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Cigar Review: Quesada Selección España Beli-Lance (Casa de Montecristo Exclusive)

23 May 2016

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A little over a year ago, it was announced Casa de Montecristo (CDM)—a successful three-location tobacconist in Chicago—would be receiving two exclusive sizes of Quesada’s Selección España blend. These vitolas joined eight other Selección España frontmarks, some of which are regular production, others limited to as few as 600 total cigars.

Quesada 2The two CDM sizes are Fabulosos (7 x 54, $12) and the subject of today’s review, a cross between a belicoso and a lancero called Beli-Lance (7 x 40, $12). CDM received 3,000 of each size from Quesada. Each comes complete with an Ecuadorian Arapiraca wrapper, a Dominican Broadleaf binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

“The Spanish Market has always been dominated by Cuban cigars, but lately high unemployment and the high cost of Cuban cigars has driven the Spanish to search out alternatives,” reads an un-dated explanation on the Quesada website about the origins of the blend’s name, which was likely written around 2010. “To address this new demand, the Quesada family brought Spanish tobacconists to the Dominican Republic to work a cigar exclusively for Spain, and after a week of blending the Quesada España was born.”

Clearly, Selección España is not exclusive to Spain. Quesada’s retailers in the U.S. got a hold of some samples when the cigar was being introduced in 2010, liked them, and ultimately got approval to bring the blend to the American market.

The Beli-Lance from CDM sports a lancero frame topped by a sharply pointed cap. The cap clips uneventfully to yield a clear cold draw, which is somewhat surprising given the thin ring gauge and firm feel. The unique wrapper (Arapiraca is typically grown in Brazil, not Ecuador) is moderately textured and reddish with a few large veins and tight seams.

Once lit, pre-light notes of molasses and hay transition to a woody, meaty profile with hints of oak, char, peppery spice, clove, and leather. The body is medium and the smoke texture is thick and chewy. After a quarter-inch, the spice increases, but traces of sweet cream and roasted nuts fade in and out for some balance. At times, the resting smoke is incredibly aromatic and mouth-watering.

As the Beli-Lance progresses, the draw tends to tighten and the flavors take a turn towards a bitter, somewhat stale, version of their former selves. From the midway point on, I find myself in a struggle to keep the cigar lit while preventing the taste from becoming too hot or too harsh as the foot heats up from my frequent puffs and touch-ups. I was rarely able to regain the pleasant, balanced profile that characterized the beginning.

Notwithstanding the high regard in which many hold Quesada Selección España, I did not have a satisfactory experience with the Beli-Lance, a size I thought I was destined to thoroughly enjoy. All things considered, this cigar earns a disappointing rating of two stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Drew Estate Nica Rustica Belly

16 May 2016

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Whether by design or coincidence, Nica Rustica feels like a discount version of the immensely popular Liga Privada No. 9. Both feature Connecticut Broadleaf wrappers (Liga uses “Broadleaf #1 Darks” while the Nica Rustica uses a “Broadleaf Medium”), and both debuted in just one size—a toro—before later growing to multiple vitolas.

BellyContinuing to follow in Liga’s footsteps, last year Drew Estate expanded Nica Rustica with two new sizes: the immense Belly (7.5 x 54) and the Short Robusto (4.5 x 50). They join the original El Brujito vitola (6 x 52), which is named for an ancient image found on a rock in Estelí. The image depicts a Pre-Columbian shaman—thought to be one of the earliest users of tobacco for “ceremonial and medicinal rituals,” according to the Drew Estate website.

In addition to the Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, each Nica Rustica format includes a Mexican San Andrés Negro binder (which is also the wrapper on Undercrown) with Nicaraguan filler tobaccos from the Estelí and Jalapa growing regions. Intended to be “medium- to full-bodied,” “rustic,” and “un-polished and unrefined,” Jonathan Drew calls the blend a tribute to the people of Nicaragua.

With its dark, oily, toothy, slightly reddish wrapper and generous proportions, Belly is an intimidating cigar. Before the first puff, you can sense the flavors are going to be rich and heavy, and the pre-light notes of leather, cocoa, and earth seem to validate those expectations. The imperfect cap clips easily enough to reveal an ultra-easy cold draw.

After setting an even light to the closed foot, the first thing you’ll notice is the voluminous smoke production. The thick, dense smoke seems to ooze from the foot virtually effortlessly, which helps you dive head-first into the bold tastes of dark chocolate, roasted nuts, white pepper, and espresso. The texture is chalky. A fleeting vegetal note is particularly noticeable on the retrohale—a sensation that should be familiar to fans of both Liga Privada No. 9 and Undercrown.

There are few profile changes throughout, rendering the beginning, middle, and end of this huge cigar all very similar, save for an increase in intensity at the finale. If you’re a fan of how the Belly tastes at the outset, chances are you’ll be fine with the consistency; that said—especially for such a large cigar that takes at least two and a half hours to burn from light to nub—a shift in flavor or texture would have been welcome.

In terms of construction, the Nica Rustica Belly doesn’t live up to the high standards set by Drew Estate. While the ash is solid, the draw smooth, and the smoke output extremely high, the burn leaves much to be desired. Frequent touch-ups are necessary to keep the cigar burning evenly.

Even so, this is still a good bang-for-the-buck at around $8, especially considering the size and big flavors. Add this to your list if you’re looking for a large time-filler with bold, dense flavors. In my book, the Belly earns three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: El Güegüense Corona Gorda

14 May 2016

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.”

Corona Gorda

Made at the TABSA (Tobaccos Valle de Jalapa) factory in Nicaragua using Aganorsa tobacco, El Güegüense—also known as “The Wise Man”—is the first blend from Foundation Cigar Co., which was launched in 2015 by former Drew Estate employee Nicholas Melillo. The Nicaraguan puro has a beautiful Corojo ’99 wrapper from Jalapa that’s described as “rosado rosado café.” My favorite El Güegüense vitola is the Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46). It boasts a medium-bodied profile with well-balanced flavors of cedar, honey, melon, and subtle sweetness. With excellent combustion properties, ample complexity, and a sub-$10 price tag, this cigar has been a fixture of my regular rotation since it was released.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Dark Corojo La Niveladora

7 May 2016

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.”

Dark Corojo

Joya de Nicaragua calls its Antaño Dark Corojo blend “the embodiment of the Nicaraguan ‘power’ cigar.” I am inclined to agree. This oily, toro-sized (6 x 52), Corojo Oscuro-wrapped cigar doesn’t hold back on richness, nicotine, or flavor. Black pepper, roasted nuts, black coffee, and woodsy spice dominate the palate, while background hints of cream and dark chocolate add balance. Expect to pay around $9 for this Nicaraguan puro. And—if strength is what you seek—expect to be satisfied.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: E.P. Carrillo Short Run 2016

2 May 2016

Short Run

When the man who made La Gloria Cubana a household name started his new family-run company in 2009, few in the cigar industry doubted he would be successful in his new venture. To date, by seemingly every measure, he has been.

Short Run 2016One undertaking that has helped solidify Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s post-General Cigar success has been Short Run. So far, the line has resulted in one release per year—although, when it was first introduced, we were told there might be two Short Run blends per year. The concept is pretty simple: Make a limited run of a blend using tobacco that isn’t available in enough quantities for a full-blown release. (Read our thoughts on the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015 Short Run cigars by clicking on these links.)

“The Short Run 2016 takes a new direction and departs from our prior approach, since it is only one vitola,” reads a letter from the E.P. Carrillo team that accompanied my samples. “It is adorned with a beautiful honey Colorado wrapper from Ecuador that is smooth to the touch and alluring to the eye and utilizing unique tobacco from several regions in Nicaragua for the binder and filler.” Only 2,500 boxes of 10 cigars were made, with each cigar carrying an MSRP of $12.

The toro-sized smoke (6 x 52) is oily and light brown in color with minimal veins and potent pre-light notes of sweet hay and light syrup. Moderately firm to the touch, the well-constructed cap clips easily to reveal a smooth cold draw with a slight spice on the lips. Notably, the large, ornate band of gold and red is the most detailed, regal, and textured band to adorn an E.P. Carrillo cigar since the company’s inception—which may signal how Ernesto Perez-Carrillo feels about this particular release.

Once lit, the initial profile is characterized by a hearty dose of roasted nuts, spicy cedar, and graham cracker. Well-balanced with a creamy texture, it’s the kind of flavor the makes your mouth water significantly between puffs—and the sweet, abundant resting smoke doesn’t hamper my enjoyment either.

As it progresses, this medium-bodied treasure loses some of the cedar bite in favor of more graham and creamy nut. Oak, hay, and restrained leather add more balance without overpowering the core tastes. All the while the physical properties are excellent from light to nub. The gray ash holds well off the foot, the draw is easy, the burn line straight, and the smoke production is well above average.

If I were asked what flavors I most enjoy in a cigar, sweet cream, graham cracker, and roasted nuts would rank among my top tastes. The E.P. Carrillo Short Run 2016 has all three in spades. This cigar wasn’t blended specifically for my palate, but it might as well have been. Exquisite in every way while maintaining incredible balance and offering rare subtlety, I have no reservations about awarding this triumph a rare rating of five stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here. A list of other five-stogie rated cigars can be found here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Black Label Trading Company NBK

25 Apr 2016

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In November, Black Label Trading Co. (BLTC) creator James Brown announced a new “small-batch cigar line” called Black Works Studio. “Part of the motivation for opening our own factory, Fabrica Oveja Negra, was to experiment and develop unique blends highlighting Nicaraguan tobacco,” said Brown. “Black Works Studio (BLK WKS) is my first opportunity to use our factory as my playground. Blending cigars is my passion and I ended up with several blends and ideas on the shelf [so] the time was right to launch a new brand.”

NBKFor the uninitiated, BLTC’s core lines include Salvation, Lawless, Royalty, Redemption, Benediction, and Last Rites. “Our attitude re-thinks standards for cigar making, and caters to cigar lovers and aficionados tired of a mainstream, mass-produced approach to cigar making,” reads the BLTC website.

In late 2015, BLK WKS added three cigars to the BLTC portfolio: Killer Bee (4.5 x 46), an Ecuador Maduro-wrapped petite corona; Rorschach (5 x 38), an Ecuador Habano-wrapped petite panatela; and NBK (6 x 46), an Ecuador Habano Oscuro-wrapped corona larga.

The latter is a dark, reddish cigar with a soft box-press and a closed foot. The size is right up my alley (three cheers to BLK WKS for keeping all of the ring gauges under 50) and the uniformity of the wrapper’s color, tight seams, and minimal veins make this a very appealing smoke. The well-constructed cap clips cleanly to yield an ultra-easy cold draw, and the pre-light notes are sweet and chocolaty.

Once lit, I am immediately struck by the powdery nature of the texture of the smoke. While the smoke is undoubtedly cool, airy, and light, that certainly doesn’t mean the flavor is lacking in any way. Right off the bat, the profile has balanced, complex notes of cocoa powder, coffee, roasted nuts, and black pepper spice. Impressive and highly enjoyable.

As it progresses, NBK tends to favor its most delicious taste—roasted nuts—while the spice mellows and a delightful creaminess emerges. Then, at the midway point and into the finale, the pepper picks back up while coffee and chocolate takes center stage. The body is decidedly medium throughout.

The three samples I smoked for this review (each provided by BLTC) all performed admirably in the construction department. Each had a solid while ash, voluminous smoke production, a clear draw, and a well-behaved burn line that only required a slight touch-up here and there.

NBK delivers on its $9 MSRP, and then some. I’m enamored with the flavors, I love the size, and I have no complaints about the presentation or physical properties. That’s why, in my book, this gem from BLTC earns four 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: Quesada Sons of Freedom Maduro Torpedo (Casa de Montecristo Exclusive)

23 Apr 2016

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.”

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This dark Dominican from Quesada is exclusive to Casa de Montecristo, a three-location tobacconist in Chicago with a new retail website. With an ash that holds incredibly well and a razor-sharp burn, the Torpedo (6 x 52) boasts some of the best combustion qualities you’ll ever find. The profile is medium-bodied with ample cedar spice coupled with tea, damp earth, and a little candied pecan sweetness. Strength and complexity increase at the midway point and beyond. At $5.50 for a single, you can’t go wrong.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys