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Cigar Review: George Rico S.T.K. Miami Barracuda Maduro Robusto

22 Oct 2014

George A. Rico’s American Puro has to be counted as one of the more unique cigars to be released in recent memory. Made in Miami, the blend has only tobacco grown in the United States, including fire-cured leaves from Kentucky.

BarracudaAmerican Puro is part of S.T.K. Miami, a series of limited blends produced by Gran Habano at the company’s new Miami factory. It’s joined by Zulu Zulu, Opium, and Barracuda—an Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped line with bands of cyan and silver.

Now, George A. Rico has added a Maduro variety to Barracuda, using the same Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos, but replacing the Ecuadorian wrapper with a dark, mottled specimen of Pennsylvania Broadleaf. (If you’re worried about confusing the two, the natural Barracuda has a fish on the band, whereas the Maduro simply has “Barracuda” written in cursive.)

Three sizes are available in the S.T.K. Miami Barracuda Maduro: Robusto (5 x 52), B-54 (6.5 x 54), and Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46). They range in price from $7.50 to $8.50 apiece. Only 200 boxes are being made of each vitola.

I sampled one pre-release Robusto for this review. This is a rustic-looking smoke with a coarse, thick wrapper that has protruding seams and a rugged cap. The cold draw is smooth and the pre-light notes remind me of molasses and grilled meats.

Marketed as medium to full in body, the Barracuda Robusto starts with a mesquite flavor with moderate intensity and a spicy aftertaste. The texture is leathery, and the core flavors include black pepper, syrup, dry wood, and a tangy zest that reminds me of barbecue.

Before long, a cocoa sweetness creeps in, along with cream and roasted nut. These additions help add balance to the principal flavors. Taking time between puffs helps ward off some of the meatier notes while allowing the complexity to shine though.

With solid construction—including a straight burn line, sturdy ash, and ample smoke production—the Barracuda Maduro Robusto is a unique, enjoyable smoke and a good value at about $8. It’s worthy of a respectable score 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: L’Atelier Imports LAT46 Selection Spéciale

15 Oct 2014

L’Atelier Imports, which debuted just a couple years ago, is an outfit formed by Pete Johnson (of Tatuaje fame) to make “consumer price conscious cigars.” The L’Atelier portfolio includes Surrogates, El Suelo, Trocadéro, L’Atelier Maduro, and the original L’Atelier core line.

Selection SpecialeThe latter is crafted at My Father Cigars in Nicaragua using Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. The wrappers are Sancti Spíritus, which is a cross between Criollo and Pelo d’Oro that’s grown in Ecuador.

L’Atelier originally had three formats: LAT52 (4.75 x 52), LAT54 (5.6 x 54), and LAT56 (6.5 x 56). Since its introduction in 2012, Johnson has added four vitolas. One is called LAT46 Selection Spéciale—a corona gorda measuring 5.6 inches long with a ring gauge of 46.

Interestingly, when it was rolled out in early 2013, LAT46 was slightly different than its predecessors, as the Sancti Spíritus wrapper comes from a higher priming for this size. That means the wrapper is darker, and the overall profile is supposed to pack more of a punch. So LAT46 was given the “Selection Spéciale” designation to differentiate it from the other vitolas. Since, two other Selection Spéciale sizes were added: the LAT Torpedo and the LAT38 Special lancero.

I smoked five LAT46s for this review. The corona gorda looks dark enough to be a maduro. Its exterior is clean and oily with a reddish tint and few noticeable veins. The triple cap—adorned with a pigtail—clips easily to yield a smooth cold draw. The foot exhibits rich pre-light notes of raisin, black cherry, and dark chocolate.

Once lit, the initial profile is of coffee, cedar, pepper spice, and black licorice. The texture ranges from chalky to leathery, and the aftertaste has a lingering salty bite. Strength and body are both medium to full. The fragrant resting smoke is creamy.

At the midway point it becomes clear this is a complex, balanced cigar with lots to offer (especially to attentive smokers). In addition to the aforementioned flavors—which, I think, constitute the core taste from beginning to nub—notes of sweet cocoa, peanut, and caramel come and go. Throughout, construction is perfect, including a solid ash, great smoke production, and a burn line that requires no touch-ups.

In the reasonable $8-9 range, it’s hard not to love the LAT46 Selection Spéciale. This one has “box purchase” written all over it. One of the best cigars I’ve had the pleasure to review in 2014, it earns an outstanding 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: Roberto P. Duran Premium Line Río Toa

13 Oct 2014

On the heels of last week’s news that Jack Toraño—formerly the director of marketing for the Toraño Family Cigar Company—has agreed to oversee sales in Florida and the Caribbean for Roberto P. Duran Premium Cigars, I figured it was high time we expanded our coverage of this Miami-based operation.

RPD Premium LineTo date, Roberto Pelayo Duran is best known for reviving Azan. Azan is an old Cuban cigar brand that was started by a Chinese immigrant who produced handmade cigars in the Manicaragua area of Cuba prior to Castro taking control. He eventually won a lottery and invested the money in his tobacco operation, only to have the Cuban government nationalize his business.

Today, Roberto P. Duran offers three variations on Azan: White, Burgundy, and Maduro Natural. The company also recently launched the Roberto P. Duran Premium Line, its most expensive brand to date. The four vitolas— Río Toa (5 x 52), La Punta (6 x 54), Tainos (6 x 56), and Cacique Guama (6 x 60)—retail in the super-premium $10-16 range.

The Premium Line sports a Habana Criollo wrapper from Duran’s farm in Ecuador around a Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos from “Nicaragua and other Latin American” countries. It is made at the Nicatabaco SA factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

The Río Toa is a handsome robusto with a well-executed cap and an oily exterior that has only the thinnest veins. Firm to the touch yet smooth on the cold draw, the pre-light aroma features strong notes of sweet hay and peanut.

Once an even light is set, a bold profile emerges of black pepper and espresso. Adding balance are background flavors of milk chocolate, cream, and nut. The texture is leathery and the aftertaste lingers like a high-proof bourbon.

Into the midway point, the spicy pepper recedes a bit and the central taste becomes warm tobacco. Here, I’m reminded of the smell of tobacco pilones—the stacks of tobacco leaves at cigar factories that employ pressure and heat to initialize fermentation. As the body transitions from full to medium, the creaminess and nuttiness become more apparent in the final third.

Save for a burn line that tends to meander a bit, construction is solid on this slow-burning robusto, including a solid gray ash, ample smoke production, and clear draw.

Overall, the Roberto P. Duran Premium Line Río Toa is impressive. And it should be for the price. Across the handful of samples I smoked for this review, all consistently showed interesting flavors, complexity, and balance with surprising intensity. I rate this vitola an admirable score of four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Cigar Review: Buena Vista Reserva 2008 Prominente

6 Oct 2014

Buena Vista is back. After a short stint in the U.S. market in 2011, the brand disappeared due to “circumstances beyond the manufacturer’s control,” according to a press release from MGM Cigars, which now controls Buena Vista. But the brand’s reintroduction was officially declared on June 19, backed by 200,000 cigars that had been carefully stored as they patiently awaited their opportunity to be sold and smoked.

Buena Vista“The MGM Cigars project and first brand, Buena Vista, was nothing more than a dream in 2009. It quickly caught flight, only to be put to bed for a short while. I am thankful to have relocated to the United States where I am free to forge ahead with our project,” said José E. Borges Batista, founding partner and current president of MGM. “We look forward to re-introducing the Buena Vista brand, which pays homage to all who, through music and from one generation to another, have kept the Cuban traditions, values, and joie de vivre alive.”

The Buena Vista Reserva 2008 blend consists of a Habano ’98 wrapper from Ecuador around Dominican filler tobaccos that had been aged between 2008 and 2010 before they were rolled into cigars for the original 2011 release. Nine vitolas are available: Prominente (7 x 49), Sublime (6.3 x 54), Piramide (6.3 x 52), Doble Robusto (5.5 x 52), Robusto (5.3 x 54), Corona Larga (4.8 x 50), Corona (5.1 x 46), Petit Pyramid (4.9 x 52), and Short Churchill (4.3 x 54).

The Churchill-sized Prominente retails for $10 and, like its brethren, sports double bands of black, dark red, and chrome. It has an incredibly oily exterior with three or four prominent veins dividing an otherwise smooth surface. The pre-light notes are of subtle leather and earth, and the cold draw is moderate to moderately resistant.

The blend is marketed as a “well-balanced cigar of medium strength” that has benefited from ample aging in cedar conditioning rooms. My single sample, which was provided free of charge by Buena Vista, starts with a medium-bodied profile of red pepper, mushroom, roasted nut, and cream. On the aftertaste, a spicy heat lingers on the tip of the tongue.

As the Prominente progresses, the smoke seems to become less spicy and more creamy, with some caramel notes becoming prominent. In the final third, the overall intensity increases slightly, but the Churchill remains solidly in the medium-bodied spectrum. All the while, the physical properties are good, including a draw that opens beyond the first third, a straight burn line, and a solid gray ash.

Overall, this is an impressive cigar, and one to put on your radar if you’re looking for something off the beaten path. For its complexity and depth of flavor, the Buena Vista Reserva 2008 Prominente earns four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Quick Smoke: Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Dirty Rat

4 Oct 2014

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.”IMG_3778 - Version 2San-Lotano-Oval-Conn-sq


The corona-sized Dirty Rat may not be my favorite Drew Estate cigar—that honor actually might go to the Velvet Rat—but it’s up there. If you can track down this rare cigar, you’ll be rewarded with a balanced, full-bodied profile of dark chocolate, cream, black pepper spice, and earthy tones. The flavors are derivative of a Connecticut Havana-seed wrapper around a Brazilian binder and a filler mix of Nicaraguan and Honduran tobaccos. Construction is perfect, including Drew Estate’s trademark draw with copious smoke production.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Cigar Review: El Centurion Belicoso

2 Oct 2014

El Centurion is a brand that often resonates with seasoned cigar veterans, as it was the first limited edition line José “Don Pepín” García ever produced. That was back in 2007, when El Centurion was limited to only 850 20-count boxes of each of the inaugural sizes.

El CenturionMarketed as García’s personal blend and intended to replicate the aroma of classic Cuban Cohibas, the three formats— Guerreros (robusto), Gladiadores (toro), and Emperadores (belicoso)—sported Nicaraguan Habano wrappers around Nicaraguan-grown Cuban-seed Criollo ’98 and Corojo ’99 leaves that had been aged three years. They were crafted at Tabacalera Cubanas S.A. in Nicaragua.

If any cigars from the original El Centurion release can be found today, they’re very rare and almost assuredly very expensive. However, last year García decided to commemorate his company’s tenth anniversary by introducing a revamped El Centurion that would be a permanent addition to the My Father Cigars portfolio. “My Father Cigars brings back the cigar that left everyone wanting more,” proclaimed a press release in March 2013.

This El Centurion remix is a Nicaraguan puro with a dark, sun-grown Criollo ’98 wrapper around Criollo, Corojo Habano, and Sancti Spiritus filler tobaccos. It is offered in 4 sizes with MSRPs ranging from $7.50 to $9: Belicoso (5.5 x 54), Robusto (5.75 x 50), Toro (6.25 x 52), and Toro Grande (6.5 x 58). Boxes of 20 are furnished with ornate, decorative styling in gold, red, and orange.

I was able to pick up a 5-pack of Belicosos for $34. This toothy vitola is handsome with its well-executed cap, oily shine, considerable weight, and firm feel. The wrapper and foot emit hearty pre-light notes of dark chocolate and coffee. The cold draw is smooth despite the narrow cap and firm packing of tobaccos.

After setting an even light, a medium-bodied profile emerges with hints of cocoa, coffee, roasted nut, and raisin. The spice is surprisingly muted, save for lingering cedar on the aftertaste. Towards the midway point and beyond, a flavor of black licorice also becomes apparent. Cinnamon and sweet chocolate are dominant in the final third. The smoke stays cool to the nub.

Construction is all-around solid throughout, including a solid white ash, smooth burn, and good smoke production. The burn is a little wavy, but it never requires a touch-up.

The temptation to compare this blend to the original El Centurion release is great. That’s no fault of my own, or any other cigar smoker; it’s more of a critique of My Father Cigars’ decision to keep the same name and packaging, despite the (very different blend). Fortunately for this review, I never had the opportunity to personally try the original. So I’m judging the Belicoso entirely on its own merits. With that in mind, I consider this an excellent smoke and a good value, worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Cigar Spirits: Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Rum

29 Sep 2014

Just like bourbon is my go-to cigar pairing in the colder months, rum is typically my libation of preference in the summer. Summer may be over, but this weekend had outstanding weather here in Chicago, and I used the sunshine as an opportunity to enjoy one of my favorite rums.

Ron Zacapa 23Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 is made in Guatemala, where it is blended from rum made from first-crush sugar cane juice—as opposed to molasses—and aged in oak barrels previously used for bourbon, sherries, and Pedro Ximénez wines. It employs the solera method, a system used regularly for fortified wine such as port and sherry.

Under the solera system, barrels of the oldest rum are regularly mixed with newer rum but never bottled completely. The result is a spirit with a mix of 6- to 23-year-old rum.

According to the back of the bottle, the solera process is “guided and repeated under the critical eye of the Master Blender until reaching the maturity and complexity of aromas and flavors that shape this unique premium rum.” Also key to the development of this rum is the high altitude (2,300 meters) at which it is aged in Guatemala. The low temperature and low levels of oxygen reportedly enable easier, more thorough blending.

Bottles of Centenario (750 ml., 80-proof) sell for around $50 apiece. The rum pours a dark mahogany with some reddish hues, and the nose is characterized by notes of vanilla, dried apricot, and dark chocolate. The texture is highly viscous, leaving long legs when swirled in the glass.

Served neat—which, I believe, is the only way to taste this rum—the rich, smooth flavors hit the palate with sweetness, banana, almond, oak, and cinnamon. The finish is long and balanced as it slowly transitions from intensity to subtle heat.

For quite some time, I’ve considered Zaya, Plantation, El Dorado 15, and Zacapa Centenario to be my favorite rums. Among the four, these days I’d give the slight edge to Zacapa, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. Centenario is just so damn velvety and nicely balanced. And it’s dangerously easy to sip neat.

As far as cigars go, my suggestion is to pair Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 with a medium- to full-bodied cigar that doesn’t pack a lot of sweetness. Think dark, peppery spice. The Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Dirty Rat, for example, is an excellent complement. But I’m sure you’ll think of many other outstanding pairings.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys