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

Drew Estate

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

Quick Smoke: Room 101 HN 305

20 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.”

Once Matt Booth announced earlier this year he was ending his partnership with Davidoff and exiting the cigar business, it was only a matter of time before the discounts began on his Room 101 lines. I recently picked up a 10-pack of these robustos (5 x 50) for $2.25 each. At that price, the HN 305 is easy to like. With a complex blend of a Honduran Criollo ’98 wrapper, Brazilian Mata Fina binder, and filler from Honduras and the Dominican Republic, the flavors may not blow you away, but they also aren’t likely to disappoint. I’ve smoked several and all have performed excellently. Keep an eye out for a sale if you’d like to try something a little different.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Altadis To Distribute Boutique Blends, Colección Aniversario No. 20, Avo Syncro South America Ritmo, and More

19 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) On Monday, we learned a “strategic alliance agreement” was struck that makes tobacco giant Altadis the distributor for Boutique Blends Cigars. As part of the agreement, Rafael Nodal has accepted a position within Altadis, and the Boutique Blends brands—including Aging Room, Swag, La Bohéme, and Oliveros—will now be sold through Altadis. Cigar Aficionado reports that “Boutique Blends dismissed its sales force (made up primarily of independent contractors) and is in the midst of moving inventory from its Miami warehouse to Altadis’ in Tampa.” In his new position, Nodal will continue to oversee his own brands, as well as help with project development for other brands within the Altadis portfolio.

2) After success in the European market, Maya Selva Cigars is bringing its new Colección Aniversario No. 20 series stateside, with shipping expected to begin in August. For vitolas will be available with retail prices ranging from $9 to $14.50. The featured tobaccos include a Habano Jamastran wrapper, dual binders from Olancho and Azacualpa, and various Honduran fillers. The Colección Aniversario No. 20 originally debuted in Paris in June 2016.

3) DC Grays, an organization dedicated to promoting baseball in the nation’s capital, is hosting its annual “Cigars and Curveballs” fundraiser Monday. The event, hosted by radio host and Washington Times sports writer Thom Loverro, will take place at Shelly’s Back Room, a popular cigar hangout near the White House.

4) Inside the Industry: Davidoff’s Avo brand is expanding its Avo Syncro line with a new blend called South America Ritmo, a cigar featuring tobaccos from seven different countries. The cigar uses an Ecuadorian wrapper, Mexican binder, and filler from Nicaragua, Peru, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil. The cigar, which will ship later this month, comes in four box-pressed sizes with prices ranging from $10.90 to $13.90. It is rolled in the Dominican Republic.

5) From the Archives: For a decade, we’ve been periodically recommending Gold Star Smokes, cigars we feel are especially worthy of your  dollars and attention. Take a step back in time to find our very first choices here.

6) Deal of the Week: Gurkha fans will want to jump on this deal on the Heritage line. All boxes are discounted 25-40% for a limited time.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: AgingRoomCigars.com

Cigar Review: Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection K222

17 May 2017

Tatuaje-Broadleaf-Collection

As I’ve noted before, with the FDA deadline just days away at the time, the 2016 IPCPR Trade Show saw a flurry of new cigar announcements, as expected. Pete Johnson’s Tatuaje was no exception. And I don’t think I have to go out on a limb to say fans of Tatuaje were most excited for the new Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection.

The Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection consists of a whopping 100 cigars selling for $1,200, featuring ten each of the six original Miami Seleccion del Cazador (Brown Label) “HUNTER” sizes, plus the J21, SW, K222, and Cojonu 2003 blends. Originally, the cigars were set to only be available in 5,000 master cases of 100 (pictured above). More recently, though, Tatuaje has announced some will be released in boxes of ten of each size.

The master cases of 100 began arriving at retailers earlier this year and StogieGuys.com secured one. In addition to master cases of 100, Tatuaje owner Pete Johnson announced this year that the cigars will also be available in boxes of 10 of each vitola ($140 for the K222 box of 10).  In March, I reviewed the lonsdale-sized (6.4 x 43) Havana Cazadores vitola. Today, we evaluate the toro-esque K222 (5.9 x 52), the most recent addition to the Brown Label offerings.

The original K222 was released last year as a tribute to Pete Johnson’s late dog, Kona, who passed away at 2:22 PM on April 26, 2015. That version features a dark Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobacco. The Broadleaf Collection edition swaps out the Ecuadorian Habano for Connecticut Broadleaf. To differentiate from other Reserva lines (including the original K222, which also uses the Reserva secondary band), the Broadleaf Collection bands say Broadleaf below Reserva on the second band.

I smoked four K222 Reserva Broadleaf Collection cigars for this review. The deep brown wrapper has just a little oil. One of my samples featured some oversized veins running from the cap to the foot, but all four exhibited excellent combustion qualities.

Once lit, I found a cigar heavy on tannin and oak notes combined with a roasted flavor that reminded me stale coffee. Through the 90-minute smoke, I also found bread and black pepper notes.

The K222 Reserva is strong and full-bodied, but neither balanced nor complex. I frankly was underwhelmed by the cigar, which caught me by surprise since I gave very high marks to the original K222 and the previous Broadleaf Collection (Havana Cazadores) I reviewed.

Maybe the explanation is that this is more an experiment than a polished blend, as the original K222 was clearly blended for the rich Habano wrapper and not a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. Whatever the reason, while hardly an unpleasant cigar, it doesn’t come close to the original K222 blend, nor is it among the best of the Broadleaf Reserva Collection. This is why the K222 Broadleaf Reserva earns three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Cohiba Blue Robusto

15 May 2017

A few weeks ago, not long before announcing Sean Williams of El Primer Mundo as the new Cohiba brand ambassador, General Cigar Co. revealed Cohiba Blue. From a packaging perspective, the new line is a departure from the silvers and blacks that dominate the rest of the Dominican-based brand’s portfolio.

I don’t know this for sure, but my sense is the Cohiba marketing team was aiming for a differentiated look that expressed modernity and approachability. The purpose of Cohiba Blue, after all, seems to be to attract more (presumably younger) consumers to the brand at a less intimidating price point.

The four inaugural vitolas that are just now arriving at retailers nationwide—Churchill (7.5 x 50), Robusto (5.5 x 50), Rothschild (4.5 x 50), and Toro (6 x 54)—sell in the $8.99 to 10.99 range. While they are by no means discount or value smokes, they are less expensive than many of the other options within the Cohiba collection. Each vitola is presented in a box of 20 that’s hand-painted—you guessed it—bright blue.

The Cohiba Blue recipe includes a Honduran Olancho San Agustin (OSA) wrapper and binder (no, cigars do not typically use the same kind of tobacco for both the wrapper and binder) around Honduran Jamastran, Nicaraguan Ometepe, and Dominican Piloto Cubano filler tobaccos. “The layered wrapper-binder deepens the smoking experience and imparts subtle, earthy notes,” reads a General Cigar press release. “The unique, three-country blend represents the world’s most revered tobacco growing regions and delivers a sophisticated, memorable smoke.”

I smoked a handful of Cohiba Blue Robustos for this review. Appearance-wise, this cigar is unimpressive. The OSA wrapper is grayish and pale with several prominent veins that leave the splotchy, moderately oily surface rugged and unrefined. And the band seems quite cheap—not because it’s blue, but because it’s flat and plain.

Looks are far from the most important aspects of any cigar. So I went into lighting up my first Robusto with an open mind. What I found was a well-balanced, spice-forward, medium-bodied profile that’s best characterized by cinnamon, cedar, roasted nuts, warm tobacco, and a bit of honey. From the outset, both the draw is a bit tight and the smoke production at bit light.

After half an inch, the draw opens considerably, the smoke production becomes more in line with expectations, and the spice recedes. The cedar becomes oak and the cinnamon is replaced by a sweet, creamy backdrop akin to nougat. Thereafter, there are few changes, save for a slight increase in intensity in the final third. Throughout, the burn line is well-behaved, though don’t be surprised if you need to employ a few torch touch-ups.

All things considered, the Blue Robusto is a satisfying, well-made smoke with good flavors. I don’t think it’s going to wow anyone, yet there’s still a lot to like about this new Cohiba. In my book, it earns a solid rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys