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Commentary: Obama No Friend of Cigars

17 Oct 2016


On Friday, the Obama administration lifted restrictions barring Americans traveling abroad from bringing back Cuban cigars and rum—another step towards further normalizing relations between Washington and Havana.

Since December 2014, American citizens who were officially licensed to visit Cuba (for reasons including religion, journalism, education, visiting family, etc.) were granted the ability to bring back $100 worth of Cuban cigars and/or Cuban rum into the U.S., as part of a $400 total import allowance. This change—which coincided with a prisoner exchange that was brokered with Cuban President Raúl Castro—was a shift from the previous policy, which didn’t allow any Cuban cigars, or other Cuban goods for that matter, to be imported.

Now, travelers to Europe, Canada, Mexico, or other places where Cuban cigars are legally sold (including Cuba) can legally import Cuban cigars and rum without limitation, as long as the importation is for personal consumption only.

While this is a rather significant shift in policy, it’s important to remember the longstanding Cuban embargo is still in effect. Obama can’t reverse the embargo in its entirety; that would take an act of Congress. So don’t expect to suddenly find Cuban smokes at your local tobacconist, or a way to order them online from U.S. sellers. (Whether or not cigars can now be legally purchased by consumers from online retailers in other countries is not clear.)

Still, this is a major win for cigar enthusiasts who enjoy Cuban cigars and regularly travel abroad. It’s also a step in the right direction. The Cuban embargo has been a massive failure when you consider the objective was (and still is?) to cripple the Castro regime. The island’s totalitarian communist regime has been unbelievably stable for decades, and its economic policies have only recently begun to take small steps towards liberalization. Furthermore, America hypocritically has no qualms trading with many other countries that regularly suppress human rights and political freedoms.

So while it’s appropriate for cigar enthusiasts to cautiously applaud Friday’s announcement, our adulation for the administration should be, at best, very tempered. Recall that, thanks to President Obama and the anti-tobacco policymakers he relies upon to craft and carry out policy, cigars commercially solid in the U.S. at retail shops and online are subject to highly draconian regulations—regulations that will force businesses to close and eliminate an estimated 30,000 jobs in the U.S. and 300,000 jobs abroad.

Setting aside the ban on samples, new warning labels, and the ridiculously arbitrary nature of the February 15, 2007 cutoff date, the lack of clarity about the FDA approval process is the biggest reason why industry experts predict the rule will devastate the industry. What will qualify as “substantially equivalent”? How will the FDA build and maintain the capacity to process approval applications in a timely manner? How will small, family-owned boutique cigar operations pay the outrageously high costs needed to successfully gain FDA approval (estimates for the cost of obtaining FDA permission to sell a cigar vary widely from $20,000 to $100,000 or more for each size and each packaging option within each blend)?

One can see how the elimination of restrictions on importing Cuban cigars for personal consumption—which are not subject to FDA regulations, by the way—coupled with outlandish FDA rules on all other cigars could jeopardize U.S. retailers and manufacturers of non-Cuban cigars in places like Nicaragua, Miami, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. What’s the message here? Commercial cigar sales in the U.S. have to abide ungodly stringent rules, while Cubans get to flow more freely? Is it not hard to envision a future state where Cuban cigars are exchanged on the black market once they have been legally imported? Won’t these cigar sales cut into the profits of non-Cuban manufacturers and retailers who must comply with the terrible new rules?

Whether or not this was Obama’s intention makes no matter. Good intentions do not always result in good outcomes, especially in matters of public policy. So while we aficionados tip our hats to Friday’s announcement, let’s remember the cigar industry is entering extremely perilous waters thanks to a reckless course set by Obama and misguided, misinformed members of Congress who agreed to grant FDA oversight over premium handmade cigars.

It should go without saying that Obama is no friend of cigars. But you certainly wouldn’t know that from reading the outpouring of support on social media, or the laughably off-target “reporting” from the mainstream media.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Quick Smoke: E.P. Carrillo Core Plus Natural Enchants

15 Oct 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.”


Last summer, E.P. Carrillo introduced the Core Plus series, a lineup of four vitolas available in either Natural or Maduro wrappers. The robusto-sized Enchants format in the Natural selection comes complete with a dry, reddish Ecuadorian wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It sells for under $7. On the palate, it’s spicy, leathery, and considerably sweet. A prominent sugary note reminds me of Luden’s wild cherry cough drops, a medicinal flavor of which I’m not particularly fond. The burn leaves much to be desired, as my single sample required several re-lights to stay on course. I have been a fan of many E.P. Carrillo creations over the years, but the Core Plus Natural Enchants left me unimpressed.

Verdict = Sell.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Hoyo La Amistad Robusto

10 Oct 2016


Justified or not, hardcore cigar enthusiasts will often ignore brands from huge companies like General Cigar and Altadis in favor of offerings from small, boutique operations. Perhaps in an effort to combat this treatment, the two industry giants have both recently partnered with cigar makers who—while certainly not small—manage to maintain a solid rapport among the most dedicated segment of the cigar smoking community.

la-armistadLast year, Altadis tapped Pete Johnson of Tatuaje to help craft Henry Clay Tattoo, a limited run of 2,500 boxes that quickly sold out. This year, General chose to partner with A.J. Fernandez well-known for his operations in Nicaragua, to develop a four-vitola line called La Amistad.

“I grew up very near to the Hoyo de Monterrey farm and I have always had a love for the brand,” said Fernandez in an Altadis press release. “When it came time to develop this blend, I put my heart and soul into it… This cigar represents the best of me and my factory and I am proud to be a part of this collaboration.”

Marketed as “brawny and robust” with “notes of leather and spice,” the recipe for La Amistad includes an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder from Fernandez’s farms in Estelí, and Nicaraguan filler tobacco from Estelí, Ometepe, Condega, and Jalapa. The available sizes are Rothschild (4.5 x 50, $6.49), Toro (6 x 50, $7.79), Gigante (6 x 60, $7.99), and Robusto (5 x 54, $7.59).

I sampled five Robustos for this review. Each had a dark, slightly reddish wrapper with minimal veins and tight seams beneath dual bands of white, gold, and red. As you would expect from both General and A.J. Fernandez, the cigar appears to be expertly built with a firm feel, a cross-section of tightly packed tobaccos at the foot, and a well-executed cap. The pre-light notes remind me of sweet hay and molasses. The cold draw is clear.

The Robusto begins with a hearty dose of Nicaraguan zing. I’d describe the preliminary flavor as black pepper spice, cinnamon, dry wood, and hints of caramel. Spice-forward and dry with a coarse texture, the strength settles after a half-inch. Here, the profile is earthier while still maintaining a fair amount of spice, especially on the tip of the tongue. At the midway point, the cigar is at its best: medium-bodied with citrus, subdued pepper, leather, all balanced by salted nuts and sweetness. The finale brings a reprise of the intensity from the outset.

With solid construction—sturdy ash, straight burn, clear draw, and good smoke production—coupled with a spicy Nicaraguan character and body that sways from full to medium and back to full, the Hoyo La Amistad Robusto is an enjoyable smoke and a good buy at less than $8. I award it an admirable 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: Macanudo Estate Reserve No. III

8 Oct 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.”

Macanudo Estate Reserve

Macanudo launched Estate Reserve in 2013 to challenge the perception that the best-selling brand in the U.S. is only for rookie cigar fans who haven’t yet graduated to fuller-bodied, more complex smokes. At the time, it was a very pricey ($16-18) three-vitola line, but now you can find it for considerably less if you poke around. I recently decided to fire up a No. III (5 x 50) that had been aging in my humidor for a couple years. The blend of Dominican tobaccos surrounded by a golden Connecticut Shade wrapper yielded mild flavors of almond, cream, dry cedar, and a little sweetness. It was not indifferent from how the cigar smoked when I first got it. This is no doubt an interesting mild cigar, but it’s hard to justify a full recommendation given the price, even if you can find the robusto-sized smoke for under $10.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Mi Querida Fino Largo

3 Oct 2016


This summer, cigar makers, brand owners, blenders, and factories scrambled in an effort to rush as many new brands and vitolas to market as possible before the August 8 deadline. (Regular readers will recall that cigars introduced after August 8, 2016, will have to go through the FDA approval process before they can be sold or marketed.)

fino-largoThis mad dash was best personified by Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust. If you follow him on Facebook—where he is quite prolific—you’ll recall his rapid succession of posts proclaiming new cigars like Umbagog, Maestro de Saka, and Mi Querida. These announcements drew considerable attention among cigar faithful which, of course, was a predictable outcome given the success of Dunbarton’s inaugural line, Sobremesa.

“It has been an incredibly grueling 90 days,” Saka wrote on Facebook on July 7. “I have finalized five marca designs and over 15 ligas between 46 vitolas. Thankfully, I had been buying leaf and working on all of these blends over the past year. While there are some packaging tweaks required, none of any of these cigars are half-baked.”

NACSA is the site of production for Mi Querida, a blend of Nicaraguan tobaccos surrounded by a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper that’s crafted by Raul Disla under direction from Saka. Nine vitolas are available, including the Fino Largo (6 x 48), which retails for about $9. I smoked several for this review, each provided by

Mi Querida sports an understated yet attractive band of blue and gold with corrugated edges. The exterior leaf is dark, oily, mottled, and rustic with plenty of tooth, thick seams, and the occasional splotch of out-of-place color. The rough-looking cap clips cleanly to reveal an easy cold draw. Off the foot, the pre-light notes are rich, sweet, and damp with hints of chocolate and musty earth.

The Fino Largo tastes the way, I believe, many expected Sobremesa to taste given Saka’s history with Drew Estate. It has a moist, full-bodied profile with a grainy texture and ample spice. Notes of espresso, cinnamon, damp wood, and leather are front-and-center from the get-go. After an inch, the cigar is at its best with hints of roasted nut and nougat sweetness adding complexity. Here, there’s still plenty of power, but that power is more refined, balanced, and harmonious. The final third brings a reprise of the intensity found at the outset.

Mi Querida is Spanish for “my dearest,” but in Nicaragua the phrase is most often used to describe a mistress. Kind of fitting, since I almost feel like I’m cheating on Sobremesa when I smoke one. Sobremesa came first, after all, and while it hasn’t been around terribly long, I’ve burned through more than my fair share. We have a history. That said, I foresee a long and meaningful relationship with the dirtier, cheaper Mi Querida. It’s highly satisfying if you’re seeking something musty, earthy, rich, well-constructed, and—in the case of the Fino Largo, especially—strong. My expectations are high whenever I light up a Saka creation, and this one does not disappoint. I award it four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: E.P. Carrillo Dusk Solidos

1 Oct 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.”


Introduced a few months ago at the industry’s annual trade show, Dusk is a four-vitola line from E.P. Carrillo that resides in “The Classics” level of the company’s recently revamped portfolio. It sports a dark, undisclosed wrapper from the United States, an Ecuadorian binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua. Dusk is crafted at Tabacalera La Alianza in the Dominican Republic. The Solidos format (6 x 60) retails in the $8 to $9 range and delivers a medium- to full-bodied profile that’s moderate on spice yet heavy on damp earth, cocoa powder, raisin, nut, and cream. The resting smoke is particularly sweet and mightily enticing. Construction is a bit lacking, though, with a burn line that tends to meander and a draw that’s a tad too tight for my liking. Still, this is a good cigar, and I suspect I will like it considerably more in one of the thinner vitolas.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Black Label Trading Company Killer Bee

19 Sep 2016


Last fall, 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.”

20160918_234642490_iosThe 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 this summer. All of these are offered in addition to BLTC’s core lines, which include Lawless, Royalty, Redemption, Benediction, Salvation, and Last Rites.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the NBK and found it to be outstanding—perhaps one of the best cigars I’ve examined in 2016. I really enjoyed the “powdery” texture, the “cool, airy, and light” smoke, and the flavors of “cocoa powder, coffee, roasted nuts, and black pepper spice.” So it’s no surprise I’d like to further explore the BLK WKS portfolio.

Today we’re looking at the Killer Bee, which retails for $7.50 and sports Nicaraguan tobaccos beneath its dark, clean, oily, and moderately veined Ecuadorian Maduro wrapper. The closed foot, “linear cap,” and eye-catching band of black, gold, and green makes this a striking petit corona from an appearance perspective.

After setting an even burn, pre-light notes of burnt caramel transition to a bold, powerful profile of hearty black pepper spice with dry notes of char and oak. Make no mistake: Killer Bee is full-bodied and attention-grabbing from the get-go. The spice is offset only slightly by subtle sweet notes of syrup and candied nuts. At the midway point, though, the strength mellows noticeably and the spice tempers considerably. Here, the cigar is more balanced, but I’d say it still falls into the full-bodied spectrum. The finale includes a predictable—though not unwelcome—increase in spice and intensity.

Construction is fine with a burn line that requires a few touch-ups here and there. The gray ash holds well off the foot, the draw is smooth throughout, and the smoke production is average.

I’ve smoked several Killer Bees, and I can attest my enjoyment is heightened greatly when I fire up this cigar on a full stomach and pair it with a neat bourbon or a glass of sipping rum. For me, under other conditions, it verges on too much strength. In any circumstance, though, if you’re looking for a lot of power in a small format, this is a good choice—especially for the price. All told, I think the most appropriate rating is a respectable three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys