Cigar Review: Flores y Rodriguez Habano Magicos

20 Aug 2014

I often get asked by occasional cigar smokers something along these lines: “What’s a good, respectable brand that isn’t too expensive but delivers on quality?” In these situations, Pinar del Rio (PDR) invariably comes to mind.

FyR Habano Magicos 1Consider the many blends in the PDR portfolio (kudos, by the way, to PDR for maintaining an attractive, easily navigable website to help you peruse these offerings). There are many winners—Classico Exclusivo, 1878 Cubano Especial Capa Natural, Habano Sun Grown, etc.—and almost all compete in the affordable $5-6 range.

Another example is Flores y Rodriguez, the first PDR to bear a different name (it’s named for partners Abe Flores and Juan Rodriguez). Handmade at the Pinar del Rio factory in Santiago, Dominican Republic, Flores y Rodriguez comes in three varieties: Maduro, Habano, and an Exclusivo that’s only available at a handful of tobacconists. The latter is essentially the same blend as the Maduro, but the binder is swapped for a Nicaraguan Criollo ’98 leaf and the filler includes Ligero from Estelí.

The Flores y Rodriguez Habano is made entirely from Dominican Habano Vuelta Abajo leaves. The available sizes include Magicos (5 x 52), Genios (6 x 52), Unicos (6.5 x 52), and Canonazo (6.75 x 58). The cigar is described as mild- to medium-bodied with “a touch of sweetness and a soft cedar flavor.”

I sampled three Habano Magicos cigars for this review, all of which had been resting in my possession for two years. The robusto-sized smoke—which can be found for as little as $4 if bought online—has a clean, oily wrapper, a firm packing of tobaccos, a neat cap, and pre-light notes of sweet hay off the foot.

After setting an even light, the Magicos introduces itself with a spicy detonation more characteristic of a Nicaraguan-heavy cigar than a Dominican puro. The spice is dry, salty, and there’s an abrasiveness that lingers on the lips. Rather quickly, though, the spice settles and a more balanced profile takes shape that includes cream and cinnamon.

At the midway point and beyond, the Magicos is even more subdued as the spice seems to fade with each puff. Floral notes and a taste of leather come and go. All the while, the construction is excellent, including a straight burn and a solid gray ash. And, due at least in part to the entubado fashion in which the cigar is rolled, the draw is clear and the smoke production above average.

If you’re looking for a medium-bodied cigar with a dry, cedary spice and an approachable price tag, the Flores y Rodriguez Habano Magicos is a solid choice. This PDR creation earns three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Cigar Spirits: Willett Family Estate Rye

19 Aug 2014

I’m getting close to wrapping up our series of rye write-ups so we can put together a Guide to Rye, similar to our Stogie Guys A-Z Guide to Bourbon. This new Willett Family Estate Rye is one I definitely wanted to include.

willett-estate-family-ryeWillett has been bottling good rye for a while now, but up until a few years ago they didn’t distill any of it (at least since the 1970s). Companies, especially new ones, that bottle and brand whiskey made elsewhere are a dime a dozen (and that’s not a knock as some of it is quite good). Though Willett isn’t a new name in the whiskey game.

On the bourbon side, Willett has a history of aging and bottling excellent bourbon, including Noah’s Mill, Pure Kentucky, Johnny Drum, and a series of very small, very old, limited bourbons under the Willett name. For rye, they’ve been doing similar things with super limited, old ryes along with a barrel-proof four-year-old rye distilled from the 95% rye mashbill at the Indiana-based MGPI distillery (with a few things in between), all under the Willett name. In other words, Willett knows how to find good whiskey distilled by others.

What sets this Willet Family Estate Rye apart is it’s the first Willett product to be released that was distilled by Willett. Given that the company has only been distilling for a little over two years, the Willet Family Estate Rye features an age statement of just two years. Like the four year Willett rye distilled in Indiana, it’s barrel-proof (my bottle was 108.1-proof).

The rye pours a nice golden color, although the nose is slightly less inviting with a combination of nail polish with more pleasant butterscotch and orange peel. On the palate it shows a nice combination of toffee, mint, and citrus.

It has surprisingly little spice and a decent amount of alcohol burn, but there’s also a syrupy intensity to its flavors. The finish is long with burnt orange and floral sweetness. I tried to find a particular style of cigar that best complements the Willett Family Estate Rye, but ultimately I think any good cigar that’s medium- or full-bodied is going to work.

Barrel-proof rye isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, even if you are a fan of other ryes. But this is really quite good, especially at $35-45 a bottle.

Mostly, though, it makes me look forward to seeing what comes next from Willett’s stills. If this is what their rye tastes like at two years, I can’t wait until it gets a few more years in the barrel. So while big rye fans shouldn’t hesitate to scoop up a bottle, if you’re more of a dabbler in rye just wait until this gets even better in a few years.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Changing (Cigar) Tastes

18 Aug 2014

I was struck by my colleague’s recent review of the Paul Garmirian Reserva Exclusiva Churchill. And it wasn’t the rare five-stogies-out-of-five rating that caught me off guard.

IMG_4400Rather, it was a link he provided in his review to a Quick Smoke I had written over seven years ago. Amazingly, I actually remember smoking that Reserva Exclusiva Robusto and composing my short assessment. It was my first cigar from Paul Garmirian (PG). I purchased it from a tobacconist in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, and I smoked it while my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I were wasting time before a movie.

As I recall, the cigar was somewhat disappointing, especially considering the lofty price and my high expectations. At the time, I had a small budget for cigars, and I had been hearing good things about PG smokes, which came from a small boutique in nearby McLean, Virginia. So when I found the cigar to be less than exceptional, it was a letdown.

I’ve since grown to love almost all PG cigars, including the Reserva Exclusiva Robusto, and they’ve generally rated very highly on this site among my colleagues and me. Of the nearly 1,000 full cigar reviews we’ve published over the years, only about 40 have earned a perfect rating—and 3 of those have been of the PG variety. I lament not living near the PG shop in McLean anymore, where it’s not only possible to peruse an extensive collection of PG smokes, but you can also find PGs that have been aging for 15 years or more. These days, if I were asked to compose a short list of my favorite smokes, that list would almost certainly include a PG or two.

So it’s amazing to think a cigar I now revere like the Reserva Exclusiva Robusto was once a disappointment to me. It just goes to show how an individual’s preferences for cigars can change with time.

I’m sure you can think of examples of smokes you now like that you once didn’t, as well as cigars you used to love but no longer do. If I were to try to put a finger on how my own preferences have changed in the past seven or eight years, I’d cite the following: less interest in maduros, more emphasis on balance over strength, more importance placed on the ease of draw and smoke production, and more attention to texture.

In thinking about these changes, I can see how a younger me might not appreciate the Reserva Exclusiva Robusto. Like many PG smokes, the focus of this cigar is balance, harmony, and subtlety—desirable characteristics that can be lost on a fresh-faced cigar smoker.

I propose that, in some ways, we’re all dynamic cigar smokers with preferences that shift over time. Take note of how your preferences have changed to better understand your own cigar journey. And don’t be afraid to revisit cigars you tried years ago and didn’t care for. You may find them more desirable now.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: George A. Rico Barracuda Robusto

17 Aug 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.”

barracuda-gar

Gran Habano/George A. Rico’s branding can be a bit confusing, but when you get past that you find a company that provides quality cigars at lots of price points. This offering (initially under the Gran Habano line, but now known as Barracuda by George A. Rico) is a great example of what it can provide in the $7-9 range. With an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler, it it a savory cigar with leather, earth, and cream flavors. There’s a subtle, mouthwatering saltiness from start to finish. It’s medium-bodied and full on flavor. All that plus excellent construction makes it easy to recommend this $8 Robusto.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Illusione Epernay L’Excellence

16 Aug 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.”

Epernay1

Dion Giolito’s Illusione Cigars makes some fine smokes, but this might be the pinnacle of Illusione achievement. The Epernay L’Excellence (6.75 x 48) is a fantastic Churchill with floral notes and core tastes of coffee, honey, white pepper, and apple. The absence of Ligero tobacco (the recipe is Nicaraguan Corojo and Criollo tobaccos surrounded by a Café Rosado wrapper) results in a smooth, mild- to medium-bodied experience that’s balanced and creamy. Construction is excellent. This is a fine way to spend about $10.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 395

15 Aug 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.

Capitol Building1) One week ago, the public comment period was closed on the FDA’s attempt to effectively regulate new handamde cigars out of existence. Before that deadline passed, though, eight U.S. senators—Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), David Vitter (R-LA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Joe Manchin (D-WV)—wrote their own letter to the FDA, urging the agency to exempt premium cigars, and to eliminate the retail price requirement for that exemption. “A premium cigar should be defined as any roll of tobacco that is wrapped in 100% leaf tobacco, bunched with 100% tobacco filler, contains no filter, tip, or non-tobacco mouthpiece, and weighs at least 6 pounds per 1,000 count,” they said. “It also must either have a 100% leaf tobacco binder and be hand-rolled, or have a homogenized tobacco leaf binder and be made in the United States using human hands to lay the 100% leaf tobacco wrapper onto only one machine that bunches, wraps, and caps each individual cigar.” While there is no deadline for the FDA to act, some expect the FDA to issue its regulations next summer, with legal challenges sure to follow.

2) Officials in Charlotte have proposed the criminalization of smoking cigars in parks, greenways, and golf courses, in addition to a separate ordinance that would ban smoking on the grounds of government buildings. A public hearing has been scheduled for September 2, with a vote expected on September 17.

3) Contest: StogieGuys.com readers who register at CigarsFor.Me this week will once again be registered to win a free five-pack of cigars. CigarsFor.me specializes in recommending customers the perfect premium cigars without having to go through endless hours of research. Users simply fill out their quick Palate Profile and instantly they’re shown cigars that they’ll love. It’s fun, easy, and this week you can win free smokes. Click here. Congrats to last week’s winner: Jay Dolas from West Henrietta, NY.

4) Inside the Industry: A.J. Fernandez released an online mini-documentary. Despite its gratuitous and slightly stereotypical use of images of Fernandez walking (and riding a horse) through his fields to Buena Vista Social Club music, the 12-minute video does a good job of capturing the process of making cigars and providing some insights into A.J. Fernandez’s background. Watch the whole thing here.

5) Deal of the Week: Looking to try what Sindicato Cigars has to offer? This sampler is way to do it. Just $40 ($4 per cigar) gets you two each of all four Sindicato lines: Hex, Casa Bella, Affinity, and Sindicato.

-The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Review: Paul Garmirian Reserva Exclusiva Churchill

14 Aug 2014

Not long after I lit my first PG Reserva Exclusiva, I thought to myself, “I’ve found my newest favorite cigar.” It’s a smoke that you can get lost in and enjoy from beginning to end. And when you return for another, the journey begins again.

PG-reserva-exclusivaLike most Paul Garmirian cigars, the Reserva Exclusiva is created with well-aged tobaccos blended to bring out their flavors with just the right strength, which, in this case, I’d call medium. What set this cigar apart for me was the subtlety and complexity, along with a delicate finish that lingers lightly on the tongue.

The 7-inch, 48-ring gauge Churchills I’ve smoked were as consistent as a handmade product can be. Thick, rich smoke; fine, slow burn; even, deliberate draw. I paid about $11.50 for each one, a bargain, really, for a super-premium class cigar.

The filler is Dominican and Ecuadorian, with a Dominican binder and an Ecuadorian wrapper. According to the website, the tobaccos are 10 years old and they come in nine sizes.

Describing the flavors doesn’t do the cigar justice. It’s the way they intertwine and play off each other that creates the experience. Take just one component as an example: the grassiness frequently found in Dominican tobacco. In the Reserva Exclusiva it is never overpowering but rather comes and goes as a complement to the sharper and sweeter flavors, winding through them to produce something unique.

About seven years ago, one of my colleagues found the robusto (pictured) in this line a bit lacking. Perhaps he stumbled on a dud, or perhaps that vitola doesn’t match the Churchill. Or maybe our tastes for this line are just different. That wouldn’t be particularly surprising. After all, if everyone’s tastes were the same there wouldn’t be hundreds of different blends.

And, honestly, I’m not sure I would have been so enamored with the Reserva Exclusiva earlier in my cigar smoking days or later when I was drawn to ligero-laden powerhouses. I think I have become more attuned these days to smokes that repay attention, though I still enjoy a tasty strong cigar. Like the Opus I had the other week that beat me like a rented mule.

Right now, the Reserva Exclusiva is, for me, a great smoke. In fact, it gets my first five-stogie rating this year.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here. A list of other five-stogie rated cigars can be found here.]

-George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys