Cigar Spirits: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon (2016)

26 Oct 2016

Some of the most sought-after bourbons come out this time of year, including Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Parker’s Heritage, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, and Four Roses Small Batch Barrel Strength. Since 2012, you can add the Angel’s Envy Cask Strength to that list.

angels-envy-cs-2016Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (AECS) has a suggested retail price of $179 and, unlike some of the aforementioned limited releases, you actually have a decent chance of finding AECS at that price, or something close to it. (Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year, in contrast, theoretically retails for $150, but the going market price is over $1,000.)

The 2016 Angel’s Envy release is 124.6-proof, or 62.3% ABV, slightly lower than last year’s release which was 127.9-proof. Just 8,000 bottles are being produced this year, up from 7,500 in 2015.

The bourbon pours a copper color and features an intense but inviting nose with ginger, pear, black pepper, sugar cookies, and some pure alcohol heat. On the plate, there is a full-bodied combination of figs, butterscotch, red apples, oak, and the notable influence of the port barrels in which this bourbon is finished. The finish is long and spicy with wood and port.

This is an intense, almost overpowering bourbon when sipped neat, but just the smallest amount of water smooths the rough edges and opens up a cacophony of more subtle flavors. Last year, after trying the sample I received from Angel’s Envy, I went out and purchased a full bottle (the bottle in the picture). Although the price is high, this tasty cask-strength bourbon has me considering doing so again.

Pair this bourbon with a bold, spicy smoke. Here are a few suggestions: Arturo Fuente Opus X, Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu, Paul Garmirian 25th Anniversary, and Joya de Nicaragua Antaño.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Drew Estate

Cigar Review: Room 101 Uncle Lee Ranfla

24 Oct 2016


ranflaTo say Matt Booth’s Uncle Lee cigar had an inauspicious start last year might be an understatement. The original plan called for the smokes to be issued as a limited edition in packaging that resembled a cereal box with a prize inside.

That never made it to market, apparently from concern over a possible backlash at potential underage appeal. (Older smokers may be reminded of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today cover debacle, though, unlike that situation, all original Uncle Lee cereal boxes were reportedly destroyed.)

The box that went on sale features a sketch said to be Booth’s Uncle Lee (“a constant inspiration”), with each cigar wrapped in black paper featuring cartoonish dollar signs.

According to initial reports, there were to be 5,000 boxes of 10 of the 6.5-inch, 50-ring gauge perfecto with a $10 price tag.

Whether they didn’t sell well or whether more were produced, I can’t say. But Uncle Lee has definitely hit the discount table, going recently for as little as $39.99 per box online.

Davidoff, which distributes Booth’s Room 101 cigars, still lists the Uncle Lee box price at $105, though it notes that they’re out of stock.

Uncle Lee features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder, and filler tobaccos from the Dominican Republic and Honduras.

I detected little pre-light aroma from the oily brown wrapper or the filler.

Upon lighting, I noticed a slightly musty taste, a little reminiscent of a milder Davidoff but with a touch of spice added to the mix. As the Uncle Lee progressed, the spice intensity went up and down, mixed with some cedar and clove.

None of the flavors dominate, resulting in a smooth, balanced cigar throughout.

At $10 per stick, I’d be unlikely to stock up. But when you can pick these up for half—or less—than that, it certainly seems like one to check out. The 10-count boxes make the bargain even more enticing.

I rate Uncle Lee three and a half stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Punch Signature Robusto

23 Oct 2016

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.”


When I reviewed this Punch in March 2015, my biggest complaint was “a sharpness that scratched at the back of my throat for much of the cigar.” After more than a year and half in my humidor, that’s gone and the Signature Robusto (5 x 52) has come into its own. A strong, spicy smoke with a slow burn, it was enjoyable from beginning to end. If you’re willing to invest the time—or can pick up Signatures that have been sitting awhile on your B&M’s shelves—I believe you’ll be rewarded.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: 601 La Bomba Napalm

22 Oct 2016

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.”


When this powerhouse line debuted five years ago, it was made by Don José “Pepin” Garcia for EO Brands. After the company split, production moved to Erik Espinosa’s La Zona factory in Estelí. Through the changes, it has remained a strong, distinctive Nicaraguan puro with a dark Habano wrapper. Most notably, the flavor includes hot pepper, spice, and a touch of coffee. The Napalm (5 x 52) retails for about $7.50 but can often be found for much less online. Whether you’re a committed fan of strong smokes (our 2012 review of the Nuclear vitola noted “the subtlety of an AC/DC song”) or just want an occasional injection of fire, light up a La Bomba.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 502

21 Oct 2016

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.


1) Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) visited the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. headquarters in Tampa on Wednesday to express contempt for FDA regulations on premium cigars and garner “news coverage… in a major media market along the Interstate 4 corridor as he’s locked in a contentious election against U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Jupiter Democrat,” reports the Tampa Bay Times. “This is a law that was passed to keep cigarettes and harmful tobacco products out of the hands of young people and children, and I don’t think any of us disagree with that. Anybody who knows about the premium cigar industry knows it’s not an industry that targets or is consumed by young Americans,” he told reporters. “The end result and the worst-case scenario is about half the people working here in Tampa will lose their jobs at some point, maybe more, because all they’re going to be able to sell is the things they were making before 2007.” Both Rubio and Murphy support congressional efforts to exempt premium cigars from harmful FDA oversight.

2) A little more than three years after launching Fratello Cigars, owner Omar de Frias has decided to leave his decade-plus career at NASA to focus full-time on his cigar operation. “I set an aggressive goal for myself at [this summer’s industry trade show]. I exceeded that goal. Given the enormous support I received and increasing demand for Fratello, this was the time to give the cigar industry the extra 50 hours a week I was spending on our nation’s space program,” said de Frais in a press release. “Although it is a tumultuous time for our industry, I have confidence in the staying power of my brand and the relationships I have worked so hard to build with our retailers and consumers.” Fratello Cigars can now be found in over 350 tobacconists in the U.S. and in 7 countries.

3) To regular readers, the FDA’s anticipated impacts on the premium cigar industry are as well-documented as they are frightening. Yet the American craft beer industry—now 2,300 craft breweries strong—is also reeling under pressure from the cumbersome bureaucracy. A new book from lawyer Baylen J. Linnekin entitled Biting the Hands That Feed Us, and highlighted in Men’s Journal, details “the unforeseen consequences of FDA rules and regulations that… can put unnecessary pressure on artisanal food producers and encourage waste in the system that gets food from the farm to you.” Of particular interest is “a proposed rule… for how brewers handle the byproducts of making beer that just about everyone in the industry found absurd and business-killing costly.” Read about it here.

4) Inside the Industry: Although technically introduced at the IPCPR Trade Show this summer, Miami Cigar & Co. formally announced the national distribution of the Nestor Miranda Collection Corojo this week. The new blend comes in four sizes with suggested retail prices ranging from $7.50 to $9.50. The blend joins the Connecticut, Habano, and Maduro blends in the Nestor Miranda Collection.

5) From the Archives: With last week’s news that Americans traveling abroad can finally import Cuban cigars for personal consumption, now is a good time to revisit this 2008 commentary: Is the Cuban Cigar Hype Justified? Conclusion: “Make no mistake about it, Castro’s oppressed island nation produces some fine stogies, from the Partagas Serie D No. 4 and the RyJ Short Churchill to the Cohiba Siglo VI and the Monte Petit Edmundo… I personally question whether all the Cuban cigar hype—and the excessive prices that come with black market goods—is justified. I think many of us give sub-par Cubans a pass simply because we’re not supposed to smoke them. The forbidden factor unquestionably makes them more attractive.”

6) Deal of the Week: The Liga Privada Dirty Rat is a very sought-after and hard-to-find limited edition smoke. Currently, it is in stock here (4-packs are $58 and boxes of 12 are $157), but move quickly. Buy the box, or any order over $75, and get a free triple-flame table lighter by adding the coupon code “StogieDeal” at checkout.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr

Tip: Five Things You Need To Know About the New Cuban Cigar Rules

19 Oct 2016


On Friday, news broke that federal rules for importing Cuban cigars (and rum) were changing. While the Obama administration has been largely hostile to handmade cigars, moves towards normalizing relations with Cuba have been a silver lining to the otherwise draconian stance by the Obama presidency, most notably the FDA, towards cigars. The changes officially went into effect on Monday, October 17. Here’s what you need to know:

Cuban cigars bought overseas can now be brought into the U.S.

In December 2014, for the first time since before Cuban Embargo, it became legal to import Cuban cigars into the United States, but only for officially licensed travelers to Cuba and only if the value of the cigars (and rum) totaled $100 or less. Further, until March 16, 2016, it was also technically illegal to buy Cuban cigars overseas even if they weren’t smoked outside the U.S. Now, it is legal to bring back cigars purchased in Cuba or elsewhere, as long as the cigars are for personal consumption.

Online sales from overseas on hold for now.

Many of the news stories about the rule change were vague and implied that all overseas purchases of Cuban cigars for personal consumption were allowed. Since non-approved alcohol can be purchased from overseas for consumption, it left the window open for Cuban cigar purchases overseas online, which would then be delivered into the U.S. However, the Treasury Department has made clear that the rule changes for importing Cuban cigars only apply to accompanied baggage: “OFAC is also removing the prohibition on foreign travelers importing Cuban-origin alcohol and tobacco products into the United States as accompanied baggage.” So while non-FDA approved, non-Cuban cigars can be purchased from overseas and shipped into the U.S., Cuban cigars still cannot be imported unless you are personally traveling with them (in other words, they must be in your baggage).

Taxes and duty still must be paid on Cuban cigars.

While you can bring in Cuban cigars, you are still responsible for declaring them on your customs form. The Treasury Department also notes that you may have to pay when you bring your cigars back with you: “In all cases, the Cuban-origin goods must be imported for personal use, and normal limits on duty and tax exemptions will apply.” Generally, you can bring back up to 100 cigars with a value of $800 without paying duty. Note you also may be required to pay federal excise taxes on the tobacco products you are importing.

There are lots of fake Cuban cigars out there.

Cuban cigars tend to be expensive, which creates an incentive for people to sell counterfeits. Since we first wrote about how to spot a fake, Habanos (the Cuban government-controlled distribution company) has beefed up its assistance to cigar smokers when it comes to verifying a Cuban cigar’s authenticity. In addition to a helpful page detailing the anti-counterfeiting measures they use, they also have a page where you can input the serial number of a box to check authenticity. But the best advice remains to purchase your cigars only from reputable and official Cuban cigar retailers, and always be weary of a deal that seems to good to be true. Fake Cubans have even been spotted at duty-free shops in airports. And the guy at the beach selling “discount Cubans” is almost certainly selling fakes.

Don’t get caught up in the Cuban hype.

We’ve said many times that while Cuban cigars can be very special, they are not the be-all-end-all of cigars. Many of the finest cigars produced today are made outside of Cuba, and if you are not used to Cuban cigars, you may not find them particularly enjoyable as they tend to be different from the finest Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan cigars. The benefit of the new rules is that more Americans will get to legally try authentic Cuban cigars for themselves, and they will finally be able to judge them free from the hype and mystique that is tied up in trying a banned product.

Patrick S

photo credits: Flickr

Commentary: Obama No Friend of Cigars

17 Oct 2016


On Friday, the Obama administration lifted restrictions barring Americans traveling abroad from bringing back Cuban cigars and rum—another step towards further normalizing relations between Washington and Havana.

Since December 2014, American citizens who were officially licensed to visit Cuba (for reasons including religion, journalism, education, visiting family, etc.) were granted the ability to bring back $100 worth of Cuban cigars and/or Cuban rum into the U.S., as part of a $400 total import allowance. This change—which coincided with a prisoner exchange that was brokered with Cuban President Raúl Castro—was a shift from the previous policy, which didn’t allow any Cuban cigars, or other Cuban goods for that matter, to be imported.

Now, travelers to Europe, Canada, Mexico, or other places where Cuban cigars are legally sold (including Cuba) can legally import Cuban cigars and rum without limitation, as long as the importation is for personal consumption only.

While this is a rather significant shift in policy, it’s important to remember the longstanding Cuban embargo is still in effect. Obama can’t reverse the embargo in its entirety; that would take an act of Congress. So don’t expect to suddenly find Cuban smokes at your local tobacconist, or a way to order them online from U.S. sellers. (Whether or not cigars can now be legally purchased by consumers from online retailers in other countries is not clear.)

Still, this is a major win for cigar enthusiasts who enjoy Cuban cigars and regularly travel abroad. It’s also a step in the right direction. The Cuban embargo has been a massive failure when you consider the objective was (and still is?) to cripple the Castro regime. The island’s totalitarian communist regime has been unbelievably stable for decades, and its economic policies have only recently begun to take small steps towards liberalization. Furthermore, America hypocritically has no qualms trading with many other countries that regularly suppress human rights and political freedoms.

So while it’s appropriate for cigar enthusiasts to cautiously applaud Friday’s announcement, our adulation for the administration should be, at best, very tempered. Recall that, thanks to President Obama and the anti-tobacco policymakers he relies upon to craft and carry out policy, cigars commercially solid in the U.S. at retail shops and online are subject to highly draconian regulations—regulations that will force businesses to close and eliminate an estimated 30,000 jobs in the U.S. and 300,000 jobs abroad.

Setting aside the ban on samples, new warning labels, and the ridiculously arbitrary nature of the February 15, 2007 cutoff date, the lack of clarity about the FDA approval process is the biggest reason why industry experts predict the rule will devastate the industry. What will qualify as “substantially equivalent”? How will the FDA build and maintain the capacity to process approval applications in a timely manner? How will small, family-owned boutique cigar operations pay the outrageously high costs needed to successfully gain FDA approval (estimates for the cost of obtaining FDA permission to sell a cigar vary widely from $20,000 to $100,000 or more for each size and each packaging option within each blend)?

One can see how the elimination of restrictions on importing Cuban cigars for personal consumption—which are not subject to FDA regulations, by the way—coupled with outlandish FDA rules on all other cigars could jeopardize U.S. retailers and manufacturers of non-Cuban cigars in places like Nicaragua, Miami, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. What’s the message here? Commercial cigar sales in the U.S. have to abide ungodly stringent rules, while Cubans get to flow more freely? Is it not hard to envision a future state where Cuban cigars are exchanged on the black market once they have been legally imported? Won’t these cigar sales cut into the profits of non-Cuban manufacturers and retailers who must comply with the terrible new rules?

Whether or not this was Obama’s intention makes no matter. Good intentions do not always result in good outcomes, especially in matters of public policy. So while we aficionados tip our hats to Friday’s announcement, let’s remember the cigar industry is entering extremely perilous waters thanks to a reckless course set by Obama and misguided, misinformed members of Congress who agreed to grant FDA oversight over premium handmade cigars.

It should go without saying that Obama is no friend of cigars. But you certainly wouldn’t know that from reading the outpouring of support on social media, or the laughably off-target “reporting” from the mainstream media.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr