 2007. Under the Tobacco Control Act and subsequent rulemaking, cigars marketed before that date are grandfathered in as exempt from FDA regulations, while those introduced afterwards will eventually need FDA approval to be legally sold and marketed within the U.S.

Although a determination of grandfather status isn’t yet needed for a cigar to be sold without going through one of the FDA approval tracks, the FDA has begun accepting submissions requesting a grandfathered status review of a tobacco product regulated under the deeming regulations that went into effect last year. Earlier this month, the FDA issued the first such determinations for 13 handmade cigars.

Two companies had cigar products established as grandfathered and thus exempt from FDA approval rules: Altadis USA, one of the largest sellers of handmade cigars in the United States, and Ortega Premium Cigars, a boutique company.

Altadis submitted five cigars from five different brands, each in a corona format: Montecristo Classic Collection Especial No. 1, Romeo y Julieta 1875 Exhibicion No. 1, H. Upmann Vintage Cameroon Corona, Saint Luis Rey Corona, and Don Mateo Natural No. 5 (a bundle cigar). The approach of establishing one size first may be a legal strategy, with the company likely to next seek to expand grandfather determinations to other formats.

Ortega Premium Cigars received grandfather determinations for four sizes in each of two brands: VIBE and REO. In 2007, VIBE and REO were under EO Brands, then co-owned by current VIBE and REO owner Eddie Ortega with his former business partner Erik Espinoza. Both cigars were collaborations between EO and Rocky Patel.

The Ortega determinations were shepherded through by attorney Frank Herrera, whose boutique law firm specializes in cigar trademark and FDA compliance issues. Ninety-eight other cigars have also received grandfather determinations, but those cigars would not be considered handmade or premium cigars.

FDA-Funded Study Confirms Minors Not Smoking Premium Cigars

One of the main arguments against the deeming rules that regulate premium cigars in a similar manner as cigarettes is that youth smoking of premium cigars is not an issue. This is also a reason frequently cited for the need for legislation exempting handmade cigars from FDA regulations.

Even the studies cited by the FDA when they rejected a proposed exemption for premium cigars over a certain price did not point to handmade cigar usage by minors, but relied on a more nebulous “youth and young adults.” As we noted at the time, that included usage rates for adults as old as 29.

A recent study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine buoys the arguments made by opponents of FDA regulation of traditional cigars. The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Food and Drug Administration and conducted by the Department of Health Behavior of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York.

As reported elsewhere, the study shows extremely low usage rates (2.3%) among those aged between 12 and 18, even with  extremely broad definitions of usage (even just “one or two puffs” ever). Fewer than one percent of the 13,651 youth surveyed said they used a cigar once (even “just one or two puffs”) in the 30 days prior to being surveyed.

A deeper look at the study’s numbers shows even less cause for concern for youth smoking of cigars. Of the tiny percentage of those who claim to use traditional cigars virtually all used other tobacco products too, while the number who exclusively used traditional cigars was so small that “estimates were suppressed” because the number was not statistically significant.

Though the conclusion that youth smoking of traditional cigars is virtually zero came as no surprise to those in the handmade cigar community, having FDA-funded research to back up these claims may prove useful in lobbying for the FDA to ease regulations on handmade cigars and for pushing Congress to pass an exemption.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Cigar Review: Partagas Heritage Rothschild

24 Apr 2017

Heritage Box

General Cigar’s new Partagas Heritage began with a nod to the past.

HeritageBlender Jhonys Diaz called it a “retrospective blend that celebrated the very best of Partagas.” According to General, Diaz and his team developed the blend more than ten years ago, “patiently saving it for a special release.”

It is a complex concoction. The wrapper is a proprietary leaf, Olancho San Agustin Valley; the binder is Connecticut Broadleaf; and the filler is Honduran Jamastran Dominican Piloto Cubano and Mexican San Andrés. This recipe makes for a tasty smoke.

Most noticable at the start are delicate spices that remain throughout, though they shift in prominence. Other flavors include some sweetness, occasional cinnamon, and leather. I ran across a bit of that Mexican dirt, but not strong enough or long enough to spoil the medium-strength cigar.

I smoked five of the Rothschild size, a 4.5-inch cigar with a ring gauge of 50. All burned superbly, with a tight ash and lots of smoke. I thoroughly enjoyed the size, and it’s interesting to note that when Rothschild commissioned the vitola in the 19th century he was seeking a short, large ring cigar.

This new line has that for today’s smoker. Packaged in boxes of 20, there are three other sizes: Robusto (5.5 x 52), Churchill (7 x 49), and Gigante (6 x 60). Suggested retail prices run from $8.49 for the Rothschild to $9.99 for the Churchill.

However, like many General cigars, list price and real price aren’t always the same. I’ve seen the Rothschild for sale online as low as $22.98 for a five-pack.

General has been producing Partagas cigars of one kind or another for decades. The Cuban brand, dating to 1845, also continues to sell widely around the world. The famed Partagas sign outside the old Havana factory should be familiar to anyone who’s been in more than a couple of cigar shops.

The bands of the two cigars can sometimes be remarkably close. The Heritage bands, for instance, obviously have different wording but otherwise closely echo those on the Cuban Partagas Serie lines.

We have reviewed quite a few Partagas cigars over the years, awarding several high ratings. This little smoke is worthy of joining that group, and I give it four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: General Cigar Co.

Quick Smoke: San Cristobal Ovation

23 Apr 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 2015, Ashton introduced a super-premium limited edition extension to its San Cristobal line called Ovation. Presented in a single format (6.5 x 52), only 3,000 boxes of 22 were made for a total run of 66,000 cigars. My colleague took an Ovation for a test drive about a year ago and found it underwhelming, especially for the $15 price tag. I tried my first one a few days ago. Whether it’s a difference in taste preferences, the additional age on the tobacco, or some other variable, I found the cigar highly satisfying with a complex, full-bodied taste. The San Andrés wrapper marries well with the Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos to deliver rich flavors of coffee, cayenne heat, cocoa, white pepper, and cream. With good combustion characteristics, I would absolutely recommend buying an Ovation if you come across one.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Gloria Cubana Rabito de Cochino

22 Apr 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.”

LGC-Rabito-de-Cochino - 1

A few years ago, La Gloria Cubana released Rabito de Cochino (6.5 x 46), which was packaged in bundles of three tied together with yellow ribbon. I missed the release when it came out, but recently secured a three-pack. With an Ecuadorian wrapper around Dominican and Nicaraguan filler, Rabito de Cochino seems like a well-aged version of the classic Serie R blend in a lonsdale format with a pigtail cap. The profile is full-bodied with heavy leather flavors and lots of wood spice. Construction and combustion are flawless. This was originally around $15 for a bundle of three; currently, you can find these for around $3 per cigar if you shop around. That’s outstanding value.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: John Drew Brands Launch Party, NYC Anti-Tobacco Plans, LFD Invites You to Visit, and More

21 Apr 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 527th in the series.

John Drew Brands

1) On Wednesday, Florida-based retailer Corona Cigar Co. hosted a launch party for John Drew Brands and the spirits venture’s three inaugural products: Brixton Mash Destroyer (55% bourbon, 45% rum), Dove Tale Rum, and John Drew Rye. The event included DJ Maseo from De La Soul and rare Drew Estate cigars. “The movement that began on the production floor in Estelí, Nicaragua that changed premium cigars forever. From a broken down little green house with five employees to the second largest premium cigar maker in the world. Jonathan Drew Announces: John Drew Brands, a consumable start-up, bent on product development, mixed media, culture collaboration, and a reckless spirit to destroy,” reads the John Drew Brands website. Jonathan Drew announced his foray into the spirits industry in April 2016. Swisher International, Inc.—the largest cigar company in the world by volume—acquired Drew Estate in 2014. Two years later, Drew was named president and founder of Drew Estate and once again returned to occupy an executive operating role at the company he founded, including responsibility for the entire portfolio of brands.

2) This week New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new anti-tobacco measures, including hiking prices/taxes ($13 per pack will be the minimum allowed for a pack of cigarettes) and limiting  the number of licensed tobacco retailers in the city. According to the New York Times: “The goal, Mr. de Blasio said, is to persuade or coerce 160,000 of the 900,000 New York City residents who smoke to stop doing so by 2020.”

3) Originally released in 2015, Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 22-Year-Old is being released in limited quantities next month. When it first came out, we wrote of the hard-to-find $150 bourbon: “Dark copper hue and one of the most fantastic noses I’ve ever encountered… The palate doesn’t quite live up to the high standard set by the aromas, but it does show off its age with deep wood, brown spices (clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon), figs, and burnt caramel. The finish is long with wood and more vanilla.”

4) Inside the Industry: La Flor Dominicana has announced the creation of its own tobacco farm and cigar factory tour in Santiago, Dominican Republic. The five-day itinerary includes a welcome dinner, premium hotel accommodations, factory tour, blending session, pig roast, farm excursion, and opportunities to take advantage of beach, golf, and spa amenities. Cigars will be included, not sold; airfare is not included. Trip availability and prices can be obtained by contacting

5) From the Archives: Warm days were made for rum, whether you prefer light, dark, golden, or spiced. Here are five delicious concoctions you’ll want to try.

6) Deal of the Week: We recommend Bespoke Post, a monthly collection of awesome items delivered to your door for just $45. Available boxes include a mint julep set, fine bar accessories, shaving kits, wine, workout gear, coffee kits, and more. You can skip or purchase every month. Sign up today and you’ll be able to get the May shipment.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: John Drew Brands

Cigar Review: Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial TAA 2017

19 Apr 2017

Jaime-Garcia-RE-TAA17 - 1

Jaime-Garcia-RE-TAA17 - 1 (1)In 2011, My Father Cigars released a Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial in a box-pressed torpedo size exclusive to members of the Tobacconists’ Association of America (TAA). In 2017, the same size is back again for TAA, a small association of 80 or so cigar retailers that includes many of the most prominent U.S. tobacconists. (In case you come across the 2011 version, you can differentiate the two by noting only the 2017 edition has “TAA” printed in gold on the blue foot band.)

I don’t think it’s unfair to say the Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial line is overshadowed by the eponymous My Father lines, much like tobacco patriarch Don José “Pepin” Garcia overshadows the talents his son, Jaime. But my experience smoking four of the Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial TAA 2017 cigars serves as a reminder that Jaime Garcia’s talents aren’t to be overlooked.

Like the entire Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial line, the $9.50 TAA edition (6.125 x 52) features a dark, oily Broadleaf wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. The exact differences between the TAA edition and the regular sizes aren’t disclosed, but reports are the TAA blend is tweaked and the 2017 version uses tobaccos that are extra aged (compared to the 2011 TAA).

A savory oak flavor dominates the cigar, which also features an abundance of unsweetened chocolate and black coffee. Other flavors include a subtle syrupy sweetness and pepper that particularly comes through on the retrohale.

Construction on each of the cigars was flawless. The box-pressed torpedo shape concentrates the flavors nicely on the palate. The taste is largely consistent from start to finish, but the chocolate and pepper both build towards the final third as the profile ramps up from medium-bodied to medium- to full-bodied.

The Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial TAA 2017 is a classic Broadleaf maduro smoke. It is rich and balanced with equal parts subtle sweetness and spice. This cigar makes me want to revisit the regular offerings in the Jamie Garcia Reserva Especial line. It earns a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Lavida Habana (LH) Colorado Lancero

17 Apr 2017

LH Colorado

Founded by Nick Syris and Omar Nasir, LH Premium Cigars arose from a line of custom-made Cuban cigars exclusive to Lavida Habana, a chain of high-end retail shops in the Middle East. The idea was to expand distribution to the U.S. market with non-Cuban blends.

LH Colorado LanceroLH Premium Cigars launched in the U.S. in 2014 with Claro and Maduro lines, and in 2015 debuted the Colorado. Each is crafted at the Tabacos de Costa Rica factory in Costa Rica and was originally offered in three vitolas: Robusto, Toro, and Gordo. Since, Lancero, Petit Gordo, Corona, and Churchill formats have been added to each of the three lines.

The Colorado sports an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder, and filler tobaccos from Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Peru. It is billed as medium- to full-bodied, and the advertised flavors include oak, fig, maple syrup, vanilla, citrus, cloves, pine, melon, cinnamon.

I smoked several LH Colorado Lanceros for this review. This cigar retails for $9.50 and measures 7.5 inches long with a ring gauge of 42. Beneath a band of black, red, and gold is a velvety, clean, reddish wrapper with thin veins. The soft pre-light notes at the closed foot remind me of sweet hay, honey, and graham cracker. Despite the thin ring gauge, the cold draw is clear.

At the outset, I’m greeted by a spicy cedar core that’s dry, salty, and fairly aggressive on the palate. Background notes include cayenne heat, cereals, dried fruit, and sunflower seeds. After half an inch, the salt fades a bit as cream, peanut, and honey become more apparent. Still, the driving force is cedar, the effect of which—for least to me—is very frequent sips of water (and, yes, bourbon). The texture is bready.

Towards the midway point, the Lancero gains complexity with the addition of some faint floral notes and melon. A bitterness is also present, though it is not a focal point of the profile. The body is squarely medium, and the resting smoke boasts a nice aromatic sweetness. There are no major changes in the final third, save for a slight increase in intensity and heat.

Throughout, the combustion qualities leave little to be desired. This is a well-made Lancero with above average smoke production, a fairly stable ash, a smooth draw, and a burn line that—while not perfect—doesn’t really require any touch-ups along the way to stay even.

In many respects, I think the Lavida Habana Colorado Lancero delivers an experience that’s classic and Cuban-esque (perhaps not surprising, given the company’s origins) layered with a little more strength and some Nicaraguan zing. On its own, it falls short of exceptional and, to my taste, could benefit from less salty bite; paired with the right libation, though, it can be quite satisfying. All of this adds up to 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