Archive | May, 2018

Commentary: Looking Back to Appreciate the Present

30 May 2018

We’ve often remarked here at about how easy it is to get caught up in the “what’s new” syndrome. Nowadays, though, federal regulations have put something of a crimp in many cigar makers’ releases. Looking for something new isn’t what it once was.

So, it seems like a good time to revisit some cigars that you may have forgotten or, perhaps, never tried. There are many, many good candidates for this exercise, but here are three suggestions I’ve revisited recently:

Sindicato: This blend was introduced about four years ago and garnered numerous positive reviews, including a four-stogie rating for the Corona Gorda. After the debut of the Sindicato Maduro, the original line, available in six vitolas, became referred to as the Sindicato Natural. The shade-grown Corojo wrapper and the Nicaraguan binder and filler leaves were blended by Casa Fernandez’s Arsenio Ramos. I smoked several when it came out and was, like most, favorably impressed. But it had been a few years since I picked up one. And when I decided to revisit some smokes from the past, this came quickly to mind. I’m glad it did. I may have enjoyed the Sindicato Natural more now than I did before. I smoked a couple of different sizes, and each was excellent. They offer full flavor, complexity, and near-perfect burn, draw, and smoke production. The flavors are numerous and varied, starting with spice that is soon tinged with a touch of cinnamon. Other flavors include coffee, nuts, and some bold pepper. The Sindicato Natural is definitely worth revisiting.

San Cristobal: The cigar Ashton calls “the cornerstone” of its collaboration with Don José “Pepin” Garcia and his My Father Cigars operation in Nicaragua, the original San Cristobal launched in 2007. Four have been reviewed by, and two received four stogies (Fabuloso and Selección del Sol Robusto). It is an incredibly diverse line. The original San Cristobal comes in ten sizes. Currently, the other extensions are Elegancia (Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper) in six sizes; Quintessence (Ecuadorian Habano wrapper) in five sizes; Revelation (Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper) in six sizes; and the limited-edition Ovation (San Andrés wrapper) in three sizes. Over the years, I’ve smoked all of these. It was tough to settle on a single one for this project, but I opted for the Revelation. I reviewed the Mystic (5.6 x 48) back in 2014 and was curious how Revelation would stand up now. This time, I lit the longer, fatter Legend (6.25 x 52), which was No. 18 on Cigar Aficionado’s top 25 list for 2014. I’d probably rank it higher. A medium-strength smoke, it is smooth, balanced, and satisfying. There’s an enticing mix of sweetness and spice in a cigar well worth picking up.

Four Kicks: As hard as it might be to believe, it’s been seven years since Crowned Heads’ initial offering launched. One of the most anticipated cigars at the time, Four Kicks was a big success. We reviewed the Corona Gorda twice and rated it highly both times. Since then, Nashville-based Crowned Heads has continued to produce excellent smokes, including several limited releases. Going for those newer smokes might lead some to overlook the cigar that started it all. Not me. I’ve been working my way through a box of the Corona Gordas over the past couple months, and I’ve enjoyed each and every one. Coming out of Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s shop, Four Kicks is a medium-strength smoke with a blend of spices and sweetness that amps up and down as you progress along the 5.6-inch frame. Each one I’ve smoked performed almost flawlessly: The burn was even, the smoke thick and rich, and the draw smooth.

If there’s one thing of which these three cigars have convinced me, it’s that a look to the past can provide a great addition to the present.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Cigars and Memorial Day

28 May 2018

[Editor’s Note: Today, for Memorial Day, we are republishing the following commentary written in 2008.]

With today’s celebration of Memorial Day to honor those who died in our nation’s service, I have a proposal: As cigar smokers, let’s extend the recognition of service to a week-long effort to provide cigars for the troops overseas, particularly those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you win cigars this week, donate them. If you’re planning to send a bomb to a friend or cigar board acquaintance, give the cigars to service men and women instead. If you receive a bomb, pass it along to the men and women in uniform who can’t go out and buy cigars but would truly enjoy the opportunity to smoke one. Stop by a local B&M to see what sort of operation it has for sending cigars to the troops (many shops do) and make a contribution. Check the programs several manufacturers have to give cigars to the troops when you make a purchase.

Choose whatever way you’d like to contribute. Just think how great it would be if everyone who reads this made just a small contribution and got a friend or two to do the same.

I first wrote about making cigar contributions back in November. Then, as now, I said such generosity has nothing to do with support or opposition for the war in Iraq or any governmental policy. It’s simply a good and decent thing to do for the cigar-loving men and women in uniform.

So, make this Memorial Day one to remember – for you and for our heroes overseas. Cigars, after all, are among the most requested items by the troops, and they have earned a well-deserved break.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

Quick Smoke: Todos Las Dias Double Wide Belicoso

27 May 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.”

This sungrown-wrapped Nicagauan puro from Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Toacco & Trust was billed as his strongest cigar to date. The short, thick Belicoso (4.75 x 60) funnels a full-bodied stream of espresso, charred oak, and black pepper flavors. Construction was excellent on this $12 cigar. Full-bodied fans should definitely give this a try.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: A.J. Fernandez Last Call Maduro Geniales

26 May 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.”

This maduro version of A.J. Fernandez’s popular Last Call line starts a little smokey and a little gritty. As soon as the wrapper-covered foot burns to the filler, though, it clearly announces itself for what it is. If you’re a fan of those classic maduro flavors like coffee and chocolate that were the standard before the embrace of Mexican San Andrés, this cigar delivers in spades. It’s well-constructed and produces lots of smoke. With a price tag generally under $5, the Geniales (4.5 x 48) provides an hour or so of maduro pleasure.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Diesel Whiskey Row Announced, Texas FDA Lawsuit Set to Begin, Tatuaje TAA, and More

25 May 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 580th in the series.

1) On Monday, General Cigar announced a partnership between A.J. Fernandez, the Diesel cigar brand, and Rabbit Hole Bourbon. Those entities have teamed up to create Whiskey Row, a new cigar line featuring bourbon barrel-aged binder leaves from a “proprietary process” developed by Fernandez. This concept was “brought to life in 2016 when Rabbit Hole Bourbon barrels arrived at Tabalacera A.J. Fernandez in Esteli, Nicaragua,” reads a press release. “A.J. placed the Mexican San Andrés binder in the bourbon barrels in a special configuration. The tobacco was left to rest inside the barrels, and the amount of air inside was controlled at regular intervals to ensure the bourbon flavors were imparted evenly.” In addition to this binder, Diesel Whiskey Row includes an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper aged for five years and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos aged for five to eight years. The blend, scheduled to launch next month, will be offered in four sizes, each packaged in 25-count boxes: Robusto (5.5 x 52, $7.49), Toro (6 x 54, $7.99), Churchill (7 x 49, $8.49), and Gigante (6 x 60, $8.99).

2) A date has been set to hear oral arguments in the lawsuit that pits premium cigar industry groups in Texas against the FDA. Judge Kimberly C. Priest Johnson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas will preside over the case. She bumped up the proceedings to begin on June 26 “in light of the August 10, 2018, effective date of the warning requirements.” She also denied the FDA’s request to move the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia—which is good news, since last week that court ruled against the cigar industry. This suit is brought by the Texas Cigar Merchants Association, El Cubano Cigars, and En Fuego Tobacco Shop and focuses entirely on premium cigars; the Washington suit was brought by the Cigar Association of America, International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, and Cigar Rights of America and, in addition to premium cigars, also included pipes and machine-made cigars.

3) Random Read: If Sports Gambling is Legal, Where Does the Money Go?

4) Inside the Industry: TAA (Tobacconists’ Association of America) is a small group retailers celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. One of the perks of being a member is access to exclusive TAA blends created by cigar makers only for member tobacconists. This week, Tatuaje  announced they are shipping their TAA 50th Anniverasry blend. This year’s Tatuaje TAA cigar is a robusto (5 x 52) that features a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler. Production is limited to 2,500 boxes of 20 cigars with each cigar selling for $11.95.

5) From the Archives: Back when we interviewed A.J. Fernandez in 2011, we started the interview by noting: “A.J. Fernandez may be the best cigar maker you haven’t heard of. But not for long.” You’ve probably heard of him now.

6) Deal of the Week: recommends Bespoke Post, a monthly collection of awesome items (think fine bar accessories, shaving kits, workout gear, and more) delivered for just $45. Of note is the Churchill box, which features four exclusive 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 now to be eligible for the June box.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: General Cigar

Commentary: The New Fuente Nicaraguan Cigar Factory is a Big Deal

23 May 2018

When it comes to classic, old-school cigars, few brands come to mind more than Arturo Fuente. In an era of so many brands bringing new cigars to market constantly, Fuente has never given in to that pressure of the new release treadmill, or the need to chase trends. All of which makes their recent announcement particularly noteworthy.

Yes, Fuente had a presence in Nicaragua in the 1970s prior to the Sandinista revolution that wiped out many international investors. But now it is back in a big way. Using land the Fuentes have used to grow Nicaraguan tobacco for a while, the Domincan cigar giant announced recently it is building a new cigar factory in the heart of Estelí with the name “Gran Fabrica de Tabacos La Bella y La Bestia.”

I, for one, am very excited to see what the new Nicaraguan factory can create. Fuente makes cigars that stack up well at every price point, from the bargain bin mixed-filler Curly Head to the ultra-premium limited edition Opus X releases. Fundamentally, though, they’ve always been characterized by Dominican tobaccos, especially fillers.

The prospect of an abundance of Nicaraguan tobacco in new Fuente blends sounds good to me. That Fuente brought in Felix Mesa of El Galan Cigars (maker of the Doña Nieves) to run the Nicaraguan operations is especially promising.

The announcement is also a sign of the emergence of Nicaraguan cigars.

Not that long ago, Nicaragua was third among countries when it came to importing handmade cigars into the United States, behind Honduras and far behind the Dominican Republic. Today, for the second straight year, Nicaragua has edged out the Dominican Republic, with Honduras a distant third.

Put simply: If you were starting a new cigar company today, the most obvious place to build your factory would be Nicaragua. Yes, labor costs that are lower than the Dominican Republic. But the biggest reason would be the access to Nicaraguan tobaccos.

In many ways, Fuente’s announcement is the culmination of Nicaragua’s ascendance. In short, it’s a big deal, and a sign of the where the U.S. cigar market is now.

Patrick S

photo credit: Fuente

Cigar Review: El Titan de Bronze Redemption Sun Grown Habano Lancero

21 May 2018

Earlier this month, I published a photo essay documenting my recent visit to El Titan de Bronze. Even if you’re not familiar with this small factory on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, Miami, chances are good you’ve enjoyed its cigars at one time or another. El Titan de Bronze counts companies such as Drew Estate, Warped Cigars, La Palina, Cornelius & Anthony, Padilla, El Primer Mundo, Cremo, and many others as clients.

From the outside, you could easily mistake El Titan de Bronze as a mere retailer. The whole operation is only 2,200 square feet. But—unlike all the other cigar spots that dot Calle Ocho, many of which employ a window roller or two to lure tourists—El Titan de Bronze is a living, breathing factory full of rich history.

Its staff is also often called upon to not only craft cigars for other brands, but to also offer guidance and assistance when it comes to blending (one exception here is Willy Herrera of Drew Estate, who apparently does just fine on his own). The expertise El Titan de Bronze brings to the table is evident in its house blends, which are available for sale online—but, I am told, are mostly bought in-person at the factory.

Included in the lineup of house brands is El Titan de Bronze Redemption Sun Grown Habano. This blend features Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos around a sun-grown Ecuadorian Habano wrapper.

Cuban-seed Santo Domingo and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, an Ecuadorian binder, and (as the name implies) a dark Habano wrapper. The Corona (5.75 x 48) sells for about $8.50 apiece. Six regular-production vitolas are available, including the Lancero (6.75 x 38), which retails for about $9. (Beyond the six core sizes—Churchill, Churchill Corto, Toro, Belicoso, Corona, and Lancero—there are five additional formats that are listed as “subject to availability.”)

The Redemption Sun Grown Habano Lancero sports a well-executed pigtail cap and attractive dual bands of white, gold, and blue. It is moderately firm from head to foot with no hard or soft spots. The wrapper is uniform in color and dry with a few large veins. The cold draw is moderately firm, and the soft pre-light notes remind me of hay and molasses.

Many cigars offer fleeting moments of brilliant notes of roasted nuts. For whatever reason, this typically emerges after the first third is completed. In this case, however, that awesome flavor takes center stage right from the get-go. Other tastes include spicy cedar, white pepper, and cinnamon. As the Lancero progresses, a salted caramel note joins the fray to add some creaminess and sweetness.

Then, at the midway point, the entire profile takes a turn, abandoning the roasted nuts, sweetness, creaminess, and spice for a mellower (and, frankly, less interesting) flavor of bread, cereals, and dry oak. Fortunately, this retreat is short-lived. Just as you might begin to lose interest, the roasted nut note comes back, as does the spice.

Throughout, the burn line is straight and the ash holds well off the foot. The draw is tighter than I would like in the first half—even for a lancero—and, as a result, the smoke production is a bit below average. Everything opens up nicely in the final third, though.

I am a fan of lanceros, which is why I gravitated towards this size for my first foray with the El Titan de Bronze Redemption Sun Grown Habano. That said, I can’t help but think the experience would have been improved by the clearer draw that’s likely afforded by the thicker sizes. I look forward to giving those a try. For now, this cigar earns a rating of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys