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Cigar Review: A.J. Fernandez Fallen Angel Robusto

19 Nov 2014

A.J. Fernandez is one of the most respected cigar makers in the world. And deservedly so. He has one of the best résumés you could hope to come across in the industry.

Fallen Angel RobustoBorn in Cuba, Fernandez worked with the late Alejandro Robaina, Cuba’s foremost producer of top wrapper leaves and the namesake of the Vegas Robaina brand. Fernandez quickly gained fame making cigars for other companies including Rocky Patel, Padilla, Graycliff, and Gurkha, as well as crafting exclusive cigars for catalog giant Cigars International (for whom he makes Diesel, Man O’ War, La Herencia, and others.) Then, in 2010, he introduced his first solo national brand, San Lotano, which became a hit.

These days, Fernandez’s portfolio includes Pinolero, Mayimbe, New World, and five different San Lotano blends. He also has a line called Fallen Angel, which features an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper from the highest priming available around Nicaraguan tobaccos.

There are five Fallen Angel vitolas sold in the affordable $6-8 range: Churchill (7 x 48), Double Toro (6 x 60), Toro (6 x 50), Torpedo (6 x 52), and Robusto (5 x 52). The latter—gifted to me by the fine folks at CigarsFor.Me—is box-pressed with a clean, moderately oily wrapper that’s almost vein-free. The cap is executed well, the seams are barely noticeable, and the pre-light notes remind me of dry earth and milk chocolate.

As I set the light, I notice the draw is a little stiff. Still, once the foot is burning evenly, each puff seems to yield ample smoke. Once underway, a medium-bodied profile emerges with notes of oak, black pepper, and a syrupy sweetness. I find the flavor balanced and pleasing, though not terribly complex.

After an inch, a spicy aftertaste of cinnamon and cedar introduces itself—just in time to pique my interest after a start that’s, frankly, a little lackluster. Tastes of cream and pecan join the fray at the midway point. The final third is characterized by more intensity and more spice, though I can’t say the Robusto ever leaves the medium-bodied spectrum.

Throughout, the physical properties are exactly what you’d expect from Tabacalera Fernandez in Estelí: superb. The white ash holds incredibly well, the burn never requires so much as a touch-up, and the draw opens nicely after the first few puffs.

This is not A.J. Fernandez’s finest cigar, and I doubt it will amaze anyone. That said, it’s tasty, well-built, and affordable. You might consider keeping a few on hand for an afternoon complement to coffee, or to share with guests who are infrequent cigar smokers (this is a very approachable smoke). Overall, I rate the Fallen Angel Robusto three stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Emilio AF1 Corona

15 Nov 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.”

Emilio AF1 Corona

Ever been disappointed by an AF1 from Emilio? Me either. This Corona (5.5 x 44) would be no exception. Made in Estelí by A.J. Fernandez—for whom the cigar is also named—the blend sports a dark, toothy San Andrés wrapper around Nicaraguan tobaccos. The balanced, full-bodied flavors include black pepper, espresso, and creamy nut. The texture is thick and leathery. This is my favorite size in the AF1 portfolio, and well worth the reasonable asking price of about $6.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Where Are You, Cigar Lounges?

12 Nov 2014

Winter is coming. For those who don’t relish braving the harsh outdoor elements, the season is a stark reminder of the scarcity of indoor locales in which to enjoy a fine cigar.

Government-imposed smoking bans have outlawed many bars, restaurants, and other establishments from offering cigar-friendly accommodations. In certain municipalities, private residences in multi-unit buildings have even been targeted. The result? In the winter, a multitude of cigar smokers must either curtail their cigar consumption until the weather improves; smoke out in the cold; build some kind of cigar sanctuary at their home, if possible; or find a welcoming cigar lounge, however far away.

Cigar Masters

The latter can be surprisingly challenging. Depending on your region, your options may be extremely limited. My work-related travels regularly take me far away from my cozy den. When they do—especially in the winter—I’m confronted with the same challenge: How do I find a convenient, well-appointed lounge where I can fire up a good smoke?

I’ve written before about some of my criteria for optimal cigar enjoyment, as well as how to spot a good lounge/tobacconist. Generally, I’m looking for a welcoming environment with plenty of space, a good selection of cigars at fair prices, and the ability to enjoy an adult beverage with my cigar (either purchased at the lounge, or BYOB).

Sometimes, depending on where I am, I’ll need to drive 30 to 60 minutes or more just to find a suitable spot. A good example: Last week I was in Hartford, Connecticut—the sort of city that has plenty of business travelers (think insurance and finance) for whom a cigar lounge would be a wonderful refuge after a day full of meetings. Sadly, the only cigar shop in town closes early and doesn’t have much space. So I find myself having to drive to New Haven to visit The Owl Shop (which is a lot of fun, by the way).

In other instances, I’ll find myself near an upscale, members-only cigar lounge where my only option would be to pay a $50 entrance fee. I’ve never actually done this, mind you, since I can’t reconcile having to pay $50 for the right to buy a smoke and sit in a chair.

True, some places have great cigar lounges (I’m looking at you, Cigar Masters in Providence, Rhode Island). But with premium cigar consumption—and bourbon consumption—on the upswing, I’m still amazed at how hard it can be to locate a suitable lounge in some areas. And it seems like every good lounge I visit is always packed with people paying good money for premium cocktails and higher-priced cigars.

The good news? Thanks to mobile technology, social media, etc. it’s easier than ever to find the nearest smoke-friendly option. It’s just unfortunate the “nearest” often isn’t all that near.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Cigar Masters


Cigar Review: Azan Maduro Natural Campana

10 Nov 2014

About a month ago, I reviewed the Premium Line, the most expensive brand to date from Roberto P. Duran Premium Cigars. Impressed, I set out to round off our coverage of the company’s Azan line by trying the Azan Maduro Natural for the first time.

Azan Maduro Natural CampanaAzan is an old Cuban cigar brand that was revived by Roberto Pelayo Duran and reintroduced at the 2013 industry trade show. Azan was originally 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. Maduro Natural includes filler tobaccos from Estelí and Jalapa, a Nicaraguan binder, and a dark Ecuadorian Corojo wrapper that reportedly takes over 22 months to process. “This Maduro wrapper is very oily and naturally dark [hence, “Maduro Natural”] while maintaining the sweetness of the Corojo,” according to the manufacturer. “The beauty of the wrapper comes absolutely natural without any additive.”

Azan Maduro Natural comes in two sizes: Robusto Extra (5.5 x 52) and a belicoso called Campana (5.5 x 52). The latter retails for about $10 and comes complete with a well-executed cap, a firm packing of tobaccos, and pre-light notes of espresso, leather, and earth. The cold draw is moderately tight.

After setting an even light, a spicy, full-bodied profile abruptly announces itself. There’s no easing into this smoke. Right at the outset, bold, rich flavors of coffee bean, roasted nut, and black pepper hit the palate with a thick, leathery texture.

Background tastes include sweet cream and cinnamon. Aside from the additions of cocoa and warm tobacco in the final third, I don’t find many changes from light to nub.

While the complex flavor leaves little to be desired, the two samples I smoked for this review did not perform as well in the construction department. For one, the draw is stiffer than I would like (even though the smoke production is solid). Second, the burn line is often ill-behaved, requiring touch-ups along the way to stay even. That said, flavor is king. And the Azan Maduro Natural Campana has flavor in spades. As an after-dinner smoke and a complement to bourbon, this belicoso is an excellent choice and worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Cigar Review: Kuuts Nicaraguan Blend Toro

3 Nov 2014

This summer, Kuuts launched Nicaraguan Blend. The new line is likely a response to the popularity of Nicaraguan tobacco, and yet another example of a non-Nicaraguan brand introducing a Nicaraguan-themed cigar.

Kuuts Nicaraguan Blend ToroKuuts Nicaraguan Blend started shipping to retailers only recently. It sells in the affordable $5-7 range, and is available in 5 formats: Momentos (4 x 48), Pequeño (4.5 x 58), Robusto (5 x 52), Gordo Especial (7 x 60), and Toro (6 x 52). The blend recipe calls for Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos surrounded by an Ecuadorian wrapper. It is marketed as a “solid, medium-bodied cigar.”

Like the other Kuuts brands—including Miró, Placeres Reserva, and Tabacalera Zapata—the Nicaraguan Blend is made at the Compañia Hondureña de Tabacos (CHT) factory in Jacaleapa, Honduras. “Although the Danlí region is the source for a large percentage of the cigars manufactured for worldwide distribution, we have the advantage of owning and operating our own factory,” reads the Kuuts website. “Our factory [can produce] over 6 million cigars a year. With 98 pairs of rollers working in a family atmosphere, CHT has the ability to keep all aspects of the manufacturing process under one roof.”

The Nicaraguan Blend Toro has a light brown, almost pale exterior with little tooth or oils. It’s firm to the touch with a neat cap and an interesting band of black and metallic orange. The pre-light notes are subtle and sweet, and the cold draw is firm.

After setting an even light, I find the initial profile to be light, creamy, and characterized by sweet bready notes with some roasted nuts. The texture is smooth and the body is medium to medium-mild. Then, after the first inch, the Toro begins to taste a little more like what I’d expect from a Nicaraguan-heavy blend: black pepper spice, dry wood, and a bit more overall strength.

Still, even into the final third, the strength remains low and the body doesn’t seem to increase beyond medium. Late-arriving flavors include cinnamon and more sweet cream. All the while the burn line stays true and the gray ash holds well. The draw is a little tight for my liking and the smoke production is slightly below average.

Kuuts has a bigger footprint in Europe, where (generally speaking) the Cuban-esque profile reigns supreme. Perhaps that helps account for why the Nicaraguan Blend tastes so non-Nicaraguan (at least to me). The name of the cigar aside, the Nicaraguan Blend Toro is a nice smoke with balanced, subdued flavors that will strike a chord with less-frequent smokers, as well as experienced cigar fans who seek a morning complement to a cup of coffee. I award it three stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Cigar Review: Gran Habano Gran Reserva #5 2010 Gran Robusto

29 Oct 2014

About two years ago, Gran Habano—the Florida-based operation of the Rico family—added two new blends to its Gran Reserva series: Gran Reserva #3 2009 and Gran Reserva #5 2010. They joined the original Gran Reserva, which was the Gran Reserva #3 2008.

Gran Reserva 2010Made at Gran Habano’s GR Tabaqueras Unidas factory in Danlí, Honduras, all the cigars in the Gran Reserva series are produced in limited quantities. In the case of the Gran Reserva #5 2010, production was limited to 1,200 boxes of each of the 5 sizes, for a total of 6,000 boxes of 20 cigars (120,000 individual cigars). But at the time of publication of this review, there are still plenty of Gran Reserva #5 2010 cigars to be had.

Blended by George A. Rico, the Gran Reserva #5 2010 blend consists of a Nicaraguan Corojo wrapper from 2005, a Nicaraguan Habano binder from 2005, and filler tobaccos from Jalapa. It is offered in the following formats for about $6 to $9 per cigar: Imperiales (6 x 60), Czar (6 x 66), Grandioso (7 x 70), Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46), and Gran Robusto (6 x 54).

Slipping the Gran Robusto out of its cedar sleeve (which covers almost the entire cigar up to the golden band), I find a thick, heavy, dense cigar with a neat cap and a tight cross-section of tobaccos at the foot. The veins are thin and minimal, and the surface is oily with moderate tooth. The cold draw is smooth and the pre-light aroma reminds me of milk chocolate and sweet hay.

According to Gran Habano, the Gran Reserva #5 2010 blend is sold as a “remarkably smooth, earthy, and spicy smoke accompanied by notes of sweet wood and espresso.” Upon setting an even light, I encounter a spicy profile of cedar and black pepper with background notes of coffee and leather. Quickly, a creamy peanut taste also enters the equation, which adds nice balance.

Into the midway point and the final third, little changes in terms of profile, save for a slight increase in intensity at the very end. For me, frankly, that’s a bit of a disappointment. This is a large, slow-burning cigar. More complexity and more variation in taste would go a long way towards better capturing my attention.

Still, with solid construction, a pleasant flavor, and sweet, aromatic resting smoke, the Gran Reserva #5 2010 Gran Robusto is a solid cigar at a fair price. That earns it three stogies out of five. I just can’t help but wonder how the blend would fare in a thinner format.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys


Cigar Review: Padrón 2000 Natural

27 Oct 2014

They aren’t sexy. They aren’t limited. They aren’t new. Heck, they aren’t even expensive. But the core Padrón line of cigars—often referred to as the “Thousands Series” or the “Classic Series”—is not to be overlooked. If fact, if you’re searching for everyday smokes that are high-quality, consistent, readily available, and don’t break the bank, the original Padrón cigars are a great place to start.

Padron 2000 NaturalLike many cigar smokers, when you think of Padrón, you likely think of the 50-year-old company’s incredible résumé of accolades (way too many to mention here) and acclaimed super-premium offerings like the Anniversary Series (both 1926 and 1964) and Family Reserve.

But don’t forget the original Padrón line, which includes fifteen vitolas that are available in either Natural or Maduro formats. (By the way, with similar wrapper shades and no distinguishing markings, it’s really hard to tell a Natural from a Maduro without holding two next to each other.) Each is comprised of Cuban-seed Nicaraguan tobacco that’s sun-grown and aged for two-and-a-half years.

The robusto-sized 2000 Natural sports an oily, somewhat grainy Nicaraguan wrapper that’s not without its imperfections. I often find the caps of these cigars to be sloppily applied, and one of the three samples I smoked for this review (the one pictured, in fact) came with a tear in the wrapper above the band. Few have criticized the Thousands Series smokes for being too handsome.

That said, when you remove the Padrón 2000 Natural from its cellophane, the pungent pre-light aroma is more than enough to render the robusto enticing. The foot seems to ooze a pungent fragrance of earth, hay, and cocoa. It’s enough to make me salivate.

Whereas the 2000 Maduro is characterized by espresso, cocoa, raisin, and dark chocolate, the 2000 Natural tastes more of dry wood, black pepper, and peanut. The edges round out and the texture becomes creamier at the midway point. In the final third, I find a fuller-bodied, more leathery texture. But dry wood and cream are still at the core.

Construction is absolutely perfect throughout. Despite any aesthetic flaws, every 2000 Natural (5 x 50) I’ve smoked has a straight burn line, a solid gray ash, and just the right amount of resistance on the draw. Smoke production is above average.

This may not be the most complex cigar on the market, but the quality Padrón delivers for the reasonable asking price of $5-6 is striking. To me, that’s sexy. So the 2000 Natural is worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys