Cigar Review: Cohiba Royale Toro Royale

26 May 2020

The last time I wrote a full review of a Cohiba was in 2017 when Cohiba Blue had just come out. This was around the same time Sean Williams of El Primer Mundo was introduced as the new Cohiba brand ambassador. “I don’t know this for sure, but my sense is the Cohiba marketing team was aiming for a differentiated look that expressed modernity and approachability,” I wrote. “The purpose of Cohiba Blue, after all, seems to be to attract more (presumably younger) consumers to the brand at a less intimidating price point.”

This April, General Cigar announced a new Cohiba line that (as far as pricing is concerned) throws caution to the wind. Cohiba Royale—dubbed the “fullest-bodied Cohiba expression to date”—is an ultra-premium offering that retails for $24-$29 per cigar.

The Cohiba Royale recipe calls for a sun-grown Nicaraguan Broadleaf wrapper, a Dominican Piloto Cubano binder, and a filler blend that includes tobaccos from Honduras (Jamastran) and Nicaragua (Estelí and Jalapa). Each leaf has been aged five to six years. “All of the tobaccos that comprise Cohiba Royale are hand-selected and deeply aged, representing the best of the best tobacco growing regions in the world,” said Williams in a press release. “The result is a cigar that is as bold as it is refined, befitting of the Cohiba name.”

Cohiba Royale is made at General Cigar’s HATSA factory in Danlí—making it the first Cohiba to be crafted in Honduras. It is packaged in five- and ten-count boxes and offered in three sizes: Gran Royale (4.5 x 52), Robusto Royale (5.5 x 54), and Toro Royale (6 x 50).

Aesthetics are not the most important trait of any cigar. That said, when you pay $29, it should be a fine-looking specimen—and, unfortunately, the Toro Royale falls short of the expectations set by its lofty price. The cap is borderline sloppy with cracks, lumps, and edges that were ineffectively smoothed down. And the seams that run the length of the cigar are likewise not as tight as they should be, and therefore prone to cracking. Other characteristics of the rough, mottled wrapper I am willing to chalk up to the rustic-ness of Broadleaf.

The real test, though, is in the taste. As advertised, the Toro Royale starts full-bodied and strong with an intense profile of black pepper, espresso, and leather. It’s the kind of powerful intro that leads you to believe there will eventually be a nicotine penance to pay—even for a seasoned cigar veteran.

After a half inch, the strength and body pull back considerably. The core flavors remain, but now the taste is better-balanced, sweeter, and more interesting. The new-arrival notes include cocoa powder and black cherry. There are also some unwelcome flavors, most notably a stale bitterness and a chewy meatiness.

From a construction standpoint, it’s all good news. The burn is straight and the cigar stays lit even when not puffed frequently. The ash holds well, the draw is smooth, and the smoke production is voluminous and aromatic.

That isn’t nearly enough to merit a recommendation, however. I smoked three for this review—each provided by General Cigar—and I’m afraid the aesthetics, flavor, and price are all disappointing. I am left with no choice but to settle on a poor score of two stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Umbagog Corona Gorda

7 May 2020

The Umbagog line from Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust is one of a select few blends that have been featured heavily in my personal rotation during the quarantine. I suspect Umbagog’s inclusion has a lot to do with my desire to not want to sacrifice quality while keeping my cigar budget relatively in check.

As you may recall, Umbagog (“oom-bah-gog”) was announced in the summer of 2016, along with a flurry of other new releases across the industry. (At that time, cigar makers, brand owners, blenders, and factories had been frantically scrambling to meet the August 8 deadline set forth by the FDA; cigars introduced after August 8 would have had to go through the FDA approval process before being sold or marketed). Saka called Umbagog an “extreme value-priced ten-count bundle” using a Broadleaf wrapper that didn’t visually make the grade for his more expensive Broadleaf cigar, Mi Querida. The cigar is named for a New Hampshire lake that’s a favorite fishing locale of Saka’s.

Umbagog “is a perfect cigar for my time upon her waters,” writes Saka on the Dunbarton website. “It is robust and durable, designed to endure the rigors of outside activity with its thick Broadleaf capa and easy-burning liga. This is a cigar that doesn’t pretend to be special or seek to elicit the ‘oohs’ or ‘aahs’ of the cigar snobs. It is an honest, hardworking cigar that is meant to be smoked, chewed upon, and lit however many times you wish.”

The Umbagog recipe calls for a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It is handmade at the Nicaraguan American Cigar S.A. factory (NACSA) in Estelí and available in six formats: Corona Gorda (6 x 48), Robusto Plus (5 x 52), Toro Toro (6 x 52), Gordo Gordo (6 x 56), Short & Fat (4.75 x 56), and Churchill (7 x 50).

I paid $8.25 apiece for five singles in the Corona Gorda vitola. With its firm roll, tight seams, well-executed cap, smooth cold draw, and mouth-watering pre-light armoa of hickory and cocoa, there’s nothing appearance-wise to suggest this is a value bundle cigar. And, no, I can’t really tell what’s wrong with the wrappers on the five I smoked for this review. The lone exception, I suppose, is the simple, understated band, which has no raised lettering or frills of any kind (OK in my book, since I’d rather pay for the tobacco).

Quick side note: The original band (as seen here in Saka’s Instagram post announcing the blend, and here in our first review) was brown lettering on white—not the current white lettering on green. I asked Saka about this last week. “The brown on white was a temp ring used on a few hundred cigars to ensure they were imported before the FDA Aug. 8 deadline, as the green ones were delayed from printer,” he wrote via a Facebook message. “They were all sold as ‘misfits’ to one vendor before we officially launched the brand with the correct packaging.”

Beyond the wrapper, Saka has said this cigar isn’t exactly the same blend as Mi Querida, though it’s very similar. Think different primings or grades of tobacco, but the same basic Nicaraguan components. I actually think Umbagog is smoother and slightly milder than Mi Querida, which I would characterize as moist and full-bodied with a grainy texture, ample spice, and notes of espresso, cinnamon, damp wood, and leather. In contrast, the Umbagog Corona Gorda is a drier, woodsier smoke with a bready texture and plenty of earth, cocoa powder, charred oak, and white pepper.

The physical properties are absolutely stellar. The draw is smooth throughout, the smoke production is better than average, the straight burn line is razor-sharp, and the white ash holds well off the foot.

I realize the term “value bundle” is relative.  There are plenty of factory seconds and discount smokes out there, and I wouldn’t put Umbagog close to that category. This is only a value play when viewed against the rest of the Dunbarton portfolio, which is made to Saka’s exacting standards and therefore commands relatively expensive prices. Whether you decide to take the Corona Gorda for a spin while golfing, fishing, or simply sitting back with some sipping rum, I think you’ll be pleased. In my book, it earns four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: Growing Evidence Suggests Tobacco May Play a ‘Protective’ Role Against Covid-19

27 Apr 2020

There is so much we don’t know about SARS-CoV-2, the Coronavirus currently threatening global health and the world economy. But perhaps one of the more surprising stories emerging from this massively disruptive virus is the growing evidence that tobacco use might be a factor in preventing transmission of Covid-19.

The cigar industry, like so many industries, has been massively impacted. Many factories have paused operations. In some states, cigar shops have been deemed “non-essential” and shut down, while elsewhere they continue to operate with new social distancing policies. Whether completely shut down or just limited, cigar shops are at serious risk of not surviving. Meanwhile, in response to the crisis, the federal government has delayed FDA filing and tobacco tax deadlines.

Early on as the virus was spreading, the assumption was smokers and former smokers (especially of cigarettes) were at higher risk of catching the virus, due to its transmission through the respiratory system. Anti-smoking activists were quick to cite the virus as a reason for more government policies limiting access of adults to tobacco. The World Health Organization made similar arguments.

Anti-smoking “zealot” Stanton A. Glantz (whose propensity to draw sweeping conclusions from limited statistics has been documented) even claimed, “the odds of disease progression (including to death) were 14 times higher among people with a history of smoking compared to those who did not smoke… the strongest risk factor among those examined.” That claim has since apparently been stealth edited out of the original article, but remains quoted in articles about it, including one specifically arguing Coronavirus meant it was time to quit cigars.

The since walked-back “14 times higher” claim (which was also pushed by the British Government) was actually based on a Chinese study with a sample size consisting of five total smokers (see above). This is a sample so small any serious scientist would never rely on it, certainly not to make such sweeping claims. Needless to say, those of us who have been following this issue for awhile aren’t surprised to find government agencies twisting statistics to push their anti-tobacco agenda.

Experts: Tobacco May Play a ‘Protective’ Role Against Covid-19

What is truly remarkable is the mounting evidence that smoking makes smokers (and, to a lesser extent, ex-smokers) specifically less susceptible to the virus. Contrary to the cherry-picked conclusions pushed by anti-tobacco activists, every week more evidence seems to emerge that bolsters the conclusion that tobacco protects smokers from Covid-19.

Author Christopher Snowdon (who has written books exposing the exaggerated claims of anti-smoking activists) recently summarized the ever-expanding evidence:

In [China] where 27 per cent of adults smoke, only 6.4 per cent of the Covid-19 cases were smokers. This was not a fluke finding. Awkwardly for the anti-smoking lobby, smokers have been strangely under-represented in all the studies for which smoking prevalence data is available. They made up just 1.4 per cent of the cases in Zhang et al, 6.7 per cent in Wan et al, 3.9 per cent in Mo et al, seven per cent in Huang et al, nine per cent in Dong et al, 10 per cent of cases in Yang et al, 1.9 per cent in Guan et al, six per cent in Zhou et al, and 6.4 per cent in Liu et al. In Shi et al, only 8.2 per cent of cases had any smoking history [current or former smokers]. 

Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos of the University of Patras in Greece noticed this phenomenon early on and put a preliminary study online in late March. It noted the ‘unusually low prevalence of current smoking was observed among hospitalised Covid-19 patients’, which ‘does not support the argument that current smoking is a risk factor for hospitalisation for Covid-19, and might suggest a protective role’. 

A few days earlier, a group of doctors from the Royal Glamorgan Hospital had written to the British Medical Journal to point out that nicotine protects against the kind of acute inflammatory reactions seen in Covid patients and that ‘the simple use of nicotine patches should be urgently considered and discussed.’ Nobody paid much attention, but evidence supporting the smoking hypothesis continued to slip out. 

On 3 April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control published data on thousands of American Covid-19 cases. Once again, the proportion of smokers was tiny – just 1.3 per cent [versus 14% who smoke]. Even ex-smokers were significantly under-represented (2.3 per cent).

The most comprehensive epidemiological study appeared a week later. Based on data from 4,103 Covid patients in New York City, a team of researchers found that a history of smoking was associated with a 29 per cent reduction in risk of being hospitalised with Covid-19 and, contrary to the claims of Public Health England, smokers were no more likely to become critically ill with the disease if they were admitted. The authors would have found an even sharper reduction in risk for current smokers if they had split them up from ex-smokers in their analysis, but even the findings as published were striking. 

This week, a group of French academics published their study of 343 Covid patients, of whom only 4.4 per cent were daily smokers. According to the authors, the study ‘strongly suggests that daily smokers have a very much lower probability of developing symptomatic or severe SARS-CoV-2 infection as compared to the general population.’

Pause a second to consider some of those quotes from medical experts (emphasis added):

“[The study] strongly suggests that daily smokers have a very much lower probability of developing symptomatic or severe SARS-CoV-2 infection as compared to the general population.”

“[The] unusually low prevalence of current smoking was observed among hospitalised Covid-19 patients… does not support the argument that current smoking is a risk factor for hospitalisation for Covid-19, and might suggest a protective role.”

There are, of course, many unanswered questions about the reason for the apparent link between smoking and lower rates of symptomatic Covid-19. Still, it’s enough that French researchers have already initiated a study consisting of handing out nicotine patches to frontline medical workers and Coronavirus patients:

Nicotine could protect people from contracting the coronavirus, according to new research in France, where further trials are planned to test whether the substance could be used to prevent or treat the deadly illness. The findings come after researchers at a top Paris hospital examined 343 Coronavirus patients along with 139 people infected with the illness with milder symptoms.

They found that a low number of them smoked, compared to smoking rates of around 35 percent in France’s general population. “Among these patients, only five percent were smokers,” said Zahir Amoura, the study’s co-author and a professor of internal medicine.

The research echoed similar findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month that suggested that 12.6 percent of 1,000 people infected in China were smokers. That was a much lower figure than the number of regular smokers in China’s general population, about 26 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The theory is that nicotine could adhere to cell receptors, therefore blocking the virus from entering cells and spreading in the body, according to renown neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux from France’s Pasteur Institut, who also co-authored the study.

To be clear, we still know very little about Covid-19, which is part of the reason it remains such a serious threat. And as we scramble to treat it and prevent it, we know even less about the long-term impact of the deadly virus. (Certainly no medical experts are currently recommending people take up smoking to prevent Coronavirus.)

Among other considerations while digesting this data is that all tobacco use isn’t the same. Cigarettes are normally inhaled into the lungs, while cigars are not when used as intended. Any study of smokers or former smokers is statistically going to overwhelmingly be of cigarette smokers, not those who smoke the handmade cigars that are the longstanding focus at this website. And, of course, there are other risks associated with smoking (to differing degrees for different types of smokers), just as there are risks with any activity.

None of which diminishes the fact that it looks more and more likely that tobacco may be part of the solution, not part of the problem, when it comes to Coronavirus. In fact, one major tobacco company is already claiming to have found a tobacco-based breakthrough in the production of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The fact that the statistics are glaring enough that researchers are not only acknowledging smoking’s apparent preventative impact but are looking to nicotine to develop both preventative and treatment options, suggests this is not some random statistical anomaly.

Patrick S

photo credit: Phil Kerpen/CMJ

Cigar Review: CroMagnon EMH Black Irish

17 Apr 2020

In 2017, Skip Martin’s RoMa Craft Tobac released a limited edition offshoot of its popular CroMagnon EMH (“Early Modern Human”) cigar called Black Irish. The twist (pun intended) is a thin barber pole of Ecuadorian Connecticut Candela included in the regular EMH recipe. It’s a strategy that makes for a striking cigar—and one that’s highly sought-after among the dedicated RoMa fan base.

In an exchange with Danny Vazquez, RoMa’s sales director for North America, I learned there were about 60 boxes made in that inaugural year. In 2018 the release grew to 100 boxes. And while there were none made in 2019, 2020 production is about 200 boxes. While that’s double the number from 2018, “this limited edition is being released slower because of COVID restrictions, but after it’s done they are gone for the year,” says Vazquez.

Black Irish has the same dimensions as the original EMH (5 x 56) and, other than the Candela stripe, is the same recipe. The wrapper is Connecticut Broadleaf, the binder is Cameroon, and the filler is comprised of three different tobaccos from Nicaragua: Estelí, Condega, and a small farm on the Honduran border. “This third leaf, a Ligero, brings a strong, smoky, savory flavor to the blend,” read a description on the old RoMa website. “When combined with the mildly sweet characteristics of the Broadleaf Maduro wrapper, the exotic bite of the Cameroon binder, and the clean finish of its Viso and Seco companions, the blend delivers the precise, deep, rich tobacco flavor we wanted to present…”

Speaking of presentation, Black Irish makes quite the first impression. The thin Candela stripe appears to be applied directly over the diagonal line that I’d typically refer to as the cigar’s “seams.” This strip of green leaf is not completely uniform—it’s slightly thicker in some spots, thinner in others—but the overall effect, especially at the cap, is one of impressive attention to detail. The cigar is adorned by the familiar CroMagnon band of charcoal over cream, with black raised lettering that’s nearly illegible.

The thick robusto is firm to the touch. Pre-light notes include damp hay, sawdust, and licorice. The cold draw is smooth to moderate.

As with the regular CroMagnon EMH, the profile is dark, chalky, and full-bodied from the get-go. Not surprisingly, there are also sweet grassy notes on the background. But given the Candela placement versus the burn line, these grassy notes come and go, never taking center stage—perfect for the cigar enthusiast who’s just looking for a hint of something different.

After the first inch, the body settles a bit. But while the profile is slightly mellower, it never ventures out of the full-bodied spectrum. That’s about where the Black Irish stays until the finale. All the while, the burn line is OK (though, to its credit, it never requires any touch-ups). The white ash holds impeccably well. And the smoke volume is as generous as it is aromatic.

The MSRP is $288 for a box of 24, or $12 for a single. If you come across it, I’d absolutely recommend picking some up—especially if you’re in the mood for something unique and different. In my book, the CroMagnon EMH Black Irish is worthy of 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

Cigar Tip: Five Green Cigars for St. Patrick’s Day

17 Mar 2020

I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge fan of green-colored candela cigars. For the most part, I smoke them for the same reason I drink green beer: Because it’s fun once a year. That’s why, even in light of events that mean not many of us are enjoying big St. Patrick’s Day parties, I’m updating our list of St. Patrick’s Day smokes.

It’s not that candela cigars are bad. It’s just that I’ve yet to find a candela that’s better than the same blend with a traditional wrapper (and the cigars below are no exception). That’s probably why candela cigars make up a fraction of one percent of the premium cigar market, and a proportional percentage of my cigar purchases.

And yet it wasn’t always that way. Green candela wrappers were once very popular with American cigar smokers. So much so that candela wrapper leafs—which go through a special quick and hot fermentation process that locks in the green color—were once known as “American Market Selection,” as opposed to more traditional brown “English Market Selection” wrappers.

If you’re thinking about trying a candela, St. Patrick’s Day is as good a time to take the plunge. To that end, here’s a quick rundown of some of the green cigars available:

Black Market Filthy Hooligan by Alec Bradley — First released last year, it’s back with a wrapper that’s a year older. It features the same blend as the regular Black Market (Panamanian and Honduran filler with a Sumatra binder) coupled with a candela wrapper. If you like the regular Black Market cigar, this is your best bet.

Illusione Candela — Illusione makes it’s original blend (Nicaraguan binder and filler) with candela in a few sizes. Back in 2011 when it first came out, we found the 88 size to be a pleasant smoke with tea and plenty of sweet flavors, and lacking the bitterness that sometimes characterizes candela cigars.

Viaje WLP St. Patrick’s Day — I smoked a few of the 2012 edition, which features the brightest candela wrapper I’ve ever seen, and found that it equaled the Illusione as my favorite candela. It also has the brightest green wrapper of the bunch.

Don Tomás Candela — My colleague reviewed this candela with some skepticism when the company claimed it was the result of three bales of candela wrappers that had been “lost” for 18 years. Ultimately, though, he found it to be a “respectable” smoke with enjoyable flavors, even if it wasn’t destined to be a regular in his rotation.

Fuente 8-5-8 Candela — Fuente’s regular line is known for smooth, mild flavors produced by Dominican binder and filler tobaccos. I smoked one of these with a candela wrapper a few years back and recall just that: a mild, balanced smoke with a hint of classic grassy candela flavors.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Punch Chop Suey

27 Feb 2020

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Last year Punch released the Rothchild-sized Egg Roll. This month, in celebration of the Year of the Rat, General Cigar launched Chop Suey, a lancero (7 x 37) with a shaggy foot that sports an Ecuadoran Sumatra wrapper around Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos. It retails for the affordable price of $5.49 and is available in 25-count “takeout-style” boxes (3,650 were made, for a total run of 91,250 cigars). Construction is solid, a testament to the work at the General Cigar Dominicana factory in Santiago. The flavor is leathery and fairly complex for a cigar in this price range. Notes include dry oak, melon, white pepper, and a gentle cedar spice. The aftertaste is characterized by a soft cayenne heat. Join me in celebrating Punch’s decision to introduce a limited edition lancero that won’t break the bank; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: RoMa Craft CroMagnon EMH “Don Bosco” Limited Edition

25 Feb 2020

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

The limited edition CroMagnon EMH “Don Bosco” is made for the Northern Virginia-based Old Virginia Tobacco Co. The cigar features a barber poll dual wrapper with Ecuadorian Connecticut candela and U.S.-grown Connecticut Broadleaf, which surrounds the standard CroMagnon blend (Cameroon binder and Nicaraguan filler). The large robusto-shaped EMH features full-bodied flavors of rich earth and roast nuts with black and green peppercorn spice. The $10 cigar is well-constructed with an open draw and even burn. It’s strongly recommended if you can find one.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys