Archive | Cigar Reviews RSS feed for this section

Cigar Review: Southern Draw Jacobs Ladder Robusto

22 Jul 2019

The phrase “Jacob’s ladder” has many meanings. At least two novels, two films, nearly a dozen places around the world, a plant, and at least a dozen songs borrow the name. The genesis of the name (pun intended) is “a ladder leading to heaven that was featured in a dream the biblical patriarch Jacob had during his flight from his brother Esau in the Book of Genesis,” according to Wikipedia. “The significance of the dream has been debated, but most interpretations agree that it identified Jacob with the obligations and inheritance of the people chosen by God, as understood in Abrahamic religions.”

Along with Rose of Sharon, Austin-based Southern Draw Cigars introduced the Jacobs Ladder (sans apostrophe, for some reason) blend in 2016. At first it was a limited release, but it grew into full production in 2017.

Like all Southern Draw creations, Jacobs Ladder is made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A. in Estelí. It sports a Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper, an Ecuadorian binder, and “double Ligero” filler tobaccos from the Estelí and Jalapa growing regions of Nicaragua. Much like Jacob’s biblical ladder, the Southern Draw website calls this line “bold, but approachable.”

There are three standard vitolas: Robusto (5.5 x 54), Toro (6 x 52), and Gordo (6.5 x 60). Three additional sizes (including a Lancero and two perfectos) are classified as “limited.”

I sampled three Jacobs Ladder Robustos for this review. This cigar features a dark, moderately oily wrapper with few veins and tight seams. The foot is closed, and the cap is a bit rough around the edges. Dual bands of dark blue (purple?) and gold decorate the top half, while a cedar sleeve covers the bottom. The pre-light notes are rich and reminiscent of cocoa powder and baking spices.

Once underway, I find a powerful yet well-balanced profile with notes ranging from dark chocolate and roasted peanut to black cherry and leather. On the palate, Jacobs Ladder finishes in a rich flourish of sweetness and black pepper. The texture is thick and syrupy.

Things settle down considerably towards the midway point in terms of body. The flavor seems creamier and less intense here. But the strength—and by that I mean the nicotine kick—seems to grow with every puff. With other cigars, 19 times out of 20 I don’t notice the nicotine at all. But the Jacobs Ladder Robusto brings it in a heavy dose that’s impossible to ignore.

Throughout, the combustion properties are solid, including a smooth draw, straight burn line, generous smoke production, and a white ash that holds firmly off the foot.

The Jacobs Ladder Robusto retails for $9-10. But I wouldn’t suggest it to the faint of heart at any price. If you’re a seasoned cigar veteran with a full stomach and a nicotine itch that needs to be scratched, though, look no further.

This bold, imposing cigar earns three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Black Label Trading Company Morphine 2019 Corona Gorda

15 Jul 2019

Black Label Trading Company (BLTC) creator James Brown calls the 2019 iteration of Morphine “one of the best yet.” Each year, this blend—which was introduced in 2014 as a fuller-bodied addition to the BLTC portfolio—has a different vintage. What sets this one apart, according to Brown, are “rich and earthy” flavors “with bold spice on the retro.”

Morphine sports a Mexican San Andrés maduro wrapper around a Nicaraguan Habano binder and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. It is handmade at BLTC’s factory in Estelí, which goes by the name Fabrica Oveja Negra.

There are three Morphine vitolas available in 2019: Lancero (7 x 38, $11.50, 12-count boxes), Short Robusto (4.5 x 50, $10.50, 20-count boxes), and box-pressed Corona Gorda (5.5 x 46, $10.50, 18-count boxes). Only 450 boxes of each were produced. I’ll save you some math: That amounts to a total run of 5,400 Lanceros, 9,000 Short Robustos, and 8,100 Corona Gordas.

The Lanceros are likely to be the most sought-after, and not just because they comprise the stingiest production; I imagine BLTC’s core audience is comprised of seasoned cigar veterans who appreciate small-batch, boutique cigar operations. If I know these folks—and I’d like to think I do—I can safely say they like their lanceros.

After taking a handful of Corona Gordas for a test drive, I am happy to report this is not a Morphine vitola to overlook. Beneath its macabre, Silence of the Lambs-esque dual bands of black and white is a firm, dark, moderately oily cigar with thin veins. At the foot, I find heavy, rich pre-light notes of molasses and dry wood. The pigtail cap clips easily to reveal a slightly stiff cold draw that imparts some spice on the lips.

Once lit, the introductory flavor is intense and concentrated. Expect to find a hearty dose of black pepper spice, espresso, and warm tobacco. In the background linger subtler, sweeter notes, including raisin and cocoa. The texture is thick and chalky. And, yes, as Brown claims, the retro-hale is bursting with palate-coating spice.

Typically, at this point in a review, I write about how the intensity of a full-bodied cigar pulls back and the taste becomes a little softer and creamier. Not here. There are few changes along the way. And, frankly, that’s OK with me. I appreciate this cigar’s textures and tastes. And the small, compact format helps ensure the flavor doesn’t overstay its welcome.

In terms of construction, the burn line tends to meander a bit, and several touch-ups are needed keep things running smoothly. Aside from that, I have no complaints. The smoke production is good, the ash holds firm, and the draw is moderate.

The 2019 Morphine Corona Gorda is unapologetically San Andrés. If you like that rich, earthy flavor—and I do—you’ll not want to miss this. It’s a great example of how to leverage many of the best qualities of Nicaraguan tobacco with a Mexican wrapper. Kudos to Brown and the folks at BLTC. This powerful treat is worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Charter Oak CT Shade Grande

1 Jul 2019

If you’ve ever met Nicholas Melillo, popularly known as “Nick R. Agua” on Facebook and Twitter, you know he is Connecticut through and through. I can recall talking with him about college hoops when I was in Estelí for a Drew Estate Cigar Safari (this was years ago, long before Melillo left Drew Estate to found the Connecticut-based Foundation Cigar Co.). He was boasting of the success of UConn. A few years later, while I wasn’t with him at the time but, I’m sure he was smiling extra wide when both the UConn men and women won NCAA national titles in the same year (2014).

Melillo, who got his start at a cigar shop near New Haven, Connecticut, established Foundation Cigar Co. in 2015. His portfolio of cigar brands now includes El Güegüense, The Wise Man Maduro, Tabernacle, Tabernacle Havana Seed, The Upsetters, Highclere Castle, and Charter Oak.

The latter, like Melillo, has its roots firmly in the Nutmeg State. It is named for The Charter Oak, an “unusually large white oak tree growing on Wyllys Hyll in Hartford, Connecticut… from around the 12th or 13th century until it fell during a storm in 1856,” reads a Wikipedia article. “According to tradition, Connecticut’s Royal Charter of 1662 was hidden within the hollow of the tree to thwart its confiscation by the English governor-general. The oak became a symbol of American independence and is commemorated on the Connecticut State Quarter.”

The Foundation Cigar Co. website provides more color: “Charter Oak cigars hail from the same fertile valley in Connecticut that native son and master blender… Nick Melillo was born and raised. [They] feature some of the most prized and sought-after Cuban-seed leaf varieties from the exquisite Estelí and Jalapa regions of Nicaragua.”

The filler may be Nicaraguan, and the binder Sumatran, but the centerpiece of the blend—the wrapper—is a golden Connecticut Shade leaf (Charter Oak is also available in a dark Connecticut Broadleaf variety that swaps the Sumatra binder for a Habano binder from Nicaragua). Five sizes are available, all made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua: Toro (6 x 52), Grande (6 x 60), Lonsdale (6.25 x 46), Petit Corona (4.25 x 42), and Rothschild (4.25 x 50).

The Grande retails for about $6, which makes it highly affordable. Off the bat, there are a couple signs that might lead you to believe this is not a terribly expensive smoke. For one, the band—while pleasant in color and design—has no raised lettering and a minimalist approach. Second, one of the three samples I examined for this review had a prominent “frog eye” on the front of the cigar. This discoloration is harmless and typically indicates the presence of a water droplet during the fermentation process. That said, I suspect a more expensive cigar with a similar discoloration might have been caught in its quality control process and never made it to shipment, instead being labeled a “segundo.”

Despite a closed foot, the cold draw is easy once the cap is clipped. The pre-light notes are delicate and reminiscent of sweet hay and almond—classic Connecticut Shade aromas.

Once lit, the moderately spongy Grande emits a mild- to medium-bodied profile of cream, white pepper, peanut, and café au lait. It’s pleasant, albeit straightforward. And that’s essentially what this cigar has to offer, light to nub.

Construction is solid throughout the long smoke—including a straight burn line, smooth draw, solid ash, and generous smoke production. But the unchanging, unpretentious taste tends to overstay its welcome, especially when you consider the Grande’s large format.

Normally, I wouldn’t reach for a cigar of this girth. But my retailer only had Charter Oak CT Shade in this format, and I wanted to give it a try. After three Grandes, I’m anxious to try the blend in a different, thinner vitola. I suspect it would score better.

Charter Oak CT is Melillo’s attempt at an affordably priced, everyday cigar for any time of day. In my opinion, it’s best suited as a golf course smoke. It changes very little throughout, and does not require your full attention. That’s ultimately why I’m settling on a rating of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Black Label Trading Company Killer Bee Connecticut

24 Jun 2019

Nearly four years ago, James Brown, creator of Black Label Trading Co. (BLTC), announced a new “small-batch cigar line” called Black Works Studio. “Part of the motivation for opening our own factory, Fabrica Oveja Negra, was to experiment and develop unique blends highlighting Nicaraguan tobacco,” said Brown. “Black Works Studio (BLK WKS) is my first opportunity to use our factory as my playground. Blending cigars is my passion and I ended up with several blends and ideas on the shelf [so] the time was right to launch a new brand.”

The three original BLK WKS cigars were Killer Bee (4.5 x 46), an Ecuador Maduro-wrapped petite corona; Rorschach (5 x 38), an Ecuador Habano-wrapped petite panatela; and NBK (6 x 46), an Ecuador Habano Oscuro-wrapped corona larga. Green Hornet, a stronger follow-up to the Killer Bee that’s distinguished by its Candela closed foot, was added a year later in 2016. All of these were offered in addition to BLTC’s core lines, which include Lawless, Royalty, Redemption, Benediction, Salvation, and Last Rites.

More recently, in November 2018, BLTC announced an offshoot to the Killer Bee: Killer Bee Connecticut. This cigar “was blended with the original Killer Bee, so I’m very excited to finally have it released as an addition to the Killer Bee line and the BLK WKS portfolio,” said Brown in a press release. “With similar profiles to the Killer Bee, it may not be what you expect from a typical Connecticut cigar. The Connecticut wrapper gives an added creaminess and changes up the spice components quite a bit.”

The Killer Bee Connecticut recipe calls for Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, a Nicaraguan Habano binder, and a Connecticut wrapper with an Ecuador maduro “swirl cap.” It is offered in a single size (4.5 x 46, $10).

I smoked three Killer Bee Connecticuts for this review. Put simply—and not unlike the original Killer Bee—this gorgeous cigar admirably showcases the craftsmanship at Fabrica Oveja Negra. The bee-like stripes help the cigar stand out on any retailer shelf, and the metallic, honey-combed band of gray, black, and gold adds a nice touch as well. At the foot, the pre-light notes include classic Connecticut aromas of sweet hay, sawdust, and almond.

Whereas the Killer Bee is bold, powerful, and full-bodied with flavors of burnt caramel, black pepper, char, and syrup, the Killer Bee Connecticut is—predictably—more dialed-back. That said, it never falls into the trap of tasting like “just another Connecticut.” It boasts considerable pepper spice from the outset, along with well-balanced notes of oak, butter, and a bit of cinnamon.

Into the midway point and beyond, the spice falls off but the core flavors (save for pepper) remain the same. And that’s just fine in my book. The taste is highly enjoyable and complex, and the small, compact format means it doesn’t overstay its welcome. All the while construction is impeccable. The white ash holds well off the foot, the draw is smooth, the smoke production is generous, and the burn line requires zero touch-ups.

For my palate, the original Killer Bee is, well, a killer. It’s a highly concentrated flavor-bomb that demands to be smoked with a full stomach. The Killer Bee Connecticut, though, is a more balanced, nuanced smoke that’s suitable for almost any occasion. For that, I’m awarding it a very admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Southern Draw Cedrus The Hogan Belicoso Fino

18 Jun 2019

If you’re here for a cigar with a dominant flavor of cedar, let me stop you before you go any further. This cigar line from Southern Draw celebrates Cedrus Libani, the Lebanese Cedar that’s often used to make cigar boxes. As far as I can tell, it is not intended to suggest the cigar has a cedar-forward taste. That’s good because—spoiler alert—it doesn’t.

Southern Draw introduced Cedrus last summer as the Austin-based company’s fifth regular-production line. In addition to honoring a tree varietal, the single-vitola blend also commemorates Phil and Shelly Hogan, who Southern Draw founder Robert Holt cites for their valuable support of his company. (Further complicating matters—or, if you prefer, tying it all together—is the fact that there is a form of the Western Red Cedar called “Hogan.”)

Cedrus, like all Southern Draw creations, is made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A. in Estelí. Its recipe includes a “late harvest” Besuki wrapper from the Jember region of Java, Indonesia. “Our family was blessed to source this rarely available, top-quality wrapper, with its rich brown color, distinct ‘green chili’ spice flavors, and herbal aromas that are attributed from being expertly air-cured followed by a multi-stage fermentation process,” said Holt in a press release. The binder is a Habano 2000 leaf from Nicaragua (grown under cloth), and the filler tobaccos are also Nicaraguan.

Last week, Southern Draw announced new box-pressed vitolas to join the Belicoso Fino (5.5 x 52). They include a Robusto (5.5 x 54), Toro (6 x 52), and Gordo (6.5 x 60). For 2019, 50,000 of each have been produced. Per-cigar prices range from $11.99 to $12.99. Southern Draw’s website hints at a Lancero and a Perfecto due out in 2020.

To date, the only size I’ve had a chance to acquire and sample is the original Belicoso Fino. I smoked three for this review. The box-pressed Cedrus Belicoso Fino is adorned with dual bands of green and gold, the second of which proclaims, “Soli Deo Gloria” (Latin for “Glory to God Alone”). Beneath is a dark, smooth, moderately oily wrapper leaf with thin veins. The sharply pointed cap clips easily to reveal a cold draw with just a bit of resistance.

At the foot, the pre-light notes are mouth-watering and pungent. You won’t have to try hard to notice a musty, earthy aroma with hints of nuttiness and chocolate.

Once lit, the initial profile is dry, earthy, and spicy. Individual flavors include oak, black pepper, cinnamon, earth, and clove. Then, after about an inch, the spice recedes just as quickly as it arrived, leaving behind an earthier taste devoid of cinnamon and replacing black pepper with white pepper.

The next transition is characterized by somewhat of a return to spice—though this time it isn’t black pepper but a medley of baking spices. Still, the overall profile is medium-bodied with a slightly chalky texture. The cigar remains in this state until the finale. Throughout, the physical properties are admirable, including a straight burn. The gray ash has a tendency to fall off prematurely, however.

Robert Holt calls Cedrus Southern Draw’s “most distinguished-tasting cigar.” I will admit this is my first experience with the brand, so I cannot speak to how it compares with his other lines. That said, I like this cigar enough to commit to trying the others in short order, and I will report back as I am able. For now, the Southern Draw Cedrus The Hogan Belicoso Fino earns three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask Robusto

12 Jun 2019


Last year Diesel debuted Whiskey Row, an A.J. Fernandez-made cigar featuring tobaccos aged in bourbon barrels from the Rabbit Hole Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. This month the follow-up collaboration arrived: Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask.

Like the original, the binder has been aged in Rabbit Hole’s barrels. But this time the casks has been used to age Pedro Ximenez Sherry before being filled with bourbon for a brief finishing period to make Rabbit Hole PX Sherry Cask Finished Straight Bourbon Whiskey. (Look for an upcoming Cigar Spirits article on this bourbon.) Unlike the Mexican San Andrés binder used in last year’s Whiskey Row, this cigar uses an Arapiraca barrel-aged binder from Central Brazil’s Alagoas region.

Like the original Diesel Whiskey Row, the filler is all Nicaraguan. (No word on whether it uses the same three-region combination.) The most visible change from last year’s line is a dark, oily Connecticut Broadleaf maduro wrapper.

Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask comes in three sizes priced from $8.49 to $9.49: the Robusto (5 x 52) I smoked, plus a Toro (6 x 50) and a Gigante (6 x 58). Construction on the three pre-release samples I smoked was outstanding with an even burn, sturdy ash, and flawless draw that had just the right amount of resistance.

Pre-light you can pick up the hints of the barrel-aged tobacco with deep char notes with caramel and dried fruit. Once lit, the charred notes remain and combine with classic earthy Nicaraguan flavors, light pepper, and lots of chocolate and espresso.

As the cigar progresses, there isn’t a whole lot of variation, though some dried fruit notes come and go. The cigar has a finish that lingers on the roof of the mouth, and has a notably cool smoke that seems to temper those full flavors just slightly.

It’s impressive to think how far the Diesel brand has come along: from a catalog house brand (albeit a notably well-reviewed one) to a full line of cigars now with multiple blends in regular distribution. (Read the original Diesel Whiskey Row review for more on that history.) Without a doubt, handing the reins to the prolific and talented A.J. Fernandez is a large factor in that success.

There’s little reason to believe Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask won’t be another success for the blend. Priced fairly, well-constructed, and with deep, rich flavors the Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask Robusto earns an impressive rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro Robusto

10 Jun 2019

La Palina has accomplished a lot in the decade since the brand was launched, or technically re-launched. (The original La Palina was introduced in 1896, and later developed by the vision of William S. Paley, who went on to found CBS.)

We attended the La Palina launch event in 2010 when the company introduced its first cigar, made at Graycliff in the Bahamas. If you had told us then where this brand would be now, we would have been both impressed and surprised.

Since 2010, La Palina has debuted a steady stream of new cigars, many of them highly rated here at One of the latest, introduced in 2016, is La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro. Like its sister blend that was launched the same year, La Palina Nicaragua Connecticut, it—along with so many other brands—aims to capitalize on the industry’s growing fascination with all things Nicaragua.

La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro is crafted at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A. with an Ecuadorian oscuro wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It is available in three vitolas, each packaged in boxes of 20: Gordo (6 x 58, $9.50), Toro (6 x 50, $8.50), and Robusto (5 x 52, $7.99).

The Robusto is a beautiful-looking cigar with handsome double bands of white, cream, black, and gold. Beneath is a dark, slightly reddish wrapper leaf with abundant oils and a few prominent veins. The cap is a bit sloppy, though it clips easily enough to reveal an effortless cold draw with some faint sweetness on the lips. The foot exhibits a relatively loose packing of filler tobaccos and dry pre-light notes of oak and syrup.

The Nicaragua Oscuro has the look of a full-bodied cigar, and the introductory profile lives up to that expectation. Espresso, leather, almond, and black pepper comprise the core, while notes of sweet cherry and cream add balance. As the cigar progresses into the midway point, the flavor remains consistent (save for the black pepper tasting more like white pepper and the cream becoming more prominent), but the body settles into the medium spectrum. The mouthfeel is thick and chalky.

From there, I find few changes; the final third is more of the same, which is fine by me. I like the profile from the get-go, and the only major shift (from the first third to the second) is an improvement: less body, but a more balanced taste. Fortunately, the physical properties only add to my enjoyment. The burn line is straight, the white ash holds well off the foot, the smoke production is voluminous, and the draw is smooth.

A.J. Fernandez makes many fine cigars, and La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro Robusto is no exception, especially when you consider the sub-$10 price point. In my book, this fine cigar is worthy of a box consideration and a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys