Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 420

6 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.

Tom Wolf1) Tom Wolf, the governor of Pennsylvania, has included in his 2015 budget proposal a state cigar tax of 40% of the wholesale value. Along with Florida, the Keystone State is currently the only state without a cigar tax, which is why a disproportionate number of online cigar wholesalers call Pennsylvania home, including Famous Smoke Shop, Holt’s, and Cigar’s International. “A lot of these retailers have threatened to move to Florida, which is the capital of the premium cigar industry,” said Greg Zimmerman, president of the Pennsylvania Retail Association for Premium Cigars, to The Patriot-News. “If there was to be this onerous tax of 40 percent on the wholesale it would put us above all neighboring states and drive businesses out of Pennsylvania.” In 2010, Gov. Ed Rendell proposed a 30% tax on cigars that was ultimately voted down.

2) Here are some more details on an item from last week’s sampler. Later this year, the largest Davidoff store in the world—5,000 square feet—will open in Tampa. Called “Davidoff of Geneva–Since 1911,” the location will feature “a completely humidified store filled with premium cigar retail space, multiple lounges both indoor and out, private lockers, as well as an elegant full-service bar serving premium alcoholic beverages,” according to a press release. “This will be the company’s first licensed flagship store outside of Las Vegas.” Jeff and Tanya Borysiewicz of Corona Cigar Co. are partnering with Davidoff in the venture.

3) Inside the Industry: Altadis U.S.A. is releasing “Romeo by Romeo y Julieta Aging Room,” a limited release slated for April that is being made for Altadis by Boutique Blends, an up-and-coming boutique-oriented Dominican cigar company. The cigar, which also will carry the name “Small Batch F25,” is a Dominican puro currently being rolled at Tabacalera La Palma, the Dominican Republic factory where Boutique Blends makes all of its offerings.

4) Deal of the Week: This $26, 5-cigar sampler will save you over 30% off retail price, plus you get free shipping on your entire order. Included is one each of the Avo Heritage Short Robusto, La Aurora 107 Robusto, Gran Vida Habano Corona Extra, E.P. Carrillo Cardinal 56, and the Kristoff Ceniza de Plata Gordo.

-The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr

Drew Estate

Commentary: Cigar Renaissance or Unhealthy Bubble?

5 Mar 2015

tobacco-overheated

Discerning cigar smokers still flinch at memories of the cigar boom of the mid ’90s. From 1993 to 1997, annual handmade cigar imports skyrocketed from under 100 million to well over 400 million.

The result wasn’t good for consumers. Many established manufacturers couldn’t ramp up production while still meeting quality standards, and lesser quality “Don Nobody” brands flooded the market.

Good cigars were suddenly difficult or sometimes impossible to find, while poor and mediocre cigars were being sold for high prices. From the perspective of consumers for whom cigar smoking was more than a fad, the bursting of this cigar bubble was a good thing, even if it took a few years for things to stabilize.

For the industry, the boom wasn’t so bad. First off, they sold a lot of cigars in the peak of the boom, and the smart ones had enough foresight to be ready to weather the coming bust.

The longer-term benefits to the industry were the lessons learned. Cigar makers are rightfully weary of sacrificing quality for quantity, even as total handmade cigar production has crept up towards mid-boom numbers.

So, at some point, the question has to be asked: Are handmade cigars approaching another bubble that’s about to burst? There are good reasons to think not, but maybe some warning signs too. First off, the growth has been far more steady this time. Also, you don’t hear as much from industry types about a coming end to boom times, which I’m told was seen by many as almost inevitable during the mid ’90s, even if the exact timing or speed of the collapse were largely unanticipated. The counter is that it’s hardly unusual for bursting bubbles to not be anticipated by most people in them, otherwise people wouldn’t lose so much money in those bubbles.

One of the things that worries me is the ever-increasing price of new cigars, especially the increasing number of cigars sold by companies that aren’t themselves cigar makers. Many of these cigars are of good quality, but they don’t always offer particularly good value for smokers, in part because they have to buy their cigars before they sell them to retailers.

Then there are the pending potential shocks to the established cigar industry. FDA regulation has the potential to wipe out numerous brands introduced in the past few years. Other possible market-shattering events include the full end of the Cuban Embargo, or a natural disaster striking a major growing region.

I don’t want to bum anyone out here, but cautious optimism is usually a more intelligent outlook than unrestrained exuberance. While a collapse like the cigar industry saw after the peak of the ’90s cigar boom seems unlikely, industries don’t usually grow forever.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Guayacan Sabor de Estelí Habano Robusto

4 Mar 2015

It’s easy to root for a guy like Noel Rojas. Three years ago, when he moved to Nicaragua from Miami, he made cigars out of his house—with the garage serving as tobacco storage, the dining room reserved for sorting, and a bedroom repurposed as an aging room.

Sabor Habano Robusto 1Today, Rojas’ company, called Guayacan, is part of the House of Emilio, which also includes 1502, Bodega, Epicurean, Ezra Zion, and Nomad Cigar Co. His core line is simply called Guayacan, which sports an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. He also makes a Mexican San Andrés-wrapped Guayacan Maduro—as well as a few cigars for other brands—out of his newly constructed Tabacalera Aromas de Jalapa factory in Estelí.

Last summer Rojas added Sabor de Estelí to the Guayacan portfolo. Spanish for “flavor of Estelí,” the line comes in two variations: an oval-shaped Habano and a box-pressed Maduro. Each, as you would expect, features Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos, with the former wrapped in Ecuadorian Habano and the latter in a Mexican San Andrés leaf.

Sabor de Estelí Habano is offered in four sizes: Robusto (5 x 50), Toro (6 x 52), Gordo (6 x 60), and Corona (6.5 x 42). The Robusto retails for about $8 and has a highly textured wrapper with plenty of tooth and moderate oils. The feel is a little spongy and the cold draw is smooth. Pre-light, the foot exhibits rich notes of dark chocolate, mole sauce, and damp earth. I find the highly traditional, colorful band to be attractive and a nice complement to the dark wrapper.

From the outset, the Robusto produces a spicy, dense flavor with notes ranging from cayenne, black pepper, and cedar, all balanced by some sweetness and a bready component that reminds me of flour tortilla. The texture is leathery, and the finish is a heavy dose of dark roasted coffee bean. At times, I also pick up cream, peanut, and cocoa. I’d classify the body as medium to medium-full.

The samples I smoked for this review, provided to me free of charge by Emilio Cigars, burned beautifully. I ran into no problems with the burn line, draw, smoke production, or ash.

Over time, I hypothesize the Sabor de Estelí Habano Robusto might mellow out. Personally, though, I love the spice-forward flavor this cigar brings to the table now, and I’m not sure I’d want to sacrifice any of that kick. Teeming with taste and abundant in complexity, the Robusto leaves me wanting more by the time I reach the nub—and that’s one of the better compliments I can pay a cigar. I will be buying more for my own personal enjoyment, and I award this excellent smoke four and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Aurora Untamed Robusto

3 Mar 2015

If La Aurora was an actor, this creation would be playing against type. Long identified with prototypical Dominican cigars, the enduring manufacturer offers up something different from band to blend.unnamedbox

untamed-rSo far, this effort to tap into the growing market for stronger cigars has met with much success since its debut at last year’s IPCPR Trade Show. Many bloggers have praised Untamed, and Dominican Cigar Review chose it 2014’s Cigar of the Year.

And it’s difficult to overstate the significance of the line when the company itself touts it in a press release as “a step towards the future.”

What’s different? Well, for starters, the cigar’s filler has none of the typical Seco leaves—milder tobacco from the middle of the plant—and an abundance of stronger Dominican Ligero. The binder is Dominican and the dark wrapper is U.S. Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro.

On the cosmetic level, La Aurora’s usually stately lion has been transformed into a toothy, ferocious beast dominating the distressed-style box and the cigar’s large band.

The line comes in five sizes, with the Robusto (5 x 50) the smallest. I was sent three samples for review. Checking online, a single Robusto appears to retail for about $7.50.

Untamed offers a pleasant, sweet, fruity pre-light aroma from the wrapper. I worried that the burn might be a problem because of the thick wrapper and blend makeup, but the three I smoked performed perfectly. Both draw and smoke production were excellent.

My disappointment came with a harshness I experienced from the beginning. It was aggressive, particularly so in the first half, often nearly overwhelming the prominent deep espresso flavors and pepper. I didn’t find a lot of the sweetness often associated with Maduro wrappers, though there was more in the final third.

I think this cigar could age well, with humidor time perhaps smoothing out the harshness and allowing the other flavors to come to the fore.

When a major manufacturer such as La Aurora tries something new, it’s always a good idea to give it a try. I’d urge anyone who likes stronger cigars to pick up a couple and form your own impression. I give the Untamed a respectable three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Punch Sucker Punch King Hit

2 Mar 2015

Most of us think of a sucker punch as an unannounced or unexpected attack, usually a closed fist to the face. “Sucker Punch” is not a bad name for a cigar, especially for one loaded with Ligero and bearing the name of a brand with a longstanding reputation for full flavor.

Sucker PunchSucker Punch debuted in June 2014, made by General Cigar exclusively for Famous Smoke Shop. (Full disclosure: Famous sent me a sampler pack of Sucker Punch cigars to make this review possible. As always, the samples Famous provided in no way impact my assessment of the cigar.)

The Sucker Punch blend includes an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper around a Cameroon binder and Nicaraguan Ligero long-filler. It is crafted by Augustin Garcia Lainez, Central American Tobacco Operations Manager for General Cigar. “[Augustin] divides his time between Honduras and Nicaragua,” reads the General Cigar website. “He was instrumental in creating Hoyo de Monterrey Reposado in Cedros, CAO OSA, and CAO Concert, and continues to work diligently to ensure the quality of cigars for all brands under the GCC Central American portfolio.”

There are four Sucker Punch sizes, all of which sell in the affordable $5.57 to $6.80 price range: Critical Condition (7 x 52), King Hit (6 x 54), Lights Out (5 x 52), and Smash Face (6.1 x 60). I smoked a five-pack of King Hits for this review. This thick toro has a clean, pale exterior leaf, pre-light notes of honey and hay, and an interesting band of blue, gold, and red that features a female boxer.

The cold draw is easy and airy with the wrapper imparting a slight sweetness on the lips. After setting an even light, this translates to above average smoke production. The initial profile is similar to what you’d expect from a Connecticut-wrapped smoke, albeit with a little more kick: butter, nut, oak, and sweet cream.

After the first inch, the Ligero starts to make its presence known, imparting notes of black pepper and transitioning from medium-bodied to medium-full. The result is not necessarily heavy, rich, or dense (as I suspect this cigar would taste with almost any other wrapper type). Instead, it smokes like an amplified version of a typical Connecticut. It’s like a bold, full-flavored stick that still leaves room for subtlety. Then the final third is a huge dose of nicotine and spice—the sort of experience you don’t want on an empty stomach.

True to General Cigar form, the physical properties are outstanding. The gray ash holds well off the foot, the burn line stays straight from light to nub, and the draw is smooth.

I give the Sucker Punch King Hit bonus points for being a truly unique Connecticut that’s affordable, full-flavored, and definitely not boring. Save this as an after-dinner companion with your favorite bourbon or scotch. 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

Quick Smoke: Tatuaje 10th Anniversary Selección de Cazador Noella

1 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.”tatu-brown10-noella-sq

tatu-brown10-noella

The Tatuaje Brown Label (officially called “Selección de Cazador”) has long been a go-to cigar for me, despite the fact that I haven’t smoked it as regularly lately. This particular stick (5.1 x 42) features the 10th Anniversary band, although the blend is unchanged from standard Brown Label offering. (Tatuaje celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2013 with special packaging for all the vitolas in the Brown Label line.) The blend, featuring an Ecuadorian wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler, produces rich earth, coffee, and cedar spice. There’s good reason why I’ve bought many boxes of this cigar over the years. The combination of an easy-to-enjoy size, top-notch construction, and full flavors makes this a recommended standby.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Crowned Heads Four Kicks Piramide

28 Feb 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.”

Crowned Heads Four Kicks Piramide

The Four Kicks Piramide (6.25 x 52) from Crowned Heads is a study in spice. Not so much your common black, peppery spice. But cinnamon, cedar, and baking spices. Other admirable traits of this affordable, Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped smoke include notes of sweetness for balance, excellent construction, and a medium-bodied profile that’s simultaneously approachable and satisfying. I paid about $8 for this cigar at a local shop, and it was worth every penny.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys