Cigar Spirits: Zafra Master Reserve 21 Year Rum

18 Sep 2014


I’ll admit, rums that start with the letter “Z” tend to be my favorites. Zaya 12 and Zacapa 23 (not to mention Zacapa XO) are go-to rums for me, both with a smoothness and depth of flavor that can only be achieved through time in the barrel.

So I didn’t hesitate to pick up Zafra Master Reserve, a Panamanian rum aged 21 years in bourbon barrels. Apparently the same company that originally brought Zacapa to the U.S. market is the same outfit behind Zafra, which sells for around $40.

Zafra is a dark copper color, not surprising given its age. The nose could almost be mistaken for a bourbon, with corn sweetness, lots of oak, and orange peel.

The palate is surprisingly dry with lots of cedar and spice along with cognac and dried fruit. Underneath are more traditional rum flavors of vanilla, molasses, and oak. The long finish features more spice and oak.

It’s like a cross between a rum and a bourbon, and that’s a good combination for me. Don’t expect an overly sweet vanilla-forward rum. Zafra is more restrained and subtle than fellow “Z” rums Zacapa and Zaya.

That goes for cigar pairings, too. Instead of full-bodied smokes you’ll want something more balanced. Think Fuente Hemingway Short Story or Cabaiguan Robusto Extra.

As far as Zafra goes, it’s worlds apart from Zaya or Zacapa, but excellent in its own way, albeit more balanced and subdued. And on top of that it’s excellent for the price (I picked mine up for $37). Zafra 21 may not be the first thing I’d recommend for rum beginners, but real rum aficionados should definitely seek it out.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Commentary: Putting Cigar Industry Consolidation in Perspective

17 Sep 2014

On the heels of last week’s news that industry giant General Cigar had acquired the Toraño brands—and that Toraño would be shutting down—seemingly everyone had an opinion to voice. I saw viewpoints ranging from indifference to surprise to downright anger.

There remain many unanswered questions. Why did Toraño make this move now (assuming there is a reason beyond Charlie Toraño wanting to spend more time with his family)? Is General actually committed to maintaining the current Toraño portfolio as-is, or will there be changes to the existing blends? Will new Toraño offshoots/brands be launched by General? And what’s going to happen to Leccia Tobacco?

But whether or not you like this latest consolidation, it’s important to recognize this won’t be the last major deal joining brands that were once distinct. Longtime readers may recall several past articles where we’ve explained why:

“There are plenty of reasons to expect consolidation will continue to be a theme in the industry. Via economies of scale, larger companies can better adjust to the many tax and regulatory burdens that cigars now face. Combining sales forces and distribution channels can lower costs, keeping prices down for consumers while keeping profit margins healthy. Increased buying power also ensures access to the best tobacco available, as well as bigger advertising budgets.”

Other motivations behind cigar industry consolidation (though not necessarily motivations behind General’s acquisition of Toraño, mind you) might include:

• Expanding geographical scope/reach
• Capturing new clients and more market share
• Acquiring technology, property, and recipes
• Reviving undervalued brands
• Diversifying the portfolio of offerings

This article in the Harvard Business Review summarizes a study of 1,345 mergers over a 13-year period. It found, “once an industry forms or is deregulated, it will move through four stages of consolidation.” The result is an industry that is balanced and aligned. This final (fourth) state is defined as the top three companies claiming 70% to 90% of the market.

Consolidation Curve

I’ll resist the temptation to try to identify which stage of the so-called “Consolidation Curve” the premium cigar industry currently occupies. If, as I suspect, it’s pre-stage four, we can expect more consolidation on the horizon—like it or not.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Harvard Business Review

Cigar Review: Viaje Oro Reserva VOR Aficionado

16 Sep 2014

Many people first heard of the Viaje Oro Reserva, better known as the VOR, when the No. 5 size was named the number two cigar on Cigar Aficionado‘s top 25 list of 2010 (behind only the Cuban Cohiba Behike). That’s understandable given the extremely small production numbers of that first VOR; most probably never saw the cigar in any cigar shop near them.Viaje-VOR-Aficionado-sq

Viaje-VOR-AficionadoWith a name clearly evocative of that acclaim, Viaje recently rolled out this new Churchill (7 x 50) size of the VOR blend dubbed Aficionado. (The added marketing benefit is when you Google the cigar’s name, the top hit is that CA rating.)

The Viaje Oro Reserva line features the same basic ingredients as the regular Viaje Oro line: a Niacaraguan Corojo ’99 wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler. The difference is the Reserva edition fine tunes the blend with more aged ligero filler, and it is made by the most experienced rollers at the Raice Cubanas factory in Honduras in box-pressed sizes.

The triple-banded VOR Aficionado sells for around $11 each, or $280 for a box of 25. The reddish brown Corojo wrapper is nearly vein-free and the VOR features inviting pre-draw flavors with sweet spice, like a graham cracker pie crust.

Once lit, the spice-forward theme continues. There’s a molasses sweetness to the cigar along with baking spices, leather, and a powdery mouthfeel. Also evident are subtle fruit undertones and a long cocoa finish.

It starts out just a bit under full-bodied, but gradually eases back to a medium-bodied cigar, although the spice never really fades. The VOR features immaculate construction, from the razor-straight burn to sturdy ash to easy draw.

Thinking back on the Viaje cigars I’ve smoked, I often find them to be very good. But few are true standouts, especially given the price and trouble to track them down (since they aren’t carried by many shops). The VOR Aficionado, however, is a special spice-forward, interesting cigar worth finding. It’s enough to earn the Viaje Oro Reserva Aficionado a rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: E.P. Carrillo New Wave Connecticut Gran Via

15 Sep 2014

When the man who made La Gloria Cubana a household name started his new family-run company in 2009, few in the cigar industry doubted he would be successful in his new venture. To date, by seemingly every measure, this “mad genius” of tobacco he has been.epc-nw

Gran ViaOne undertaking that has helped solidify Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s post-General Cigar success has been the New Wave Connecticut blend. In 2011, it joined the E.P. Carrillo portfolio, which now also includes Cardinal, Inch, E-Stunner, La Historia, and the Core line.

Made at Tabacalera La Alianza S.A. in the Dominican Republic, New Wave Connecticut is E.P. Carrillo’s first Connecticut. It sports an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper around a Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. It is available in six sizes: Brillantes (5 x 50), Stellas (5.1 x 42), Divinos (6 x 52), El Decano (6 x 60), Selectos de Oro (6.1 x 43), and Gran Via (7 x 49).

I picked up a five-pack of Gran Vias for $35. This long, somewhat slender vitola has a thin, golden, almost pale wrapper with minimal veins and a wrinkled surface. The foot emits pre-light notes of green raisin, dried apricot, and sweet hay. A simple guillotine cut reveals an easy cold draw. In the hand, the cigar feels a little light, and there are some soft spots.

Those who expect all Connecticut-wrapped cigars to be mild will be surprised by the New Wave Connecticut, even from the start. The body at the outset is decidedly medium with flavors that include black pepper, cedar, and honey. As one might anticipate, there are also tastes of cream, nut, and sweet hay. The texture is toasty and buttery.

The strength builds at the midway point and beyond as notes of pepper and warm tobacco take hold. The finale tastes more Nicaraguan than Connecticut. All the while the combustion properties are solid, including a straight burn line, true draw, and good smoke production. Only the ash leaves something to be desired; it is flaky and temperamental.

I would agree with Ernesto Perez-Carrillo that the Divinos is probably the better vitola. The Stellas is no slouch either. But the Gran Via is excellent, and a tremendous value at only $7. I award it four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Quick Smoke: La Antiguedad Corona Grande

14 Sep 2014

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke a>: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”MF-La-Antiguedad-cg-sq


My colleague reviewed La Antiguedad (Spanish for “antiquity”) a couple months ago, but I hadn’t gotten around to trying this new offering from My Father Cigars. I picked up the box-pressed Corona Grande (6.4 x 47) from a local shop for just under $8. The Ecuadorian Habano Rosado Oscuro wrapper looks flavorful with its reddish-brown color, notable veins, and oily appearance. Beneath are double Corojo and Criollo binders and filler all grown at My Father-owned Nicaraguan farms. The cigar features a complex combination of oak, chalk, leather, and black pepper. The burn is occasionally uneven, but otherwise construction is solid. Smoke it slowly and it will reward you.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Palina Goldie Laguito Especial

13 Sep 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.”

On a recent trip, I was surprised to spot this limited edition on a cigar store shelf. Naturally, I couldn’t resist, even at $19. Goldie has achieved something of a cult status since La Palina released the first edition 2012. I never had that one, or the Goldie that came out in 2013. If they were as tasty and elegant as this one, I understand all the praise. This lancero-shaped (7 x 40) smoke is, simply, wonderful—from the fantail head to the long ashes as it burns. If you can find one of the 25,000 that were released, don’t miss it.

Verdict = Buy.

-George E

photo credit: N/A

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 399

12 Sep 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.

Torano Logo1) General Cigar has announced it has acquired the brands associated with the Toraño Family Cigar Company. The move comes four years after Toraño re-launched itself at the 2010 industry trade show—taking back control of its own distribution from a conglomerate that housed Toraño under the same roof as General Cigar and CAO, and introducing a new logo (seen at right). Now, all Toraño brands will be folded into the General Cigar portfolio, and the Toraño Family Cigar Company will be dissolving. Reports are circling that Toraño’s staff will not be included in the acquisition, but has been unable to confirm with reliable sources. “There is a long-standing and proud history of partnership between General Cigar and Toraño, dating back to my family’s exodus from Cuba,” said Charlie Toraño. “There is no other company that I would rather have continue my family’s legacy, and I look forward to seeing the Toraño brands prosper under General Cigar’s expertise.” Later in the day yesterday, on Toraño’s website, Charlie had this to say: “The acquisition will provide me with more time to be with my family while still enjoying the pleasures of the cigar business. I will work with General Cigar to transition the brands to them. They are committed to learning the portfolio and maintaining the integrity of the cigars you have come to know and love. You can be sure that the blends will not change, the factories that make these incredible cigars will not change, and there are no plans to discontinue any of our cigars.”

2) It remains to be seen how General Cigar’s acquisition of Toraño’s brands will impact Leccia Tobacco, which is distributed by Toraño. Whether Leccia’s brands like White, Black, and Luchador were included in the deal is unknown. Yesterday, via Facebook, Sam Leccia responded to dozens of concerned commenters: “Gang, I have a multitude of options, no need to be concerned at all whatsoever.”

3) Inside the Industry: Nat Sherman announced it is opening a rooftop cigar lounge (with plenty of heaters for those cooler evenings) on top of the Knickerbocker Hotel overlooking Times Square in New York City. Meanwhile, Joya de Nicaragua announced that Arnold André will market, sell, and distribute Joya de Nicaragua cigars in Germany.

4) Deal of the Week: Act quickly to get this grab-bag special of 15 cigars for just $40. Smoke Inn lists the following brands as likely (though not necessarily) included: Toraño, Perdomo, Rocky Patel, Ortega, Nestor Miranda (old blend), SI House Blend, Camacho (old blend), Romeo Y Julieta, Gran Habano, La Aurora, and Montecristo.

-The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Toraño