Commentary: Cigar Country Power Rankings (5-1)

28 Sep 2016

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While cigars are commonly associated with few countries, at least a dozen countries make significant contributions to handmade cigars. This week, we rank the top ten countries by their importance to the industry. The production of handmade cigars is truly global, as evidenced by the fact that Belgium, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Jamaica, and the Bahamas—each of which grow cigar tobacco or make cigars—missed the top ten.

On Monday we counted down from ten to six. Today we reveal the rest of the top ten.

5) Ecuador Wrapper, wrapper, and more wrapper. That’s why Ecuador is so high on this list. Blessed with powdery, nutrient-rich soil and natural cloud cover, odds are good some of your favorite cigars introduced in recent years use Ecuadorian wrapper, likely grown by the Oliva tobacco family. Not only is Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut (where cloud cover makes netting unnecessary) an alternative to U.S.-Connecticut Shade wrapper, but the country also produces the increasingly popular Ecuadorian Habano leaf, as well as significant amounts of Sumatra-seed wrapper.

4) Honduras Not too long ago, Honduras surpassed Nicaragua when it came to cigar exports to the United States. That’s no longer the case, and it isn’t all that close but the country is still in a tier of its own above all but the top three on this list. Known for bold, flavorful tobaccos, Honduran tobacco continues to be a staple for cigars rolled in Honduras (especially in the country’s cigar epicenter of Danlí) and elsewhere.

3) Dominican Republic Long the number one handmade cigar country for cigars imported into the United States, today the Dominican Republic has a strong claim to our number three spot. Many victims of Cuban revolution ended up in the Dominican Republic, where iconic brands continue to be produced today. Add such classic brands as Davidoff and La Aurora, plus many upstart boutique brands, and it is easy to see why the Dominican Republic continues to be a juggernaut.

2) Nicaragua Both Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic have a strong case to make for second place, but in recent years Nicaragua has surpassed the Dominican Republic in many ways, especially as the social and political instability of the war in the 1980s moved into the rear-view mirror. In terms of handmade cigar output, Nicaragua, with its rich soil, has pulled even with the Dominican Republic in terms of imports to the U.S. in recent years, even though as recently as 2005 the Dominican Republic outproduced Nicaragua almost four to one. Today, many traditionally Dominican blends are coming out with cigars that include Nicaraguan tobacco, a fact that ultimately pulls Nicaragua ahead.

1) Cuba Although held back because Cuba’s cigar industry is state-controlled, Cuba still has some of the best tobacco-growing regions in the world, which results in many of the finest cigars. Plus, no country is as closely identified with cigars as Cuba. If ever we could see some of the top-grade Cuban tobacco used in combination with that from other countries, I would expect the result to be spectacular.

There you have it, our top ten. Agree or disagree? Let us know.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Commentary: Cigar Country Power Rankings (10-6)

26 Sep 2016

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While cigars are commonly associated with few countries, at least a dozen countries make significant contributions to handmade cigars. This week, we rank the top ten countries by their importance to the industry. The production of handmade cigars is truly global, as evidenced by the fact that Belgium, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Jamaica, and the Bahamas—each of which grow cigar tobacco or make cigars—missed the top ten.

Today, we count down from ten to six, with the top five being revealed Wednesday.

10) Indonesia Indonesian cigar tobacco doesn’t get a lot of respect from many cigar connoisseurs, but it is a workhorse. Sumatra wrapper is known for its mild spice, and Indonesian tobacco is frequently used as binder due to its excellent combustion qualities and neutral flavors that play well with more flavorful tobaccos. Take a look at any cigar catalog and you may be surprised at how many premium cigars use some Indonesian tobacco.

9) Brazil Although rich in history with a diversity of cigar tobaccos grownincluding Mata Fina, Mata Norte, and ArapiracaBrazil flies under the radar. After the Menendez family, which created Cuba’s famed Montecristo cigar, had their Cuban-based holdings seized by the Castro regime, the family spread out in search of other opportunities to grow tobacco and make cigars, including Felix Menendez, who became a pioneer in Brazilian tobacco. While few Brazilian puros are made, Brazilian tobacco is primarily used in combination with other tobaccos.

8) Cameroon Cameroon wrapper has a special place in the cigar industry. Put simply, there is nothing else like it. Grown predominately by the Meerapfel family in Cameroon and the Central African Republic, Cameroon wrapper features a mild spice that so far hasn’t been replicated. That’s why, even though quality Cameroon wrapper is expensive and sometimes delicate, more than one cigar maker has told me as long as it is available they plan on keeping a Cameroon-wrapped cigar in their profile, if for no other reason than because they enjoy the leaf so much.

7) Mexico For a long time, Mexican tobacco had a reputation as rough and course, but that has changed in recent years as Mexican puros have decreased but Mexican San Andrés Maduro wrapper has become an increasingly popular. With high quality Broadleaf Maduro wrapper hard to find, the industry has turned to Mexican leaf in large numbers, and consumers have welcomed the addition.

6) United States A century ago, cigars were rolled in every major U.S. city. Today, with the exception of a few boutique factories in Miami, almost no handmade cigars are made in the United States. Still, the country is important to handmade cigars because of the high quality wrapper grown in the Connecticut River Valley, especially Connecticut Shade and Broadleaf wrapper. As demand for Broadleaf has increased, tobaccoBroadleaf especiallyis also being grown in Pennsylvania. Although minute in terms of volume, an interesting experiment has also seen cigar tobacco grown in Florida for the first time in decades.

Check back Wednesday for the top five.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Viaje Oro Reserva VOR No. 5 (2010)

25 Sep 2016

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.”

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This Viaje Oro Reserva VOR No. 5 is the cigar that put Viaje on the map for many people when it landed at number two on the Cigar Aficionado best-of list for 2010. Today, I’m re-tasting the six-year-old cigar to see how it has aged. (The VOR No. 5 was reissued in 2012 and 2013, but those can be differentiated because they featured a secondary band marked “Oro” and the Reserva band on the foot.) The cigar features wood, earth, and leather along with light cocoa and mild spice (cinnamon and nutmeg). The result is a cigar that, over the years, has become even more perfectly balanced, but still flavorful. Six years later you can still see why this was so sought-after.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Galera Habano Chaveta

24 Sep 2016

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.”

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A new offering from Tabacalera Palma in the Dominican Republic, La Galera pays homage to the craft of cigar making from start to finish. From the line’s name (“la galera” is a factory’s rolling room) to the individual vitola designations (each an industry-related name) and the incredible band (intricate scenes of a tobacco field and a lector at work), it’s an impressive presentation. The cigar also delivers on performance and flavor, with a complex blend: Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, Dominican Corojo binder, and a mix of Dominican fillers, including Pelo de Oro. At just a shade over $6 for the robusto-sized Chaveta (5 x 50), this sweet-tasting, medium-strength smoke is definitely one to try.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 498

23 Sep 2016

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.

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1) Among the choices facing California voters in November is the option to increase the cigarette tax by $2 per pack, with equivalent increases on other tobacco products, including cigars. A “yes” vote on Proposition 56 would increase the tax on cigars and pipe tobacco by 145% in the country’s most populous state. California Citizens Against Special Interests and Wasteful Taxes set up a website to encourage voters to reject the tax hike, calling Prop. 56 “a $1.4 billion tax hike grab by insurance companies and other wealthy special interests to dramatically increase their profits by shortchanging schools and ignoring other pressing problems.” Cigars are already taxed at a rate of 27.3% in California. “At a time when the California state budget has billions in surplus revenue, is this really the right time to be raising taxes—especially when the revenue will have no taxpayer accountability?” asked Tom Hudson, president of the California Taxpayer Protection Committee.

2) Greensboro, North Carolina, is the site of the latest Davidoff Lounge, this one a 2,000-square-foot space with “a modern design with industrial touches” inside Havana Phil’s Cigar Company. The grand opening was yesterday. According to a press release: “Davidoff commissioned NYC urban artists, UR New York, to create a one-of-a-kind art piece, depicting the fusion of Davidoff luxury and Greensboro’s local flavor. The lounge also features a filigree polygon ‘base jumper’ sculpture by artist Moto Waganari, offering interesting perspectives that will take viewers on an experiential journey from virtual art to reality. All decorative elements give this Davidoff Lounge a recognizable stamp of quality and luxury.”

3) Inside the Industry: Yesterday, multiple reports surfaced indicating Michael Giannini, creative director at General Cigar, was departing the company where he had worked since 2000. Giannini has held many positions at General over the years, including working with Ernesto Perez-Carrillo on La Gloria Cubana, and then becoming the face of the brand after Carrillo departed. In more recent years, he launched Foundry Cigar Company, which was described as a boutique operation within the General Cigar umbrella. Quotes from both parties suggest they part with mutual respect. Giannini also hinted he will soon reemerge in the cigar industry: “A musician knows when to stop playing when they don’t have any more songs… I’m not done playing,” he said.

4) From the Archives: If you’re a new cigar smoker, you may suffer from too much—or too little—advice. The simple act of attempting to enjoy a cigar can even become a source of worry, which is the last thing it should ever be. Back in 2013, we presented some suggestions to help beginners more easily find pleasure in the hobby.

5) Deal of the Week: New cigars continue to flow in at Smoke Inn. Now, any purchase of $75 or more includes a free triple-flame lighter valued at $50. To get it, just add the coupon code “StogieDeal” in your shopping cart before checking out.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Review: MBombay Vintage Reserve Lancero 1973

21 Sep 2016

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This is a cigar made to stand out.mbombay-lancero

At 8.5 inches in length, it’s an inch longer than the traditional Cuban lancero size. After removing the cedar sheath that covers about two-thirds of the Vintage Reserve, the unwrapped foot is pronounced. At the head, a small pigtail cap is easy to miss.

But where this version of MBombay’s annual limited edition—500 boxes of 25 shipped to retailers, according to company head Mel Shah—truly shines is with its flavors.

It begins with light, enticing spice before the Ecuadorian wrapper becomes engaged. At this point, with all components burning, the spice begins to be overshadowed by notes of wood.

About a third of the way down, there’s a rich taste of cinnamon that lasts throughout. It is most enjoyable, especially as it mixes with the wood, cedar, and tobacco sweetness along the way. Strength is in the medium range.

The filler is a mix of Dominican and Peruvian tobaccos, while the binder is Dominican. Like other cigars from MBombay, the Vintage Reserve is rolled in Costa Rica. The price tag is $13.50 a stick.

I smoked two of these and found them to perform excellently. The burn was straight, the draw smooth, and smoke production top-notch. As with all thin cigars—the ring gauge is 38—it’s necessary to smoke slowly to avoid overheating.

Perhaps as a backlash to the trend toward humongous ring gauges, some smokers have embraced lanceros. In fact, you’ll often see the vitola dubbed the “connoisseur’s size.”

I’m not sure that’s quite rational. Judging someone by the size of the cigars they smoke doesn’t make any more sense to me than judging cigars themselves based on size.

In the case of the Vintage Reserve, I think it’s a tasty cigar that any smoker would enjoy, from connoisseur to amateur. It scores four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Black Label Trading Company Killer Bee

19 Sep 2016

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Last fall, James Brown, creator of Black Label Trading Co. (BLTC), announced a new “small-batch cigar line” called Black Works Studio. “Part of the motivation for opening our own factory, Fabrica Oveja Negra, was to experiment and develop unique blends highlighting Nicaraguan tobacco,” said Brown. “Black Works Studio (BLK WKS) is my first opportunity to use our factory as my playground. Blending cigars is my passion and I ended up with several blends and ideas on the shelf [so] the time was right to launch a new brand.”

20160918_234642490_iosThe three original BLK WKS cigars were Killer Bee (4.5 x 46), an Ecuador Maduro-wrapped petite corona; Rorschach (5 x 38), an Ecuador Habano-wrapped petite panatela; and NBK (6 x 46), an Ecuador Habano Oscuro-wrapped corona larga. Green Hornet, a stronger follow-up to the Killer Bee that’s distinguished by its Candela closed foot, was added this summer. All of these are offered in addition to BLTC’s core lines, which include Lawless, Royalty, Redemption, Benediction, Salvation, and Last Rites.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the NBK and found it to be outstanding—perhaps one of the best cigars I’ve examined in 2016. I really enjoyed the “powdery” texture, the “cool, airy, and light” smoke, and the flavors of “cocoa powder, coffee, roasted nuts, and black pepper spice.” So it’s no surprise I’d like to further explore the BLK WKS portfolio.

Today we’re looking at the Killer Bee, which retails for $7.50 and sports Nicaraguan tobaccos beneath its dark, clean, oily, and moderately veined Ecuadorian Maduro wrapper. The closed foot, “linear cap,” and eye-catching band of black, gold, and green makes this a striking petit corona from an appearance perspective.

After setting an even burn, pre-light notes of burnt caramel transition to a bold, powerful profile of hearty black pepper spice with dry notes of char and oak. Make no mistake: Killer Bee is full-bodied and attention-grabbing from the get-go. The spice is offset only slightly by subtle sweet notes of syrup and candied nuts. At the midway point, though, the strength mellows noticeably and the spice tempers considerably. Here, the cigar is more balanced, but I’d say it still falls into the full-bodied spectrum. The finale includes a predictable—though not unwelcome—increase in spice and intensity.

Construction is fine with a burn line that requires a few touch-ups here and there. The gray ash holds well off the foot, the draw is smooth throughout, and the smoke production is average.

I’ve smoked several Killer Bees, and I can attest my enjoyment is heightened greatly when I fire up this cigar on a full stomach and pair it with a neat bourbon or a glass of sipping rum. For me, under other conditions, it verges on too much strength. In any circumstance, though, if you’re looking for a lot of power in a small format, this is a good choice—especially for the price. All told, I think the most appropriate rating is a respectable three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys