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Cigar Review: The Wise Man Maduro Churchill

20 May 2019

It’s a distant memory, but I can recall a few things about the 2015 IPCPR Trade Show. The suffocating heat outside on The Strip. The first convention where a sense of FDA foreboding permeated seemingly every conversation. The sheer volume of exhibiting cigar makers, which seemed notably more numerous than previous years. And the buzz surrounding new cigars coming to market from former Drew Estate tobacco men Steve Saka and Nicholas Melillo.

You may recall Melillo, who formerly served as executive vice president of international operations at Drew Estate, announced the formation of the Foundation Cigar Co. shortly before the 2015 convention. Leading up to the convention, we knew his first solo outfit would be headquartered in his native Connecticut, and the first blend would be made at the TABSA (Tobaccos Valle de Jalapa) factory in Nicaragua, using Aganorsa tobacco. But so much remained a mystery.

The mystery was eventually unveiled as El Güegüense—also known as “The Wise Man”—which is a Nicaraguan puro with a Corojo ’99 wrapper from Jalapa that’s described as “rosado rosado café.” There are five vitolas: Robusto, Toro, Torpedo, Corona Gorda, and Chuchill.

Two years later, in 2017, Melillo introduced the predictable second act to El Güegüense: The Wise Man Maduro. I am sure many were relieved to see the challenging El Güegüense (gwe-gwen-se) name dropped in favor of the English translation. Many more were excited to see how Melillo would adapt the successful El Güegüense blend into a maduro format.

The Wise Man Maduro sports a Mexican San Andrés wrapper around Nicaraguan tobaccos from the three primary growing regions: Condega, Estelí, and Jalapa. “I was looking to create a line extension with a whole different level of complexity and the San Andrés wrapper brings just that,” writes Melillo at the Foundation Cigar Co. website. “I have always been drawn to San Andrés, Mexico, and have been buying tobacco there since 2003. The wrapper is one of my favorites, not to mention one of the oldest seed varieties in the world, which predates even Cuban seed. The combination of this unique capa and Nicaraguan fillers makes for an amazingly flavorful smoke.”

There are five sizes available: Torpedo (6.25 x 52), Toro Huaco (6 x 56), Robusto (5.5 x 50), Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46), and Churchill (7 x 48). The latter vitola—of which I smoked three for this review—sports a dry, toothy wrapper with thin veins. The band is very similar to the one found on El Güegüense, except the background color is maroon, not blue. At the foot, I find a mouth-watering pre-light aroma of cocoa and a cross-section of loosely packed tobaccos.

Despite the relative sponginess of the Churchill, the cold draw is actually moderately resistant. It opens nicely, though, once the cigar is lit and underway. The flavors include a complex plethora of baking spices, cocoa powder, espresso, and white pepper. The finish is dry cedar with a hint of cayenne heat. The resting smoke is a delightful blend of cinnamon and cashew.

Critics of San Andrés cigars often cite the tobacco’s tendencies toward “dirt” or “grit.” I know what they mean. That said, the way the wrapper leaf is fermented and blended with other tobaccos impacts the flavor it imparts. Here, Melillo did a fantastic job getting a rich earthiness from the wrapper while avoiding some of the typical San Andrés pitfalls.

Kudos are also in order to TABSA, the factory that crafts this well-made blend. All three of my samples exhibited good combustion qualities. Expect a sturdy gray ash, a straight burn, and average smoke production.

I paid $11 apiece for my Churchills—not an unfair price for a cigar of this complexity and quality. All told, my first experience with The Wise Man Maduro is worthy of an exemplary rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Todos Las Dias Robusto

15 May 2019

When Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust’s first line, Sobremesa, was announced in July 2015, many were anticipating a full-bodied follow-up from the man who put Drew Estate’s premium cigar business on the map. But Steve Saka didn’t want to give us another Liga Privada No. 9; instead, he gave us something balanced, complex, creamy, and relatively light on spice.

Flash forward to August 2017. Dunbarton’s third line is shipping to the U.S. The buzz is, Todos Las Dias (yes, it’s supposed to be Todos Los Dias, but we’ll leave that story for another time) is Saka’s strongest cigar to date.

“Todos Las Dias is my personal Spanglish translation meaning ‘All the Days,’” writes Saka on Dunbarton’s website. “The workers at Joya de Nicaragua often cringe at my casual butchering of their mother tongue, but in my opinion cigars are far more than a grammar lesson to abide, they are the physical manifestation of a feeling and of an experience. Todos Las Dias embodies the classic bold flavors that represent the heart of their soil’s peppery tobaccos and the labor of their always working hands. For me, this spicy Nicaraguan puro reflects no pretentious airs or any of that ‘notes of pencil lead with a hint of fennel’ nonsense. It is an honest, hardworking cigar intended to be smoked by men who know what it means to be a cigar smoker and never give a damn about what others think.”

The Todos Las Dias recipe calls for a Cuban-seed, sun-grown wrapper around tobaccos from Jalapa and Estelí. Originally, there were four sizes: Toro (6 x 52), Double Wide Belicoso (4.75 x 60), Half Churchill (4.75 x 48), and Robusto (5 x 52). Later, in 2018, a Thick Lonsdale “Mas Fuerte” (6 x 46) was added.

I smoked three Robustos for this review. This vitola retails for $11.45 and, like its brethren, sports dual bands of silver and black. The moderately firm, oily cigar boasts many marks of quality, including a well-executed cap, a tight cross-section of tobaccos at the foot, and a clean surface. That said, one of my samples (the one pictured above and at right) had a wrapper patch job just under the “L” in the primary band.

Once lit, pre-light notes of green raisin and cocoa give way to a bold, full-bodied profile of charred wood, black pepper, and espresso. While the introductory flavor may be straightforward and somewhat brutish, the resting smoke is a mouth-watering aroma of cream, sweetness, and nuts.

After the first half-inch or so, the body and spice pull back a bit. Here, the Robusto is still squarely in the upper reaches of strength and body, mind you, but there’s a little room for some nuance to shine through. I notice cocoa powder, dried fruit, and dry oak. The texture is leathery and palate-coating. The cigar remains in this state until the final puff. Throughout, the combustion qualities are excellent, including a solid white ash, smooth draw, straight burn, and voluminous, dense smoke production.

If you ever get the opportunity to speak with Steve Saka at one of his many in-store events, I highly suggest you take advantage. He has one of the world’s great tobacco minds. At some point, you may hear him say, “If you try to make a cigar everyone will like, you’ll end up with a cigar no one will love.”

Saka has been at the helm of many cigars I love. Top of that list is perhaps the Sobremesa Cervantes Fino. In the case of the Todos Las Dias Robusto, I like the cigar—but I don’t love it. While I can see myself firing it up on occasion after a heavy meal with a stiff drink, its strength, power, and body are too much for me for an “All the Days” cigar. That’s ultimately why I’m settling on a score of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: San Cristobal Ovation Decadance

10 May 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.”


In 2015, Ashton introduced a super-premium limited edition extension to its San Cristobal line called Ovation. Presented in a single format (6.5 x 52), only 3,000 boxes of 22 were made for a total run of 66,000 cigars, each selling for about $15. Since, two sizes have been added—Opulence (5 x 50) and a torpedo-shaped Eminence (5.75 x 54)—and the original size was given the name Decadence. I really enjoyed the cigar when I first tried it a few years ago, and I still do today. It boasts a complex, full-bodied taste. The San Andrés wrapper marries well with the Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos to deliver rich flavors of coffee, cayenne heat, cocoa, white pepper, and cream. With good combustion characteristics, I absolutely recommend the Ovation Decadence.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: Tatuaje Club Partners with Cigar Rights of America

6 May 2019

For the first time since it was launched in 2011, Saints & Sinners—the private, members-only Tatuaje club that annually sends participants exclusive cigars and other branded merchandise—is joining forces with Cigar Rights of America (CRA).

“With all the looming regulations that are plaguing our rights to enjoy cigars, we have decided that the only way we are going to make a change is if we, the cigar community, stand up for our rights,” said Sean Casper Johnson, co-founder and co-president of Saints & Sinners, Inc., in a recent email. “That said, Saints & Sinners has decided to partner up with CRA moving forward and will be donating a big portion of our membership dues to CRA so they can continue the fight to protect our rights to enjoy a product that we love.”

Annual membership fees have increased 17% to $175, with presumably the complete $25 increase going to CRA. This marks the first time in the club’s eight-year history that the fees won’t be $150. But it also means the annual smoke kit of exclusive cigars that won’t be commercially available elsewhere will grow from 15 to 17, and that each Saints & Sinners membership will include membership in CRA.

In addition to cigars, Saints & Sinners members are annually shipped Tatuaje-branded merchandise (i.e., hats and shirts) and other ancillary items of interest (i.e., wine openers, poker chips, lighters, ash trays, etc.). Until it arrives, the contents of that year’s shipment is typically a highly anticipated mystery.

Personally, I’ve been a member all eight years and have never been disappointed. The 10 exclusive cigars alone are always worth it; everything else is icing on the cake. And now, if you do the math, and if you value membership in CRA, the club is a better deal. In year’s past, you’d get 15 cigars for $150, or $10 per cigar; now you get 17 cigars for $175, or $10.29 per cigar—plus CRA membership. (The cigars are almost always terrific, even if we don’t write much about them here; I suspect few want to read reviews of cigars that are not commercially available—but let me know if this is an inaccurate assumption!)

Speaking of access to the invitation-only club, if you’re not already a Saints & Sinners member, now is a good time to find someone who is. Membership renewals for 2019 are currently open and will run though June 15. Each member is able to invite one person to join.

Cigar Rights of America is a national advocacy group that works at all levels of government to protect cigar consumers, retailers, manufacturers, and tobacco growers from regulatory threats, including smoking bans and tobacco taxes.

UPDATE: Sean Casper Johnson confirms the entire $25 increase will go towards CRA. And while he prefers to not cite exactly how many Saints & Sinners members there are, he confirms there are over 1,000. Finally, with regards to the 2019 smoke kit, he says, “This year’s kit will be extremely special. Pete [Johnson] and I selected the cigars last week and he is in Nicaragua blend testing them now.”

Patrick A

photo credit: Saints & Sinners

Cigar Review: S.T.K. Black Dahlia by George Rico Robusto

1 May 2019

The story of Elizabeth Short is a tragic and gruesome one. It need not be repeated here. That said, if you’re interested, you’ll find no shortage of material across all manner of media—including books, films, and the internet—on the 1947 unsolved murder of the young woman who would come to be known as Black Dahlia.

Far be it from me to explain why you’d name a cigar line in honor of a grotesque crime that has persisted in the public consciousness over seven decades. Yet Gran Habano did just that when it launched Black Dahlia in 2017.

Made in Honduras at Gran Habano’s GR Tabaqueras Unidas factory in Danlí, Black Dahlia sports a Nicaraguan Corojo Shade wrapper, dual Habano and Nicaraguan binders, and filler tobaccos that include Habano, Nicaraguan Cubita, Colombian, and Costa Rican leaves. It is offered in three sizes, each packaged in 20-count boxes: Robusto (5 x 52, $9), Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46, $9.50), and Gran Robusto (6 x 54, $10).

The Robusto features a pale, light brown wrapper that’s wrinkled and traversed by a fair number of thin veins. The surface is moderately oily with tooth and some lumps. While the feel is consistently firm throughout with no soft spots, the cold draw is smooth. At the foot, I find gentle pre-light notes of sweet hay and herbal tea.

Black Dahlia might be marketed as a full-bodied smoke but, if the three Robustos I smoked for this review are any indication, it’s a decidedly medium blend. The core profile includes café au lait, white pepper, and a gentle cedar spice. The finish is short with warm spice on the tip of the tongue. At times, there are flashes of roasted peanuts.

As the Robusto progresses, the core flavors remain unchanged but a smooth, sweet creaminess enters the equation. The final third is more of the same, yet slightly more intense. All the while the combustion qualities are solid. Even though the burn might waver a bit here and there, it always self-corrects and almost never requires a touch-up. The draw is easy. The ash holds well off the foot. And the smoke production is generous.

Perhaps, like me, this line escaped your radar when it was introduced a couple years ago. I’m certainly glad I finally gave it a try and recommend you do the same. The S.T.K. Black Dahlia by George Rico Robusto offers balance, nuanced flavors, and good bang for your buck. It’s suitable for a morning smoke with a cup of black coffee, an afternoon round of golf, or a post-dinner treat with some sipping rum. For that, it earns four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Gran Habano Gran Reserva #5 2011 Gran Robusto

22 Apr 2019

In 2015, Gran Habano—the Florida-based operation of the Rico family—announced a few changes to its portfolio. 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 benefits an orphanage in Bogotá, Colombia. Gran Habano also added a few sizes, discontinued a vitola in the G.A.R. Red line, and changed some packaging.

Five years before all these changes, in 2010, the Gran Reserva #3 line was introduced, showcasing well-aged tobaccos from 2008. The cigar was a success, and it spawned a few follow-ups: Gran Reserva #3 2009, Gran Reserva #5 2010, and Gran Reserva #5 2011.

The latter is the latest and only Gran Reserva to be featured at the Gran Habano website (since the cigars are produced in limited quantities, presumably there’s no reason to market the previous Gran Reserva lines). It is offered in five formats: Corona Gorda (5.1 x 46), Gran Robusto (6 x 54), Imperial (6 x 60), Czar (6 x 66), and Grandioso (7 x 70).

It goes without saying that Gran Reserva #5 2011 skews large and thick. Frankly, only two of the sizes even pique my interest: Corona Gorda and Gran Robusto. Today I’m reviewing the latter, after having smoked three samples.

Like its brethren in the Gran Reserva #5 2011 line, the Gran Robusto sports a Nicaraguan wrapper, Nicaraguan binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It is made at Gran Habano’s GR Tabaqueras Unidas factory in Danlí, Honduras.

After removing the beefy cigar from its cedar sleeve, I find a firm, dark specimen that’s dry, toothy, and marked only by thin veins. The densely packed foot showcases pre-light notes of green raisin and coffee grounds. The loosely applied band of red and gold slides effortlessly off the cigar. After clipping the head with a double-guillotine, I find a clear draw that imparts a little spice on the lips.

There’s a lot of tape holding the cedar sleeve and foot ribbon together. If you’re patient enough to peel in all away, though, you can use the cedar to light the cigar—a time-honored tradition I’ve always found to be pleasant. Plus, since the Gran Robusto has a large ring gauge (54), the cedar is helpful in thoroughly establishing an even light from the get-go.

Once underway, the flavors are medium- to full-bodied with notes of espresso, char, black pepper, cedar, and a bit of warm tobacco sweetness. Cocoa powder and creamy cashew help to add balance. After about an inch, the spice and char recede and chocolate and nuts become more prominent.

The voluminous, cool smoke keeps the body (now decidedly medium) and spice at bay, making room for flavor. The taste is also not inhibited by the physical properties, which are admirable. The burn is straight, the white ash holds well, and the draw is smooth.

The final third isn’t much different than the rest of the cigar, save for the introduction of some cayenne heat in the background. And that’s ultimately the biggest knock on this otherwise fine cigar: It tends to overstay its welcome. I don’t dislike the core flavors, but I’m also not sure the offer enough to warrant such a significant time commitment.

That makes the Gran Reserva #5 2011 Gran Robusto a difficult cigar to score. But score it I must, and I’ve settled on a rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Joya de Nicaragua Clásico Señorita

18 Apr 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.”

To date, I’ve reviewed two cigars from the new Joya de Nicaragua Clásico series: Número 6 and Toro. Generally speaking, while I enjoy mild cigars and think they have a place in any proper cigar rotation, these vitolas scored just OK, both falling short in the flavor department. The smaller Señorita (5.5 x 34), however, seems to hit all the right notes. Its Cuban-seed Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, combined with Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos, yields a smooth, creamy profile that’s subtle and balanced yet tasty. Flavors include cream, white pepper, dry oak, and toasted nuts. So far, this is my favorite size in the line, which launched last summer.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys