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Cigar Review: Agio Balmoral Añejo XO Rothschild Masivo

2 Sep 2015

You could be forgiven for not being familiar with Royal Agio Cigars. But while the Netherlands-based company may not be a major player in the U.S. market (at least not yet), Agio has a huge presence internationally and has recently achieved the milestone of over 800 million cigars sold in a single year. That’s a lot of cigars.

Balmoral XO Rothschild MasivoAgio, which was founded in 1904 by Jacques Wintermans, has recently partnered with Drew Estate to bring its cigars to the American market. The Agio portfolio includes the Balmoral Añejo 18, which had a successful launch in 2014, limited by the rarity of the 18-year-old Arapiraca wrapper.

This year, Agio introduced Añejo XO, which is made in the Dominican Republic using well-aged tobaccos. The wrapper is Brazilian sun-grown, the binder Dominican, and the filler is a three-country blend from Brazil, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. The new blend was on display at Drew Estate’s elaborate booth at the IPCPR Trade Show in New Orleans this summer. It is expected to be made available at a couple-hundred tobacconists nationwide.

Añejo XO is offered in three vitolas: Rothschild Masivo ($9.90), Mk52 ($10.95), and Petit Robusto FT ($8.50). The Rothschild Masivo measures 5 inches long with a generous ring gauge of 55. Kudos to Agio for including the name of the vitola on the foot band, though I don’t think there’s any way to confuse the three sizes; the Mk52 is a torpedo, and the “FT” in the Petit Robusto’s name refers to its “flag tail.”

The Rothschild Masivo is an oily specimen with a few prominent veins, a reddish hue, and a nicely applied triple-cap. The foot shows a cross-section of tightly packed tobaccos and exudes pre-light notes of damp wood and leather. The cold draw is stiff with the wrapper imparting a slight sweetness on the lips.

Right from the outset, the Añejo XO boasts a big, bold flavor of earth, raisin, black pepper spice, and rich espresso. The background note reminds me of black cherry. Full-bodied and strong, each puff coats the palate with thick smoke, and the aftertaste is formidable with a considerable concentration of spice on the tip of the tongue. There are few changes in flavor from light to nub.

Construction leaves a little to be desired given the burn line—which requires a few touch-ups along the way to stay even—and the moderately tight draw. But the ash holds firm off the foot and the smoke production is solid.

The Rothschild Masivo is a heavy-handed, blunt-force instrument with plenty of power and an interesting interplay between spice, earthy richness, and fruity sweetness. I’d recommend giving it a try on a full stomach after a large meal with a complementary beverage, preferably a sweet sipping rum. In my book, it earns 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: L’Atelier Imports Surrogates Cracker Crumbs

1 Sep 2015

One cigar I constantly find myself in search of is an inexpensive, small cigar that isn’t small on flavor. It’s a tall order since the small size limits the number of filler leaves and the ratios between them that can be used.

surrogates-cracker-crumbsAnother challenge small cigars face is that consumers don’t want to pay full price for what they perceive as half a smoke. That poses a challenge since although less filler tobacco is needed, the labor required is nearly identical to a larger cigar.

One savings cigar makers can get when making a smaller cigar like this, is that the wrapper can come from a second cut of each half leaf. Normally, a wrapper leaf (which is by far the most expensive tobacco in the cigar) is de-veined, which splits it in two parts, then each half is used as wrapper for one cigar. However, if the leaf is large enough, there may be enough left after the wrapper is trimmed to roll a second smaller cigar.

Whether that’s what L’Atelier Imports is doing or not, I can’t be certain, but it seems likely that’s taking place in the four small cigars L’Atelier introduced in 2014. Each—L’Atelier, El Suelo, Trocedero, and Surrogates—comes in a 4.5-inch, by 38-ring gauge size, which is then sold in soft 5-packs that retail for $15 each.

The Surrogates version is called Cracker Crumbs, and is a pint-sized version of the large Animal Cracker blend. It features a dark Ecuadorian Habano Oscuro wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos.

Once lit, I find oak and bready flavors with a hint of leather. There are also slightly tanic notes that, at times, create a slight sourness, though that largely fades toward the final third.

Construction is notably excellent, especially the ash, which holds for nearly an inch before gently being tapped off. It’s not supremely complex, but there’s enough there to make for an enjoyable 20-30 minutes. (It should be noted that if you smoke slowly this will last far longer, and the flavors benefit when you do.)

That makes the Cracker Crumbs perfect for a variety of times when you don’t have time for a larger smoke, like a short walk or drive, or maybe a lunch break. In terms of value and construction, there’s a lot to like about the Surrogates Cracker Crumbs, and even though the size does limit its complexity, it still earns a solid three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: CRA’s New Page Helps Keep Smokers Informed

31 Aug 2015

If you want more cigar news, reviews, and reports, Cigar Rights of America has created a new page to help you out.

CRA LogoThe lobbying group’s Cigar Media Center offers links to online sites, audio programs, and advertising partners in print and on TV.

“It kind of puts it all in one spot for cigar enthusiasts,” said CRA executive director J. Glynn Loope.

The organizations represented on the page and the CRA have a symbiotic relationship, one that’s intended to drive online traffic to all involved. Making the selections for those to include, Loope added, was a fairly straightforward task. The online sites have links to CRA, while those under Audio Links and Advertising Partners provide complementary advertising for CRA.

“We didn’t choose them, really they chose us by being supportive of CRA,” Loope said.

The page went up in mid-August and almost immediately attracted attention. Loope said one site that had been overlooked got in touch and was quickly added to the page, as were several others that were intrigued by the concept and wanted in.

One thing the Cigar Media Center highlights is just how many sources there are for cigar news. They range from a slick magazine like Cigar Aficionado and the nationally syndicated Cigar Dave radio show to a Philadelphia area local-access cable television program.

But blogs, podcasts, and online sites comprise by far the largest category on the page. They range from sites like StogieGuys.com and Stogie Review to the Half Ashed podcast and the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers’ publication, Smokeshop. More will, undoubtedly, be added.

Check it out. I think almost anyone will find at least a site or two they hadn’t seen before. I know I did.

George E

photo credit: Cigar Rights of America

Cigar Review: Kilo Toro

26 Aug 2015

If you’re a regular consumer of online cigar media, you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with Barry Stein. He is highly active on social media, the founder (and former proprietor of) A Cigar Smoker, a former employee of Miami Cigar & Co., and a current employee of the New Hampshire-based Two Guys Smoke Shop, a chain of cigar retailers.

Kilo ToroBack in 2013, Stein created a new cigar brand called Kilo, which was made a La Aurora in the Dominican Republic (La Aurora is distributed by Miami Cigar, where Stein served as director of social media). Kilo was considered a test blend and marketed to cigar chops in New Mexico, Texas, and Maryland before it was discontinued when Stein and Miami Cigar parted ways in the spring of 2014. Miami Cigar allowed Stein to keep the Kilo trademark when he relocated to New Hampshire.

Kilo has been re-blended and is now available in nearly 50 cigar shops nationwide. Made at the Tabacalera Aromas de Jalapa factory in Nicaragua by Noel Rojas, owner of Guayacan Cigars, the new version of Kilo sports an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a Nicaraguan Corojo 2006 binder, and three-year-old filler tobaccos from Rojas’ farms in Nicaragua and Aganorsa.

Kilo is offered in two sizes: Robusto (5 x 50, $9) and Toro (6 x 52, $9.50). This newer iteration is easily distinguished from the 2013 test blend Kilo because the attractive band is black with accents of gold and white, instead of completely gold. The back of the band also has a United Cigars tab, which not only identifies the parent company, it makes removing the band refreshingly easy.

I sampled several Toros for this review. This vitola is a firm, handsome specimen with a nice triple-cap and an overall feel of quality. The foot exudes notes of baking spices, cocoa, and hay, and the head clips cleanly to reveal an easy cold draw.

After setting an even light, the initial profile is characterized by a vegetal taste that’s almost grassy with background notes of coffee, leather, and white pepper. Cream and caramel add balance. There’s loads of strength with little spice.

After a half-inch, the Toro picks up some spice and intensity. Still, the vegetal taste is front and center, rounded off now by earth, natural tobacco, and sugary sweetness. The physical properties are perfect throughout, including a solid ash, straight burn line, effortless draw, and voluminous smoke production.

I have to admit, Kilo is a tough cigar to review. I’ve met Barry Stein on a number of occasions, and he’s a likable character with a sincere passion for tobacco. Plus, let’s face it: It’s easy for me to root for a cigar blogger turned brand owner. Take my opinion for what it’s worth, but I honestly think Stein and Rojas did a fantastic job with this blend. It’s balanced, cool-burning, interesting, unique, and superbly constructed. While the centerpiece flavor that I’ve been calling “vegetal”—it’s a difficult sensation to describe accurately—may not be for everyone, it really strikes a chord with me, and it confirms my suspicions that a lot of careful thought went into this cigar’s makeup. As such, I feel confident awarding the Kilo Toro 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: Partagas Aniversario Robusto

24 Aug 2015

If there are any unwritten, hard-and-fast rules in the cigar industry, one must surely be to never let an anniversary go unnoticed. Be it a cigar maker’s birthday, the anniversary of the founding of a brand, or any other milestone imaginable, you can bet any significant date will be commemorated with a cigar—usually a limited edition super-premium.

Partagas AniversarioSince 2015 is the 170th anniversary of Partagas—which is among the oldest extant brands in the industry—it was no surprise to see the good folks at General Cigar unveiling a commemorative smoke with a considerable price tag. The Partagas Aniversario, as it is called, was prominently and proudly on display at the General booth at the premium cigar trade show in New Orleans in July.

Expected to hit retailer shelves this fall, Aniversario sports a proprietary Cameroon wrapper grown specifically for General, plus a Connecticut binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Three sizes will be sold in 10-count boxes with prices ranging from $15.99 to $17.99 per cigar: Robusto (5 x 50), Toro (6 x 54), and Salomone (7.25 x 54).

When you think Cameroon wrapper, you’re likely not expecting anything as dark as the wrapper leaf on Aniversario. It almost looks like a grayish, muted maduro. The surface is oily with a complex network of thin veins and plenty of tooth. The pre-light notes remind me of damp wood and milk chocolate, and the triple-cap clips cleanly to reveal an easy cold draw despite the tight cross-section of filler tobaccos visible at the foot.

Once lit, the Robusto exhibits a medium-bodied profile of cedar spice, black coffee with sugar, cinnamon, and a little black pepper. The flavor is well-rounded and harmonious and, on the aftertaste, there’s a sharp concentration of spice on the tip of the tongue. So, yes, if you’re a fan of Cameroon-wrapped cigars, you’ll find all the expected elements here, including cedar and sweetness with an approachable level of strength.

As far as the physical properties are concerned, the white ash holds incredibly well, the draw has just the slightest resistance, the burn line is straight, and the smoke production is average. In other words, everything is in line with what I’ve come to expect from General Cigar.

I’ve long been a fan of Cameroon cigars and am of the opinion the wrapper leaf is underrepresented in the marketplace and underappreciated. The Partagas Aniversario is a good example of a well-built, tasty Cameroon. That said, I’m unconvinced it’s so significantly better than some of its competition that sells for a fraction of the price. All told, I’m settling on an admirable score of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Joya de Nicaragua Cuatro Cinco Reserva Especial Toro

20 Aug 2015

A few years ago, Joya de Nicaragua released Cuatro Cinco to celebrate its 45th anniversary. The limited production cigar was a Nicaraguan puro with tobaccos from Estelí and Jalapa, including aged Ligero that had been resting in oak barrels.

Cuatro Cinco Reserva Especial ToroOnly 4,500 boxes of 10 were made in a single vitola: a large, semi-box-pressed smoke that measured 6 inches long with a ring gauge of 54. In addition to earning an exemplary rating at StogieGuys.com in November 2013, Joya reported Cuatro Cinco sold out in just a few short weeks.

Flash forward to 2015. A few months ago, Joya announced Cuatro Cinco Reserva Especial, which started shipping the last week of June to selected members of the Drew Diplomat Retailers program. Reserva Especial, which is a regular production line, features a “carefully modified recipe,” including barrel-aged, Grade A fillers and a shade-grown Habano wrapper from Jalapa. Four softly box-pressed vitolas sell in the $8 to $12.50 range: Torpedo, Double Robusto, Petit Corona, and Toro.

The Toro (6.25 x 50) is a dark, oily specimen with few noticeable veins and a loose cross-section of tobacco visible at the foot. Its band is very similar to the original Cuatro Cinco, except the newer version says “Reserva Especial” across the top, and there’s more white than gold as a secondary color to the black. The pre-light notes remind me of dried fruit, especially green raisin. The triple-cap clips easily to reveal a smooth cold draw.

Once lit, the Reserva Especial exhibits a gritty, leathery profile with hints of red and black pepper along with espresso. The body is full from the get-go, coating the palate with thick smoke and leaving plenty of spice on the aftertaste. After a half inch, some cocoa sweetness joins in, rendering the profile a little more balanced and interesting. The cocoa is a most welcome addition, though it can be elusive, especially if you smoke too quickly.

As I’ve come to expect from Joya de Nicaragua, the combustion qualities are excellent, including a straight burn line, solid ash, easy draw, and good smoke production.

The original Cuatro Cinco—known as “Edición Limitada”—may be the best cigar Joya has ever produced, so perhaps it’s unfair to compare the Reserva Especial to it. On the other hand, Joya is certainly inviting that comparison by maintaining the Cuatro Cinco name (assuredly trying to capitalize on the former’s success). In my humble view, judging by the Toro size alone, the Cuatro Cinco Reserva Especial is quite tasty but not up to the high standards set by Edición Limitada. That said, kudos to Joya for releasing more than one Reserva Especial size; I particularly look forward to seeing how the Petit Corona stacks up. For now, the Toro should be on your watch list. It’s worthy of an 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: My Father Le Bijou 1922 Toro

19 Aug 2015

While StogieGuys.com has taken note of this popular My Father line—including a 2012 mention of the Churchill as a Gold Star smoke—we’ve never actually reviewed it.

my-father-le-bijouI’ve smoked a few of various sizes through the years. Recently, I picked up a couple five-packs of the 6-inch toro with a 52-ring gauge—one of the original vitolas introduced in 2009—at a significant discount over the regular price of about $11 each.

The cigar was crafted by Don José “Pepin” Garcia to honor his father, in the same manner Jaime Garcia did for Don Pepin with the earlier My Father line. Le Bijou 1922 features a Nicaraguan Habano Oscuro wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler. The cigars are rolled at the Garcia’s My Father Cigars factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

The dark, oily wrapper is exquisite, with tiny veins and a mouthwatering pre-light barnyard aroma. The presentation is also nicely done, with two ornate bands set off by a cloth orange foot band.

In those I smoked for this review, all but one smoked and burned perfectly. One did develop a tunnel that briefly disrupted the burn and the smoke, though it cleared up after about a half-inch.

I’ve read reviews that make note of pepper, but I don’t really get much of it. To me, there was more light spice than pepper. And the flavors I found tended to be darker and richer, with a sweetness in the second half and some floral notes throughout.

I thought the strength was in the upper-medium level, with a lot of thick, rich smoke.

Overall, this is an enjoyable cigar. The length allows it to develop and display complexity along the way. It’s especially worthwhile if you can catch them on sale.

I’d also recommend trying several of the sizes because there’s a difference among them, enough so that I think some smokers will definitely prefer one over another. I rate My Father Le Bijou 1922 four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys