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Cigar Review: Crowned Heads The Angel’s Anvil 2017 (TAA Exclusive)

12 Jun 2017

Each year, some of the industry’s most revered manufacturers craft an exclusive cigar for members of the Tobacconist’s Association of America (TAA), a group of about 80 retailers who pride themselves on their knowledge and professionalism and work together to develop best practices. This year’s participants include, among others, Tatuaje, Padrón, La Flor Dominicana, La Palina, Jaime Garcia, and Crowned Heads.

This is the fourth straight year Nashville-based Crowned Heads has made a TAA exclusive. Called “The Angel’s Anvil”—which, conveniently, also has TAA as its acronym—the series takes its name from a short story penned by Crowned Heads co-founder Jon Huber about a fallen angel who enlists the help of a blacksmith to forge new wings so he can re-ascend to heaven.

Not much is known about the 2017 iteration of The Angel’s Anvil, other than it is made at the Tabacalera La Alianza factory (E.P. Carillo) with a Habano wrapper and is offered in a single toro-sized vitola (6.25 x 52). The binder and filler tobaccos are not disclosed. Of note: The 2014 and 2015 editions of The Angel’s Anvil also had Habano wrappers; the 2016 model featured a dark maduro leaf.

On a personal level, I happen to really enjoy cigars that boast toasty, bready notes. This cigar fits that profile. From the outset, the flavors remind me of graham cracker, sourdough, and gingerbread. There is some sweetness, as well as spicy undertones; think cinnamon and cedar, not black pepper. The body is decidedly medium. There are few changes between the first and last puffs. However, along the way, a slight metallic trace fades in and out . While it’s not a taste I particularly enjoy, it’s never in the foreground, and it doesn’t stick around too long.

Construction was excellent across the samples I smoked for this review.  Each exhibited a straight burn that required no touch-ups to stay even, a moderately solid ash, a clear draw, and good smoke production.

The Angel’s Anvil 2017 comes packaged in boxes of 20 that sell for about $190 but, for this review, I bought a five-pack for $52.50 (which makes the per-cigar cost $10.50). To me, that’s a very appropriate price for a well-made, enjoyable cigar. I’d recommend you give this a try, especially if, like me, you’re a fan of bready flavors. I award this Crowned Heads 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: Padrón Serie 1964 Prototype Natural (Smoke Inn Exclusive)

5 Jun 2017

There’s a lot to admire about Padrón Cigars. Like the company’s status as arguably the pinnacle of excellence in the industry. Or the dedication displayed by Cuban émigré José Orlando Padrón to labor as a carpenter until he had the capital to establish a cigar factory.

Another admirable trait is the company’s focused portfolio. Instead of coming out with a new cigar line every year, Padrón only makes a few different blends—lines that are crafted well and almost universally celebrated. As the company likes to say, “When Padrón is on the label, quality is a matter of family honor.”

One of those well-crafted lines is the Serie 1964, also known as the 1964 Anniversary Series. It was launched in 1994 to commemorate Padrón’s 30th anniversary (there’s also a 1926 Serie that honors the year of José Orlando Padrón’s birth.) The Serie 1964 has 12 box-pressed vitolas, each available in either a sun-grown Natural wrapper or a dark Maduro leaf. All of the tobaccos in the Nicaraguan puro are aged for four years.

The newest of the 12 vitolas, Hermoso, was added in 2016. “When Padrón first began toying with their new 1964 Anniversary Hermoso cigar (4 x 56), they first came to us with a more manageable (4 x 50) vitola,” reads the Smoke Inn website, which refers to the 1964 Prototype as “an exclusive pre-release cigar.” The specifics of this arrangement between Padrón and Smoke Inn are unclear, but it seems reasonable to assume the 1964 Prototype is a one-time release and that supplies are very limited.

I recently bought a 5-pack of Prototype Naturals for $59.75 ($11.95 per cigar). At the time of this writing, 5-packs and boxes of 20 of both the Natural and Maduro are still available at Smoke Inn.

As you would expect given the pedigree and price, the Prototype Natural is stunning in appearance. It sports the familiar 1964 double-ring. In my mind, those two bands are very reassuring; they reinforce the only thing that’s “prototype” about this cigar are the dimensions. Everything else—the quality of the tobacco, the craftsmanship of the construction, etc.—should be up to the high Serie 1964 standards.

Once lit, nutty, creamy pre-light notes transition to a complex, well-balanced profile of oak, almond, sharp cedar spice, and vanilla. Background notes of powdery cocoa and cream help add balance. I would best describe the texture as silky.

Given the cigar’s stature, the settle-in mode arrives quickly. This slightly mellowed midway point is characterized by a creamier taste and the emergence of notes like peanut, warm tobacco, and cinnamon. There are very few changes in flavor thereafter. Throughout, the combustion qualities are superb, including a straight burn that requires no torch touch-ups, a sooth draw, above average smoke production, and a white ash that holds well off the foot.

I don’t think I’m going to surprise anyone when I say the Padrón Serie 1964 Prototype Natural is a terrific smoke. It’s a compact, concentrated iteration of a blend we all know and love that delivers exactly as expected. That’s ultimately why, in my book, this exclusive vitola from Smoke Inn earns four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: H. Upmann by A.J. Fernandez Robusto

29 May 2017

Justified or not, hardcore cigar enthusiasts will often ignore brands from huge companies like General Cigar and Altadis in favor of offerings from small, boutique operations. Perhaps in an effort to combat this treatment, the two industry giants have both partnered with cigar makers who—while certainly not small—manage to maintain a solid rapport among the most dedicated segment of the cigar smoking community.

A few notable examples: In 2015, Altadis tapped Pete Johnson of Tatuaje to help craft Henry Clay Tattoo, a limited run of 2,500 boxes that quickly sold out. In 2016, General chose to partner with A.J. Fernandez, well-known for his operations in Nicaragua, to develop a four-vitola line called La Amistad.

These days, A.J. Fernandez has switched teams from General to Altadis to launch his version—a Nicaraguan version, of course—of the famed H. Upmann brand. It is made at the Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua factory with an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, Nicaraguan Corojo ’99 binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The three sizes—Churchill (7 x 54), Toro (6 x 54), and Robusto (5 x 52)—retail in the affordable $7.25-$7.75 range.

I recently bought a five-pack of the Robustos for $36.25. This cigar makes a great first impression with its smooth, silky, milk chocolate-colored wrapper, well-constructed cap, and firm packing of tobaccos. The foot yields savory pre-light aromas of peanut, hay, and cocoa, and the cold draw is effortless.

After establishing an even light, the first thing you notice is the chalky, powdery texture of the smoke. The flavor is best characterized by cocoa, sweet cedar, cream, and a gentle white pepper spice. The body is medium and the smoke production is above average.

As the Robusto nears the midway point, the minimal spice recedes even further, and the profile becomes a little woodsier. Oak takes center stage, though there’s still a nice backdrop of creamy sweetness. The final third exhibits a slight increase in intensity. Throughout, the combustion properties are absolutely flawless. The burn is straight, the ash holds well off the foot, and the draw remains easy with abundant smoke output.

It has only been about a week since H. Upmann by A.J. Fernandez shipped nationally (it was initially distributed to about 30 strategic retail accounts on May 8, with a wider distribution commencing on May 22).

It seems to me A.J. Fernandez was aiming for a tamer Nicaraguan blend that’s consistent with the traditional H. Upmann profile. In other words, I don’t think he sought to bring the full-bodied Nicaraguan spice and strength to this Dominican brand. Whatever the intent, the result works. This is a balanced, tasty, medium-bodied treat that smokes like a gem. In my book, it’s worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Illusione Singulare Phantom (Regular Production)

24 May 2017

In the flurry of new cigars announced around last year’s IPCPR Trade Show, Illusione’s announcement of the return of the Singulare Phantom was one I personally was most eager to try. The original 2010 Singulare Phantom remains one of my favorite cigars of all time, a cigar I’ve enjoyed many boxes of over the years. (My original review awarded the cigar four and a half stogies, but I suspect with more age it would have earned five out of five.)

For the re-release, which is a now a regular offering, almost everything is the same as as the original. The size (6 x 50), blend (Nicaraguan puro), packaging (boxes of 15), and price ($12 per cigar) all remain the same.

The only major change is the original was made at the Raíces Cubanas factory in Honduras, where all Illusione cigars were made at the time, while the 2016 release is made at the TABSA factory in Nicaragua, where newer Illusione production has moved. Visually, it’s a well-made cigar with a light brown rosado wrapper free of any large veins and just a bit of sheen.

Once lit, I find a medium-bodied smoke with flavors ranging from Walker’s shortbread biscuits, café au lait, cedar, and roasted cashews. There are also hints of graphite and white pepper.

Construction was excellent across each of the five samples I smoked. Variation from start to finish is limited to bursts of spice and graphite that jump forward almost randomly.

The new Illusione Phantom is a complex and balanced smoke, though not as exquisitely balanced as the original. The original release Singulare Phantom got better and better with age; perhaps the re-release will too, as the flavors integrate even better with age.

When I reviewed the original cigar I noted that the $12 dollar price tag was quite reasonable. The fact that, six years later, the price hasn’t gone up at all is a welcome surprise. Flavorful, complex, and well-made, the Illusione Singulare Phantom 2.0 earns a 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: Tatuaje Reserva Broadleaf Collection K222

17 May 2017


As I’ve noted before, 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. And 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.

The 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 to only 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 earlier this year and secured one. In addition to master cases of 100, Tatuaje owner Pete Johnson announced this year that the cigars will also be available in boxes of 10 of each vitola ($140 for the K222 box of 10).  In March, I reviewed the lonsdale-sized (6.4 x 43) Havana Cazadores vitola. Today, we evaluate the toro-esque K222 (5.9 x 52), the most recent addition to the Brown Label offerings.

The original K222 was released last year as a tribute to Pete Johnson’s late dog, Kona, who passed away at 2:22 PM on April 26, 2015. That version features a dark Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobacco. The Broadleaf Collection edition swaps out the Ecuadorian Habano for Connecticut Broadleaf. To differentiate from other Reserva lines (including the original K222, which also uses the Reserva secondary band), the Broadleaf Collection bands say Broadleaf below Reserva on the second band.

I smoked four K222 Reserva Broadleaf Collection cigars for this review. The deep brown wrapper has just a little oil. One of my samples featured some oversized veins running from the cap to the foot, but all four exhibited excellent combustion qualities.

Once lit, I found a cigar heavy on tannin and oak notes combined with a roasted flavor that reminded me stale coffee. Through the 90-minute smoke, I also found bread and black pepper notes.

The K222 Reserva is strong and full-bodied, but neither balanced nor complex. I frankly was underwhelmed by the cigar, which caught me by surprise since I gave very high marks to the original K222 and the previous Broadleaf Collection (Havana Cazadores) I reviewed.

Maybe the explanation is that this is more an experiment than a polished blend, as the original K222 was clearly blended for the rich Habano wrapper and not a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. Whatever the reason, while hardly an unpleasant cigar, it doesn’t come close to the original K222 blend, nor is it among the best of the Broadleaf Reserva Collection. This is why the K222 Broadleaf Reserva earns three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Cohiba Blue Robusto

15 May 2017

A few weeks ago, not long before announcing Sean Williams of El Primer Mundo as the new Cohiba brand ambassador, General Cigar Co. revealed Cohiba Blue. From a packaging perspective, the new line is a departure from the silvers and blacks that dominate the rest of the Dominican-based brand’s portfolio.

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. 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.

The four inaugural vitolas that are just now arriving at retailers nationwide—Churchill (7.5 x 50), Robusto (5.5 x 50), Rothschild (4.5 x 50), and Toro (6 x 54)—sell in the $8.99 to 10.99 range. While they are by no means discount or value smokes, they are less expensive than many of the other options within the Cohiba collection. Each vitola is presented in a box of 20 that’s hand-painted—you guessed it—bright blue.

The Cohiba Blue recipe includes a Honduran Olancho San Agustin (OSA) wrapper and binder (no, cigars do not typically use the same kind of tobacco for both the wrapper and binder) around Honduran Jamastran, Nicaraguan Ometepe, and Dominican Piloto Cubano filler tobaccos. “The layered wrapper-binder deepens the smoking experience and imparts subtle, earthy notes,” reads a General Cigar press release. “The unique, three-country blend represents the world’s most revered tobacco growing regions and delivers a sophisticated, memorable smoke.”

I smoked a handful of Cohiba Blue Robustos for this review. Appearance-wise, this cigar is unimpressive. The OSA wrapper is grayish and pale with several prominent veins that leave the splotchy, moderately oily surface rugged and unrefined. And the band seems quite cheap—not because it’s blue, but because it’s flat and plain.

Looks are far from the most important aspects of any cigar. So I went into lighting up my first Robusto with an open mind. What I found was a well-balanced, spice-forward, medium-bodied profile that’s best characterized by cinnamon, cedar, roasted nuts, warm tobacco, and a bit of honey. From the outset, both the draw is a bit tight and the smoke production at bit light.

After half an inch, the draw opens considerably, the smoke production becomes more in line with expectations, and the spice recedes. The cedar becomes oak and the cinnamon is replaced by a sweet, creamy backdrop akin to nougat. Thereafter, there are few changes, save for a slight increase in intensity in the final third. Throughout, the burn line is well-behaved, though don’t be surprised if you need to employ a few torch touch-ups.

All things considered, the Blue Robusto is a satisfying, well-made smoke with good flavors. I don’t think it’s going to wow anyone, yet there’s still a lot to like about this new Cohiba. In my book, it earns 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: Davidoff 702 Series 2000

10 May 2017

For more than a decade, Davidoff seems to have been looking to add a full-bodied cigar to the Davidoff line. Known for its classic, complex, balanced cigars that tend toward the milder end of the spectrum, various additions over the years have been aimed at consumers who appreciate Davidoff but want a fuller-bodied cigar.

Recent “Black Label” releases—Davidoff Nicaragua, Escurio, and Yamasa—as well as previous releases—Davidoff Millennium, Maduro, Puro Dominicano, and Puro D’Oro—all were marketed in part as Davidoff’s answer to consumers seeking a bolder Davidoff. From a branding and blending prospective, it’s a fine line to walk: something new without betraying a carefully cultivated image and profile. (Success has been mixed: Maduro and Puro D’Oro have been discontinued along with some Millennium vitolas, while Nicaragua was just expanded to a box-pressed line.)

This year, another bolder Davidoff offering was introduced: the 702 Series. For the line, the the company took seven popular White Label vitolas and swapped out the traditional Connecticut wrapper for an Ecuadorian-grown Habano.

The deep brown wrapper was originally featured on a limited edition 2009 Toro Especial cigar and was created by Davidoff as a hybrid of three Cuban seeds. The binder and filler for each of the seven 702 cigars is the same as the non-702 version.

I smoked three of the 2000 size (5.1 x 43). The cigar features an Ecuadorian binder and Dominican filler. The suggested retail price is $15.80.

The cigar starts out with a burst of caramel and cinnamon sweetness, but soon settles into a more traditional combination of roasted nuttiness, café au lait, and warm, well-aged tobacco.

With a perfect draw, solid ash, and even burn, the cigar delivers medium-bodied flavors from start to finish. With the exception of occasional black pepper there isn’t much spice, though towards the final third leather and biscotti flavors emerge.

As mentioned above, Davidoff’s challenge has always been staying true to what makes Davidoff so appreciated as it caters to consumers whose tastes tend toward fuller-bodied flavors. By bifurcating its Black Label and White Label lines, Davidoff has finally settled on a successful formula.

The addition of the 702 Series adds a new twist, but ultimately fits into the White Label line as a medium-bodied cigar that is subtly complex and exquisitely balanced. Davidoff cigars are always priced as premium cigars but they usually deliver, and the 702 Series 2000 is no exception, which is why it earns a rating of four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys