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Cigar Review: Cornelius & Anthony Meridian Robusto

22 Mar 2017

MerdianWhile you may have encountered the Cornelius & Anthony Meridian in the past, don’t confuse it with this cigar. That’s because the company scrapped the original iteration that debuted in 2015 and replaced it with something new while keeping the name.

That something is a medium-strength smoke with an Ecuadorian wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder, and filler tobaccos from both Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. They’re rolled at Erik Espinoza’s La Zona Factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

For this review, I smoked the Robusto, a 5-inch stick with a ring gauge of 52 and a $9.25 MSRP. The line also features a Gordo (6 x 60), Toro (6 x 50), and Corona Gorda (5.5 x 46). All come in 20-count boxes illustrated in the bygone art style that’s become something of a Cornelius & Anthony trademark. Another familiar touch is the use of a secondary band with the cigar’s name.

The Meridian starts with quite a bit of power that tapers off after about a half-inch, maintaining a medium strength level for the remainder of the experience. The finish is pleasing and lingers a little before dissipating.

My first taste impression is of rich wood mixed with a little tobacco sweetness. A pleasant combination. As the strength wanes as a moderate spice enters the mix. From start to finish, the flavors weave in and out of each other, making for an interesting journey.

Combustion performance was excellent in all of those I sampled. Lots of smoke, straight burn, and an excellent draw.

I’ve enjoyed quite a few Cornelius & Anthony cigars, and the new Meridian is no exception. It’s a cigar I think will appeal to almost all smokers regardless of their level of experience. I rate the Cornelius & Anthony Meridian Robusto four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Arturo Fuente Solaris

13 Mar 2017


Years ago, Florida-based retailer Smoke Inn launched the Microblend Series, a program that commissions custom, limited edition blends from top manufacturers. “The Microblend Series not only represents my love and passion for fine cigars but the appreciation and fellowship for the cigar manufacturers that were so amazing to work with on each release,” said Abe Dababneh, owner of Smoke Inn.

Arturo Fuente SolarisToday, the series includes Tatuaje’s Anarchy and Apocalypse, My Father’s El Hijo, Padrón’s 1964 Anniversary SI-15, Quesada’s Oktoberfest Dunkel, Room 101’s Big Delicious, Drew Estate’s Pope of Greenwich Village, and 601’s La Bomba Bunker Buster. One of the earlier additions—and one of the few from the collection I hadn’t smoked, until recently—was Solaris from Arturo Fuente.

“For this Microblend installment, Smoke Inn played no part in the creation of the size or blend,” says the Smoke Inn website. “When Dababneh approached Fuente about making a Microblend, they decided this would be a perfect project for a small batch of cigars made over six years ago. Carlos Fuente Sr. had produced a small batch of belicoso cigars made from Ecuadorian sun-grown wrapper that was uniquely light in its complexion. The cigars sat and aged for over six years.”

Solaris has a light brown, slightly reddish, clean wrapper beneath a classic Fuente band of red, gold, and green and a secondary band denoting the Solaris name. It clocks in at 6 inches long with a ring gauge of 49. The well-constructed belicoso cap clips easily to reveal an ultra-clear cold draw. The pre-light notes are incredibly faint, even at the foot; only the slightest hints of sweet hay are evident.

Smoke Inn describes the Solaris experience as follows: “When smoked, we found the flavor mellow yet complex. One could definitely taste the quintessential Fuente flavor profile behind the elegantly aged smoke.” My experience was not dissimilar. I would describe the profile as balanced, bready, medium-bodied, classic, and Cubanesque. Flavors range from sweet cream, roasted nuts, hay, toast, and warm tobacco. There is minimal spice. A pesky sourness can creep in randomly, but this taste can be limited by taking your time between puffs.

As Solaris progresses to the midway point and beyond, the texture takes on a more syrupy character and the intensity ramps up a bit—though, in my opinion, never moves out of the medium-bodied range. The sweetness and nuttiness are awesome at times, difficult to detect at others. All the while the construction is impeccable. The smoke production is high, the ash holds firm, the draw is clear, and the burn is straight.

Solaris sells for $44.75 for a 5-pack or, while not currently available, $89.50 per 10-pack. That means the per-cigar price is $8.95 apiece. That’s a great value, especially if you’d appreciate a classic-tasting, well-constructed, finely balanced, medium-bodied cigar with a profile that will remind you of other fine Fuente smokes. That’s why I’m awarding the Arturo Fuente Solaris an admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Sobremesa Elegante en Cedros

6 Mar 2017


Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust still seems like a very new cigar outfit to me. So I was a bit puzzled to realize it has been over a year and a half since the company’s inaugural line, Sobremesa, debuted at the 2015 IPCPR Trade Show.

Elegante en CedrosTrue, that period of time is nothing compared to the history of longstanding industry flagship operations like Arturo Fuente, La Aurora, Joya de Nicaragua, and the like. Personally, though, it feels like Sobremesa arrived long ago, and that the brand is firmly established.

Maybe that’s because I’ve smoked a ton of Sobremesa since Saka announced it in July 2015. That shouldn’t come as a surprise; regular readers will recall my fondness for the Corona Grande, Gran Imperales, and—especially—the Cervantes Fino. Real estate for Sobremesa has been permanently carved out within my humidor, which is, perhaps, the best complement I can pay a particular line.

Until now, though, the Elegante en Cedros (7 x 50) vitola has eluded me. It’s an extension that was added in 2016. As its name suggests, it comes wrapped in cedar. Like its Sobremesa brethren, Elegante en Cedros boasts an Ecuadorian Habano Rosado wrapper, a Mexican binder, and a filler blend of Pennsylvania Broadleaf Ligero with four different Nicaraguan tobaccos (Gk Condega C-SG Seco, Pueblo Nuevo Criollo Viso, La Joya Estelí C-98 Viso, and ASP Estelí Hybrid Ligero). It is made at Joya de Nicaragua.

Beneath the cedar is an oily, velvety, toothy, slightly reddish wrapper leaf with minimal veins and tight seams. The cap clips easily to reveal a smooth cold draw. At the foot, the pre-light notes are cocoa powder, earth, and caramel.

Saka does not subscribe to the blending strategy of trying to make all the vitolas within a line taste as close as possible; rather, he tweaks the core blend to maximize the performance of each format. He calls Elegante en Cedros “the ultimate expression of a sophisticated vitola,” and cites the format is—along with the Short Chuchill (also an extension frontmark)—stronger than the original six sizes.

Out of the gate, Elegante en Cedros is what I’ve come to expect from the Sobremesa blend, but with an added kick of nicotine and concentration on the palate. Flavors include cocoa, cedar, café au lait, baking spices, creamy caramel, and white pepper. Balanced, harmonious, and delicious.

As the white ash builds off the foot and the straight burn moves towards the inch mark, the intensity and spiciness ramps up a bit, though the body still remains in the medium range. Hints of black cherry and cream come and go as the core leans towards stronger cedar and pepper. Beyond that, I noticed few profile changes throughout the 90-minute smoke.

Elegante en Cedros retails for $13.50 and comes packaged in boxes of 13 (cheers to Saka for forgoing the 25-count box presentation for this vitola, making a box purchase more affordable). I may still slightly prefer the Cervantes Fino, but this is another exquisite Sobremesa smoke that’s not to be missed. I award it an exemplary rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection Havana Cazadores

1 Mar 2017


With the FDA deadline just days away at the time, the 2016 IPCPR Trade Show saw a flurry of new cigar announcements, as expected. Pete Johnson’s Tatuaje was no exception with a number of new offerings. But I don’t think I have to go out on a limb to say fans of Tatuaje were most excited for the new Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection.

Tatuaje-HC-Reserva-BL - 1The Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection consists of a whopping 100 cigars selling for $1,200, featuring ten each of the six original Miami Seleccion del Cazador (Brown Label) “HUNTER” sizes, plus the J21, SW, K222, and Cojonu 2003 blends. Originally, the cigars were set only to be available in 5,000 master cases of 100 (pictured above). More recently, though, Tatuaje has announced some will be released in boxes of ten of each size.

The master cases of 100 began arriving at retailers recently and secured one. In the past, I’ve noted that my favorite Tatuaje Brown Label cigar is the lonsdale-sized (6.4 x 43) Havana Cazadores, so that’s where I decided to start.

Like all of the Reserva Broadleaf Collection, the Havana Cazadores uses Nicaraguan binder and filler with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper instead of the Ecuadorian wrapper used in the regular Brown Label blend. To differentiate from other Reserva lines (including K222, J21, and SW, all of which use the Reserva secondary band), the Broadleaf Collection bands all say Broadleaf in small letters below Reserva on the second band.

The attractive wrapper is not surprisingly darker than the regular line, and it’s decently oily and dark brown in color with a few prominent veins. Made in Miami, the cigars are well-constructed with excellent combustion, an easy draw, and a solid dark gray ash.

The primary flavors are charred oak, toast, and black pepper. Secondary flavors include red pepper, earth, coffee, and dark chocolate. Flavors are largely consistent from beginning to end of the hour-plus smoke, with tempered strength that walks the fine line between balance and full flavor.

The non-Reserva Havana Cazadores is the fullest-flavored of the original line, in part because it is wet packed in foil. The first Havana Cazadores Reserva is equally full-bodied, but no more. It swaps out some woodiness for more powdery chocolate and charred notes.

I lit up the Broadleaf Havana Cazadores with high expectations. The three samples I smoked for this review didn’t disappoint. My only hope is that the rest of the Broadleaf Collection can live up to this one. A perfectly constructed combination of full Nicaraguan flavors with the restrained richness that Connecticut Broadleaf provides, the Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection Havana Cazadores earns our highest rating of five stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here. A list of other five-stogie rated cigars can be found here.]

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: MBombay Gaaja Maduro Torpedo

21 Feb 2017

Gaaja Maduro

Since it was formally announced on July 1, 2016, MBombay’s Gaaja line has only had a single blend available in a single vitola: a Toro, which I reviewed (and thoroughly enjoyed) last summer. That changed earlier this month when a second Gaaja format was added—a Torpedo—along with a Maduro blend. Today I review the new Gaaja Maduro Torpedo.

Gaaja Maduro TorpedoBy way of background, MBombay is a small-batch brand of high-end cigars made in Costa Rica and produced by Bombay Tobak. The man behind the operation is Mel Shah, owner of an upscale cigar and wine lounge in Palm Springs, California.

Gaaja (pronounced Gaa-ya) is Sanskrit for elephant. The original blend took over four years to perfect and calls for an Ecuadorian hybrid Connecticut and Cameroon wrapper that’s grown in the desflorado fashion. (The process of cultivating desflorado tobacco requires the buds on the plants to be cut off before they flower to force the plant’s energy on leaf production instead of flower production.) The binder is Ecuadorian, and the filler is a combination of Seco from Peru; Viso from Ecuador, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic; and Dominican Ligero.

Gaaja Maduro uses the same binder and filler combination, but it replaces the Ecuadorian hybrid wrapper with a darker Brazilian Mata Fina leaf. “This wrapper has played a very important factor in increasing the flavor and the body to the cigar,” reads a press release dated February 6. “Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper has definitely added more complexity into the mix. [The] rest of the composition of the Gaaja cigar has not been changed, [but] the proportions have been adjusted to make the cigar taste more complete.”

There are two Gaaja Maduro sizes on the market, both of which retail for $15.50: Toro (6 x 54) and Torpedo (6.5 x 54). I smoked several of the latter for this review. The cigar is pungent and attractive out of the cellophane with rounded box press edges, a seamless wrapper, a nicely executed cap, and pre-light notes of dark chocolate and nougat at the foot. The striking appearance and overall feel of quality is only complemented by a unique band of gold, blue, and red that offers no text on the face (but reads “Gaaja” on one side and “Bombay Tobak” on the other). What’s more, its silky smooth, oily wrapper gives the Gaaja Maduro Torpedo a velvety feel. And, despite its firmness, the cold draw is surprisingly effortless.

I found the original Gaaja to be teeming with well-balanced complexity and flavors like honey, graham, bread, dry wood, cream, and almond. While the Maduro does have some almond and dry wood, its core is more focused on coffee bean, dark chocolate, salted caramel, and roasted nuts. In other words, delicious. Adding to the enjoyment is the aroma of the resting smoke, which is mouth-wateringly sweet. I would classify the body as medium to medium-plus. The texture of the smoke is light and sweet (I am reminded of marshmallows) and there is only moderate spice with no traces of heat or harshness.

In addition to a harmonious, interesting, well-balanced profile, and, as you should expect from any cigar with a super-premium price tag, the combustion properties are excellent. The burn runs straight and true from light to nub, the ash holds very well off the foot, the draw remains clear throughout, and the smoke production is above average.

Don’t be turned off by the price; this is not one to miss. I like everything about the Gaaja Maduro Torpedo—the taste, the aroma, the way it smokes, and the way it looks. In fact, I think it’s up there with the finest. And that’s why I’m awarding it our highest rating: five stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here. A list of other five-stogie rated cigars can be found here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Foundry Time Flies 550

15 Feb 2017


When large companies find themselves under assault from smaller operations with innovative products, the response is often to try to replicate what’s leading the attack.

Time FliesThink of Ford’s Pinto to compete with smaller foreign imports, or MillerCoors’ Blue Moon reaction to craft beer brewers, or any one of many similar situations.

In the cigar world, a prime example is General Cigar’s Foundry Tobacco Co. The division was created in 2012 under the now-departed Michael Giannini, who’d come to General after Swedish Match bought Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s successful boutique brand that made La Gloria Cubana.

Foundry has featured nearly every card in the boutique deck: exotic packaging, silly and obscure brand names, baroque themes, limited editions, elaborate back stories about the tobaccos, etc. Additionally, General Cigar has moved some of its historic, if under-appreciated, brands like Bolivar, Ramón Allones,  and Temple Hall under the Foundry umbrella.

With Time Flies, Foundry joined in the collaboration trend. This four-size line, introduced at the 2016 IPCPR Trade Show, was created by Giannini and A.J. Fernandez and rolled at Fernandez’s factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

With all that surrounds Time Flies—skulls, wild colors, aphorisms on the band, a $35,000 humidor—you’d be forgiven for assuming the line is just another gimmicky creation. In this case, though, I believe you’d be wrong. The half-dozen Time Flies robustos I’ve smoked are strong, satisfying cigars.

The regular release Time Flies smokes feature an Ecuadorian Habano 2000 wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and filler. MSRP on the 550 robusto (5 x 50) is $7.50, and the most expensive in the line is the 660 at $9. (There’s also a limited edition with a Sumatra wrapper, which I haven’t tried.)

The opening notes of the cigar are hot pepper, which remind me of some of Don José “Pepin” Garcia’s early creations. The volume lowers about an inch in, which is where you begin to pick up woody notes and dark coffee.

At the halfway point, the pepper reemerges and mingles with some cedar. Toward the final third, there’s some sweetness as well.

I found the overall strength to be on the higher end of medium, though it ramps up a bit in the second half. The finish is fairly light. Construction, burn, and draw are excellent, as is the smoke production.

All in all, I enjoyed Time Flies and rate it four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Foundry Cigars/Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Aguila Robusto

1 Feb 2017


In 2014, as part of President Obama’s efforts to normalize relations between Washington and Havana, the importation of Cuban cigars into the U.S. was partially legalized—only for officially licensed travelers to Cuba, and only if the value of the cigars (and rum) totaled $100 or less. Later, in March 2016, the $100 limit was eliminated, and the legalization was expanded to include the importation of Cuban cigars that were bought in Cuba or elsewhere overseas, as long as the cigars were for personal consumption. However, as we reported last fall, Cuban cigars still cannot be imported to the U.S. unless you are personally traveling with them. In other words, online sales of Cuban cigars to American residents are still illegal.

Aguila RobustoThat said, there a bevy of online retailers based overseas who claim to be able to ship authentic Cuban cigars directly to your door. Among them is iHavanas. “iHavanas operates out of a bonded warehouse located in Geneva, Switzerland, enabling us to offer our customers cigars with duty-free pricing,” reads the website. “All our cigars are purchased from authorized distributors, thereby ensuring authenticity.”

iHavanas is somewhat unique among overseas retailers in that it also has a house brand made in Nicaragua. The brand is called Aguila, which is Spanish for “eagle” (an eagle is prominently featured on the coat of arms and flag of Geneva). “We’ve noticed a growing interest in boutique brands of cigars and, although a few online retailers do offer custom-rolled cigars, we thought we’d go a step further and create a distinct brand,” said an iHavanas representative that, due to the nature of his business, wishes to be identified only as Bryan. “We had been in discussions with a number of factories in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, but eventually settled on this [undisclosed Nicaraguan] factory as we felt we were getting a high quality cigar that we could offer at exceptional value.”

Aguila was launched in October 2016 in three formats: Robusto (4.9 x 50, $47 per box of 10), Sublime (6.5 x 54, $49 per box of 10), and Torpedo (6.1 x 52, $48 per box of 10). The tobaccos include an Ecuadorian wrapper, a Jalapa binder, and long-filler from Estelí.

I smoked five Aguila Robustos for this review. The understated, elegant ring band of white and gold reminds me of another brand made by a company headquartered in Geneva: Davidoff. Beneath is a milk chocolate-colored wrapper that has only very thin veins, thick seams, and a moderate amount of oil and tooth. The feel is on the spongy side. Pre-light notes at the foot remind me of dried apricot, hay, and musty earth.

At the outset, a mild- to medium-bodied profile emerges with flavors of cinnamon, cedar, cream, and a cherry-like sweetness that, at times, verges on medicinal (think cherry cough drops). Cinnamon and cedar are sensations we all associate with spice, but in this case the spice is incredibly light. The texture of the smoke is somewhat sandy. After about an inch, a core of warm tobacco comes to the fore. Here, the sweetness is still playing a notable role. The finale is characterized by few flavor changes but a marginal increase in intensity.

The physical properties leave little to be desired. While the burn can get off to a poor start, it quickly self-corrects and then stays straight until the end. The draw is smooth and the smoke production is above average. The ash has a tendency to fall off a little prematurely.

For $4.70 per cigar when bought by the box of 10 (inclusive of shipping, mind you), the Aguila Robusto can be a nice little bargain for those who seek a low-cost, everyday cigar that packs considerable sweetness and feels at home in the garage, out on the yard, or on the golf course. It lacks complexity and balance, but I don’t think it was ever intended to be a special occasion masterpiece worthy of your undivided attention, either. In my book, this creation from iHavanas is worthy of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys