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Cigar Review: Las Cumbres Tabaco Señorial Paco Robusto

27 Jul 2015

In August 2013, Joya de Nicaragua announced José Blanco, the company’s senior vice president, had stepped down and would be leaving Estelí for “his roots in the Dominican Republic.” While Blanco’s two-year contract with the oldest cigar maker in Nicaragua was not renewed, he left behind his eponymous, critically acclaimed CyB cigar line (formerly Cuenca y Blanco). Some speculated CyB’s sales never lived up to expectations—notwithstanding virtually unanimous praise from the online cigar community.

Paco RobustoA man like Blanco could not be expected to leave the premium cigar industry behind. After all, Blanco is a longtime industry veteran and roving cigar ambassador who is well known for his tasting seminars and extensive travel to cigar shops. (Before joining Joya, he spent 29 years at La Aurora.)

So it sparked little surprise—and considerable fanfare—when Blanco announced the creation of Las Cumbres Tabaco in February 2014. The new venture, which translates to “summits of tobacco,” runs out of the Dominican Republic and includes a partnership with Tabacalera Palma, operated by Blanco’s cousin, Jochi Blanco, in Tamboril, Santiago.

The first Las Cumbres blend was officially launched June 2014. Called Señorial (Spanish for “lordly”), it boasts a Habano Ecuardor wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder from Estelí, and Dominican filler tobaccos of the Piloto Cubano and Corojo varieties. Marketed as “full-bodied and truly full-flavored,” it is offered in 5 sizes that retail for $7 to $11: Corona Gorda No. 5 (5.5 x 46), Paco Robusto (5.25 x 52), Toro Bravo (6 x 54), Le Grand (6 x 60), and Belicoso No. 2 (6.25 x 52).

Some sticks just feel like they’re going to smoke perfectly when you hold them. The Paco Robusto is one of those cigars. It has a solid weight and a firm cross-section of tobaccos visible at the foot. The cap clips easily to reveal a smooth pre-light draw, and the oily wrapper has a silky texture.

Once lit, pre-light notes of syrup and cinnamon transition to a complex, medium-bodied profile of graham cracker, black pepper, creamy nut, and molasses. Dried fruit—maybe apricot?—also makes an appearance. The finish is long and spicy with cinnamon and more pepper.

At the midway point and beyond, the smoke remains bountiful and cool, and the flavors intensify to approach the medium- to full-bodied end of the spectrum. All the while the combustion qualities are superb, including a straight burn line, solid ash, clear draw, and good smoke production.

Señorial is the kind of blend that makes you want to expect more from cigars. And its the kind of cigar that makes you want to light up another as soon as it’s finished. It delivers handsomely in the departments of flavor, balance, complexity, and construction. As I smoke the Paco Robusto, I find myself wondering what more I could want—and I find myself struggling to find a flaw or weakness, struggling to identify some need that isn’t satisfied. Kudos to José Blanco. This is an outstanding way to spend $7 and an experience worthy of 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

Quick Smoke: A. Flores Serie Privada Capa Habano Robusto

26 Jul 2015

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief take on a single cigar.

Serie Privada

I think Abe Flores is one the better cigar makers around, so I’m very excited to review the new Connecticut Valley Reserve from Pinar del Rio, which sports a dark Broadleaf wrapper. To tide myself over, last night I fired up a cigar he released in 2012: the A. Flores Serie Privada Capa Habano. It features the oldest tobaccos in the Pinar del Rio factory, including a Habano Ecuador wrapper, Nicaraguan Habano binder, and Nicaraguan Habano and Dominican Corojo filler. The softly box-pressed Robusto (5 x 52) retails for an affordable $7. Once lit, I find a medium- to full-bodied profile of cinnamon, dark cherry, leather, and black coffee. Highly enjoyable, well-constructed, and a good value.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Cigar Review: Drew Estate Undercrown Shade Gran Toro

23 Jul 2015

On July 6, StogieGuys.com broke the news that Drew Estate would be releasing Undercrown Shade, a new line based on the original Undercrown blend—but this time with an Ecuadorian-grown, Connecticut-seed wrapper instead of a Mexican San Andrés leaf.

Undercrown ShadeA week later, Drew Estate officially announced the blend. “Undercrown Shade marks the first release blended by Drew Estate Master Blender Willy Herrera not to fall under the Herrera Estelí brand family,” reads a July 13 press release. “The final blend is medium-bodied, lush, and ultra-smooth, flavors that only a shade-grown wrapper can deliver. And so it is with great bravado that we share Undercrown Shade, and the continuing story from our factory floor.”

The original Undercrown, which is over four years old now, was born on the factory floor at La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate when the rollers responsible for Liga Privada were told they could no longer smoke Ligas while they worked because Drew Estate was already struggling to meet demand. So they came up with their own blend that didn’t require dark, precious Connecticut Broadleaf.

Aside from its Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, Undercrown Shade boasts a Sumatran binder and three different filler varieties (Dominican Criollo ’98, Nicaraguan Criollo, and Nicaraguan Corojo). It comes in the same six vitolas as Undercrown: Belicoso (6 x 52, $9.00), Corona Doble (7 x 54, $9.50), Corona (5.6 x 46, $7.50), Gordito (6 x 60, $9.95), Gran Toro (6 x 52, $8.25), and Robusto (5 x 54, $7.75).

Easily differentiated from Undercrown by its white band, white foot band that reads “Shade,” and bright golden wrapper, Undercrown Shade makes a beautiful first impression. The Gran Toro is notably soft and velvety with nary a blemish and faint pre-light hints of sweet hay. The cap clips easily to reveal an effortless cold draw.

The initial taste is toasty, bready, and accented by white pepper spice. Yes, the body is on the lighter side, but there’s a richness evident that makes the Gran Toro more flavorful that you might imagine. Plus, as the cigar progresses, there’s loads of peanut, cream, and a fair amount of sweetness on the finish.

True to Drew Estate form, Undercrown Shade smokes like a chimney with loads of thick smoke emanating from each easy puff. In addition, the burn line is straight and the gray ash holds well off the foot.

Jonathan Drew says this blend was three years in the making. Judging by the Gran Toro I smoked for this review (I was only able to acquire a single sample, for now), it was worth the wait. A well-constructed standout smoke at a reasonable price, the Undercrown Shade is worthy of the admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Impressions from the 2015 Premium Cigar Trade Show in New Orleans

21 Jul 2015

StogieGuys.com has been covering the annual International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show for nearly ten years now. To kick off our post-convention coverage—which will certainly include lots of details, commentary, and reviews—I wanted to first provide my high-level impressions. So I’m summarizing some of those today. (I chose the word summarizing carefully here; we’ll likely expand on some or all of these topics in future articles.)

IPCPR 2015

Before I get started, though, I’d like to make a few comments. First, this year my colleague and I chose to simply share brief Facebook updates (which were embedded here live). We wanted to keep our hands as free as possible for note-taking, picture-taking, materials-gathering, walking the huge floor, networking, and—of course—smoking. So while we’ll concede our coverage thus far is less than comprehensive, we feel this strategy will result in you getting the complete picture over time, rather than a regurgitation of everything all at once. Besides, let’s face it: These days there’s no shortage of cigar information websites, many of whom do a good job getting all the new release info out there quickly. We encourage you to read widely and patronize our peers.

Second, bear in mind I’m organizing my thoughts while on a plane home to Chicago from balmy New Orleans. I haven’t yet had time to read the coverage and commentary from other media outlets. For all I know, what I have to say today may already have been written and published elsewhere. Maybe not. But please do not mistake any consistency in my impressions with plagiarism; if today’s commentary is very similar to other thoughts you’ve already seen, that really wouldn’t surprise me. After all, we all attended the same show.

UF-13 on Bourbon Street

Overall Attendance Seemed Down

The New Orleans setup is more spread out (and rectangular) than the Las Vegas site, which seems square and more compact. Even so, it’s safe to say attendance seemed lacking this year. Several cigar makers lamented this off the record, while many others claimed their sales were higher than anticipated (a running theme: “Yes, attendance is lower, but the serious buyers are here.”). A few hypotheses for the lower numbers include higher costs to attend, a feeling that attendance is less necessary than it used to be given how quickly info spreads via the web, and the oft-heard claim that New Orleans is a less exciting, less accessible venue than Vegas. Word is the next three Trade Shows will be held in Vegas. My take? Aside from the humidity, New Orleans is a fine host city with ample convention space, easy access to lodging, great cuisine, and no shortage of nightlife.

The Sheer Number of Exhibitors Was Staggering

I heard the number of exhibitor booths was up to nearly 350 this year. I couldn’t help but have the thought that looking at the floor directory map was almost like peering directly into the cigar bubble. For an industry facing a tremendously perilous political climate it’s surprising to see the volume of new releases, new manufacturers, and elaborate booths (the most expensive of which were upwards of $300,000). If any single person can claim they visited every booth, I’d be surprised and impressed.

Cautious Optimism Concerning the FDA

Our comparative advantage in the cigar media space is thorough, well-informed coverage of the political challenges facing premium cigars. So we went out of our way to ask as many cigar makers as possible what their thoughts are, how they’re preparing, and what they think the most likely outcomes are. With the very real possibility of every cigar introduced after February 15, 2007 being made illegal by the U.S. government, it was interesting to hear so much cautious optimism. Major themes from cigar makers include: operating business as usual until the new regulations are announced; confidence that an exemption for premium cigars over $10 (or a similar price) will be adopted; and confidence that the date will be moved to the date the regulations are announced or enacted. Fun fact: IPCPR estimates 85% of cigars currently held in humidors were introduced after February 15, 2007.

Little Talk About U.S.-Cuban Relations

This was the first Trade Show since officials in Washington and Havana have made strides toward normalized diplomatic relations, yet few seemed interested in discussing the topic. I don’t expect anything to change vis-à-vis the embargo anytime soon. Still, I was anticipating more hype about the possibility of Cuban cigars in the U.S. (or Cuban tobacco within cigars imported into the U.S.). Again, the common theme among cigar makers was business as usual until otherwise notified. But I have to think some outfits are excited about the possibilities, while others are likely lamenting the escalation of trademark wars, new competition, and added complexities.

Most Exciting Cigars

Sobremesa

I’d prefer to not speculate about which new releases will be the hot best-sellers. If you want this kind of analysis, I suspect you won’t have trouble finding all sorts of opinions. But at the expense of almost certainly failing to mention several cigars that will likely wow me, I can share with you the new smokes I’m personally most excited to try. They include Sobremesa from Steve Saka’s new Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust (pictured above), Henry Clay Tattoo, CAO Pilón, Kilo, Neanderthal SGP, Partagas Aniversario, Padrón Dámaso, Undercrown Shade, AVO Synchro Nicaragua, Pinar del Rio’s Connecticut Valley Reserve, and El Güegüense from Nicholas Melillo’s new Foundation Cigar Co.

Stay tuned for lots more from the IPCPR Trade Show, plus a flurry of reviews.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: George Rico S.T.K. Miami Zulu Zulu Mas Paz Edition Nicaraguan Habano Corona Gorda

15 Jul 2015

In my review of the Corojo No. 5 Maduro 2011 last week—a Gran Habano smoke that recently got a makeover—I mentioned the Florida-based operation of the Rico family also recently added a few sizes, discontinued a vitola in the G.A.R. Red line, and introduced the George Rico S.T.K. Miami Zulu Zulu Mas Paz Edition.

Zulu Zulu Mas PazThe Mas Paz Edition is made in Miami at G.R. Tabacaleras Co. Cigar Factory & Lounge. A percentage of sales benefit a non-profit organization that will fund renovations for La Casa de la Madre y el Niño, an orphanage in Bogotá, Colombia.

The cigar’s packaging was designed by Mas Paz, an artist who was adopted from La Casa de la Madre y el Niño when he was one. “I am blessed to have been adopted into a home where I have food, clothes, and a loving family,” reads the artist’s website. “It is my mission to do what I can to help. I work to spread the message of Mas Paz, by sharing a positive message and my story to the world along with a quarterly donation to my orphanage, raised with 5% of all income gained from paintings, projects, and my online store.”

The George Rico S.T.K. Miami Zulu Zulu Mas Paz Edition comes in two wrapper varieties: Ecuadorian Connecticut and Nicaraguan Habano. Both have Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos and come in three sizes that retail for $8.25 to $9.27: Lancero (7.5 x 40), Rolo (6 x 54), and Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46).

The Nicaraguan Habano Corona Gorda receives high marks for appearance. The first impression is accentuated by the eye-catching wax paper sleeve. Underneath is a pigtail-capped cigar with a reddish hue and pre-light notes of rich syrup and coffee. The cap clips cleanly to reveal a smooth cold draw.

Once lit, a medium-bodied profile emerges with notes of espresso, leather, and campfire. There’s an underlying earthiness, along with a floral taste. Creamy peanut and a little cocoa help add balance. If smoked too quickly, some less-than-pleasant bitter tones come through, yet the Corona Gorda is still a mostly soft-spoken specimen with little nicotine or spice. The finale is characterized by citrus, coffee, and leather.

I was only able to smoke one Corona Gorda for this review (which was, in full disclosure, provided to me by Gran Habano), but that single sample performed admirably in the combustion department. Throughout, the burn line remained true; only one touch-up was needed along the way. The ash held firm, the draw was easy, and the smoke production was slightly above average.

At times, the Mas Paz Edition Nicaraguan Habano Corona Gorda is a little flat. At times, it speaks with understated complexity and balance. It’s the kind of cigar that seems like it might improve significantly with some age, and I’m tempted to buy a few to test my hypothesis. Right now, I’m scoring it three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Nomad Estelí Lot 8613 Toro

13 Jul 2015

When it comes to the naming of cigar brands, blends, and sizes, cigar makers can be pretty darn creative (or crazy, depending on your point of view). I suppose the diversity and, yes, strangeness of names is partly due to the challenge of coming up with something that’s marketable and descriptive that hasn’t already been used in the vast tobacco lexicon.

Lot 8613Case in point: Fred “GodFadr” Rewey, owner of the Orlando-based Nomad Cigar Co., named his first Nicaraguan cigar “Lot 1386” to honor the approximate coordinate of Estelí. The subject of today’s review, “Lot 8613,” simply flips that coordinate. (Bonus points to the first commenter to locate that coordinate.)

In any event, the Nomad Estelí Lot 8613, which was launched in April, marks the fifth full-production cigar for Nomad and the third full-production cigar in Estelí. (Lot 1386 was a limited to 307 12-count boxes.) “I blended the cigar at the end of 2013 (the same time I blended the C-276),” said Rewey. “This cigar, along with the C-276, was the result of a three-month stay in Nicaragua, blending, learning, and hitting the fields… I chose ‘Estelí Lot 8613’ because it was very reminiscent to the Lot 1386 LE that I released in 2013. Although the blend is nothing close to the original LE, the smoking experience was similar to me on some esoteric level.”

Estelí Lot 8613 boasts an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. Five sizes are available, all made at Tobacalera A.J. Fernandez: Robusto (5 x 50), Coronita (5.5 x 46), Toro (6 x 50), Grand Toro (6 x 58), and Churchill (7 x 48).

The Toro retails for about $8. It’s a handsome, oily specimen with a milk chocolate-colored wrapper that has only a few thin veins. The feel is moderate to slightly spongy throughout. The cap clips neatly to reveal a smooth pre-light draw, and the foot has an aroma reminiscent of sweet hay and cocoa.

The flavor opens with oak, honey, and a little subdued cayenne. A raw, meaty spice jumps in after a quarter-inch and is particularly pronounced on the finish if you smoke quickly, but dissipates as fast as it arrived. Thereafter, cream, earth, and citrus take center stage. The texture is bready and the body is medium to medium-full. The cigar wraps up much the way it began with oak and honey.

With good combustion qualities across the several samples I smoked, the Nomad Estelí Lot 8613 Toro is a pleasure, though by no means a memorable standout. The most appropriate rating, in my judgement, is three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Gran Habano Corojo No. 5 Maduro 2011 Gran Robusto

8 Jul 2015

In April, Gran Habano—the Florida-based operation of the Rico family—announced a few changes and additions to its portfolio of cigars. Chief among them was the introduction of the George Rico S.T.K. Miami Zulu Zulu Mas Paz Edition, which is made in Miami, features design work by artist Mas Paz, and will benefit an orphanage in Bogotá, Colombia. StogieGuys.com will be reviewing this cigar shortly.

Gran Habano Corojo Maduro 2011In addition to the Mas Paz announcement, Gran Habano also added a few sizes, discontinued a vitola in the G.A.R. Red line, and changed some packaging. The Corojo No. 5 Maduro 2011 is among the lines that received a facelift. It’s dubbed “the strongest blend in the Gran Habano portfolio” and is comprised of a Nicaraguan Maduro wrapper around a Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

There are five Gran Habano Corojo No. 5 Maduro 2011 formats, all of which are made at the G.R. Tabacaleras Unidas S.A. factory in Honduras. Each retails in the affordable $6 to $8.30 range: Robusto (5 x 52), Gran Robusto (6 x 54), Imperiales (6 x 60), Czar (6 x 66), and Triumph (7.5 x 58).

The Gran Robusto is a large, intimidating smoke with a dark, rustic wrapper that has a few thick veins and protruding seams. The feel is moderately spongy throughout, yet the foot shows a cross-section of tobaccos that are pretty tightly packed. The potent pre-light notes remind me of milk chocolate and nougat.

At the outset, strength and spice are minimal but smooth flavors of cocoa, peanut, and cream are pronounced. There are also background hints of natural tobacco and leather. The texture reminds me of moist chocolate cake. Towards the midway point, tastes of cherry and a little coffee join in as the strength builds. The finale has added intensity along with some bitterness.

The smoke production is above average right from the start, with each puff yielding voluminous tufts of thick, aromatic smoke. Other combustion qualities are likewise admirable, including a solid gray ash, smooth draw, and straight burn line that requires no touch-ups along the way.

The story of this cigar is flavor—and lots of it—with minimal spice. It’s the kind of smoke you can pair with a full-bodied red wine, or perhaps with a mid-afternoon cup of coffee. Either way, I think you’ll be pleased by the sweetness, fruitiness, creaminess, and the wonderful notes in the resting smoke. My only complaint is some bitterness in the last third.

All told, I’m awarding the Gran Habano Corojo No. 5 Maduro 2011 Gran Robusto three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys