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Cigar Review: Byron Serie Siglo XXI Elegantes

2 Apr 2018

Havana-born Nelson Alfonso is the graphic designer behind Selected Tobacco, an ultra-premium outfit that produces cigars under the Atabey, Byron, and Bandolero brands, among others. Even if you’re unfamiliar with these cigars, you’ve almost certainly appreciated Alfonso’s work; his firm, Golden Age Visual Developers, has contributed to the packaging and design of many iconic Cuban brands, including Behike (which explains why Atabey looks so Behike-esque).

The Byron line is named for Lord Byron, an English poet and a leader of the Romantic movement. It is the revival of an old Cuban brand from the mid-nineteenth century. “Many cigar factories produced numerous brands with Anglo-American names to attract U.K. and U.S. markets, which had tremendous demand for premium cigars at the time,” according to the United Cigar website (United is Selected’s U.S. distributor).

Today, Byron is made in three different blends—Siglo XIX, Siglo XX, and Siglo XXI—to represent “what Cuban cigars were in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.” They are handmade in Costa Rica, stored in an aging room for one year, and then packaged in beautifully ornate porcelain jars or individually humidified tubes.

The Byron Serie Siglo XXI Elegantes (6.1 x 55), introduced in 2016, is squarely in the super-premium category, with a per-cigar price that’s north of $30—even when bought by the box of 25 (the box does double as a humidor, though). For that cost, you should expect a lot.

Fortunately, the cigar’s appearance lives up to the lofty expectations set by the price. This is a remarkably beautiful and well-constructed cigar. Beneath three intricate bands of black, blue, and white with silver and gold accents, you’ll find an incredibly smooth, almost vein-free Colorado-colored Ecuadorian-wrapped cigar with a perfect cap. The cold draw is smooth with just the right amount of resistance. At the foot, I find pre-light notes of dried apricot and marshmallow sweetness.

The profile—which is, in my opinion, consistent from light to nub—is medium-bodied and balanced. Flavors range from bread and honey to cedar spice and dry oak. There’s a background note of herbal tea. I also find a range of earthy flavors and a familiar sensation I can only describe as warm tobacco. On the finish, there are warm spices, including clove, cinnamon, and cayenne heat.

As far as construction goes, the white ash can be a tad flaky but, honestly, that’s pretty nitpicky. I don’t think you’ll encounter any issues. The draw is perfect, the smoke production solid, and the burn line requires zero touch-ups.

Only 200 boxes of 25 Elegantes have been made available in the U.S. That makes this cigar not only exceptionally expensive; it’s also pretty rare. Is it worth your money and time? That’s a hard question to answer, and one that likely depends on your own unique circumstances. For me, the Byron Serie Siglo XXI Elegantes is a tasty, interesting cigar, but not one I would regularly seek out at this price point. For that, I’m awarding it three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Nomad S-307 Corona

31 Mar 2018

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.”

S-307 Nomad Corona

Nomad’s S-307 (“S” is for the Sumatra wrapper, “307” for the square mileage of Estelí, Nicaragua) is the company’s first full-production Nicaraguan smoke, handmade at Tobacalera A.J. Fernandez. In addition to its Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, S-307 sports an Ecuadorian Habano binder and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. The line comes in five sizes: Toro (6 x 50), Robusto (5 x 50), Torpedo (6.5 x 52), Toro Grande (6 x 58), and Corona (5.5 x 46). The latter is box-pressed, costs about $7, and has medium- to full-bodied flavors of oak, black pepper, creamy peanut, cedar, and leather. The combustion properties leave little to be desired. I’ve had this cigar in one of my humidors for nearly four years. I’m glad I decided to smoke it. This S-307 Corona was spicy and satisfying.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Macanudo Inspirado Red Robusto

28 Mar 2018

Macanudo is one of the most popular cigars in America, and the mild Macanudo Cafe and Gold blends (both of which feature a classic green and white band) are most closely identified with the brand. For better or worse, that popularity shapes the brand’s identity. The upside is Macanudo is a go-to for mild cigar smokers who know they will get exactly what they want. The commercial challenge has been expanding that successful reputation beyond mild offerings, especially as tastes have tended toward fuller-bodied profiles.

Macanudo’s Inspirado line first debuted in 2004 for international markets; it wasn’t available in the U.S. until 2014. Keep in mind, unlike in the U.S.—where General Cigar/Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG) also owns the rights to the Partagas, Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey, and other trademarks that originated in Cuba—the Cuban government still controls those marks overseas. That means Macanudo is far and away the best-known brand owned by STG outside the U.S. This may account for why Macanudo Inspirado was first marketed elsewhere.

Since its U.S. debut in 2014, Inspirado has been building an identity as a sub-brand, with the intention to serve as a bolder, fuller-flavored Macanudo. In addition to the orange-banded original Inspirado, the Black and White lines were added to the portfolio in 2017. (Previously, there had been an online/catalog-only Inspirado Black, which featured orange lettering; but that blend is different from the regular production Macanudo Black.)

Now, as part of Macanudo’s 50th anniversary celebrations, a new Inspirado is rolling out. Called Inspirado Red, it sports an Ecuadorian Habano Ligero wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder from Jalapa, and well-aged filler tobaccos from Honduras and Nicaragua (specifically, 12-year-old Ometepe, 10-year-old Jamastran, and 5-year-old Estelí). Three vitolas will be offered: Toro (6 x 50, $6.99), Gigante (6 x 60, $7.49), and a box-pressed Robusto (5 x 50, $6.49). All are made at the STG Estelí factory.

My first experience with this new line came in the form of a Robusto five-pack. The moderately oily wrapper has a rustic appearance thanks to a rough-looking cap, less-than-perfect seams, and a pretty extensive network of veins. At the foot, the pre-light notes remind me of milk chocolate. The cold draw is wide open; there’s almost no resistance.

The initial profile is medium-bodied and woodsy with flavors ranging from dry oak and cedar spice to warm tobacco and some delightful roasted cashew. There is a bit of creamy sweetness in the background. At times, the short finish has some bitter notes. But when the cashew shines through, as it does about every three puffs, the taste is highly enjoyable and well-balanced.

At the midway point, the Robusto starts to heat up considerably. The body remains medium, and the strength low, yet there’s heat in both temperature (perhaps a result of the ultra-airy draw) and cayenne spice. The finale is characterized by a retreat of heat, more earthy tones, leather, and dry wood. All the while the construction is solid, save for the flaky ash, which can fall off quite unpredictably.

If you’re looking for a woodsy, medium-bodied experience that won’t break the bank, the new Macanudo Inspirado Red Robusto should be on your list to try. I rate it a respectable three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Romeo San Andrés Toro

19 Mar 2018

Earlier this month, Altadis unveiled the latest in the seemingly never-ending expansion of its highly visible Romeo y Julieta brand. This one is Romeo San Andrés, a collaboration between Rafael Nodal and A.J. Fernandez that adheres to the modern packaging of the Romeo line that was launched about six years ago (and, later, Romeo Añejo and Romeo 505 Nicaragua).

“This elegant cigar, crafted in Estelí, Nicaragua, brings today’s connoisseurs a contemporary take on the rich and robust profiles of the Romeo y Julieta collection,” reads a press release. “This exceptional premium offering employs an aged San Andrés wrapper, considered one of the most flavorful leaves used in today’s premium cigar market.”

In addition to the dark, Mexican wrapper, Romeo San Andrés sports a Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. It comes in four sizes that range in price from $9.35 to $9.85: Robusto (5 x 50), Pirámides (6.1 x 52), Short Magnum (5.5 x 60), and Toro (6 x 54).

The latter is a firm, dense, handsome cigar with ultra-thin veins and smooth seams. At the foot, I find mouth-watering pre-light notes of dark chocolate and espresso bean. Once the rough cap is clipped, the cold draw is effortless.

The Toro starts full-bodied and strong with a hearty dose of black pepper spice, espresso, and leather. Background notes of dried fruits (fig and apricot, namely) add balance.

After only a quarter of an inch, there is a noticeable transition. As the spice begins to fade, flavors of cream and roasted cashew emerge. Here, I’d downgrade the body to medium, though the strength remains quite full.

At the midway point and thereafter, there is less and less spice. In its place, there are notes of café au lait, warm tobacco sweetness, earth, leather, and some rustic grit.

All the while, construction is impeccable. The straight burn requires zero touch-ups along the way, the draw is clear, the smoke production voluminous, and the gray ash holds exceptionally well off the foot.

San Andrés can be a polarizing wrapper. I know cigar enthusiasts who love it, and those who dislike it. If you’re in the former camp, give the Romeo San Andrés a try. It’s a very respectable San Andrés specimen and, in my estimation, 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 Spirits: Stolen Smoked Rum

12 Mar 2018

One of the more interesting, unique rums on the market is Smoked Rum from Stolen Spirits, “the world’s first smoked rum.” It is “the result of an artisanal approach fueled by the desire to reinvent the rum category.” It also doesn’t taste like any other rum you’ve had.

An 84-proof (42% alcohol by volume) 750 ml. bottle sells for about $30. Since Stolen Smoked Rum is basically in a category of its own, I figure it’s best to hear the background straight from the horse’s mouth:

“We start with a column-distilled rum from Trinidad, made from locally sourced sugar cane and molasses. The rum is then aged for up to two years in used American oak whiskey barrels. Capturing the essence of a fresh brewed cup of joe, we infuse the rum using re-fractionated Colombian Arabica coffee, wholly distilled from same-day roasted beans. The warm, roasted flavor is complemented by the creamy sweetness and velvety texture of premium Madagascan vanilla beans and Moroccan fenugreek. The rum is rounded off with notes of American hardwood, acquired through a smoking process called pyrolysis—the burning of hardwood in the absence of oxygen.”

The result is a deep copper-colored spirit with an attention-grabbing nose of charred firewood, molasses, barbecue sauce, milk chocolate, butterscotch, and candied pecans.

Once sipped neat, a smoky mesquite flavor is instantly recognizable and pretty damn dominant. When they say “smoked,” they mean it; this rum has all the subtlety of a massive bonfire. Some of the background notes remind me of barbeque chips, caramel corn, coffee, vanilla, oak, and char.

The finish is medium in length, warm, and sharply focused on the tip of the tongue. The most pronounced notes include cayenne heat, coffee, and molasses.

I would agree with those who have claimed Stolen Smoked Rum tastes more like a smoky coffee liqueur than a rum. And in that regard it’s likely a divisive, love-it-or-hate-it spirit. For me, it’s more appetizing and better-balanced when mixed with Diet Coke—as opposed to enjoying it neat. Fortunately, the affordable price point doesn’t preclude mixing.

Whatever the serving style, conventional wisdom would suggest pairing this spirit with a full-bodied smoke. But I’m going to suggest the opposite approach. In my experience, you’re better off going with a creamy, milder cigar to help offset the heavy-handed flavors of smoke, barbecue, and coffee. I had good experiences with Undercrown Shade, Pinar del Rio 1878 Cubano Especial Capa Natural, and Artisan’s Selection.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Intemperance BA XXI Vanity

5 Mar 2018

Generally speaking, I rarely prefer cigars with thick ring gauges. That’s nothing new. This penchant for thinner vitolas seems to square with my peers in cigar media as much as it flies in the face of cigar consumers as a whole. (I’ve heard more than one cigar maker lament about making smokes with ring gauges of 60 or more, yet they soldier on because those sizes sell.)

The winter months only reinforce this preference as I seek smaller, thinner cigars that will concentrate considerable flavor into a shorter format—thereby limiting my exposure to the unforgiving elements. It therefore stands to reason that I would gravitate toward Vanity (5.5 x 37), the panatela in RoMa Craft Tobac’s Intemperance BA XXI. This line, after all, is one of my absolute favorites in terms of consistency, flavor, and bang-for-the-buck.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Intemperance BA XXI features a Brazilian Arapiraca wrapper (hence “BA”) around an Indonesian binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. (There’s also a companion Intemperance EC XVIII line that’s wrapped in an Ecuadorian Connecticut leaf.) My favorite cigar in the BA XXI blend is the A.W.S. IV, a lonsdale (6.5 x 44) that costs $7. If I were stranded on a desert island and only allowed to take a couple different types of cigars, this would undoubtedly be one of them.

Vanity is thinner and a full inch shorter. It retails for about $7. The beautiful wrapper is dark and mottled with moderate oils, tight seams, and a network of fairly thin veins. The pre-light notes remind me of dark chocolate and molasses. Notably, the binder/filler protrudes slightly from the foot which, cigar maker Skip Martin says, gives the consumer the brief chance to sample the blend without the wrapper before it quickly changes.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’m able to discern the difference in flavor when the fire finds the wrapper, perhaps because I should be trying harder to only light the binder/filler. Either way, I would describe the introductory flavor as a combination of chocolaty sweetness with hints of oak, peanut, black pepper spice, and a little leather.

Towards the midway point, the body, spice, and intensity ramp up a notch. All the while, this change is expertly balanced by a sweet creaminess and a chewy, marshmallow-like texture that reminds me of nougat. There are few changes in the final third, save for an increase in intensity and cayenne heat.

Construction is superb from light to nub, as you would expect from the craftsmen and craftswomen of Nica Sueño, RoMa Craft’s factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. (If you ever have the chance, by the way, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Nica Sueño; you’ll be amazed at the mastery, care, and attention to detail in this small space.) Vanity is blessed with a straight burn, solid gray ash, and a smooth draw.

While Vanity is an awesome cigar for any time of year, I especially appreciate it during the cold months here in Chicago. It’s rare to find such flavor, balance, complexity, and consistency in such a small format. I still consider the A.W.S. IV the pinnacle vitola in this terrific blend, but Vanity is up there. It earns a rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Drew Estate Herrera Estelí Norteño Edicion Limitada Churchill

3 Mar 2018

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.”

I wasn’t looking for this cigar as I recently perused the humidor at my local tobacconist. Rather, it found me. The band and unique oval-pressed shape caught my eye, reminding me it had been far too long since I fired up a Herrera Estelí Norteño. I picked up an Edicion Limitada Churchill (7 x 48) for about $13, not including ridiculous Chicago taxes. I’m glad I did. This Drew Estate creation—which features a dark Mexican San Andrés wrapper around a Honduran binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua—brings about earthy notes with flavors of dark chocolate, coffee, oak, and peanut. Construction is impressive.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys