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Cigar Spirits: Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Rum

29 Sep 2014

Just like bourbon is my go-to cigar pairing in the colder months, rum is typically my libation of preference in the summer. Summer may be over, but this weekend had outstanding weather here in Chicago, and I used the sunshine as an opportunity to enjoy one of my favorite rums.

Ron Zacapa 23Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 is made in Guatemala, where it is blended from rum made from first-crush sugar cane juice—as opposed to molasses—and aged in oak barrels previously used for bourbon, sherries, and Pedro Ximénez wines. It employs the solera method, a system used regularly for fortified wine such as port and sherry.

Under the solera system, barrels of the oldest rum are regularly mixed with newer rum but never bottled completely. The result is a spirit with a mix of 6- to 23-year-old rum.

According to the back of the bottle, the solera process is “guided and repeated under the critical eye of the Master Blender until reaching the maturity and complexity of aromas and flavors that shape this unique premium rum.” Also key to the development of this rum is the high altitude (2,300 meters) at which it is aged in Guatemala. The low temperature and low levels of oxygen reportedly enable easier, more thorough blending.

Bottles of Centenario (750 ml., 80-proof) sell for around $50 apiece. The rum pours a dark mahogany with some reddish hues, and the nose is characterized by notes of vanilla, dried apricot, and dark chocolate. The texture is highly viscous, leaving long legs when swirled in the glass.

Served neat—which, I believe, is the only way to taste this rum—the rich, smooth flavors hit the palate with sweetness, banana, almond, oak, and cinnamon. The finish is long and balanced as it slowly transitions from intensity to subtle heat.

For quite some time, I’ve considered Zaya, Plantation, El Dorado 15, and Zacapa Centenario to be my favorite rums. Among the four, these days I’d give the slight edge to Zacapa, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. Centenario is just so damn velvety and nicely balanced. And it’s dangerously easy to sip neat.

As far as cigars go, my suggestion is to pair Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 with a medium- to full-bodied cigar that doesn’t pack a lot of sweetness. Think dark, peppery spice. The Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Dirty Rat, for example, is an excellent complement. But I’m sure you’ll think of many other outstanding pairings.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: A.J. Fernandez Pinolero Maduro Toro

27 Sep 2014

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.”

Pinolero Toro Maduro

Following my (very favorable) review of the Pinolero Maduro Toro (6 x 52) at the end of March, I wanted to see how six additional months in the humidor might change this cigar, which includes a Nicaraguan binder around filler tobaccos are part Nicaraguan Habano-seed and part proprietary. I found few noticeable changes, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The smoke still has a dense, sweet texture with flavors ranging from syrup and cocoa to espresso and brown sugar. I still think this is an excellent buy at about $8-9, but I’d say little is gained with short-term aging.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Flor Dominicana Factory Press Limitado (2013)

24 Sep 2014

Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana fame has never been shy about pushing the envelope when it comes to creating unique cigar formats. The Chisel shape is a case in point.

FPL 2013Another example is the Factory Press, a series that debuted in 2005 and is now available in six different iterations. Each release measures 6.25-6.5 inches long with ring gauges ranging from 54 to 60. Characterized by its extremely sharp box-press, La Flor Dominicana ships the cigars in the actual wooden press from the factory, which is Tabacalera La Flor S.A. in the Dominican Republic.

Two of the six Factory Press releases are deemed “Limitado” (2007 and 2013). For the 2013 Limitado, La Flor “aged and set aside the darkest Sumatra wrappers we could find,” according to the La Flor website. “Combined with a Nicaraguan binder and our estate-grown Dominican fillers, this cigar boasts a rich and powerful flavor worthy of its prestigious name.”

I picked up a 5-pack of Factory Press Limitados (the 2013 version) for $72.50, which comes to $14.50 per cigar. Normally, a cigar with a 60 ring gauge would be a turn-off for me, but in this regard the box press adds a lot of value. The rectangular-shaped cross-section fits in the mouth comfortably (when positioned horizontally, of course).

The cigar itself is as handsome as it is large. The oily wrapper has a beautiful, consistently dark color with virtually zero veins of any significance. The sweet pre-light notes include milk chocolate, earth, and coffee. And while the cap is a little rugged, it clips cleanly enough to yield a smooth cold draw.

After setting an even light, a medium-bodied profile of espresso, dark chocolate, and leather emerges. It’s complemented by a red pepper zing on the aftertaste. The smoke production is superb and the texture is chalky. The resting smoke is characterized by a creamy sweetness.

As the Factory Press Limitado winds its way into the second and final thirds, a cocoa sweetness becomes more apparent. It becomes clear that, contrary to La Flor Dominicana’s reputation, this is never going to be a spicy, peppery, full-bodied smoke; rather, it stakes its claim for a more mild-mannered balance.

As it does, the construction is solid, including a sturdy gray ash, smooth draw, and a burn line that’s imperfect but never requires any touch-ups.

La Flor says they made about 100,000 of these gordo-sized smokes, and there are still boxes and 5-packs available for purchase. While this is a fine cigar, I find it underwhelming at the $14.50 price point. Frankly, there are too many smokes in the $10 or less range that are superior. And that’s ultimately why I can’t award the 2013 rendition of the Factory Press Limitado a rating higher than three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Commentary: Optimal Conditions for Cigar Smoking

22 Sep 2014

Assuming time is one of your biggest constraints—as it is mine—you likely face a similar tradeoff: smoke more cigars more often, but forgo the ability to seriously appreciate every stick; or smoke almost every cigar under great smoking conditions, but smoke less.

Cigar

As a husband, father of an infant, and occupant of a demanding job that requires regular travel, it’s really tough to find the time to smoke a cigar under (what I consider to be) optimal circumstances. But I think such circumstances are necessary if I’m going to be studying, writing about, and reviewing many of the cigars I smoke. So, when faced with the aforementioned tradeoff, I’m usually erring on the side of smoking less, but smoking under solid conditions. That’s how things have played out over the past few years.

What exactly are these optimal conditions? Like so many things when it comes to cigars, I’d imagine the conditions vary by individual. And that’s OK. For me, though, I tend to get the most enjoyment out of a cigar—and I have the greatest ability to appreciate its flavors and performance—when the setup is as follows:

• A comfortable piece of furniture
• An agreeable temperature, either outside or inside
• No wind
• Little else to draw away my attention
• A carefully chosen drink

Right away, you can probably see that these requirements aren’t easily met in full. Unless, of course, you have a smoking sanctuary at your home, or you frequent a well-run cigar lounge. The kind of conditions that don’t make the cut for deep cigar appreciation include the golf course, the car, a BBQ, or even going for a walk.

Now don’t get me wrong. Do I find myself smoking cigars on the golf course, in the car, at BBQs, or on walks? Yes. But more often I’m on my back patio or (when the weather is less agreeable) in my den. True, some of this is a function of my work for StogieGuys.com, which requires a lot of careful consideration and writing. But I tend to think I’d still fall into the habit of smoking a little less and smoking more attentively even without this website.

That said, in preparation for this article, lately I’ve consciously smoked more often, many times under less-than-ideal conditions. I’ve enjoyed it. And frankly it’s kind of liberating to fire up a smoke at times when I typically wouldn’t.

I’ve learned that, in terms of the tradeoff, it’s probably ideal to have a more balanced approach. After all, some cigars are built for the golf course, just as some demand my unwavering attention.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Putting Cigar Industry Consolidation in Perspective

17 Sep 2014

On the heels of last week’s news that industry giant General Cigar had acquired the Toraño brands—and that Toraño would be shutting down—seemingly everyone had an opinion to voice. I saw viewpoints ranging from indifference to surprise to downright anger.

There remain many unanswered questions. Why did Toraño make this move now (assuming there is a reason beyond Charlie Toraño wanting to spend more time with his family)? Is General actually committed to maintaining the current Toraño portfolio as-is, or will there be changes to the existing blends? Will new Toraño offshoots/brands be launched by General? And what’s going to happen to Leccia Tobacco?

But whether or not you like this latest consolidation, it’s important to recognize this won’t be the last major deal joining brands that were once distinct. Longtime StogieGuys.com readers may recall several past articles where we’ve explained why:

“There are plenty of reasons to expect consolidation will continue to be a theme in the industry. Via economies of scale, larger companies can better adjust to the many tax and regulatory burdens that cigars now face. Combining sales forces and distribution channels can lower costs, keeping prices down for consumers while keeping profit margins healthy. Increased buying power also ensures access to the best tobacco available, as well as bigger advertising budgets.”

Other motivations behind cigar industry consolidation (though not necessarily motivations behind General’s acquisition of Toraño, mind you) might include:

• Expanding geographical scope/reach
• Capturing new clients and more market share
• Acquiring technology, property, and recipes
• Reviving undervalued brands
• Diversifying the portfolio of offerings

This article in the Harvard Business Review summarizes a study of 1,345 mergers over a 13-year period. It found, “once an industry forms or is deregulated, it will move through four stages of consolidation.” The result is an industry that is balanced and aligned. This final (fourth) state is defined as the top three companies claiming 70% to 90% of the market.

Consolidation Curve

I’ll resist the temptation to try to identify which stage of the so-called “Consolidation Curve” the premium cigar industry currently occupies. If, as I suspect, it’s pre-stage four, we can expect more consolidation on the horizon—like it or not.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Harvard Business Review

Cigar Review: E.P. Carrillo New Wave Connecticut Gran Via

15 Sep 2014

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, this “mad genius” of tobacco he has been.epc-nw

Gran ViaOne undertaking that has helped solidify Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s post-General Cigar success has been the New Wave Connecticut blend. In 2011, it joined the E.P. Carrillo portfolio, which now also includes Cardinal, Inch, E-Stunner, La Historia, and the Core line.

Made at Tabacalera La Alianza S.A. in the Dominican Republic, New Wave Connecticut is E.P. Carrillo’s first Connecticut. It sports an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper around a Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. It is available in six sizes: Brillantes (5 x 50), Stellas (5.1 x 42), Divinos (6 x 52), El Decano (6 x 60), Selectos de Oro (6.1 x 43), and Gran Via (7 x 49).

I picked up a five-pack of Gran Vias for $35. This long, somewhat slender vitola has a thin, golden, almost pale wrapper with minimal veins and a wrinkled surface. The foot emits pre-light notes of green raisin, dried apricot, and sweet hay. A simple guillotine cut reveals an easy cold draw. In the hand, the cigar feels a little light, and there are some soft spots.

Those who expect all Connecticut-wrapped cigars to be mild will be surprised by the New Wave Connecticut, even from the start. The body at the outset is decidedly medium with flavors that include black pepper, cedar, and honey. As one might anticipate, there are also tastes of cream, nut, and sweet hay. The texture is toasty and buttery.

The strength builds at the midway point and beyond as notes of pepper and warm tobacco take hold. The finale tastes more Nicaraguan than Connecticut. All the while the combustion properties are solid, including a straight burn line, true draw, and good smoke production. Only the ash leaves something to be desired; it is flaky and temperamental.

I would agree with Ernesto Perez-Carrillo that the Divinos is probably the better vitola. The Stellas is no slouch either. But the Gran Via is excellent, and a tremendous value at only $7. I award it four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Cigar Tip: How to Spot an Excellent Tobacconist

10 Sep 2014

These days I travel a fair amount for my regular job, staying a few nights here and there with meetings during the day and little to do in the evening. So, naturally, wherever I go I try to find a good (non-private) cigar lounge or tobacconist so I can enjoy a smoke, catch up on some emails, do a little writing, and perhaps even have an adult beverage or two.

Cigar Store Indian

While there are lots of great lounges and tobacconists across this fine nation, believe me when I say that sometimes a good locale is hard to find. I’ve been mentally compiling a list of attributes common among the good shops/lounges. Today I thought I’d share them.

Maintains good selection, fair prices. This one is obvious. I assume I’ll be paying more for the sticks than I otherwise might be able to find online—and I’m completely OK with that. But I don’t think it’s necessary to charge crazy mark-ups, either. And the selection should be big enough to require more than a few minutes to peruse, with the usual suspects and hopefully some hard-to-find smokes as well. House blends, when done right, can add an exclusive touch.

Serves coffee and/or liquor, or implements BYOB. I realize local ordinances and laws may make this impossible, but nothing goes better with a fine cigar than coffee, bourbon, rum, wine, scotch, etc. I’m happy to pay the shop/lounge for drinks, if possible; BYOB is a great alternative. If nothing else, providing coffee or water for free, or for purchase, is a great idea.

Has a friendly, attentive staff. Nothing is worse than being rushed, watched like a hawk, completely ignored, or assumed to be a petty thief. I love it when the staff says something like, “Welcome. Would you like some assistance picking out your cigars, or would you prefer to browse the selection yourself?”

Stays open later. Time and again I find many shops and lounges close early in the evening—like an hour or two after a normal work day. I understand it isn’t always possible, but I love it when they stay open late enough to have a post-dinner smoke. Bonus points for shops that recognize there are important sporting events that need to be watched, and that often merits staying open later if there’s a crowd.

Provides comfortable seating with access to power outlets. I don’t need decadence, but I don’t want to sit in a lawn chair, either. Plentiful, spread-out seating with solid ventilation is preferred. This is what makes me want to hang out, spend money, and come back.

Makes cleanliness a priority. I’m not asking for much. Empty the ash trays, dust the surfaces, and vacuum after those three guys got pizza crumbs everywhere. Also, the bathroom shouldn’t look like the opening scene of Saw.

Takes good care of the product. The cigars you sell should be in perfect smoking condition at the time of purchase. Period.

Values entertainment. Good TVs, WiFi, and maybe even a poker table. These touches go a long way. Cigar events are great, too.

What am I missing? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr