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Cigar Review: Southern Draw Jacobs Ladder Robusto

22 Jul 2019

The phrase “Jacob’s ladder” has many meanings. At least two novels, two films, nearly a dozen places around the world, a plant, and at least a dozen songs borrow the name. The genesis of the name (pun intended) is “a ladder leading to heaven that was featured in a dream the biblical patriarch Jacob had during his flight from his brother Esau in the Book of Genesis,” according to Wikipedia. “The significance of the dream has been debated, but most interpretations agree that it identified Jacob with the obligations and inheritance of the people chosen by God, as understood in Abrahamic religions.”

Along with Rose of Sharon, Austin-based Southern Draw Cigars introduced the Jacobs Ladder (sans apostrophe, for some reason) blend in 2016. At first it was a limited release, but it grew into full production in 2017.

Like all Southern Draw creations, Jacobs Ladder is made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A. in Estelí. It sports a Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper, an Ecuadorian binder, and “double Ligero” filler tobaccos from the Estelí and Jalapa growing regions of Nicaragua. Much like Jacob’s biblical ladder, the Southern Draw website calls this line “bold, but approachable.”

There are three standard vitolas: Robusto (5.5 x 54), Toro (6 x 52), and Gordo (6.5 x 60). Three additional sizes (including a Lancero and two perfectos) are classified as “limited.”

I sampled three Jacobs Ladder Robustos for this review. This cigar features a dark, moderately oily wrapper with few veins and tight seams. The foot is closed, and the cap is a bit rough around the edges. Dual bands of dark blue (purple?) and gold decorate the top half, while a cedar sleeve covers the bottom. The pre-light notes are rich and reminiscent of cocoa powder and baking spices.

Once underway, I find a powerful yet well-balanced profile with notes ranging from dark chocolate and roasted peanut to black cherry and leather. On the palate, Jacobs Ladder finishes in a rich flourish of sweetness and black pepper. The texture is thick and syrupy.

Things settle down considerably towards the midway point in terms of body. The flavor seems creamier and less intense here. But the strength—and by that I mean the nicotine kick—seems to grow with every puff. With other cigars, 19 times out of 20 I don’t notice the nicotine at all. But the Jacobs Ladder Robusto brings it in a heavy dose that’s impossible to ignore.

Throughout, the combustion properties are solid, including a smooth draw, straight burn line, generous smoke production, and a white ash that holds firmly off the foot.

The Jacobs Ladder Robusto retails for $9-10. But I wouldn’t suggest it to the faint of heart at any price. If you’re a seasoned cigar veteran with a full stomach and a nicotine itch that needs to be scratched, though, look no further.

This bold, imposing cigar earns three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Sirena Merlion Robusto

18 Jul 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

There’s no telling how long this Merlion Robusto had been resting in one of my humidors before I fired it up recently. But I guess you have to hand it to its obnoxiously large band (two bands, actually); once the cigar came into view, it caught my eye. The Robusto (5 x 50) retails for about $9 and sports an Ecuadorian wrapper around a Brazilian binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. The flavor is dry and a bit salty. I can pick out notes of oak, café au lait, white pepper, and warm tobacco. Construction is solid, but I am stopping short of a full recommendation since the taste hits my palate in a way that’s too straightforward and too dry for my liking.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Black Label Trading Company Morphine 2019 Corona Gorda

15 Jul 2019

Black Label Trading Company (BLTC) creator James Brown calls the 2019 iteration of Morphine “one of the best yet.” Each year, this blend—which was introduced in 2014 as a fuller-bodied addition to the BLTC portfolio—has a different vintage. What sets this one apart, according to Brown, are “rich and earthy” flavors “with bold spice on the retro.”

Morphine sports a Mexican San Andrés maduro wrapper around a Nicaraguan Habano binder and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. It is handmade at BLTC’s factory in Estelí, which goes by the name Fabrica Oveja Negra.

There are three Morphine vitolas available in 2019: Lancero (7 x 38, $11.50, 12-count boxes), Short Robusto (4.5 x 50, $10.50, 20-count boxes), and box-pressed Corona Gorda (5.5 x 46, $10.50, 18-count boxes). Only 450 boxes of each were produced. I’ll save you some math: That amounts to a total run of 5,400 Lanceros, 9,000 Short Robustos, and 8,100 Corona Gordas.

The Lanceros are likely to be the most sought-after, and not just because they comprise the stingiest production; I imagine BLTC’s core audience is comprised of seasoned cigar veterans who appreciate small-batch, boutique cigar operations. If I know these folks—and I’d like to think I do—I can safely say they like their lanceros.

After taking a handful of Corona Gordas for a test drive, I am happy to report this is not a Morphine vitola to overlook. Beneath its macabre, Silence of the Lambs-esque dual bands of black and white is a firm, dark, moderately oily cigar with thin veins. At the foot, I find heavy, rich pre-light notes of molasses and dry wood. The pigtail cap clips easily to reveal a slightly stiff cold draw that imparts some spice on the lips.

Once lit, the introductory flavor is intense and concentrated. Expect to find a hearty dose of black pepper spice, espresso, and warm tobacco. In the background linger subtler, sweeter notes, including raisin and cocoa. The texture is thick and chalky. And, yes, as Brown claims, the retro-hale is bursting with palate-coating spice.

Typically, at this point in a review, I write about how the intensity of a full-bodied cigar pulls back and the taste becomes a little softer and creamier. Not here. There are few changes along the way. And, frankly, that’s OK with me. I appreciate this cigar’s textures and tastes. And the small, compact format helps ensure the flavor doesn’t overstay its welcome.

In terms of construction, the burn line tends to meander a bit, and several touch-ups are needed keep things running smoothly. Aside from that, I have no complaints. The smoke production is good, the ash holds firm, and the draw is moderate.

The 2019 Morphine Corona Gorda is unapologetically San Andrés. If you like that rich, earthy flavor—and I do—you’ll not want to miss this. It’s a great example of how to leverage many of the best qualities of Nicaraguan tobacco with a Mexican wrapper. Kudos to Brown and the folks at BLTC. This powerful treat is worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Illusione *R* Rothchildes

5 Jul 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

The secret seems to be out. Six years ago, when Illusione launched the *R* Rothchildes (4.5 x 50), you could find it for about $4. These days, the price tag is likely to be in the $5-6 range. That’s still a great bargain, though. Made at Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. (TABSA) in Nicaragua, this Illusione creation’s Mexican San Andrés wrapper combines with Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos to yield a medium-bodied profile and a balanced taste of roasted nuts, sweet cream, earth, cocoa, and warm tobacco. It’s surprisingly satisfying and balanced for the price and the small format, which will only take about 45 minutes to smoke. The smart play is to invest in a box of 50 and always have some on hand when time is short, or to hand out to friends.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Charter Oak CT Shade Grande

1 Jul 2019

If you’ve ever met Nicholas Melillo, popularly known as “Nick R. Agua” on Facebook and Twitter, you know he is Connecticut through and through. I can recall talking with him about college hoops when I was in Estelí for a Drew Estate Cigar Safari (this was years ago, long before Melillo left Drew Estate to found the Connecticut-based Foundation Cigar Co.). He was boasting of the success of UConn. A few years later, while I wasn’t with him at the time but, I’m sure he was smiling extra wide when both the UConn men and women won NCAA national titles in the same year (2014).

Melillo, who got his start at a cigar shop near New Haven, Connecticut, established Foundation Cigar Co. in 2015. His portfolio of cigar brands now includes El Güegüense, The Wise Man Maduro, Tabernacle, Tabernacle Havana Seed, The Upsetters, Highclere Castle, and Charter Oak.

The latter, like Melillo, has its roots firmly in the Nutmeg State. It is named for The Charter Oak, an “unusually large white oak tree growing on Wyllys Hyll in Hartford, Connecticut… from around the 12th or 13th century until it fell during a storm in 1856,” reads a Wikipedia article. “According to tradition, Connecticut’s Royal Charter of 1662 was hidden within the hollow of the tree to thwart its confiscation by the English governor-general. The oak became a symbol of American independence and is commemorated on the Connecticut State Quarter.”

The Foundation Cigar Co. website provides more color: “Charter Oak cigars hail from the same fertile valley in Connecticut that native son and master blender… Nick Melillo was born and raised. [They] feature some of the most prized and sought-after Cuban-seed leaf varieties from the exquisite Estelí and Jalapa regions of Nicaragua.”

The filler may be Nicaraguan, and the binder Sumatran, but the centerpiece of the blend—the wrapper—is a golden Connecticut Shade leaf (Charter Oak is also available in a dark Connecticut Broadleaf variety that swaps the Sumatra binder for a Habano binder from Nicaragua). Five sizes are available, all made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua: Toro (6 x 52), Grande (6 x 60), Lonsdale (6.25 x 46), Petit Corona (4.25 x 42), and Rothschild (4.25 x 50).

The Grande retails for about $6, which makes it highly affordable. Off the bat, there are a couple signs that might lead you to believe this is not a terribly expensive smoke. For one, the band—while pleasant in color and design—has no raised lettering and a minimalist approach. Second, one of the three samples I examined for this review had a prominent “frog eye” on the front of the cigar. This discoloration is harmless and typically indicates the presence of a water droplet during the fermentation process. That said, I suspect a more expensive cigar with a similar discoloration might have been caught in its quality control process and never made it to shipment, instead being labeled a “segundo.”

Despite a closed foot, the cold draw is easy once the cap is clipped. The pre-light notes are delicate and reminiscent of sweet hay and almond—classic Connecticut Shade aromas.

Once lit, the moderately spongy Grande emits a mild- to medium-bodied profile of cream, white pepper, peanut, and café au lait. It’s pleasant, albeit straightforward. And that’s essentially what this cigar has to offer, light to nub.

Construction is solid throughout the long smoke—including a straight burn line, smooth draw, solid ash, and generous smoke production. But the unchanging, unpretentious taste tends to overstay its welcome, especially when you consider the Grande’s large format.

Normally, I wouldn’t reach for a cigar of this girth. But my retailer only had Charter Oak CT Shade in this format, and I wanted to give it a try. After three Grandes, I’m anxious to try the blend in a different, thinner vitola. I suspect it would score better.

Charter Oak CT is Melillo’s attempt at an affordably priced, everyday cigar for any time of day. In my opinion, it’s best suited as a golf course smoke. It changes very little throughout, and does not require your full attention. That’s ultimately why I’m settling on a rating of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: CroMagnon EMH

28 Jun 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Inspired by Cigar Aficionado’s recent abysmal (and laughable) 83 for the CroMagnon EMH—a rating RoMa Craft co-owner Skip Martin publicly attributes to his unwillingness to send the publication ad dollars—I made a point to revisit this cigar. A robusto extra (5 x 56), the “Early Modern Human” sports a gorgeous Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Cameroon binder, and three different filler tobaccos from Nicaragua (from Estelí, Condega, and a small farm on the Honduran border). It is a dark, chalky, full-bodied smoke with immersive notes of pepper, cocoa powder, char, and espresso. My palate finds Cigar Aficionado’s description of “green apple” and “bitter and damp” off the mark. Expect to pay around $9 for a single, and expect a flavorful, well-constructed experience.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Black Label Trading Company Killer Bee Connecticut

24 Jun 2019

Nearly four years ago, James Brown, creator of Black Label Trading Co. (BLTC), 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.”

The three original BLK WKS cigars were 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. Green Hornet, a stronger follow-up to the Killer Bee that’s distinguished by its Candela closed foot, was added a year later in 2016. All of these were offered in addition to BLTC’s core lines, which include Lawless, Royalty, Redemption, Benediction, Salvation, and Last Rites.

More recently, in November 2018, BLTC announced an offshoot to the Killer Bee: Killer Bee Connecticut. This cigar “was blended with the original Killer Bee, so I’m very excited to finally have it released as an addition to the Killer Bee line and the BLK WKS portfolio,” said Brown in a press release. “With similar profiles to the Killer Bee, it may not be what you expect from a typical Connecticut cigar. The Connecticut wrapper gives an added creaminess and changes up the spice components quite a bit.”

The Killer Bee Connecticut recipe calls for Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, a Nicaraguan Habano binder, and a Connecticut wrapper with an Ecuador maduro “swirl cap.” It is offered in a single size (4.5 x 46, $10).

I smoked three Killer Bee Connecticuts for this review. Put simply—and not unlike the original Killer Bee—this gorgeous cigar admirably showcases the craftsmanship at Fabrica Oveja Negra. The bee-like stripes help the cigar stand out on any retailer shelf, and the metallic, honey-combed band of gray, black, and gold adds a nice touch as well. At the foot, the pre-light notes include classic Connecticut aromas of sweet hay, sawdust, and almond.

Whereas the Killer Bee is bold, powerful, and full-bodied with flavors of burnt caramel, black pepper, char, and syrup, the Killer Bee Connecticut is—predictably—more dialed-back. That said, it never falls into the trap of tasting like “just another Connecticut.” It boasts considerable pepper spice from the outset, along with well-balanced notes of oak, butter, and a bit of cinnamon.

Into the midway point and beyond, the spice falls off but the core flavors (save for pepper) remain the same. And that’s just fine in my book. The taste is highly enjoyable and complex, and the small, compact format means it doesn’t overstay its welcome. All the while construction is impeccable. The white ash holds well off the foot, the draw is smooth, the smoke production is generous, and the burn line requires zero touch-ups.

For my palate, the original Killer Bee is, well, a killer. It’s a highly concentrated flavor-bomb that demands to be smoked with a full stomach. The Killer Bee Connecticut, though, is a more balanced, nuanced smoke that’s suitable for almost any occasion. For that, I’m awarding it a very admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys