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Cigar Review: Villiger San’Doro Maduro Toro

18 Jun 2018

About a month ago, Villiger unveiled a new 7,500-square-foot factory in Bahia, Brazil. Called Villiger Do Brasil, the facility makes Villiger puros for both the U.S. market (San’Doro Maduro) and the European market (Celebration and Corrida). More Brazilian cigars are expected from Villiger in the future, though I’m not sure they will all be puros.

Villiger has been making cigars in Brazil since the 1970s. This newer, bigger factory (30 rollers, with the capacity to add 20 more), however, signals a redoubled commitment to the country and its tobaccos. Villiger Do Brasil—along with the recent relocation of U.S. corporate headquarters to the Miami area—is further evidence of Villiger’s interest in expanding its presence in the premium cigar market (Villiger is a major player in the machine-made realm).

My colleague reviewed the Villiger San’Doro Maduro Toro a couple years ago, finding it to be well-constructed, tasty, and balanced. The cigar I’m reviewing today is the same in makeup—a Mata Fina wrapper, Mata Norte binder, and Mata Fina and Mata Norte filler—but this one is made at Villiger Do Brasil.

The single-vitola blend is presented in a Toro (6 x 50) format and retails for about $8.50—a price that is, as far as I can tell, unchanged since the cigar was introduced in 2015. The Toro’s dark, toothy exterior is complemented by dual bands of gold, green, and red. The cap is a bit sloppy, but it clips just fine to reveal a tight cold draw.

I find pre-light notes of cherry, cocoa powder, and molasses at the foot. After setting an even light, the sweet cherry shines through in the flavor, accented by leather, coffee, and roasted cashew. There is a bit of cayenne heat in the background, as well as a subdued cedar spice and a damp, musty taste that’s difficult to describe.

Towards the midway point, the medium-bodied profile enters a phase that can best be characterized as natural tobacco sweetness. The individual flavors, put plainly, seem to be rounded off. The taste stays in this ballpark until the finale, which has a reprise of cherry and coffee.

I sampled three Toros for this review. Each had a tight draw resulting in a low volume of smoke production. I found this to be both frustrating and intrusive, though two of the three seemed to open up a bit at the midway point. The burn line was always straight, and the ash held well off the foot.

Some may read this and conclude my samples were stored in conditions featuring excessive relative humidity. After receiving my five-pack in the mail from Villiger, though, I stored the cigars in one of my closely monitored humidors for a month.

I will let the remaining two San’Doro Maduro Toros rest for awhile before giving this cigar another try. I’ll be sure to post an update when I smoke another, probably in six months or so. For now, I would be remiss if I scored this Villiger cigar any higher than two stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Casa Fernandez Miami Corojo Robusto

14 Jun 2018

Not many years ago, your average well-informed cigar smoker probably had never heard of Aganorsa tobacco. Today, there’s a good chance they have and, if they haven’t, they’ve almost certainly smoked Aganorsa tobacco, which is widely used by many of the largest cigar makers.

Aganorsa S.A. started in 1997 when Cuban-born American businessman Eduardo Fernandez began purchasing land in Nicaragua to grow tobacco, including fields once owned by Ncaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. Prior to the Sandinista revolution, Somoza was part owner of the Joya de Nicaragua factory (dictators don’t pick their lands because they aren’t some of the finest available). Fernandez, who quickly began expanding his growing operations, staffed his fields with Cuban agronomists.

Fernandez soon began expanding to cigar making with the purchase of Tropical Tobacco and later by establishing, with José “Pepín” García, El Rey de los Habanos in Miami and another facility in Nicaragua. (The two split ways acrimoniously in 2010 with a lawsuit that ended in a settlement.) Today, Fernandez runs the Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. (TABSA) (Nicaragua), and Casa Fernandez Miami (USA) factories where he makes cigars for his Casa Fernanedez brands and others, including Illusione and Warped (which is co-owned by Fernandez’s son, Max).

While Aganorsa tobacco is still supplied to numerous cigar makers in Nicaragua and elsewhere, the brand remains closely associated with Casa Fernandez, which uses the tobaccos almost exclusively. Earlier this year, Casa Fernandez was officially moved under the Aganorsa Leaf banner.

The Casa Fernandez Miami Aganorsa Leaf Corojo is a Nicaraguan puro made in Miami with an Aganorsa Corojo wrapper around Aganorsa binder and filler. The cigar comes in three sizes: Robusto (5 x 52), Toro (6.5 x 52), and Torpedo (6.25 x 52).

The Robusto features a slightly mottled Colorado brown wrapper. The slightly rounded, box-pressed cigar features two bands (one denoting Casa Fernandez Miami and another advertising Aganorsa Leaf), plus a black ribbon around the foot. The primary band was changed along the way to make “Miami” more prominent.

Once lit, the cigar features cafe-au-lait, bread, cashew, and light oak. It has only the slightest wood spice (though pepper is prominent when retro-haled), but it is a medium- to full-bodied smoke with excellent balance. The flavors coat the palate creating a long, velvety finish.

The flavors are consistent throughout, with a slight increase in strength towards the final third. Construction was excellent on all three Robustos I smoked, with an easy draw, even burn, and sturdy ash.

I’ve largely been impressed by Casa Fernandez cigars, but I’ll admit to being a bit confused by the line. At times, it’s challenging to discern the differences between their various offerings. For example, what appears to be the exact same Casa Fernandez Corojo has also been made in Nicaragua, but that cigar is still sold on some websites side-by-side with the Miami. Perhaps the new Aganorsa Leaf branding will soon clear up these differences.

The Casa Fernandez Miami Corojo Robusto retails for $110 for box of 15, but the truth is you can find it for quite a bit less. For the $60 I paid for the box (perhaps that confusion I spoke of creates a buying opportunity), it is a real bargain.

This Miami-made Nicaraguan puro is the type of cigar most appreciated by veteran fans of Nicaraguan smokes. With enjoyable flavors and excellent balance, the Casa Fernandez Miami Corojo Robusto earns a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Gran Reserva Presidente (TAA Exclusive)

4 Jun 2018

In April, it was announced that Joya de Nicaragua and Drew Estate would be collaborating to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tobacconists’ Association of America (TAA), as well as the 10th anniversary of their distribution arrangement, by launching a TAA-exclusive cigar.

Called Antaño Gran Reserva Presidente (6.75 x 50), the box-pressed Nicaraguan puro is made with five-year-old tobaccos and is Joya de Nicaragua CEO Dr. Alejandro Martínez Cuenca’s favorite vitola. “When I requested the Gran Reserva blend in the Presidente size, it immediately became my private smoke,” he said. “I decided to share it only for special occasions. I can’t think of a better opportunity than this shared celebration of five decades of perseverance and companionship between TAA, its members, and Joya de Nicaragua.”

Presidente has been shipping since May. It retails for $12.50 and comes presented in gold-colored boxes of 20.

Regarding Presidente’s flavor, Joya de Nicaragua is marketing it as full-bodied and complex cigar that’s “similar to the Antaño line [introduced in 2005; reintroduced in 2017], but due to the age of the proprietary filler leaves it’s a much smoother smoke. It showcases the unique character of Nicaraguan tobacco with refined notes of spice, leather, and wood.”

The box-pressed cigar starts with a flash of red pepper, which transitions into a core profile of leather, dry cedar spice, and a chalky cocoa sweetness. It is full-bodied, yet smooth, creamy, and nicely balanced. At about the half-inch mark, the complexity is enhanced with the introduction of notes of roasted cashew.

The chalky texture continues to the midway point, which is characterized by less spice and more dry wood. There is no harshness, heat, and little spice, rendering the Presidente one of those rare cigars with full flavors that’s quite approachable.

Construction is downright perfect. Across the four samples I smoked for this review, all exhibited straight burns, sturdy gray ashes, clear draws, and generous smoke production.

In addition to Presidente, there are three other Antaño Gran Reserva sizes that are not TAA exclusive: Belicoso (6 x 54), Robusto Grande (5.5 x 52), and Gran Cónsul (4.75 x 60). I haven’t smoked any of those recently, but I can say the Presidente is well worth seeking out. It is masterful, and an excellent example of what a fine Nicaraguan cigar should be. In my book, it earns 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: El Titan de Bronze Redemption Sun Grown Habano Lancero

21 May 2018

Earlier this month, I published a photo essay documenting my recent visit to El Titan de Bronze. Even if you’re not familiar with this small factory on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, Miami, chances are good you’ve enjoyed its cigars at one time or another. El Titan de Bronze counts companies such as Drew Estate, Warped Cigars, La Palina, Cornelius & Anthony, Padilla, El Primer Mundo, Cremo, and many others as clients.

From the outside, you could easily mistake El Titan de Bronze as a mere retailer. The whole operation is only 2,200 square feet. But—unlike all the other cigar spots that dot Calle Ocho, many of which employ a window roller or two to lure tourists—El Titan de Bronze is a living, breathing factory full of rich history.

Its staff is also often called upon to not only craft cigars for other brands, but to also offer guidance and assistance when it comes to blending (one exception here is Willy Herrera of Drew Estate, who apparently does just fine on his own). The expertise El Titan de Bronze brings to the table is evident in its house blends, which are available for sale online—but, I am told, are mostly bought in-person at the factory.

Included in the lineup of house brands is El Titan de Bronze Redemption Sun Grown Habano. This blend features Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos around a sun-grown Ecuadorian Habano wrapper.

Cuban-seed Santo Domingo and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, an Ecuadorian binder, and (as the name implies) a dark Habano wrapper. The Corona (5.75 x 48) sells for about $8.50 apiece. Six regular-production vitolas are available, including the Lancero (6.75 x 38), which retails for about $9. (Beyond the six core sizes—Churchill, Churchill Corto, Toro, Belicoso, Corona, and Lancero—there are five additional formats that are listed as “subject to availability.”)

The Redemption Sun Grown Habano Lancero sports a well-executed pigtail cap and attractive dual bands of white, gold, and blue. It is moderately firm from head to foot with no hard or soft spots. The wrapper is uniform in color and dry with a few large veins. The cold draw is moderately firm, and the soft pre-light notes remind me of hay and molasses.

Many cigars offer fleeting moments of brilliant notes of roasted nuts. For whatever reason, this typically emerges after the first third is completed. In this case, however, that awesome flavor takes center stage right from the get-go. Other tastes include spicy cedar, white pepper, and cinnamon. As the Lancero progresses, a salted caramel note joins the fray to add some creaminess and sweetness.

Then, at the midway point, the entire profile takes a turn, abandoning the roasted nuts, sweetness, creaminess, and spice for a mellower (and, frankly, less interesting) flavor of bread, cereals, and dry oak. Fortunately, this retreat is short-lived. Just as you might begin to lose interest, the roasted nut note comes back, as does the spice.

Throughout, the burn line is straight and the ash holds well off the foot. The draw is tighter than I would like in the first half—even for a lancero—and, as a result, the smoke production is a bit below average. Everything opens up nicely in the final third, though.

I am a fan of lanceros, which is why I gravitated towards this size for my first foray with the El Titan de Bronze Redemption Sun Grown Habano. That said, I can’t help but think the experience would have been improved by the clearer draw that’s likely afforded by the thicker sizes. I look forward to giving those a try. For now, this cigar earns a rating of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: The T. Toro (Caldwell, A.J. Fernandez, and Booth)

9 May 2018

Few things are as temporary as a cigar industry retirement, which frequently is more about waiting out a non-compete than a desire to stop working with cigars. So it was a breath of a breath of fresh air when Matt Booth didn’t claim retirement when he and Room 101 ended their partnership with Davidoff. (Then again, Booth may have been too young for anyone to believe a retirement from an industry he clearly enjoys.)

“I decided not to renew. The contract ended, and I think that it’s time for a new beginning for Room 101. I am grateful for the years of partnership and support from Davidoff,” Booth said when he announced what would be just a six-month hiatus from the cigar industry in January 2017.

Sure enough, in July 2017, Booth announced he was back and collaborating with Robert Caldwell on two new cigars. The first of the two was Hit and Run, made in the Dominican Republic.

The other is The T., a collaboration between A.J. Fernandez, Robert Caldwell, and Matt Booth. Originally called The Truth, this collaboration was renamed after a copyright issue, presumably with Tatuaje (which makes a vintage cigar called La Verite, French for “the truth”), not with those gaudy propagandists at TheTruth.com.

The T. comes in 5 box-pressed sizes, including the 6-inch, 52-ring gauge Toro ($11.50). The cigar is a Nicaraguan puro made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.

It is well-constructed and firm to the touch with a dark, oily wrapper. Combustion is excellent, with a sturdy ash, easy draw, and even burn.

Once lit, the cigar features roasted cashews and black coffee notes, combined with leather and clove. It’s medium- to full-bodied with some slight tannic dryness.

As the cigar evolves, charred oak, barnyard, and light black pepper notes emerge. Different from most A.J. Fernandez-made Nicaraguan puros, but still an enjoyable cigar.

I didn’t particularly enjoy Caldwell and Booth’s Hit and Run collaboration, but this cigar hits my palate in the right way. Good construction and satisfying flavors earn this collaboration a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Debonaire Daybreak Toro

30 Apr 2018

Debonaire got on my radar about two years ago when Drew Estate announced it had entered an agreement to become the exclusive distributor of Debonaire and its sister brand, Indian Motorcycle cigars. Both are produced in the Dominican Republic for longtime industry veteran Phillip S. Zanghi III and Daniel Sinclair, founder of Durfort Holdings, a manufacturer of pipe tobacco, cut rag, and machine cigars.

Of the partnership, Jonathan Drew had this to say: “Phil Zanghi has been a dear personal friend of mine for two decades. When I permanently moved to Nicaragua in 1998, I wasn’t speaking no fancy languages like Spanish, so Phil helped keep me sane, as we scuttled back and forth between Nica and Honduras. He’s been a psychological and spiritual Drew Estate booster from our beginnings.”

Now Zanghi is a booster for his own portfolio of cigars, bolstered by Drew Estate’s extensive distribution network. Along with the Nicaraguan-wrapped Habano and the Connecticut Broadleaf-wrapped Maduro, the Connecticut Shade-wrapped Daybreak is one of three lines in Debonaire’s Ultra Premium collection. It debuted in November and is “the first Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade-wrapped cigar exclusively sold through Drew Diplomat Retailers as part of the Drew Estate portfolio.”

Six sizes are available in the $8.74 to $13.25 price range: Corona (6 x 46), Belicoso (6 x 54), First Degree (4 x 44), Robusto (5 x 50), Sagita-Petite Lancero (5.5 x 38), and Toro (6 x 50). According to Debonaire and Drew Estate, the blend is smooth and tastes of spice, earth, nuts, and sweetness.

I tried a handful of Toros to see how this vitola stacks up. For starters, the appearance is impressive. Underneath the large band of gold, black, and brown is a clean, golden wrapper with tight seams and minimal veins. The cap clips cleanly to reveal a smooth cold draw, and the faint pre-light notes at the foot remind me of honey and hay.

In my book, a good Connecticut Shade cigar has ample creaminess, nuttiness, and a little spice, with (hopefully) some interesting background notes to add complexity. The poor cigars in this class tend to be overly dry, papery, bland, and sometimes medicinal. Fortunately, at the outset, the Daybreak Toro is in the former category. Flavors range from creamy cashew and lightly roasted coffee to white pepper and almond butter. There’s also some cinnamon in the background of the mild- to medium-bodied profile.

After the first third, the flavor settles into the decidedly mild corner of the spectrum with a noticeable drop in both spice and taste. Here, the flavor is smooth and buttery with a dry, oaky character. But it also verges on being too mild and flat. So I find myself hoping for a reprise of the nuttiness and complexity of the introduction.

Fortunately, the anticipated reappearance of the balance, body, and complexity from the first third comes shortly after the midway point and, for the most part, sticks around until the end.

Construction is outstanding throughout, as one should expect from a $13 cigar. The burn line is straight, the ash holds well, the draw is easy, and the smoke production is voluminous.

This is a challenging cigar to review. It has flashes of brilliance, periods of dullness, and a high price tag. In the end, I smoked three Debonaire Daybreak Toros before rendering my verdict of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Palina Bronze Label Robusto

23 Apr 2018

The new La Palina Bronze Label made the journey from a 2017 limited edition to a 2018 regular line without missing a beat, though it did give up the foot band that previously identified it as an exclusive for Tobacconists’ Association of America (TAA) shops.

The line also stands out among La Palina offerings for its strong Honduran profile. Not only does it feature a Honduran Habano wrapper, Honduran binder, and a mix of Nicaraguan and Honduran filler, but the Bronze Label is rolled at El Paraíso, a large factory near the border with Nicaragua.

Those roots are evident from the start, with the wrapper giving off a nutty aroma often associated with Honduran tobacco. The cap is deep and nicely applied, allowing for a smooth cut.

The cigar’s strength is in the medium range, and it presents an interesting, enjoyable experience. It kicks off with a tangy citrus taste that quickly mingles with some woody notes. As it burns down, there’s a bit of spice, likely from the Nicaraguan filler, and notes of cedar at different points.

I smoked several in the Robusto size, a 5.5-inch stick with a ring gauge of 50. Construction and performance were excellent in each one.

The line now includes two other sizes: the original TAA Toro (6.5 x 52) and a Gordo (6 x 60). The Robusto costs $8.99.

The Bronze Label is another mark in the evolution of Bill Paley’s resurrection of his grandfather’s 19th-century La Palina cigar company. The new operation began in 2010 with an ultra-high end—and high dollar—cigar rolled for Paley by Graycliff in the Bahamas.

The boutique brand has continued to expand, using other factories and becoming a strong presence on cigar retailers’ shelves.

I recommend you give the Bronze Label a shot. While the profile isn’t one I’d want to smoke all the time, it offers a pleasant, enticing smoke that seems to get better with each cigar. As such, I rate the La Palina Bronze Label Robusto a strong four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: La Palina / Stogie Guys