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Cigar Review: Southern Draw Cedrus The Hogan Belicoso Fino

18 Jun 2019

If you’re here for a cigar with a dominant flavor of cedar, let me stop you before you go any further. This cigar line from Southern Draw celebrates Cedrus Libani, the Lebanese Cedar that’s often used to make cigar boxes. As far as I can tell, it is not intended to suggest the cigar has a cedar-forward taste. That’s good because—spoiler alert—it doesn’t.

Southern Draw introduced Cedrus last summer as the Austin-based company’s fifth regular-production line. In addition to honoring a tree varietal, the single-vitola blend also commemorates Phil and Shelly Hogan, who Southern Draw founder Robert Holt cites for their valuable support of his company. (Further complicating matters—or, if you prefer, tying it all together—is the fact that there is a form of the Western Red Cedar called “Hogan.”)

Cedrus, like all Southern Draw creations, is made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A. in Estelí. Its recipe includes a “late harvest” Besuki wrapper from the Jember region of Java, Indonesia. “Our family was blessed to source this rarely available, top-quality wrapper, with its rich brown color, distinct ‘green chili’ spice flavors, and herbal aromas that are attributed from being expertly air-cured followed by a multi-stage fermentation process,” said Holt in a press release. The binder is a Habano 2000 leaf from Nicaragua (grown under cloth), and the filler tobaccos are also Nicaraguan.

Last week, Southern Draw announced new box-pressed vitolas to join the Belicoso Fino (5.5 x 52). They include a Robusto (5.5 x 54), Toro (6 x 52), and Gordo (6.5 x 60). For 2019, 50,000 of each have been produced. Per-cigar prices range from $11.99 to $12.99. Southern Draw’s website hints at a Lancero and a Perfecto due out in 2020.

To date, the only size I’ve had a chance to acquire and sample is the original Belicoso Fino. I smoked three for this review. The box-pressed Cedrus Belicoso Fino is adorned with dual bands of green and gold, the second of which proclaims, “Soli Deo Gloria” (Latin for “Glory to God Alone”). Beneath is a dark, smooth, moderately oily wrapper leaf with thin veins. The sharply pointed cap clips easily to reveal a cold draw with just a bit of resistance.

At the foot, the pre-light notes are mouth-watering and pungent. You won’t have to try hard to notice a musty, earthy aroma with hints of nuttiness and chocolate.

Once lit, the initial profile is dry, earthy, and spicy. Individual flavors include oak, black pepper, cinnamon, earth, and clove. Then, after about an inch, the spice recedes just as quickly as it arrived, leaving behind an earthier taste devoid of cinnamon and replacing black pepper with white pepper.

The next transition is characterized by somewhat of a return to spice—though this time it isn’t black pepper but a medley of baking spices. Still, the overall profile is medium-bodied with a slightly chalky texture. The cigar remains in this state until the finale. Throughout, the physical properties are admirable, including a straight burn. The gray ash has a tendency to fall off prematurely, however.

Robert Holt calls Cedrus Southern Draw’s “most distinguished-tasting cigar.” I will admit this is my first experience with the brand, so I cannot speak to how it compares with his other lines. That said, I like this cigar enough to commit to trying the others in short order, and I will report back as I am able. For now, the Southern Draw Cedrus The Hogan Belicoso Fino earns three 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: La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro Robusto

10 Jun 2019

La Palina has accomplished a lot in the decade since the brand was launched, or technically re-launched. (The original La Palina was introduced in 1896, and later developed by the vision of William S. Paley, who went on to found CBS.)

We attended the La Palina launch event in 2010 when the company introduced its first cigar, made at Graycliff in the Bahamas. If you had told us then where this brand would be now, we would have been both impressed and surprised.

Since 2010, La Palina has debuted a steady stream of new cigars, many of them highly rated here at StogieGuys.com. One of the latest, introduced in 2016, is La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro. Like its sister blend that was launched the same year, La Palina Nicaragua Connecticut, it—along with so many other brands—aims to capitalize on the industry’s growing fascination with all things Nicaragua.

La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro is crafted at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A. with an Ecuadorian oscuro wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It is available in three vitolas, each packaged in boxes of 20: Gordo (6 x 58, $9.50), Toro (6 x 50, $8.50), and Robusto (5 x 52, $7.99).

The Robusto is a beautiful-looking cigar with handsome double bands of white, cream, black, and gold. Beneath is a dark, slightly reddish wrapper leaf with abundant oils and a few prominent veins. The cap is a bit sloppy, though it clips easily enough to reveal an effortless cold draw with some faint sweetness on the lips. The foot exhibits a relatively loose packing of filler tobaccos and dry pre-light notes of oak and syrup.

The Nicaragua Oscuro has the look of a full-bodied cigar, and the introductory profile lives up to that expectation. Espresso, leather, almond, and black pepper comprise the core, while notes of sweet cherry and cream add balance. As the cigar progresses into the midway point, the flavor remains consistent (save for the black pepper tasting more like white pepper and the cream becoming more prominent), but the body settles into the medium spectrum. The mouthfeel is thick and chalky.

From there, I find few changes; the final third is more of the same, which is fine by me. I like the profile from the get-go, and the only major shift (from the first third to the second) is an improvement: less body, but a more balanced taste. Fortunately, the physical properties only add to my enjoyment. The burn line is straight, the white ash holds well off the foot, the smoke production is voluminous, and the draw is smooth.

A.J. Fernandez makes many fine cigars, and La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro Robusto is no exception, especially when you consider the sub-$10 price point. In my book, this fine cigar is worthy of a box consideration and a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Ventura Psyko Seven Robusto

7 Jun 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.”

When I reviewed the Psyko Seven Robusto back in the fall of 2013, the just-released offering from Ventura Cigar was making a splash for its unique presentation. (You can’t see it in the “action” photo above because the enormous outer band needs to be removed before you can fire up the cigar, but you can see it here; and by “it” I mean a white prescription form enticing you to “medicate your mind” with a six-country blend of tobaccos, signed by “El Diablo Blanco.”) But this Dominican-made product from the legendary Henke Kelner has substance to back up its style. Six years of age hasn’t changed the Robusto (5.5 x 50) much, but that’s fine by me since it had performance and flavor from the get-go. The balanced, mild- to medium-bodied profile is bready with notes of cream, almond, oak, and some cinnamon spice. The original asking price was $7, but now you can find it for a bit less if you shop around. That makes it an easy cigar to recommend.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Macanudo Estate Reserve Series 2015 No. 9

31 May 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.”

Introduced in 2015, this fuller-bodied Macanudo features a 10-year-old Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Mexican binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. It is the third edition of Macanudo Estate Reserve, which comes handsomely presented in individual coffins in a box featuring the black, yellow, and green of the Jamaican flag. The No. 9 vitola (5 x 50) retails for about $16 and boasts excellent physical properties with chalky cocoa, earth, and oak. There are also fleeting notes of roast cashew. If you eschew the entire Macanudo portfolio because of its reputation as a mild cigar for beginners, don’t pass up an opportunity to try this cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Illusione OneOff Corona Gorda

28 May 2019

Eighteen years ago, Andrea Molinari—proprietor of Casa del Habano in Milan, Italty—introduced his own cigar line called OneOff. He originally wanted the brand to be made in Cuba but was turned away. So he ended up entrusting his venture to one of the world’s most prominent tobacco families: the Plasencias.

At first, OneOff was only available to a select few accounts in Europe and Asia. Many surely thought the line—adorned simply with an orange band sporting a peace symbol—was truly a one-off limited production run. But OneOff found its way to the U.S. market in 2002, earning a cult status reputation and making quite an impact on a young Dion Giolito, who credits OneOff as the inspiration for Illusione.

Flash forward to 2009. Molinari is out of the OneOff picture, and so are the Plasencias. The cigars now go by “OneOff Doble Capa” and are produced and distributed by Cuban Crafters as a catalog brand. Then Giolito bought OneOff from Cuban Crafters in 2017. And here we are.

Today, OneOff is made for Illusione at the Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. (TABSA) factory in Nicaragua using 100% Nicaraguan tobacco from Aganorsa. The eight OneOff vitolas are each packaged in boxes of ten and retail for $11.95 to $17.95: Cartuchos (3.9 x 52), Corona (5.5 x 42), Robusto (4.9 x 50), Cañonazo (6.1 x 52), Pyramides (6.1 x 52), Julieta (7 x 47), and Corona Gorda (5.4 x 46). (The eighth size is called +53 Super Robusto and retails for $30; the tobacco origins are undisclosed.)

The Corona Gorda is a firm, oily cigar with a triple-cap and a few prominent veins. The cross-section of tobaccos at the foot shows a snug fit of generously packed filler leaves. The pre-light aroma is smoky (I’m tempted to cite mesquite) and the cold draw is on the stiff side.

Once an even light is established, the introductory profile that emerges is dry, bready, woody, and slightly spicy. Individual flavors include cedar, cinnamon, cereals, and some black pepper. The cedar and pepper fade pretty quickly; they are replaced with sweet cream and roasted cashew. This combination is both complex and delicious.

At around the midway point, the cream and cashew fade, and the cinnamon and cedar pick up where they left off. The spice intensifies in the final third, and the Corona Gorda becomes hot and—at times—harsh.

In terms of combustion characteristics, the burn is set-it-and-forget-it straight and the smoke production is average. The draw—while a bit tight for my liking at the outset—opens nicely after a quarter of an inch. The ash does not hold well off the foot, however.

OneOff is a tale of two cigars: the interesting, complex, balanced cigar in the first half; the hot, sometimes harsh cigar in the second. This dichotomy played out across all three samples I smoked for this review. And that’s ultimately why I can’t award the Illusione OneOff Corona Gorda anything higher than three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: The Wise Man Maduro Churchill

20 May 2019

It’s a distant memory, but I can recall a few things about the 2015 IPCPR Trade Show. The suffocating heat outside on The Strip. The first convention where a sense of FDA foreboding permeated seemingly every conversation. The sheer volume of exhibiting cigar makers, which seemed notably more numerous than previous years. And the buzz surrounding new cigars coming to market from former Drew Estate tobacco men Steve Saka and Nicholas Melillo.

You may recall Melillo, who formerly served as executive vice president of international operations at Drew Estate, announced the formation of the Foundation Cigar Co. shortly before the 2015 convention. Leading up to the convention, we knew his first solo outfit would be headquartered in his native Connecticut, and the first blend would be made at the TABSA (Tobaccos Valle de Jalapa) factory in Nicaragua, using Aganorsa tobacco. But so much remained a mystery.

The mystery was eventually unveiled as El Güegüense—also known as “The Wise Man”—which is a Nicaraguan puro with a Corojo ’99 wrapper from Jalapa that’s described as “rosado rosado café.” There are five vitolas: Robusto, Toro, Torpedo, Corona Gorda, and Chuchill.

Two years later, in 2017, Melillo introduced the predictable second act to El Güegüense: The Wise Man Maduro. I am sure many were relieved to see the challenging El Güegüense (gwe-gwen-se) name dropped in favor of the English translation. Many more were excited to see how Melillo would adapt the successful El Güegüense blend into a maduro format.

The Wise Man Maduro sports a Mexican San Andrés wrapper around Nicaraguan tobaccos from the three primary growing regions: Condega, Estelí, and Jalapa. “I was looking to create a line extension with a whole different level of complexity and the San Andrés wrapper brings just that,” writes Melillo at the Foundation Cigar Co. website. “I have always been drawn to San Andrés, Mexico, and have been buying tobacco there since 2003. The wrapper is one of my favorites, not to mention one of the oldest seed varieties in the world, which predates even Cuban seed. The combination of this unique capa and Nicaraguan fillers makes for an amazingly flavorful smoke.”

There are five sizes available: Torpedo (6.25 x 52), Toro Huaco (6 x 56), Robusto (5.5 x 50), Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46), and Churchill (7 x 48). The latter vitola—of which I smoked three for this review—sports a dry, toothy wrapper with thin veins. The band is very similar to the one found on El Güegüense, except the background color is maroon, not blue. At the foot, I find a mouth-watering pre-light aroma of cocoa and a cross-section of loosely packed tobaccos.

Despite the relative sponginess of the Churchill, the cold draw is actually moderately resistant. It opens nicely, though, once the cigar is lit and underway. The flavors include a complex plethora of baking spices, cocoa powder, espresso, and white pepper. The finish is dry cedar with a hint of cayenne heat. The resting smoke is a delightful blend of cinnamon and cashew.

Critics of San Andrés cigars often cite the tobacco’s tendencies toward “dirt” or “grit.” I know what they mean. That said, the way the wrapper leaf is fermented and blended with other tobaccos impacts the flavor it imparts. Here, Melillo did a fantastic job getting a rich earthiness from the wrapper while avoiding some of the typical San Andrés pitfalls.

Kudos are also in order to TABSA, the factory that crafts this well-made blend. All three of my samples exhibited good combustion qualities. Expect a sturdy gray ash, a straight burn, and average smoke production.

I paid $11 apiece for my Churchills—not an unfair price for a cigar of this complexity and quality. All told, my first experience with The Wise Man Maduro is worthy of an exemplary 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: Todos Las Dias Robusto

15 May 2019

When Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust’s first line, Sobremesa, was announced in July 2015, many were anticipating a full-bodied follow-up from the man who put Drew Estate’s premium cigar business on the map. But Steve Saka didn’t want to give us another Liga Privada No. 9; instead, he gave us something balanced, complex, creamy, and relatively light on spice.

Flash forward to August 2017. Dunbarton’s third line is shipping to the U.S. The buzz is, Todos Las Dias (yes, it’s supposed to be Todos Los Dias, but we’ll leave that story for another time) is Saka’s strongest cigar to date.

“Todos Las Dias is my personal Spanglish translation meaning ‘All the Days,’” writes Saka on Dunbarton’s website. “The workers at Joya de Nicaragua often cringe at my casual butchering of their mother tongue, but in my opinion cigars are far more than a grammar lesson to abide, they are the physical manifestation of a feeling and of an experience. Todos Las Dias embodies the classic bold flavors that represent the heart of their soil’s peppery tobaccos and the labor of their always working hands. For me, this spicy Nicaraguan puro reflects no pretentious airs or any of that ‘notes of pencil lead with a hint of fennel’ nonsense. It is an honest, hardworking cigar intended to be smoked by men who know what it means to be a cigar smoker and never give a damn about what others think.”

The Todos Las Dias recipe calls for a Cuban-seed, sun-grown wrapper around tobaccos from Jalapa and Estelí. Originally, there were four sizes: Toro (6 x 52), Double Wide Belicoso (4.75 x 60), Half Churchill (4.75 x 48), and Robusto (5 x 52). Later, in 2018, a Thick Lonsdale “Mas Fuerte” (6 x 46) was added.

I smoked three Robustos for this review. This vitola retails for $11.45 and, like its brethren, sports dual bands of silver and black. The moderately firm, oily cigar boasts many marks of quality, including a well-executed cap, a tight cross-section of tobaccos at the foot, and a clean surface. That said, one of my samples (the one pictured above and at right) had a wrapper patch job just under the “L” in the primary band.

Once lit, pre-light notes of green raisin and cocoa give way to a bold, full-bodied profile of charred wood, black pepper, and espresso. While the introductory flavor may be straightforward and somewhat brutish, the resting smoke is a mouth-watering aroma of cream, sweetness, and nuts.

After the first half-inch or so, the body and spice pull back a bit. Here, the Robusto is still squarely in the upper reaches of strength and body, mind you, but there’s a little room for some nuance to shine through. I notice cocoa powder, dried fruit, and dry oak. The texture is leathery and palate-coating. The cigar remains in this state until the final puff. Throughout, the combustion qualities are excellent, including a solid white ash, smooth draw, straight burn, and voluminous, dense smoke production.

If you ever get the opportunity to speak with Steve Saka at one of his many in-store events, I highly suggest you take advantage. He has one of the world’s great tobacco minds. At some point, you may hear him say, “If you try to make a cigar everyone will like, you’ll end up with a cigar no one will love.”

Saka has been at the helm of many cigars I love. Top of that list is perhaps the Sobremesa Cervantes Fino. In the case of the Todos Las Dias Robusto, I like the cigar—but I don’t love it. While I can see myself firing it up on occasion after a heavy meal with a stiff drink, its strength, power, and body are too much for me for an “All the Days” cigar. That’s ultimately why I’m settling on a score of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys