Quick Smoke: San Lotano Oval Connecticut Robusto

20 Apr 2014

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.”IMG_3778 - Version 2San-Lotano-Oval-Conn-sq

 San-Lotano-Oval-Conn

Making a full-bodied cigar with a Connecticut shade-grown wrapper can be a challenge. Often, either the wrapper gets overwhelmed or there are significant bitter notes. Fortunately, A.J. Fernandez hits the mark with the San Lotano Oval Connecticut, made with Nicaraguan binder and filler, with additional filler from Honduras. The Robusto (5.5 x 54) features the unique oval shape Fernandez has created and marketed. It produces thick, creamy smoke along with notes of cedar, honey, and coffee. Construction is excellent, but most of all it’s impressive for being a full-bodied, balanced, and complex Connecticut-wrapped cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Quick Smoke: Avo 88 Limited Edition 2014

19 Apr 2014

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.”

AVO_88_LE14_Box

Each year, it seems, the hoopla and accoutrements surrounding Avo Uvezian’s birthday cigar just keep growing. The 2014 offering—Dominican puro belicoso (6 x 52)—is no different. The name reflects his 88th birthday, the number of piano keys, and total production (8,888 boxes of 16). I was intrigued with the cigar’s start, a nice hot pepper with grassy undertones that nearly reversed after an inch or so, attended by a syrupy sweetness. Tons of smoke, good burn, flaky ash. About halfway through, however, the grassiness became dominant and mowed down my enjoyment. If you can afford a box ($256) for aging, my guess is that after a few years it’ll be a great smoke. At this point, though, I can’t recommend spending $16 for one.

Verdict = Hold.

-George E

photo credit: Avo Cigars

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 379

18 Apr 2014

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.

Tobacco Field in Nicaragua1) Nicaragua, which is on pace to surpass the Dominican Republic as the number one exporter of premium cigars to the U.S. market, has recently been hit by a series of earthquakes. For the population, the tremors are causing unease, and forcing many to recall painful memories of a disastrous earthquake 42 years ago. “Life in Nicaragua, whose capital was devastated in 1972 by a magnitude-6.2 quake that killed nearly 10,000 people, has become a tense game of waiting between shakes,” reports ABC. “The Sandinista government has placed the country on red alert, the highest possible level, and is urging Nicaraguans to sleep outside their homes until further notice.” In recent days, earthquakes with magnitudes of 6.6, 6.1, 5.6, and 4.6 have rattled the country of 6 million.

2) Atladis has announced a new H. Upmann brand called “The Banker,” which is expected to start shipping to retailers this month. It is reportedly named for a private label cigar two nineteenth century German bankers crafted from Cuban tobacco for their top clients. This time around, The Banker features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. It will be available in three sizes and retail for $7 to $8.40.

3) Inside the Industry: Reinado Cigars’ highly-rated Grand Empire Reserve line will be distributed by Alliance Cigars. Alliance Cigars may not be a familiar name to consumers, but it sells numerous well-known cigar brands wholesale to cigar retailers.

4) Deal of the Week: Twenty-seven dollars lands you this five-cigar Silver Tray sampler. Included are the Nat Sherman Timeless Churchill, Wynwood Rout Corona, CAO Gold Double Robusto, Rocky Patel 1950 Robusto, and Room 101 Master Roxxo.

-The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey

17 Apr 2014

Rye whiskey is a quintessentially American spirit, and yet in recent decades Canada has become better known for rye than the United States. Canadian whiskey is synonymous with rye, as rye is the dominant grain in most Canadian whiskey.Jeffersons-rye-10-sq

Jeffersons-rye-10But most Canadian whiskey doesn’t meet the “straight rye” designation since the rye is often mixed with neutral grain spirits (basically vodka), to produce the low-proof, smooth-drinking Canadian whiskey you might be familiar with. And yet lots of rye is made in Canada, which caught the eye of some American whiskey sellers as old aged rye has gained a larger and larger following with American whiskey fans.

Three such Canadian straight ryes are particularly noteworthy: Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey (10 Year, 94-proof), Whistlepig (10 Year, 100-proof), and Masterson’s (10 Year, 90-proof). All reportedly source their straight rye from the same Alberta distillery, and all are made with a mashbill of 100% rye, which sets them apart from rye produced in the U.S. (Lots of ryes, mostly made in Indiana, use a 95% rye mashbill.)

While they are distilled in Canada, due to their marketing and style, you’ll probably find them in the bourbon and rye section of your store, not lumped in with Canadian Club and Crown Royal. In the case of Jefferson’s, the label on the side discloses its origins: “Imported by Castle Brands, Produced in Canada.” Included is a batch and bottle number (the bottle I’m using for this review is batch 41, bottle number 251).

Jefferson’s pours a lovely reddish copper color and has a nose full of floral sweetness, a hint of what’s to come. Once tasted, it reveals a very clean, balanced profile with minty spice. It’s floral, oily, and has a honey sweetness. It lacks the forward spice that characterizes most American-distilled rye, but it’s very enjoyable in its own way. The finish stays true to the taste and it lingers on the roof of your mouth.

Normally I suggest a full-bodied cigar to stand up to rye’s spice, but the more subtle aspects of Jefferson’s Rye suggest a different direction. Instead, I’d stick with a milder cigar, either a Connecticut (USA or Ecuador) or the subtle spice of a Cameroon wrapper.

I’ve become a big fan of Jefferson’s Rye, and I heartily recommend all rye fans seek it out, especially at the very fair price of $40 or less. (It’s probably obvious by now, but this is totally different than the Jefferson’s bourbons which we’ve written about here and here.)

Now for the bad news: Jefferson’s Rye, at least in its current form, isn’t going to be around for long, and may already not be available in your area. Reports are they’ve lost their source of whiskey and it will soon be replaced with rye from a different (probably non-100% rye mashbill) rye, that won’t carry the ten-year age statement. So be sure to examine the bottle closely. Personally, I scooped up four bottles when I had the chance.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: Behind the Scenes at Drew Estate’s New ‘DE2’ Pre-Industry Building

16 Apr 2014

On Monday I kicked off our coverage of our recent pilgrimage to Estelí with a focus on Drew Estate’s plans for expansion and dedication to quality control. Today I’ll delve into the Nicaraguan company’s new pre-industry facility, which they’ve dubbed “DE2.”

DE2

Officially unveiled in January, DE2 is a 60,000+ square foot, $4 million building that was erected directly across the street from La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate. Whereas the company was previously renting smaller facilities around Estelí to process, ferment, age, and sort the tobacco it purchases, those operations have now been expanded and centralized in DE2. Nicholas Melillo led most of our tour of the facility.

Tobaccos at DE2

Currently Drew Estate has enough tobacco within the building to support two years of cigar making; Jonathan Drew aims to increase the supply to about four years. This will enable the company to withstand pricing pressures from its tobacco suppliers—a critical strategy especially with A.S.P. tobacco, which is in high demand.

Experimental Field

Speaking of tobacco suppliers, Drew Estate doesn’t grow any of its own tobacco, save for this small “experimental” field adjacent to DE2. But Jonathan Drew assured us that, within a few years, “you can count on Drew Estate being one of the largest tobacco growers in Nicaragua.” Such vertical integration represents a major shift in strategy for the company.

DE2 Basement

The basement of DE2 houses 300,000 pounds of tobacco (roughly $5-6 million) in pilones undergoing fermentation. It is equipped with state-of-the-art temperature gauges and fire prevention technology. One of the tobaccos aging here is a new Florida Sun Grown leaf that we’ll have more details on in the coming days.

Cafeteria

The land next to DE2 (which can be seen across the experimental field through the employee cafeteria) is also owned by Drew Estate. It is the likely site of DE3—another facility that will almost certainly be needed if the company is to meet its goals for expansion.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: San Lotano The Bull Robusto

15 Apr 2014

San Lotano cigars have been a hit for A.J. Fernandez, and this extension seems certain to keep the line high on the charts. The Bull lives up to its billing as a more powerful smoke, while maintaining an inviting, smooth balance. The Bull was originally distributed by the parent company of Cigars International, but has since joined the rest of the San Lotano lines offered through A.J. Fernandez Cigar’s regular distribution channels.Lotano Bull copy

Lotano BullThe filler is from Fernandez’s fields in Nicaragua, as is the binder. They’re rolled in a fine-looking dark brown Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper that is encased in a cedar sleeve stamped with the silhouette of a bull’s head.

The Robusto, one of the three introductory vitolas, sports a hefty 54 ring gauge with the typical length of 5 inches. Befitting the premium price tag of $9.60, it’s also decked out with a black cloth foot band and is lightly box-pressed.

I haven’t come across these locally yet; the two I smoked for this review arrived in my mailbox as part of a Fernandez sampler.

I’m a fan of cedar spills and it seemed appropriate to use The Bull sleeves to light the cigars. It was a good way to start. The natural cedar mixed with an explosion of flavors that included spice in the back of the throat, some floral notes, and a pleasant metallic tone.

About halfway through, The Bull took on a darker taste. There was less spice, and the floral notes were gone, replaced by a rich tobacco fullness. But spice reappeared in the final third as the cigar continued to evolve.

Construction in the two samples was excellent, as was the burn and dark gray ash. And it’s hard to imagine a cigar producing more smoke.

Near the end, The Bull did get a bit harsh, signaling time to let it go.

For those who enjoy a full-bodied cigar, this is one you shouldn’t miss. I give the San Lotano The Bull Robusto a strong recommendation and four stogies out of five.

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

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: Drew Estate Dedicated to Expansion, Maintaining Quality Control

14 Apr 2014

Last week Patrick S and I were on location in Estelí, Nicaragua, to attend Drew Estate’s Cigar Safari. In the coming days we’ll have lots of content to share with you—including dozens of photos, a new premium tobacco being grown in Florida, and a behind-the-scenes look at “DE2.” But today I’ll start with the high-level highlights about our host.

It’s worth pointing out that Drew Estate is now producing around 100,000 cigars per day. To put this in perspective, even though there’s no such thing as the “typical” cigar factory, the median for cigar factories could be considered to be around 35,000 cigars per day.

Quality Control

Jonathan Drew admitted to the challenges associated with such high production. Drew Estate needs to hire more supervisors and more employees for the quality control room. Currently, the company is purposefully rejecting a higher percentage of cigars at each level of the process—a decision that’s less than optimal for profit maximization. But it’s clear Drew Estate will not compromise on quality control.

Eventually, as the organization acclimates to its accelerated levels of production, the percentage of rejects is expected to drop to an acceptable level. This acclimation includes promoting more standouts to supervisor rolls, hiring more staff, and even knocking down walls in the factory to improve flow and reduce accidental cigar damage.

JD

Jonathan Drew seems to be grappling with the reality that his role is to make business decisions for the company. He is more of a corporate executive than a cigar blender or tobacco man. Nicholas Melillo, on the other hand, is redoubling his efforts in many areas he shared with Steve Saka (before Saka’s departure). These include tobacco purchases, overseeing the aging and fermentation processes, and working on blending.

Willy Herrera Lancero

Willy Herrera will be expanding his Herrera Estelí line with a Lancero. We saw the prototype on Drew Estate’s main rolling floor. He also has a whole new line in the works called Herrera Norteño, which will make use of Mexican tobacco. Willy continues to be an imposing, soft-spoken presence.

Aging Room

Part of Drew Estate’s expansion includes ensuring enough room to age cigars post-production before they are shipped. Interestingly, the room currently used for this purpose is colder than you might expect. That’s because Drew Estate has found that cold aging is similar to the “low and slow” rule of barbeque. Aging takes longer at a colder temperature, but the end result is superior. However, with Liga 9 in particular, they’ve found less aging produces a better result, so that blend is spending less time in this room.

Here are a few other nuggets of information about Drew Estate that are worth mentioning:

— Despite rumors that the company purposefully depresses production of Liga 9 to drive up price, Jonathan Drew once again assured us that he is making as much of the blend as possible. The key constraint is the availability of certain tobaccos. Again, the theme here is that quality will not be compromised.

— Drew Estate considers its main competitors to be Arturo Fuente, Davidoff, General Cigar, and Altadis—not small boutique brands.

— The cigar bubble burst of the late ’90s was, in a way, a blessing for Drew Estate. Falling demand meant the up-and-coming company had access to better tobacco than they might have otherwise been able to purchase.

Later on this week, I’ll report specifically on Drew Estate’s new pre-industry facility, which they’ve dubbed “DE2,” and what the enormous building means for the company. For now, I welcome your comments and questions.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys