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Cigar Review: La Palina No. 2 Robusto

25 Jun 2018

If you’ve been smoking cigars for a while, lighting up La Palina’s No. 2 might seem like visiting with an old friend. From the first puff, it brings forth the flavors, mouth texture, and feel of maduros before Mexican San Andrés tobacco became the maduro wrapper of choice.

Interestingly, the wrapper on the No. 2 is from Costa Rica, not a more traditional maduro wrapper, such as Connecticut Broadleaf. In fact, the overall blend is a bit unconventional, with a Honduran binder and filler from Nicaragua and Honduras.

The No. 2 (you’ll also see it referred to as the 02) was released along with the No. 1 last year in what has been referred to as La Palina’s Number series. Both stand out from other La Palina brands with bright, colorfully modernist box packaging and bands.

Each comes in four vitolas and both are rolled by Plascencia in Honduras. The No. 2 sizes are Gordo (6 x 58, $11), Toro (6.5 x 54, $10), Robusto (5 x 52, $9.50), and Petit Corona (4.5 x 44, $7.99).

Ever since he brought back his grandfather’s La Palina brand in 2010, Bill Paley has displayed a willingness to experiment. Along the way, he’s produced quite a few memorable cigars.

I smoked three of these dark Robustos. The draw on each was excellent. I would have liked a little more smoke production, though the level wasn’t bad. The only negative was the necessity for an occasional touch-up, not unexpected with such a thick, oily wrapper.

The No. 2 kicked off with a rich taste of espresso and a light spice. Both remained through much of the length of the cigar, moving from forefront to background as other flavors emerged. Those included cocoa, a bit of charred wood, and some tobacco sweetness.

I thoroughly enjoyed this cigar and would recommend it highly, especially to those who have smoked primarily maduros with Mexican wrappers. It’s a different experience.

I believe the La Palina No. 2 is a cigar suited to smokers at any level of experience. I rate it four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Cigar Enthusiasts Could Benefit from a Little More Talking

11 Jun 2018

They’re commonly called shelf-talkers. Those little cards or stickers you see so often on store shelves to entice you to buy the highlighted product.

They’re ubiquitous in grocery stores, omnipresent in wine shops, and in many other retail outlets. In cigar stores, though, not so much.

Of course, some cigar manufacturers provide them, and some retailers display them. But I don’t believe they are nearly as common as they should be.

When you’re looking through a humidor hoping to find something you’ve never encountered or a cigar you’ve heard of but haven’t tried, wouldn’t it be helpful to quickly see the basics? By that, I’m referring primarily to the tobaccos used, although we know more would be better.

I find it interesting that tobacco information is regularly included in the descriptions of online and catalog offerings, even if it is sometimes incorrect. Does it make sense that customers have less access to such material when they’re in a store devoted to cigars?

Now, I know some will say you should ask the retailer. And that can work if you are focusing on only one or two cigars, and the staffer you talk to knows the answers. On the other hand, if you’re someone like me who can spend a lot of time looking, considering, and generally doing a Hamlet imitation before choosing a cigar, all that asking isn’t feasible.

More often than not, the alternative is to look up the cigar on a mobile device and try to find what you’re looking for. Personally, I hate spending time doing this, knowing that so many manufacturers’ websites aren’t up to date and information on other sites sometimes conflicts.

I’m aware, too, that some manufacturers don’t want to reveal much of anything to their customers. Cigar fans have been pushing this boulder up the hill for years without, sadly, much success. I wonder whether some of this is a holdover from years past when cigar smokers tended to buy the same brand and size again and again. When that was the case, supplying more information likely seemed superfluous.

Perhaps if shelf-talkers became commonplace in cigar shops, reluctant companies would feel more pressure to go along.

It’s also possible that store owners fear their humidors could end up looking like the shelves at the local dollar store. It’s not for nothing that another name for shelf-talkers is shelf-screamers. And then there are the ones that move. They’re shelf-wobblers.

I think it is quite possible to have shelf-talkers that are discreet and informative. Check out the Sindicato example above. Wouldn’t it be nice if at least that was readily available for every cigar?

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: S.T.K. Black Dahlia by George Rico

9 Jun 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 offering from Gran Habano features a multi-nation blend, a beautifully ornate band, and a distinctive flavor profile. It’s that profile that will make or break the Black Dahlia for most smokers. For me, it starts with a predominance of biting grassy, hay notes and a long finish. Progressing along the 5-inch, 52-ring gauge frame wrapped in shade-grown Nicaraguan Corojo leaf, nuts and charred wood mix with the predominant, somewhat acerbic, taste. Overall, though, this isn’t a complex creation. It’s also not a cigar I’d want to smoke all the time. But for a change of pace it’s an interesting, different experience. You’ll only know if you feel the same by lighting one up.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

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

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

Quick Smoke: Guardian of the Farm JJ

19 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.”

Collaborations are all the rage in the cigar industry, and Guardian of the Farm joins the party. This Nicaraguan puro was created by Max Fernández (son of Aganorsa S.A. owner Eduardo Fernández) and Kyle Gellis (owner of Warped Cigars). It has garnered much praise. The Apollo (6 x 44) vitola was Cigar Aficionado’s No. 8 cigar for 2017. The JJ (5.25 x 50) begins earthy and strong, with a little back-of-the-throat tickle that, happily, fades quickly. After that, the cigar stays consistent with some pepper, a little cedar, occasional citrus, and sweetness. Smoke production is plentiful, and it burns straight from start to finish. All in all, a most satisfying cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Time for a Little Cigar Love

14 May 2018

We seem to be living in an age of nearly constant complaint. Dissatisfied with a company? Rip ’em on Yelp. Unhappy with any political situation? Tune in to your favorite cable news channel and watch your adversaries get roasted. Angry with someone? Blast him or her in a Twitter takedown.

Well, I’m here to go in the other direction. Let’s raise a glass to cigar manufacturers and toast the quality of their work. I think the caliber of cigar-making may be the highest it’s been in a long, long time. It’s certainly seems to me to be the best since I began regularly smoking cigars more than 15 years ago.

Back then, it was not all that uncommon to run across a plugged stick. Or one that burned terribly unevenly. Or one that wouldn’t really burn at all. Other problems included things like finding a thick stem rolled in with the filler leaves or a bunch so loose the burn became both ridiculously rapid and disgustingly hot.

Now, frankly, I can’t recall the last time I had a cigar that didn’t perform at least adequately.

Of course, this is just my opinion, based on my experiences. I do smoke a lot of different cigars because of, though I have to admit my selections rarely include really cheap smokes, bundles, or bargain-basement house brands.

But even when I do try one of those, I usually find the draw and burn quite acceptable. Case in point was a recent house blend I tried from one of the major mail-order operations.

I thought it was awful. So bad, in fact, that I only smoked about a third before tossing it aside. That was because I didn’t like the flavor, the harshness, and the finish, not because its combustion properties weren’t up to snuff.

There are probably a lot of reasons for the wide-ranging improvements, and those in the trade would obviously be better able to elucidate them than me. But I can say that, to me, it is certainly a positive sign that the industry continues on an upward path.

All in all, a great reason to celebrate with a great cigar.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys