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Commentary: Five Early Standouts from the 2018 IPCPR Trade Show

18 Jul 2018

Despite a small electrical fire that caused a little damage to some booths by setting off the sprinkler system, and a outbreak of the flu at the host hotel, the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show is in full roar in Las Vegas. While IPCPR occasionally holds the convention, the biggest of the year for handmade cigars, in other cities, any who attended multiple trade shows can tell you the event is at its natural home when it is in Las Vegas.

Like many, we’re still digging through the many press releases and announcements of new cigars, so we reserve the right to add to this list. But here are five new cigars we’re particularly excited to check out when they hit shelves in the coming months:

Illusione OneOff

Actually announced a couple months ago, OneOff is a reboot of a cigar that was popular in early 2000s but faded away only for Illusione owner Dion Giolito to purchase the trademark last year. The eight-vitola line is made at TABSA and, while Giolito is being tight-lipped about the exact blend, given Illusione’s track-record this is a cigar I’m looking forward to.

Drew Estate Liga Privada 10-Year Anniversario

Ten years, ago Drew Estate introduced Liga Privada and completely changed the way cigar smokers thought about Drew Estate, which up until that point had been primarily a maker of infused cigars. As production and demand increased, many (myself included) felt Liga Privada, while still good, was not as exceptional as when it first arrived. Will the 10th Anniversary release of Liga Privada hearken back to the standout days when the brand first burst onto the scene? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Nestor Miranda 75th Anniversary

Nestor Miranda’s Miami Cigar Co. and Don José “Pepin” Garcia have collaborated to make some of my favorite cigars over the years. So Pepin making a Nicaraguan puro for his longtime collaborator Nestor Miranda is something I’m particularly interested in trying. The large, salomon-sized cigar features a Corojo wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler. Only 15,000 are scheduled to be made, and I’m looking forward to trying one.

Partagas Legend

Partagas Legend is a tribute to five legendary cigar men who contributed to the Partagas brand: Jaime Partagas, Ramon Cifuentes, Edgar Cullman Sr., Daniel Nunez, and Benji Menendez. The box-pressed cigar uses a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Honduran binder, and Dominican Piloto Cubano filler. The Partagas brand is, in my opinion, too frequently overlooked, but I don’t plan to overlook the Partagas Legend.

Aging Room Puro Cepa

To say Rafael Nodal has been busy lately would be an understatement. In addition to his Aging Room brand, he has joined with Altadis’ Tabacalera USA. We could just as easily have picked the new Montecristo Nicaragua for this final pick, but perhaps more interesting is Aging Room’s new Nicaraguan cigar called Puro Cepa. Made with tobaccos from all four major Nicaraguan growing regions (Ometepe, Jalapa, Condega, and Estelí), it is the rare Nicaraguan puro from Aging Room which has made some very under-the-radar cigars in recent years.

Patrick S

photo credit:  IPCPR

Commentary: Cigar Enthusiasts Could Benefit from a Little More Talking

11 Jun 2018

They’re commonly called shelf-talkers. Those little cards or stickers you see so often on store shelves to entice you to buy the highlighted product.

They’re ubiquitous in grocery stores, omnipresent in wine shops, and in many other retail outlets. In cigar stores, though, not so much.

Of course, some cigar manufacturers provide them, and some retailers display them. But I don’t believe they are nearly as common as they should be.

When you’re looking through a humidor hoping to find something you’ve never encountered or a cigar you’ve heard of but haven’t tried, wouldn’t it be helpful to quickly see the basics? By that, I’m referring primarily to the tobaccos used, although we know more would be better.

I find it interesting that tobacco information is regularly included in the descriptions of online and catalog offerings, even if it is sometimes incorrect. Does it make sense that customers have less access to such material when they’re in a store devoted to cigars?

Now, I know some will say you should ask the retailer. And that can work if you are focusing on only one or two cigars, and the staffer you talk to knows the answers. On the other hand, if you’re someone like me who can spend a lot of time looking, considering, and generally doing a Hamlet imitation before choosing a cigar, all that asking isn’t feasible.

More often than not, the alternative is to look up the cigar on a mobile device and try to find what you’re looking for. Personally, I hate spending time doing this, knowing that so many manufacturers’ websites aren’t up to date and information on other sites sometimes conflicts.

I’m aware, too, that some manufacturers don’t want to reveal much of anything to their customers. Cigar fans have been pushing this boulder up the hill for years without, sadly, much success. I wonder whether some of this is a holdover from years past when cigar smokers tended to buy the same brand and size again and again. When that was the case, supplying more information likely seemed superfluous.

Perhaps if shelf-talkers became commonplace in cigar shops, reluctant companies would feel more pressure to go along.

It’s also possible that store owners fear their humidors could end up looking like the shelves at the local dollar store. It’s not for nothing that another name for shelf-talkers is shelf-screamers. And then there are the ones that move. They’re shelf-wobblers.

I think it is quite possible to have shelf-talkers that are discreet and informative. Check out the Sindicato example above. Wouldn’t it be nice if at least that was readily available for every cigar?

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Looking Back to Appreciate the Present

30 May 2018

We’ve often remarked here at StogieGuys.com about how easy it is to get caught up in the “what’s new” syndrome. Nowadays, though, federal regulations have put something of a crimp in many cigar makers’ releases. Looking for something new isn’t what it once was.

So, it seems like a good time to revisit some cigars that you may have forgotten or, perhaps, never tried. There are many, many good candidates for this exercise, but here are three suggestions I’ve revisited recently:

Sindicato: This blend was introduced about four years ago and garnered numerous positive reviews, including a StogieGuys.com four-stogie rating for the Corona Gorda. After the debut of the Sindicato Maduro, the original line, available in six vitolas, became referred to as the Sindicato Natural. The shade-grown Corojo wrapper and the Nicaraguan binder and filler leaves were blended by Casa Fernandez’s Arsenio Ramos. I smoked several when it came out and was, like most, favorably impressed. But it had been a few years since I picked up one. And when I decided to revisit some smokes from the past, this came quickly to mind. I’m glad it did. I may have enjoyed the Sindicato Natural more now than I did before. I smoked a couple of different sizes, and each was excellent. They offer full flavor, complexity, and near-perfect burn, draw, and smoke production. The flavors are numerous and varied, starting with spice that is soon tinged with a touch of cinnamon. Other flavors include coffee, nuts, and some bold pepper. The Sindicato Natural is definitely worth revisiting.

San Cristobal: The cigar Ashton calls “the cornerstone” of its collaboration with Don José “Pepin” Garcia and his My Father Cigars operation in Nicaragua, the original San Cristobal launched in 2007. Four have been reviewed by StogieGuys.com, and two received four stogies (Fabuloso and Selección del Sol Robusto). It is an incredibly diverse line. The original San Cristobal comes in ten sizes. Currently, the other extensions are Elegancia (Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper) in six sizes; Quintessence (Ecuadorian Habano wrapper) in five sizes; Revelation (Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper) in six sizes; and the limited-edition Ovation (San Andrés wrapper) in three sizes. Over the years, I’ve smoked all of these. It was tough to settle on a single one for this project, but I opted for the Revelation. I reviewed the Mystic (5.6 x 48) back in 2014 and was curious how Revelation would stand up now. This time, I lit the longer, fatter Legend (6.25 x 52), which was No. 18 on Cigar Aficionado’s top 25 list for 2014. I’d probably rank it higher. A medium-strength smoke, it is smooth, balanced, and satisfying. There’s an enticing mix of sweetness and spice in a cigar well worth picking up.

Four Kicks: As hard as it might be to believe, it’s been seven years since Crowned Heads’ initial offering launched. One of the most anticipated cigars at the time, Four Kicks was a big success. We reviewed the Corona Gorda twice and rated it highly both times. Since then, Nashville-based Crowned Heads has continued to produce excellent smokes, including several limited releases. Going for those newer smokes might lead some to overlook the cigar that started it all. Not me. I’ve been working my way through a box of the Corona Gordas over the past couple months, and I’ve enjoyed each and every one. Coming out of Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s shop, Four Kicks is a medium-strength smoke with a blend of spices and sweetness that amps up and down as you progress along the 5.6-inch frame. Each one I’ve smoked performed almost flawlessly: The burn was even, the smoke thick and rich, and the draw smooth.

If there’s one thing of which these three cigars have convinced me, it’s that a look to the past can provide a great addition to the present.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Cigars and Memorial Day

28 May 2018

[Editor’s Note: Today, for Memorial Day, we are republishing the following commentary written in 2008.]

With today’s celebration of Memorial Day to honor those who died in our nation’s service, I have a proposal: As cigar smokers, let’s extend the recognition of service to a week-long effort to provide cigars for the troops overseas, particularly those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you win cigars this week, donate them. If you’re planning to send a bomb to a friend or cigar board acquaintance, give the cigars to service men and women instead. If you receive a bomb, pass it along to the men and women in uniform who can’t go out and buy cigars but would truly enjoy the opportunity to smoke one. Stop by a local B&M to see what sort of operation it has for sending cigars to the troops (many shops do) and make a contribution. Check the programs several manufacturers have to give cigars to the troops when you make a purchase.

Choose whatever way you’d like to contribute. Just think how great it would be if everyone who reads this made just a small contribution and got a friend or two to do the same.

I first wrote about making cigar contributions back in November. Then, as now, I said such generosity has nothing to do with support or opposition for the war in Iraq or any governmental policy. It’s simply a good and decent thing to do for the cigar-loving men and women in uniform.

So, make this Memorial Day one to remember – for you and for our heroes overseas. Cigars, after all, are among the most requested items by the troops, and they have earned a well-deserved break.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: The New Fuente Nicaraguan Cigar Factory is a Big Deal

23 May 2018

When it comes to classic, old-school cigars, few brands come to mind more than Arturo Fuente. In an era of so many brands bringing new cigars to market constantly, Fuente has never given in to that pressure of the new release treadmill, or the need to chase trends. All of which makes their recent announcement particularly noteworthy.

Yes, Fuente had a presence in Nicaragua in the 1970s prior to the Sandinista revolution that wiped out many international investors. But now it is back in a big way. Using land the Fuentes have used to grow Nicaraguan tobacco for a while, the Domincan cigar giant announced recently it is building a new cigar factory in the heart of Estelí with the name “Gran Fabrica de Tabacos La Bella y La Bestia.”

I, for one, am very excited to see what the new Nicaraguan factory can create. Fuente makes cigars that stack up well at every price point, from the bargain bin mixed-filler Curly Head to the ultra-premium limited edition Opus X releases. Fundamentally, though, they’ve always been characterized by Dominican tobaccos, especially fillers.

The prospect of an abundance of Nicaraguan tobacco in new Fuente blends sounds good to me. That Fuente brought in Felix Mesa of El Galan Cigars (maker of the Doña Nieves) to run the Nicaraguan operations is especially promising.

The announcement is also a sign of the emergence of Nicaraguan cigars.

Not that long ago, Nicaragua was third among countries when it came to importing handmade cigars into the United States, behind Honduras and far behind the Dominican Republic. Today, for the second straight year, Nicaragua has edged out the Dominican Republic, with Honduras a distant third.

Put simply: If you were starting a new cigar company today, the most obvious place to build your factory would be Nicaragua. Yes, labor costs that are lower than the Dominican Republic. But the biggest reason would be the access to Nicaraguan tobaccos.

In many ways, Fuente’s announcement is the culmination of Nicaragua’s ascendance. In short, it’s a big deal, and a sign of the where the U.S. cigar market is now.

Patrick S

photo credit: Fuente

Commentary: Time for a Little Cigar Love

14 May 2018

We seem to be living in an age of nearly constant complaint. Dissatisfied with a company? Rip ’em on Yelp. Unhappy with any political situation? Tune in to your favorite cable news channel and watch your adversaries get roasted. Angry with someone? Blast him or her in a Twitter takedown.

Well, I’m here to go in the other direction. Let’s raise a glass to cigar manufacturers and toast the quality of their work. I think the caliber of cigar-making may be the highest it’s been in a long, long time. It’s certainly seems to me to be the best since I began regularly smoking cigars more than 15 years ago.

Back then, it was not all that uncommon to run across a plugged stick. Or one that burned terribly unevenly. Or one that wouldn’t really burn at all. Other problems included things like finding a thick stem rolled in with the filler leaves or a bunch so loose the burn became both ridiculously rapid and disgustingly hot.

Now, frankly, I can’t recall the last time I had a cigar that didn’t perform at least adequately.

Of course, this is just my opinion, based on my experiences. I do smoke a lot of different cigars because of StogieGuys.com, though I have to admit my selections rarely include really cheap smokes, bundles, or bargain-basement house brands.

But even when I do try one of those, I usually find the draw and burn quite acceptable. Case in point was a recent house blend I tried from one of the major mail-order operations.

I thought it was awful. So bad, in fact, that I only smoked about a third before tossing it aside. That was because I didn’t like the flavor, the harshness, and the finish, not because its combustion properties weren’t up to snuff.

There are probably a lot of reasons for the wide-ranging improvements, and those in the trade would obviously be better able to elucidate them than me. But I can say that, to me, it is certainly a positive sign that the industry continues on an upward path.

All in all, a great reason to celebrate with a great cigar.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Photo Essay: A Visit to El Titan de Bronze

7 May 2018

Even if you’re not familiar with El Titan de Bronze, you likely know some of the cigars made at this small factory in Little Havana, Miami, which crafts cigars for such clients as Drew Estate, Warped Cigars, La Palina, Cornelius & Anthony, Padilla, El Primer Mundo, Cremo, and many others.

From the outside, you could easily mistake El Titan de Bronze as a mere retailer. The whole operation is only 2,200 square feet. But—unlike all the other cigar spots that dot Calle Ocho, many of which employ a window roller or two to lure tourists—El Titan de Bronze is a living, breathing factory full of rich history. It’s a must-visit for any cigar lover visiting Miami.

Once inside, you’ll notice a small display case of cigars at the cash register amidst an eclectic, compact collection of boxes, cigar molds, and rolling tables. If you visit late in the afternoon, you likely won’t see any rollers; they like to arrive early (7 a.m.) and, once they’ve made 100-125 cigars, their day is done. This quota helps with quality control.

Among those 100-125 cigars per day, each roller makes each cigar from start to finish. This is contrasted from many other factories, where teams will focus just on bunching, wrapper application, etc. El Titan de Bronze employs about 8-10 rollers.

El Titan de Bronze does not ferment or age raw tobacco on premises. It acquires ready-to-roll tobacco based on production needs. Here, tobacco from the famed Oliva Tobacco Company awaits its turn to be made into fine cigars.

Once rolled, cigars sit in the El Titan de Bronze aging room for at least two months before being shipped to their respective brand owners’ facilities—where many undergo additional aging.

Master blenders will come to El Titan de Bronze with specific instructions on how to construct their cigars. Willy Herrera is a good example of this. Often, however, brand owners will have a concept and rely on El Titan de Bronze to realize that vision. Here, Cremo Figurados rest in the aging room.

In addition to making cigars for other companies, El Titan de Bronze has a half-dozen house blends (which are the only cigars you can buy on-site, and are also sold on the El Titan de Bronze website). I haven’t tried all of these yet; reviews are forthcoming. What I have tried is both impressive and cost-effective.

There’s a lot more to El Titan de Bronze (especially in terms of history), so I would encourage you to check out their website, try their cigars, and—by all means—pay the factory a visit if you’re in the area. When you walk in the door, don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by a warm smile and a serving of Cuban coffee.

Patrick A

photo credits: Stogie Guys