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Exclusive News: Drew Estate Prepares to Release Undercrown Shade, Plus New Cigars from La Palina and A.J. Fernendez

6 Jul 2015


Drew Estate is poised to release Undercrown Shade, a new line based on the Undercrown blend featuring a No. 1 grade shade-grown Connecticut wrapper.

Here is Drew Estate’s description of the new line, which uncovered in the recently distributed 322-page Tobacco Retailer’s Almanac, sent to members of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR):

More than just a wrapper swap, this ‘Crown was a three-year process working from the ground up using the finest blend of well-aged, long leaf tobaccos from our vast holdings in Estelí, Nicaragua. Finished with a No. 1 golden shade wrapper, the most sought-after leaf in the world, Undercrown Shade is a naturally sweet, earthy smoke with satisfying body for any time of day.

The line will be available in boxes of 25 in the same six regular production vitolas as the original Undercrown line:

Belicoso 6 x 52
Corona Doble 7 x 54
Corona 5.38 x 46
Gordito 6 x 60
Gran Toro 6 x 52
Robusto 5 x 54

References to “the most sought-after leaf in the world” and “shade” imply the blend uses a Connecticut-grown wrapper leaf, as opposed to an Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut wrapper, which Drew Estate uses on Herrera Estelí. Ecuadorian wrapper isn’t usually grown under shade netting because of the natural cloud cover that produces a similar leaf without it.

Jonathan Drew hinted on Facebook that a Connecticut shade-grown wrapper project was in the works last August when he wrote: “Historically, Drew Estate has always used the Shade Leaf from Ecuador, but this Connecticut leaf is mad juicy and getting me crazy. I mean like… well… what’s a couple thousand pounds of this juicy leaf going to taste like with a tweaked Undercrown Blend…. Oh wait, maybe a tweaked Rustica… Oh shucks, ima get all kind of flack for this post.”

La Palina Introduces Red Label

Also listed in the Tobacco Retailers Almanac is a previously unannounced La Palina Red Label. The line will comes in four sizes: Gordo (6 x 60), Toro (6 x 50), Robusto (5 x 52), and Petit Lancero (6 x 40). All are listed as shipping in boxes of 20. Although no other details are printed, a recent posting announcing the selections for Cigar Dave’s cigar of the month club reveal more details about the Dominican-made blend, which features a Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, Ecuadorian binder, and Nicaraguan and Dominican filler.

AJ Fernandez Enclave


Although no other details are revealed, we do have artwork (above) to share for the upcoming Enclave cigar by A.J. Fernendez. The ad appears in the Tobacco Retailer’s Almanac. A February article in the publication BayouLife mentioned the project, though the blend was still being tweaked at the time. More details, presumably, will be unveiled between now and the start of the IPCPR Trade Show.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys/Drew Estate/A.J. Fernandez

Commentary: Prediction for IPCPR 2015 — $10 Cigars

2 Jul 2015


The annual International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show opens just two weeks from tomorrow in New Orleans. Many new cigars that will debut at the show have already been announced, with even more to come in the next two weeks.

Looking at the trends among new cigars is always interesting because it tells you the answer to this question: What do cigar makers think cigar smokers will buy? Many cigar makers are very passionate about their craft, but they are still businessmen (and women) and, ultimately, the idea is to make cigars that will sell.

Steve Saka, formerly of Drew Estate, who will be launching his new cigar venture called Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, recently kicked off a discussion about the trends expected at the show with a question on Facebook about what cigar smokers want to see, and what they expect to see.

My colleague responded to the latter question with the following: “More San Andrés, less Conn. Broadleaf. More thick cigars, but also a few lanceros too. More cigars packaged in 5- or 10-count boxes, rather than 20+.”

In terms of the cigars we’ll see, I agree. But I would add another prediction, this one about price: Get ready for lots of cigars with a retail price of $10 or more.

This prediction isn’t about what cigar makers think cigar consumers want (although the trend towards higher-priced cigars has been going for a while now) but rather a reaction to the pending FDA regulation of cigars.

As we’ve explained, under the regulations which may go into effect any day now, every new cigar will be subject to FDA pre-approval before it can be brought to market. The only possible exception is under “Option 2″ of the proposed regulation which calls for an exemption for cigars with a retail price of $10 or more. (Although, I’ve spoken with people familiar with the federal rulemaking process who say a small change to that number could be implemented without the need for an additional comment period, such as a change from a retail price limit to an equivalent wholesale price of, for example, $5.)

Still, right now the best hope of escaping a costly and time-consuming FDA pre-approval process—assuming most cigars could get through it at all before going bankrupt—is to set your retail price at $10. It’s as natural as it is depressing, and it will especially impact cigars that might otherwise sell for a few dollars under the $10 cap.

So while other new cigar trends, whether we like them or not, are a natural response to what consumers want and what cigar makers can make with the tobacco they have available, maybe the most distinctive trend from the 2015 IPCPR Trade Show will be overpriced cigars. Not because cigar makers want to gouge their customers; because of the inevitable response to FDA regulations that haven’t yet gone into effect.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: I.W. Harper 15 Year Straight Kentucky Bourbon

30 Jun 2015


If Americans suddenly doubled their demand for vodka it would take the vodka makers only months, or at most a year or two, to increase their supply to match the new demand. Not so for bourbon. When the public suddenly wants more well-aged bourbon, increasing distilling capacity today won’t do anything to change supply for a decade.

The formula is simple: Want 15-year-old bourbon? It has to rest in barrels for at least 15 years. Which makes the introduction of I.W. Harper 15 Year somewhat remarkable. This particular offering is new, but the brand certainly isn’t, something I covered in my write-up of the non-age statement version of the I.W. Harper:

I.W. Harper has an interesting and complex story. Originally introduced in 1879, the brand was discontinued in the U.S. market around 1990 but continued to thrive in the Japanese market. I.W. Harper is owned by Diageo, the largest spirits company in the world, but a company that has a long, though often puzzling, history in the American bourbon market.  Currently, Diageo’s American whiskey portfolio consists of George Dickel, Bulleit, and the Orphan Barrel series.

This bourbon was distilled at the New Bernheim distillery, which is currently owned by Heaven Hill, owner of Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, and many other brands. The mashbill used is 86% corn, 6% rye (a very low rye percentage), and 8% barley and it is bottled at 86-proof. Suggested retail price is $75 a bottle, although you might see it anywhere from $60-90 in a throwback decanter-style bottle that is certainly eye-catching.

Inside is a bronze-colored bourbon with a nose of vanilla, cotton candy, brown sugar, and fresh corn. It starts out light on the palate with lots of sweetness, apples, and a little creaminess, but it also shows a bigger, thick woody edge. The finish is long with more oak and spice.

The low rye content of the I.W. Harper 15, combined with the relatively low 86-proof, creates a soft, complex, finessed bourbon, especially given the age. It pairs well with a mild cigar. Think a creamy Connecticut Shade.

Good, old bourbon is increasingly hard to find at a reasonable price, and the I.W. Harper fits that description. In addition, it would make an excellent gift. The seasoned bourbon drinker will appreciate the juice, but a more novice bourbon fan can still appreciate the fancy bottle and relatively old age (which, rightly or wrongly, is often seen as a indicator of quality).

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Montecristo Petite Edmundo

28 Jun 2015

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief take on a single cigar.


When it first came out, the Petite Edmundo was one of my favorite Cuban smokes, although later boxes proved to be less consistent. This particular stick had been resting in my humidor for the better part of three years, so it should hardly suffer from the ill-effects of under-aged tobacco, as Cubans sometimes do. It was well-constructed with notes of roast pecan, hay, coffee, sweetness (especially towards the second half), and intense cedar. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I still remember enjoying the Petit Edmundos seven or eight years ago better. Still, with proper age, this Cuban is quite tasty.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Ron Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva Rum

25 Jun 2015


Here in Washington, it has been hot lately, with the only exception being intense storms that quickly give way to extra humidity. Some call it summer but I call it rum season, and today I’ll introduce you to one of my go-to rums.

Ron Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva is a Venezuelan rum that is actually a blend of rums aged up to 12 years. The blend mostly consists of rum distilled from a sugar cane honey “with 80% heavy and 20% light rums and aged for up to 12 years.”

The nose of this dark, copper-colored rum wastes no time as it wafts toward your nose as soon as you pull the cork top. Once poured into the glass, the vibrant nose shows brown sugar icing, clove, and banana bread.

On the plate Diplomático reveals nougat, maple wood, oak, nuttiness, orange peel, and chocolate. It has a rich thickness with a restrained sweetness. It’s plenty sweet with lots of vanilla, but it isn’t cloying and is balanced out by spice, wood, and fruit. The finish continues the interplay between the brown sugar sweetness and the oaky woodiness, which leaves the plate a little dry.

I’ll admit I’m far more likely to drop an ice cube in my rum than my bourbon, and I wouldn’t hold it against you if you did that here, but it does deserve to be tried neat first. Diplomático is plenty smooth for the task (aided by the fact it is 80-proof).

Any cigar you enjoy would work as a pairing with Diplomático. To really bring out the best, though, I’d lean towards refined and elegant over big and bold. For example, the photo above shows the Drew Estate Nica Rustica, but my suggested Drew Estate cigar with this rum would be Herrera Estelí.

You won’t find it everywhere but, with a little work, Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva isn’t all that hard to track down. If you enjoy rums that can be sipped neat or on the rocks, consider the Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva a must-try.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: In Praise of Cigar Copycats

23 Jun 2015


David Garafalo, owner of Two Guys Smoke Shop in New Hampshire, recently posted an interesting editorial entitled “Here Come the Copy Cats.” He writes about the longstanding practice in the cigar industry of copying the successful innovations of others.

The case Garafalo lays out is indisputably true. If you create something successful in the cigar industry, someone else will come along and knock it off. Whether it is the marketing of a certain production technique (barrel-aging tobacco), the use of a certain tobacco in a blend (double Ligero or double Corojo), or a cigar shape (the fuse-style cap), if it helps sell cigars you can expect others to come along and copy it.

Garafalo, a brand owner and seller of cigars, is understandably frustrated by this. He correctly points out that when it comes to trademarks, people are often over-litigious and in such trademark disputes often deeper pockets will prevail, regardless of merit.

Still, I want to push back against the idea that the copycat nature of the cigar industry is a bad thing. Of course a cigar brand owner doesn’t like that his innovation will get copied by the less original, but overall I think it is a good thing for cigar consumers.

What is so great about the non-Cuban cigar industry is the competition. (Cuban cigar brands are centrally controlled, which is why you don’t see nearly as much innovation there, and why there is no true boutique Cuban cigar.) When one cigar company comes out with a new hit cigar, other companies soon follow with their own version of what they think makes that cigar a hit. If barrel-aged tobacco sells a lot of cigars for Camacho, expect more companies to be experimenting with barrel-aged tobacco.

For consumers, this is a great thing. If Camacho does it the best, their cigars will sell the best. But if next year Altadis or someone else comes out with an even better cigar highlighting its use of barrel-aged tobacco, then consumers will have another excellent cigar to buy. Quality and value will drive out those that can’t compete on either.

If a copycat can create the same experience at a lower price, cigar smokers should be thankful. The alternative, which Garafalo seems to concede is just not feasible, would be a legal prohibition to the free market forces that give consumers maximum choice.

Should the Opus X be the only cigar with a Dominican wrapper because Fuente was the first to successfully grow and market a Domincan wrapper? Should Joya de Nicaragua be the only producers of Nicaraguan puros because they did it first? Of course not. Even though it would be a benefit to the innovators, it would stifle consumer choice and all the innovations that follow.

This is true of any competitive industry. Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada may have been among the first to realize American consumers would pay a premium for flavorful beer. Think of the loss to the beer-drinking world had others not been allowed to follow. The same could be said of cellphones. Think of the loss if Apple and Android hadn’t been allowed to improve upon Blackberry’s innovations.

We should be thankful cigar innovations are, except for a few small exceptions, not subject to patent laws preventing competitors from building on the innovations of others. Trademarks do prevent consumers from being confused about brand names, but they don’t stop competitors from creating a cigar that tastes similar or looks similar to a highly sought-after cigar.

This competition (and, yes, even copycat behavior) is an unmitigated win for consumers who get more variety at a better price than would ever be possible if such activity were prevented. We should be thankful for it, and we should fight efforts by the FDA and others to stifle such competition and innovation.

Patrick S

photo credit: Two Guys/Espinosa/Viaje

Quick Smoke: NHC ELO Series 13 Last Breath Connecticut Sol

21 Jun 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.”


New Havana Cigars (NHC) has always had a close relationship with Tatuaje owner Pete Johnson (NHC owner Dan Welsh is a partner with Johnson in L’Atelier) which has always made its house blends notable. This particular limited release was a cigar rolled in 2013 but with four varieties each with a different wrapper added only recently, including this Connecticut Sol wrapper, which is also used on the Cabaiguan Guapo.  The cigar is medium-bodied with a combination of coffee, black tea, clove, and cedar. Construction is perfect. While $9 (the cigars come in 5-packs for $45) is a bit more than many house blends, this is a standout, complex smoke.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys