Archive | January, 2012

Cigar Spirits: Van Winkle Special Reserve Bourbon

31 Jan 2012

The world can be split into two types of people: those who know about Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and those who don’t. Say “Pappy” around those who know, and they’ll start talking about how they procured a rare bottle or the time they saw it on a shelf at a bar. Everyone else just gives you a funny look and says, “Pappy what?”

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve bourbon (some of the oldest bourbon around at 15, 20, and 23 years) is notoriously difficult to find. If you’re lucky, you might get on a waiting list for some of the rare nectar, which pretty much never makes it to a store’s shelf because it’s always sold out in days.

Still rare, but not as impossible to find is the Van Winkle Special Reserve, which at 12 years old is still old by bourbon standards and sells for anywhere from $50 to $90. Called “Lot B” (even though nothing they make is called “Lot A”), the Special Reserve uses no rye, but instead uses wheat along with a majority of corn that’s required to legally be called a bourbon.

The resulting bourbon is bottled at 90.4-proof and deep copper in color. The nose features butterscotch and vanilla. The bourbon starts out with oak, caramel, toasted corn, vanilla, and just a hint of nutmeg and pepper spice. There’s also plenty of heat from the 45.2% alcohol content. It’s thick on the palate with a long, soft finish that features citrus and oak.

Perhaps not quite as extraordinary as the older Pappy Family Reserve lines, the Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year is certainly an excellent spirit. It has the depth of flavor to stand up to even the most full-bodied cigar. So if you’re on the waiting list for the older and rarer Pappys, you could do far worse than the Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 Year Bourbon. It’s one of those special spirits that every bourbon fan should try at least once.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Do You Need a Favorite Cigar?

30 Jan 2012

Years ago, I overheard a gentleman make a wise statement in a cigar shop that has stuck with me ever since. “The best cigar is the cigar you like the best,” he said.

What a wonderfully simple (and true) declaration. So many people choose to smoke cigars that are new or expensive because they think those sticks will make them look cool. Others only choose cigars that have received the highest ratings, or those that are made by the trendiest cigar makers. Still others only smoke the biggest, the boldest, the darkest, or the thickest. And others hunt for certain flavor profiles.

But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that the cigar you choose makes you feel great and provides a pleasant experience. There’s no right answer when it comes to picking your cigar or deciding when, where, or how to smoke it. As long as enjoyment is the end result, you’re doing it right. Keep up the good work.

And if you have an all-time favorite cigar, well that’s fine too. I applaud your ability to narrow down the massive field to one supreme smoke, whether you’ve deemed that smoke supreme for its sentimental value or its physical attributes. Just don’t be shocked when I tell you I don’t have a favorite.

I often get asked what my favorite cigar is, and I think people are surprised—and sometimes disappointed—when I don’t have an answer. The truth is, I don’t have a favorite all-time song either. The music I listen to depends on a lot of different variables, not the least of which is my mood. Results can vary across genres that are completely dissimilar. If I could name a favorite song, it would change so often that it would render the act of naming a favorite completely meaningless.

That said, I do have a dozen or so songs that I would consider consistently among my favorites, some because they have sentimental value, some because I just really like the way they sound. The same could be said for cigars. Maybe I should have a “top five” answer prepared for the next time I’m asked what my favorite cigar is. Or maybe it’s enough to say, “I like too many cigars for too many different reasons to pick a favorite.”

No, I don’t think you have to have a favorite cigar. But I won’t hold it against you if you do. If you have a favorite, feel free to share it in the comments below, and feel free to mention why it’s at the top of your all-time best-of list.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Liga Privada Único Serie L40

28 Jan 2012

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.”

This lancero is a relatively new and limited cigar from the Liga Privada Único Serie, which is the home of experimental, one-off cigars from Drew Estate including the Dirty Rat and Feral Flying Pig. The L40 (7 x 40) uses a Connecticut stalk-cut Habano wrapper, Brazilian Mata Fina binder, and Nicaraguan filler. It tastes of earth, dark chocolate, oak, and coffee. It’s medium-bodied and not nearly as spicy or interesting as the Dirty Rat. This is a good smoke, but at $13 each, I prefer almost every other Liga Privada cigar I’ve had.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 274

27 Jan 2012

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) One week before Indianapolis hosts Super Bowl XLVI between the Giants and the Patriots, anti-tobacco politicians in Indiana are still pushing for a statewide smoking ban. Now, to pass the bill, some legislators are lobbying to exempt bars. As it currently stands, the only exemptions are for private clubs, casinos, hookah bars, and retail tobacco shops. “The House last year approved a smoking ban bill that included an exemption for bars, but it failed later after health advocates argued it would be one of the nation’s weakest bans,” reports the Indianapolis Business Journal.

2) Cigar Journal, formerly the European Cigar Cult Journal, has opened a Florida office that will process U.S. subscriptions and be held responsible for growing the publication’s brand in America. Each issue of Cigar Journal includes cigar reviews, reports, and research. Robert McDuffee, co-founder of the DogWatch Cigar Radio podcast, will help the office liaison between the U.S. cigar scene and Cigar Journal’s main office in Vienna, Austria.

3) Inside the Industry: José M. Seijas is resigning as head of Tabacalera de Garcia Ltd., the Altadis USA cigar factory where smokes like Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta are made. Room101 Cigars is launching a new limited series called OSOK—an acronyn for “one shot, one kill”—that we first sampled last fall and which features an Ecuadorian habano wrapper around corojo tobaccos. Adrian’s Costa Rican and CroMagnon brand owners Michael Rosales and Skip Martin, respectively, are merging their operations to jointly form RoMa Craft Tobac (the company will release a new CroMagnon extension, two new lines, and a “new flagship” product for their Adrian’s Costa Rican brand).

4) Around the Blogs: Tiki Bar tries the Maldonado Dynasty Mogul. Cigar Explorer explores the Kristoff Corojo Limitada. Nice Tight Ash checks out the Alec Bradley Black Market. Cigar Inspector inspects a Gurkha Cellar Reserve Prisoner. Cigar Fan fires up the Toraño Vault. Stogie Review reviews the Padilla Black Bear.

5) Deal of the Week: Like Rocky Patel and Gurkha? Then you’ll enjoy this Rocky vs. Gurkha 12-cigar sampler for only $40. Not only do you get five Rocky Patel Olde World Corojo Toros and five Gurkha Raider Habano Toros, included is one Gurkha Signature Aniversaro 1887 Limited Edition and one Indian Tabac Super Fuerte.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: ISBHC

Cigar Review: Tatuaje Havana Cazadores

26 Jan 2012

The other day I was browsing our cigar reviews archive and discovered something that surprised me. Despite well over 500 reviews, my colleagues and I have never written a full review of a cigar from the original (Brown Label) Tatuaje Cabinet line.

Even with 19 Tatuaje reviews, including multiple “five stogie” ratings, and a few Brown Label variations (Reserva SW and Reserva Porkchop), the “Selección de Cazadore” line were somehow missed. To remedy this I decided to review the Havana Cazadores (6.4 x 42).

Billed as the strongest of the six original sizes, the Havana Cazadores is “wet-packed” in foil. When added to the other sizes in the line—Unicos, Noella, Taino, Especiales and Regios—the first letters spell Hunter, after one of Tatuaje creator Pete Johnson’s dogs.

The cigar features Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos wrapped in a habano Ecuador wrapper. The samples I smoked for this review were medium brown in color, though others I’ve enjoyed in the past were far darker. Since 2003, the original Cabinet line has been made at Don Pepin Garcia’s El Rey de Los Habanos factory on Calle Ocho in Little Havana.

The cigar is noticeably well-constructed with a Cuban-style triple cap. Despite not being particularly thick, it’s very firm to the touch. As I smoke the cigar, a light gray ash develops and holds steady for over an inch.

The Havana Cazadores starts with a bite of pepper and settles into a medium- to full-bodied smoke. Cedar and cocoa are dominant, but there’s also notes of coffee, clove, earth, and cinnamon. Towards the second half, buttery flavors develop and the body picks up with some added spice.

It’s no wonder that Pete Johnson says this is his favorite of the original Tatuajes. It’s my favorite too, with the smallest size, the Noella, being a close second. The entire Tatuaje Cazadores line has been a staple in my humidor for a few years now, so it’s hardly a surprise that I like it. But it took the attention to detail that is required to sit down and write a review to remind me why I still enjoy this cigar.

Nearly a decade after it was first released, the original Tatuaje still provides flawless construction, excellent balance, and a tasty combination of full flavors that focus nicely on the palate. That’s why the Tatuaje Havana Cazadores earns four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Don Tomás Maduro Robusto

25 Jan 2012

Don Tomás is one of many brands produced by General Cigar, which is either the largest or second largest cigar company in the world, depending on who you ask.

Being a label in the General Cigar portfolio carries both advantages and disadvantages. As far as disadvantages go, Don Tomás is often overshadowed by the more visible General brands, including Macanudo, Cohiba, Punch, Partagas, and La Gloria. And I think it’s safe to say that many cigar veterans tend to snub their noses at mass-produced cigars like those made by General, no matter how good they may be.

As for the advantages, Don Tomás can thank General for both its wide distribution and its affordable price. For example, the subject of today’s review, the Don Tomás Maduro Robusto, can be found at many online and brick and mortar retailers, and it can be purchased for as little as $2 to $3 when bought by the box of 25.

This cigar measures 5.5 inches long with a ring gauge of 50. It has a smooth Connecticut broadleaf maduro wrapper around Honduran and Nicaraguan long-filler tobaccos. Made at the Centro American Cigars factory in Danlí, Honduras, the Robusto makes a better impression than its price might suggest, with its firm feel and pre-light aroma of light cocoa and coffee.

Once lit, the initial profile is mild and sugary with hardly any spice. The syrupy texture tastes of raisin, dark chocolate, marshmallow creaminess, and some typical maduro sweetness. The draw is a tad tight, resulting in less smoke production per puff than I’m accustomed to. Aside from the draw, the construction qualities are outstanding—particularly for such an inexpensive smoke. The burn line is very straight and the white ash layers nicely off the foot, where it holds strong for over an inch.

I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by the Don Tomás Maduro Robusto, and I wasn’t. The flavors are just OK with little complexity and hardly any variance from start to finish (the only major change is the introduction of some woodsy spice at the end). That said, if you’re looking for an everyday maduro that won’t break the bank, you could do a lot worse. That’s why this smoke earns three out of five stogies.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Your Personal Best of 2011 List

24 Jan 2012

As is customary each January, seemingly everyone is making their list of the top cigars of the previous year. We haven’t published such a list in the last few years, but we did create a best-of list to send out to subscribers of our newsletter two years ago.

Such lists are fun, as you compare your preferences with the list author’s. And sometimes you’ll realize there is a cigar you’ve wanted to try but haven’t, or maybe an old favorite that you’ve gotten away from for no particular reason.

But creating a best-of list (or at least a good one) is problematic. For starters, you need to determine criteria that will result in a meaningful list.

Will only new cigars be considered? Is smoking just a single enough to to fairly evaluate a cigar? (If you review cigars like we do, is a full review required?)

Once you’ve determined which cigars are eligible, how exactly do you determine the best? Should price be a factor? Cigar Aficionado says they re-review all top-scoring cigars blind (but if they get different ratings one must wonder if the ratings are at least a bit arbitrary). Others, I’m sure, just reflect on what they’ve written or said, mostly relying on memory.

One of the best ways to determine your favorite cigars of the year is to consider the cigars you bought and/or smoked most regularly. This method is used the least. (Under that criteria, the Tatuaje Petit Cazadores Reserva, 7-20-4 Dogwalker, CroMagnon, and the Illusione Singulare LE 2010 Phantom would be my top smokes of 2011.)

But then some hidden gems that I didn’t get to smoke as much as I might have liked would miss the list (Humo Jaguar, Grimalkin by Emilio Cigar, San Lotano Oval, Crowned Head’s Four Kicks, and the E.P. Carrillo LE 2011 “Dark Rituals”).

Ultimately, I think the best part of making a best-of list isn’t the final list but thinking back on what you smoked last year, what you enjoyed, and what you wish you smoked more of. Whether you share your personal “Best Cigars of 2011” list with others (feel free to do so in the comments if you want) or not, what’s important is that you reflect about your favorites from the past. Doing so will make for better smoking in the future.

Patrick S

photo credit: Flickr