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Cigar Review: Drew Estate Liga Privada No. 9 Toro

22 Aug 2016


I still think of Drew Estate as a newer cigar company, probably due to its modern marketing, sleek packaging, unique fan base, and urban, non-traditional vibe. How many other cigar outfits have an in-house art studio turning out graffiti and tattoos, or their own social media app? How many other brands have such a dedicated cult following among younger clientele?

LigaBut while Drew Estate lacks the history of industry stalwarts like Arturo Fuente or Joya de Nicaragua, it’s no spring chicken, either. It also can’t be considered among the ranks of small boutique outfits anymore. Drew Estate runs the largest cigar factory in Nicaragua—producing over 10,000 cigars a day—and in 2014 it was acquired by Swisher International, the largest cigar company in the world.

Drew Estate’s size and parent carry some advantages. For example, in the midst of all the FDA malaise, I’ve been thinking a lot about what cigars in my current rotation will still be available in a few years. It’s hard to imagine Swisher will have any trouble coming up with the capital necessary to overcome the yet-to-be-detailed-though-surely-onerous approval process for any Drew Estate cigars that are selling.

Surely they’ll do so for the Liga Privada No. 9 blends, which became available in the summer of 2007—just after the February 2007 exemption deadline. Today, I thought I’d revisit my favorite cigar in that line, the Toro (6 x 52). While I might not have much new to say about a cigar that’s been on the market for nearly a decade, it’s helpful to reexamine old favorites. And, heck, I guess I just wanted an excuse to fire a few Toros up.

By now, we all know the story. Former Drew Estate chief Steve Saka, now owner of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, began work in 2005 on a personal blend for his own enjoyment. After over 50 blends of testing with Jonathan Drew and Nick Melillo (now owner of Foundation Cigar Co.), a final recipe was arrived at: a dark Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper fermented for at least 18 months, a Brazilian Mata Fina binder, and filler tobaccos from Honduras and Nicaragua.

Liga production is still limited—a limitation, according to Drew Estate, that’s due to tobacco availability—so the cigars can be tough to find and expensive. When you get your hands on a Toro, though, you’ll find a highly pleasurable, full-bodied cigar with tons of flavor and a fair amount of spice. Leathery in texture, the core tastes include black pepper, cocoa, espresso, cream, and that infectious sweet grassiness that can only be found in certain Drew Estate cigars.

Construction is outstanding, including a straight burn line and a solid white ash. Notably, the draw is incredibly easy and the smoke production is intense—welcome characteristics that have become trademarks of Drew Estate over the years.

You can expect to pay $12 or more for the Toro. While that’s a considerable cost, you can be assured of a solid, consistent, tasty experience. I’ve been smoking this cigar for a long time, and I think the most fitting rating is an exceptional four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Drew Estate Florida Sun Grown Limited Edition Trunk-Pressed Toro

15 Aug 2016


Earlier this summer, I reviewed the Robusto format of the new Drew Estate Florida Sun Grown line. I mentioned that, in addition to the four Brazilian-wrapped standard vitolas, there is also a Limited Edition Trunk-Pressed Toro with its own unique blend, and that’s the subject of today’s review.

FSG Trunk-Pressed ToroTo bring you back up to speed, two years ago we broke the news that, for the first time since 1977, long-filler cigar tobacco was being grown in Florida. Jeff Borysiewicz, owner of the Corona Cigar stores and a partner in the Sindicato cigar company, began growing tobacco on land he had purchased—out of love of the leaf, and to avoid paying residential taxes on the land, which is outside Orlando.

At the time, while we knew Drew Estate had been selected as Borysiewicz’s partner, it was unclear how the tobacco would be incorporated. In May, we learned it would be used in a blend from Drew Estate aptly called Florida Sun Grown (FSG). Drew Estate Master Blender Willy Herrera paired the Floridian filler tobacco with Nicaraguan leaves, a Mexican binder, and a Brazilian wrapper.

As I mentioned above, however, the Trunk-Pressed Toro (6 x 52) sports a different blend. It has a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Mexican binder, and filler tobaccos from Florida, Nicaragua, and Honduras. It retails for $15 and is packaged in boxes of 10 (the standard four vitolas retail for $11.50 to $15 and come in 20-count boxes).

The FSG Limited Edition Trunk-Pressed Toro has a beautiful exterior leaf that’s dark, moderately oily, slightly reddish, and covered in a network of (mostly) thin veins. The foot exudes pre-light notes of green raisin and cocoa powder. The cold draw is smooth and clear. Just like the standard vitolas, it is adorned by a handsome band of teal, orange, and gold that interestingly makes no mention of Drew Estate, nor does it designate the cigar as a limited edition in any way.

After establishing an even light, I am immediately struck by how much more Mexican-tasting the Trunk-Pressed Toro is than the regular-production Robusto. This is a gritty, dirty cigar with a highly chalky texture. Background notes include espresso, black pepper spice, and a touch of the sweet grassy sensation that’s prevalent in other Broadleaf-wrapped smokes from Drew Estate. Full-bodied from light to nub, the profile picks up some creaminess at the midway point, only to grow spicier and more intense down the home stretch. Cayenne heat fades in and out throughout.

The gentle box-press renders the Toro almost oval in shape, which I find very comfortable and unique. Combustion qualities are superb, including a straight burn line, solid ash, and an easy draw that yields above-average smoke production.

For now, FSG is only available at Corona Cigar stores, or at Corona Cigar’s retail website. However, rumor has it Borysiewicz would like to see FSG go national. If that happens, the exclusivity at Corona Cigar will likely be remembered as a soft launch.

Either way, you need to get your hands on this cigar. It’s expensive yet highly enjoyable and supremely satisfying, especially if you’re not averse to Mexican tobacco. The Florida Sun Grown Limited Edition Trunk-Pressed Toro is a joy to smoke and worthy of an admirable 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: Davidoff Colorado Claro Aniversario No. 3

8 Aug 2016


The Short Perfecto in this line is one of my all-time favorite cigars.

UntitledSo, I couldn’t help but approach the larger Aniversario No. 3 with a bit of trepidation. Would this version—a 6-inch, 50-ring gauge toro—have the same pleasing impact?

I’ve smoked a few of the other Colorado Claro vitolas in addition to the Short Perfecto. But with this box of the Aniversario No. 3, it’s the first time I’ve been able to evaluate one on a consistent basis.

Davidoff first released the Colorado Claro in the early 2000s, then brought it back in 2009. It’s something of a spinoff of the Special Series, with its own lovely Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper that Davidoff describes as “a very rare wrapper that makes all the difference in taste.” The binder and filler are from the Dominican Republic, where the cigars are rolled.

Retail price for the Aniversario No. 3 is about $25, and the toro comes packaged in boxes of ten. There are currently five vitolas in the line.

With the many new Davidoff productions in recent years, such as the Winston Churchill, Yamasá, and the soon-to-be-gone Puro d’Oro, the Colorado Claro’s strength no longer stands out as it once did.

What does stand out, however, is the fine balance among the flavors. The cigar begins with a delicate mix of tobacco sweetness and pepper, which holds on through the finish. Along the way, I also found nuts, wood, a bit of coffee, and the occasional note of that typical Davidoff mustiness.

As expected from Davidoff, the basics are first-class: construction, burn, smoke production, and draw were excellent in each of those I smoked.

All in all, it is an excellent cigar, one with the complexity and strength to please a seasoned smoker while remaining accessible to a newcomer.

For myself, I would rate the Aniversario No. 3 just a shade below the Short Perfecto. I believe that compact size and shape combine for a little more punch that sets it apart. Remember, though, I’m talking only a matter of degrees.

And none of that should detract from the Aniversario No. 3. It’s an extraordinary cigar that I rate four and a half stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Crux Guild Robusto Extra

3 Aug 2016

Guild 2

Crux, a boutique brand based in Minnesota, continues to bring new cigars to retailers’ shelves. Guild, announced a while back, is among the latest. And among the best.

Crux GuildIt is a full-bodied cigar with a lot of flavor and an opening punch that reminded me of Don José “Pepin” Garcia’s early releases in that it instantly grabs your attention with a spicy start that doesn’t let go.

The blend features an oily Ecuadorian Habano wrapper that gives off a pre-light barnyard aroma. The binder is Nicaraguan, as are the filler leaves, though Crux offers no further information about their makeup. Like other Crux productions, these are rolled by Plasencia.

All five vitolas come in 20-count boxes with the cigars in four individual five-packs. The 5.25-inch robusto extra, which I smoked courtesy of Crux, is, at 54, the largest ring gauge of the bunch.

Each of the sticks I sampled had a near-perfect burn, excellent draw and lots of smoke production. The Robusto Extra costs $9.50.

This is a balanced and complex smoke that presents a variety of flavors and textures. After the spicy start dials back a bit, a nuttiness comes to the fore. That’s followed by rich cedar and a bit of tea. Other flavors I found included cinnamon, leather, and a sweet tobacco taste.

Crux co-owner Jeff Haugen is serious about the cigar business, which he’s also involved in as a store owner. When I spoke with him after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules came down in May, he was adamant that Crux would continue as a viable company.

He was equally resolute in his determination that Crux will release cigars when they are ready, not according to a timetable dictated by the FDA.

In this case, the wait for Guild was worthwhile. I give this cigar four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Ouroboros Lancero (Blue Havana Exclusive)

1 Aug 2016


In 2013, two of my favorite cigars happened to be Abaddon and Ouroboros, both of which are made exclusively for Blue Havana, a tobacconist in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago (not far from where I live). They were blended by Chris Schedel with help from Skip Martin of RoMa Craft Tobac. Both are made at Martin’s Fabrica de Tabacos Nica Sueño in Estelí. And both are to blame for sparking my admiration for RoMa—a healthy obsession that continues to this day.

Ouroboros LanceroRoMa’s fine cigar brands—including Intemperance, CroMagnon, and Aquitaine—are available at many tobacconists (a number, I’d bet, that’s growing, if Skip Martin’s Facebook posts from the just-concluded IPCPR Trade Show are any indication). For a time, Abaddon and Ouroboros could only be purchased in-person at the Chicago shop. Now, fortunately, everyone has access to these exclusive blends via Blue Havana’s online store.

That’s definitely good news.

Abaddon is named for the dwelling place of the dead in the Hebrew Bible and features a Nicaraguan hybrid (Criollo/Corojo) wrapper. Ouroboros is named for an ancient symbol of a dragon eating its own tail and is wrapped in a Brazilian Mata Fina leaf. Until last fall, both were only available in a single size (6.25 x 52). Now they are also available in a Lancero format.

Covering the Ouroboros Lancero’s Indonesian binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic is a rustic, lumpy wrapper with few veins and highly visible seams. Pre-light notes of smoky molasses emanate from the closed foot. A V-cut is all that’s needed at the head to reveal a smooth cold draw.

The opening flavor is gritty with ample pepper spice and black coffee. The sandy texture fades after a half-inch, giving way to a creamier mouthfeel while still maintaining full body. Espresso, roasted nut, cayenne heat, earth, and paprika come and go.

Like the original Ouroboros size, the Lancero does not increase in intensity in the final third; rather, the finale is characterized by the welcome additions of cream and cedar. That’s a nice change of pace. And I think most seasoned cigar veterans will agree this cigar is teeming with strength, balance, and complexity.

With superb combustion properties and a price tag around $9, this isn’t a cigar you want to miss—especially if, like me, you’re a fan of RoMa Craft Tobac. I continue to love this blend, and the thin, elegant format serves it well. The Ouroboros Lancero is worthy of a stellar 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: Villiger San’Doro Maduro Toro

27 Jul 2016

For quite some time, Villiger, a big player in the machine-made cigar realm, has been attempting to gain a foothold in the premium, hand-rolled market.

VilligerAnd it hasn’t focused solely on sticks on the shelves. The 128-year-old Swiss-based firm blew up its North American operation, named a new president, ended a brief relationship with Sutliff Tobacco, and relocated its U.S. corporate headquarters to suburban Miami. (Hopefully, Villigar will get its “coming soon” website up and running.)

On the tobacco front, Villiger has introduced cigars, such as Trill and Cabareté, that didn’t feature the Villiger name. And it’s tried with cigars that do, like the Villiger San’Doro.

The three-cigar San’Doro line was introduced at last year’s International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Trade Show and began shipping late in 2015. The Maduro comes in a single vitola, a Toro (6 x 50), with an $8.50 price tag. It’s a Brazilian puro that’s also rolled in Villiger’s factory there. (The other two San’Doro lines—Claro and Colorado—are produced for Villiger by Oliva in Nicaragua.)

In a June interview with Cigar Snob, Villiger North America president Rene Castañeda said 2016 production for each of the lines will be about 25,000 for U.S. sales, with a focus on Florida, California, and the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania market.

The San’Doro Maduro features a Mata Fina wrapper, Mata Norte binder, and Mata Fina and Mata Norte filler. I smoked three samples, which were sent to me by Villiger.

The cigar makes a strong first impression, with an oily wrapper and a heavy feel. The denseness made me wary of a tight draw, but that proved not to be the case. The cigars did, however, start with fairly airy smoke that gradually gained substance.

It also burned very slowly, making the six-inch smoke last as long as most cigars an inch or more in length.

Villiger promotes the Maduro as the strongest of the San’Doro lines. I’d put it as medium strength and body.

There are many of the typical Maduro flavors, such as coffee and chocolate. It also has a pleasant mix of sweetness and a little spice, with some nuttiness and some wood and leather. The flavors mix and mingle throughout, keeping it interesting along the way.

If you haven’t tried a Villiger cigar, this is a good place to start. I rate the San’Doro Maduro four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Yaxel Ortiz Y.O. Toro

25 Jul 2016

YO Pic 1

About a month ago, right after LeBron James delivered the Cleveland Cavaliers their first title in the franchise’s 46-year history, pictures and video began to surface of the NBA Finals MVP with a cigar. Since it wasn’t easy to discern the band, I recall seeing some speculation on social media about what cigar LeBron had chosen to celebrate. Several people seemed quite certain it was a Hoyo.

YO ToroThe cigar brand was later correctly identified as Y.O. by Yaxel Ortiz. I think it’s safe to say this choice caught many people by surprise. Even many of those who are regular smokers and enthusiastic readers and followers of the world of cigars had never heard of the brand. How it got on LeBron’s radar—or how the cigar in question made its way to him—is not known.

An employee of Cousin’s Cigar, a five-location tobacconist in the Cleveland area, sent me a handful of Yaxel Ortiz Y.O. Toros, along with information about the brand. Yaxel Ortiz, for instance, has been working with tobacco for a quarter century and has been making cigars in the U.S. for years. Recently, he opened his own factory in Estelí called The Best Cigars S.A. It is there his first Nicaraguan-made cigar is crafted.

Y.O. has been on the market for about nine months and is available at about 30 stores across 9 states. Its recipe includes an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. Four sizes are available, each of which is affordably priced: Robusto (5 x 50, $5.20), Torpedo (6.5 x 52, $6.50), Churchill (7 x 50, $6.50), and Toro (6 x 52, $5.90).

Beneath the glossy band of black and gold that was the subject of much speculation and head-scratching is a silky, oily, slightly reddish wrapper with thin veins and moderate tooth. The several Toros I smoked for this review all had a few lumps here and there, along with a spongy feel. At the foot, the sweet pre-light notes are reminiscent of mocha and caramel.

On the palate, after an even light is established, medium- to full-bodied flavors of black pepper, coffee, and dark chocolate waste no time introducing themselves. The texture is thick and leathery, and there is a little cayenne heat on the finish. After a quarter inch, the intensity fades a bit, a retreat that paves the way for some creaminess and sweetness to enter the equation.

The midway point is lighter on spice and flatter in character with oak, creamy nougat, and bread. Now decidedly medium-bodied, the texture is less leathery and chalkier. The finale witnesses a reprise of some of the initial intensity.

Despite the cigar’s sponginess—which, in my experience, can often portend construction issues—the Toro exhibits excellent combustion properties. Each of my samples had a straight burn, solid ash, smooth draw, and above-average smoke production.

One would think LeBron wouldn’t need to concern himself with cost, especially when selecting a celebratory smoke for one of the greatest accomplishments in his storied career. You and I, on the other hand, are likely in a different boat. So the price points across the Y.O. range are certainly welcome and highly appreciated. As far as the Toro is concerned, it won’t knock your socks off with flavor or complexity. But it will deliver a consistently enjoyable experience that’s worthy of a solid rating of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys