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Cigar Spirits: Tariquet Armagnac XO & Millesime 1993

24 Nov 2015


I’ll admit to being far less familiar with brandy as I am whiskey. And yet, when dabbling in brandy, I find myself drawn to Armagnac, as opposed to its better known sibling, Cognac.

Both are made by distilling wine from each region (Cognac from the area surrounding the French town of Cognac, and Armagnac from the Armagnac region in Gascony, which is in the southwest France) and then aging it in oak barrels, often for extended periods of time. But there are key differences between the two that give each its own character.

Cognac tends to be more corporate with a few big name producers, while Armagnac has smaller, family-controlled producers. Traditionally, cognac is distilled twice in pot stills, while Armagnac is distilled only once in a column still. Armagnac fans will tell you the single distillation leaves the spirit with more complexity and character.

Today, I’m exploring two expressions from Tariquet, a well-known Armagnac producer from the Bas-Armagnac subregion (one of three Armagnac geographical classifications). The company relies mostly on a combination of Ugni-blanc (60%) and Baco (40%) grapes, two of the ten grape varietals permitted for Armagnac production.

Tariquet XO Bas-Armagnac ($60)

Aged for 12-15 years (longer than the required 6+ years for the XO designation), Tariquet’s XO (80-proof) expression is light copper in color with a nose that features oak, almonds, and toasted coconut. There are full flavors on the palate with wood, fruit cake, and chocolate followed by a warm spicy finish.

Tariquet Millesime 1993 Bas-Armagnac ($90)

Distilled in 1993 and bottled in 2010, this vintage offering (90.4-proof) features a golden straw color and a nose that is bright with candied orange, honey, and nougat notes. On the palate there is vanilla, soft oak, pie crust, and citrus. The finish on this refined but powerful Armagnac is long and rich with dates and butterscotch.

Both are enjoyable in their own way. The extra age of the 1993 manifests itself as sophisticated, complex, and elegant. The XO is grittier with more wood and spice, but both are worth the extra cost versus the VSOP Tariquet, which is the only expression I was familiar with before this article.

These spirits also make for natural pairings with a fine cigar. The XO calls for woodier, spicier smokes like the Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey or a Dominican Fuente Opus X. For the Vintage 1993, I’d suggest balanced, nuanced cigars like the Cohiba Behike or Nicaraguan Illusione Epernay.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Ashton Symmetry Prism

22 Nov 2015

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.”


While Ashton Cigars has been busy expanding its San Cristobal and La Aroma de Cuba brands, the namesake Ashton brand was in hibernation from when it introduced the ESG line in 2006 until 2014 when it added Symmetry. The Fuente-made Symmetry uses an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, Dominican binder, and a combination of Dominican and Nicaraguan filler. (The Nicaraguan filler is a first for an Ashton cigar.)  The result is a medium- to full-bodied smoke with wood, leather, tea, and sawdust notes. The draw on my corona was a little tight but otherwise construction was good. This was a fine enough smoke but nothing special, which  doesn’t cut it for a cigar that costs $12.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXIII)

19 Nov 2015

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I look at Steve Saka’s radical transparency, the origins of the word “herf,” and suggestions for finding value cigars.


The Original Cigar Blogger Pulls Back the Curtain

You don’t have to talk very long with Steve Saka to realize he isn’t the type to BS you. In fact, after sitting down with him during a couple of trips to Drew Estate while he was still with the company, I came to appreciate you could ask him just about anything, as long as you were prepared to hear an unvarnished, candid answer. So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me to see his openness (especially on Facebook) about the process, including the challenges and anxiety, of creating his own cigar brand and bringing it to market. Even the info sheet that came with the samples he recently sent for review came with a leaf-by-leaf breakdown of the Sobremesa blend, something many established brands are still unwilling to provide (in part for fear of someone copying their blend). It’s a level of transparency you don’t often see. And yet maybe his candor shouldn’t come as a surprise. Before Saka was the driving force behind the creation of Liga Privada, he was the editor of what was essentially the first cigar blog, (before the word blog even existed). While the original Cigar Nexus domain is no longer online, you can still read the archive here, including the Monthly Officious Taste Test or M.O.T.T. (a not-so-subtle jab at then Cigar Aficionado executive editor Gordon Mott).

Herf, Established November 21, 1996

Speaking of Cigar Nexus, here’s a gem about the origin of the the word herf, which originated on the alt.smokers.cigars (ACS) newsgroup in 1996: “The un-official word of ASC is herf. Herf is a unique part of speech. It can be correctly used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, an infinitive, a prefix, a suffix, and an explicative. The arcane word ‘herf’ first entered the ASC lexicon on November 21, 1996, and was quickly elevated to frenetic and common use by ASCers… Herf is now virulently spreading to worldwide common use as hip cigar parlance.”

Which Wrappers Are Most Likely to Produce Value?

Finding a good cigar isn’t all that hard these days. Finding a good cigar at a price that offers excellent value is harder. But if good values are what you are after, one thing to think about is wrappers. Connecticut wrappers, both shade-grown and broadleaf, are hardest to do on a budget, in part because good Connecticut-grown wrappers are increasingly in demand. So if you’re the type of person who seeks out that elusive bundle cigar that smokes like a pricier stick, you’ll improve your odds by sticking to Nicaraguan-grown Habano and Mexican wrappers.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon (2015)

17 Nov 2015


First introduced in 2012, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength is a limited annual release bourbon from the Louisville Distilling Company. Like the regular release bourbon from Angel’s Envy, the annual Cask Strength release is a Kentucky bourbon that spends additional time aging in port barrels.

This year has been an exciting one for Angel’s Envy and Louisville Distilling, which saw the company get purchased by Bacardi. (Needless to say, now Angel’s Envy won’t have any trouble finding rum casks to use for the cask-finished Angel’s Envy Rye.)

This year’s Cask Strength release consists of 7,500 bottles (a slight increase from last year) which will be released in about a dozen states this month where it will carry a suggested price of around $170. While the exact age isn’t disclosed, press materials state the bourbon was aged “up to seven years” in new charred white oak bourbon barrels before beginning the port barrel finishing process.

The 2015 edition is the strongest Cask Strength release to date, weighing in at a hearty 127.9-proof (63.95% alcohol by volume). It is deep golden in color and the nose features caramel and plum notes, along with some heat to remind you of the proof.

On the palate, the bourbon shows a delicious combination of red fruits, vanilla, pound cake, and oak. A splash of water reveals even more flavors, including clove, butterscotch, and hints of mint. The finish has more caramel and berries that linger on the roof of your mouth.

While I never got to try the highly-regarded 2012 and 2013 Cask Strength Angel’s Envy expressions, I can say I think the 2015 surpasses last year’s edition. A splash of water opens it up nicely and really allows the subtleties to shine past the considerable alcohol strength.

With or without a splash of water, this is a bold bourbon that needs a full-bodied cigar pairing. Here are a few suggestions that should hit the mark: Liga Privada Dirty RatLa Flor Dominicana Limitado VArturo Fuente Opus X, and Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Liga Privada T-52 Corona Doble

15 Nov 2015

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 underlooked half of the Liga Privada core blends, T-52 features a Connecticut-grown Habano wrapper that is stalk-cut and cured (meaning instead of just curing the leaves, each tobacco stalk is cured whole). The blend features notes of wood, leather, black coffee, and earth. Construction is excellent. There’s a slightly sour quality that comes and goes. Maybe my tastes have changed, or maybe the T-52 has changed, or maybe this was just an anomaly, but, while pleasant, this cigar didn’t live up to its $15 price tag.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: El Centurion H-2K-CT Corona

12 Nov 2015

Introduced in 2007, the original El Centurion blend was a highly limited release billed as Don José “Pepin” Garcia’s personal blend. It remains one of my favorite Pepin-made cigars: subtle, complex, and well-balanced. (No surprise it earned a rare five out of five rating.)

El-Centurion-H-2K-CTBuilding on that legacy and name, My Father Cigars reintroduced the El Centurion brand in 2013 with an entirely new blend. That cigar featured a sun-grown Nicaraguan wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos.

This year, My Father Cigars introduced a second regular release El Centurion blend, dubbed the H-2K-CT, after the wrapper. H-2K-CT features a unique Cuban-seed Habano 2000 wrapper grown in Connecticut around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos.

The line comes in two box-pressed sizes: Corona (5.5 x 48) and Toro (6 x 52). For this review I smoked three Coronas. This vitola sells for around $7 each. The H-2K-CT wrapper, which is reportedly exclusive to My Father Cigars, is rustic and toothy but also oily.

Once lit, there is some syrup sweetness initially, although it fades as flavors of roasted nuts, leather, and oak dominate this medium-bodied smoke. Towards the final third, some cedar spice emerges along with black coffee notes.

I remember when the Habano 2000 first burst on the scene over a decade ago (the Habano 2000-wrapped Maria Mancini was the first box of cigars I ever bought); the wrapper was well-received for its flavors but suffered from chronic burn issues. Time has solved some of those problems, and this Connecticut-grown variety suffers from none of those issues as the samples I smoked were well-constructed from start to finish.

The H-2K-CT brings a lot to the table. It’s balanced and restrained with a nice combination of both sweetness and spice. Add in excellent construction and a fair price and this is the best El Centurion since the original limited release, which still stands out to me as a particularly special cigar. That earns the My Father El Centurion H-2K-CT Corona a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar News: Leaked Draft of FDA Cigar Deeming Rule Raises More Questions About FDA Rulemaking Process

10 Nov 2015


Two weeks ago, e-cigarette trade group Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association (TVECA) said it was in possession of a copy of the the deeming rule sent from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for final review before publication and implementation. Initially, the group leaked a copy of the table of contents and promised to leak the full document soon after.

Although the documents were never fully authenticated, every indication points to the document being legitimate. The FDA even took the unusual step of issuing a statement acknowledging the leak and stating they had an understanding that no more of the document would be made public.

While TVECA was focused on e-cigarette regulation aspects of the draft, included in the leaked table of contents was a line—”Regulation of Cigars and Selection of Option 1″—that caught the attention of cigar industry groups. The line was a strong indication that the FDA had transmitted to the OMB a deeming rule that included Option 1 for the regulation of cigars with no exemption for premium cigars.

Unlike Option 2, which exempted certain cigars that meet a definition of premium—including that they are handmade and have a retail price of at least $10—Option 1 would subject all cigars introduced after February 15, 2007 to an FDA approval process. It is a nightmare scenario that industry lobbying has been focused against since the FDA started the process of regulating cigars.

The OMB will now decide whether to proceed with the FDA draft of the rule or request more changes. Speculation is that it was the OMB that asked for Option 2 in the earlier stages of the process, so just because the FDA has moved forward with Option 1, that doesn’t guarantee Option 2 won’t be in the finalized rule.

The leak has raised other questions about the FDA process. Anti-tobacco politicians have already called for a probe of the leak, but the reality is the leak raises more fundamental questions about the FDA process.

Assuming they are authentic, the documents TVECA received could only have come from within FDA or OMB, meaning someone in the rulemaking process violated their confidentiality requirements. Contrary to the insinuations by those calling for a probe, it is the leaker who may have violated regulations, not the trade association that was within its rights to share the documents with the public or media. (Curiously, TVECA seems to have agreed not to disclose the full documents now, and has alluded to using what they have as leverage towards changes to the final document.)

If TVECA received the leaked documents others may have as well, and given that people within FDA and OMB tend to be pro-regulation, it is seems likely that anti-tobacco groups or politicians may have received leaked documents too. This might explain why anti-tobacco senators were so quick to call for OMB to accept FDA’s final version of the rule without changes or deliberations.

Either way, what is clear from the leak is at least one person with access to internal FDA documents is willingly disseminating those documents to people outside the agency. It makes you wonder how the agencies can be trusted with regulations that could determine the future of an industry that provides jobs for tens of thousands around the world, when they cannot even be trusted not to leak their own internal documents.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys