Archive | January, 2018

Cigar Spirits: Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2017)

31 Jan 2018

The Michter’s whiskey brand was created in the 1950s by Lou Forman (the name is derived from his sons, MICHael and peTER). At that time, it was associated with the distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, which ultimately closed in the late 1980s. (Some of the last whiskey distilled there ended up as the historic A.H. Hirsch bourbon.)

Later, the Michter’s brand was resurrected in the late 1990s, with whiskey made in Kentucky. I first wrote about Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon in 2009. Today, I look at the 2017 release. This limited and tough-to-find bourbon is released each fall, along with a 10-year rye and, depending on the year, 20- or 25-year bourbon.

Ostensibly, it’s the same bourbon; in reality, much has changed. Earlier, Michter’s 10 Year bourbons were known for being excellent picks, including from the stock of Stitzel Weller wheated bourbon that also was the source of earlier Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.

While Michter’s has started operating its own distillery, to date all Michter’s 10 Year has been sourced elsewhere. Although the source has never been revealed, it certainly isn’t Stizel Weller anymore. Brown-Forman (Old Forester), Heaven Hill, and Barton’s have all been speculated to be the source(s).

Michter’s 10 is bottled at 94.4-proof. The 2017 version retails for around $120, though don’t be surprised to find it selling for even more.

The spirit is chestnut brown in color. The nose is an inviting combination of toffee, buttered popcorn, and toasted oak. It has a creamy, velvety texture that features a combination of vanilla, oak, subtle baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg), and brown sugar notes.

More than anything, the 2017 release of Michter’s 10 Year is smooth. The finish is long with soft wood spices and burnt brown sugar notes.

It’s a very tasty bourbon with one significant drawback: a $120+ price tag. Personally, I find it hard to justify this cost when I can easily buy three bottles of very good bourbons—like Eagle Rare 10 Year or Henry McKenna Single Barrel (10 year)—for less, though that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate this, smooth, flavorful, well-executed bourbon.

To fully appreciate Michter’s, you’ll want to pair it with a mild- or medium-bodied cigar that’s well-balanced. Specifically, I’d recommend Cabaiguan, Davidoff Grand Cru, Paul Garmirian Gourmet, or Tesa Vintage Especial.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Bandolero Traviesos

29 Jan 2018

Havana-born Nelson Alfonso is the graphic designer behind Selected Tobacco, an ultra-premium outfit that produces cigars under the Atabey, Byron, and Bandolero brands. Even if you’re unfamiliar with these cigars, you’ve almost certainly appreciated Alfonso’s work; his firm, Golden Age Visual Developers, has contributed to the packaging and design of many iconic Cuban brands, including Behike (which explains why Atabey looks so Behike-esque).

Bandolero is handmade in Costa Rica with an undisclosed blend. Here’s the origin of the Bandolero name from United Cigar (Selected Tobacco’s distributor in the U.S.): “Between 1717 and 1817, the Spanish Crown prohibited cigar production in the Caribbean and the rest of the American colonies, and although its precious leaves continued growing on the other side of the ocean, the ‘puro’ cigar rolling that we all know today could only be done at the Sevilla Royal Factory [in Spain]… [This] led to the rising prices of tobacco and the birth of the bandolero, an intrepid figure that hid on mysterious roads with tobacco leaves rolled in other countries…”

The Bandolero Traviesos has the dimensions of a standard robusto (5 x 50), but it actually smokes more like a shorter, stouter cigar given its long torpedo cap. It retails for $12 for a single. The cigar has a dark, mahogany-colored wrapper with moderate tooth and ample oils. The seams are tight and the veins are thin. Once the well-executed torpedo cap is clipped, I find a smooth cold draw. At the foot, the pre-light notes remind me of molasses.

After setting an even light with a couple wooden matches, a woodsy, slightly spicy, medium-bodied profile emerges with flavors ranging from cedar and espresso to black cherry and cocoa powder. The overall first impression is one of harmony, depth, and smoothness of delivery.

As the Traviesos progresses, the flavors remain fairly consistent, save for a cayenne-like heat that comes and goes at will, as well as the introduction of a taste I can only describe as natural tobacco. At times, there’s a roasted peanut flavor that’s borderline brilliant—but it’s very fleeting.

While the ash holds well and the draw is clear throughout, the burn line leaves something to be desired. I didn’t have to perform any touch-ups along the way, but I certainly thought about using my flame to correct the wavy burn a few times. The smoke production is about average.

Of the Bravos size (5.25 x 52), I wrote the following in May 2015: “Given the cost, I was hoping for a memorable, complex experience that would make me reach for this cigar to celebrate special occasions. The Bandolero Bravos falls a little short of those lofty expectations. While I enjoy the flavors, I think the complexity isn’t quite there, and that results in a rating of three and a half stogies out of five.”

My experience might have been a little different with the Traviesos, but my conclusions are identical. I award this cigar three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: 601 Green Oscuro Tronco

28 Jan 2018

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.”

When the 601 Green was first introduced in 2007, it was made by José “Pepín” García for United Tobacco and distributed by Miami cigars. All those details, plus the packaging, have changed since then, some more than once. Today, the Nicaraguan puro is made at Erik Espinosa’s La Zona factory. The full-bodied smoke features heavy earth, coffee, and pepper spice. It’s a well-made cigar that, as with the original 2007 release, will appeal to fans of full-bodied Nicaraguan smokes. That said, at least based on my memory of the Pepin-made 601, this lacks some of the complexity and intensity that made the original one of my favorite cigars at the time.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: MBombay Corojo Oscuro Robusto

27 Jan 2018

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 we reported a couple weeks ago, MBombay recently announced a new five-count sampler pack that retails for $45. This pack is the only way to get the new Classic Torpedo (full review forthcoming from StogieGuys.com). Not to be overlooked is the Corojo Oscuro Robusto (4.5 x 50), a dark, Ecuadorian-wrapped beauty that retails for about $7. This well-constructed smoke burns well, draws smoothly, and boasts admirable balance. The flavor is thick and leathery with notes of espresso, dark chocolate, nougat, roasted cashew, and red pepper.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Villiger Goes Full-Bodied, Tequila Barrel-Aged Scotch, and More

26 Jan 2018

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 564th in the series.

1) Villiger has announced its first full-bodied cigar. La Vencedora, Spanish for “the victor,” is a Nicaraguan puro made at the Joya de Nicaragua factory in Estelí. The line is intended as a “follow-up blend” to the Ecuadorian-wrapped La Flor de Ynclan, which debuted last year. “We are grateful for the opportunity to use our 130 years of experience to create what I feel is a very special cigar in the Villiger La Vencedora,” said Heinrich Villiger, chairman of the Switzerland-based company. Rene Castañeda, president of Villiger Cigars North America, added, “We as a team feel that the Villiger La Vencedora is a palate-pleasing, full-bodied, yet elegant cigar, that will satisfy the cigar connoisseur as well as the casual smoker.” The three La Vencedora sizes—Churchill, Robusto, and Toro—will retail in the $9-10 range.

2) Diageo, the London-based alcoholic beverages multinational, last year formed a “secret task force” aimed at seeking a break from longstanding scotch production laws and traditions in an effort to “arrest scotch’s declining market share,” according to the Wall Street Journal. With Irish, Japanese, Canadian, and U.S. whiskey makers cutting into scotch’s global market share, Diageo—which owns the Johnnie Walker, Talisker, Lagavulin, and Caol Ila scotch brands, just to name a few—is trying to think outside the box. “One idea was to finish aging scotch in old tequila barrels instead of the sherry, cognac, or port casks traditionally used. Another was to create a ‘scotch whisky infusion,’ a new category of flavored or low-alcohol blends sold under existing scotch brands.” But change is easier said than done. “Scotch watchers say Diageo will face stiff opposition to any rule changes—something its task force acknowledges… One of the biggest obstacles is the SWA, an Edinburgh-based trade body that has long interpreted the rules and policed scotch making.”

3) Inside the Industry: Edward Simon has been named the new leader of global marketing and innovation at Oettinger Davidoff AG. He takes over the role from Charles Awad, who is leaving the Switzerland-based company. The move is part of a broader organizational and personnel shakeup to align Davidoff’s business processes “with the changing market conditions.” According to a press release, “a corresponding transformation programme, known as ‘Way Forward,’ was initiated at the beginning of this year under the leadership of CEO Beat Hauenstein.”

4) From the Archives: Seven years ago we started our interview of A.J. Fernandez by noting: “A.J. Fernandez may be the best cigar maker you haven’t heard of. But not for long.” Read the whole interview here.

5) Deal of the Week: StogieGuys.com recommends Bespoke Post, a monthly collection of awesome items (think fine bar accessories, hot sauce kits, wine, workout gear, etc…) delivered for just $45. Of note is the “Churchill” box, which features four cigars, an ashtray made of reclaimed wood, an odor-eating candle, cedar spills, and a cutter. Once you are signed up, there is no obligation; you can skip or purchase each month. Sign up here in the next five days to be eligible for the February box.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Villiger Cigars

Cigar Review: Crux Epicure Robusto

24 Jan 2018

The first thing that stands out about this cigar is the wrapper, a beautiful light brown Ecuadorian Connecticut leaf stretched over Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. The large band around it has Crux’s trademark medieval-reminiscent typface on a red background balanced by a white strip below with the cigar’s name in gold. It is an impressive presentation.

The next strong impression comes after lighting up. There’s none of that typical Connecticut grassy characteristic. Instead, the dominant flavors are natural sweetness and toast. Around the second third, light pepper and cedar mingle in and remain through the rest of the Robusto (5 x 50, $10).

Though it will certainly appeal to the large segment of cigar smokers who prefer milder cigars, Epicure is by no means an old-school Connecticut. Rather, it’s what I think of as a “millennial Connecticut”: a blend that manages to create smoothness and flavor without a significant grassy component in a mild- to medium-bodied smoke.

Like other Crux cigars, this one is rolled by Plasencia. Performance is first-rate. In both of those I smoked, the burn was slow and straight, the ash held tightly, and there was a lot of smoke production.

The line was introduced in 2016 but didn’t ship widely until last year. It comes in three sizes in addition to the Robusto: Corona Gorda (5.375 x 46), Robusto Extra (5.75 x 54), and Toro (6.25 x 52).

With a milder blend, Epicure fills a spot in the expanding Crux lineup that’s been highly praised, including numerous strong ratings at StogieGuys.com for many of their smokes.

This one is no exception. And I would urge anyone to give Epicure a try, even if you primarily smoke high-powered cigars. With the right circumstances and attention, I believe this cigar will satisfy most smokers. I rate it four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: CruxStogie Guys

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXV)

22 Jan 2018

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I remember an old foe, lament the health of the industry, and ponder how social media is changing cigar marketing.

Actually, It’s CHIP Now, Not SCHIP

Remember SCHIP? All the news about a looming government shutdown—as I am writing this, the House has passed a bill to keep the federal government funded for another four weeks, but the Senate doesn’t look poised to reach an agreement—has brought back memories of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), formerly known as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Just search “SCHIP” on this site (our search bar is in the upper right-hand corner) and you’ll find dozens of articles, mostly from the period of 2007-2009. This January 2009 article was published and updated on the day the SCHIP tax increase was announced (the cap is, and was, 40 cents per large cigar). As we reminded you on Friday, although CHIP’s “funding” would expire if a government funding deal isn’t struck, the tax on tobacco will remain either way. Fantastic. One silver lining: If and when CHIP’s tobacco tax funding is restored, we can once again claim to be “smoking for the children.”

And the Winner Is… Nobody

As you may have seen at Halfwheel.com, the site is not issuing an award for best new cigar company in 2017 because, well, there really wasn’t one. “We’ve given the award each year since 2013 alongside a host of other awards; that will change this year and there’s a good chance that change will be for good,” wrote Charlie Minato. “Due to a variety of reasons, chief amongst them the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation of premium cigars, there simply aren’t many new companies that would be eligible for the award.” We should all be alarmed by this. Creation, innovation, and new blood are signs of a rich and vibrant industry. This is evidence that burdensome regulations and taxes are taking their toll. For those who would stroll the aisles of the IPCPR Trade Show and cite the volume of booths and displays as an indication of industry health, I say this: Think about all the booths and displays that aren’t here. Think about all we might be missing, especially in the form of limited edition smokes. Looking to the horizon, absent major policy changes, isn’t it fair to expect more cigar company consolidation and closures, and fewer new operations?

What Is Skip Martin Eating Today?

Thanks to social media, the way in which the cigar smoking public connects with cigar makers has changed drastically in recent years. In the past, if you wanted to converse with your favorite cigar maker, you’d need to attend a huge gathering like Cigar Aficionado’s Big Smoke, or wait until he hosts an event at a retailer in your area. Today, you can simply log on to Facebook to trade comments, messages, photos, etc. Many cigar smokers even tag the cigar maker when they’re enjoying one of his cigars. The savvy cigar makers are embracing this trend, using Facebook to update their many followers about what they’re smoking, blending, working on—even eating and drinking. In this fashion, social media becomes a powerful tool to constantly stay top of mind with your most loyal customers. It also allows the cigar makers to bypass more traditional media options—like industry magazines, press releases, and, yes, blogs—and take messages directly to the masses. If you doubt this trend, just follow Skip Martin of RoMa Craft Tobac and Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust on Facebook; they’re constantly posting (some might say marketing). I am surprised more cigar makers don’t wholeheartedly adopt this approach.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr