Cigar Review: H. Upmann by A.J. Fernandez Robusto

29 May 2017

Justified or not, hardcore cigar enthusiasts will often ignore brands from huge companies like General Cigar and Altadis in favor of offerings from small, boutique operations. Perhaps in an effort to combat this treatment, the two industry giants have both partnered with cigar makers who—while certainly not small—manage to maintain a solid rapport among the most dedicated segment of the cigar smoking community.

A few notable examples: In 2015, Altadis tapped Pete Johnson of Tatuaje to help craft Henry Clay Tattoo, a limited run of 2,500 boxes that quickly sold out. In 2016, General chose to partner with A.J. Fernandez, well-known for his operations in Nicaragua, to develop a four-vitola line called La Amistad.

These days, A.J. Fernandez has switched teams from General to Altadis to launch his version—a Nicaraguan version, of course—of the famed H. Upmann brand. It is made at the Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua factory with an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, Nicaraguan Corojo ’99 binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The three sizes—Churchill (7 x 54), Toro (6 x 54), and Robusto (5 x 52)—retail in the affordable $7.25-$7.75 range.

I recently bought a five-pack of the Robustos for $36.25. This cigar makes a great first impression with its smooth, silky, milk chocolate-colored wrapper, well-constructed cap, and firm packing of tobaccos. The foot yields savory pre-light aromas of peanut, hay, and cocoa, and the cold draw is effortless.

After establishing an even light, the first thing you notice is the chalky, powdery texture of the smoke. The flavor is best characterized by cocoa, sweet cedar, cream, and a gentle white pepper spice. The body is medium and the smoke production is above average.

As the Robusto nears the midway point, the minimal spice recedes even further, and the profile becomes a little woodsier. Oak takes center stage, though there’s still a nice backdrop of creamy sweetness. The final third exhibits a slight increase in intensity. Throughout, the combustion properties are absolutely flawless. The burn is straight, the ash holds well off the foot, and the draw remains easy with abundant smoke output.

It has only been about a week since H. Upmann by A.J. Fernandez shipped nationally (it was initially distributed to about 30 strategic retail accounts on May 8, with a wider distribution commencing on May 22).

It seems to me A.J. Fernandez was aiming for a tamer Nicaraguan blend that’s consistent with the traditional H. Upmann profile. In other words, I don’t think he sought to bring the full-bodied Nicaraguan spice and strength to this Dominican brand. Whatever the intent, the result works. This is a balanced, tasty, medium-bodied treat that smokes like a gem. In my book, it’s worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Quick Smoke: Arturo Fuente Hemingway Signature Maduro

28 May 2017

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.”

I’m not sure how long this dark treat had been in my humidor, but it had been quite a while. It’s also been quite a while since we reviewed this not-so-easy-to-find perfecto—more than seven years. From start to finish, it’s a terrific, rich smoke, with classic maduro flavors of coffee, chocolate, and tobacco sweetness. Keep an eye out for it and enjoy.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Nestor Miranda Collection Corojo Robusto

27 May 2017

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.”

In my estimation, this is the best blend in Miami Cigar & Co.’s Nestor Miranda Collection (the others being Connecticut, Maduro, and Habano), which was introduced at last summer’s IPCPR Trade Show. It’s a Nicaraguan puro with an oily, reddish Corojo wrapper and rich, medium- to full-bodied notes of roasted cashew, black pepper spice, leather, espresso, and hints of sugar. The Robusto (4.5 x 50) is my preferred size. You can find it for about $7 apiece—a nice value given the blend’s complexity and balance. And, as you would expect from the My Father Cigars factory, the construction is consistent and solid.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Davidoff Announces New Honduran Factory, John Drew Brands Introduces Leadership Team, and More

26 May 2017

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post our sampling of cigar news and other items of interest from the week. Below is our latest, which is the 531st in the series.

1) In support of its Camacho, Baccarat, La Fontana, Legendario, and National brands, Davidoff has announced the inauguration of a new factory in Danlí, Honduras. The factory sits on land bought by Davidoff in 2015 after the company acquired tobacco plantations in Condega, Nicatagua, and in the Jamastrán Valley in Honduras. “The site of the new facilities in Danlí is just under 450,000 square feet in surface area,” according to a press release. “The factory building, designed by Honduran architect Gonzalo Núñez Díaz, has several production halls, cold rooms, loading/unloading zones, a spacious guesthouse, and the refectory for employees, which meets the highest standards of technology and logistics.”

2) John Drew Brands has named Jonathan Drew CEO, Nancy Berkowitz president, Steve Chernoff national sales manager, and Frank Moreno national director of brand development. In addition, the venture will be supported by Joey Reichenbach and Sam Morales, the creative director and director of marketing at Drew Estate, respectively. Founded in 2015, John Drew Brands bills itself as “an authentic lifestyle company initially focused on the alcohol beverage category.” Its three introductory products were launched in April: Brixton Mash Destroyer (55% bourbon, 45% rum), Dove Tale Rum, and John Drew Rye.

3) The Hemingway Rum Company, maker of Papa’s Pilar, officially opened its new Rum Distillery & Experience Center in Key West  this week. The distillery building, originally built in 1878, once served as an all-brick tobacco warehouse. After a three-year renovation, the over 8,000 square foot facility now features a 350-gallon Hamilton pot still with a custom-made reflux column that can produce up to 80 gallons of rum per day, along with a visitor center, tasting room, and trading post shop.

4) Inside the Industry: Next month, select stores will receive the Davidoff Limited Art Edition 2017. The release features 5,000 boxes of 10 cigars equally split between 5 different boxes that feature works by Trinidadian artist Rodell Warner. The cigar sports an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, Ecuadorian Sumatra binder, and filler tobaccos from Brazil and the Dominican Republic. Each cigar carries a suggested retail price of $39.

5) From the Archives: In 2008, we featured a commentary on cigars and Memorial Day. Go back and read it here.

6) Deal of the Week: Oliva fans will want to jump on this sale featuring numerous boxes of popular Oliva blends for 40% off. Included are the highly-rated Serie V, Serie V Melanio, and Connecticut Reserve. If you really want to stock up, add promo code “GBP20D” at checkout to knock $20 off an order of $150 or more.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Davidoff

Cigar Review: Illusione Singulare Phantom (Regular Production)

24 May 2017

In the flurry of new cigars announced around last year’s IPCPR Trade Show, Illusione’s announcement of the return of the Singulare Phantom was one I personally was most eager to try. The original 2010 Singulare Phantom remains one of my favorite cigars of all time, a cigar I’ve enjoyed many boxes of over the years. (My original review awarded the cigar four and a half stogies, but I suspect with more age it would have earned five out of five.)

For the re-release, which is a now a regular offering, almost everything is the same as as the original. The size (6 x 50), blend (Nicaraguan puro), packaging (boxes of 15), and price ($12 per cigar) all remain the same.

The only major change is the original was made at the Raíces Cubanas factory in Honduras, where all Illusione cigars were made at the time, while the 2016 release is made at the TABSA factory in Nicaragua, where newer Illusione production has moved. Visually, it’s a well-made cigar with a light brown rosado wrapper free of any large veins and just a bit of sheen.

Once lit, I find a medium-bodied smoke with flavors ranging from Walker’s shortbread biscuits, café au lait, cedar, and roasted cashews. There are also hints of graphite and white pepper.

Construction was excellent across each of the five samples I smoked. Variation from start to finish is limited to bursts of spice and graphite that jump forward almost randomly.

The new Illusione Phantom is a complex and balanced smoke, though not as exquisitely balanced as the original. The original release Singulare Phantom got better and better with age; perhaps the re-release will too, as the flavors integrate even better with age.

When I reviewed the original cigar I noted that the $12 dollar price tag was quite reasonable. The fact that, six years later, the price hasn’t gone up at all is a welcome surprise. Flavorful, complex, and well-made, the Illusione Singulare Phantom 2.0 earns a rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Breckenridge Bourbon

22 May 2017

I’ll admit it. When I saw the tagline for Breckenridge Distillery—“the world’s highest distillery”—I first thought of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. Only seconds later did I realize the slogan was instead a nod to Breckenridge’s elevation of 9,600 feet above sea level. Such a clever play on words.

Credit for this double-meaning is probably due to Bryan Nolt, the young man who is founder and CEO of Breckenridge Distillery. “In 2007, I had the arguably really bad idea of starting a distillery in Breckenridge, Colorado,” Nolt writes on his company’s website. “Cashing out my life savings, kids’ college fund, and eventually selling my house to cover monthly payroll and taxes, we bootstrapped our way through the early years loving every minute of it.”

Today, Nolt says, it would be fair to call his distillery successful. In part, this is due to the “unique features of the Breckenridge water we use for proofing and blending every bottle of our spirits.” The Breckenridge product catalog includes a gin, several vodkas, a spiced rum, a bitter, a whiskey distilled from malt mash, and a blend of straight bourbon whiskeys simply called Breckenridge Bourbon.

I recently bought a bottle of the latter for about $40 here in Chicago (750 ml. bottle, 86-proof). “We mash, ferment, and distill a lot of bourbon in-house,” reads the Breckenridge website. “Our blend of straight bourbon whiskeys also consists of barrels selected from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana chosen for their unique qualities, heritage, and ability to marry in our blend, always made from a high-rye mash bill.”

That mash bill is 56% corn, 38% rye, and 6% malted barley. It is fermented in an open-top fermenter and twice-distilled in a copper-pot still. It is then set to barrel-age at 120-proof (no one knows for sure how long, but most seem to think only for two or three years; if true, the bourbon should have an age statement, which it does not). After aging, it is diluted with melted snow from the Rocky Mountains.

In the glass, Breckenridge Bourbon sports a dark copper color with a nose of brown sugar, candied pecan, green raisin, and banana. The flavor is nicely balanced and complex with a bready texture and abundant warm spice. The taste includes vanilla, buttered corn, honey, caramel, oak, and cinnamon. The finish is incredibly long-lasting with a pronounced spice and a numbing heat.

That numbing heat, to me, is the signature characteristic of this spirit, and a highly enjoyable sensation. It is significantly reduced if you add more than a drop of water, or if you serve the bourbon on the rocks. Therefore, I suggest you first try Breckenridge Bourbon neat (or, at the very most, add just a drop of room-temperature water).

Is this a young bourbon? Yes. Does it carry an age statement? No. That said, I think $40 is a very fair price since it delivers such a unique, satisfying, harmonious experience. I highly doubt you will be disappointed if you pick up a bottle. When you do, pair it with a medium-bodied smoke that brings its own complexity to the table. For starters, I would suggest the Gaaja Maduro Torpedo or the El Güegüense Churchill.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Umbagog Gordo Gordo

21 May 2017

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.”

No major visible flaws on this Umbagog by Steve Saka’s Dumbarton Tobacco & Trust, despite using Connecticut Broadleaf wrappers that don’t make the grade for the higher-end Mi Querida, both of which are made at at the NACSA favtory in Estelí, Nicaragua. The large toro (6 x 56) features rich earth flavors with dark chocolate, bread, and black pepper. With an easy draw and flawless combustion, this is an easy cigar to recommend given its sub-$7 price tag. I may even prefer it to the more traditionally-sized Toro Toro vitola.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys