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Cigar Review: Abaddon Lancero (Blue Havana Exclusive)

1 Oct 2015

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. 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.

Abbadon LanceroOver the past two years, I’ve made the short walk from my home to Blue Havana several times to replenish my supply of these two fine blends (Abaddon, named for the dwelling place of the dead in the Hebrew Bible, features a Nicaraguan hybrid (Criollo/Corojo) wrapper; Ouroboros, named for an ancient symbol of a dragon eating its own tail, is wrapped in a Brazilian Mata Fina leaf).

Until recently, both were only available in a single size (6.25 x 52). During my last trip to Blue Havana a few weeks ago, though, I was greeted by a welcome site: Abaddon and Ouroboros are now both available in a Lancero format. It can only be good news when two excellent blends meet one of my favorite sizes, right? I lit up three Abaddon Lanceros to find out.

The Abaddon Lancero is available on the Blue Havana website for $108 for a 12-pack ($9 per cigar, not including outrageous Illinois taxes). Its dark, oily, slightly reddish, toothy wrapper is accented by a pigtail cap. The binder—Mata Fina—and filler—a blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos—are not visible at the closed foot, though you can still pick up pre-light notes of sweet chocolate and baking spices. Despite the narrow ring gauge, the Lancero boasts and easy draw.

Once underway, the rich, bold profile introduces itself with a hearty dose of full-bodied espresso, cracked pepper, and leather. Perhaps not surprisingly, the overall impression is very similar to the toro-sized Abaddon, just more concentrated and more intense.

But the Lancero is more than just a blunt instrument of strength. There are also background flavors of sweet caramel and salty nut. Smoking a little slower than usual also helps quell the strength a bit and bring out more of the complexity—a task made simple by the cigar’s ability to stay lit even with long pauses between puffs.

With a straight burn line, great smoke production (especially for a Lancero), and loads of bold flavor backed up by a tones of sweetness and creaminess, the Abaddon Lancero is an easy recommendation and a solid complement to an after-dinner serving of high-proof bourbon. It’s downright delicious. I may give an ever-so-slight edge to the original Abaddon size since I believe it has marginally more going on in terms of balance and complexity, but the Abaddon Lancero rates exceptionally well at four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Montecristo White Vintage Connecticut Double Corona

28 Sep 2015

Back in July, Altadis launched an extension of its longstanding Montecristo White line called the Montecristo White Vintage Connecticut. Unlike White, which boasts a Connecticut-seed wrapper grown in Ecuador, White Vintage Connecticut has a shade-grown wrapper from 2008 that was grown on Altadis’ own farms in Connecticut.

Vintage ConnecticutBut the differences between the blends don’t end there. Whereas White has a Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, White Vintage Connecticut has a Nicaraguan binder and a three-country filler blend of Dominican, Peruvian, and Nicaraguan tobaccos. Vintage Connecticut is also easily distinguished from its predecessor by two extra bands—one at the foot, and a large mid-section band with a picture of a red Connecticut tobacco barn. (These three bands combine to conceal the majority of the cigar’s surface.)

White Vintage Connecticut is made at Tabacalera de García in the Dominican Republic and offered in three sizes: No. 2 Belicoso (6 x 50), No. 3 (5.5 x 44), and Double Corona (6.25 x 50). Prices range from $10.50 to $14.50, which makes the line more expensive than White (which, at around $9-11 per cigar, was already considered to be on the pricier end by some consumers).

Once the mid-section and foot bands are removed from the Double Corona, the true beauty of the vintage Connecticut leaf is on full display. The exterior is silky, golden, and smooth with a few larger veins and some wrinkles at the seams. The pre-light notes, as expected, are faint with aromas of honey, hay, and sawdust. The cold draw is stiff at first, but opens right up with a little chewing at the foot.

After setting an even light, the initial profile greets you with flavors of cream, peanut, paper, butter, almond, and vanilla. The texture is bready and the aftertaste is short with moderate cedar spice. As you’d expect from Altadis and Montecristo, construction is perfect from beginning to end.

I’d wager the binder and filler recipe was concocted specifically to not overpower the 2008 Connecticut leaf, which is surely intended to be the showcase. As such, all the traditional Connecticut flavors come through with minimal interference. And that’s ultimately what keeps this cigar from reaching its potential. While it brings you the classic tastes you’d expect from Connecticut Shade—flavors you can get from many cigars for considerably less, mind you—it fails to really complement those flavors with complexity. Instead, you’re left with a cigar that tastes creamy and nutty at its best spots, but also papery and ultra-mild at its low points.

My recommendation? Pick up this cigar if you’re looking for a mild morning smoke to pair with coffee, want to taste a vintage Connecticut Shade leaf, and budget is not a major concern. In my book, the Montecristo White Vintage Connecticut Double Corona earns three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Leccia Tobacco Luchador El Gringo Frog Splash

21 Sep 2015

Sam Leccia rose to prominence in the cigar world not by simply going off the beaten path but by carving out his own personal freeway. When he pioneered Nub—a concept now widely copied—Leccia promoted it passionately. Affable and engaging, he hit the road like an evangelist on a tent-show revival tour, gaining new fans wherever he went.

Frog SplashStymied by a non-compete after he left Oliva, Leccia was out of the picture for a while but never out of the thoughts of those who admired his work. Forums and blogs often sizzled with rumors of his return. When Leccia did come back, heading an eponymous company, the inaugural Black and White cigars earned high praise, particularly his use of fire-cured tobacco, quite unusual at the time.

Then came another speed bump. Industry giant General Cigar acquired his distributor, Toraño, and soon thereafter Leccia licensed his brands to General and went to work for the company. And, once again, Leccia and his cigars were the center of attention and rumor. Would the creative iconoclast be swallowed up by the corporate behemoth? To some, it seemed as if Steve Jobs had gone to work for IBM. (Interestingly, Leccia was a trailblazer in this as well, his move foreshadowing the angst that followed the sale of Drew Estate to Swisher shortly afterward.)

These days, Leccia says, he’s splitting work time among his home in Pittsburgh (site of Leccia Tobacco headquarters, aka “my garage”), General’s offices in Richmond, and on the road. In an email, he said he’s been to over 30 states and 4 countries since February: “I find that being on the road and meeting with retailers and customers is one of the most important aspects of this business, and I don’t imagine that ever slowing down.”

Interestingly, Leccia said the biggest surprise for him at General has been “how truly small this large company really is… People think of it as some huge corporate goliath, and it is so far from that. The premium cigar industry is incredibly small, so sure, General is a big fish, but the pond is more of a deep puddle.”

When it came time for this year’s cigar trade show, consumers were keenly interested in what Leccia would introduce. Once again, he went his own way. Rather than something completely new—which is what might have been expected—Leccia showed off an extension of his existing Luchador line, called El Gringo. (Of course, he did that his way as well, bringing a professional wrestler—masked, of course—to the floor to knock Leccia around.) With four sizes, each named for a wrestling move, El Gringo has a Nicaraguan Oscuro wrapper, Nicaraguan binder, and Ligero from Nicaragua and Pennsylvania. The band features a distinct version of the line’s Mexican wrestling mask.

General sent me samples of the Frog Splash, which retails for $8.25 and comes in boxes of 21. Short (4.5 inches), sharply pressed (Leccia refers to it as a “mat press”), and thick (70 ring gauge), it looks like a powerhouse. And it doesn’t disappoint, displaying strength in the upper-medium to full range.

I wasn’t sure at first how it would smoke. For someone not particularly fond of large ring-gauge cigars, Frog Splash is a bit intimidating. The press, though, does make it more comfortable. I tried a guillotine cut on the foot of a couple, but found a large punch worked better, tightening up the draw a tad. Each one I smoked performed excellently: slow, even burn; tight ash; and lots of smoke.

From beginning to end, it is a smooth, rich cigar, with pepper, dark chocolate, spice and coffee tastes that rise and fall throughout. I found it engaging and enjoyable from beginning to end, which was about two hours.

I recommend giving this line a try, especially if it is outside your cigar comfort zone. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. As for a rating, I give the Frog Splash a high-flying four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Fratello Bianco Event Exclusive

17 Sep 2015

Cigar makers and brand owners must feel a constant pressure to continuously work on the next big thing. From what I can tell, retailers and consumers alike are always asking about what’s new. And it must be quite challenging to keep a steady stream of traffic flowing at your annual convention booth if you don’t have something fresh and exciting to show off.

Bianco Event ExclusiveThat’s why, as my colleague put it recently, “the seemingly irresistible urge to introduce new blends, new line extensions, new brands, new tobaccos, new curing methods, and on and on reaches its annual pinnacle at the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show.”

Yet there’s something to be said about the slow and steady approach: not wearing yourself too thin, and only coming out with something new when you’ve got a product worth introducing. So far, that’s the strategy Omar de Frias has employed for Fratello Cigars, the venture he began in 2013. The original Fratello line was a project over two years in the making. It would be another two years until a second Fratello cigar would come to market.

Called Bianco, the four-vitola line features a San Andrés Negro wrapper, Dominican binder, and filler tobaccos from Pennsylvania, Nicaragua, and Peru. “We wanted a richer, darker, and a fuller body smoke that would be smooth, complex, and characteristic of our full flavor cigars,” said de Frias in a May press release. Bianco cigars sell in the $8-9 range and are packaged in 20-count boxes.

I smoked three in the “Event Exclusive” size, which measures 5 inches long with a ring gauge of 44. As is sometimes the case with San Andrés, the cigar looks a little rough around the edges with noticeable seams, a slightly sloppy cap, and a toothy texture. The pre-light notes, however, are an inviting, potent combination of cocoa and espresso, the cold draw is smooth, and the surface has ample oils.

Once lit, I find a medium-bodied profile of black coffee, pepper, dark chocolate, and oak. The texture is leathery. As the cigar progresses, the complexity deepens with the additions of creamy nut, damp earth, and a dried fruit sweetness. The smoke production is commendable and the resting smoke has a fragrant, sweet bouquet. The final third is slightly more intense with espresso taking center stage.

The physical properties perform beautifully from light to nub, including a straight burn line, solid white ash, and good draw that has just the right amount of resistance.

Like the original Fratello, it’s hard to not like Bianco. I’ll take that a step further and say Bianco has its predecessor slightly beat in terms of complexity, flavor, and texture. (I doubt this will be a popular opinion; it’s fashionable to put down San Andrés-wrapped smokes, but I think San Andrés really makes this blend shine.) Try Bianco yourself and you’re bound to be impressed. I rate the Event Exclusive size four and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Acme Route 66 Hot Rod

16 Sep 2015

The new Route 66 cigar line sports a retro band, an all-American name, and filler that includes the trendy Mexican San Andrés tobacco.

Route 66 CigarIf you haven’t seen Route 66 yet, that’s not surprising. Acme Cigar Co.’s Jay Lundy said they have just recently begun to roll out nationally from their Texas base after what he called an “absolutely great” reception at this summer’s cigar industry convention in New Orleans.

But you’re likely to have come across Acme even sooner if you’re even mildly active on social media. The company is very active on various platforms, along with AKA Cigars, its sibling.

Route 66, rolled in Estelí, has an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a Jalapa Criollo binder, and filler from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, in addition to the San Andrés tobacco. It comes in four sizes, including a massive (8.5 x 52) cigar with both ends closed that Acme says can be split and smoked as two Rothschilds.

The Hot Rod, which I smoked for this review, is a Robusto (5 x 50, $5.90). The cigars were supplied by Acme.

It’s a pleasant cigar with excellent construction, good burn, and a fine draw. I didn’t notice the dirt flavor I often associate with San Andrés wrappers, but the cigars did have a somewhat raw finish and an occasional back-of-the-throat scratch.

Flavors included pepper, burned coffee, and a little hay, all of which were nicely blended. I’d call it a medium-strength smoke.

The name Acme has a special place in American pop culture. Cartoon fans recognize it as the source of nearly every hair-brained gadget Wile E. Coyote used to try to catch the Road Runner. Before that, though, Acme gained widespread use when phone books came out because Acme would land your firm at the top of the list. Still today, you can type “Acme” followed by just about any business you like—pharmacy, auto, sporting goods, sponges, plumbing, etc.—into Google, and you’ll find numerous examples. Earlier cigar-related Acme trademarks had apparently expired and that enabled Lundy to grab it.

As part of its push to get cigars into more hands, Acme is sponsoring a Stogie Guys contest with five-cigar sampler packs as prizes. To enter, all you have to do is follow Lundy on Instagram at @akajaylundy and post a comment here to say that you’ve done so. (You’re a reader, so we trust you; no proof necessary.) We’ll pick the winners at random in a week or so.

As for the Route 66 Hot Rod, I’d suggest you give it a try, especially if you’re looking for a modestly priced addition to a regular rotation. I give it three and a half stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Flores y Rodriguez 10th Anniversary Reserva Limitada Wide Churchill

14 Sep 2015

Last spring, Pinar del Rio announced it would launch a cigar to celebrate 10 years since the opening of its factory in Tamboril, Dominican Republic. “The Flores y Rodriguez Reserva Limitada is a creation to commemorate a decade of passion, commitment, and artistry,” reads a press release from May 2014. “Abe Flores and the Rodriguez Brothers came together 10 years ago to create the Pinar del Rio cigar brand and began a journey that has led to the PDR Cigar factory now creating some of the most acclaimed cigars on the market.”

FyR 10th Anni Wide ChurchillToday, the 10th Anniversary isn’t difficult to find. And when you do come across a tobacconist that carries it, you won’t have trouble locating the brand on the shelf. The band’s raised borders and graphics of white really pop off the dark green background. At least to my eye, this is one of those bands that stands out and cuts through the clutter.

Beneath the band is a toothy, thinly veined, medium-brown Habano Ecuador wrapper that sports a fair amount of oils. It surrounds an Olor binder from the Dominican Republic and seven-year-old Piloto filler tobacco “complemented by the finest tobacco from Nicaragua’s Jalapa Valley.” Three vitolas are available: Robusto (5 x 52, $9), Grand Toro (6 x 54, $10), and Wide Churchill (5.1 x 58, $11).

I smoked three Wide Churchills for this review. One of the samples—the one pictured, in fact—had a tiny green discoloration (sometimes referred to as “frog’s eyes”) that’s harmless and, in my opinion, detracts nothing from the experience. The other two cigars were devoid of any green patches. All three had potent pre-light notes of green raisin.

After setting an even light, the Wide Churchill yields an initial profile that’s dry, medium-bodied, and reminiscent of natural tobacco with white pepper, bread, and a little cayenne spice. Given the cigar’s pre-light aroma, I was expecting dried fruit to play at least a background role in the flavor, but that isn’t really the case. Instead, as the cigar progresses, sugar and cream help add balance as black pepper slowly grows in intensity. The texture remains bready.

At the halfway mark and beyond, the body moves into the medium-full to full range, yet I’m not noticing any nicotine kick. The flavors remain consistent, except for the welcome addition of cashew. Construction-wise, the Wide Churchill performs admirably with an even burn line, solid ash, easy draw, and good smoke production.

Pinar del Rio makes some excellent cigars that are priced very affordably. While the Flores y Rodriguez 10th Anniversary Reserva Limitada is on the pricier side, you get what you pay for. With loads of flavor and nice balance, this cigar rates an impressive four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Drew Estate Herrera Estelí Toro Especial

9 Sep 2015

Toro Especial

Back in July, broke the news that Drew Estate would be releasing Undercrown Shade, a new line based on the original Undercrown blend—but this time with an Ecuadorian-grown, Connecticut-seed wrapper instead of a Mexican San Andrés leaf. I reviewed the Gran Toro here. As I mentioned in my review, Undercrown Shade marked the first release blended by Drew Estate Master Blender Willy Herrera not to fall under the Herrera Estelí brand family.

I’m not sure if the Undercrown Shade line would have come to fruition, or if Herrera would have been named master blender, had it not been for the success of Herrera Estelí. Introduced a few years ago, Herrera Estelí was Herrera’s first cigar since leaving El Titan de Bronze in Miami’s Little Havana and joining Drew Estate in Nicaragua.

When it came out in 2013, Herrera Estelí provided some much-needed diversification for Drew Estate’s non-infused premium cigar business, which had previously focused on dark, full-bodied smokes. Herrera brings a more traditional—some would say “Cubanesque”—sensibility to blending, whereas Drew Estate had been firmly full-throttle Nicaraguan.

Herrera Estelí employs a golden Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around a Honduran binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua. It has a gorgeous triple-cap, a moderately firm feel, and pre-light notes of hay and molasses. The cold draw is clear.

On the palate, the Toro Especial (6.25 x 54, about $9) offers a mild- to medium-bodied taste that’s creamy with hints of spice and sweetness. Think syrup, creamy nut, dry wood, and white pepper, all packaged in a toasty texture. The balance and lack of intensity make the vitola easy to come back to again and again, as long as you have the time for a big toro.

I smoked three Toro Especial cigars in the past few days for this review. The physical properties were top-notch on each, including a straight burn line, solid white ash, and a smooth draw that yields bountiful tufts of thick smoke. Basically, it’s exactly what you’d expect from Drew Estate.

Keep your eyes peeled for Undercrown Shade, but certainly don’t forget how excellent Herrera Estelí can be, especially if you’re looking for subtle complexity and more traditional flavors. The Toro Especial is a good value and a wonderful experience. It earns four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys