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Cigar Review: H. Upmann by A.J. Fernandez Robusto

29 May 2017

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 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.

A few notable examples: In 2015, Altadis tapped Pete Johnson of Tatuaje to help craft Henry Clay Tattoo, a limited run of 2,500 boxes that quickly sold out. In 2016, General chose to partner with A.J. Fernandez, well-known for his operations in Nicaragua, to develop a four-vitola line called La Amistad.

These days, A.J. Fernandez has switched teams from General to Altadis to launch his version—a Nicaraguan version, of course—of the famed H. Upmann brand. It is made at the Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua factory with an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, Nicaraguan Corojo ’99 binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The three sizes—Churchill (7 x 54), Toro (6 x 54), and Robusto (5 x 52)—retail in the affordable $7.25-$7.75 range.

I recently bought a five-pack of the Robustos for $36.25. This cigar makes a great first impression with its smooth, silky, milk chocolate-colored wrapper, well-constructed cap, and firm packing of tobaccos. The foot yields savory pre-light aromas of peanut, hay, and cocoa, and the cold draw is effortless.

After establishing an even light, the first thing you notice is the chalky, powdery texture of the smoke. The flavor is best characterized by cocoa, sweet cedar, cream, and a gentle white pepper spice. The body is medium and the smoke production is above average.

As the Robusto nears the midway point, the minimal spice recedes even further, and the profile becomes a little woodsier. Oak takes center stage, though there’s still a nice backdrop of creamy sweetness. The final third exhibits a slight increase in intensity. Throughout, the combustion properties are absolutely flawless. The burn is straight, the ash holds well off the foot, and the draw remains easy with abundant smoke output.

It has only been about a week since H. Upmann by A.J. Fernandez shipped nationally (it was initially distributed to about 30 strategic retail accounts on May 8, with a wider distribution commencing on May 22).

It seems to me A.J. Fernandez was aiming for a tamer Nicaraguan blend that’s consistent with the traditional H. Upmann profile. In other words, I don’t think he sought to bring the full-bodied Nicaraguan spice and strength to this Dominican brand. Whatever the intent, the result works. This is a balanced, tasty, medium-bodied treat that smokes like a gem. In my book, it’s worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Nestor Miranda Collection Corojo Robusto

27 May 2017

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.”

In my estimation, this is the best blend in Miami Cigar & Co.’s Nestor Miranda Collection (the others being Connecticut, Maduro, and Habano), which was introduced at last summer’s IPCPR Trade Show. It’s a Nicaraguan puro with an oily, reddish Corojo wrapper and rich, medium- to full-bodied notes of roasted cashew, black pepper spice, leather, espresso, and hints of sugar. The Robusto (4.5 x 50) is my preferred size. You can find it for about $7 apiece—a nice value given the blend’s complexity and balance. And, as you would expect from the My Father Cigars factory, the construction is consistent and solid.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Breckenridge Bourbon

22 May 2017

I’ll admit it. When I saw the tagline for Breckenridge Distillery—“the world’s highest distillery”—I first thought of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. Only seconds later did I realize the slogan was instead a nod to Breckenridge’s elevation of 9,600 feet above sea level. Such a clever play on words.

Credit for this double-meaning is probably due to Bryan Nolt, the young man who is founder and CEO of Breckenridge Distillery. “In 2007, I had the arguably really bad idea of starting a distillery in Breckenridge, Colorado,” Nolt writes on his company’s website. “Cashing out my life savings, kids’ college fund, and eventually selling my house to cover monthly payroll and taxes, we bootstrapped our way through the early years loving every minute of it.”

Today, Nolt says, it would be fair to call his distillery successful. In part, this is due to the “unique features of the Breckenridge water we use for proofing and blending every bottle of our spirits.” The Breckenridge product catalog includes a gin, several vodkas, a spiced rum, a bitter, a whiskey distilled from malt mash, and a blend of straight bourbon whiskeys simply called Breckenridge Bourbon.

I recently bought a bottle of the latter for about $40 here in Chicago (750 ml. bottle, 86-proof). “We mash, ferment, and distill a lot of bourbon in-house,” reads the Breckenridge website. “Our blend of straight bourbon whiskeys also consists of barrels selected from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana chosen for their unique qualities, heritage, and ability to marry in our blend, always made from a high-rye mash bill.”

That mash bill is 56% corn, 38% rye, and 6% malted barley. It is fermented in an open-top fermenter and twice-distilled in a copper-pot still. It is then set to barrel-age at 120-proof (no one knows for sure how long, but most seem to think only for two or three years; if true, the bourbon should have an age statement, which it does not). After aging, it is diluted with melted snow from the Rocky Mountains.

In the glass, Breckenridge Bourbon sports a dark copper color with a nose of brown sugar, candied pecan, green raisin, and banana. The flavor is nicely balanced and complex with a bready texture and abundant warm spice. The taste includes vanilla, buttered corn, honey, caramel, oak, and cinnamon. The finish is incredibly long-lasting with a pronounced spice and a numbing heat.

That numbing heat, to me, is the signature characteristic of this spirit, and a highly enjoyable sensation. It is significantly reduced if you add more than a drop of water, or if you serve the bourbon on the rocks. Therefore, I suggest you first try Breckenridge Bourbon neat (or, at the very most, add just a drop of room-temperature water).

Is this a young bourbon? Yes. Does it carry an age statement? No. That said, I think $40 is a very fair price since it delivers such a unique, satisfying, harmonious experience. I highly doubt you will be disappointed if you pick up a bottle. When you do, pair it with a medium-bodied smoke that brings its own complexity to the table. For starters, I would suggest the Gaaja Maduro Torpedo or the El Güegüense Churchill.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Cohiba Blue Robusto

15 May 2017

A few weeks ago, not long before announcing Sean Williams of El Primer Mundo as the new Cohiba brand ambassador, General Cigar Co. revealed Cohiba Blue. From a packaging perspective, the new line is a departure from the silvers and blacks that dominate the rest of the Dominican-based brand’s portfolio.

I don’t know this for sure, but my sense is the Cohiba marketing team was aiming for a differentiated look that expressed modernity and approachability. The purpose of Cohiba Blue, after all, seems to be to attract more (presumably younger) consumers to the brand at a less intimidating price point.

The four inaugural vitolas that are just now arriving at retailers nationwide—Churchill (7.5 x 50), Robusto (5.5 x 50), Rothschild (4.5 x 50), and Toro (6 x 54)—sell in the $8.99 to 10.99 range. While they are by no means discount or value smokes, they are less expensive than many of the other options within the Cohiba collection. Each vitola is presented in a box of 20 that’s hand-painted—you guessed it—bright blue.

The Cohiba Blue recipe includes a Honduran Olancho San Agustin (OSA) wrapper and binder (no, cigars do not typically use the same kind of tobacco for both the wrapper and binder) around Honduran Jamastran, Nicaraguan Ometepe, and Dominican Piloto Cubano filler tobaccos. “The layered wrapper-binder deepens the smoking experience and imparts subtle, earthy notes,” reads a General Cigar press release. “The unique, three-country blend represents the world’s most revered tobacco growing regions and delivers a sophisticated, memorable smoke.”

I smoked a handful of Cohiba Blue Robustos for this review. Appearance-wise, this cigar is unimpressive. The OSA wrapper is grayish and pale with several prominent veins that leave the splotchy, moderately oily surface rugged and unrefined. And the band seems quite cheap—not because it’s blue, but because it’s flat and plain.

Looks are far from the most important aspects of any cigar. So I went into lighting up my first Robusto with an open mind. What I found was a well-balanced, spice-forward, medium-bodied profile that’s best characterized by cinnamon, cedar, roasted nuts, warm tobacco, and a bit of honey. From the outset, both the draw is a bit tight and the smoke production at bit light.

After half an inch, the draw opens considerably, the smoke production becomes more in line with expectations, and the spice recedes. The cedar becomes oak and the cinnamon is replaced by a sweet, creamy backdrop akin to nougat. Thereafter, there are few changes, save for a slight increase in intensity in the final third. Throughout, the burn line is well-behaved, though don’t be surprised if you need to employ a few torch touch-ups.

All things considered, the Blue Robusto is a satisfying, well-made smoke with good flavors. I don’t think it’s going to wow anyone, yet there’s still a lot to like about this new Cohiba. In my book, it earns a solid rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Davidoff Nicaragua Box Pressed Robusto

1 May 2017

The Nicaragua line was a stark departure for Davidoff when it was launched in 2013. It was Davidoff’s first Nicaraguan line—a Nicaraguan puro, to be exact. “This is a major step for Davidoff to expand to a new territory,” said CEO Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard at the time. “Davidoff’s mission is to bring aficionados delightful experiences regardless of territory.”

A new direction? Yes. But a predictable one. In recent years, Nicaragua has grown to become (arguably) the epicenter of the cigar world. And that means even classic brands with strong identities to other countries of origin—like Davidoff and the Dominican Republic—have to consider cashing in on Nicaragua’s rise in popularity.

Davidoff Nicaragua launched in four formats: Diadema (6.5 x 50), Short Corona (3.75 x 46), Toro (5.5 x 54), and Robusto (5 x 50). A limited production Belicoso (5.25 x 52) was also made.

Then, in early 2016, Davidoff decided to capitalize on the apparent success of the Nicaragua line to launch an offshoot called Davidoff Nicaragua Box Pressed. While the name might suggest this new line simply applies a box press to the existing Davidoff Nicaragua vitolas, that isn’t the case. Nicaragua Box Pressed, while still a Nicaraguan puro, sports a new recipe. The wrapper is now Habana Oscura, as opposed to Habana Rosado. And an extra ligero leaf was added for more strength.

There are two Davidoff Nicaragua Box Pressed sizes: Toro (6 x 52) and Robusto (5 x 48). The latter retails for $14.50 and features a silky, clean wrapper that—to my eyes, at least—is barely darker than the wrapper on the original Davidoff Nicaragua line (fortunately, Davidoff denotes “Box Pressed” on the secondary band, so nobody should have any trouble telling the two apart). The box press is noticeable, albeit not terribly sharp. At the foot, I find delicate pre-light notes of honey, hay, and sugar. The cap clips to reveal a smooth cold draw.

The initial profile is well-balanced, spicy, full-bodied, and delicious. Flavors include dry cedar, white pepper, espresso, sweet cream, and roasted nuts. There is a bit of cayenne heat on the aftertaste, and the texture is rich and chalky. After an inch, the strength dials down a bit and some of the spice recedes. Still, even at its lowest strength level, the Robusto clocks in at medium- to full-bodied. Then, towards the finale, the boldness ramps up again. The flavors tend to remain consistent throughout.

In typical Davidoff fashion, the combustion characteristics are superb. The burn line remains straight and true from light to nub, the ash holds firm off the foot, the draw is clear and consistent, and the smoke production is above average with a mouth-watering aroma.

The Davidoff Nicaragua Box Pressed Robusto is considerably more than just a bolder box-pressed version of the original Davidoff Nicaragua line (a blend I really enjoy, by the way). It delivers ample strength along with a complex cast of flavors to create excellent harmony. Without question, Davidoff’s first box-pressed line is a winner. I rate the Robusto four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Aurora Preferidos Corojo Tubo

29 Apr 2017

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.”

There’s no telling exactly how long this cigar had been patiently resting in one of my humidors before I lit it up on the golf course yesterday. I am sure the time would be better measured in years, not months. Whatever the case, some age seems to have done the Corojo Tubo (5 x 54) well. I found a well-balanced profile of red pepper sweetness, cedar, coffee, and cream. Construction was excellent. I would absolutely pick up this La Aurora again.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: San Cristobal Ovation

23 Apr 2017

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.”

Ovation

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. My colleague took an Ovation for a test drive about a year ago and found it underwhelming, especially for the $15 price tag. I tried my first one a few days ago. Whether it’s a difference in taste preferences, the additional age on the tobacco, or some other variable, I found the cigar highly satisfying with 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 would absolutely recommend buying an Ovation if you come across one.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys