Archive | July, 2017

Cigar Review: Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 Churchill

31 Jul 2017

Over three years ago, I visited the Joya de Nicaragua factory in Estelí as part of Drew Estate’s Cigar Safari (Drew Estate is Joya’s distributor). At the outset of the tour, Juan Ignacio Martínez—then 31 years old and recently named executive president—gave us an overview of Joya’s fascinating history.

Many know Joya is the oldest cigar maker in Nicaragua. Fewer are aware of how Joya’s legacy is intertwined with the political unrest in Nicaragua in the 20th century. When you think Joya, you probably don’t think of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, President Nixon, or the Revolución Popular Sandinista. You probably think of brands like Joya Red, Cabinetta, Cuatro Cinco, Dark Corojo, and—perhaps most notably—Antaño 1970.

The Antaño blend (which translates to “yesteryear”) was crafted, according to Joya’s website, “as a tribute to recapture the power and essence of the puro that made this legendary brand the most sought-after cigar in the U.S. in the post-Cuban Embargo 1970s.” The blend is well-known to deliver a consistent, rich, spicy, full-flavored experience.

Ten Antaño vitolas are available, including the Churchill (6.9 x 48), which I recently picked up at my local tobacconist for the very fair price of $7.45. It is handmade in Estelí with 100% Nicaraguan tobaccos, including a dark Habano-seed Criollo wrapper.

Three cheers to Joya de Nicaragua for including the cigar’s name and dimensions on the cellophane (I wish more cigar makers did this). Once the Churchill is out of its packaging, the full features of the intimidating smoke can be more closely observed. The dry, coarse wrapper has a slight reddish hue with thin veins. It is accented nicely by the familiar, attractive band of gold, red, and green. The feel is moderately firm yet the cold draw is smooth. At the foot, you’ll find pre-light notes of dried fruit and damp earth.

“Novices need not light,” warns the Joya website. This is no bluff. From the first puff, the Antaño 1970 Churchill is undoubtedly full-bodied, strong, and spicy. But to write it off as a mere heavy-handed powerbomb would be to miss the excellent, balanced flavors that comprise the profile. Attentive smokers will find green raisin, cedar, black coffee, black pepper, and cayenne spice. The texture of the thick smoke is leathery. And, despite all the power, there is a smooth creaminess to the overall delivery that makes the experience all the more enjoyable.

There are no major changes in flavor throughout. All the while, construction is exquisite. Expect an even burn that requires zero touch-ups, a solid ash, clear draw, and above average smoke production.

Joya de Nicaragua’s website claims “this is a cigar for the experienced connoisseur who appreciates and craves unadulterated boldness.” I am inclined to agree. The Antaño 1970 Churchill brings plenty of strength to the table, and it also delights with a rich, balanced profile that pairs excellently with bourbon or rum after a satisfying meal.

If you want to get to the core of why so many cigar makers and enthusiasts have become so enamored with Nicaraguan tobacco, look no further than this fine specimen. It earns an outstanding rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: A.J. Fernandez New World Navegante

30 Jul 2017

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.”

New World, a lightly pressed Nicaraguan puro, was introduced several years ago by A.J. Fernandez as a budget line to complement his more expensive blends that had gained numerous fans. The New World Navegante (5.5 x 55) is a fairly rough-looking cigar and that appearance carried over to the initial smoking experience. Although it did smooth out a little about halfway down, it remained a bit harsh throughout. Smoke production was also fairly limited. Even at only about $6, I think you can navigate your way to a better cigar.

Verdict = Sell.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Blind Man’s Bluff Robusto

29 Jul 2017

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.”

What a difference nine months can make! When I reviewed this cigar back in early November, I found it decent yet dry and not as flavorful as I had hoped. Some modest rest in the humidor, however, has done the Blind Man’s Bluff Robusto (5 x 50, $7.50) a world of good. Where it was once papery and salty, it is now creamier, sweeter, more balanced, and more complex. The combination of an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, Honduran Criollo binder, and filler tobaccos from the Dominican Republic and Honduras yields a profile with white pepper, roasted peanut, cocoa powder, and vanilla. Construction has also improved. My advice? Pick up a five-pack and store it away for at least six months.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Buffalo and Indianapolis Eye Park Smoking Bans, New Jersey Raises Tobacco Purchase Age to 21, and More

28 Jul 2017

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post our sampling of cigar news and other items of interest from the week. Below is our latest, which is the 541st in the series.

1) This week, two U.S. cities took major steps towards curtailing outdoor smoking. In Buffalo, New York, city officials on Tuesday voted to ban smoking in city parks. “Under the measure, traditional tobacco products and electronic cigarettes will be prohibited. Officials are expected to make designated areas for smoking in some parks,” reports the Associated Press. “The proposed law now heads to Mayor Byron Brown for approval.” Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, officials are considering expanding the city’s smoking ban—originally passed in 2005 and to cover bars, restaurants, shopping malls, and sports arenas—to criminalize smoking in parks. The penalty for lighting up would be $200. If these measures pass, Buffalo and Indianapolis would join a growing list of U.S. cities with an outdoor ban in public parks (the largest include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and San Diego).

2) Gov. Chris Christie has signed a bill raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco in New Jersey to 21. “The Garden State will become the third in the nation to limit tobacco sales to individuals 21 and up when the law takes effect November 1, at which point vendors caught selling cigarettes, tobacco products, and electronic smoking devices to customers will risk facing fines of up to $1,000,” reports The Washington Times. “California and Hawaii are the only two other states to prohibit tobacco product sales to individuals under 21.”

3) In Maine, the state legislature also approved a law raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21, but Governor Paul LePage vetoed the bill. “I’m not going to strap a gun to their shoulder and go fight a war if they can’t go buy cigarettes,” LePage said, explaining his veto. “I’ll tell you, this is just sinful, it is absolutely sinful, and I believe that at 18 they are mature enough to make a decision and I’m tired of living in a society where we social engineer our lives.” The bill passed the legislature in both houses with over two-thirds support, enough to override the veto.

4) From the Archives: In the dead of summer you may be looking for a cool, refreshing beverage. Nothing fits the bill quite like the tropical spirit that is rum. In this 2009 article, we offer up five suggestions for rum-based cocktails. Enjoy.

5) Deal of the Week: recommends Bespoke Post, a monthly collection of awesome items (think fine bar accessories, shaving kits, wine, workout gear, coffee kits, and more) delivered to your door for just $45. Currently available is “Toast,” a package that includes four cigars by H. Upmann and Romeo y Julieta, along with a cigar carrying pouch and a small desktop humidor. You can skip or purchase every month. Sign up in the next four days to receive the August shipment.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: A Good Omen in Fight Against FDA Cigar Rules?

26 Jul 2017


For the first time in a while, there is reason for real optimism about the fight to overturn the onerous FDA cigar regulations. Living and working in Washington, I’ve learned to take optimistic reports from advocates about forthcoming progress on an issue with a grain of salt, since people often mistake their own enthusiasm and passion for confidence in the impact they are having.

Frequently, a better measure of progress is what those on the other side of the issue are saying and, most critically, doing. That’s why the actions of a group of anti-tobacco organizations this week should give those opposed to the FDA rules some hope.

On Monday, six so-called “public health” organizations filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed by the Cigar Association of America (CAA), International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR), and Cigar Rights of America (CRA) challenging the FDA’s rules that cover cigars.

The cigar groups’ lawsuit, filed in the DC Circuit Court a year ago, challenges the rules on various grounds that the regulations were enacted improperly and exceed the authority granted to the FDA by Congress when it passed the Tobacco Control Act in 2009. A similar lawsuit was filed weeks earlier by cigar-specializing Florida attorney Frank Herrera on behalf of Global Premium Cigars, maker of the the 1502 cigar line.

According to attorneys who have been on both ends of such challenges to agency regulations—both challenging government regulations and defending them on behalf of government agencies—the uphill battle the cigar industry faces in its lawsuits is that courts generally give agencies deference when it comes to exercising rulemaking authority. Under a controversial judicial doctrine known as “Chevron deference” (established in a 1984 Supreme Court decision), judges give administrative agencies a wide berth to interpret the scope of the authority granted to them by Congress.

The reason the anti-tobacco groups motion to intervene can be seen as good news is the groups cite the FDA’s delays and apparent reluctance to defend the rule in court as reasons they should be allowed to become a party in the case. They want to join the lawsuit to defend the rule because they don’t think the new Trump-appointed leadership at the FDA will vigorously do so.

If the FDA does eventually tell the court to hold proceedings while they contemplate new rulemaking to pare back the regulations, suddenly the challenge of administrative deference becomes a strength for cigar groups opposed to the rules. The fact that the Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA the option, but not the obligation, to regulate cigars and other tobacco products (beyond cigarettes and smokeless tobacco) would suddenly be the biggest weapon against anti-tobacco groups seeking to keep the rule in place.

So while Monday’s motion to intervene isn’t proof the FDA is going to reconsider the FDA rule, and ultimately only an act of Congress can provide more definitive protection for the industry against overbearing regulations, it is surely a good sign. Let’s hope theses anti-tobacco zealots are correct, and the FDA is preparing to roll back FDA regulations that threaten the innovation, competition, and creativity that makes handmade cigars so interesting and enjoyable.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Espinosa 601 La Bomba Warhead 2013

24 Jul 2017

There was a time when the cigars in the EO Brands portfolio—particularly 601 Blue, 601 Red, and 601 Green—were mainstays in my humidors. Back then, Erik Espinosa and Eddie Ortega were still in a partnership, and the 601 line was produced by none other than Don José “Pepin” Garcia at My Father Cigars.

In 2010, Rocky Patel bought a 50% stake in EO Brands, which also owned Cubao, Murcielago, and Mi Barrio. Then, in early 2012, Eddie Ortega announced he was leaving the company and starting his own outfit called Ortega Cigars.

Today, Erik Espinosa operates Espinosa Premium Cigars, which runs out of Espinosa’s La Zona Factory in Estelí. Among his creations is Warhead, a semi-regular, limited edition offshoot of the La Bomba line that replaces La Bomba’s Nicaraguan Habano wrapper with a dark Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper (but maintains La Bomba’s same Nicaraguan binder and filler recipe). To date, there have been three Warhead releases, each made in a single vitola: 2013 (6.5 x 54, 20,000 total cigars), 2014 (5.5 x 56, 20,000 total cigars), and 2016 (7.5 x 38, 5,000 total cigars).

Back in 2013, I paid about $11 apiece for three La Bomba Warheads. This original Warhead is easily differentiated from its successors because the 2014 iteration says “Warhead II” on the foot band, and the 2016 model is a lancero with a green foot band. For some reason, I didn’t touch these cigars for four years but am nonetheless dedicated to recording a review.

Maybe it’s the age, or maybe this is the way Warhead was originally shipped and presented in 2013, but the extra-long pigtail cap fuse has been compressed into the surface of the wrapper. That wrapper, by the way, is dark and rustic with a few large veins. The slightly box-pressed cigar is firm with no soft spots. Once clipped (I used a double guillotine and snipped into the cap removing the entire fuse) the cold draw is moderately firm. At the foot, I find pungent notes of cocoa powder and dark chocolate.

After setting an even light, I am greeted by an initial profile of espresso, black pepper, burnt marshmallow, and leather. The flavor is bold and full-bodied from the get-go, and the texture of the smoke is silky, cool, and moist. After about an inch, the strength mellows slightly and the addition of savory roasted nuts contributes some nice complexity. Thereafter, the taste remains fairly unchanged until the end.

The physical properties are imperfect but not burdensome. Expect a solid gray ash and a mostly well-behaved burn that only requires an occasional touch-up here and there to stay even. My main complaint is the draw. While I had anticipated it might open up after the first third, it remains fairly tight until the end, resulting in below average smoke production.

The four years of rest in my humidor may have taken some of the edge off the strength. Even fresh, however, I suspect Warhead would still be less powerful than the original La Bomba blend by virtue of the replacement of the Nicaraguan Habano wrapper with a Connecticut Broadleaf maduro. Whatever the case, the 2013 incarnation of Warhead is an enjoyable smoke with plenty to offer. But it’s also unlikely to blow anyone away. That’s why, all things considered, I am settling on a score of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Grand Classe (Original Release)

23 Jul 2017

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.”

In 2012, Illusione’s Dion Giolito introduced this cigar as a small batch exclusive to his Fumare store in Reno, Nevada. In 2013, a second La Grand Classe Rex debuted. This year, the cigar is back as an Illusione-branded line in a petit corona format with a Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. Today, I’m smoking my last cigar from an original box of the 2012 release. The un-banded cigars came in a cardboard box with simple stickers for the logo and seal. La Grand Classe 2012 (5.5 x 52, $5.99) features a dark Mexican wrapper with some notable water stains around Nicaraguan tobaccos. The medium- to full-bodied cigar burns flawlessly with charred oak and earthy flavors with ginger and pepper spice. I wasn’t a huge fan of these when they were first introduced, probably in part due to my general aversion to Mexican wrapper leaf, but age has made me appreciate this cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys