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Cigar Spirits: Templeton Rye

30 Oct 2014

Here’s a late addition to my two-part StogieGuys.com A-Z Guide to Rye Whiskey: Templeton Rye. Templeton, like many ryes on the market, is distilled at the the Indiana distillery formerly known as LDI, now known as MGPI (it’s also their stock ticker). templeton-rye-sq

templeton-ryeBut as we’ve explored in our series on rye, just because the rye has the same source doesn’t mean it tastes the same. Templeton, bottled in Templeton, Iowa, at 80-proof, sells for around $40 a bottle.

Templeton was one of the first to tap into the LDI rye, and for a while it was a bit of a mystery where the rye was made. A marketing story about being made from the recipe that was preferred by Al Capone got the brand in a bit of hot water, but it has since taken steps to clarify that, while inspired by an Iowa-made whiskey enjoyed by Al Capone, the current product is distilled in Indiana.

Controversy aside, what’s most important is how the whiskey tastes. And this one tastes good.

The color is a light caramel and the nose is an inviting combination of sweetness, tropical fruit, and spice. Think bananas foster with lots and lots of cinnamon.

On the palate, Templeton has a lush mouthfeel. It features toffee, wintergreen, dates, and a little oak. The finish is clean with a minty element.

It definitely shares the basic profile of most LDI ryes, but each takes on its own character. For Templeton, I was somewhat surprised at the intensity it keeps, despite being bottled at only 80-proof, the lowest proof a straight rye can legally be.

The combination of sweetness and spice screams out for a Cameroon-wrapped cigar. My three favorites right now in that category are the Fuente Hemingway, La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet, and the Nirvana by Drew Estate.

With so many excellent ryes out there, including so many from the same distillery source, it’s hard to recommend one over the other. All of them are tasty, and each has its own distinct character. Templeton, while a few bucks more than some of the others, is worth checking out. Rye fans will each have their own preferences, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend picking up a bottle of Templeton to decide for yourself.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Señor Rio Diamanté

28 Oct 2014

These days almost anyone can have their own cigar line, if they have the cash and a name to put on the band. Such cigars can be excellent or lousy, mostly depending (I suspect) on the degree to which the brand owner knows and cares about insisting on a quality product.senor-rio-diamante-sq Selecting a good partner to make the cigar for you helps too, I’m sure.

senor-rio-diamanteSo I really didn’t know what to expect when I was offered samples of Señor Rio cigars, two cigar blends from the owners of the Señor Rio tequila line. In the introduction email I received, Señor Rio co-owner Jonathan Gach said his direct enjoyment of cigars goes back to the late 1970s, plus even longer if you count enjoying the aroma of the cigars his father smoked.

Further emails revealed he had traveled to Nicaragua and worked with A.J. Fernandez on his two cigars: Señor Rio Añejo and Señor Rio Diamanté, the latter of which I’m reviewing here.

The Diamanté blend has Nicaraguan binder and filler from Estelí, Ometepe, and Condega, wrapped in a medium-brown Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. The dual bands surround a fun-sized (5 x 40), box-pressed smoke. It’s a quirky size for introducing a blend, but it works. It’s available for $7.99 at Total Wine shops around the country, as well as a growing number of other cigar retailers.

The well-constructed cigar has an easy draw that reveals an interesting combination of medium-bodied flavors. There are bready notes, a slight habanero spice, and coffee flavors, along with a unique, crisp, almost belt pepper taste.

There’s not much variation in flavor as the cigar progresses, as it maintains its medium- to full-bodied profile. The finish is long as the flavor coats the roof of the mouth.

I paired one cigar up with a sample of the Señor Rio 2 Year Añejo tequila. I wouldn’t say the cigar pairs better with the tequila than, say, a fine bourbon or whiskey, but it is a nice combination. (The tequila itself if very smooth with oak, citrus, and melon flavors.)

I started out saying I didn’t know what to expect from this cigar. Having smoked four of them, I’m impressed with the blend Señor Rio ended up with for Diamanté, no doubt in small part by choosing to work with A.J. Fernandez. It earns the Señor Rio Diamanté 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: Tatuaje Mister Anderson (Saints & Sinners 2014)

26 Oct 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.”tat-sns-mr-anderson-sq

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Mister Anderson is precisely the type of cigar you might expect in the cigar pack from Saints & Sinners (the private club built around the Tatuaje). It’s a little mysterious, but definitely good. It probably refers to John Anderson of Draper’s cigar shop in Washington, but there’s a little Matrix vibe going on too. I had one from another S&S cigar pack a few years ago, but that was much smaller than the large box pressed-size of this edition. The cigar itself is full-bodied, earthy, and gritty with some spice and excellent sweetness. If you can get your hands on one, it’s a fantastic treat.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Angel’s Envy Cask Strength (2014)

23 Oct 2014

This is a fun time of the year for bourbon enthusiasts, with many excellent limited releases heading to stores. If you’re lucky enough, you may find a bottle of the annually released Pappy Van Winkle, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, Four Roses Small Batch Cask Strength, or Parker’s Heritage.angels-envy-cask-strength-sq

angels-envy-cask-strengthIn recent years, you could add Angel’s Envy Cask Strength bourbon to that list of highly sought-after but hard-to-find limited offerings released in the fall. Angel’s Envy port-finished bourbon and rum cask-finished rye (a personal favorite of mine) are now offered year-round. Like the widely distributed Angel’s Envy bourbon, the limited Cask Strength offering is finished in port barrels after extended aging in standard new charred oak barrels.

The 2014 Cask Strength is a hearty 119.3-proof, and only 6,500 bottles (an increase over previous years) are being released. The suggested retail price is $169—for better or worse a fair price given the huge demand for such limited-release bourbons in the increasingly hot bourbon market.

The Angel’s Envy Cask Strength pours a deep copper color. The nose features a tightly wound combination of cherries, toffee, and vanilla. It’s barely a speed-bump compared to what’s to come.

On the palate, the full force of this bourbon comes to bear. Thick clove, dried fruit, charred oak, and butterscotch. The finish lingers with much of the same, plus a hint of ginger spice. It drinks very well neat, but a splash of spring water opens it up.

Angel’s Envy has quickly filled a niche in the American whiskey scene as a brand without a distillery (though they have started work on a Louisville distillery). Simply reselling whiskey made elsewhere is a tough business when you’re competing against the companies that make it themselves, but by adding the twist of unique barrel aging, Angel’s Envy has quickly become an established and respected addition.

Deep, intense bourbons like this one are made for cigars. And rich, full cigars are the way to go. Connecticut Broadleaf-wrapped cigars like the Drew Estate Liga Privada No. 9 or Tatuaje Reserva fit the bill.

The price, understandably, will make some people hesitant to pick up the Angel’s Envy Cask Stength release—especially considering you can buy three or four excellent bottles for the same price. But this is a special, limited, and unique offering. Pass up the opportunity to buy one at your own peril.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: Swisher Seals Deal to Buy Drew Estate

21 Oct 2014

Yesterday, Drew Estate and Swisher International announced an agreement had been finalized for Swisher to purchase Drew Estate. The announcement comes after over a month of intense rumors of the deal, including denials of a finalized deal by Jonathan Drew.

swisher-drew-estateSwisher is the largest cigar company in the world by volume and has a massive distribution network beyond traditional cigar shops. Drew Estate runs the largest cigar factory in Nicaragua—producing around 10,000 cigars a day—and owns heralded premium cigar lines including Liga Privada, Undercrown, My Uzi Weighs a Ton, Nica Rustica and Herrera Estelí, along with premium infused cigar lines including the best-selling Acid.

The deal, which will be completed before the end of the year, includes the Nicaraguan facilities and Drew Estate’s cigar lines. Monetary terms of the deal were not disclosed. Since both companies are privately held, details (including Drew Estate’s valuation) may never be known.

According to various reports, senior management from Drew Estate—co-founders Jonathan Drew and Marvin Samel, President Michael Cellucci, and master blender Willy Herrera—will all stay on, at least in the near term.

Jonathan Drew issued the following statement: “We began under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass in Brooklyn with a laser focus on ‘The Rebirth of Cigars.’ Friends, retailers, and consumers connected with our passion and authenticity, supporting us at each stage of our growth. We are eternally grateful to all of those who have helped build Drew Estate, and look forward to advancing the Drew Estate legacy with a great partner.” Other executives praised the agreement in a press release published on Drew Estate’s website.

Analysis

When a business is bought by larger company it’s natural for fans to be worried. Still, there are plenty of reasons for Drew Estate fans to think, despite the uncertainty of the shakeup, this may be a good thing for Drew Estate and the cigars its fans enjoy.

Drew Estate hasn’t hidden the fact that it had taken on significant debt to expand to its current size, including from other cigar companies. At least one such loan was tied to $5 million seized by the ATF as part of a settlement over back taxes reportedly owed by House of Oxford, a cigar distributor run by Alex Goldman, who was put in charge of Swisher’s premium cigar division. (Nothing illegitimate was alleged to have been done by Drew Estate and the case has now settled.) Goldman was also instrumental in having Drew Estate make Nirvana for Swisher’s Royal Gold premium cigar venture, a line that will presumably be merged into Drew Estate’s operations.

The agreement for Swisher to buy Drew Estate will presumably end any outstanding debts and allow Drew Estate to continue expansion with Swisher’s significant resources. Drew Estate can now refocus on making its cigars and innovating, something it has done remarkably well over the past few years.

It’s also worth noting that while FDA regulations are a looming threat to the entire handmade cigar industry, they are especially a threat to Drew Estate, whose infused/flavored lines will likely be hit hardest by FDA regulations. Swisher certainly knows this, which means it is likely to invest the funds necessary to promote Drew Estate’s brands no matter the impact of FDA regulations.

Finally, you can’t talk Drew Estate without Jonathan Drew. Anyone who has spent time with Jonathan knows he has a deep passion for cigars and his customers. While sometimes he may seem to be burdened by the business of cigars, there is no doubt he brings a unique energy and the spirit of innovation.

Drew and his partners built Drew Estate from a cigar kiosk in the World Trade Center to one of the largest cigar companies in the world, which is a remarkable feat. And Jonathan feels this deal is good for Drew Estate, which is his legacy.

Unless evidence presents itself to show otherwise, this deal is good not only for Drew Estate’s owners, but also for its customers.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Drew Estate

Quick Smoke: La Dueña Robusto

19 Oct 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.”la-duena-rob-sq

 la-duena-rob

I very much enjoyed La Dueña (made and distributed by My Father, but blended by Tatuaje’s Pete Johnson) when it was first released, although I haven’t had many recently. The cigar features a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos . This Robusto has the same flavors I remember from past La Dueña cigars (sweetness, earth, and cocoa) but with far less intensity. It’s still medium-bodied but bogged down with slightly damp flavors that detract from the overall experience. Considering I know this blend can be better (the Petit Lanceros I’ve smoked have consistently been very good) this Robusto was disappointing.

Verdict = Sell.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Viaje Cache

16 Oct 2014

viaje-cacheViaje Cache’s name refers to two things: First, we’re told it has tobacco selected from a “cache” of select, well-aged leaves at the TABSA factory in Nicaragua, where it is made. Second, in a box of Viaje Cache cigars you get 20 traditional round parejos, but underneath you’ll find a hidden layer of five box-pressed cigars.viaje-cache-sq

Both the box-pressed and parejo versions measure 5 inches long with a ring gauge of 52. They feature a Mexican maduro wrapper around Nicaraguan Aganorsa binder and filler.

For this review, I smoked four of the round parejo versions. If, like me, you purchase a five-pack, you’re likely to get the non-box-pressed version, as there are four parejos for every pressed Cache made.

The band is not like the traditional Viaje band, at least on the surface. I couldn’t verify since I’m not in a college dorm room, but apparently if you put the band under a black light you’ll find a hidden logo.

The wrapper is nearly black with plenty of oils. Even before you light up, it’s obvious the Cache is well-constructed. Firm to the touch with a tight draw, it has excellent combustion and a solid, light gray ash.

Once lit, the Cache is dominated by dark charred oak notes. There’s also plenty of dry, powdery earth and unsweetened cocoa. The full-bodied flavors are mostly consistent from start to finish, although a little red pepper spice starts to reveal itself towards the end.

Viaje can be hit or miss for me, but this is definitely a hit in my book. It’s very rich, with thick smoke that coats the palate with a dry, distinctive flavor. Viaje owner Andre Farkas has said, depending on the response, Cache may be a more regular offering. I certainly hope it is. Excellent construction, rich flavors, and a unique profile make the Viaje Cache a standout that earns a rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys