Cigar Review: 7-20-4 Factory 57 Robusto

22 Dec 2014

Every November since I started smoking cigars, I’ve compiled a list. Not a “best-of” list, mind you; more like a hit-list—cigars I want to try.

Factory 57Normally, I can cross everything off rather easily. But every once in a while there’s a cigar that evades me. This year, that cigar was the new Factory 57 from 7-20-4. A friend of mine got to sample it months ago and loved it, and since then I’ve been waiting for Factory 57 to hit shelves. Well, they’re finally in. And I’ve smoked three to let you know what I think.

The Factory 57 name refers, apparently, to the U.S. government’s official designation of 7-20-4 as a manufacturer of premium cigars. This cigar continues the naming trends of brand owner Kurt A. Kendall, who normally titles his cigars around the history of the company and tobacco in general. (The 7-20-4 name itself is a nod to 724 Elm Street in Manchester, New Hampshire—the address of the company’s original factory showroom.)

This specific vitola is a classic Robusto (5 x 50). It features a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper, Costa Rican binder, and filler tobaccos from Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Columbia. There’s no real discernible aroma from the foot, besides strong tobacco. The Robusto boasts a look of quality and care, with the traditional 7-20-4 artwork underlined by a black second band that has “Factory 57” in gold.

I straight-cut two of these cigars and V-cut the third. Each exhibited great draws, lit easily, and smoked down to the nub without needing corrections or getting harsh. The cold draw has an enticing sweet flavor. After setting an even light, the smoke tastes sweet and earthy. There is a unique vegetal note in the flavor profile, which is creamy and smooth. The finish of is short, with a very light spice left on the tongue.

Despite everything positive I’ve said, I have to say the Factory 57 Robusto left me underwhelmed. I look to 7-20-4 for complex, interesting smokes, and the Factory 57 just isn’t that. The first cigar I smoked for this review seemed to get stronger and more intense as I burnt it down, but the other two did not. By the third, I was so familiar with the smoke, and the vegetal note started to seem less unique.

Now, I do not mean to imply this is a bad cigar. It isn’t. If you’re looking for a medium- to full-bodied, mellow, creamy smoke, this could be a grand slam. It is constructed at a master level, and certainly has solid flavors. For me, though, the Factory 57 Robusto does not live up to the high expectations set by 7-20-4. It earns three stogies out of five.

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

-Joey J

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Quick Smoke: La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero “A” Oscuro Natural L.E. 2013

21 Dec 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.”

LFD-DL-A-LE-2013

On a whim I recently lit up this super-sized (9 inch by 47 RG) cigar, one of only a few “A” size cigars in my humidor. (It isn’t a size I smoke regularly.) The cigar was given to me while visiting the La Flor Dominicana booth at the 2013 trade show. It features an oscuro-colored Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper around binder and filler grown at La Flor’s Dominican farms. Despite the limited release’s special size, the flavors are pretty standard LFD Double Ligero: woodiness, spice, a little coffee. The medium-full bodied flavors are very consistent throughout the two hour smoke and construction was flawless. Judging “A” sizes is hard, since it’s more of a celebratory, special occasion cigar than something you might smoke more regularly. Still, this is a good example of the elegant “A” format and the $15 price is not unreasonable.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Viaje Stuffed Turkey White Meat

20 Dec 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

As a vegan, this annual holiday season release is about as close to turkey as I get. The Stuffed Turkey, available in both White and Dark varieties, became a separate line this year after three years under the so-called White Label Project. The White Meat (5 x 58) sells for $10 and features Nicaraguan Aganorsa binder and filler tobaccos wrapped in a Criollo Aganora leaf. I found this cigar to be spicy and satisfying, changing intensity and flavors throughout. It’s a fine cigar for any time of year.

Verdict = Buy.

-George E

photo credit: N/A

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 411

19 Dec 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.

Raul Castro1) On Wednesday, President Obama announced major changes for U.S.-Cuban relations as part of a prisoner exchange that was brokered with Cuban President Raúl Castro (pictured). While traveling to Cuba for tourism will remain banned, “licensed American travelers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined,” according to the Associated Press. “This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits.” Additional measures of the agreement include the U.S. reopening an embassy in Havana and an easing of travel bans for family visits and educational activities.

2) One article about President Obama’s new Cuban policy featured P.G. Cigars founder Paul Garmirian’s thoughts. His frank answer might shock those unfamiliar with the current state of Cuban cigars. “The character of the Cuban cigar has changed as the result of great pressures to meet the demand,” Garmirian said. “The quality of cigars from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua has gone so high that people don’t miss (Cubans).”

3) In last month’s “Question of the Month” (which admittedly ran significantly longer than a month), we asked readers what factors most into your decision to select a new cigar to try. “Brand/cigar maker” was number one with 31% of the vote, followed by “online/forum reviews” (25%), “wrapper type” (15%), “cost” (13%), and “word of mouth” (13%). Mainstream cigar media and marketing efforts were rarely cited as main reasons to try a new cigar—although there’s clearly a selection bias since the survey was conducted on a cigar blog. Be sure to weigh in on this month’s question by voting in the sidebar to the right. And feel free to contact us if you’ve got a good suggestion for a future poll.

4) Inside the Industry: Cigar humidification accessory maker Boveda has ended its distribution agreement with Ashton. The maker of two-way humidification pouches will now handle distribution in-house and through independent reps.

5) Deal of the Week: Illusione fans may want to move quickly on the new Smoke Inn exclusive called Pactum. Five-packs are available for $45, and if you purchase a box ($135) you get a free Illusione Pactum shirt for a limited time.

-The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Keeping After the FDA and Cigars

18 Dec 2014

FDA-cigars-large

Reading about the recently approved $1.1 trillion federal spending bill, it was hard not to wonder where cigars were. After all, the bill was larded with special provisions on topics from Army boots to cow manure.

It sure would have been nice if someone could have slipped in the provision barring the Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed regulation of premium cigars that’s been bouncing around Capitol Hill for several years.

I talked to George Cecala in the office of U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, the Floridian who’s a leader in pushing the bill. Cecala told me they tried before to get it into other legislation, and for those not directly involved in the process of assembling the bill, it wasn’t easy to get anything in.

Not that cigars were ignored altogether. A Cigar Rights of America (CRA) press release Wednesday highlighted what it called a “direct message being conveyed from the U.S. Congress to the FDA that premium cigars should not be regulated.”

It came, CRA reported, in the House Appropriations Committee’s funding report for the FDA: “…the Committee notes that FDA is considering excluding premium cigars from the scope of this proposed rule… The Committee believes this could be a viable solution, given that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act makes little mention of cigars throughout the legislation, and there is even less evidence that Congress intended to focus on the unique subset of premium cigars.”

Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic about the impact. We know already that the reason the FDA included the exemption option in the first place was because the White House Office of Management and Budget forced it in. As Reuters reported in June: “…OMB turned the FDA’s proposal as it relates to cigars from a two-part rule—one for traditional tobacco products and one for products that have not previously been regulated—into a ‘two-option’ rule, one of which would exempt ‘premium cigars.’”

CRA also noted that while the spending language was “a positive step forward… it does not eliminate the need for an unambiguous Congressional exemption for premium cigars.”

As the FDA continues its review, those like Posey and the CRA say they’re not relenting in their push to remove the threat of FDA oversight. The plan is to reintroduce the legislation in the 114th Congress after it convenes next month.

If you haven’t already done so, there’s no better time to write your representative and senators to let them know you support excluding premium cigars from FDA regulation.

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Drew Estate Herrera Estelí Piramide Fino

17 Dec 2014

Back in May, on the heels of Nick Melillo’s departure, Drew Estate named Willy Herrera “master blender,” a role where he would help maintain current blends, produce new cigar lines, and report directly to Jonathan Drew.

Piramide FinoIt remains to be seen how Swisher International’s purchase of Drew Estate may change Herrera’s position at one of the world’s largest handmade cigar manufacturers. But we know that Drew Estate management—including Jonathan Drew, Marvin Samel, and Michael Cellucci—are remaining at the company for the time being. And we know these individuals have a great deal of confidence in Herrera.

That confidence stems in large part from the success of Herrera’s debut line at Drew Estate, Herrera Estelí. This “Cubanesque” blend not only diversified the Drew Estate portfolio (which lacked a visible, more traditional, non-maduro cigar,), but it also earned widespread acclaim from the online cigar community, and claimed the number eight slot on Cigar Aficionado’s list of the best smokes of 2013.

To date, my experience with Herrera Estelí has been mostly limited to the Short Corona, a cigar that’s small in stature but big in quality. Lately, I’ve fired up a few Piramide Finos (6 x 52), one of the other four sizes in the series. Like the Short Corona, the Piramide Fino is a handsome, golden-colored smoke comprised of Ecuadoran, Honduran, and Nicaraguan tobaccos with pre-light notes of hay and molasses. Only the slightest puncture of the gorgeous cap is all that’s needed to open up a smooth cold draw.

Once lit, the belicoso yields a medium-bodied, balanced taste of cream, cashew, white pepper, and dry wood. There’s a lingering sweetness in the background, and the finish is characterized by a sharp, zesty spice on the tip of the tongue. At times a cinnamon spice can take control. Other times, an earthiness that reminds me of truffle comes to the foreground.

Throughout, construction is impeccable. Drew Estate prides itself on ease of draw and high smoke production, and the Piramide Fino is no exception. Additionally, the burn line is straight and the white ash holds superbly well.

I may have to give a very slight edge to the Short Corona, simply because I think the flavors pop a little more in that smaller format. But this is an outstanding belicoso, and one of the many Drew Estate creations I hope stays consistent once the Swisher International acquisition is complete. In my book, the Herrera Estelí Piramide Fino is a truly wonderful value at $10 and 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

Cigar Spirits: Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey

16 Dec 2014

For the dozens and dozens of fine bourbons, ryes, and single malt scotches I’ve tried, I could count on my fingers the number Irish whiskeys I’ve sampled. Fact is, variety is tough to find when it comes to Irish whiskey, even at liquor shops that have an excellent selection of other whiskeys. These days you’ll often find more Japanese whiskey on the shelves.

Teeling Small Batch 750ml WhiskeyStill, there’s a lot to Irish whiskey beyond Jameson (not that there’s anything wrong with Jameson). And Teeling seems intent on proving that. Which is why I took Teeling’s marketing company up on an offer to try a bottle, which is relatively new to the U.S. market.

While Teeling is a new whiskey, the Teeling name is anything but. Walter Teeling founded a distillery in Dublin in 1782. More recently, John Teeling bought a potato alcohol plant in 1987 and converted it into the acclaimed Cooley Distillery, which he subsequently sold to Jim Beam in 2011. John’s son Jack Teeling got back into the business soon after the sale with plans for a Dublin distillery with former Cooley whiskey man Alex Chasko as master distiller. In the meantime, the whiskey currently being bottled for Teeling is sourced from the Cooley Distillery, which supplies 16,000 barrels that were reportedly added to the $95 million purchase price.

Once the barrels are in their hands, Chasko and Teeling put their own stamp on the product with a rum barrel finish, which is almost certainly a first for Irish whiskey even though rum barrel finishes are commonplace elsewhere. Teeling Small Batch ($40) is then bottled without chill filtration at a 92-proof, a nice bump from the fairly standard 80-proof in Ireland. (Other Teeling offerings are made but currently none are available in the U.S.)

The dark bottle hides a light, straw-colored whiskey. The nose features lemon, honey, and malty sweetness. On the palate, I find dried fruit, malt, and a prominent woodiness, plus tropical citrus and spice likely influenced by the rum casks. The medium-length finish has a tinge of spice along with smooth wood and caramel.

Teeling will probably catch most people off-guard, and it will certainly surprise you if your idea of Irish Whiskey is Jameson shots. It has loads of sweetness, good balance, and plenty of complexity for a blended Irish whiskey.

To pair Teeling with a cigar, turn to a milder smoke. A balanced Connecticut-wrapped cigar like the Cabaiguan Robusto ExtraDavidoff Colorado Claro Short Perfecto, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet hits the spot without overwhelming your drink, which should be enjoyed neat.

Irish whiskey is on the rise. In 2000, there were three Irish distilleries. Now there are nearly a dozen. The whiskey they produce is more varied and more interesting than ever, and the rum cask-finished Teeling Small Batch is no exception to that Irish whiskey renaissance.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys