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Photo Essay: A Visit to the Connecticut River Valley

30 Aug 2017

Growing up in New York and going to college in Maine, I have many friends from Connecticut. Cigar geeks aside, few realize that not only does Connecticut grow tobacco, but some of the most expensive and sought-after premium cigar wrapper is grown in the Nutmeg State. Recently I visited the Connecticut River Valley (north of Hartford) to see the farms there during the growing season, which runs from summer to early fall. Below are some of the photos from the trip.

One of the most notable things you quickly see is how each type of tobacco is grown differently to maximize qualities sought in the wrapper they hope it will become. (Inevitably, some leaves will end up as binder or filler; that said, leaves are grown with the intention and hope that they become wrapper, which commands the highest price.)

 

Sun-grown tobacco is topped (the flower at the top is removed) and lower leaves are removed early to maximize the nutrients that reach the leaves intended for tobacco. (Yes, the photo at the top is of the Habano leaf that will eventually become the Partagas Black.)

Increasingly, the leaves are then stalk-cured (the ones I saw were speared through the center of the stalk to kick-start curing) so the flavor of the nicotine in the stalk can continue to move into the leaves.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Connecticut Shade tobacco, which is processed to keep the leaf thin and light. In addition to netting, flowers remain and all the leaves are left on so they don’t get too thick.

Leaves are sewn individually for curing, instead of being left on the stalk.

In addition, fields are left to fallow one year out of three, and rye is frequently grown (then plowed over) in the off-season to replenish nutrients in the soil.

This is big business for Connecticut farmers, with each curing barn holding up to half a million dollars worth of tobacco, depending on the leaf type. Connecticut Shade is still the most expensive leaf grown in Connecticut, but Broadleaf and Habano are also grown in ample quantities.

If you are in the area in the late summer, drive around and you shouldn’t have too much trouble spotting tobacco fields. For those not lucky enough to visit foreign tobacco growing regions, Connecticut is the most accessible place to see the tobacco that ends up as a key component of the handmade cigars we enjoy.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Curivari Reserva Limitada Classica Epicure

27 Aug 2017

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.”

As my colleague noted recently, I’ve long hailed Curivari’s Buenaventura line as an excellent value. Buenaventura is hardly the only Curivari creation to provide great bang for the buck, though. Recently, I smoked a Curivari Reserva Limitada Classica Epicure (4.5 x 52), a Nicarguan puro featuring a dark, oily wrapper. The cigar exhibits rich earth, milk chocolate, and woody spices. Construction is excellent on this 50-minute smoke. Best of all, it sells for just over $50 for a box of 10.
Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Four Kicks H-Town Lancero

20 Aug 2017

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.”

This H-Town Lancero (7.5 x 38) was made by Crowned Heads for retailer Stogies World Class in Houston. The cigar is made in the Dominican Republic at Ernie Carrillo’s La Alianza SA factory using an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler. It’s a well-balanced, medium- to full-bodied cigar with woody spice, earth, and coffee notes. It was a little spongy, but it showed no ill effects with a steady, even burn.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Illusione Garagiste Gordo

16 Aug 2017

Garagiste winemakers (sometimes referred to as “super-cuvée” or “microchâteau”) are primarily associated with the Bordeaux region and known for super small-batch wine production and a style which is bold, fruit-forward, and tannic. Although Dion Giolito‘s Illusione Cigars is no longer among the smallest producers of cigars, the brand has long been associated with the boutique cigar movement, which makes the name of this Illusione line fitting. (It also isn’t the first Illusione cigar with a name associated with wine; Epernay is the region of France best known for producing Champagne.)

One of multiple new Illusione cigars made available for the first time at last year’s IPCPR Trade Show (in addition to a looming FDA deadline, it was also Illusione’s 10th Anniversary), Garagiste is the first Illusione cigar to feature an Ecuadorian wrapper. In materials distributed to retailers last year, Garagiste was described as follows:

“Garagiste is a medium- to full-bodied cigar concentrating on the combination of two tobaccos: Viso Corojo, and Viso Criollo from a specific farm from Aganorsa fields. Sweet and spice are the focal efforts of this cigar. Garagiste is finished with an Ecuador Habano wrapper that has been put through final fermentation techniques at TABSA in Estelí, Nicaragua.”

The line comes in four sizes (Short Robusto, Robusto, Toro, and Gordo) with suggested retail prices ranging from $8 to $12. I smoked four of the Gordos (6 x 56) for this review. Each featured a notably oily, shiny wrapper and pre-light notes of leather.

The cigar starts out very full-bodied with lots of leather and earth notes, along with some black pepper spice. An inch or so in, it dials back to a medium- to full-bodied, balanced profile as some sweetness emerges in the form of burnt sugar combined with bread and oak.

The cigar mostly features a clean, balanced finish, although occasionally graphite-like tannic notes emerge. Construction was excellent start to finish, with the densely packed cigar drawing flawlessly and producing an even burn trailed by a sturdy multi-gray ash.

Garagiste is a bit of a departure for Illusione and not just since it is the first Habano wrapper to be featured on an Illusione cigar. It’s a cigar with some sneaky strength, especially in the first third, though it also features the promised sweetness and spice.

Although it isn’t my favorite Illusione cigar (that high bar is set by the original 2010 Singulare) or even my second or third favorite, the Illusione Garagiste Gordo is another welcome addition to the impressive Illusione family. It earns 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: Intemperance EC XVIII Charity Petito

13 Aug 2017

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.”

This petite corona is one of five blends in RoMa Craft Tobac’s El Catador de Las Petite Coronas sampler box (featuring two each of the company’s five core blends in a four-inch, 46-ring gauge format). The cigar also sells by itself in boxes of 30. Made with an Ecuadorian wrapper, Indonesian binder, and filler from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, it is a rich, medium-bodied smoke that goes well with a strong cup of coffee. Cedar, cream, toast, and light pepper spice dominate the 30-minute smoke. With excellent construction and balanced flavors, it’s easy to recommend.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Foursquare Triptych and 2004 Single Blended Rums

9 Aug 2017

When it comes to variety of styles, rum gives whiskey a run for its money. Dark rum, aged rum, spiced rum, overproof rum, flavored rum… Besides being distilled from sugarcane or sugarcane derivatives, there are few rules when it comes to rum.

The downside is many rums, even higher-end rums, take advantage of the lax rules to add sugar or caramel color. This creates a sweetness many identify with premium rum. Such rums may be enjoyable to sip, but they’re hardly the only style of premium rum.

Foursquare Distillery’s Richard Seale is on a mission to clear up some of the confusion inherent in the category and give rum drinkers a better way to determine what exactly they are sipping. He’s even proposed new sub-categories of rum to achieve it.

Meanwhile, Seale makes some excellent rums, all free of any additives; he only employs rum and barrel time. He’s also not shy about revealing the details of exactly what’s in the rum and what types of barrels were used to make it. While some premium rums obfuscate about how long they were aged or how much sugar has been added, his approach is a breath of fresh air.

Today I look at two rums I recently picked up from the Barbados Foursquare Distillery. Both are barrel-proof and, while not impossible to find, will take some searching to locate.

Foursquare 2004 Single Blended Rum (Exceptional Cask Selection, Mark III)

As the label makes clear, this rum was distilled in 2004 in both pot and column stills then aged in used bourbon barrels for eleven years before being bottled at a hearty 59% alcohol by volume. Foursquare also makes a port cask- and zinfandel cask-finished version of the 2004 vintage rum. So, if you buy it, be sure to differentiate between them. Expect to pay between $60 and $80 for this bottle.

The nose of this amber-hued rum is surprisingly restrained with wood, vanilla, and molasses notes. On the palate, it’s a bold combination of tropical fruit, cocoa, leather, candied almonds, and butterscotch. The finish shows off more vanilla and fruit along with some barrel char.

Foursquare Triptych Single Blended Rum

Foursquare’s Triptych blends 2004 rum aged in used bourbon casks (presumably the same as in the 2004 Exceptional Cask) with 2005 distilled rum aged in ex-Madeira casks and 2007 rum aged in virgin oak. The use of virgin oak is unusual for rum, and the combination, once blended, is bottled without dilution at 56% alcohol by volume. Expect to pay $120 or more for this rum, which is limited to just 5,400 total bottles.

The result is a deep copper-colored rum with a lively nose of vanilla, wood spice, and just a bit of sulfur. On the palate, it features powdered cocoa, roasted cashew, bananas foster, leather, and molasses. The finish lingers with charred oak and more molasses.

Each is an excellent rum and a testimony to how flavorful, complex, and smooth rum can be without any added sugars. Also remarkable is how sippable they are neat despite the high proof. The prices aren’t cheap, especially the Triptych, but if you enjoy rum neat these are must-tries.

Good rum always pairs nicely with cigars, and these are no exception. The high proof and full flavor lend themselves to an earthy, full-bodied cigar like the Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu, Sobremesa, or Intemperance BA.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: La Palina Illumination Colonial

6 Aug 2017

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.”

It’s hard to believe how much the La Palina brand has grown since I attended the launch party in June 2010. From the debut single vitola blend, La Palina now features a dozen blends, most with multiple sizes. Illumination an features Ecuadorian wrapper and binder around Dominican and Nicaraguan filler. The cigar is made at the El Titan de Bronze factory, same as La Palina’s better-known Goldie. The corona gorda-sized Illumination Colonial (5.25 x 44, $10.50) showcases medium-bodied bread, cedar, hay, and coffee notes. Flavors are pleasant enough, though hardly in the same class as Goldie. The biggest flaw, however, is a burn that goes out for no apparent reason and requires several relights.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys