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Quick Smoke: Nica Libre 25th Anniversary Silver Corona

17 Jun 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.”

The catalog favorite Nica Libre has always been a discount cigar with an emphasis on its Nicaraguan pedigree. Lately, the line has expanded, including with this 25th Anniversary Silver offering (25 years since the sovereign post-revolution war, not of the Nica Libre brand) made by A.J. Fernandez. I can’t remember the last time I smoked a cigar with this much in-your-face spice right from the beginning. The Nicaraguan puro is dominated by cayenne and black pepper notes, backed up by black coffee and oak flavors. It’s a bit unbalanced, but if you crave spice this is for you.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Casa Fernandez Miami Corojo Robusto

14 Jun 2018

Not many years ago, your average well-informed cigar smoker probably had never heard of Aganorsa tobacco. Today, there’s a good chance they have and, if they haven’t, they’ve almost certainly smoked Aganorsa tobacco, which is widely used by many of the largest cigar makers.

Aganorsa S.A. started in 1997 when Cuban-born American businessman Eduardo Fernandez began purchasing land in Nicaragua to grow tobacco, including fields once owned by Ncaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. Prior to the Sandinista revolution, Somoza was part owner of the Joya de Nicaragua factory (dictators don’t pick their lands because they aren’t some of the finest available). Fernandez, who quickly began expanding his growing operations, staffed his fields with Cuban agronomists.

Fernandez soon began expanding to cigar making with the purchase of Tropical Tobacco and later by establishing, with José “Pepín” García, El Rey de los Habanos in Miami and another facility in Nicaragua. (The two split ways acrimoniously in 2010 with a lawsuit that ended in a settlement.) Today, Fernandez runs the Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. (TABSA) (Nicaragua), and Casa Fernandez Miami (USA) factories where he makes cigars for his Casa Fernanedez brands and others, including Illusione and Warped (which is co-owned by Fernandez’s son, Max).

While Aganorsa tobacco is still supplied to numerous cigar makers in Nicaragua and elsewhere, the brand remains closely associated with Casa Fernandez, which uses the tobaccos almost exclusively. Earlier this year, Casa Fernandez was officially moved under the Aganorsa Leaf banner.

The Casa Fernandez Miami Aganorsa Leaf Corojo is a Nicaraguan puro made in Miami with an Aganorsa Corojo wrapper around Aganorsa binder and filler. The cigar comes in three sizes: Robusto (5 x 52), Toro (6.5 x 52), and Torpedo (6.25 x 52).

The Robusto features a slightly mottled Colorado brown wrapper. The slightly rounded, box-pressed cigar features two bands (one denoting Casa Fernandez Miami and another advertising Aganorsa Leaf), plus a black ribbon around the foot. The primary band was changed along the way to make “Miami” more prominent.

Once lit, the cigar features cafe-au-lait, bread, cashew, and light oak. It has only the slightest wood spice (though pepper is prominent when retro-haled), but it is a medium- to full-bodied smoke with excellent balance. The flavors coat the palate creating a long, velvety finish.

The flavors are consistent throughout, with a slight increase in strength towards the final third. Construction was excellent on all three Robustos I smoked, with an easy draw, even burn, and sturdy ash.

I’ve largely been impressed by Casa Fernandez cigars, but I’ll admit to being a bit confused by the line. At times, it’s challenging to discern the differences between their various offerings. For example, what appears to be the exact same Casa Fernandez Corojo has also been made in Nicaragua, but that cigar is still sold on some websites side-by-side with the Miami. Perhaps the new Aganorsa Leaf branding will soon clear up these differences.

The Casa Fernandez Miami Corojo Robusto retails for $110 for box of 15, but the truth is you can find it for quite a bit less. For the $60 I paid for the box (perhaps that confusion I spoke of creates a buying opportunity), it is a real bargain.

This Miami-made Nicaraguan puro is the type of cigar most appreciated by veteran fans of Nicaraguan smokes. With enjoyable flavors and excellent balance, the Casa Fernandez Miami Corojo Robusto earns a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Kilo Robusto

10 Jun 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.”

Kilo has been a passion project of Barry Stein since he joined Miami Cigar. The original cigar was produced while Barry was at Miami, but the second edition I’m smoking was released in 2015 under the United Cigar Group, owned by Dave Garofalo of Two Guys Smoke Shop. This edition is made at Noel Rojas’ Aroma de Jalapa Factory (home of Guayacan Cigars) using an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler. The full-bodied cigar starts with creamy flavors followed by oak, earth, milk chocolate, and coffee notes. It’s certainly full-bodied, but with integrated flavors and sufficient balance. It’s unclear whether Kilo is still being made, but if it isn’t that’s a shame because it’s an excellent cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Belle Meade Special Cask Finish Series Bourbon

6 Jun 2018

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery has plenty of history. In the 1800s, the Nashville distillery was one of the nation’s top whiskey producers, selling two million bottles annually.

Like many distilleries, it didn’t survive prohibition, and was shuttered in 1909 when Tennessee adopted prohibition at a state level. In 2006, Nelson family descendants visited the grounds and decided to relaunch the operation, eventually installing whiskey stills in 2014.

Like many smaller distilleries, while they wait for their whiskey stock to grow, Nelson’s Green Brier is relying on sourced whiskey. In this case, they turned to MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, to supply their Belle Meade bourbon line, all using a “high rye” mashbill.

Rather than just bottling sourced whiskey, the company sought to produce a more unique product with their limited Belle Meade Cask Finish Series which, as the name suggests, finishes aged bourbon in casks previously used for other spirits.

The Sherry Cask version employs nine-year-old bourbon aged in 20-year-old oloroso sherry casks. The Cognac and Madeira both use a blend of six- to nine-year-old bourbon in twelve-year-old Champagne XO cognac and Malmsey Madeira casks, respectively. The tasting notes on each are as follows:

Belle Meade Cognac Cask Bourbon
Nose: Burnt toffee, orange peel, cedar
Palate: Wood tanins, ripe berries, cigar box
Finish: Sugared pears with cedar and cinnamon spice

Belle Meade Madeira Cask Bourbon
Nose: Pear, oak, vanilla
Palate: Candied apples, honey, sugar cookies
Finish: Mint, oak, cherries

Belle Meade Sherry Cask Bourbon
Nose: Rich dried fruit, malt, caramel
Palate: Tobacco, spice box, fruit cake, grilled pineapple
Finish: Long with sherried walnuts and burnt caramel

The intensity of Sherry Cask was the standout, but then I’m a fan of sherry bomb single malts. All three are quite nice, with the Madeira being the most subtle and the Cognac bringing a nice balance of rich flavors, even if both sometimes, to their detriment, show their more youthful bourbon components.

In many ways, the Belle Meade Cask Finish Series represents both the opportunity and drawbacks of the current bourbon resurgence (some would call it a bubble). Quality sourced bourbon is expensive, but it also drives innovation, which is almost certainly why Belle Meade decided to differentiate their sourced bourbon with these unique cask finishes.

Bottles of each range from $70 to $80, but the best way to sample the range is to pick up a three-pack of half-size 375 ml. bottles. Usually, the three-bottle set sells for around $100, but maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find them on sale (as I did for $50). At full price, it’s harder to justify buying without trying them first, but at half that it’s good bourbon to keep on your shelf.

The Madeira and Cognac benefit from a more medium-bodied balanced cigar. The richness of the Belle Meade sherry cask will stand up to more full-bodied cigar.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Avo Heritage Short Corona

3 Jun 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.”

avo-heritage-sc

A few years ago, Avo underwent a revamp by its parent company, Davidoff. Many retailers put older stock on discount, which is where this cigar comes from. The petite-sized Short Corona showcases the full-bodied flavors of the line, which has a dark, sun-grown Ecuadorian wrapper over a Dominican binder and Dominican and Peruvian filler. Strong leather, charred oak, nutmeg spice, and earth are all evident in the little smoke. It isn’t my favorite size in the Avo Heritage line, but don’t overlook the Short Corona if you want a tasty 30-minute smoke.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Todos Las Dias Double Wide Belicoso

27 May 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.”

This sungrown-wrapped Nicagauan puro from Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Toacco & Trust was billed as his strongest cigar to date. The short, thick Belicoso (4.75 x 60) funnels a full-bodied stream of espresso, charred oak, and black pepper flavors. Construction was excellent on this $12 cigar. Full-bodied fans should definitely give this a try.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: The New Fuente Nicaraguan Cigar Factory is a Big Deal

23 May 2018

When it comes to classic, old-school cigars, few brands come to mind more than Arturo Fuente. In an era of so many brands bringing new cigars to market constantly, Fuente has never given in to that pressure of the new release treadmill, or the need to chase trends. All of which makes their recent announcement particularly noteworthy.

Yes, Fuente had a presence in Nicaragua in the 1970s prior to the Sandinista revolution that wiped out many international investors. But now it is back in a big way. Using land the Fuentes have used to grow Nicaraguan tobacco for a while, the Domincan cigar giant announced recently it is building a new cigar factory in the heart of Estelí with the name “Gran Fabrica de Tabacos La Bella y La Bestia.”

I, for one, am very excited to see what the new Nicaraguan factory can create. Fuente makes cigars that stack up well at every price point, from the bargain bin mixed-filler Curly Head to the ultra-premium limited edition Opus X releases. Fundamentally, though, they’ve always been characterized by Dominican tobaccos, especially fillers.

The prospect of an abundance of Nicaraguan tobacco in new Fuente blends sounds good to me. That Fuente brought in Felix Mesa of El Galan Cigars (maker of the Doña Nieves) to run the Nicaraguan operations is especially promising.

The announcement is also a sign of the emergence of Nicaraguan cigars.

Not that long ago, Nicaragua was third among countries when it came to importing handmade cigars into the United States, behind Honduras and far behind the Dominican Republic. Today, for the second straight year, Nicaragua has edged out the Dominican Republic, with Honduras a distant third.

Put simply: If you were starting a new cigar company today, the most obvious place to build your factory would be Nicaragua. Yes, labor costs that are lower than the Dominican Republic. But the biggest reason would be the access to Nicaraguan tobaccos.

In many ways, Fuente’s announcement is the culmination of Nicaragua’s ascendance. In short, it’s a big deal, and a sign of the where the U.S. cigar market is now.

Patrick S

photo credit: Fuente