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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

Quick Smoke: La Sirena The Prince

17 Sep 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.”

La Sirena The Prince

I don’t typically remove a cigar’s band before lighting up, but you pretty much have to with The Prince from La Sirena, as the nautical-themed band covers about half of the surface of the robusto (5 x 50). Once lit, the Nicaraguan puro delivers a full-bodied flavor-blast of black pepper and leather. Shortly thereafter, the tobaccos—a Habano Oscuro wrapper, Criollo binder, and filler leaves from Jalapa and Condega—mellow a bit until they settle into a profile that’s strong and rich with heavy notes of char, roasted nuts, oak, and baking spices. Construction is solid. This is a different blend than the Broadleaf-wrapped one launched in 2010 that was made at My Father Cigars for Miami Cigar & Co. Now made at Erik Espinosa’s La Zona factory in Estelí, it’s a solid choice if you’re craving something strong, and it’s a good buy for around $8.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Rodrigo Boutique Blend G6

12 Sep 2016


Not long ago, Rodrigo Cigars was part of the House of Emilio, an organization headed by Gary Griffith that provided distribution of what Griffith called the “best of the boutiques.” Also included under this allied umbrella were brands like 1502, Bodega, Epicurean, Ezra Zion, Guayacan, Herederos, and Nomad.

20160910_025427652_iosMore recently, Griffith departed the outfit, and the confederated brands—now called Boutiques United—were pared down to four: 1502, Emilio, Ezra Zion, and Nomad. Anecdotally speaking, the social media visibility of all of the involved brands (with the exception of Fred Rewey’s Nomad) has declined considerably since the heyday of the House of Emilio. This observation is based on nothing more than my own personal experience, mind you, but I feel safe making the claim. All this isn’t to say the cigars themselves aren’t any good, or can’t still be purchased.

These were the thoughts jumbling in my brain as I came across several Rodrigo Boutique Blend G6s in one of my humidors. No telling how long they had been there. Since this is not a blend my colleagues or I have previously reviewed, I decided to fire them up.

The story behind the Rodrigo brand is one of a man who loved cigars, flew to Santiago on a whim in 2010, and by chance got connected to a former master blender for Davidoff who taught him the business. That man is George Rodriguez, founder and president of Rodrigo Cigars.

Rodrigo consists of three small-batch blends: Habano Clasico, La Fortaleza, and Boutique Blend. The latter sports a dark, clean, moderately oily, slightly reddish Habano Ecuador wrapper around Dominican binder and filler tobaccos. It is available in three sizes: G4 (6.25 x 54), G5 (5.5 x 56), and G6 (6 x 60). The G6 retails for about $9 and has a spongy feel with pre-light notes of honey and graham. The large, thick cigar boasts a smooth cold draw.

As with any 60-ring gauge smoke, toasting the foot and establishing an even light takes patience. My advice is to enjoy the process and take in the ambient notes of sweetness and spice, which set the tone for the profile to come.

On the palate, the G6 is mild- to medium-bodied and balanced with flavors of bread, honey, cedar, and red pepper. The texture is silky. While there’s ample spice on the aftertaste, the overall impression is mostly creamy and light—similar to a whipped butter sensation. At the midway point, the spice increases and the strength ramps up to decidedly medium. Thereafter, I find few changes.

Construction is damn good for a cigar this large. The burn is immaculate, the draw is easy, the ash holds firm, and the smoke production is about average.

The Boutique Blend line was specifically built to taste best in thick formats, hence the ring gauges of 54, 56, and 60. As someone who prefers thinner smokes, though, I can’t help but wonder what this might taste like in a lancero, or even in a standard robusto frame. I wonder if the profile’s character would hold intact, and if the intensity would be amplified.

Regardless, judging the G6 on its own merits, I feel a rating of three and a half stogies out of five is most appropriate.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Sobremesa Corona Grande

6 Sep 2016


Instead of fizzling after its hyped-up launch, Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust’s visibility on social media has only snowballed into a boutique juggernaut. I can scarcely scroll through my Facebook feed for a few minutes without seeing one of the company’s cigars triumphantly photographed by a Dunbarton devotee, or perhaps even Steve Saka himself.

20160905_035425054_iOSThese days, I’m starting to see more pictures of Mi Querida than Sobremesa. That’s not entirely surprising, I think, because the Broadleaf-wrapped Mi Querida is new to the market, whereas Sobremesa was introduced last summer. Personally, I haven’t had a chance to try Mi Querida yet (rest assured it’s on my short list). To tide myself over, today I thought I’d review the only Sobremesa vitola I haven’t yet sampled: the Corona Grande.

As you surely know by now, Dunbarton was launched by Saka, former CEO of Drew Estate, where he played a critical role in growing the company into a Nicaraguan powerhouse that makes some of the most sought-after cigars in the world. Several lines have been announced in advance of the August 8 deadline imposed by the FDA regulations, including Mi Querida, Umbagog, and Muestra de Saka. But Sobremesa was the first. It sports an Ecuadorian Habano Rosado wrapper, a Mexican binder, and a filler blend of Pennsylvania Broadleaf Ligero with four different Nicaraguan tobaccos (Gk Condega C-SG Seco, Pueblo Nuevo Criollo Viso, La Joya Estelí C-98 Viso, and ASP Estelí Hybrid Ligero). It is handmade at Joya de Nicaragua.

The Corona Grande ($9.95 per single, $248.50 per box of 25) is the smallest Sobremesa vitola at 5.25 inches long with a narrow ring gauge of 44. Velvety and oily to the touch, its surface is moderately veined and dark with a slightly reddish hue. The pre-light notes remind me of cocoa powder, earth, and caramel, and the perfectly constructed cap clips easily to reveal a smooth cold draw.

Once lit, I find the familiar—and wonderful—Sobremesa core of cocoa, dark cherry, pepper, café au lait, baking spices, and creamy caramel. This time, though, a dry, cedar-like sensation is more pronounced, especially on the finish. The texture is syrupy and thick, and the black pepper spice coupled with the rich, spicy mouthfeel renders the Corona Grande the strongest of the Sobremesa formats.

The complexity is palpable and highly enjoyable, and the sweetness of the resting smoke is mouth-wateringly intoxicating. Fortunately, the combustion qualities do not detract from the experience; rather, they enhance it. The burn line is straight, the smoke production above average, the draw easy, and the ash holds well off the foot.

Saka says over 40 varieties of black tobacco were sampled during production, with the 27th blend ultimately being selected as the final Sobremesa recipe. I count myself lucky he went to the trouble to compose a cigar that’s truly “sin compromiso.” While not quite my favorite vitola—that honor belongs to the Cervantes Fino—the Corona Grande is a finely balanced treat that’s worthy of the excellent rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Partagas Serie P No. 2 (Cuban)

3 Sep 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.”

Serie P No. 2

I don’t smoke many Cubans. But there’s been a lot of talk about Cuba lately, and all the media attention got me craving a Habano. Digging through one of my humidors, the first Cuban I came across was a Partagas Serie P No. 2 (6.1 x 52) that had been resting for about three years. Like most other Cubans, it pays to age this pirámide instead of smoking it fresh. If you can invest the time, you’ll be rewarded with a rich, medium-bodied, well-balanced treat of cinnamon, white pepper, nuts, cream, and cedar spice.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: L’Atelier Imports Extension de la Racine ER13

27 Aug 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.”


Released in 2013, this cigar from Pete Johnson’s L’Atelier Imports was built to have the same dimensions as the Cohiba Siglo VI (5.9 x 52). That said, its makeup—a Nicaraguan sun-grown Criollo wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos—doesn’t yield a flavor profile that resembles the famed Cuban smoke. Still, it’s good in its own right, with excellent combustion qualities and a balanced taste of rich caramel, cream, and dry oak with a bready texture. It originally sold for $9.25. If you can track one down, pick it up.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Drew Estate Liga Privada No. 9 Toro

22 Aug 2016


I still think of Drew Estate as a newer cigar company, probably due to its modern marketing, sleek packaging, unique fan base, and urban, non-traditional vibe. How many other cigar outfits have an in-house art studio turning out graffiti and tattoos, or their own social media app? How many other brands have such a dedicated cult following among younger clientele?

LigaBut while Drew Estate lacks the history of industry stalwarts like Arturo Fuente or Joya de Nicaragua, it’s no spring chicken, either. It also can’t be considered among the ranks of small boutique outfits anymore. Drew Estate runs the largest cigar factory in Nicaragua—producing over 10,000 cigars a day—and in 2014 it was acquired by Swisher International, the largest cigar company in the world.

Drew Estate’s size and parent carry some advantages. For example, in the midst of all the FDA malaise, I’ve been thinking a lot about what cigars in my current rotation will still be available in a few years. It’s hard to imagine Swisher will have any trouble coming up with the capital necessary to overcome the yet-to-be-detailed-though-surely-onerous approval process for any Drew Estate cigars that are selling.

Surely they’ll do so for the Liga Privada No. 9 blends, which became available in the summer of 2007—just after the February 2007 exemption deadline. Today, I thought I’d revisit my favorite cigar in that line, the Toro (6 x 52). While I might not have much new to say about a cigar that’s been on the market for nearly a decade, it’s helpful to reexamine old favorites. And, heck, I guess I just wanted an excuse to fire a few Toros up.

By now, we all know the story. Former Drew Estate chief Steve Saka, now owner of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, began work in 2005 on a personal blend for his own enjoyment. After over 50 blends of testing with Jonathan Drew and Nick Melillo (now owner of Foundation Cigar Co.), a final recipe was arrived at: a dark Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper fermented for at least 18 months, a Brazilian Mata Fina binder, and filler tobaccos from Honduras and Nicaragua.

Liga production is still limited—a limitation, according to Drew Estate, that’s due to tobacco availability—so the cigars can be tough to find and expensive. When you get your hands on a Toro, though, you’ll find a highly pleasurable, full-bodied cigar with tons of flavor and a fair amount of spice. Leathery in texture, the core tastes include black pepper, cocoa, espresso, cream, and that infectious sweet grassiness that can only be found in certain Drew Estate cigars.

Construction is outstanding, including a straight burn line and a solid white ash. Notably, the draw is incredibly easy and the smoke production is intense—welcome characteristics that have become trademarks of Drew Estate over the years.

You can expect to pay $12 or more for the Toro. While that’s a considerable cost, you can be assured of a solid, consistent, tasty experience. I’ve been smoking this cigar for a long time, and I think the most fitting rating is an exceptional four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys