Archive | July, 2012

Cigar Review: Illusione Singulare 2012

24 Jul 2012

The original Illusione Singulare 2010 known as “Phantom” is one of my favorite cigars of all time, a cigar I bought four boxes of before the the 1,000-box run was exhausted. I remarkably still have half a box left. If ever I’m pressed to give my hypothetical “desert island cigar” (a single cigar that would be the only one you’d smoke for the rest of your life), Phantom is always in consideration.

That makes the 2011 and 2012 Illusione Singulare cigars some of my most anticipated smokes of the year. Both were shipped to stores last week together in boxes of 15, selling for $170 (around $11 per cigar). Boxes apparently randomly have eight of one blend and seven of the other. The two blends can be easily identified because the 2012 comes wrapped in tissue paper and the 2011 doesn’t.

More obviously, the 2012 features a San Andreas maduro wrapper, while the 2011 features a natural corojo wrapper that looks more similar to the original 2010 version. Both have a similar combination of Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. Notably, these are the first Illusione cigars to be made in Nicaragua at the TABSA factory operated by Eduardo Fernández, who also owns the Honduran Raices Cubanas  factory where all the previous Illusione cigars have been made.

The Singulare 2012 (along with the 2011) is a toro (6 x 52). The San Andreas wrapper is dark brown, nearly completely vein-free, and it has just a touch of oils, but not much sheen. It’s a well-made cigar with a bit of give and an effortless open draw.

The cigar features a combination of dry chocolate, roasted flavors (peanut and pecan), slight cedar, and some black pepper. Towards the second half, it develops a mouth-watering tannic edge, similar to the original Phantom, and the pepper ramps up too.

It’s balanced, medium-bodied, and produces voluminous, dense smoke that coats the entire palate. The burn on each of the three cigars I smoked was perfectly even and the ash held for at least an inch.

I’ve only had one of the 2011 version but, based on that limited sample, I think the 2012 is the standout of the new Singulare 2011/2012 releases. In fact, based solely on this cigar, I already ordered a second box.

The initial 2010 “Phantom” was a cigar that got better and better with age. (In fact, if I reviewed it again today, I’m sure it would earn a perfect rating.) I suspect this cigar might benefit similarly. Still, it’s already an excellent, balanced, complex, and interesting cigar. I just hope it’s not two more years before we get to try the next “annual” Singulare cigar. That’s enough to earn the Illusione Singulare 2012 four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Partagas 1845 Robusto

23 Jul 2012

While this year’s industry trade show is still a little more than a week away, General Cigar’s (arguably) most important new release of 2012 has already been on the market since April.

Chances are you’ve already heard of Partagas 1845, read reviews of the four-vitola line, or even smoked a Partagas 1845 yourself. Today I bring you my take on the Robusto, courtesy of several samples that were mailed to me by the folks at General Cigar.

To construct Partagas 1845, Jhonys Diaz, Francisco Rodriguez, Yuri Guillen, and Benji Menendez reportedly went through 50 different blends before arriving at the final recipe. They settled on an Ecuadorian Habano viso wrapper, a Connecticut Habano binder that took nine years to develop, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic—some of which were aged in rum barrels.

The result is a dark, firm-feeling line of four sizes that retail for $6-8 apiece: Corona Extra (4.5 x 46), Gigante (6 x 60), Double Corona (7.25 x 54), and Robusto (5.5 x 49). The Robusto is a bumpy smoke with a fair amount of veins and a nice triple cap. The foot has a moist, earthy aroma. Once clipped, the pre-light draw displays moderate resistance.

After establishing an even light and taking some time to let the profile sink in, I find notes of sweet tobacco, cherry, leather, and earth at the outset. Each puff yields ample smoke. There’s hardly any spice at all, but the finish weighs heavy on the back of the throat.

Later, a charred steak flavor creeps in and a spice starts to hit the lips that reminds me of Montreal steak seasoning. Not too bad, albeit a little dry. The aforementioned sweetness does a nice job of rounding off the salt and the spice. Leather becomes more prominent at the midway point. Char is more pronounced in the final act.

With outstanding physical properties—including an even burn line and a solid gray ash—the Partagas 1845 Robusto is a nice smoke and a fair value for $6.50 (not including taxes). Those of you who enjoy char-centric cigars, earth, and leather will be pleased with this new blend. Personally, I would prefer some creaminess and a little more sweetness to render the taste more balanced and less dry. In my book this cigar is worthy of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Emilio AF1 Toro

21 Jul 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.”

If there ever was a dark, menacing-looking cigar, the AF1 from Gary Griffith’s Emilio Cigars is it. This line is made by—and named for—cigar maker A.J. Fernandez. It is produced in Estelí of Nicaraguan tobaccos wrapped in a jet-black San Andreas maduro wrapper. The result is a full-bodied, spicy smoke with notes of raisin, espresso, caramel, and cream. The Toro (6 x 50) sells for around $7 to $8, and I think that’s a fair price for the balance and complexity you get from this slow-burning cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 297

20 Jul 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) When Puro PAC launched last December, it set a goal of raising a six-figure war chest to push for passage of the “Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act” and support politicians who sign on to protect cigars from dangerous FDA regulation. According to recent Federal Election Commission filings, Puro PAC has done just that. The group has raised a quarter of a million dollars so far, mostly from cigar manufacturers and retailers. At the top of the list are Drew Estate, Thompson Cigar Company, Premium Imports (La Flor Dominicana), Ashton,, Alec Bradley, Fuente, and Miami Cigar—all of whom have contributed at least $10,000 to Puro PAC in defense of cigar rights.

2) Just when you thought smoking bans had gone as far as they could, along comes Santa Monica, California, to push the anti-smoking envelope even further. Last week, a majority of city council members voted to ban smoking in all new units in multi-unit housing. While current tenants could choose to allow smoking, once they leave the units are automatically designated non-smoking going forward, meaning that soon anyone who can’t afford a single family house will be prevented from smoking in their own home.

3) Inside the Industry: The New York Tobacconist Association is holding a Stogathon dinner with the support of most major cigarmakers to raise funds to support the association’s lobbying activities. Cigar Aficionado reports Zino Platinum is celebrating its 10th anniversary with the Zino Platinum Ten Toro X (5.5 x 60), a smoke with a Nicaraguan wrapper, Dominican binder, and Peruvian and Dominican filler tobacco that will come in a box decorated by New York graffiti-style art.

4) Around the Blogs: Stogie Review reviews the J. Fuego Edición de Familia. Nice Tight Ash checks out the Arturo Fuente Hemingway Between the Lines. Cigar Brief smokes the Tatuaje Mini-Mum. Cigar Explorer smokes the new L’Atelier Surrogates. Cigar Fan fires up the My Father Cedros Deluxe Cervantes.

5) Deal of the Week: Freebies can make a normal cigar purchase a great deal, and this current promotion by Corona Cigar is no exception. Make any purchase of $75 or more and you get a free five-pack of Nestor Miranda 1989s (just be sure to add the freebie to your purchase).

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Puro Pac

Cigar Spirits: Hooker’s House Bourbon

19 Jul 2012

Difficult to find and made in small quantities, Hoooker’s House Bourbon is a classic bourbon with a twist. As explained on Prohibition Spirits’ website: “After spending time in a Kentucky Rick House, the bourbon was double barreled and additionally aged in neutral pinot noir barrels here in the Sonoma, California.”

The bourbon is named after General Joseph Hooker, a civil war general who, according to some stories, is the reason that prostitutes are now called “hookers.” The General was known to improve soldier morale with the help of some ladies of the night. Hooker was a Sonoma, California, resident who (in addition to being a ladies’ man) was known as a big fan of whiskeys, hence this distinctly American spirit that bears his name.

Made with a mash bill of 54% corn and 46% rye, the result is an almost ruby-colored spirit that is massively affected by the pinot noir barrels it is finished in before being bottled. The nose is rich with toffee, cassis, and a hint of spice.

On the palate, Hooker’s reveals deep viscous flavors. Cherry, toffee, clove, and cinnamon are all apparent in the rich, balanced spirit.

I was pleased to find that while the wine cask finishing adds an interesting element to the bourbon, it doesn’t overwhelm the underlying bourbon. The finish continues with some of the wine notes, along with muted oak and more clove.

It’s a fantastically delicate, yet interesting bourbon. It’s very unique, subtle, and smooth, and a welcome addition to my liquor cabinet.

Like so many fine bourbons, it goes well with a fine cigar. I think it benefits from being paired with a balanced, full-bodied cigar. The Casa Magna Domus Magnus went great, as did the Sentidos Maduro (a boutique Nicaraguan smoke made at the Raices Cubanas factory and sold at my local Cigar Connection shop).

I picked up my bottle for $44 online, but it’s not easy to find. Still, I think it’s well worth seeking out. It’s not a classic or traditional bourbon, but it’s interesting and different, and an excellent pairing with a fine cigar.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Viaje TNT 2012

18 Jul 2012

Viaje, the undisputed king of releasing tons of different cigars in difficult-to-find quantities, released four different cigars recently. I’ve already given my opinion of the Summerfest and Roman Candle, and the remaining releases are the C4 and the TNT.

Today I take a look at the TNT, a toro (6.25 x 54) with a fuse-like pigtail cap that comes in large boxes of 75 that look like a crate of dynamite. Last year only 50 crates of 75 were produced (3,750 total cigars) but Viaje tells me this year they expanded that to 125 crates of 75 cigars each (9,375 total). If you can find one, will cost you just over $10 per cigar.

The TNT is notable for it’s long, fuse-like pigtail cap and closed foot. The wrapper (Nicaraguan corojo ’99) features a bit of tooth and not many oils. It surrounds Nicaraguan binder and filler, and is made at the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras.

Once the closed foot burned off (I even pulled it off to avoid the flaky ash it produced for the first few draws), I found a medium- to full-bodied smoke. It featured a unique, crunchy, toasty flavor that (after some serious cigar memory searching) reminds me of the Tesa Gran Cru.

Also apparent are earth, spice, and bittersweet chocolate. It only changes a bit from start to finish, but it’s interesting and well-balanced, with a long, clean finish.

I smoked four TNTs for this review, and I wish I had picked up a few more. It’s not the spicy, powerful bomb the name implies, but I enjoyed every minute of the 90-minute smoke, which has good construction that produces abundant, voluminous smoke.

This may be my favorite Viaje cigar, and it’s certainly my favorite of the many explosive-themed Viajes (TNT, MoAB, C4, Firecracker, WMD, etc…). Well-constructed and flavorful with balance and a unique edge, it earns four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Insider: Chris Edge of Dona Flor USA

17 Jul 2012

Last month it was announced that Dona Flor, a top brand in Brazil for years, would be reintroduced to the American market with a handful of new blends, including Seleção and Puro Mata Fina. recently spoke with the man who is making this reintroduction possible: Chris Edge, owner of Dona Flor USA.

Stogie Guys: We were fans of Dona Flor back in 2005 when the brand was first available the U.S. What were the legal issues that ended U.S. distribution?

Chris Edge: Dona Flor became available in the U.S. back in 2000. There were a few smaller distributors who were attempting to get them established. In 2005 they really began to get some attention as most Americans don’t even know that Brazil has tobacco, let alone of its quality. In 2007 there were some problems, probably caused by poor communication and an unclear contract which resulted in a trademark infringement case being brought to the courts. The litigation stopped the importing of the cigars until about 2009, when a distributor (who is married to a Brazilian) began to bring them back into the US. The case was settled out of court in December 2011. The actual details of the settlement are unknown and both parties agreed not to discuss it. The public records are available in the Miami Dade County public records if you really want to dig into it. Other than that, there is little I can tell you, or really even want to get in to. It was very unfortunate that things happened the way they did as these are some of the most consistent, quality-grown, and quality-controlled cigars in the industry and had a very good following when they stopped importing them due to the litigation. My focus has been, for the past two years, to feel out the market on the past, how it affected the consumers, what was the overall perception of the brand and the cigar, and how to reintroduce it.

SG: The press release that announced the reintroduction of Dona Flor to the U.S. market labeled you a “cigar enthusiast and successful business man from Denver.” Can you tell us a little more about your business background, or any previous experience in the cigar industry?

CE: In a nutshell, between my wife and me, we have raised eight children. Yes, I said eight. If that right there doesn’t qualify you for a medal in patience, market trends, and changes from year to year, I don’t know what does. I spent 35 years in advertising and marketing in corporate America. I retired from the last company after 20 years for health reasons, pretty much sick and tired of being sick and tired about the entire corporate experience. During that time I spent 18 years involved in union-company relations. Overall, the entire business is a people business, I loved working the streets, being face to face with the store owners, still do to this day. During that time I was also my own real estate remodeler and would buy, fix up, and sell my own houses, each time getting a little bigger. We always seemed to live in a construction zone but I think that was just a stress reliever for me over the years. After I retired in 2005, I continued into the real estate arena with my wife and did very well until that industry collapsed. From there I spent some time in the mortgage industry only to discover more corporate disillusion and started a distribution company in 2008 which eventually led me into the cigars. I have been an enthusiast for over 20 years and truly enjoyed the product for what it really is: an opportunity to capture a moment in time and to enjoy that moment for all of its virtues. That particular moment of forgetting about the worries of life and to enjoy just being, the place you are at, who you are with, the weather at that moment, the conversation everything. Whether I would be sitting on my back deck having a fine scotch, or wine with friends, or looking for a little white ball I just hit into the bushes, it’s all about the moment. I stumbled into an IPCPR Trade Show in Vegas while attending another show and it just all came together. The energy, the people, the entire industry. There really is a reason they call us enthusiasts. From there things just happened and so here I am.

SG: Why take on the distribution of Dona Flor, and why now?

CE: That’s a very good question because if it were anything but this line I probably would not be doing what I am now. Regardless of the passion I have for enjoying my time and my life with a good cigar, there is still a business side to it. I wanted something different, something that no one else had, something that gave consumers a different angle to try. Dona Flor was the perfect fit. Menendez Amerio has been growing and rolling cigars for 35 years now. Arturo and Felix are both Cuban descendants who spent time in the family business of growing tobacco until Casto took over. That is another story that you should hear sometime. Anyway, bottom line is that there were no 100% Brazilian cigars on the market despite the fact that Brazilian tobacco has been used in some of the finest cigars for decades. So this gave me the niche that I was looking for, a top quality product, currently unavailable. A huge target market that is constantly changing taste and looking for something new and different. A perfect fit.

SG: Approximately how many U.S. retailers do you expect to be carrying Dona Flor products after this summer’s trade show? Are you marketing to online retailers or B&M tobacconists only? Are you also aiming for distribution in Canada?

CE: I would like to see our product in over 300 stores by the end of the year. I have spent almost two years preparing for this release. I have been talking to consumers, distributors, and retailers, listening to their needs and how best to service them. The litigation problem really caused more issues than you might think, mostly because the retailers and consumers were not informed of the situation and the product just simply vanished. Out of sight and out of mind. The distributors were frustrated because they had access to a great product and put themselves on the line only to be let down. There is a huge trust level between distributors and their retailers and that has to be respected. Our focus is to support the B&M retailers—these are the back bones of this business. The internet business is a great business just not for this particular brand or product. We are doing everything we can to keep them out of the online sites and make them available only to quality distributors and quality tobacco tobacconists. Right now my focus is strictly on the U.S. market and getting it reestablished. From there, who knows? Our current efforts are getting calls from around the world. Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zeland, Israel. We must be doing something right but for right now it’s one step at a time. U.S., here we come.

SG: It looks like all of the new Dona Flor blends are Brazilian puros made from MataFina, Mata Norte, and Brazilian-grown Cuban-seed tobaccos. Are there any plans to incorporate non-Brazilian tobaccos in future blends? If not, do you feel this somewhat constrains the ability to grow the brand?

CE: With the exception of the Connecticut wrapper, yes, they are 100% Brazilian. There are no plans to begin mixing non-Brazilian tobacco at this time, mostly due to the import/export duties and laws. Menendez Amerio also has a line called Alonso Menendez which we will begin showing in 2013. I don’t believe that it limits us at all. If anything, I think it helps to define us. I don’t want to be constantly trying to introduce a new label. I don’t think the market needs more labels (and I know that the retailers don’t want to have to try and carry it). My goal is grow the brand as an original, as a top quality cigar that you can always count on. We are smoking cigars, not labels. Right now, I have my plate plenty full to keep me busy for a while. This is America, things can change with the wind so you never know. But right now, it’s all Brazilian, baby.

SG: We remember really enjoying a Dona Flor blend called Alonso Menendez back around 2006 or 2007. Are there any plans to reintroduce this blend?

CE: Yes there is. The Alonso is a fantastic line and a little more full-flavored. It is extremely popular in Brazil and Europe and we plan on introducing it aggressively next year. But for the re-launch in the US, Dona Flor has a much stronger name recognition to build on, so we decided to solidify one brand before bring in another one.

SG: Where would you like to see Dona Flor in five or ten years?

CE: I would like to see Dona Flor be established for what it is. Truly the first and finest quality Brazilian cigar available. Period. The story of Dona Flor, the cigar, where it came from, how it got its name, how it is tied to the book and Brazilian culture is really an amazing story. The movie Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1977) became the highest grossing Brazilian movie in their history and has held that title for 35 years. That says a lot about the book, the movie, the cigar, and the Brazilian people.

SG: Other than Dona Flor creations, what are some of your favorite cigars?

CE: There are so many great cigars that it is hard to just name a few. What I am finding in my selection process is that I tend to look for consistency in a cigar. I expect it to be as good as the last time I smoked it and that really narrows down the field. There are certain brands that you can always count on being exactly the same no matter where you purchase it. Montecristo and H. Upmann, to name just a couple. I also enjoy sampling different sizes and shapes and seeing how it affects the experience and flavors. Bottom line is that I like a cigar that draws well, has character, smokes clean, burns clean, burns even, does not get too hot, gives me that long beautiful ash…every single time. Not to be prejudiced, but Dona Flor gives me that.

Thanks to Chris Edge for taking the time to talk with You can learn more about Dona Flor USA here.

Patrick A

photo credit: Dona Flor USA