Quick Smoke: La Sirena Merlion Robusto

18 Jul 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

There’s no telling how long this Merlion Robusto had been resting in one of my humidors before I fired it up recently. But I guess you have to hand it to its obnoxiously large band (two bands, actually); once the cigar came into view, it caught my eye. The Robusto (5 x 50) retails for about $9 and sports an Ecuadorian wrapper around a Brazilian binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. The flavor is dry and a bit salty. I can pick out notes of oak, café au lait, white pepper, and warm tobacco. Construction is solid, but I am stopping short of a full recommendation since the taste hits my palate in a way that’s too straightforward and too dry for my liking.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Nikka From The Barrel

17 Jul 2019

Bubble. Boom. Whatever you want to call it, whiskey has been on the upswing for years. And, recently, Japanese whiskey in particular has been a victim of the realities of supply and demand.

Some combination of branding, style, distribution, and long-overdue recognition has catapulted Japanese whiskey from an oddity to a sought-after luxury in recent years. That culminated last year when Nikka From the Barrel was designated 2018 Whiskey of the Year by Whiskey Advocate.

The 51.4% ABV spirit demonstrates many of the mysteries and anomalies of Japanese whiskey. The blended whiskey is produced by Nikka Whisky Distilling, but few details are available beyond that.

While all Japanese whiskey meets the legal definition of whiskey (distilled malt or grain aged in oak barrels), the fact is there are few requirements beyond some step in the process taking place in Japan. Japanese whiskey can be single malt, grain whiskey, or a blend, and it can even be aged or distilled in Japan or elsewhere. (Yes, that Japanese whiskey you are drinking may have started in Canada, Ireland, or Scotland.)

In short, it’s the wild west (or perhaps wild far east) of whiskey. The reputation of what’s in the bottle is far more dependent on the label than the region or Japanese designation. With supplies of Japanese-distilled whiskey dwindling, there is every reason for consumers to be skeptical of that new Japanese whiskey you come across.

However, Nikka From The Barrel doesn’t suffer any lack of reputation or pedigree, as detailed in Whiskey Advocate‘s write-up: “In 1985, Nikka Whisky Distilling Company’s blending team, led by Shigeo Sato, designed this whisky using both malt and grain whiskies produced at Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo Distilleries. When taking into account the full array of casks—bourbon barrels, sherry butts, refill hogsheads, and more—over 100 different constituent whiskies are enlisted.”

The result is an amber whiskey with a rich nose full of sherry and bourbon-y vanilla with hints of hints of seaweed and sulphur. On the palate you’ll find a balanced, complex combination of flavors with ginger, stonefruit, oak, tobacco, and red fruit. The finish is clean and balanced with lingering ginger and light wood spice.

It is without a doubt an enjoyable whiskey, and the price ($80) isn’t unwarranted given the hype of Japanese whiskey (though, at that price, there are quite a few scotch single malts I’d prefer). With this bottle being increasingly hard to find, you certainly shouldn’t be eager to pay more than that suggested retail price.

Pair it with a medium-bodied or even mild cigar if you want to appreciate all the nuanced flavors that Nikka From The Barrel can reveal. Some suggestions include: Aging Room Bin No. 1 B Minor, Cabaiguan, Cohiba Siglo, Illusione Epernay, Paul Garmirian Gourmet, and Warped Futuro.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Black Label Trading Company Morphine 2019 Corona Gorda

15 Jul 2019

Black Label Trading Company (BLTC) creator James Brown calls the 2019 iteration of Morphine “one of the best yet.” Each year, this blend—which was introduced in 2014 as a fuller-bodied addition to the BLTC portfolio—has a different vintage. What sets this one apart, according to Brown, are “rich and earthy” flavors “with bold spice on the retro.”

Morphine sports a Mexican San Andrés maduro wrapper around a Nicaraguan Habano binder and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. It is handmade at BLTC’s factory in Estelí, which goes by the name Fabrica Oveja Negra.

There are three Morphine vitolas available in 2019: Lancero (7 x 38, $11.50, 12-count boxes), Short Robusto (4.5 x 50, $10.50, 20-count boxes), and box-pressed Corona Gorda (5.5 x 46, $10.50, 18-count boxes). Only 450 boxes of each were produced. I’ll save you some math: That amounts to a total run of 5,400 Lanceros, 9,000 Short Robustos, and 8,100 Corona Gordas.

The Lanceros are likely to be the most sought-after, and not just because they comprise the stingiest production; I imagine BLTC’s core audience is comprised of seasoned cigar veterans who appreciate small-batch, boutique cigar operations. If I know these folks—and I’d like to think I do—I can safely say they like their lanceros.

After taking a handful of Corona Gordas for a test drive, I am happy to report this is not a Morphine vitola to overlook. Beneath its macabre, Silence of the Lambs-esque dual bands of black and white is a firm, dark, moderately oily cigar with thin veins. At the foot, I find heavy, rich pre-light notes of molasses and dry wood. The pigtail cap clips easily to reveal a slightly stiff cold draw that imparts some spice on the lips.

Once lit, the introductory flavor is intense and concentrated. Expect to find a hearty dose of black pepper spice, espresso, and warm tobacco. In the background linger subtler, sweeter notes, including raisin and cocoa. The texture is thick and chalky. And, yes, as Brown claims, the retro-hale is bursting with palate-coating spice.

Typically, at this point in a review, I write about how the intensity of a full-bodied cigar pulls back and the taste becomes a little softer and creamier. Not here. There are few changes along the way. And, frankly, that’s OK with me. I appreciate this cigar’s textures and tastes. And the small, compact format helps ensure the flavor doesn’t overstay its welcome.

In terms of construction, the burn line tends to meander a bit, and several touch-ups are needed keep things running smoothly. Aside from that, I have no complaints. The smoke production is good, the ash holds firm, and the draw is moderate.

The 2019 Morphine Corona Gorda is unapologetically San Andrés. If you like that rich, earthy flavor—and I do—you’ll not want to miss this. It’s a great example of how to leverage many of the best qualities of Nicaraguan tobacco with a Mexican wrapper. Kudos to Brown and the folks at BLTC. This powerful treat is worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Flor Dominicana Old Virginia Tobacco Company Exclusive

14 Jul 2019

A couple times each week 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 consider myself lucky to live near multiple excellent cigars shops that carry plenty of store exclusivew and other hard-to-find limited cigars. This La Flor Dominicana was made exclusively for one of those (the northern Virginia-based chain Old Virginia Tobacco Co.), and has an undisclosed blend with a dark brown wrapper and a lightly box-pressed shape. The cigar features flavors of roast nuts, cedar, coffee, and a spice that builds towards the final third. Balanced, well-constructed, and medium- to full-bodied, it’s easy to recommend.

Patrick S

photo credit: N/A

Quick Smoke: Tatuaje Exclusive Series TAA 51st

12 Jul 2019

A couple times each week 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’ve found another cigar with a Mexican San Andrés wrapper that I like. With Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos, it’s a rich, creamy smoke with chocolate and espresso overtones and none of the dirt taste I often associate with the San Andrés leaf. In addition to the wrapper, the band is also a major departure from Tatuaje’s past exclusives. This limited edition of 60,000 sticks—Tatuaje’s ninth for the Tobacconists’ Association of America (TAA)—comes as a robusto (5 x 52) with a retail price of about $12 each. This is one I highly recommend.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXX)

10 Jul 2019

In our thirtieth “Random Thoughts from the Humidor” article, we look at protecting cigars, “CigarCon,” and how to upgrade your Negroni:

Marco Rubio: Congress Must Act to Save America’s Cigar Industry

A must-read op-ed from Florida Senator Marco Rubio:

I support current laws which prohibit minors from smoking, but tobacco is a legal product and it’s wrong for Beltway bureaucrats to snuff out small manufacturers and retailers of premium cigars. Any person who has seen machine-made cigarillos, or fat cigarettes, behind the cash register at their neighborhood gas station knows these products are vastly different than a hand-rolled premium cigar. And yet, unlike premium cigar makers, the large corporations that mass produce cigarillos have the financial means to comply with the FDA regulations so they will continue to be sold in mass quantities.

This overregulation is also unnecessary as it is already illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. Even the FDA’s own research proves that underage tobacco users are not smoking premium cigars. Premium cigar smokers account for just 0.7 percent of all adult tobacco users and the median age of a person’s first regular use is 24.5 years old.

So what can we do to stop this overreach?

That was the subject of a Small Business Committee field hearing I held in Ybor City this April. We heard directly from the premium cigar industry and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, which makes sure federal regulations do not unnecessarily hurt small businesses. The Office of Advocacy wrote to the FDA expressing concern about the rule’s economic impact on the premium cigar industry, but the FDA ignored these concerns.

If the FDA fails to recognize that the practical effect of its rule will put America’s premium cigar industry out of business, Congress must act to save this iconic industry. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2019, which would exempt the premium cigar industry from the FDA’s misguided rule.

Read the rest.

CigarCon Is On

At the Premium Cigar Association (PCA) Trade Show last week (formerly known as the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, or IPCPR) the widely anticipated CigarCon was formally announced. The event will, for the first time, officially open the convention to the average cigar consumer.

The move is being billed as a way to raise more money to fund the lobbying that PCA and CRA do to protect premium cigars from government regulations: “Rocky Patel was brought on stage to sell the event and explained that the legal bills as part of FDA regulations for ‘this year’ have totaled $3.6 million, a burden largely shouldered by the IPCPR and a group of manufacturers that are part of Cigar Rights America (CRA).”

Needless to say it raises a ton of questions, including: How much money can the event really raise for PCA? Will manufacturers be expected to provide cigars to attendees? Will attendees be willing to pay big bucks if they don’t get free samples from manufacturers? Do large retailers (and others like Cigar Aficionado, which puts on the Big Smoke event each year) see this event as competition for their own multi-cigarmaker events?

A Negroni Upgrade

One of my go-to cocktails for years (and one of the few I make with any regularity at home) is the Negroni. The drink warrants its own New York Times trend piece, so apparently I’m not alone. The classic Negroni is equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. What I’ve especially come to appreciate recently, however, is how those ingredients can be tweaked slightly with outstanding results.

Vermouth matters (my preference is Dolin, especially for the price, though you can never go wrong with Carpano Antica). You can also substitute Campari for another bitter (Luxardo Bitter Bianco and Aperol are each outstanding in completely different ways). Finally, don’t get locked into gin as the base liquor. I’m a big fan of swapping it our for rum, in what has been called the “Kingston Negroni.” Currently, my favorite Negroni is funky Smith and Cross Jamaican rum, Luxardo Bitter Bianco, and Dolin vermouth. But I’m always experimenting.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Cigar Tip: Cure Your Lighter Woes with the Z-Plus 2 Lighter Insert

8 Jul 2019

If there’s one thing most cigar smokers can agree on, it’s that, while butane torches are great for lighting up, they can also be among the finickiest, most unreliable, most erratic of accessories. Finding one that works well is often a quest.

For several months, I’ve been using a Z-Plus 2 insert in a Zippo case. I’ve been impressed.

Z-Plus inserts come in single- and double-flame varieties with a price difference of only a couple of dollars. I paid less than $25 for both a new Zippo and a double-flame insert. (Note: This article is not the result of any request by a manufacturer, distributor, or any other entity besides my own curiosity; I paid for the inserts myself.) I chose a standard Zippo brushed chrome case that doesn’t appear to have changed since I carried one in high school to light Marlboro cigarettes.

One of the first things most cigar smokers learn is to not use a conventional lighter with petroleum-based liquid fluid. The concern is that the fluid’s smell can get transferred to the tobacco. Butane, on the other hand, is an odorless gas at room temperature and has virtually eliminated lighter fluid as the preferred fuel supply for cigar lighters.

But, as noted earlier, butane lighters can be dicey to keep working over the long haul—or sometimes even over the short haul. Most use an electronic spark to ignite the butane, and that can become misaligned. Or the flame valves can get clogged. Sometimes, though, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what’s wrong, other than the darn thing won’t light. It can be terribly frustrating, especially since many of these lighters cost an arm and a leg.

My Z-Plus has ignited consistently. The only lighting problem I’ve encountered was my own fault. After filling the lighter and sliding it into the case, I found the flame would die only a few seconds after igniting. Finally, it dawned on me that it was probably shipped with the flame at its lowest setting and should be adjusted. Since adjusting that? No problems.

They’re made by the Lotus Group, one of the major lighter and accessory manufacturers. There’s little visual difference in the single- and double-flame models, though the single’s casing is opaque so you’re not able to see the fuel level.

Another attraction of the Z-Plus insert and competitors such as Vector’s Thunderbird line is for collectors. The variety of Zippo cases is seemingly endless.

Zippo itself tried the butane market a few years ago with a distinctive lighter it called Blu. Apparently, it never really caught on and even ran into legal trouble over the name. Finally, the lighter, by then called the more-prosaic Zippo Butane Fueled Lighter, was discontinued in 2016. (My colleague, Patrick A, had a Blu, but it was eventually confiscated by a TSA agent.)

I have only one real complaint with the Z-Plus, and it’s rather minor. Though there’s no problem depressing the ignition when the lighter is upright, it can be a little tricky to keep your fingers out of harm’s way when used at an angle for a touch-up.

Overall, I highly recommend the Z-Plus 2 as a low-cost butane torch. It’s worth a try—especially if, like me, you’ve had problems with other torches.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys