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Cigar Review: Dram Cask No. 3 Double Habano Toro

26 Jan 2015

In ancient Greece, a “dram” was a coin and a unit of measurement. These days, “dram” usually refers to a small amount of spirit poured neat, especially scotch whisky.

Dram Cask 3 ToroCapitalizing on the popularity of whiskey, Orleans Group International and C&C Cigars recently released the Dram cigar brand, “a line crafted to choreograph the flavors of whiskey and cigars,” according to a press release. “Cigar and whiskey aficionados alike will appreciate the depth of each blend’s complementary or contrasting flavors, magnifying the qualities of the cigar and the whiskey.”

Dram is subscribing to the principal that “body is as essential as flavor,” so there are four Dram blends that are intended to pair with different whiskey intensities. Dram Cask No. 1 Double Connecticut is on the bolder end of the mild spectrum and marketed as a complement to light whiskies like Glenmorangie and Balvenie Single Barrel. Cask No. 2 Double Corojo is intended for woody whiskeys like Wild Turkey 101 and Angel’s Envy. Cask No. 3 Double Habano is for spicier spirits like Bulleit Bourbon. And Cask No. 4 Double Binder Connecticut Broadleaf is for smoky, peaty scotches like Laphroaig.

I sampled three Cask No. 3 Double Habano Toros (6 x 54, $9-10) for this review. Each featured a dark Habano wrapper with minimal veins, moderate oils, and bold pre-light notes of dried apricot. The cap clips easily and the cold draw is effortless, imparting a slight earthy spice on the lips.

I would be remiss to sample a cigar that’s built specifically to complement spicy whiskeys without actually enjoying one such whiskey alongside the smoke. Since the Dram marketing materials specifically point to Bulleit Bourbon as the example for Cask No. 3—and since I had a bottle of orange-label Bulleit on hand—I decided to pour myself a dram (or two) for each of my three samples. My conclusion: While most cigars taste pretty damn good with any kind of bourbon, I have to tip my hat; the rich earthiness and spice of Cask No. 3 does indeed taste very fine with the likes of Bulleit.

In fact, even though the cigar tastes quite good on its own, and even though Bulleit is tasty and an excellent value on its own, the two together are greater than the sum of their parts. That said, setting aside the bourbon and focusing completely on the cigar, I find the profile is best characterized by mushroom, raisin, and coffee with a dry, woodsy spice. The texture is leathery and the resting smoke is dense and chocolaty. Construction is consistently outstanding with a straight burn line, solid white ash, and good smoke production.

If the C&C name sounds familiar, you’ll remember C&C’s owner, Joe Chiusano, is the former president of Cusano, a brand that ended up getting purchased by Davidoff in 2009. Since he launched C&C, I’d have to say the Dram Cask No. 3 Double Habano Toro is my favorite blend in the portfolio, and one that’s worthy of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Señor Rio Añejo

22 Jan 2015

senor-rio-anejoIn October, I wrote about the new Señor Rio Diamanté, introduced by Jalisco International Imports, which owns and distributes Señor Rio tequila. The Diamanté was one of two cigars created by company co-founders Jonathan Gach and Debbie Medina.

Both are cigar smokers, and each created a cigar tailored to their tastes while visiting Nicaragua. The Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped Diamanté was Medina’s selection, while the Añejo was created for Gach’s tastes.

The Señor Rio Añejo has a Mexican wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos from the Condega, Estelí, and Pueblo Nuevo regions. Like the Señor Rio Diamanté, the Señor Rio Añejo is made by A.J. Fernandez at his Tabacelera Fernandez factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

The Añejo comes in one size, a box-pressed toro (6 x 52) that sells for $9.99. I smoked four samples provided to me by Jalisco for this review.

From the start, the influence of the Mexican wrapper is evident. There’s dry notes of dark char, oak, and black coffee. As it progresses the flavors become more complex with damp earth, leather, and a slightly syrupy sweetness. There’s also some red pepper notes that hit on the lips.

From start to finish the dryness of this cigar is its most notable trait. The solidly constructed cigar leaves a layer of chalky, dense smoke on the palate.

While not the most balanced cigar, it’s a cigar with a distinct character, which I’ll take every time over a smooth but dull smoke. And the Añejo’s profile does indeed pair well with Señor Rio Añejo tequila, whose sweet honey, light oak, and fruit flavors contrast brightly but nicely.

Señor Rio has created two distinct, interesting cigars. And while I personally prefer the more subtle and complex Diamanté, the Señor Rio Añejo still earns a commendable rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Espinosa Maduro Robusto

21 Jan 2015

There was a time when the cigars in the EO Brands portfolio—particularly 601 Blue, 601 Red, and 601 Green—were mainstays in my humidors. Back then, Erik Espinosa and Eddie Ortega were still in partnership, and the 601 line was still produced by none other than Don José “Pepin” Garcia at My Father Cigars.

Espinosa Maduro RobustoIn 2010, Rocky Patel bought a 50% share in EO Brands, which also owned Cubao, Murcielago, and Mi Barrio. Then, in early 2012, Eddie Ortega announced he was leaving the company and starting his own outfit called Ortega Cigars.

Today, Erik Espinosa operates Espinosa Premium Cigars, which is home to 601 and Murcielago (both of which are now made at Espinosa’s La Zona Factory in Estelí, instead of at My Father Cigars). But Espinosa’s outfit isn’t simply a means to remix old lines from EO Brands. When we spoke with Espinosa at the 2012 industry trade show, he was in the process of launching Espinosa Habano and La Zona, and he was also working on a forthcoming Espinosa Maduro.

Espinosa Maduro has been on the market for some time now, offered in four vitolas: Belicoso (5.5 x 52), Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46), Robusto (5 x 52), and Toro (6 x 52). The Robusto is dark, box-pressed, and toothy with considerable oils on the Mexican Maduro wrapper. The foot shows a slightly loose bunching of Nicaraguan tobaccos and emits pre-light notes of milk chocolate. The triple-cap clips cleanly to reveal an easy cold draw.

Considering the blend makeup, I anticipated a cocoa sweetness offset by a spicy Nicaraguan zing. That’s exactly what I got, right off the bat. The Espinosa Maduro Robusto boasts a medium- to full-bodied profile with bittersweet chocolate, earth, black pepper, and leather. The texture is chalky. To its credit, while the flavor doesn’t change a ton from light to nub, the Robusto is nicely balanced—never too bitter, never too sweet, never hot or harsh if you take your time.

As for combustion qualities, the white ash holds firm, the draw is excellent, and the smoke production is solid. The burn line can meander a bit, though. One of my samples required multiple touch-ups to stay even; another required just a single touch-up after the first inch and remained perfect thereafter.

Priced at about $7-8, the Espinosa Maduro Robusto brings a lot of value to the table in terms of balance and depth of flavor. Despite its strength, I really enjoy it mid-afternoon with a cup of black coffee (but I’d suggest doing so on a full stomach). With renewed interest in sampling the 601 line I loved years ago, I’m awarding this Erik Espinosa creation 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: Montecristo Relentless Toro

19 Jan 2015

Montecristo requires no introduction. The flagship Altadis brand has a spot at nearly every U.S. cigar retailer and boasts a portfolio of familiar lines, including Classic, Platinum, White, Epic, and Monte.

Montecristo Relentless ToroOne line you won’t find on the Montecristo website, however, is Relentless. That’s because the Montecristo Relentless is exclusive to Famous Smoke Shop, a Pennsylvania-based online retailer. Famous markets Relentless as a cigar that “lives up to its name. It relentlessly pounds your taste buds with amazing flavor, while you experience a medium-bodied strength profile.”

The Relentless recipe includes an Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper, a Mexican San Andrés binder, and long-filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and Brazil (Mata Fina). It is offered in five sizes: Churchill (7 x 56, $12.50), Magnum (6 x 60, $12.75), No. 2 (6.1 x 52, $12.50), Robusto (5.5 x 48, $9.65), and Toro (6 x 54, $10.00).

Full disclosure: Famous sent me a sampler pack of Relentless Toros to make this review possible. As always, the samples Famous provided in no way impact my assessment of the cigar.

Several things strike me about the Relentless Toro upon initial examination. First, the band of red, black, and orange-ish yellow is huge and covers much of the wrapper. Second, once the band is removed, the beauty of the light, shade-grown wrapper comes into full view. It’s a clean, oily specimen, and the entire cigar exudes an overall feel of quality—from the neatly executed cap to the cross-section of tobaccos at the foot.

After setting an even burn, pre-light notes of oak and hay transition to a creamy, mild- to medium-bodied profile of cinnamon, roasted nut, and dry wood. The texture is bready and the resting smoke is sweet and enticing. There’s a nice interplay between sweet cream, bitter coffee, and some peppery spice on the finish. Those who take their time and smoke slowly will be rewarded with nuance.

Construction is excellent, as one would expect for the price. The burn is straight, the smoke production above average, the gray ash holds firm off the foot, and the draw has just the right amount of resistance. I should add, though, the wrapper is incredibly thin and fragile. Treat this cigar with the utmost care as you store it and smoke it. Any mishandling is sure to cause cracks.

Truth be told, the Montecristo Relentless Toro is a well-built, consistently reliable, tasty smoke with solid, well-balanced flavors. I would absolutely recommend this in the morning or afternoon with a complementary cup of coffee. That said, I think the price point is a tad high (around $7 seems more reasonable to me) and I’d be interested to try Relentless in the more condensed, narrower Robusto format. Still, the Relentless Toro is worthy of a solid rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Illusione Fume d’Amour Viejos

15 Jan 2015

Dion Giolito, the man behind the Illusione brand, has fastidiously resisted the cigar industry trend to add new cigar lines annually. Many years at the industry trade show his booth seems purposely quiet, as if he intends to let his Illusione cigars do the talking.fume-d-amour-sq

fume-d-amour One result of his resisting the temptation to always come out with something new is that when a new Illusione cigar is finally released, it’s worth an extra good look. Which is why I eagerly awaited Illusione’s new Fume d’Amour line.

Fume d’Amour  comes in four sizes—at least for now—ranging from petit corona to large toro: Lagunas (4.5 x 42), Clementes (6.5 x 48), Viejos (5 x 50), and Capristanos (6 x 56). For this review I smoked four of the robusto-sized Viejo vitola.

Fume d’Amour is a Nicaraguan puro made at the TABSA Factory in Jalapa, Nicaragua, with Aganorsa tobaccos. While the blend is based on the original Illusione line, it also shares something in common with the Epernay blend: a lack of any ligero leaf.

The result is a cigar that tastes like a hybrid. It’s more powerful than the Epernay, but not as spicy as the original Illusione core blend. Still excellent. The flavors are a whirlwind combination of dry woodiness, hay, roast nuts, light honey, and maybe a hint of muted black pepper. The cigar starts off medium-bodied but slowly ramps up to a more medium-full profile.

It doesn’t have the elegance of the Illusione Epernay, which is still my favorite Illusione line, but that’s a matter of personal preference and not any criticism of the composition of Fume d’Amore, which is as complex and well-rounded, just punched in body and strength.

The Fume d’Amour line can certainly be considered one of the best cigars introduced at the 2014 industry convention. The Fume d’Amour Viejos earns four and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Cubanacan Soneros Habano Claro Corona Gorda

14 Jan 2015

“Where fertile land is abundant.” That’s the meaning behind the Cubanacan name. According to the company’s website, Cubanacan “is derived from tobacco traditions that predate Cuba itself. The story of Cubanacan is not just one of our past, but one that is still being written… Our goal is not just to be the storyteller, but to have each person that enjoys our cigar help write the next part of our tale.”

SonerosCubanacan began growing its own tobacco in Nicaragua in 2006, and shortly thereafter established the Tabacalera Cubanacan factory in Estelí. There, six distinct blends are handmade under the supervision of master blender Omar González Alemán: Cubanacan Connecticut, Cubanacan Habano, Cubanacan Maduro, HR Habano 2000, Soneros Maduro, and Soneros Habano Claro.

The latter comes in five vitolas: Campana, Corona Gorda, Gran Robusto, Petit Sublime, and Toro. I smoked two Soneros Habano Claro Corona Gordas for this review, both of which were provided by Cubanacan. While the company website lists the cigar as 5.1 inches long with a ring gauge of 46—and while a recent email press release lists the length as 6.5 inches—I was able to confirm this size actually measures 5.625 inches with a 46 ring gauge.

The Habano Claro features a Habano Ecuador binder, Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, and an Ecuadorian wrapper classified as “claro.” When I think claro, I think of a shade-grown wrapper so light it’s almost green. When asked, Nate McIntyre of Cubanacan said, “Cigar shades are always relative… It’s always according to a multitude of factors including varietal, weather that year, fermentation practices, etc.”

After lighting the foot, pre-light notes of coffee and leather transition to a taste of cream, roasted nut, dry oak, and hints of pepper. Milk chocolate and some caramel become apparent towards the midway point. The final third is characterized by more creaminess and sweetness, which is somewhat offset by a natural tobacco flavor. Throughout, the strength remains consistently medium-bodied and the texture is silky.

Construction is top-notch. My two samples both exhibited straight burn lines that required no touch-ups, solid ashes that held well off the foot, and above average smoke production.

With a reasonable price tag of $7.25, the Soneros Habano Claro Corona Gorda is a well-balanced treat that provides considerable bang for the buck. In addition, I really dig the size (5.625 x 46) since it delivers solid flavor, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and avoids the pitfall of the current “thicker is better” trend. I’m pleased to award this cigar four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Atabey Ritos

12 Jan 2015

Unless you’re a complete stranger to the online cigar community, you probably know of Barry Stein. Barry is highly active on social media, the founder (and former proprietor of) A Cigar Smoker, a former employee of Miami Cigar & Co., and a current employee of the New Hampshire-based Two Guys Smoke Shop, a chain of cigar retailers.

AtabeyThese days Barry is also doing some marketing for United Cigar, an outfit with smokes manufactured and blended by Nelson Alfonso’s Selected Tobacco (Alfonso is known for his work with the Cohiba Behike). United Cigar’s website is under construction.

Barry was kind enough to send me a three-pack of United creations—one cigar each of the Atabey, Byron, and Bandolero blends (complete with travel humidifier tubes and a gorgeous presentation, no less). To be clear, while the three-pack is greatly appreciated, I did not petition Barry for any samples, and his generosity and thoughtfulness in no way impacts this review.

Atabey is handmade in Costa Rica using an undisclosed blend of “Caribbean and Central American” tobaccos. It bears a striking resemblance to the ultra-exclusive Cohiba Behike in several ways, including the band (dots with black and gold) and the light, clean wrapper. In addition, the Atabey name itself is a nod to the goddess the Taíno Indians would pray to through the leader of their group, known as the “Behike.”

Six vitolas comprise the Atabey portfolio: Ritos (6.1 x 55), Delirios (5.75 x 55), Sabios (5.25 x 52), Brujos (4.9 x 52), Divinos (4.25 x 50), and Idolos (4.5 x 55). All retail north of $20 for a single.

The Atabey Ritos is a large, beautiful cigar with an impeccably smooth wrapper, a well-executed triple-cap, and soft pre-light notes of sweet hay off the foot. After setting an even light, I find a balanced, medium to mild-medium profile with notes of cream, oak, white pepper and a little syrup. The texture is bready and the aftertaste leaves a gentle spice on the tongue. Towards the midway point and beyond, there’s a slight increase in intensity with flavors of walnut and black pepper joining in. Construction is perfect.

Atabey has actually been around since 2011, but never available at more than 30 retailers nationwide and always operating with a fairly low visibility. Given Barry Stein’s connections to the online cigar media, I think you’ll be seeing a lot more about this brand in 2015.

Yes, the Atabey Ritos is expensive. No, it doesn’t taste terribly similar to the Cuban Behike (I’m not sure the comparison is fair but, after all, the manufacturer is inviting it). That said, it’s a complex, balanced, wonderfully nuanced cigar, and it won’t leave you disappointed (unless you were hoping for a full-bodied powerbomb). I award it four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys