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Cigar Review: E.P. Carrillo Elencos Elites

3 Jun 2020

Last year, E.P. Carrillo introduced a five-pack featuring a sampling of some of the company’s favorites. Included are one each of the following toro-sized smokes: La Historia Doña Elena, Inch 60 Natural, Selección Oscuro Especial No. 6, New Wave Divino, and Elencos Elites. Given that the combined MSRP of these cigars is $46.50 and the five-pack is selling for $37.50, this is a solid way to explore—or reacquaint yourself with—the EPC lineup.

Today I am reviewing one of the cigars from the sampler: the Elencos Elites. The Elencos line was launched in 2011, about two years after Ernesto Perez-Carrillo ended his nine-year tenure with General Cigar to establish his own family-operated boutique. At the outset, this three-vitola line had the same blend as the E.P. Carrillo Edición Limitada 2010, and its production was likewise limited by the availability of the requisite tobaccos.

E.P. Carrillo re-released Elencos in 2017, this time as a regular production line. The blend consists of a Brazilian wrapper, a Dominican binder, and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. (Of note: You may see the binder listed as Ecuadorian elsewhere; this is an error, as confirmed via the E.P. Carrillo Cigar Co.)

Elencos is Spanish for “cast,” as in the cast of a theatrical production. It is offered in the same three formats as it was in 2011 with prices in the $8.25-9.25 range: Don Rubino (5.25 x 50), Elites (6 x 54), and a figurado called Acto Mayor (6.25 x 52).

I smoked two Elites for this review. Like the Don Rubino I reviewed a couple years ago, this is a dark, oily cigar with an attractive wrapper that’s devoid of any large veins or imperfections. The pre-light notes are rich and reminiscent of molasses and nougat. One major difference: I had written the Don Rubino is firm to the touch, whereas the Elites is pretty soft, almost spongy.

Once lit, a rich, smooth, medium-bodied taste emerges with a well-balanced collection of flavors ranging from sweet cream and cocoa to roasted nuts and espresso. Highly enjoyable. The intro is not intense—certainly nothing like the blast-of-pepper bombs that are so prevalent these days—yet the body still dials back after about an inch. The result is a mellower experience than one might expect given the cigar’s makeup and appearance.

Heading into the midway point, I am starting to think the lack of strength will be permanent. The enjoyable flavors remain—and the cigar is not what I’d call mild, by any means—though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for a little more concentration of taste. I’d love to try this blend in a lancero and, for my palate, the Don Rubino is the more enjoyable frontmark.

Right until the end, the construction is solid. Expect a very clear draw, good smoke production, a sturdy ash, and a burn that doesn’t require touch-ups to stay even.

At the end of the day, this is a fine cigar with great flavor—I just want more of that flavor. That’s ultimately why I’m settling on a score of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Cohiba Royale Toro Royale

26 May 2020

The last time I wrote a full review of a Cohiba was in 2017 when Cohiba Blue had just come out. This was around the same time Sean Williams of El Primer Mundo was introduced as the new Cohiba brand ambassador. “I don’t know this for sure, but my sense is the Cohiba marketing team was aiming for a differentiated look that expressed modernity and approachability,” I wrote. “The purpose of Cohiba Blue, after all, seems to be to attract more (presumably younger) consumers to the brand at a less intimidating price point.”

This April, General Cigar announced a new Cohiba line that (as far as pricing is concerned) throws caution to the wind. Cohiba Royale—dubbed the “fullest-bodied Cohiba expression to date”—is an ultra-premium offering that retails for $24-$29 per cigar.

The Cohiba Royale recipe calls for a sun-grown Nicaraguan Broadleaf wrapper, a Dominican Piloto Cubano binder, and a filler blend that includes tobaccos from Honduras (Jamastran) and Nicaragua (Estelí and Jalapa). Each leaf has been aged five to six years. “All of the tobaccos that comprise Cohiba Royale are hand-selected and deeply aged, representing the best of the best tobacco growing regions in the world,” said Williams in a press release. “The result is a cigar that is as bold as it is refined, befitting of the Cohiba name.”

Cohiba Royale is made at General Cigar’s HATSA factory in Danlí—making it the first Cohiba to be crafted in Honduras. It is packaged in five- and ten-count boxes and offered in three sizes: Gran Royale (4.5 x 52), Robusto Royale (5.5 x 54), and Toro Royale (6 x 50).

Aesthetics are not the most important trait of any cigar. That said, when you pay $29, it should be a fine-looking specimen—and, unfortunately, the Toro Royale falls short of the expectations set by its lofty price. The cap is borderline sloppy with cracks, lumps, and edges that were ineffectively smoothed down. And the seams that run the length of the cigar are likewise not as tight as they should be, and therefore prone to cracking. Other characteristics of the rough, mottled wrapper I am willing to chalk up to the rustic-ness of Broadleaf.

The real test, though, is in the taste. As advertised, the Toro Royale starts full-bodied and strong with an intense profile of black pepper, espresso, and leather. It’s the kind of powerful intro that leads you to believe there will eventually be a nicotine penance to pay—even for a seasoned cigar veteran.

After a half inch, the strength and body pull back considerably. The core flavors remain, but now the taste is better-balanced, sweeter, and more interesting. The new-arrival notes include cocoa powder and black cherry. There are also some unwelcome flavors, most notably a stale bitterness and a chewy meatiness.

From a construction standpoint, it’s all good news. The burn is straight and the cigar stays lit even when not puffed frequently. The ash holds well, the draw is smooth, and the smoke production is voluminous and aromatic.

That isn’t nearly enough to merit a recommendation, however. I smoked three for this review—each provided by General Cigar—and I’m afraid the aesthetics, flavor, and price are all disappointing. I am left with no choice but to settle on a poor score of two stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Umbagog Corona Gorda

7 May 2020

The Umbagog line from Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust is one of a select few blends that have been featured heavily in my personal rotation during the quarantine. I suspect Umbagog’s inclusion has a lot to do with my desire to not want to sacrifice quality while keeping my cigar budget relatively in check.

As you may recall, Umbagog (“oom-bah-gog”) was announced in the summer of 2016, along with a flurry of other new releases across the industry. (At that time, cigar makers, brand owners, blenders, and factories had been frantically scrambling to meet the August 8 deadline set forth by the FDA; cigars introduced after August 8 would have had to go through the FDA approval process before being sold or marketed). Saka called Umbagog an “extreme value-priced ten-count bundle” using a Broadleaf wrapper that didn’t visually make the grade for his more expensive Broadleaf cigar, Mi Querida. The cigar is named for a New Hampshire lake that’s a favorite fishing locale of Saka’s.

Umbagog “is a perfect cigar for my time upon her waters,” writes Saka on the Dunbarton website. “It is robust and durable, designed to endure the rigors of outside activity with its thick Broadleaf capa and easy-burning liga. This is a cigar that doesn’t pretend to be special or seek to elicit the ‘oohs’ or ‘aahs’ of the cigar snobs. It is an honest, hardworking cigar that is meant to be smoked, chewed upon, and lit however many times you wish.”

The Umbagog recipe calls for a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. It is handmade at the Nicaraguan American Cigar S.A. factory (NACSA) in Estelí and available in six formats: Corona Gorda (6 x 48), Robusto Plus (5 x 52), Toro Toro (6 x 52), Gordo Gordo (6 x 56), Short & Fat (4.75 x 56), and Churchill (7 x 50).

I paid $8.25 apiece for five singles in the Corona Gorda vitola. With its firm roll, tight seams, well-executed cap, smooth cold draw, and mouth-watering pre-light armoa of hickory and cocoa, there’s nothing appearance-wise to suggest this is a value bundle cigar. And, no, I can’t really tell what’s wrong with the wrappers on the five I smoked for this review. The lone exception, I suppose, is the simple, understated band, which has no raised lettering or frills of any kind (OK in my book, since I’d rather pay for the tobacco).

Quick side note: The original band (as seen here in Saka’s Instagram post announcing the blend, and here in our first review) was brown lettering on white—not the current white lettering on green. I asked Saka about this last week. “The brown on white was a temp ring used on a few hundred cigars to ensure they were imported before the FDA Aug. 8 deadline, as the green ones were delayed from printer,” he wrote via a Facebook message. “They were all sold as ‘misfits’ to one vendor before we officially launched the brand with the correct packaging.”

Beyond the wrapper, Saka has said this cigar isn’t exactly the same blend as Mi Querida, though it’s very similar. Think different primings or grades of tobacco, but the same basic Nicaraguan components. I actually think Umbagog is smoother and slightly milder than Mi Querida, which I would characterize as moist and full-bodied with a grainy texture, ample spice, and notes of espresso, cinnamon, damp wood, and leather. In contrast, the Umbagog Corona Gorda is a drier, woodsier smoke with a bready texture and plenty of earth, cocoa powder, charred oak, and white pepper.

The physical properties are absolutely stellar. The draw is smooth throughout, the smoke production is better than average, the straight burn line is razor-sharp, and the white ash holds well off the foot.

I realize the term “value bundle” is relative.  There are plenty of factory seconds and discount smokes out there, and I wouldn’t put Umbagog close to that category. This is only a value play when viewed against the rest of the Dunbarton portfolio, which is made to Saka’s exacting standards and therefore commands relatively expensive prices. Whether you decide to take the Corona Gorda for a spin while golfing, fishing, or simply sitting back with some sipping rum, I think you’ll be pleased. In my book, it earns four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: CroMagnon EMH Black Irish

17 Apr 2020

In 2017, Skip Martin’s RoMa Craft Tobac released a limited edition offshoot of its popular CroMagnon EMH (“Early Modern Human”) cigar called Black Irish. The twist (pun intended) is a thin barber pole of Ecuadorian Connecticut Candela included in the regular EMH recipe. It’s a strategy that makes for a striking cigar—and one that’s highly sought-after among the dedicated RoMa fan base.

In an exchange with Danny Vazquez, RoMa’s sales director for North America, I learned there were about 60 boxes made in that inaugural year. In 2018 the release grew to 100 boxes. And while there were none made in 2019, 2020 production is about 200 boxes. While that’s double the number from 2018, “this limited edition is being released slower because of COVID restrictions, but after it’s done they are gone for the year,” says Vazquez.

Black Irish has the same dimensions as the original EMH (5 x 56) and, other than the Candela stripe, is the same recipe. The wrapper is Connecticut Broadleaf, the binder is Cameroon, and the filler is comprised of three different tobaccos from Nicaragua: Estelí, Condega, and a small farm on the Honduran border. “This third leaf, a Ligero, brings a strong, smoky, savory flavor to the blend,” read a description on the old RoMa website. “When combined with the mildly sweet characteristics of the Broadleaf Maduro wrapper, the exotic bite of the Cameroon binder, and the clean finish of its Viso and Seco companions, the blend delivers the precise, deep, rich tobacco flavor we wanted to present…”

Speaking of presentation, Black Irish makes quite the first impression. The thin Candela stripe appears to be applied directly over the diagonal line that I’d typically refer to as the cigar’s “seams.” This strip of green leaf is not completely uniform—it’s slightly thicker in some spots, thinner in others—but the overall effect, especially at the cap, is one of impressive attention to detail. The cigar is adorned by the familiar CroMagnon band of charcoal over cream, with black raised lettering that’s nearly illegible.

The thick robusto is firm to the touch. Pre-light notes include damp hay, sawdust, and licorice. The cold draw is smooth to moderate.

As with the regular CroMagnon EMH, the profile is dark, chalky, and full-bodied from the get-go. Not surprisingly, there are also sweet grassy notes on the background. But given the Candela placement versus the burn line, these grassy notes come and go, never taking center stage—perfect for the cigar enthusiast who’s just looking for a hint of something different.

After the first inch, the body settles a bit. But while the profile is slightly mellower, it never ventures out of the full-bodied spectrum. That’s about where the Black Irish stays until the finale. All the while, the burn line is OK (though, to its credit, it never requires any touch-ups). The white ash holds impeccably well. And the smoke volume is as generous as it is aromatic.

The MSRP is $288 for a box of 24, or $12 for a single. If you come across it, I’d absolutely recommend picking some up—especially if you’re in the mood for something unique and different. In my book, the CroMagnon EMH Black Irish is worthy of a very admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Sobremesa Robusto Largo

19 Nov 2019

These days, when cigar enthusiasts think of Steve Saka’s Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, the “marcas” they’re most likely to conjure are the ones Saka features in his frequent social media posts. Sin Compromiso. The Muestra de Saka iterations, including Nacatamale and (especially) Unicorn. Maybe a close-up of a lit Umbagog taken at Saka’s favorite fishing lake in New Hampshire.

But when I think Dunbarton, I think Sobremesa. Sobremesa was announced in July 2015 to almost instant excitement as the first line from Saka’s new independent cigar operation. It marked the culmination of a two-year non-compete agreement Saka had with his former employer, Drew Estate. Seemingly everyone was clamoring to see how the man who played a critical role in growing Drew Estate into a Nicaraguan juggernaut would fare in his first solo foray.

In my opinion, Sobremesa was—and still is—worth the hype. To date we’ve written about the Elegante en Cedros, Gran Imperiales, Corona Grande, El Americano, and—my personal favorite—the Cervantes Fino. All have received exemplary marks.

Today I look at a Sobremesa vitola that has thus far escaped my reach: the Robusto Largo (5.25 x 52). Like its brethren, the Robusto Largo sports an oily, velvety, toothy, slightly reddish Ecuadorian Habano Rosado wrapper leaf with minimal veins and tight seams. It envelops 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).

The cap clips easily to reveal a smooth cold draw. At the foot, the pre-light notes remind me of cocoa powder, earth, and caramel.

After establishing an even light, I find a creamy, balanced, delightfully familiar profile of café au lait, gentle cinnamon spice, salted nuts, and a bit of cayenne heat. The finish has both black pepper and baking spices. The texture is bready.

As the Robusto Largo progresses, flavors like dark cherry, green raisin, cedar, molasses, and caramel come and go. The texture shifts to thick syrup around the midway point and thereafter. As I’ve written before about Sobremesa, “the complexity is palpable and highly enjoyable, and the sweetness of the resting smoke is mouth-wateringly intoxicating. Fortunately, the combustion qualities do not detract from the experience; rather, they enhance it. The burn line is straight, the smoke production above average, the draw easy, and the ash holds well off the foot.”

For me, the Cervantes Fino remains the flagship of the fleet. But don’t sleep on the other vitolas, including the Robusto Largo. It is worthy of another outstanding rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Protocol Probable Cause Lancero

11 Nov 2019

I’m not sure how Cubariqueño Cigar Company co-founder Juan Cancel gets any real work done. Being a brand owner surely must entail plenty of grind and grit. Spreadsheets. Forecasting. Sales calls. Long, over-caffeinated nights. Flights to and from the factory. Arduous days spent in airports, rental cars, and countless cigar shops/lounges.

Yet, according to his (often hilarious) Facebook posts, seemingly daily he is at some exotic locale with a wide, toothy, bearded grin. He might be shirtless. He might be with some “internet famous” cigar babe well-known for her bikini-laden Instagram page. He might be dressed as Santa Claus. Wherever he is, and whatever he’s doing, the two constants seem to be (1) a smile as exaggerated as the day is long and (2) a Cubariqueño cigar.

Cubariqueño has been around for four years, having introduced itself to the cigar world in 2015 with a nondescript table at Erik Espinosa’s booth at the IPCPR Trade Show in New Orleans. Founders Juan Cancel and Bill Ives count among their brands Protocol, Protocol Probable Cause, Protocol Official Misconduct, Protocol Gold, and Sir Robert Peel (both Natural and Maduro).

When it was launched in 2015, the Protocol Probable Cause came in two sizes: Robusto (5 x 52, $9.69) and a box-pressed Churchill (6.6 x 48, $9.89). In 2017, a Lancero (7.5 x 38, $10.50) was added. It is made at Espinosa’s La Zona Cigar Factory in Estelí with a Mexican San Andrés wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos.

I am a fan of lanceros and was eager to try the Probable Cause line in this format. Despite its narrow ring gauge, it has a smooth pre-light draw. It comes handsomely presented with dual bands of red, silver, and black. “La Zona” is inscribed on the back.

Once lit, there is an initial blast of black pepper spice, which is only slightly balanced by a faint background of natural tobacco sweetness. From there, the Lancero settles into a medium-bodied, classic-tasting smoke with a thick, leathery texture.

At the midway point, while the black pepper remains, a spicy red pepper cayenne heat is introduced. Other flavors include steak, dried fruit, and espresso. The overall effect is simultaneously earthy, leathery, and dry. The final third is much of the same.

In terms of physical properties, the burn line isn’t perfect—but it also doesn’t really require any touch-ups along the way. The smoke production is good, and the gray ash holds well.

Bottom line? This is this is a good lancero at a fair price. It may not make my smile as wide and enthusiastic as Juan Cancel’s—not many cigars would—but I’m smiling nonetheless. In my book, the Protocol Probable Cause Lancero earns four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Cigar Review: Curivari Sun Grown 550

6 Nov 2019

Last week I reviewed the Curivari Gloria de Leon and noted the brand’s “reputation as a brand that appeals to fans of Nicaraguan cigars and provides excellent value for the price.” Now I’m looking at another Curivari line, the (comparatively simply-named) Sun Grown blend.

I smoked three robusto-shaped “550” vitolas. The Sun Grown line consists of box-pressed smokes that feature sun-grown Nicaraguan Habano wrappers around Nicaraguan binder and fillers. The cigars sell for around $6, slightly less when purchased in consumer-friendly boxes of 10 cigars.

The cigar is a medium-bodied smoke with espresso, damp earth, and clove notes. As it evolves, leather and black pepper spice flavors emerge with the pepper spice lingering on the palate.

It’s a gritty flavor profile that at times lacks balance. Construction is excellent, with the firmly box-pressed smoke featuring an even burn, sturdy salt and pepper ash, and good smoke production.

Curivari makes a lot of cigars (with a flurry, including the Sun Grown, introduced at the 2017 IPCPR Trade Show). While there are many blends, all stay true to the brand’s Nicaraguan-centric character. The Curivari Sun Grown is no exception.

While hardly my favorite Curivari blend (I far prefer the Buenaventura and Gloria de Leon lines), it is still a solid smoke, especially considering the price. That earns the Curivari Sun Grown 550 a rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys