Archive | December, 2014

StogieGuys.com’s Top Cigars of 2014

31 Dec 2014

This was a good year for good cigars. Five scored our top five-stogie rating, and 15 ranked superbly at four and a half stogies.

Unlike last year, when I was the only one to award five-stogie ratings, each StogieGuys.com contributor had at least one top-ranked smoke in 2014.

Pete Johnson’s Tatuaje brand, which has had numerous high-scoring smokes through the years, scored two five-stogie ratings this year. The other three winners also represented brands with excellent track records: RoMa Craft, La Palina, and Paul Garmirian. Here are all five, listed in no particular order:

Tatuaje 10th Anniversary Bon Chasseur: This fat robusto was called a “remarkable smoke” and “simply one of the best new releases in recent memory,” by Patrick A.

Tatuaje Black Corona Gorda: Joey J found the flavors in this 2013 re-release “intense and varied… full-flavored all the way down to the nub.”

RoMa Craft Intemperance BA XXI A.W.S. IV: Patrick A’s other five-stogie cigar. He wrote of its “tremendous” balance, noting that the Lonsdale was “a joy to smoke.”

La Palina Collection Mr. Sam Robusto: After starting as a limited edition, Mr. Sam was added to the regular line and Patrick S called it “an impressive cigar full of flavor… that will be enjoyed by all types of cigar smokers.

Paul Garmirian Reserva Exclusiva Churchill: This quickly became my “newest favorite cigar,” an incredibly pleasing stick that displayed “subtlety and complexity.”

The following 15 cigars (listed in no particular order) came close. All you’ll see, they represent a wide array of companies, countries, prices, and profiles:

RoMa Craft Aquitaine Mode 5: “At $7, the Aquitaine Mode 5 is an incredible buy.”

Drew Estate Nirvana Toro: “There is something to love here for everyone.”

E.P. Carrillo 5th Year Anniversary Limitada: “It characterizes the best of E.P. Carrillo: flavorful, complex, and affordable.”

God of Fire Don Carlos 2009 Robusto: “I may only light up a God of Fire by Don Carlos cigar a few times a year, but when I do it’s always special and worth the high price.”

Illusione *R* Rothchildes: “This small, value-priced Illusione is outstanding.”

Illusione Epernay L’Excellence: “Illusione makes some very fine cigars, but the Epernay line is the pinnacle—Giolito’s highest achievement.”

Joya Red Robusto: “The Robusto is classic with traditional tastes and plenty of balance and complexity.”

L’Atelier Imports LAT46 Selection Spéciale: “At the midway point it becomes clear this is a complex, balanced cigar with lots to offer (especially to attentive smokers).”

My Father No. 1: The second time this cigar scored a four-and-a-half-stogie rating. “No simple sledgehammer. It has the subtlety and nuance that seasoned cigar smokers look for in cigars in this price range.”

Partagas Benji Homage Toro: “If you’re a fan of bold boutique smokes, check out the Homage.”

Reinado Grand Empire Reserve Ecuador Edition Petit Lancero: “One of the best Ecuadorian Connecticut-wrapped smokes I’ve had in a long time.”

Tatuaje The Jekyll: “The Jekyll is an excellent, well-balanced smoke that’s well worth the $13 price and worthy of the Monster Series name.”

Tatuaje Pudgy Monster Tiff: “It’s dominated by sweet creaminess, along with roasted nut and woodiness, and hints of paper, graham, and spice.”

Viaje Oro Reserva VOR Aficionado: “A special spice-forward, interesting cigar worth finding.”

Drew Estate Herrera Estelí Piramide Fino: “This is an outstanding belicoso… a truly wonderful value at $10.”

Padrón Family Reserve No. 50 Maduro: “A model of restrained strength with full flavors.”

If this list isn’t enough to keep you busy for a while, you can peruse all the Stogie Guys reviews back to 2006 at our archive. We also break out the five-stogie rated sticks here. And the details on our rating system are here.

George E

photo credit: N/A

Cigar Tip: Pair New Years Champagne with a Fine Cigar

30 Dec 2014

Five years ago I offered some tips on pairing cigars with champagne. With New Years Eve a day away, now seems like a good time to update those tips with a half-decade worth of additional experience.

Champagne_uncorkingPairing brown liquor with  cigars is the more obvious choice, but champagne (or other sparkling wines) can go surprisingly well with a smoke. Not to mention the celebratory nature of the bubbly. To enhance your Champagne and cigar enjoyment, here are a few basic tips:

Save the top-dollar champagne.

Champagne can be fantastic, but unless you have unlimited funds, the vintage Dom Pérignon should be held back if you’re smoking a cigar. You pay a price for the champagne name (meaning it’s from the Champagne region of France). There are plenty of good champagne-style sparkling wines that can be had for a reasonable cost. Spending $50 or $100 on brand name French bubbly will probably be a waste (considering you’re going to lose some of the complexities due to your cigar). Spanish Cava, in particular, can be had for a fraction of the price.

Stick with mild cigars.

Champagne doesn’t have the heft of rum, whiskey, or even beer or coffee. The best champagnes are the most subtle, so the same subtlety is needed in the cigar you pair with your sparkling wine. Stick with mild cigars that have balance. Too often Connecticut-wrapped cigars feature bitterness, so look for those with age and balance. Extra-aged Cubans can be a great pairing, and a special mention is deserved for the Illusione Epernay, which is named after the Champagne region and was blended with a champagne pairing in mind.

Age your cigars and your champagne.

Smoking a cigar with champagne calls for a cigar that is smooth, mild, complex, and subtle, all of which can be the result of aging a cigar. Some cigars just lose their flavor with age, so be careful, but others are enhanced by months or years aging properly in a humidor. Some of the same things happen to aged champagne which, while not for everyone, loses some of its bubbly crispness but adds creaminess and depth along the lines of a well-aged white burgundy. Usually you pay extra for vintage champagne. But if you can get some of those same qualities by just putting aside a good champagne and waiting, don’t be afraid to give it a try. (Not long ago I had some non-vintage Champagne Tattinger with a decade of age, and the result was very impressive.)

Cheers!

Patrick S

photo credit: Wikipedia

Cigar Review: Aging Room Bin No. 1 B Minor

29 Dec 2014

B MinorThere aren’t many cigars I’d purchase by the box without having even tasted one. Aging Room’s blends are an exception to the rule.

I’ve been a big Aging Room fan since the first one I smoked a couple of years ago, the M356 Presto. Lately, I’d been tremendously impressed by the exquisite M20 Fortissimo.

So, when I went to a recent even featuring Boutique Blends co-owner Rafael Nodal, I was intending to buy a 10-count box of those limited edition M20s. Rafael’s enthusiasm for the Bin No. 1 quickly convinced me to pick up a box of those as well. Good decision.

I’m smoking my way through the B Minor (6.125 x 52), a beauty with a dark, toffee-colored Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over well-aged Dominican binder and filler tobaccos. The cigar retails for about $12.50 and comes in boxes of 20. The other two sizes available are even bigger: C Major (6.25 x 54) and G Major (6.25 x 63).

Bin No. 1 makes quite a first impression with a large parchment-style outer band that covers nearly half the cigar. It comes off easily and reveals a more traditional band beneath.

Prelight, there’s little aroma. But the cigar makes a statement from the first puff with a combination of spice and sweetness that’s shortly joined by a dark, rich fruitiness. A little farther on, the spice shifts more to pepper and the sweetness backs off. At about the halfway point, the strength downshifts a bit, and then picks up in the final third.

Overall, Bin No. 1 is a complex, strong, and highly satisfying cigar with excellent construction, draw, and burn. With tobacco already years old, I’m guessing these may not be the best candidates for long-term aging because it would be a shame for them to lose the zesty qualities that stand out.

As with other Aging Room cigars, I recommend the Bin No. 1. It earns four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Are Cuban Cigars Really Legal? Or Special?

23 Dec 2014

cubanflag

No, you cannot legally import Cuban cigars unless you are a licensed visitor to Cuba.

The recent announcement about relaxed restrictions for the importation of Cuban cigars has some people (and media) confused. To clarify, the rule will allow officially licensed travelers to import $100 worth of Cuban cigars or Cuban rum into the U.S. (as part of a $400 total import allowance). This is change from the previous policy which didn’t allow any Cuban cigars to be imported.

However, travelers to Europe, Canada, Mexico, or other countries where Cuban cigars are legally sold still cannot legally import any Cuban cigars. This was confirmed for StogieGuys.com by a U.S. Treasury Department spokesman who made it clear the new rules only apply to authorized travelers going to Cuba; they do not apply to travelers going to third countries. So don’t hit the duty-free shop in Heathrow for $100 worth of Cuban cigars before returning to the U.S. because of the announcement last week. It’s still illegal, and if you get caught ignorance of the law will be no excuse.

Are Cubans really all they’re hyped to be?

It’s almost inevitable: When a non-smoker or infrequent cigar smoker discovers I smoke a lot of cigars and write about cigars, I get asked some variety of this question: Are Cubans really the best? Or is it just because they’re illegal in the U.S.? Normally, it happens a couple times a month. In the past week, since Obama announced a move towards normalized U.S. relations with Cuba, I’ve been asked this question almost daily.

So here’s my response: The best Cuban cigars are without a doubt some of the finest cigars in the world. But many Cuban cigars are not world-class, and a significant percentage of Cubans are not even particularly good.

There are two primary reasons for this. First, the rest of the world has stepped up its game since the Cuban embargo was signed into law (after President Kennedy reportedly had his press secretary procure 1,200 Cuban cigars). When the embargo became law, most of the world’s premium handmade cigars were either made in Cuba or made elsewhere with Cuban tobacco. These days, great cigars are made in many countries, in particular the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Honduras, where many Cubans who fled Castro’s Cuba brought their expertise after the Cuban government nationalized the Cuban cigar industry. These cigars also are often a better value than Cubans for the same cost.

Second, the authoritarian Cuban government has limited the ability of Cuba to consistently produce excellent cigars. Without the competition of the free market and with the Cuban government owning all aspects of the Cuban cigar industry, Cuban cigars have been able to rest on their reputation. But quality control has suffered greatly and Cuban cigars are notorious for inconsistent construction, and for needing considerable aging because often the cigars are made before the tobacco has had enough time to age properly.

Still, there is no denying Cuba can produce some of the best cigar tobacco. Cigar tobacco depends on micro-climates for its flavor and quality, and parts of Cuba are indisputably some of the finest places for growing tobacco. It’s the equivalent of the Bordeaux or Burgundy regions in France for wine, and despite the Cuban government’s interference, the pride and tradition of Cuban cigars still creates some fantastic cigars.

This is compounded by the Cuban government’s need for hard currency to pay for needed imports. Cigars are one of the most valuable exports the country has, and the government still has an incentive to make cigars that they can charge top dollar for in free markets around the world. This produces enough world-class cigars to boost the reputation of all Cuban cigars.

Ultimately, it’s too simple to say that Cuban cigars’ reputation is solely based the mystique of being a forbidden fruit to Americans. There are still enough excellent Cubans, especially high-end and limited cigars, sold to keep up the reputation for excellence, even though most Cuban cigars wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy if you didn’t know where it was made.

Patrick S

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Review: 7-20-4 Factory 57 Robusto

22 Dec 2014

Every November since I started smoking cigars, I’ve compiled a list. Not a “best-of” list, mind you; more like a hit-list—cigars I want to try.

Factory 57Normally, I can cross everything off rather easily. But every once in a while there’s a cigar that evades me. This year, that cigar was the new Factory 57 from 7-20-4. A friend of mine got to sample it months ago and loved it, and since then I’ve been waiting for Factory 57 to hit shelves. Well, they’re finally in. And I’ve smoked three to let you know what I think.

The Factory 57 name refers, apparently, to the U.S. government’s official designation of 7-20-4 as a manufacturer of premium cigars. This cigar continues the naming trends of brand owner Kurt A. Kendall, who normally titles his cigars around the history of the company and tobacco in general. (The 7-20-4 name itself is a nod to 724 Elm Street in Manchester, New Hampshire—the address of the company’s original factory showroom.)

This specific vitola is a classic Robusto (5 x 50). It features a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper, Costa Rican binder, and filler tobaccos from Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Columbia. There’s no real discernible aroma from the foot, besides strong tobacco. The Robusto boasts a look of quality and care, with the traditional 7-20-4 artwork underlined by a black second band that has “Factory 57” in gold.

I straight-cut two of these cigars and V-cut the third. Each exhibited great draws, lit easily, and smoked down to the nub without needing corrections or getting harsh. The cold draw has an enticing sweet flavor. After setting an even light, the smoke tastes sweet and earthy. There is a unique vegetal note in the flavor profile, which is creamy and smooth. The finish of is short, with a very light spice left on the tongue.

Despite everything positive I’ve said, I have to say the Factory 57 Robusto left me underwhelmed. I look to 7-20-4 for complex, interesting smokes, and the Factory 57 just isn’t that. The first cigar I smoked for this review seemed to get stronger and more intense as I burnt it down, but the other two did not. By the third, I was so familiar with the smoke, and the vegetal note started to seem less unique.

Now, I do not mean to imply this is a bad cigar. It isn’t. If you’re looking for a medium- to full-bodied, mellow, creamy smoke, this could be a grand slam. It is constructed at a master level, and certainly has solid flavors. For me, though, the Factory 57 Robusto does not live up to the high expectations set by 7-20-4. It earns three stogies out of five.

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

Joey J

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero “A” Oscuro Natural L.E. 2013

21 Dec 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.”

LFD-DL-A-LE-2013

On a whim I recently lit up this super-sized (9 x 47) smoke, one of only a few “A” size cigars in my humidor. The cigar was given to me while visiting the La Flor Dominicana booth at the 2013 IPCPR Trade Show. It features an oscuro-colored Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper around binder and filler grown at La Flor’s Dominican farms. Despite the limited release’s special size, the flavors are pretty standard Double Ligero: woodiness, spice, and a little coffee. The medium- to full-bodied profile is very consistent throughout the two-hour smoke, and construction is flawless. Judging “A” sizes is hard, since it’s more of a celebratory, special occasion cigar than something you might smoke more regularly. Still, this is a good example of the elegant format, and the $15 price is not unreasonable.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Viaje Stuffed Turkey White Meat

20 Dec 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

As a vegan, this annual holiday season release is about as close to turkey as I get. The Stuffed Turkey, available in both White and Dark varieties, became a separate line this year after three years under the so-called White Label Project. The White Meat (5 x 58) sells for $10 and features Nicaraguan Aganorsa binder and filler tobaccos wrapped in a Criollo Aganora leaf. I found this cigar to be spicy and satisfying, changing intensity and flavors throughout. It’s a fine cigar for any time of year.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: N/A