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Cigar Review: George Rico Miami S.T.K. American Puro Corona Gorda

28 Aug 2014

You could argue George Rico’s Miami S.T.K. American Puro is the most unique cigar around. Made in Miami, the blend has only tobacco grown in the United States, including fire-cured tobacco from Kentucky.GeorgeRico-STK-AP-sq

GeorgeRico-STK-APThe Miami S.T.K. American Puro was one of three cigars with fire-cured tobacco introduced at last year’s IPCPR Trade Show. The others, Leccia Black and Drew Estate MUWAT KFC, were announced first with the American Puro following a few weeks later. (Drew Estate’s announcement of its KFC cigar was pushed forward on the heels of Leccia Black because the company wanted to make clear it had the cigar in production long before Leccia’s announcement.)

But unlike Leccia Black and KFC, the American Puro has the added twist of being made with U.S.-grown wrapper, binder, and filler. The wrapper and binder are Connecticut Habano (an unusual wrapper) and the filler combines the fire-cured Kentucky leaf with Connecticut broadleaf.

The band may seem familiar to fans of Cuban cigars, as it’s very similar to the Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey (an interesting choice given the American-ness of the blend). I smoked the Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46) size for this review. Construction was good from start to finish.

Pre-light, the fire-cured tobacco dominates with a combination of a peaty scotch (think Laphroaig) and BBQ pit. It’s interesting to say the least and seriously pungent.

Once lit, the cigar seems less influenced by the fire-cured tobacco than you might expect. Yes, there’s a slight smokey, hickory edge there, but there’s also a molasses sweetness along with coffee, chocolate, and earth. It’s medium-bodied with minimal variation from start to finish.

I’ll say I was surprised by how traditional the Miami S.T.K. American Puro smokes. That’s not to say it’s bad or boring, just not as dominated by the fire-cured tobacco as I expected, which is a very polarizing flavor. Still, it’s a solid cigar for $9 with excellent construction and a pleasing profile. That earns the American Puro Corona Gorda an admirable rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Tatuaje Pudgy Monster Chuck

26 Aug 2014

Two months ago, Tatuaje shipped its Pudgy Monsters sampler, a follow-up to its Little Monsters sampler, which was comprised of smaller versions the Monsters Series Halloween cigars.tatuaje_pudgy_monsters The $95 Pudgy Monsters sampler features ten cigars, six being smaller versions of the prior Monsters, with the remaining four comprised of two each of two new blends.

tatuaje-chuckThe two new cigars are both based on the Child’s Play villains: “Chuck,” after the main character Chucky; and “Tiff,” after his bride, Tiffany. Last month I reviewed and enjoyed the Ecuador Connecticut-wrapped Tiff. Now I turn to Chuck, four of which I smoked (from three different Pudgy Monsters sampler boxes) for this review.

Chuck features a dark Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler. It’s a petit robusto size (4 x 50) with a sky blue band with Tatuaje in white centered and “Pudgy” and “Monsters” in blotchy red typeface on the sides. Like virtually all new Tatuajes, Pudgy Monsters are all made at the My Father Cigars factory in Estelí.

Once lit, I found lots of milk chocolate, damp earth, cinnamon, and notable pepper spice flavors. It’s a medium- to full-bodied cigar with a decent amount of spice and a powdery finish. It’s hardly the most complex cigar around, although it’s a robust, flavorful blend.

Construction was solid in the samples I smoked. My only complaint was the draw was a bit tight, though nowhere near plugged, but there was still a decent amount of resistance, especially in two of the samples. The ash was notably solid.

When I first smoked Tiff and Chuck, I was a far bigger fan of Chuck, but my thoughts have reversed over time. Chuck is a solid, tasty cigar, but Tiff is more refined, more elegant, and more balanced.

Still, Chuck is a fine cigar. And since you can’t buy Chuck by itself, only as part of the Pudgy sampler, I can definitely say that at $95 it is worth seeking out the ten-pack of Pudgy Monsters. (My favorite Monster blend remains The Face, and this sampler is no exception.) As for Chuck, it’s a very solid cigar, which earns it 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: Edgar Hoill EH Lancero

24 Aug 2014

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.”Edgar-Hoill-Cigars

 EH-lancero

Earlier this year, Edgar Hoill Cigars announced a very limited run in this Lancero (7 x 38) format. The Nicaraguan puro was previously only available in the three regular-production sizes. The spongy Lancero features lots of cocoa, tea, and earth flavors with a bit of clove spice. It’s medium- to full-bodied. The draw is slightly tight (a common issue for lanceros) but otherwise construction is solid. Big lancero fans (although I enjoy them on occassion, I wouldn’t say I’m a “big lancero fan”) should scoop one up while they can, but the three regular-production perfecto sizes are a better representation of this blend.

Verdict = Hold.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Innovation Makes Cigars Unique (and Uniquely Vulnerable)

21 Aug 2014

tobacco-sort

On Monday my colleague used a recent review and an old cigar assesment to highlight how individual cigar preferences can change over time. It’s something I suspect all seasoned cigar smokers have experienced.

Individual tastes change, but there are also larger trends among smokers (think Nicaraguan-heavy blends, larger ring gauges, Ecuadorian wrappers, etc.). Fortunately, the cigar industry is well-positioned to respond to smokers’ demands, even if this often goes unappreciated by those of who benefit.

Looking back over the past decade and you’ll see a pattern. One or two cigar makers find a hit with a certain blend, and soon after you see the market flooded with similar blends. The best (both in overall quality and in bang for the buck) stick around, while others fade away into online discount obscurity or are simply discontinued.

Some people might knock this follow-the-leader cycle, but it’s not a bad thing for the consumers who get the benefits of innovation and plenty of competition. Good marketing and brand loyalty only go so far, as eventually the cream rises to the top.

Contrast this with American whiskey, another industry I follow closely. Unlike cigars, the aging necessary for a fine bourbon or rye (four to six years at minimum, but sometimes multiple decades), means that it’s not possible to ramp up supply or introduce a new whiskey with only months or a year of planning.

The result is, for bourbon and rye, demand has recently overwhelmed supply (even the mainstream media has caught on) and brands that were recently staples on every liquor store shelf are now difficult to find, while limited releases are nearly impossible to track down unless you’re willing to pay exorbitant prices on the illegal secondary market. This is compounded by he fact that, unlike a box of cigars, a bottle of bourbon will remain unchanged in perpetuity (at least unopened), which leads people to horde their favorite brands in a way that you would never do with cigars. Plus you can have a decent amount of confidence buying a sealed bottle of bourbon from a relative stranger in a way you never could for cigars due to the importance of storage for cigars. (Consider this: There are brands of bourbon which I would buy a case of if I could find it at regular retail price, but I can’t come up with a single cigar, even those I’d like to find but can’t, that I’d buy more than a few boxes of.)

All of which is to say that cigar smokers have it pretty good. We have a vibrant free market that can relatively quickly produce new cigars to meet demand, with the largest multinational companies competing with small start-up brands on relatively even footing, each with its own competitive advantages.

All this is at risk from FDA regulations.

Pre-approval of new cigars means the introduction of new cigars would grind to a halt. Any cigar that doesn’t meet the FDA’s exemption for premium cigars (and this takes the optimistic view that the FDA will even adopt an exemption) would suddenly require years of work, and likely tens of thousands of dollars or more, to receive approval.

With all the comments now under review, the FDA could issue its final rule in as soon as a few months, though more likely they will take a bit longer than that. And since the regulations will likely retroactively apply to cigars introduced in the past few years, it’s not just future brands that are at risk, but also many of the newer cigars you enjoy today.

There was a time when a cigar smoker smoked one or two brands their entire life. (Think about the elderly guy at your local shop who still buys a box of Punch or La Glorias every month like clockwork, always the same cigar.) If FDA regulations hit in a way similar to how they were proposed, we may return to those days, but not because smokers are loyal to a brand out of choice, but because there are virtually no new cigars (at least those under $10 or some other arbitrary amount) to try.

It’s a scary thought and unfortunately one that probably won’t worry the bureaucrats at the FDA. Let’s just hope enough cigar smokers weighed in to let them know they care.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Willett Family Estate Rye

19 Aug 2014

I’m getting close to wrapping up our series of rye write-ups so we can put together a Guide to Rye, similar to our Stogie Guys A-Z Guide to Bourbon. This new Willett Family Estate Rye is one I definitely wanted to include.

willett-estate-family-ryeWillett has been bottling good rye for a while now, but up until a few years ago they didn’t distill any of it (at least since the 1970s). Companies, especially new ones, that bottle and brand whiskey made elsewhere are a dime a dozen (and that’s not a knock as some of it is quite good). Though Willett isn’t a new name in the whiskey game.

On the bourbon side, Willett has a history of aging and bottling excellent bourbon, including Noah’s Mill, Pure Kentucky, Johnny Drum, and a series of very small, very old, limited bourbons under the Willett name. For rye, they’ve been doing similar things with super limited, old ryes along with a barrel-proof four-year-old rye distilled from the 95% rye mashbill at the Indiana-based MGPI distillery (with a few things in between), all under the Willett name. In other words, Willett knows how to find good whiskey distilled by others.

What sets this Willet Family Estate Rye apart is it’s the first Willett product to be released that was distilled by Willett. Given that the company has only been distilling for a little over two years, the Willet Family Estate Rye features an age statement of just two years. Like the four year Willett rye distilled in Indiana, it’s barrel-proof (my bottle was 108.1-proof).

The rye pours a nice golden color, although the nose is slightly less inviting with a combination of nail polish with more pleasant butterscotch and orange peel. On the palate it shows a nice combination of toffee, mint, and citrus.

It has surprisingly little spice and a decent amount of alcohol burn, but there’s also a syrupy intensity to its flavors. The finish is long with burnt orange and floral sweetness. I tried to find a particular style of cigar that best complements the Willett Family Estate Rye, but ultimately I think any good cigar that’s medium- or full-bodied is going to work.

Barrel-proof rye isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, even if you are a fan of other ryes. But this is really quite good, especially at $35-45 a bottle.

Mostly, though, it makes me look forward to seeing what comes next from Willett’s stills. If this is what their rye tastes like at two years, I can’t wait until it gets a few more years in the barrel. So while big rye fans shouldn’t hesitate to scoop up a bottle, if you’re more of a dabbler in rye just wait until this gets even better in a few years.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: George A. Rico Barracuda Robusto

17 Aug 2014

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.”

barracuda-gar

Gran Habano/George A. Rico’s branding can be a bit confusing, but when you get past that you find a company that provides quality cigars at lots of price points. This offering (initially under the Gran Habano line, but now known as Barracuda by George A. Rico) is a great example of what it can provide in the $7-9 range. With an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler, it it a savory cigar with leather, earth, and cream flavors. There’s a subtle, mouthwatering saltiness from start to finish. It’s medium-bodied and full on flavor. All that plus excellent construction makes it easy to recommend this $8 Robusto.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey

12 Aug 2014

Having recently added Jefferson’s and Masterson’s to my list of ryes, I now turn to WhistlePig. The trio often gets lumped together since they all source their straight rye from the same Alberta distillery, and all are made with a mashbill of 100% rye.

WhistlePig10yrThat makes them similar, but not identical. From a technical aspect, the difference is proof: Jefferson’s (10 year, 94-proof), Whistlepig (10 year, 100-proof), and Masterson’s (10 year, 90-proof). Having tasted all three, it’s clear each has a character all its own.

Unlike the others, WhistlePig has taken steps to be more than just a brand and a bottler of whiskey made elsewhere. WhistlePig plays up its Vermont roots on the bottle prominently. Currently, the outfit is just bottling and aging whiskey on the “WhistlePig Farm” in Shoreham, but it has broken ground on a distillery (a dispute with a neighbor delayed permitting) with the goal of distilling the rye it grows on-site.

But that’s all in the future, and probably quite a few years out before farm-to-bottle becomes a reality. Right now, WhistlePig is Canadian-distilled rye and there’s nothing wrong with that. (In fact, if I were WhistlePig, I’d be more worried about changing the taste too much while pursuing the dream of a 100% Vermont rye, since what they have now is quite good.)

The light copper-colored rye features a nose full of honey and candied cherries, with less of the floral and spice notes often found in Jefferson’s or Masterson’s. This would be a theme for WhistlePig, which features a rounder, more bourbon-like edge than it’s Canadian compatriots. This is almost certainly due in part to the fact that WhistlePig is re-barreled in bourbon casks in Vermont for an additional period of aging.

The palate starts very bourbon-like at first with maple, vanilla, and wood, but the distinctive rye floral and clove spice is also there, especially on the finish. The finish is medium in length with additional notes of butterscotch.

WhistlePig really delivers, with a sweeter, more rounded, and less dry version of the Canadian 100% rye distillate. At $75 per bottle, its price is on par with Masterson’s and nearly twice that of Jefferson’s (although the latter is no longer being bottled). In the new landscape of bourbon and rye, the price isn’t a bargain, but it’s not unfair for a 10 year rye since well-aged ryes are so hard to find.

Like all good ryes, WhistlePig goes great with a fine cigar. Its intensity is too much for a mild smoke, but it still demands a balanced cigar. Good candidates include the Tatuaje Black, Romeo y Julieta Short Churchill (Cuban), and Paul Garmirian 15th Anniversary Robusto. But you can’t go wrong with this flavorful rye and any good smoke.

-Patrick S

photo credit: WhistlePig