Cigar Review: Illusione ~eccj~ 20th Anniversary

26 Mar 2015

illusione-eccj-20Illusione has been on a roll lately. The recently released 2014 Singulare Anunnaki earned a rare five-stogie rating. It is the first Singulare that’s in the same class as the original 2010 Singulare, as good and possibly even better depending on how it ages. And the last new full line from Illusione, the Fume d’Amour, was another outstanding release.illusione-eccj-20-sq

In addition to both being good smokes, both the Anunnaki and Fume d’Amour fall in the mild- to medium-bodied range. For that reason, I was particularly interested to try Illusione’s ~eccj~ 20th Annicersary cigar.

The original ~eccj~ debuted in 2008 to celebrate the 15th Anniverary of the European Cigar Cult Journal magazine, now just called Cigar Journal. That cigar blend, which gained a bit of a cult following, would become the popular Epernay line.

So, naturally, when Illusione brand owner Dion Giolito announced a follow-up ~eccj~ would be coming, it was eagerly anticipated. The new ~eccj~ features a tweaked blend and a slightly larger size (6.5 x 48). Boxes of 15 sell for $195, or $13 per cigar.

Using 100% Nicaraguan tobacco, including a Café Rosado Corojo ’99 wrapper, the ~eccj~ 20th Anniversary features some sneaky strength. The flavors are a complex combination of roasted nuts, breadiness, light oak, leather, and cream.

The strength builds towards a solid-medium, bordering on medium-full as it progresses, though the flavors don’t change much. There is a slightly sour edge that particularly lingers on the finish.

While it’s an excellent cigar, it might suffer from the obvious comparison to other Illusione cigars. For my tastes, it isn’t as refined as the Epernay, Fume d’Amour, or the most recent Singulare. But don’t let that high bar fool you. With sneaky flavor, complexity, and good construction, plus the potential to get better with more age, the Illusione ~eccj~ 20th earns a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Cigar Review: Intemperance EC XVIII The Industry

25 Mar 2015

At this point I can safely say RoMa Craft Tobac is on the short list of my favorite cigar makers in the world. Since RoMa Craft was put on my radar in 2011, I’ve really enjoyed smoking my way through the portfolio—including Intemperance, CroMagnon, Aquitaine, and some retailer-specific exclusives. I’ve also had the pleasure to tour Skip Martin’s small Nica Sueño factory in Estelí to see his scaled-down processes first-hand.

Intemperance The IndustryThere’s undoubtedly a romanticism associated with a small cigar operation that grew from the ashes of a Texas brick-and-mortar store that was decimated by Hurricane Ike in 2008. And it’s hard to not root for a company that began making cigars in one of its employees’ garages, using a shower to store bales of tobacco and working off borrowed molds and presses. But that’s not what makes RoMa Craft so special; RoMa Craft is special because it produces consistently awesome cigars at hard-to-beat prices.

The Intemperance series pays homage to the American movement that overthrew Prohibition (and reminds us to stay vigilant about cigar rights). It comes in two varieties. Intemperance EC XVIII features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper (hence “EC”) around an Indonesian binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. There’s also an Intemperance BA XXI line that’s wrapped in a Brazilian Arapiraca leaf.

For Intemperance EC XVIII, there are five regular-production vitolas: The Charity (4 x 46), The Virtue (4.5 x 52), The Faith (5 x 50), The Brotherly Kindness (5 x 56), and The Industry (5.5 x 54). The latter retails for $7. It has a light, yellowish wrapper with thin veins, a few wrinkles, and pre-light aromas of sweet hay. Notably, the binder/filler protrude slightly from the foot which, Martin says, gives the smoker the brief chance to sample the blend without the wrapper before it quickly changes.

Before reaching the wrapper, The Industry is dry and woodsy with cedar spice, black pepper, and earth. Once the wrapper ignites, a creamy sweetness provides harmony and complexity. As the belicoso progresses, notes of vanilla, salty peanut, and honey come and go. The texture is bready and the body is mild to mild-medium. To its credit, I only find trace bitterness, even as my puffs become more frequent. But the wonderful creaminess of the profile really shines through only if you take your time.

I’ve never lit up a cigar from RoMa Craft that didn’t have excellent combustion qualities. This was no exception. Across the three samples I smoked for this review, all exhibited straight burn lines, solid white ashes, clear draws, and above-average smoke production.

The Intemperance BA XXI blend has to be my favorite from this manufacturer (I awarded the A.W.S. IV a rare five-stogie rating), but the EC XVIII The Industry is no slouch. It’s an affordable, high-quality, interesting Ecuadorian Connecticut-wrapped smoke that consistently delivers a solid experience. In my book, it’s worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Lot No. 40 Canadian Rye Whiskey (2012 Release)

24 Mar 2015

Canadian whiskey has never been something I’ve spent much time seeking out. With a reputation for mild flavors, often the result of blending rye whiskey with largely flavorless grain whiskey, I’ve found it’s a bit lacking in the distinctive character I identify with with my favorite scotch and American whiskey.

Lot-40-canadian-ryeFortunately, Canadian whiskey makers have started to see the potential for selling more expressive offerings, many of which are in the same class as good Kentucky or Indiana straight rye. Three stealth Canadian ryes (they don’t play up their Canadian roots) are WhistlePig, Masterson’s, and Jefferson’s, each of which are 10 years old. Each sports a 100% rye mashbill. This is achieved by using the same unmalted rye that goes into all straight American rye, along with a percentage of malted rye, which is necessary for the distillation process.

The 86-proof Lot 40 is similarly a 100% rye (90% unmalted, 10% malted), although it doesn’t obscure the fact that this is Canadian rye. The brand was originally launched in the late 1990s but disappeared for a while until it was reintroduced a few years ago.

For a time it was hard to find in the U.S., but in the past year it has become more widely available. I was able to find a bottle at a Virginia state liquor store for just under $50.

The spirit features a bronze color and a lively nose with fresh bread, banana, anise, and maple. On the palate it has a syrupy intensity with oak, baking spices, fruit cake, and a little floral spice. The finish is subtle with more bread and muted fruit notes. The result is a complex, sophisticated Canadian rye that calls for a similarly complex, yet balanced, cigar. I’d recommend the following: Davidoff Colorado Claro, Illusione Epernay, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet.

I realize, for many bourbon drinkers, a Canadian whiskey is something your grandfather drinks or you mix with cola, not a spirit to be enjoyed neat. But this is a fine whiskey that rye fans should certainly pick up and try.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Byron Serie Siglo XX Londinenses

23 Mar 2015

So far this year I’ve reviewed two interesting smokes from United Cigar: the Atabey Ritos, an expensive cigar that’s complex and nuanced; and the Garofalo Robusto, a mild-mannered smoke that’s affordable, flavorful, and satisfying.

Byron Siglo XX ReservaBoth creations are impressive, not only in their performance but also in their packaging (more on that later). So I’ve made it a point to try and smoke my way through the rest of the United Cigar portfolio, which includes Bandolero, Fleur de la Reine, La Gianna, and Byron.

The latter is named for Lord Byron, an English poet and a leader of the Romantic movement. The Byron cigar line is the revival of an old Cuban brand from the mid-nineteenth century. “Many cigar factories produced numerous brands with Anglo-American names to attract UK and US markets, which had tremendous demand for premium cigars at the time,” according to the United Cigar website.

Today Byron is made in three different blends—Siglo XIX, Siglo XX, and Siglo XXI—to represent “what Cuban cigars were in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.” They are handmade in Costa Rica, stored in an aging room for one year, and then packaged in beautifully ornate porcelain jars or individually humidified tubes.

The Siglo XX Londinenses (5.5 x 54) is dark, firm, and clearly crafted with care. Underneath the cedar sleeve and double bands is a virtually veinless wrapper with a well-executed cap and potent pre-light notes of green raisin, cocoa, and earth. The Byron Siglo XX’s wrapper, binder, and filler are undisclosed.

The cold draw is quite tight, which is a bit of a concern, but fortunately it seems to open immediately after setting an even light. The ensuing flavor is medium-bodied and balanced with notes of creamy nut, sweet cream, dried fruit, coffee, cedar spice, warm tobacco, and cinnamon. Yes, there’s a lot going on here. The texture is dense and the smoke production is moderate. The final third witnesses a slight increase in spice and body.

Aside from the draw being a tad too resistant for my liking, construction is absolutely perfect. The gray ash holds well off the foot, and the straight burn line doesn’t require a single-touch up.

Like Atabey, the Byron Serie Siglo XX Londinenses is competing in the ultra-premium market with a sky-high price of about $30. Surely some of that cost is sunk in the flamboyantly elaborate packaging and the humidified tube (which is reusable and excellent for the golf bag, by the way). That said, this is no mediocre cigar on masquerade. No, the flavors are as numerous as they are harmonious, and the experience is downright memorable. Pony up for an indulgence, and be prepared for a cigar that’s worthy of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Dirty Rat

22 Mar 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.”

Liga-Unico-Dirty-Rat

With a high price and limited availability, I don’t smoke Drew Estate’s Dirty Rat frequently, but when I do I never regret it. The cigar came about when Drew Estate wanted to add a corona size to its Liga Privada No. 9 line, but the small ring gauge meant the blend had to be tweaked. The result is a balanced cigar that is simultaneously sweet, spicy, and savory. Milk chocolate, rich earth, and black pepper flavors are all apparent.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Pinar del Rio Small Batch Reserve Maduro Robusto

21 Mar 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.”

PDR

For a little over three years I held on to this specimen in my humidor. That’s about as much patience as I can muster, so it was high time I lit up the Small Batch Reserve Maduro Robusto (5 x 52). This Pinar del Rio creation sports a dark Ligero Habano wrapper from Brazil, a Dominican Criollo ’98 binder, and Corojo filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The result is a well-constructed, pleasurable smoke with notes dark chocolate, peanut, coffee, syrup, and cream—perhaps a little more balanced and subdued than what I remember, and a little more chalky in texture. Whether you plan to smoke it or age it, the Small Batch Reserve Maduro Robusto will be a wise investment at only $7.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 422

20 Mar 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.

Harrahs New Orleans1) Harrah’s Casino is in the midst of a “last-ditch” effort to gain an exemption from New Orleans’ smoking ban, which goes into effect April 22. “In a press release issued March 18, Harrah’s said it will request a smoking section on its gambling floor while promising ‘to offer programs to make patrons and employees aware of the dangers of smoking and programs to quit smoking,’” according to The Times-Picayune. “The company said it plans to shop this proposal to City Council members in the next few days… Harrah’s rehashed its argument that banning smoking on its gambling floor would run off a large number of its customers, reduce its revenue, and cut yearly sales tax collections by $500,000. It also claimed the law could jeopardize the $3.6 million in gambling money the state sends to the city to cover some public safety and sanitation costs and another $13.6 million in annual lease payments the casino pays to New Orleans.” Notably, New Orleans is the host site of the next International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association Trade Show in July.

2) Viaje Cigar Co., which took a break last year from issuing its annual Summerfest cigar, is planning its return this summer. According to the company, noted for small batch and seasonal releases, the 2015 Summerfest will have a new blend and a new manufacturer. Summerfest was released annually from 2010 through 2013 in a single size each year, with all but the first having a shaggy foot.

3) Inside the Industry: Eric Piras has entered into a partnership with Roberto P. Duran Premium Cigars & Azan Tobacco Group. A French national based in Hong Kong, Piras has nearly 20 years of experience in sales and marketing in the cigar industry. Piras is formerly of Altadis (later acquired by Imperial Tobacco Group), where he strengthened distribution channels. “I am thrilled to have Eric Piras on our team,” said Roberto Pelayo Duran in a press release. “His global network is enormous and diverse. I am very confident that with Eric on board we will be able to expand Roberto P. Duran Premium Cigars & Azan Tobacco Group brands into new markets around the world.”

4) Deal of the Week: This Silver Tray Sampler features 5 cigars for just $25 with free shipping. Included are the Hex Perfecto, BG Meyer Standard Issue Toro, E.P. Carrillo Cardinal 54 Maduro, Kristoff Sumatra Robusto, and Gran Vida Connecticut Corona.

-The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr