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Quick Smoke: Punch Chop Suey

27 Feb 2020

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Last year Punch released the Rothchild-sized Egg Roll. This month, in celebration of the Year of the Rat, General Cigar launched Chop Suey, a lancero (7 x 37) with a shaggy foot that sports an Ecuadoran Sumatra wrapper around Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos. It retails for the affordable price of $5.49 and is available in 25-count “takeout-style” boxes (3,650 were made, for a total run of 91,250 cigars). Construction is solid, a testament to the work at the General Cigar Dominicana factory in Santiago. The flavor is leathery and fairly complex for a cigar in this price range. Notes include dry oak, melon, white pepper, and a gentle cedar spice. The aftertaste is characterized by a soft cayenne heat. Join me in celebrating Punch’s decision to introduce a limited edition lancero that won’t break the bank; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Coming to Terms with Winter

17 Feb 2020

Think you love cigars? Let’s put your adoration to the test. Go out and smoke a cigar in the cold. And, no, I don’t mean 40 degrees. I said cold. Let’s put it at 20 degrees or less (not including windchill). Bundle up, plant yourself in a chair with a cup of hot (not for long) coffee, and fire up a smoke. If you’re sitting still—and if you’re not cheating with, say, a heat lamp or something—I bet you won’t be able to get through a toro. Maybe not even a robusto or a corona.

At some point in the process, you’ll find yourself pondering the futility of the exercise. Isn’t the whole idea behind cigars to enjoy yourself? How can you fully appreciate the enticing aromas, delicious flavors, and handmade craftsmanship when your core bodily processes are shutting down and frostbite is trying to take hold of exposed skin? How can you revel in the complexities of the profile—which surely includes anise, cream soda, and pencil shavings—as your shivering turns into slowed, shallow breathing and, eventually, total loss of consciousness?

Maybe you never have to ask yourself these questions. Perhaps you live somewhere where it never gets legitimately cold, at least not for a whole season. Or, if you do, perhaps you can smoke inside your home. Or there’s a good lounge nearby with decent hours. Or perhaps you commute via car and don’t mind smoking in your vehicle (side note: smoking a cigar while driving is not all it’s cracked up to be).

I used to have a cigar room in my condo in the city.. Now I have a bunch of kids and a house in the suburbs.

 

Personally, I live in Chicago. Winter can be rough, and this one is no exception. I have three small children and no place to smoke inside my home. There are a few lounges nearby, but the hours typically don’t work for me (it’s usually 10:30 PM or later by the time the kids are all asleep, the dishes are done, etc.). And, while I’m often on the “L” or on my way to an airport in an Uber, I’m rarely in my own car. So where and when do I smoke, you may ask?

Honestly, I smoke much, much less in the winter. I really don’t have a choice. It may not be fashionable for a member of the online cigar media to admit this, but it’s true nonetheless.

When I do smoke, it’s usually one of two things: (1) I’ve gotten permission from the wife to be at a lounge for a couple hours, which is a welcome respite that will have to be repaid in some (often painful) way, or (2) I’m traveling for work someplace warm and/or there’s a late-hours lounge nearby.

I write this not to ask for your sympathy (I don’t deserve any, and I’m not complaining) but to share a few unintended consequences of my wintertime lull in cigar smoking. First, when you smoke less, you enjoy the cigars you do smoke more. The law of diminishing returns is absolutely at play here. If you smoke cigar after cigar after cigar, the next one won’t be nearly as enjoyable. Anyone who’s ever gone on a cigar rampage—or taken a leave of absence—would probably back this up.

Second, having fewer opportunities to smoke results in a renewed focus on deciding what to smoke. Time is more precious, and the cost of making a bad decision is higher. In the winter, I’m likelier to turn to old favorites and shun new experiences. Any new cigar that gets selected is often the result of a fair amount of review-reading—or, at least, much more research than would be required in the summer.

Finally, less time to smoke should mean more time for something else. In my case, the inability to smoke as often as I would like has not extinguished my passion for cigars. So I’ve been catching up on cigar-related reading (both mainstream publications and, yes, other websites), making some purchases, organizing my inventory, and keeping the humidors functioning properly (which is no small task this time of year).

I guess you could say I’ve come to terms with a seasonal approach to cigar enjoyment. That being said, where the f*#k is spring, and when will it get here?

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Mi Querida Firecracker

23 Dec 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

The phrase “little but mighty” comes to mind. The Firecracker vitola measures only 3.5 inches long with a ring gauge of 50. Yet the flavor—punctuated by espresso, dark chocolate, and leather with background notes of cashew and green raisin—is bold, full-bodied, and highly satisfying. The physical properties are outstanding, too. Originally exclusive to the New Hampshire-based Two Guys Smoke Shop, which originated the Firecracker Series, the Mi Querida Firecracker is now a regular-production offering from Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust. It is made for Saka by the NACSA factory in Estelí with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. Expect to pay around $7.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Holiday Guide for Giving the Gift of Cigars

12 Dec 2019

gift

Including today, there are only twenty shopping days left until Christmas. I say “only” because, while that may seem like a long time (to my three-year old it seems like an eternity), rest assured the holiday will be here before you know it.

If you’re like me, you loathe shopping and haven’t bought a damn thing yet. I can’t help you with that. But if you have a cigar enthusiast or two on your list, I am more than happy to offer up some guidance in the form of the following tips:

Only give a box if you’re sure. Some cigar enthusiasts are completely loyal to one brand or one specific blend. If this is the case, you can’t do wrong by buying a box he or she is sure to love. Maybe this isn’t the most original idea—and maybe the box won’t be much of a surprise—but any cigar smoker will tell you that you can never have enough of your favorite smokes, especially if they’re made in limited quantities.

Samplers offer variety. Many cigar enthusiasts don’t have just one favorite cigar. For these folks, we don’t recommend buying a whole box. Instead, samplers are terrific. When you give a sampler of ten different cigars, it’s like giving ten different gifts. The recipient might not love all ten, but chances are he/she will really enjoy at least a few, and you might even be responsible for turning someone on to a new favorite.

Consider cigar accessories. Every cigar enthusiast needs a great table lighter, travel lighter, nice cutter, good ashtray, travel cigar case, humidor, etc. Instead of buying cigars, think about giving the gift of a cigar accessory. Many accessories can be personalized and, unlike cigars themselves, are likely to last for years to come.

Don’t forget cigar rights. Most cigar smokers have a fervent passion for defending cigar rights and opposing tobacco taxes and smoking bans. For these folks, a membership to Cigar Rights of America is an excellent gift. Benefits of membership include supporting professional lobbyists who fight for cigar freedoms, discounts at cigar shops, free cigars, and more.

Many cigar lovers also enjoy bourbon. Cigars and bourbon go together like peanut butter and jelly. I would strongly encourage you to check out our bourbon gift-giving guide, our A-Z Bourbon Guide, and our extensive archive of spirits reviews (all of which also include pairing suggestions). You could do a lot worse than a nice bottle of bourbon and an accompanying cigar or three.

Don’t forget to treat yourself. Lots of cigar purchase opportunities come with a free gift (i.e., a five-pack, a table lighter, a cutter, etc.). Go ahead and take advantage of the offers. You’ve earned it.

Need help? Ask. Find a local tobacconist and don’t be afraid to ask an employee for guidance or suggestions. Any good cigar shop will have helpful, patient, knowledgeable staff. Even if you aren’t a regualr cigar smoker yourself, your visit needn’t be intimidating or unfruitful.

Have other ideas for helpful cigar gift-giving tips this holiday season? Please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Quick Smoke: Gran Habano Blue in Green Corona

21 Nov 2019

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Over the fourteen years I’ve been seriously smoking cigars, I can’t say how many Gran Habano creations I’ve sampled. Certainly many. But I can tell you this: The Gran Habano Blue in Green is the best I’ve ever had from the Rico family’s outfit. It is stellar. Released at the IPCPR Trade Show this summer, this line intends to put the “rich nuances of its fillers” on display. Those filler tobaccos are from Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The binder is Nicaraguan, and the wrapper is a golden Connecticut leaf. The Corona (6 x 44) retails for about $9 and boasts a wonderfully balanced, medium-bodied profile of creamy cashew, dry oak, cereals, and floral notes. Construction is impeccable. There are three other Blue in Green vitolas: Churchill, Gran Robusto, and Robusto. I suspect they are all excellent, though I haven’t yet had the pleasure of trying anything but the Corona, which is a limited edition (1,000 boxes of 20 were made). I strongly suggest picking one up at your earliest convenience.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Sobremesa Robusto Largo

19 Nov 2019

These days, when cigar enthusiasts think of Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, the “marcas” they’re most likely to conjure are the ones Saka features in his frequent social media posts. Sin Compromiso. The Muestra de Saka iterations, including Nacatamale and (especially) Unicorn. Maybe a close-up of a lit Umbagog taken at Saka’s favorite fishing lake in New Hampshire.

But when I think Dunbarton, I think Sobremesa. Sobremesa was announced in July 2015 to almost instant excitement as the first line from Saka’s new independent cigar operation. It marked the culmination of a two-year non-compete agreement Saka had with his former employer, Drew Estate. Seemingly everyone was clamoring to see how the man who played a critical role in growing Drew Estate into a Nicaraguan juggernaut would fare in his first solo foray.

In my opinion, Sobremesa was—and still is—worth the hype. To date we’ve written about the Elegante en Cedros, Gran Imperiales, Corona Grande, El Americano, and—my personal favorite—the Cervantes Fino. All have received exemplary marks.

Today I look at a Sobremesa vitola that has thus far escaped my reach: the Robusto Largo (5.25 x 52). Like its brethren, the Robusto Largo sports an oily, velvety, toothy, slightly reddish Ecuadorian Habano Rosado wrapper leaf with minimal veins and tight seams. It envelops 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).

The cap clips easily to reveal a smooth cold draw. At the foot, the pre-light notes remind me of cocoa powder, earth, and caramel.

After establishing an even light, I find a creamy, balanced, delightfully familiar profile of café au lait, gentle cinnamon spice, salted nuts, and a bit of cayenne heat. The finish has both black pepper and baking spices. The texture is bready.

As the Robusto Largo progresses, flavors like dark cherry, green raisin, cedar, molasses, and caramel come and go. The texture shifts to thick syrup around the midway point and thereafter. As I’ve written before about Sobremesa, “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.”

For me, the Cervantes Fino remains the flagship of the fleet. But don’t sleep on the other vitolas, including the Robusto Largo. It is worthy of another outstanding rating of four 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: Protocol Probable Cause Lancero

11 Nov 2019

I’m not sure how Cubariqueño Cigar Company co-founder Juan Cancel gets any real work done. Being a brand owner surely must entail plenty of grind and grit. Spreadsheets. Forecasting. Sales calls. Long, over-caffeinated nights. Flights to and from the factory. Arduous days spent in airports, rental cars, and countless cigar shops/lounges.

Yet, according to his (often hilarious) Facebook posts, seemingly daily he is at some exotic locale with a wide, toothy, bearded grin. He might be shirtless. He might be with some “internet famous” cigar babe well-known for her bikini-laden Instagram page. He might be dressed as Santa Claus. Wherever he is, and whatever he’s doing, the two constants seem to be (1) a smile as exaggerated as the day is long and (2) a Cubariqueño cigar.

Cubariqueño has been around for four years, having introduced itself to the cigar world in 2015 with a nondescript table at Erik Espinosa’s booth at the IPCPR Trade Show in New Orleans. Founders Juan Cancel and Bill Ives count among their brands Protocol, Protocol Probable Cause, Protocol Official Misconduct, Protocol Gold, and Sir Robert Peel (both Natural and Maduro).

When it was launched in 2015, the Protocol Probable Cause came in two sizes: Robusto (5 x 52, $9.69) and a box-pressed Churchill (6.6 x 48, $9.89). In 2017, a Lancero (7.5 x 38, $10.50) was added. It is made at Espinosa’s La Zona Cigar Factory in Estelí with a Mexican San Andrés wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos.

I am a fan of lanceros and was eager to try the Probable Cause line in this format. Despite its narrow ring gauge, it has a smooth pre-light draw. It comes handsomely presented with dual bands of red, silver, and black. “La Zona” is inscribed on the back.

Once lit, there is an initial blast of black pepper spice, which is only slightly balanced by a faint background of natural tobacco sweetness. From there, the Lancero settles into a medium-bodied, classic-tasting smoke with a thick, leathery texture.

At the midway point, while the black pepper remains, a spicy red pepper cayenne heat is introduced. Other flavors include steak, dried fruit, and espresso. The overall effect is simultaneously earthy, leathery, and dry. The final third is much of the same.

In terms of physical properties, the burn line isn’t perfect—but it also doesn’t really require any touch-ups along the way. The smoke production is good, and the gray ash holds well.

Bottom line? This is this is a good lancero at a fair price. It may not make my smile as wide and enthusiastic as Juan Cancel’s—not many cigars would—but I’m smiling nonetheless. In my book, the Protocol Probable Cause Lancero earns four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys