Archive | August, 2017

Photo Essay: A Visit to the Connecticut River Valley

30 Aug 2017

Growing up in New York and going to college in Maine, I have many friends from Connecticut. Cigar geeks aside, few realize that not only does Connecticut grow tobacco, but some of the most expensive and sought-after premium cigar wrapper is grown in the Nutmeg State. Recently I visited the Connecticut River Valley (north of Hartford) to see the farms there during the growing season, which runs from summer to early fall. Below are some of the photos from the trip.

One of the most notable things you quickly see is how each type of tobacco is grown differently to maximize qualities sought in the wrapper they hope it will become. (Inevitably, some leaves will end up as binder or filler; that said, leaves are grown with the intention and hope that they become wrapper, which commands the highest price.)

 

Sun-grown tobacco is topped (the flower at the top is removed) and lower leaves are removed early to maximize the nutrients that reach the leaves intended for tobacco. (Yes, the photo at the top is of the Habano leaf that will eventually become the Partagas Black.)

Increasingly, the leaves are then stalk-cured (the ones I saw were speared through the center of the stalk to kick-start curing) so the flavor of the nicotine in the stalk can continue to move into the leaves.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Connecticut Shade tobacco, which is processed to keep the leaf thin and light. In addition to netting, flowers remain and all the leaves are left on so they don’t get too thick.

Leaves are sewn individually for curing, instead of being left on the stalk.

In addition, fields are left to fallow one year out of three, and rye is frequently grown (then plowed over) in the off-season to replenish nutrients in the soil.

This is big business for Connecticut farmers, with each curing barn holding up to half a million dollars worth of tobacco, depending on the leaf type. Connecticut Shade is still the most expensive leaf grown in Connecticut, but Broadleaf and Habano are also grown in ample quantities.

If you are in the area in the late summer, drive around and you shouldn’t have too much trouble spotting tobacco fields. For those not lucky enough to visit foreign tobacco growing regions, Connecticut is the most accessible place to see the tobacco that ends up as a key component of the handmade cigars we enjoy.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Laphroaig Cairdeas Quarter Cask 2017

28 Aug 2017

Depending on my mood, I find few spirits pair as well with a fine cigar as scotch—especially those scotch whiskeys from Islay that are characterized by a hearty dose of smoky peat. For me, along with bourbon and rye, scotch is a mainstay cigar companion in the colder months (whereas I typically turn to rum in the summer heat).

There’s certainly nothing wrong with scotch in the summer, though, especially when there’s a new release to try that stirs my interest. Case in point: the new Cairdeas Quarter Cask from Laphroaig. Cairdeas (“friendship” in Gaelic) is, according to Laphroaig, a response to market demand for “a cask-strength version of the popular Laphroaig Quarter Cask expression, which offers an irresistible doubling of flavor, due to the double maturation in two American oak barrels.”

The strategy behind the 2017 Cairdeas Quarter Cask includes blending different ages (at least five years old) of Laphroaig in “first-fill bourbon casks” before undergoing a second round of maturation in smaller quarter casks. After another six months, these casks are then bottled at cask-strength without the addition of any coloring agents. The result is a 114.4-proof (57.2% alcohol by volume) spirit that sells for $80 per bottle.

As you can see from the photo above, I received a miniature bottle sample from Laphroaig to make this review possible (a gesture that is much appreciated but, as always, has zero impact on my assessment of the product). In contrast, the photo to the right shows the 2017 Cairdeas Quarter Cask bottle and its decorative sleeve (this photo is courtesy of Laphroaig). Notably, in the promotional photo, the whiskey has a darker, reddish hue, whereas my sample poured a crisp, bright golden color.

The Laphroaig reputation is one of power and peat. This is due to Laphroaig being “one of only a few distilleries that still uses traditional malting floors and dries and infuses its own malt with the thick blue smoke from old peat-fired kilns.” So you would expect a cask-strength Laphroaig to bring a bold, powerful, peaty, smoky nose to the table. And that’s exactly what you get. Even with the addition of a little water to open it up, the nose on this whiskey is absolutely huge with brine, fresh peat, black pepper, minerals, and vanilla.

On the palate, Cairdeas Quarter Cask arrives relatively gently, then slowly builds in strength as the finish lingers. Flavors include peat, ginger spice, smoke, oak, molasses, and white pepper. The intensity of the finish reaches its zenith with a spicy, warm, tingly, crisp sensation that concentrates on the tip of the tongue.

I am a fan of Laphroaig 18 (48% alcohol by volume) and decided to taste some side-by-side with Cairdeas Quarter Cask. Frankly, Cairdeas Quarter Cask renders 18—a hearty, spicy, peat-forward whiskey by any stanard—relatively harmless and approachable.

In my book, the 2017 Laphroaig Cairdeas Quarter Cask is an intense expression that offers solid value for the dollar (it should, after all; quarter casking is, effectively, a strategy to get whiskey in the bottle quicker since the smaller barrels provide a higher ratio of wood surface to liquid volume, thereby requiring less of a distillery’s most precious asset: time). When you try this whiskey, I think you’ll agree that it begs to be enjoyed with a fine cigar. And when you select your stick, I suggest you look for something bold that won’t get drowned out by this spirit’s incredible, powerful flavors. I found the Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection Havana Cazadores, for example, does the trick.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys / Laphroaig

Quick Smoke: Curivari Reserva Limitada Classica Epicure

27 Aug 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.”

As my colleague noted recently, I’ve long hailed Curivari’s Buenaventura line as an excellent value. Buenaventura is hardly the only Curivari creation to provide great bang for the buck, though. Recently, I smoked a Curivari Reserva Limitada Classica Epicure (4.5 x 52), a Nicarguan puro featuring a dark, oily wrapper. The cigar exhibits rich earth, milk chocolate, and woody spices. Construction is excellent on this 50-minute smoke. Best of all, it sells for just over $50 for a box of 10.
Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Drew Estate Herrera Estelí Short Corona

26 Aug 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.”

Drew Estate cigar production expertise meets a Cubanesque approach to blending. That’s what you get when you fire up Herrera Estelí, a line blended by Willy Herrera that sports Ecuadorian, Honduran, and Nicaraguan tobaccos. The Short Corona (4.9 x 46, about $8) is my favorite vitola. It packs a profile of syrup, creamy nut, dry wood, and white pepper into a short, compact, concentrated format. And, as I’ve come to expect from Drew Estate, the combustion properties are sublime.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: BLTC Ships Boondock Saint, Drew Estate Releases Cuadrado, and More

25 Aug 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 544th in the series.

1) Black Label Trading Company (BLTC) has announced the shipment of a new cigar called Boondock Saint. Made at BLTC’s Fabrica Oveja Negra factory in Nicaragua, Boondock Saint sports a dark Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper around a Nicaraguan Habano binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Both sizes—Corona Larga (6.25 x 46) and Robusto (5.25 x 50)—will be sold for $10 apiece at select BLTC retailers and packaged in 20-count boxes. “The Boondock Saint is a perfect example of a balanced cigar,” said BLTC creator James Brown. “The profile is rich, complex, and bold with tons of subtle flavors. The cigar is both strong and refined with a very elegant finish.” Boondock Saint is a product of the BLK WKS project, “an expression of art showcasing the talent, technique, and tobacco behind [the] boutique cigar factory, Fabrica Oveja Negra.” Speaking of Fabrica Oveja Negra, the facility is moving to a larger, freestanding space at the south entrance of Estelí that will include a large production area, tobacco storage facility, state-of-the-art aging room, retail store, cigar lounge, and exhibition space.

2) Looking for Umbagog? Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust took to Facebook to explain the longfiller cigar that’s comprised to tobacco unworthy of Mi Querida will start reappearing at retailers next month. “Beginning in September, we will start fulfilling backorders to our retailers and, by mid-October, we will have shipped every backorder on almost all the sizes. Backorders will be fulfilled in the order in which they were placed,” he said. “If you want to buy [this] cigar, then this will be the time to do so as it is unlikely we will be importing any significant quantities until very late 2017/early 2018.”

3) Drew Estate has released a new Cuadrado format in its Undercrown Maduro (formerly just Undercrown) and Herrera Estelí for JR Cigars and Casa de Montecristo. Both are available in ten-count soft packs. Cuadrado measures 6.5 inches long with a ring gauge of 44. “One of my favorite vitolas I have blended at Drew Estate is the Norteno lonsdale because of how the smoke hits your palate, so we re-worked the blend of Undercrown Maduro, in this box press format using my experience of blending with Mexican San Andres wrapper with the Norteno,” said Drew Estate master blender Willy Herrera. “The Herrera Estelí Cuadrado shines in this size. Unlike my other exclusives, which feature different blends of the Herrera Estelí, this one remains exactly the same as the original just in the box-pressed lonsdale format. It’s just damn good.” The Undercrown Maduro Cuadrado 10-pack retails for $74; Herrera Estelí Cuadrado is $105.50 for a 10-pack.

4) The worldwide launch of the three inaugural products from John Drew Brands—Brixton Mash Destroyer (55% bourbon, 45% rum), Dove Tale Rum, and John Drew Rye—takes place today in Chicago at Binny’s Beverage Depot in Lincoln Park. By 4 PM Central, every Binny’s location will have the products available. Founded in 2015, John Drew Brands bills itself as “an authentic lifestyle company initially focused on the alcohol beverage category.”

5) Inside the IndustryCigar Insider‘s annual survey of retailers asks owners from 225 stores nationwide which cigars are their best-sellers and hottest brands. Fuente and Padrón took the top spots. Retailers also cited Davidoff, Romeo y Julieta, and Rocky Patel as rounding out the top five best-sellers.

6) From the Archives: How many gadgets can manufacturers come up with to complicate the simple act of smoking? A lot. In this article from 2007, we explored many not-so-essential contrivances and contraptions that have been pushed in the cigar world.

7) Deal of the Week: StogieGuys.com recommends Bespoke Post, a monthly collection of awesome items (think fine bar accessories, shaving kits, wine, workout gear, coffee kits, cigars, and more) delivered for just $45. You can skip or purchase every month. Sign up here to get the September shipment.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: BLTC

Cigar Review: Diamond Crown Julius Caeser Toro

23 Aug 2017

This Diamond Crown extension was introduced some years back to celebrate the founder of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., which calls itself “America’s oldest family-owned premium cigar makers.”

Newman promotes Julius Caeser as a high-end premium, packaged in fancy boxes and originally available only at Diamond Crown lounges. In 2014, the robusto was named No. 14 on Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 list.

But to me it seems the line has never really garnered the cachet of some other top-tier smokes rolled by Fuente, such as Opus X or God of Fire. My belief was reinforced recently when I was able to buy 10 of the toros online for around $50, roughly a third of the normal retail price listing.

The tobacco composition of Julius Caeser is a bit muddled. Newman’s website refers to an Ecuadorian Havana-seed wrapper over a rather vague “robust blend of Central American tobaccos.” That CA rating has it as an all Dominican stick, while others generally list Dominican binder and filler.

The Toro (6 x 52) has a lovely pre-light chocolate aroma from the wrapper. The cap is excellently applied and easy to clip. Performance, as you’d expect, was excellent in all of those I’ve smoked. Straight burn, fine draw, and good smoke production.

I found it to be a little stronger than my colleague when he reviewed the Julius Caeser Pyramid in 2011. I’d call it near the low end of medium. We did agree on the lack of complexity, with little in the way of changes from start to finish, especially after the first inch or so.

But what Julius Caeser produced was pleasant. I got light spice, a touch of cedar, and some deep, woody notes.

If you’re looking for a cigar you can enjoy any time of the day, this could be one to try. At the regular retail price, though, most experienced cigar smokers can probably find other sticks that stand out more. But when it’s marked down, Julius Caeser is well worth picking up. I rate the Toro three and a half stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Diamond Crown/Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Las Calaveras Edición Limitada 2015 LC50

21 Aug 2017

Las Calaveras is an annual limited release from Nashville-based manufacturer Crowned Heads. It is inspired by La Calavera Catrina (“the dapper skeleton”), a painting that has become synonymous with Día de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday honoring the dead.

Made at the My Father Cigars factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, the Las Calaveras tradition began in 2014 and continues today with a 2017 iteration that includes four vitolas and about 135,000 total cigars. Back in 2015, total production was only 90,000 cigars across three vitolas. So imagine my surprise when I recently stumbled across a stash of 2015 Las Calaveras cigars at one of my local tobacconists.

The three 2015 Las Calaveras formats were LC50 (5 x 50), LC46 (5.6 x 46), and LC52 (6 x 52). Each came packaged in boxes of 24 with an Ecuadorian Habano Rosado wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. I picked up a handful of LC50s, which ran me $9.95 apiece.

The Las Calaveras Edición Limitada 2015 LC50 is a handsome, well-made cigar with an attractive, understated band of white, black, and gold over a clean, reddish, medium-brown wrapper that’s devoid of any prominent veins. It is firm, yet the cold draw is smooth once the nicely executed cap is clipped with a guillotine cutter. Interestingly, the foot exhibits only faint pre-light notes; you have to concentrate to pick up the almond and oak.

Once an even light is set, the profile can best be characterized by cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, red pepper spice, and dry wood. The texture is delightfully thick and chalky. Attentive smokers will notice a bready core of cereals and toasty grains. The overall impression is one of a well-balanced, medium-bodied, spice-forward smoke with some Cubanesque, old-school personality.

As the LC50 progresses into the midway point and beyond, some richer flavors come to the fore, including espresso, leather, and thick molasses. All the while, the spice and sweetness both remain bold, rendering the overall taste harmonious. In the background, there’s a fresh greenness to help offset flavors that are slightly bitter or savory.

Throughout, construction is impeccable. Expect an even burn that requires no touch-ups, a sold ash, a smooth draw, and good smoke production.

Tomorrow, I am headed back to my tobacconist to see if they have any more Las Calaveras cigars from 2015. I certainly hope they do. And, if you come across any, I heartily recommend you pick up whatever you can find. The LC50 is an awesomely balanced and satisfying cigar. It earns a stellar rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys