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Quick Smoke: Illusione Fume d’Amour Concepcions

19 Nov 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.”

Concepcions is the corona gorda version of Illusione’s Fume d’Amour line, which debuted at the 2014 IPCPR Trade Show. The Nicaraguan puro demonstrates medium-bodied flavors that have made this a popular line: cream, cedar, roasted cashews, and light pepper spice. Construction is flawless. I’ve enjoyed all the Fume d’Amour vitolas, but this might be my favorite.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Macanudo Inspirado Black Robusto

15 Nov 2017

Macanudo is one of the most popular cigars in America, and the mild Macanudo Cafe and Gold blends (both of which feature the classic green and white band) are most closely identified with the brand. That popularity shapes the brand’s identity.

The upside is the reputation makes Macanudo green label cigars a go-to for mild cigar smokers who know they will get exactly what they want. The commercial challenge for has been expanding that successful reputation beyond mild offerings, especially as tastes for many cigar smokers 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/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, meaning Macanudo is far and away the best known brand owned by STG outside the United States. This may account for why Macnudo Inspirado was pushed elsewhere.

Since its U.S. debut in 2014, Inspirado seems to have been building an identity as a sub-brand of Macanudo, with a focus on more flavor than Macanudo has traditionally been identified with. In addition to the Orange-banded original Inspirado, the Black and White lines were added to the portfolio earlier this year. (Previously, there had been an online/catalog-only Inspirado Black line, which featured Orange lettering, but that blend is different from the full release Macanudo Black that debuted this year.)

Inspirado Black uses an Ecuadorian Sumatra binder and Estelí filler surrounded by a dark, nearly jet black Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. Rather than priming and curing the wrapper tobacco in the traditional manner, which is leaf by leaf, Inspirado uses stalk-cured Broadleaf tobacco.

In stalk-curing, which has become more common for Connecticut Habano wrapper, the entire plant is cut and the entire plant, leaves, and stalk cure together. The process takes longer but can produce a more flavorful wrapper leaf as the nutrients from the stalk continue to migrate to the leaves during curing.

Inspirado Black comes in three sizes: Churchill, Toro, and Robusto. I smoked three Robustos (4.9 x 48), which sell for $7 each. After pre-light notes featuring raisins, I lit the Robusto to find a unique combination of flavors with mole (unsweetened chocolate, smoked paprika, red pepper), bread, cream, dried fruit, and oak char. Those flavors, which combine for full-bodied flavors, coat the palate with an almost velvet-like mouthfeel.

The cigar produces thick, aromatic smoke. Except for the strength building slightly, there’s little variation from start to finish, except for a slight sourness that’s evident towards the final third. It’s a complex cigar that’s far from traditional Connecticut Broadleaf flavors.

One of the samples I smoked had a notably soft spot, but showed no ill-effects, as all three had excellent combustion qualities including a sturdy, dense light gray ash, even burn, and firm, not overly tight, draw.

Since the introduction of the Macanudo Cru Royale and Macanudo 1968, the view of Macanudo as a purely mild cigar line has been outdated, even as the reputation has persisted. The Inspirado line in general, and the Inspirado Black in particular, should fully put the mild myth to rest.

There is a lot to like about the Inspirado Black. With unique, complex, full-bodied flavors and excellent construction, the Macanudo Inspirado Black Robusto earns a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Glenfarclas 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky

8 Nov 2017

Glenfarclas is an independent distillery, owned by the same family for 150 years. That’s a rarity in this era of corporate-dominated liquor brands.

The Speyside distillery features a range of aged single malts, from 10 years all the way up to 25 years old. They also make a cask strength version, the Glenfarclas 105, and a more exclusive Family Cask Range of vintage single malts.

Previously, I’ve praised the Glenfarclas 17, which sells for around $100 a bottle. Today I’m sipping a younger, more affordable offering: the 12 Year, which sells regularly for $50. (I recently picked up a bottle on sale for just $36.)

Glenfarclas 12 Year (43% ABV) is light amber in color, and the nose features classic sherried notes (dried fruit and brown sugar) along with pear and eucalyptus.

On the palate, it’s bright, fresh, and complex with melon, marmalade, pound cake, and honey, combined with resinous oak and clove spice. The finish brings out more sherry influence, with praline, classic oloroso, and candied fruits.

No one is going to mistake the Glenfarclas 12 Year for its 17 Year sibling. It lacks the richness and depth of flavor. But the 12 Year does feature a nice combination of enjoyable flavors, approach-ability, and value. Find it for under $40 (like I did) and it’s a real steal.

Pair it with a mild- to medium-bodied cigar, so as to not overwhelm the single malt.

I’d particularly recommend the Davidoff Grand Cru, Illusione Epernay, Tatuaje Black, or Ashton Classic.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Villiger La Flor de Ynclan Torpedo

5 Nov 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.”

This Torpedo (6 x 52) is made by Villiger in the Dominican Republic using a pale brown Ecuadorian wrapper, Indonesian binder, and filler tobaccos from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The cigar’s flavors include salted cashew, sourdough bread, citrus, cream, and clove. After a bit of harshness in the first ten minutes, it develops into a pleasant, medium-bodied cigar that pairs up nicely with Zafra rum.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Tatuaje Tattoo Caballero

29 Oct 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.”

Tatuaje’s “Tattoo” cigar was originally conceived largely to defend Tatuaje’s trademark rights; Tatuaje being Spanish for Tattoo. However, eventually a re-blended expanded Tattoo line was introduced as a regularly-released, value-oriented, currently four vitola line. (The later release uses a red background behind the words Tattoo, while the earlier version had a white background.) The cigar – which costs just $5 for the robusto-sized “Caballero” – now utilizes a dark Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler and is made at the Pepin family’s TACUBA factory in Esteli. The medium-full bodied cigar features earth, oak, damp cardboard and pepper notes. The flavors aren’t elegant or particularly balanced, but the Tattoo certainly earns points for value.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: The Macallan Cask Strength and Aberlour A’Bunadh Single Malt Scotch Whiskies

25 Oct 2017

One of the best things about single malt scotch is the variety in choice. Unlike straight bourbon or rye, the legal definition of single malt lends itself to starkly contrasting styles.

Sing malt can be peated or un-peated; aged in first fill, refill barrels, or a combination of each; and can use different barrel types (sherry, bourbon, port, etc.) for all or some of the aging. In addition, region, water source, and age can help make each whisky distinctive.

Personally, I tend towards the extremes of single malt styles. On one end are heavily peated styles (Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin). On the other are sherry bombs (The Macallan and GlenDronach).

Within the heavily sherried style is the sub-category of cask strength whiskies. Today I look at two such single malts:

The Macallan Cask Strength

Macallan is the quintessential sherried single malt, and the Cask Strength offering shows off its mastery of the style. This particular bottle is 59% ABV and is a remarkably dark crimson color.

The nose features rich dried fruit, dates, and toffee. The flavors are intense with more dried fruit (raisins, dates, maraschino cherries), ginger, pralines, nutmeg, graphite, and chocolate. The finish lingers with oranges, more red fruit, baking spices, and brown sugar.

Macallan’s Cask Strength is a hedonistically rich single malt. Despite the high proof, it is easily enjoyed neat, though you should also try it with a drop or two of water.

Now for the bad news. While it once could be found for $99, this whiskey was discontinued a few years ago and has become nearly impossible to find. Macallan introduced a Classic Cut Limited Edition this year that uses a similar label and is high proof and aged in “oak casks seasoned with Oloroso sherry,” but reviews suggest it isn’t as intensely sherried as the discontinued Cask Strength.

Aberlour A’Bunadh

Aberlour uses sherry cask aged whisky in combination with bourbon casks in most of its offerings, but A’Bunadh (Scottish Gaelic for “of the origin”) is exclusively sherried whisky bottled at cask strength, in a style the distillery says it made a century ago. Each batch (I’ve tried multiple batches, but today I’m tasting Batch 58) is a blend of whiskies aged in first filled sherry casks of various ages.

Bottled at 61.1% ABV, Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch 58 is a light mahogany color. The nose features black cherry, apricot, and coffee grounds. The palate has some tannic notes with walnut, cinnamon, orange zest, nougat, and brown sugar. The finish is long with butterscotch, baking spices, and oak.

Unlike Macallan Cask Strength, Aberlour A’Bunadh isn’t difficult to find. And while prices can vary wildly, you can usually find it for around $80. It lacks the sherried intensity of the bold Macallan, but it is still a tasty, rich, lush, dram that’s brown sugar- and fruit-forward.

Cask strength sherried single malt pushes the style to its limit in a way that can be divisive. If you like sherry-forward whisky at a more traditional proof, you owe it to yourself to try Aberlour A’Bunadh and, if you can find it, Macallan Cask Strength. Other whiskies in the style include Highland Dark Origins, Glenlivet Oloroso Nadurra, and GlenDronach Cask Strength. For me, they represent the perfect after-dinner scotch whisky, cutting through a heavy meal and pairing perfectly with a medium- to full-bodied cigar.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: El Galan Dona Nieves Negra Macha

18 Oct 2017

Cuban cigarmaker Felix Mesa created El Galan Cigars in 2010 and makes the half dozen El Galan blends in his factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. In an interview last year, he explained why he left Cuba and started his own cigar company:

“I am Cuban, 41 years old, son and grandson of the third generation of a humble peasant family from the former province of Las Villas, today called Spiritus Santis in the Cabaiguan town where I was born and grew up in a field called the Purial, which is a tobacco region in Cuba. I left Cuba with a dream which could not realize there for the reasons that many know; there you can’t do registration marks, much less sell tobacco and to be able to pay tribute to a family who deserved it as many others to achieve experiences and wisdom in this beautiful tobacco industry.”

El Galan’s Dona Nieves cigar is named after Mesa’s grandmother, who worked in Cuban tobacco fields until she was 86 years old (and clearly remains a strong influence on Mesa). Even the three vitolas—including the box-pressed Negra Macha (5.5 x 54)—are all nicknames for Mesa’s grandma.

The cigar uses an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It isn’t easy to find, but you can locate it online for around $6.

The cigar features intense pre-light aromas, including barnyard with light fruit. It is densely packed with a light box press and a light brown, slightly splotchy wrapper.

Once lit, the Dona Nieves produces a complex array of flavors that include burnt toast, shortbread, cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper, and cafe-au-lait. It’s full-flavored and medium-bodied. Construction is excellent with a sturdy ash despite a slightly wobbly burn line.

If I’m being honest, I picked up these cigars on a complete whim just because a Nicaraguan-heavy, Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped cigar made by a Cuban sounds a lot like some of the other cigars I’ve liked over the years (e.g., early Don Pepin and A.J. Fernandez).

I’m glad I did. This is a flavorful, complex, well-made, balanced smoke at a very fair price. If you’re looking for something new to try, check out El Galan Dona Nieves Negra Macha (since you probably haven’t smoked it yet). It was a pleasant surprise for me and earns four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys