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Cigar Spirits: Zafra Master Reserve 21 Year Rum

18 Sep 2014

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I’ll admit, rums that start with the letter “Z” tend to be my favorites. Zaya 12 and Zacapa 23 (not to mention Zacapa XO) are go-to rums for me, both with a smoothness and depth of flavor that can only be achieved through time in the barrel.

So I didn’t hesitate to pick up Zafra Master Reserve, a Panamanian rum aged 21 years in bourbon barrels. Apparently the same company that originally brought Zacapa to the U.S. market is the same outfit behind Zafra, which sells for around $40.

Zafra is a dark copper color, not surprising given its age. The nose could almost be mistaken for a bourbon, with corn sweetness, lots of oak, and orange peel.

The palate is surprisingly dry with lots of cedar and spice along with cognac and dried fruit. Underneath are more traditional rum flavors of vanilla, molasses, and oak. The long finish features more spice and oak.

It’s like a cross between a rum and a bourbon, and that’s a good combination for me. Don’t expect an overly sweet vanilla-forward rum. Zafra is more restrained and subtle than fellow “Z” rums Zacapa and Zaya.

That goes for cigar pairings, too. Instead of full-bodied smokes you’ll want something more balanced. Think Fuente Hemingway Short Story or Cabaiguan Robusto Extra.

As far as Zafra goes, it’s worlds apart from Zaya or Zacapa, but excellent in its own way, albeit more balanced and subdued. And on top of that it’s excellent for the price (I picked mine up for $37). Zafra 21 may not be the first thing I’d recommend for rum beginners, but real rum aficionados should definitely seek it out.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Viaje Oro Reserva VOR Aficionado

16 Sep 2014

Many people first heard of the Viaje Oro Reserva, better known as the VOR, when the No. 5 size was named the number two cigar on Cigar Aficionado‘s top 25 list of 2010 (behind only the Cuban Cohiba Behike). That’s understandable given the extremely small production numbers of that first VOR; most probably never saw the cigar in any cigar shop near them.Viaje-VOR-Aficionado-sq

Viaje-VOR-AficionadoWith a name clearly evocative of that acclaim, Viaje recently rolled out this new Churchill (7 x 50) size of the VOR blend dubbed Aficionado. (The added marketing benefit is when you Google the cigar’s name, the top hit is that CA rating.)

The Viaje Oro Reserva line features the same basic ingredients as the regular Viaje Oro line: a Niacaraguan Corojo ’99 wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler. The difference is the Reserva edition fine tunes the blend with more aged ligero filler, and it is made by the most experienced rollers at the Raice Cubanas factory in Honduras in box-pressed sizes.

The triple-banded VOR Aficionado sells for around $11 each, or $280 for a box of 25. The reddish brown Corojo wrapper is nearly vein-free and the VOR features inviting pre-draw flavors with sweet spice, like a graham cracker pie crust.

Once lit, the spice-forward theme continues. There’s a molasses sweetness to the cigar along with baking spices, leather, and a powdery mouthfeel. Also evident are subtle fruit undertones and a long cocoa finish.

It starts out just a bit under full-bodied, but gradually eases back to a medium-bodied cigar, although the spice never really fades. The VOR features immaculate construction, from the razor-straight burn to sturdy ash to easy draw.

Thinking back on the Viaje cigars I’ve smoked, I often find them to be very good. But few are true standouts, especially given the price and trouble to track them down (since they aren’t carried by many shops). The VOR Aficionado, however, is a special spice-forward, interesting cigar worth finding. It’s enough to earn the Viaje Oro Reserva Aficionado 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

Quick Smoke: La Antiguedad Corona Grande

14 Sep 2014

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke a>: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”MF-La-Antiguedad-cg-sq

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My colleague reviewed La Antiguedad (Spanish for “antiquity”) a couple months ago, but I hadn’t gotten around to trying this new offering from My Father Cigars. I picked up the box-pressed Corona Grande (6.4 x 47) from a local shop for just under $8. The Ecuadorian Habano Rosado Oscuro wrapper looks flavorful with its reddish-brown color, notable veins, and oily appearance. Beneath are double Corojo and Criollo binders and filler all grown at My Father-owned Nicaraguan farms. The cigar features a complex combination of oak, chalk, leather, and black pepper. The burn is occasionally uneven, but otherwise construction is solid. Smoke it slowly and it will reward you.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Padrón Family Reserve No. 50 Maduro

11 Sep 2014

The cigar industry loves to celebrate anniversaries. This year there are at least three notable benchmarks, each with a celebratory cigar (or four).Padron-FR-No-50-Mad-sq

Padron-FR-No-50-MaduroE.P. Carrillo is celebrating its fifth year. La Flor Dominicana is celebrating twenty years since Litto Gomez started his cigar venture in 1994. But the most anticipated anniversary in 2014 is that of Padrón’s 50th year. In an industry that puts out limited release cigars for virtually any reason, that’s something worth celebrating. And celebrate Padrón did with two cigars and four blends.

In December, the uber-extravagent “The Hammer” will hit stores. That special cigar comes in humidors of 50 individually numbered cigars (either Maduro or Natural) and will sell for over $4,500. (Yes, that’s nearly $100 a cigar.) Buying one of the only 1,000 handsome humidors entitles the owner of it to purchase refills.

The less-expensive (though hardly inexpensive, with a MSRP of $25 each) is the Family Reserve No. 50, an extension of the Family Reserve line that started five years ago with the No. 45. Boxes of ten are available with either Maduro or Natural wrappers.

Today I turn to the maduro version of the No. 50, which is a box-pressed parejo measuring 5 inches long with a ring gauge of 54. This is a Nicaraguan puro, like all Padrón cigars, and the wrapper is a gorgeous, oily, deep-brown color. (There are rumors Padrón uses maduro wrappers grown in Mexico, but I’ve never seen proof.)

The pre-light draw features cedar and chocolate. Once lit, it’s a rich combination of earth and dry chocolate with notes of oak and molasses, and the tiniest bit of pepper spice. Not a ton of variation as the cigar progresses. The powdery, thick smoke creates a finish that lingers.

It’s a model of restrained strength with full flavors. And construction is flawless. The cigar is firm to the touch, the draw has the ideal amount of resistance, and the ash holds for as long as I dared to test it.

So what’s not to like? Really just the price. A $25 cigar should be excellent, and this hits the mark. Is it much better than the 1926 series? Probably not, but it’s at least a slight step up. Really, the cost is the only thing that would give me pause about buying more.

Still, it’s pure Padrón and an all-around standout cigar. It’s easy to give the Padrón Family Reserve No. 50 Maduro the outstanding 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

Cigar Spirits: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye (Four Year)

9 Sep 2014

I’m wrapping up our series of rye write-ups with a pair of Willett Family Estate Ryes. The pair may seem similar, but they have some very important differences that are symbolic of the American whiskey industry. (In addition to its ryes, Willett has a history of aging and bottling excellent bourbon, including Noah’s Mill, Pure Kentucky, and Johnny Drum.)willett-family-estate-sb-rye-sq

willett-family-estate-sb-ryeThe Willett Family Estate Small Batch Rye is the first Willett Rye distilled at Willett, and currently it’s bottled after two years in the barrel because that’s roughly how long it has been since Willett first got their still running. The rye is reportedly a blend of the different rye recipes being produced at Willett. And while it’s still young, it shows extraordinary promise. (You can differentiate it from other Willett products because it has a foil top, not wax, and states it is distilled at Willett.)

Meanwhile, Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye is a sourced single-barrel whiskey. The younger batches, like the four year I’m writing about (from barrel number 116), are sourced from the MGPI distillery in Indiana, which is also the source of rye bottled by Redemption, Angel’s Envy, Templeton, Bulleit, Dickel, Old Scout, and others. You can tell this one from the Small Batch because of the green wax seal and the fact the back the 110-proof bottle states, “distilled in Indiana.” (Some whiskey companies aren’t so honest about the source of their bourbon or rye, so the clarity is appreciated.)

The $40-45 rye shares many similarities to the other Indiana-sourced rye (which has a mashbill with 95% rye), but the high proof and Willett barrel selection up the intensity. The orange-hued rye features an inviting nose of nougat, clove, butterscotch, and orange.

On the palate, the Willett Single Barrel has remarkable sweetness for a rye, leading with buttered popcorn and butterscotch along with secondary flavors of pine, baking spice, and marmalade. The finish is where it shows a little heat along with spice.

This rye is remarkable in that it is simultaneously intense and concentrated, yet smooth neat. It can stand up to a strong, full-bodied cigar: either a dark, earthy smoke like the Añoranza, or a bold and spicy one like the Fuente Opus X.

The natural question to ask is which young Willett Rye is better? Despite different sources, they aren’t that unlike. I predict that by the time the Willett-distilled rye is four years old it will be better, but right now if you only have money for one, buy the four-year-old Indiana product. Willett has a well-deserved reputation for excellent barrel picks, and this young, lively, flavorful, well-rounded rye is a must-try for rye fans.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Tatuaje 10th Anniversary Belle Encre

7 Sep 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.”

Tatuaje Belle Encre

I’m a big fan of this the 10th Anniversary Belle Encre. Like the entire regular Brown Label line, it uses an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler. (Though you might recall that long ago the blend was a Nicaraguan puro made with Aganorsa tobacco before a falling out between the Pepíns and Eduardo Fernandez.) Full of flavor with earth and coffee notes, along with a fair amount of spice. Construction is excellent, and the perfecto shape seems to really focus the flavors on the palate. I for one hope this 10th Anniversary addition to the line doesn’t go away when the anniversary passes.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Tatuaje WCD 127

2 Sep 2014

Tatuaje has long had a close relationship with the Washington-based W. Curtis Draper cigar shop, which now includes two locations and the affiliated Civil Cigar Lounge. The shop was an early supporter of Tatuaje and its owner Pete Johnson, and the relationship has resulted in many collaborations. (At times the loyalty has even prevented other DC-area shops from getting certain Tatuaje products.)tat-wcd-127-sq

tat-wcd-127One result of the special bond between Draper and Tatuaje was the “Cabaiguan WCD 120,” a limited edition petit corona Cabaiguan blend released in 2007 to celebrate the shop’s 120th anniversary. Five years later, the “120 Redux” would bring that blend back to celebrate year 125.

Another collaboration was a special size of the Tatuaje Brown Label (also known as the “Selección de Cazador”) made for Civil Cigar Lounge. That cigar was a essentially just a slightly thicker version of the 7.6-inch Taino size: 52 ring gauge versus the 49 for the regular release Taino.

Which gets us to the WCD 127. Made to celebrate Draper’s 127th year, it uses the same large size as the Civil Cigar Lounge Tatuaje cigar. The differences are the blend (although the basics are still an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler) and the packaging, which uses the red, white, and green band that pops up for one-off Tatuaje projects.

Tatuaje Selección de Cazador wrappers can vary in color, so it’s hard to say the 127′s wrapper is darker or lighter, but certainly the medium brown wrapper has, when you look closely, more dark splotches that I normally see in Tatuaje Brown Label cigars. The large cigar is well-constructed, and once lit it produced loads of thick smoke.

The Tatuaje WCD 127′s flavors are a farily traditional combination of earth and coffee, but there’s also some roasted peanut, nutmeg, burnt wood, leather, and plenty of pepper spice. It’s a medium- to full-bodied smoke that ebbs and flows throughout the two-hour smoking time, with hints of bitterness popping up on few occasions.

Maybe my standards are too high when it comes to Tatuaje limited release cigars (as some have been my all-time favorites) but while this is a very good cigar, it didn’t knock it out of the park for me. I actually prefer the regular Tatuaje Brown Label Taino. Still, it’s a very nice way to spend two hours and $12. (Boxes of 12 sold for $140.)

All of which earns the Tatuaje WCD 127 a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys