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Commentary: A Good Omen in Fight Against FDA Cigar Rules?

26 Jul 2017


For the first time in a while, there is reason for real optimism about the fight to overturn the onerous FDA cigar regulations. Living and working in Washington, I’ve learned to take optimistic reports from advocates about forthcoming progress on an issue with a grain of salt, since people often mistake their own enthusiasm and passion for confidence in the impact they are having.

Frequently, a better measure of progress is what those on the other side of the issue are saying and, most critically, doing. That’s why the actions of a group of anti-tobacco organizations this week should give those opposed to the FDA rules some hope.

On Monday, six so-called “public health” organizations filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed by the Cigar Association of America (CAA), International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR), and Cigar Rights of America (CRA) challenging the FDA’s rules that cover cigars.

The cigar groups’ lawsuit, filed in the DC Circuit Court a year ago, challenges the rules on various grounds that the regulations were enacted improperly and exceed the authority granted to the FDA by Congress when it passed the Tobacco Control Act in 2009. A similar lawsuit was filed weeks earlier by cigar-specializing Florida attorney Frank Herrera on behalf of Global Premium Cigars, maker of the the 1502 cigar line.

According to attorneys who have been on both ends of such challenges to agency regulations—both challenging government regulations and defending them on behalf of government agencies—the uphill battle the cigar industry faces in its lawsuits is that courts generally give agencies deference when it comes to exercising rulemaking authority. Under a controversial judicial doctrine known as “Chevron deference” (established in a 1984 Supreme Court decision), judges give administrative agencies a wide berth to interpret the scope of the authority granted to them by Congress.

The reason the anti-tobacco groups motion to intervene can be seen as good news is the groups cite the FDA’s delays and apparent reluctance to defend the rule in court as reasons they should be allowed to become a party in the case. They want to join the lawsuit to defend the rule because they don’t think the new Trump-appointed leadership at the FDA will vigorously do so.

If the FDA does eventually tell the court to hold proceedings while they contemplate new rulemaking to pare back the regulations, suddenly the challenge of administrative deference becomes a strength for cigar groups opposed to the rules. The fact that the Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA the option, but not the obligation, to regulate cigars and other tobacco products (beyond cigarettes and smokeless tobacco) would suddenly be the biggest weapon against anti-tobacco groups seeking to keep the rule in place.

So while Monday’s motion to intervene isn’t proof the FDA is going to reconsider the FDA rule, and ultimately only an act of Congress can provide more definitive protection for the industry against overbearing regulations, it is surely a good sign. Let’s hope theses anti-tobacco zealots are correct, and the FDA is preparing to roll back FDA regulations that threaten the innovation, competition, and creativity that makes handmade cigars so interesting and enjoyable.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Grand Classe (Original Release)

23 Jul 2017

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.”

In 2012, Illusione’s Dion Giolito introduced this cigar as a small batch exclusive to his Fumare store in Reno, Nevada. In 2013, a second La Grand Classe Rex debuted. This year, the cigar is back as an Illusione-branded line in a petit corona format with a Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. Today, I’m smoking my last cigar from an original box of the 2012 release. The un-banded cigars came in a cardboard box with simple stickers for the logo and seal. La Grand Classe 2012 (5.5 x 52, $5.99) features a dark Mexican wrapper with some notable water stains around Nicaraguan tobaccos. The medium- to full-bodied cigar burns flawlessly with charred oak and earthy flavors with ginger and pepper spice. I wasn’t a huge fan of these when they were first introduced, probably in part due to my general aversion to Mexican wrapper leaf, but age has made me appreciate this cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Lost & Found Backdoor Bambi

19 Jul 2017

In 2014, Robert Caldwell, Jaclyn Sears, and Tony Bellatto announced Impromptu, a line of limited release cigars sourced from the aging rooms of various factories. Later, the enterprise would be renamed Lost & Found Cigars.

According to Robert Caldwell: “Over several months I have been traveling all over the world spending a lot of time in the Caribbean and Central America in many tobacco fields and factories. Along the way I stumbled upon certain cigars that really left an impression on me. My friends suggest we share them with our friends and customers. These are very special cigars, made with rare tobaccos that have been aged to a point seldom enjoyed by most of us. I cannot take credit with making these beauties, nor for bringing them to you—just for discovering them.”

As I’ve noted before, the line’s popularity is a testament to the difference marketing can make; after all, someone else couldn’t sell the cigars in a previous form. The well-aged cigars are released in small batches emphasizing their limited availability, under a catchy, off-beat name with corresponding art.

Two recent releases were Suavesito (rolled in 2010) and Backdoor Bambi (5.5 x 46). Rolled in 2008, Backdoor Bambi uses Corojo, Habano, and Negrito tobaccos, but no other details about the blend are disclosed, including where the cigar was made. Unlike Suavesito, which is a new addition to Lost & Found, Backdoor Bambi was one of the first releases back when the enterprise was still called Impromptu. While the original release came in a metal jar, the 2017 edition comes in boxes of 12 with each cigar carrying a suggested price of $12.

The cigar features a leathery medium brown wrapper. Once lit, I find bready spice, dried fruit (think cinnamon raisin bread), plus sweet Cuban coffee.

It’s a medium- to full-bodied cigar with lots of leather and spice, especially towards the second half. Construction is perfect, with an open draw, even burn, and a sturdy gray ash.

Although the price is a bit high, this is a well-made spice-forward smoke that probably has benefited greatly from almost a decade of age. (It’s also far better than the Suavesito.) That earns the Lost & Found Backdoor Bambi a rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Five New Cigars I’m Looking Forward to Trying

12 Jul 2017

The IPCPR Trade Show’s first full day was yesterday. By now, information about many of the new cigars expected to hit retailers’ shelves in 2017 has already been released and widely reported. From what I’ve learned so far, here are five new cigars I’m most looking forward to trying. (Of note: This list does not include any cigars of which I’ve already smoked pre-release samples.)

Winston Churchill the Late Hour Davidoff of Geneva

In my experience, Davidoff doesn’t make a lot duds. When they put the Davidoff name on a cigar, it carries a lot of weight with me. (Not to mention the Churchill name, which might be the historial figure most associated with premium cigars.) I very much enjoyed the original Winston Churchill cigar, in addition to the revamped Davidoff-branded blend, so consider me interested in this new cigar with filler aged in single malt scotch casks.

Undercrown Sun Grown Drew Estate

I’m not a huge fan of Mexican San Andrés-wrapped cigars, which makes my enjoyment of the original Undercrown something of a rarity. The later Undercrown Shade is a very well-made cigar too, but the new Sun Grown blend sounds particularly inviting. The combination of an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper and a Habano stalk-cut binder with Nicaraguan filler has excellent potential.

Todos Las Dias  Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust

I haven’t yet had a Steve Saka cigar I didn’t enjoy. True, I may not have loved Sobremesa as much as its many sky-high reviews, but it’s still undoubtedly a very fine cigar. And, for my taste, Mi Querida was the best Broadleaf cigar introduced last year, and I think Umbagog is one of the best values on the market. With that pedigree, I’m looking forward to trying Todos Las Dias, Saka’s new Nicaraguan puro made at Joya de Nicaragua.

Navetta Fratello Cigars

By delivering on an excellent combination of value, branding (one of the best bands around), and flavor, I’ve really come to appreciate Omar de Frias’ Fratello Cigars. Navetta features an Oscuro Habano wrapper and plays into Frias’ NASA roots.

1932 Millisime Padilla Cigars

Even though I smoked my last one over five years ago, the original 1932 Padilla (made by Don José “Pepin” Garcia at El Rey de los Habanos) rates among my all-time favorite cigars. That means my ears always perk up when a new Padilla 1932 is introduced. The price of the Millisime ($47) is more that a little off-putting, but I’ll admit I’m intrigued to try it, even if I’m only smoking one before buying a second.

What new cigars are you most interested in trying?

Patrick S

photo credit: Padilla Cigars

Quick Smoke: Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Story

9 Jul 2017

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.”

The Fuente Hemingway is a classic blend that may have introduced more cigar smokers to Cameroon wrappers than any other cigar. I hadn’t smoked one in at least a year, but for whatever reason I decided to pick one up recently. I’m glad I did. Made with a Cameroon wrapper and Dominican tobaccos, the perfecto (4.5 x 49) demonstrated cream and coffee flavors with notes of cinnamon, black pepper, and cedar. Flawless construction and a reasonable price (around $6) make this an easy recommendation for seasoned smokers and newbies alike.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial Limited Edition 2017

6 Jul 2017

Earlier this year I reviewed the Jaime Garcia Reserva Especial TAA 2017, noting it reminded me “to revisit the regular offerings in the Jamie Garcia Reserva Especial line.” It also inspired me to pick up the new Reserva Especial Limited Edition 2017 at a recent My Father Cigars store event. The new cigar was released in May and carries a hefty price tag of $17.

The Limited Edition cigar first appeared in 2011. That release came in boxes of 16, whereby 15 had a Broadleaf wrapper and one had an Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper. This year, only 3,000 boxes of 16 are being made, a slight decrease from the 2011 release. (The ribbon helps differentiate this release from the 2017 release.)

The 2017 release is all made with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper (no experimental wrapper single this time) in a toro (6.5 x 52) format. The recipe sports Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos, including reportedly two leaves of strong, flavorful, but hard-to-grow Pelo de Oro from the the Garcia’s Nicaraguan farms.

The cigar features many of the oak and chocolate notes of the regular Jamie Garcia line with considerably more intensity and strength. It is highly complex and full-bodied. Initial dark chocolate and minty spice notes quickly turn to sharp black pepper and barrel char. There are also roasted notes and coffee bean, although the interplay between wood, cocoa, and spice dominates the two-hour smoke.

While one of the two cigars I smoked had an unfortunately tight draw for the first quarter, it soon opened up and a sturdy, monotone, light gray ash developed that held for two full inches before I tapped it off. Besides that self-correcting issue, construction is excellent.

This is a significant step up in complexity, flavor, and strength from the regular line, and even from the Especial TAA 2017. Fans of Connecticut Broadleaf cigars will want to seek this one out, even if the price means it will probably be only an occasional indulgence. That’s why the Jamie Garcia Reserva Especial Limited Edition 2017 earns a rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Pinar 1958 Serie B Pre-Embargo Cuban Rothschild

2 Jul 2017

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.”

If you’ve been smoking cigars for more than a decade, you might remember Pinar, a brand claiming to use pre-embargo Cuban tobacco. This article from 2005 unquestioningly retells the story. Some of their cigars were puros. The Serie B, however, only claimed to use some Cuban tobacco (supposedly 40 or 50 percent) with the rest Ecuadorian or Dominican, depending on what source you read. I purchased a five-pack in 2006 for just $21 and, over a decade later, I’m lighting up one of two remaining cigars. It features leather and sour notes, with underlying damp cardboard. Despite decent burn and combustion, this is simply a poor-tasting cigar. It’s so bad I put it down less than halfway through, which probably explains why I never finished the five-pack I bought eleven years ago. Fortunately for you, you won’t be able to find a Pinar 1958 Serie B Pre-Embargo Cuban Rothschild to buy.

Verdict = Sell.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys