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Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XIX)

27 Jan 2015

In this segment of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I ponder who benefits from the criminalization of cigar bars in Nebraska, cigars blended for specific spirits pairings, and if you might be able to light up at the craps table at this summer’s IPCPR Trade Show.


Hope for Cigar Bars in Nebraska?

We’ve been following the story about the criminalization of smoking inside cigar bars in Nebraska for some time. It all started last year when the Nebraska Supreme Court determined the exemption granted to cigar bars was unconstitutional. Now, state lawmakers have drafted a bill to reinstate those exemptions. Frankly, I can’t seem to understand who would be protected by a smoking ban for cigar bars. The employees who choose to work there (assuming the businesses wouldn’t close down)? The patrons who choose to drop in for a cigar? And then I remembered how this whole thing began: Big John’s Billiards, a pool hall in Omaha, didn’t think it was fair to have to comply with the statewide smoking ban if cigar bars didn’t. Personally, I hope the bill to reinstate the exemptions for cigar bars passes. But the bigger question is: Why should the government get to dictate to any private business whether it can provide cigar-friendly accommodations?

Perfect Pairings

Yesterday I reviewed the Dram Cask No. 3 Double Habano Toro from C&C Cigars, a smoke that’s specifically intended to pair with spicier whiskeys. Dram is comprised of four different blends, each built to complement whiskeys of varying strength. This concept isn’t necessarily a first for the cigar industry. The Illusione Epernay, for example, was blended to pair with champagne. But I’m not sure if any previous effort has been as overt in its intent as Dram, or the just-announced Drew Estate Smoking Monk, a Cigars International exclusive that features five blends each designed to be paired with a different type of beer. Given the rising demand for craft spirits (especially whiskey, micro-brew beer, rum, etc.) I wonder if this will develop into more of a trend. It isn’t too hard to imagine a line of cigars blended specifically to pair with certain kinds of wine.

Big Easy Gambling

Last week, the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed a smoking ban. The International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) was quick to point out the new law will not impact its 83rd Trade Show, slated to be held in the Louisiana city this summer, because cigar bars, the convention center, and facilities being used for private events will be protected. However, if you’ve ever been to an IPCPR Trade Show in New Orleans, you’ll recall the Harrah’s Casino that’s nearby the convention center can be a popular destination among attendees. Currently, Harrah’s is not exempted from the ban. But it was reported on Monday that efforts are currently underway to allow smoking in half of the casino, and a vote on the proposal could come as early as February 5—presumably in plenty of time for the convention in July.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Review: Dram Cask No. 3 Double Habano Toro

26 Jan 2015

In ancient Greece, a “dram” was a coin and a unit of measurement. These days, “dram” usually refers to a small amount of spirit poured neat, especially scotch whisky.

Dram Cask 3 ToroCapitalizing on the popularity of whiskey, Orleans Group International and C&C Cigars recently released the Dram cigar brand, “a line crafted to choreograph the flavors of whiskey and cigars,” according to a press release. “Cigar and whiskey aficionados alike will appreciate the depth of each blend’s complementary or contrasting flavors, magnifying the qualities of the cigar and the whiskey.”

Dram is subscribing to the principal that “body is as essential as flavor,” so there are four Dram blends that are intended to pair with different whiskey intensities. Dram Cask No. 1 Double Connecticut is on the bolder end of the mild spectrum and marketed as a complement to light whiskies like Glenmorangie and Balvenie Single Barrel. Cask No. 2 Double Corojo is intended for woody whiskeys like Wild Turkey 101 and Angel’s Envy. Cask No. 3 Double Habano is for spicier spirits like Bulleit Bourbon. And Cask No. 4 Double Binder Connecticut Broadleaf is for smoky, peaty scotches like Laphroaig.

I sampled three Cask No. 3 Double Habano Toros (6 x 54, $9-10) for this review. Each featured a dark Habano wrapper with minimal veins, moderate oils, and bold pre-light notes of dried apricot. The cap clips easily and the cold draw is effortless, imparting a slight earthy spice on the lips.

I would be remiss to sample a cigar that’s built specifically to complement spicy whiskeys without actually enjoying one such whiskey alongside the smoke. Since the Dram marketing materials specifically point to Bulleit Bourbon as the example for Cask No. 3—and since I had a bottle of orange-label Bulleit on hand—I decided to pour myself a dram (or two) for each of my three samples. My conclusion: While most cigars taste pretty damn good with any kind of bourbon, I have to tip my hat; the rich earthiness and spice of Cask No. 3 does indeed taste very fine with the likes of Bulleit.

In fact, even though the cigar tastes quite good on its own, and even though Bulleit is tasty and an excellent value on its own, the two together are greater than the sum of their parts. That said, setting aside the bourbon and focusing completely on the cigar, I find the profile is best characterized by mushroom, raisin, and coffee with a dry, woodsy spice. The texture is leathery and the resting smoke is dense and chocolaty. Construction is consistently outstanding with a straight burn line, solid white ash, and good smoke production.

If the C&C name sounds familiar, you’ll remember C&C’s owner, Joe Chiusano, is the former president of Cusano, a brand that ended up getting purchased by Davidoff in 2009. Since he launched C&C, I’d have to say the Dram Cask No. 3 Double Habano Toro is my favorite blend in the portfolio, and one that’s worthy of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Espinosa Maduro Robusto

21 Jan 2015

There was a time when the cigars in the EO Brands portfolio—particularly 601 Blue, 601 Red, and 601 Green—were mainstays in my humidors. Back then, Erik Espinosa and Eddie Ortega were still in partnership, and the 601 line was still produced by none other than Don José “Pepin” Garcia at My Father Cigars.

Espinosa Maduro RobustoIn 2010, Rocky Patel bought a 50% share in EO Brands, which also owned Cubao, Murcielago, and Mi Barrio. Then, in early 2012, Eddie Ortega announced he was leaving the company and starting his own outfit called Ortega Cigars.

Today, Erik Espinosa operates Espinosa Premium Cigars, which is home to 601 and Murcielago (both of which are now made at Espinosa’s La Zona Factory in Estelí, instead of at My Father Cigars). But Espinosa’s outfit isn’t simply a means to remix old lines from EO Brands. When we spoke with Espinosa at the 2012 industry trade show, he was in the process of launching Espinosa Habano and La Zona, and he was also working on a forthcoming Espinosa Maduro.

Espinosa Maduro has been on the market for some time now, offered in four vitolas: Belicoso (5.5 x 52), Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46), Robusto (5 x 52), and Toro (6 x 52). The Robusto is dark, box-pressed, and toothy with considerable oils on the Mexican Maduro wrapper. The foot shows a slightly loose bunching of Nicaraguan tobaccos and emits pre-light notes of milk chocolate. The triple-cap clips cleanly to reveal an easy cold draw.

Considering the blend makeup, I anticipated a cocoa sweetness offset by a spicy Nicaraguan zing. That’s exactly what I got, right off the bat. The Espinosa Maduro Robusto boasts a medium- to full-bodied profile with bittersweet chocolate, earth, black pepper, and leather. The texture is chalky. To its credit, while the flavor doesn’t change a ton from light to nub, the Robusto is nicely balanced—never too bitter, never too sweet, never hot or harsh if you take your time.

As for combustion qualities, the white ash holds firm, the draw is excellent, and the smoke production is solid. The burn line can meander a bit, though. One of my samples required multiple touch-ups to stay even; another required just a single touch-up after the first inch and remained perfect thereafter.

Priced at about $7-8, the Espinosa Maduro Robusto brings a lot of value to the table in terms of balance and depth of flavor. Despite its strength, I really enjoy it mid-afternoon with a cup of black coffee (but I’d suggest doing so on a full stomach). With renewed interest in sampling the 601 line I loved years ago, I’m awarding this Erik Espinosa creation an admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Montecristo Relentless Toro

19 Jan 2015

Montecristo requires no introduction. The flagship Altadis brand has a spot at nearly every U.S. cigar retailer and boasts a portfolio of familiar lines, including Classic, Platinum, White, Epic, and Monte.

Montecristo Relentless ToroOne line you won’t find on the Montecristo website, however, is Relentless. That’s because the Montecristo Relentless is exclusive to Famous Smoke Shop, a Pennsylvania-based online retailer. Famous markets Relentless as a cigar that “lives up to its name. It relentlessly pounds your taste buds with amazing flavor, while you experience a medium-bodied strength profile.”

The Relentless recipe includes an Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper, a Mexican San Andrés binder, and long-filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and Brazil (Mata Fina). It is offered in five sizes: Churchill (7 x 56, $12.50), Magnum (6 x 60, $12.75), No. 2 (6.1 x 52, $12.50), Robusto (5.5 x 48, $9.65), and Toro (6 x 54, $10.00).

Full disclosure: Famous sent me a sampler pack of Relentless Toros to make this review possible. As always, the samples Famous provided in no way impact my assessment of the cigar.

Several things strike me about the Relentless Toro upon initial examination. First, the band of red, black, and orange-ish yellow is huge and covers much of the wrapper. Second, once the band is removed, the beauty of the light, shade-grown wrapper comes into full view. It’s a clean, oily specimen, and the entire cigar exudes an overall feel of quality—from the neatly executed cap to the cross-section of tobaccos at the foot.

After setting an even burn, pre-light notes of oak and hay transition to a creamy, mild- to medium-bodied profile of cinnamon, roasted nut, and dry wood. The texture is bready and the resting smoke is sweet and enticing. There’s a nice interplay between sweet cream, bitter coffee, and some peppery spice on the finish. Those who take their time and smoke slowly will be rewarded with nuance.

Construction is excellent, as one would expect for the price. The burn is straight, the smoke production above average, the gray ash holds firm off the foot, and the draw has just the right amount of resistance. I should add, though, the wrapper is incredibly thin and fragile. Treat this cigar with the utmost care as you store it and smoke it. Any mishandling is sure to cause cracks.

Truth be told, the Montecristo Relentless Toro is a well-built, consistently reliable, tasty smoke with solid, well-balanced flavors. I would absolutely recommend this in the morning or afternoon with a complementary cup of coffee. That said, I think the price point is a tad high (around $7 seems more reasonable to me) and I’d be interested to try Relentless in the more condensed, narrower Robusto format. Still, the Relentless Toro is worthy of a solid 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: CroMagnon Cranium

17 Jan 2015

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.”

CroMagnon Cranium

Last year I spent a lot of time smoking cigars from Skip Martin’s RoMa Craft Tobac, and I even had the opportunity to visit his small Nica Sueño factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. In my judgment, Martin and his lean team are making some of the best damn cigars money can buy. And the price points are all very reasonable. The CroMagnon Cranium (6 x 54) is no exception. It’s a large, slow-burning toro that features a hearty blend of Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, enclosed by a Cameroon binder, and covered by a dark Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. For $8.50, it offers a full-bodied, balanced experience with flavors of charred steak, milk chocolate, barbecue sauce, black pepper, and coffee. Smoke the CroMagnon Cranium on a full stomach with a side of sipping rum. You won’t regret it. Guaranteed.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Cubanacan Soneros Habano Claro Corona Gorda

14 Jan 2015

“Where fertile land is abundant.” That’s the meaning behind the Cubanacan name. According to the company’s website, Cubanacan “is derived from tobacco traditions that predate Cuba itself. The story of Cubanacan is not just one of our past, but one that is still being written… Our goal is not just to be the storyteller, but to have each person that enjoys our cigar help write the next part of our tale.”

SonerosCubanacan began growing its own tobacco in Nicaragua in 2006, and shortly thereafter established the Tabacalera Cubanacan factory in Estelí. There, six distinct blends are handmade under the supervision of master blender Omar González Alemán: Cubanacan Connecticut, Cubanacan Habano, Cubanacan Maduro, HR Habano 2000, Soneros Maduro, and Soneros Habano Claro.

The latter comes in five vitolas: Campana, Corona Gorda, Gran Robusto, Petit Sublime, and Toro. I smoked two Soneros Habano Claro Corona Gordas for this review, both of which were provided by Cubanacan. While the company website lists the cigar as 5.1 inches long with a ring gauge of 46—and while a recent email press release lists the length as 6.5 inches—I was able to confirm this size actually measures 5.625 inches with a 46 ring gauge.

The Habano Claro features a Habano Ecuador binder, Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, and an Ecuadorian wrapper classified as “claro.” When I think claro, I think of a shade-grown wrapper so light it’s almost green. When asked, Nate McIntyre of Cubanacan said, “Cigar shades are always relative… It’s always according to a multitude of factors including varietal, weather that year, fermentation practices, etc.”

After lighting the foot, pre-light notes of coffee and leather transition to a taste of cream, roasted nut, dry oak, and hints of pepper. Milk chocolate and some caramel become apparent towards the midway point. The final third is characterized by more creaminess and sweetness, which is somewhat offset by a natural tobacco flavor. Throughout, the strength remains consistently medium-bodied and the texture is silky.

Construction is top-notch. My two samples both exhibited straight burn lines that required no touch-ups, solid ashes that held well off the foot, and above average smoke production.

With a reasonable price tag of $7.25, the Soneros Habano Claro Corona Gorda is a well-balanced treat that provides considerable bang for the buck. In addition, I really dig the size (5.625 x 46) since it delivers solid flavor, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and avoids the pitfall of the current “thicker is better” trend. I’m pleased to award this cigar four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Atabey Ritos

12 Jan 2015

Unless you’re a complete stranger to the online cigar community, you probably know of Barry Stein. Barry is highly active on social media, the founder (and former proprietor of) A Cigar Smoker, a former employee of Miami Cigar & Co., and a current employee of the New Hampshire-based Two Guys Smoke Shop, a chain of cigar retailers.

AtabeyThese days Barry is also doing some marketing for United Cigar, an outfit with smokes manufactured and blended by Nelson Alfonso’s Selected Tobacco (Alfonso is known for his work with the Cohiba Behike). United Cigar’s website is under construction.

Barry was kind enough to send me a three-pack of United creations—one cigar each of the Atabey, Byron, and Bandolero blends (complete with travel humidifier tubes and a gorgeous presentation, no less). To be clear, while the three-pack is greatly appreciated, I did not petition Barry for any samples, and his generosity and thoughtfulness in no way impacts this review.

Atabey is handmade in Costa Rica using an undisclosed blend of “Caribbean and Central American” tobaccos. It bears a striking resemblance to the ultra-exclusive Cohiba Behike in several ways, including the band (dots with black and gold) and the light, clean wrapper. In addition, the Atabey name itself is a nod to the goddess the Taíno Indians would pray to through the leader of their group, known as the “Behike.”

Six vitolas comprise the Atabey portfolio: Ritos (6.1 x 55), Delirios (5.75 x 55), Sabios (5.25 x 52), Brujos (4.9 x 52), Divinos (4.25 x 50), and Idolos (4.5 x 55). All retail north of $20 for a single.

The Atabey Ritos is a large, beautiful cigar with an impeccably smooth wrapper, a well-executed triple-cap, and soft pre-light notes of sweet hay off the foot. After setting an even light, I find a balanced, medium to mild-medium profile with notes of cream, oak, white pepper and a little syrup. The texture is bready and the aftertaste leaves a gentle spice on the tongue. Towards the midway point and beyond, there’s a slight increase in intensity with flavors of walnut and black pepper joining in. Construction is perfect.

Atabey has actually been around since 2011, but never available at more than 30 retailers nationwide and always operating with a fairly low visibility. Given Barry Stein’s connections to the online cigar media, I think you’ll be seeing a lot more about this brand in 2015.

Yes, the Atabey Ritos is expensive. No, it doesn’t taste terribly similar to the Cuban Behike (I’m not sure the comparison is fair but, after all, the manufacturer is inviting it). That said, it’s a complex, balanced, wonderfully nuanced cigar, and it won’t leave you disappointed (unless you were hoping for a full-bodied powerbomb). I award it four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys