Archive | April, 2009

Stogie Reviews: Punch Champion

30 Apr 2009

Punch’s original lineup of cigars has a tendency to get overshadowed by the brand’s more visible offshoots, such as Grand Cru, Rare Corojo, and Gran Puro. The exception to the rule, however, seems to be the Champion vitola, a short and quirky figurado that we named a Gold Star Smoke almost two years ago.

Punch ChampionWhile this four and a half inch stogie is said to look like a bowling pin, I think my colleague put it best in an old Quick Smoke when he said it resembles “a python swallowing a pig.” He refers, of course, to the fact that the Champion swells to a 60 ring gauge at about the one inch mark and then narrows to a 30 ring gauge at the head.

That unique shape has helped make this cigar an everyday favorite among enthusiasts. The price doesn’t hurt, either. JR sells boxes of 25 for just under $73 (including an Altadis-made Cigar Savor single-flame torch lighter). I capitalized on the same deal several weeks ago when the pre-SCHIP pricing was only $62.

Either way, the Champion, introduced by the General Cigar Company in 2001 and handmade in Honduras, is a steal. It features the same building blocks as the other vitolas in the original Punch blend—an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, a Connecticut binder, and filler tobaccos from Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua—but is in its own class.

I smoked half a dozen Champions for this review (many more previously, including one right after a marathon) and all were terrific-looking sticks. Few veins, well-packed, shapely, and a tempting pre-light aroma of cedar, leather, and spice.

You only need to barely puncture the slender cap to establish a clear draw. The foot takes to a match nicely, yielding some vanilla, cherry, and a bit of typical Punch spice. The flavor of Honduran tobacco is more prominent after the burn passes its widest point, and the final third is characterized by a finale of medium-bodied spice.

Like many figurados, in my experience, the Champion also boasts outstanding combustion qualities, including a razor-sharp burn and an ash that holds strong for longer than you’d expect. Those characteristic undoubtedly enhance the enjoyment of this 40-minute smoke.

So, whether or not you’re impressed with other cigars that bear the Punch name, don’t dismiss the brand until you’ve tried the Champion. For its delicious taste, distinctive physique, and tremendous value, it earns a special place in my humidor and four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Reviews: Montecristo Buena Fortuna

29 Apr 2009

Montecristo Buena FortunaWhen I slid the cheesy mustard-yellow cardboard sleeve from the Montecristo Buena Fortuna, I thought I’d gotten lucky. Several years in my humidor had greatly improved the look of the Habana 2000 wrapper. It was dark and oily, nearly shiny enough to reflect the light. And the aroma was rich and mouth-watering.

Hmm, I thought. Maybe I gave up on these sticks too soon. I’d bought a few five-packs from a North Carolina JR outlet, smoked a number of them without enthusiasm, and more or less forgot the rest. I’m not sure what prompted me to pick up this one the other day; perhaps it was the size, since I was seeking a small cigar. With its five inch by 47 ring gauge frame, the Buena Fortuna is a comfortable quick smoke.

My newfound enthusiasm soared with the first couple of puffs. It was thick and tasty, saturated with coffee and cocoa flavors and a little leather. I was ready to find the JR catalog for a re-order.

Ah, the foolishness of first impressions. Quickly, the cigar’s mix of Dominican, Nicaraguan, and Peruvian filler returned to form and became the bitter, unpleasant cigar I recalled. By the midpoint, it had become truly nasty, and I left it dying in the ashtray.

I thought this was one of the Altadis brand extensions produced exclusively for JR, which it owns. But I saw Buena Fortuna for sale at a couple of other sites on the web, so I’m no longer sure. At any rate, it doesn’t appear on Altadis’ own website. And while I don’t recall what I paid, JR lists a five-pack at $18. I cannot imagine I paid that much, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

I can’t really think of any reason to recommend this cigar. I’d be hard-pressed to smoke one as a gift. As such, I’m afraid the Montecristo Buena Fortuna rates only one stogie out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Spirits: Tequila Ocho Reposado 2009

28 Apr 2009

When people think tequila, many think of margaritas or a burning shot sandwiched between a lick of salt and a wedge of lime. Tequila Ocho is out to break tequila’s frat boy reputation and remind you that tequila can be as refined as a top scotch, bourbon, or cognac. Towards that end, it succeeds in impressive fashion.

tequilaochoTequila Ocho is the first single estate vintage tequila to be introduced in the U.S. That means all the agave plants used—100% blue agave—are grown on a single plot of land and, like vintage bourbon, from a single harvest (in this case 2008).

Unlike grapes where the same plot of land will bear ripe fruit every year, agave takes ten years before it is mature enough for harvest. This means that the plots of land used for the 2009 release will not be ready to produce agave ready to be distilled again until 2018, adding to the rare nature of each vintage.

Tequila Ocho comes in three variations, Plata and Reposado, which can be found in select cities in the U.S., and an Anejo which, due to the extra aging that is required, won’t be available until the summer.

The Reposado, the subject of this article, and the Plata are both made from agave from Las Pomez, an estate located in the “Los Altos” highlands. According to Tequila Ocho, this high elevation produces “extremely high sugar content in the agave plant.”

Whether it’s that high sugar content or something else, the Reposado has a wonderful nose. Not at all harsh on your nostrils, it is best described as delicate with a lemon custard aroma and a hint of pine.

But it really shined when the Ocho Reposado, which I tasted neat, finally touched my tastebuds. It greeted me with a smooth burst of citrus, mint, and oak. The finish was long and gentle. In case you’re wondering, sucking on a wedge of lime after sipping this smooth, subtle tequila would be wholly inappropriate.

Tomas Estes, one of two people to be named an official “Tequila Ambassador” by the Mexican government and a driving force behind Tequila Ocho, says he likes to pair Tequila Ocho with milder Mexican smokes. I’d certainly agree that a milder smoke is best, so as not to overwhelm the Reposado’s subtle flavors. Three cigars that come to mind are the Ashton Classic, Fuente Privada, or Ybor City Handmade. (That mild profile is the exact opposite of the cigars photographed with the Tequila Ocho: an Opus X Chili Pepper, a Cohiba Pirámides Edición Limitada 2006, and a Padrón Serie 1926.)

At $70 per bottle, the Tequila Ocho Reposado 2009 is not cheap. But the money would be well spent on a superb tequila that will expand your notion of what tequila can be.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Reviews: Tesa Series Gran Cru No. 2

27 Apr 2009

It wasn’t so long ago that I named Isla de Cuba, Cuban Crafters, and Bucanero as my favorite boutique manufacturers. Well, after smoking a handful of exceptional cigars from Tesa’s Series Gran Cru line—one of nine blends from the Chicago-based producer—I’m ready to add that company to my short list of top boutiques.

Tesa Series Gran Cru No. 2Located in a shop on the Near North Side of the Windy City, Tesa cigars are “meticulously blended by Chicago area resident Chris Kelly and crafted in the Tesa Cigar factory in Estelí.” Their naked, tiger-endorsed blends make use of a variety of enticing wrappers and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua.

The criollo ’98 maduro-wrapped Gran Cru line is no exception. It was created to fill the need for a cigar with balance yet full flavor “without the in-your-face strength,” according to Tesa’s website.

The six inch by 54 ring gauge No. 2, a torpedo-shaped vitola with a beautiful cap, features hearty pre-light aromas of espresso and cocoa. It manages to command attention without flash (or a band for that matter) due to its oily sheen, dark and textured wrapper leaf, and solid cross-section of filler tobaccos. Veins are plentiful but not a cause for concern.

Right off the bat I could tell this cigar had little in common with the Series Finos F500 I reviewed (and loved) earlier this month. While that Connecticut shade  smoke is mild and creamy, the Series Gran Cru No. 2 starts with a flavor that instantly reminds me of a 601 Green—specifically, a rich and well-rounded profile of black coffee, roasted nuts, leather, and cocoa bean.

I would say that this cigar, however, is better balanced, complete with subtle nuances that drift in and out. If you pay attention and smoke through the nose, for example, it isn’t difficult to detect a sweet flavor that’s akin to moist chocolate cake. Delicious. And with a fairly straight burn that requires just a few touch-ups, a smooth draw, and a solid ash, the combustion qualities are fine.

One drawback of this outstanding smoke is its limited availability and relatively high cost. As far as I can tell, the only way to get it is to either visit the shop in person or purchase it from Tesa’s online shop for $11.70 per single. Before you dismiss trying this cigar for those reasons—a huge mistake in my opinion—consider that Tesa donates 10% of its profits to benefit the housing, education, and sustenance of the Nicaraguan people.

Still, I realize that’s a lot to pay for a cigar you’ve probably never heard of. Despite that likelihood, I have no reservations about wholeheartedly endorsing the Tesa Series Gran Cru No. 2 and giving it four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Ashton Cabinet Selection No. 2

26 Apr 2009

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief take on a single cigar.

Ashton Cabinet Selection No. 2

This Hemingway-shaped stick includes a Connecticut shade wrapper and Dominican tobaccos that combine to produce a mild taste of cream, almond, and sweet spice. That was more than enough to keep me interested throughout this seven inch by 46 ring gauge smoke. What’s more, and as you’d expect from an Ashton, the physical properties are near perfect, save for the final two inches that require a few touch-ups to stay lit and even. If you can find this cigar for less than its going rate of $11-13 apiece—which shouldn’t be too hard if you hit up auctions and local shops—the Cabinet Selection No. 2 is a wise investment.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Tatuaje Havana VI Nobles

25 Apr 2009

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief take on a single cigar.


This 5 inch by 50 ring gauge robsuto is an attractive smoke with a light brown, largely vein-free wrapper. After some initial bitterness, it settles into a smooth, medium-bodied smoke with honey flavors, a mild cedary core, and some floral notes. But the Nobles left a slightly sour taste in my mouth. The draw is a bit airy, the burn is straight, and the white ash solid. You can expect to pay around $7 each.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler CXXXVIII

24 Apr 2009

In our ongoing effort to make as entertaining and informative as possible, each Friday we’ll post a mixed bag of quick cigar news and other items of interest. We call ‘em Friday Samplers. Enjoy.

Cigar bar1) Criminalizing the act of smoking inside tobacco shops is ridiculous at best and tyrannical at worst. But that’s exactly what some Vermont politicians are pushing for in a bill that would aggressively expand the Green Mountain State’s longstanding smoking ban. “If the right to smoke a cigar, pipe, or other tobacco product in…a cigar store is legislated away,” says Chris McCalla, legislative director for IPCPR, “then these same lawmakers will be voting to eliminate these businesses and the jobs and taxes that go with them.”

2) Meanwhile, in Nebraska, an IPCPR-supported bill was signed into law by Gov. Dave Heineman on Wednesday that excuses cigar bars from the state’s smoking ban. In order to qualify for the exemption, 10% or more of an establishment’s revenue must come from the sale of cigars or other tobacco-related items.

3) Inside the Industry: Don Pepin Garcia is expanding his My Father line with two new sizes—a Cervantes (6.5 x 44) and an Eminentes (5.6 x 46)—both of which retail for around $9 per cigar. Newman’s Nicaraguan puro line, El Baton, is also adding two new sizes, a Robusto and a Double Torpedo. In anticipation of the SCHIP tax that hit on April 1, cigar makers imported almost 50% more cigars in March 2009 than they did in March 2008, the last month before the tax hike went into effect.

4) Around the Blogs: Stogie Review reviews the Cabaiguan Guapos Maduro. Keepers of the Flame lights up a Siglo Limited Reserve. Cigar Inspector inspects the Sancho Panza Molinos. Cigar Spy tries the Cruzado. Matt smokes a La Gloria Serie R Maduro.

5) Deal of the Week: This “Mega Sampler III” features 16 fine cigars for the bargain price of $30. You get to try smokes by Gurkha, Rocky Patel, La Flor Dominicana, La Gloria Cubana, Camacho, Cusano, Cuesta-Rey, Alec Bradley, Hoyo de Monterrey, and CAO, all for under $2 per stick. Pick yours up here.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr