Cigar Review: George Rico S.T.K. Miami Barracuda Maduro Robusto

22 Oct 2014

George A. Rico’s American Puro has to be counted as one of the more unique cigars to be released in recent memory. Made in Miami, the blend has only tobacco grown in the United States, including fire-cured leaves from Kentucky.

BarracudaAmerican Puro is part of S.T.K. Miami, a series of limited blends produced by Gran Habano at the company’s new Miami factory. It’s joined by Zulu Zulu, Opium, and Barracuda—an Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped line with bands of cyan and silver.

Now, George A. Rico has added a Maduro variety to Barracuda, using the same Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos, but replacing the Ecuadorian wrapper with a dark, mottled specimen of Pennsylvania Broadleaf. (If you’re worried about confusing the two, the natural Barracuda has a fish on the band, whereas the Maduro simply has “Barracuda” written in cursive.)

Three sizes are available in the S.T.K. Miami Barracuda Maduro: Robusto (5 x 52), B-54 (6.5 x 54), and Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46). They range in price from $7.50 to $8.50 apiece. Only 200 boxes are being made of each vitola.

I sampled one pre-release Robusto for this review. This is a rustic-looking smoke with a coarse, thick wrapper that has protruding seams and a rugged cap. The cold draw is smooth and the pre-light notes remind me of molasses and grilled meats.

Marketed as medium to full in body, the Barracuda Robusto starts with a mesquite flavor with moderate intensity and a spicy aftertaste. The texture is leathery, and the core flavors include black pepper, syrup, dry wood, and a tangy zest that reminds me of barbecue.

Before long, a cocoa sweetness creeps in, along with cream and roasted nut. These additions help add balance to the principal flavors. Taking time between puffs helps ward off some of the meatier notes while allowing the complexity to shine though.

With solid construction—including a straight burn line, sturdy ash, and ample smoke production—the Barracuda Maduro Robusto is a unique, enjoyable smoke and a good value at about $8. It’s worthy of a respectable score of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Drew Estate

News: Swisher Seals Deal to Buy Drew Estate

21 Oct 2014

Yesterday, Drew Estate and Swisher International announced an agreement had been finalized for Swisher to purchase Drew Estate. The announcement comes after over a month of intense rumors of the deal, including denials of a finalized deal by Jonathan Drew.

swisher-drew-estateSwisher is the largest cigar company in the world by volume and has a massive distribution network beyond traditional cigar shops. Drew Estate runs the largest cigar factory in Nicaragua—producing around 10,000 cigars a day—and owns heralded premium cigar lines including Liga Privada, Undercrown, My Uzi Weighs a Ton, Nica Rustica and Herrera Estelí, along with premium infused cigar lines including the best-selling Acid.

The deal, which will be completed before the end of the year, includes the Nicaraguan facilities and Drew Estate’s cigar lines. Monetary terms of the deal were not disclosed. Since both companies are privately held, details (including Drew Estate’s valuation) may never be known.

According to various reports, senior management from Drew Estate—co-founders Jonathan Drew and Marvin Samel, President Michael Cellucci, and master blender Willy Herrera—will all stay on, at least in the near term.

Jonathan Drew issued the following statement: “We began under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass in Brooklyn with a laser focus on ‘The Rebirth of Cigars.’ Friends, retailers, and consumers connected with our passion and authenticity, supporting us at each stage of our growth. We are eternally grateful to all of those who have helped build Drew Estate, and look forward to advancing the Drew Estate legacy with a great partner.” Other executives praised the agreement in a press release published on Drew Estate’s website.


When a business is bought by larger company it’s natural for fans to be worried. Still, there are plenty of reasons for Drew Estate fans to think, despite the uncertainty of the shakeup, this may be a good thing for Drew Estate and the cigars its fans enjoy.

Drew Estate hasn’t hidden the fact that it had taken on significant debt to expand to its current size, including from other cigar companies. At least one such loan was tied to $5 million seized by the ATF as part of a settlement over back taxes reportedly owed by House of Oxford, a cigar distributor run by Alex Goldman, who was put in charge of Swisher’s premium cigar division. (Nothing illegitimate was alleged to have been done by Drew Estate and the case has now settled.) Goldman was also instrumental in having Drew Estate make Nirvana for Swisher’s Royal Gold premium cigar venture, a line that will presumably be merged into Drew Estate’s operations.

The agreement for Swisher to buy Drew Estate will presumably end any outstanding debts and allow Drew Estate to continue expansion with Swisher’s significant resources. Drew Estate can now refocus on making its cigars and innovating, something it has done remarkably well over the past few years.

It’s also worth noting that while FDA regulations are a looming threat to the entire handmade cigar industry, they are especially a threat to Drew Estate, whose infused/flavored lines will likely be hit hardest by FDA regulations. Swisher certainly knows this, which means it is likely to invest the funds necessary to promote Drew Estate’s brands no matter the impact of FDA regulations.

Finally, you can’t talk Drew Estate without Jonathan Drew. Anyone who has spent time with Jonathan knows he has a deep passion for cigars and his customers. While sometimes he may seem to be burdened by the business of cigars, there is no doubt he brings a unique energy and the spirit of innovation.

Drew and his partners built Drew Estate from a cigar kiosk in the World Trade Center to one of the largest cigar companies in the world, which is a remarkable feat. And Jonathan feels this deal is good for Drew Estate, which is his legacy.

Unless evidence presents itself to show otherwise, this deal is good not only for Drew Estate’s owners, but also for its customers.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Drew Estate

Cigar Review: Room 101 Big Payback Chavala

20 Oct 2014

The Room 101 Big Payback is a Nicaraguan puro with a rather low price point. At just $5 per cigar (for the robusto-sized Chavala, at least), this is something most would consider in the daily price range, and it certainly differs from the double-digit prices that some of the limited edition Room 101 cigars demand. While I have smoked a few cigars from Matt Booth before, I was a little hesitant going into this one.

Room 101Matt describes these cigars as a way to give back to the fans who have supported him throughout the years, and I think that is an admirable effort. There is a small, cynical part of me, though, that was worried these would be cheap cigars, with the Room 101 name slapped on them, and then sold through ad campaigning that this is a cigar “for the fans.” Thankfully, once I actually held a few of the Paybacks in my hand, I realized this is not true.

Out of the four or five cigars I have smoked for this review, only one had construction issues, and it was pretty insubstantial (slight misapplication of the cap). Besides that, the cigar is nice and toothy, with a bouquet of cool cedar and earth coming off of the foot. The stick has a nice give all around when squeezed, and after cutting the cap, I get a citrus-based cold draw.

The cigar opens with a smooth, natural tobacco flavor, and a pleasant, light spice on the finish. The retrohale enhances the flavors, bringing a toastiness forward. Smoke production is very thick, with each puff producing a thick, white cloud. There is a sweetness in the background as well, which I cannot really identify. As the smoke continues, it gains a creamier texture, with cedar notes starting to come out in the second half. The cigar does remain sweet and cool down to the nub.

While the flavor is good, and strength is in my sweet spot of medium-full, I did find the smoke a little lackluster. There is not much complexity, and the basic taste is enjoyable, but not overly dimensional or unique. Perhaps this cigar performs better in its larger ring gauge sizes (in addition to the Chavala (5 x 50), there’s also a Culero (7 x 70) and a Hueso (6 x 60)). However, it’s difficult for me to smoke anything above a 56 ring gauge. I’d prefer to stay under or around 50.

With all that being said, the price point makes the Room 101 Big Payback Chavala something I have been smoking in my rotation since it was released earlier this year. It will certainly appeal to those looking for a pure, naturally flavored Nicaraguan experience. I rate this cigar three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Joey J

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Dueña Robusto

19 Oct 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.”la-duena-rob-sq


I very much enjoyed La Dueña (made and distributed by My Father, but blended by Tatuaje’s Pete Johnson) when it was first released, although I haven’t had many recently. The cigar features a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos . This Robusto has the same flavors I remember from past La Dueña cigars (sweetness, earth, and cocoa) but with far less intensity. It’s still medium-bodied but bogged down with slightly damp flavors that detract from the overall experience. Considering I know this blend can be better (the Petit Lanceros I’ve smoked have consistently been very good) this Robusto was disappointing.

Verdict = Sell.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Davidoff Colorado Claro Short Perfecto

18 Oct 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.”IMG_3778 - Version 2San-Lotano-Oval-Conn-sq

Davidoff Colorado

This could be the poster child for total cigar enjoyment. From an immaculate Ecuadorian Colorado Claro wrapper rolled around the finely tapered body, to the mouth-watering sweet pre-light aroma and flavors that entice from beginning to end, this little stick is built to please. The tastes are complex, the strength medium to full, construction excellent, and satisfaction immense. Praised by my colleague in a 2010 review that awarded the diminutive Davidoff a rare five-stogie rating, it’s still an incredible smoke—well worth its $14 price tag when you want to reward yourself.

Verdict = Buy.

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 403

17 Oct 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.

Culver City1) Culver City—a California town near Los Angeles with a population of about 40,000—has criminalized smoking inside condos, apartments, and other multi-unit residences. This week, the City Council voted 4-1 to approve the new ban, with the only opposition coming from an official who thought the ordinance lacked the “teeth” for proper enforcement. “The ordinance calls for ‘private enforcement’ as city police would not have the time…” reports the Culver City Observer. “There will be anti-smoking signage in shared areas of multiple unit residences, including smoke-free ‘buffer zones’ to be established within 25 feet in any direction of any doorway, window, opening, or other vent into an enclosed non-smoking area. Substances that are prohibited include all tobacco products and medical marijuana.”

2) Speaking of California and smoking ban enforcement, it was reported this week that officials in Turlock, California, discovered their town has had a smoking ban for parks on the books for over a decade that had never been enforced. “In our research over the last month we were trying to figure out why our sports complex—the soccer fields—had a no-smoking ban, but none of our other parks did,” said a parks official. “Due to our research, we came across a resolution from back in 2003, and within that resolution there was a banning of smoking in parks and parking lots—all parks and parking lots. For whatever reason, after the council took action on that item, there was never any enforcement, never any signs posted.”

3) Inside the Industry: In response to reports of crackdowns by  cigar industry representatives, yesterday a bipartisan group of 33 members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General asking for an investigation into DOJ’s “Operation Chokepoint.” The letter alleges that DOJ is engaging in “an egregious abuse of power” by targeting completely legal businesses, including tobacco retailers, by pressuring financial institutions into ending their access to banking services with the effect of driving the targeted legal enterprises out of business.

4) Deal of the Week: Fans of Montecristo Classic and Romeo y Julieta Habana Reserve will want to check out this “Super 10 Sampler.” Just $37 (over 50% off the regular price) gets you five toros of each blend.

-The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Google Maps

Cigar Review: Viaje Cache

16 Oct 2014

viaje-cacheViaje Cache’s name refers to two things: First, we’re told it has tobacco selected from a “cache” of select, well-aged leaves at the TABSA factory in Nicaragua, where it is made. Second, in a box of Viaje Cache cigars you get 20 traditional round parejos, but underneath you’ll find a hidden layer of five box-pressed cigars.viaje-cache-sq

Both the box-pressed and parejo versions measure 5 inches long with a ring gauge of 52. They feature a Mexican maduro wrapper around Nicaraguan Aganorsa binder and filler.

For this review, I smoked four of the round parejo versions. If, like me, you purchase a five-pack, you’re likely to get the non-box-pressed version, as there are four parejos for every pressed Cache made.

The band is not like the traditional Viaje band, at least on the surface. I couldn’t verify since I’m not in a college dorm room, but apparently if you put the band under a black light you’ll find a hidden logo.

The wrapper is nearly black with plenty of oils. Even before you light up, it’s obvious the Cache is well-constructed. Firm to the touch with a tight draw, it has excellent combustion and a solid, light gray ash.

Once lit, the Cache is dominated by dark charred oak notes. There’s also plenty of dry, powdery earth and unsweetened cocoa. The full-bodied flavors are mostly consistent from start to finish, although a little red pepper spice starts to reveal itself towards the end.

Viaje can be hit or miss for me, but this is definitely a hit in my book. It’s very rich, with thick smoke that coats the palate with a dry, distinctive flavor. Viaje owner Andre Farkas has said, depending on the response, Cache may be a more regular offering. I certainly hope it is. Excellent construction, rich flavors, and a unique profile make the Viaje Cache a standout that earns 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