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Cigar Review: Quesada Selección España Beli-Lance (Casa de Montecristo Exclusive)

23 May 2016

Quesada 1

A little over a year ago, it was announced Casa de Montecristo (CDM)—a successful three-location tobacconist in Chicago—would be receiving two exclusive sizes of Quesada’s Selección España blend. These vitolas joined eight other Selección España frontmarks, some of which are regular production, others limited to as few as 600 total cigars.

Quesada 2The two CDM sizes are Fabulosos (7 x 54, $12) and the subject of today’s review, a cross between a belicoso and a lancero called Beli-Lance (7 x 40, $12). CDM received 3,000 of each size from Quesada. Each comes complete with an Ecuadorian Arapiraca wrapper, a Dominican Broadleaf binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

“The Spanish Market has always been dominated by Cuban cigars, but lately high unemployment and the high cost of Cuban cigars has driven the Spanish to search out alternatives,” reads an un-dated explanation on the Quesada website about the origins of the blend’s name, which was likely written around 2010. “To address this new demand, the Quesada family brought Spanish tobacconists to the Dominican Republic to work a cigar exclusively for Spain, and after a week of blending the Quesada España was born.”

Clearly, Selección España is not exclusive to Spain. Quesada’s retailers in the U.S. got a hold of some samples when the cigar was being introduced in 2010, liked them, and ultimately got approval to bring the blend to the American market.

The Beli-Lance from CDM sports a lancero frame topped by a sharply pointed cap. The cap clips uneventfully to yield a clear cold draw, which is somewhat surprising given the thin ring gauge and firm feel. The unique wrapper (Arapiraca is typically grown in Brazil, not Ecuador) is moderately textured and reddish with a few large veins and tight seams.

Once lit, pre-light notes of molasses and hay transition to a woody, meaty profile with hints of oak, char, peppery spice, clove, and leather. The body is medium and the smoke texture is thick and chewy. After a quarter-inch, the spice increases, but traces of sweet cream and roasted nuts fade in and out for some balance. At times, the resting smoke is incredibly aromatic and mouth-watering.

As the Beli-Lance progresses, the draw tends to tighten and the flavors take a turn towards a bitter, somewhat stale, version of their former selves. From the midway point on, I find myself in a struggle to keep the cigar lit while preventing the taste from becoming too hot or too harsh as the foot heats up from my frequent puffs and touch-ups. I was rarely able to regain the pleasant, balanced profile that characterized the beginning.

Notwithstanding the high regard in which many hold Quesada Selección España, I did not have a satisfactory experience with the Beli-Lance, a size I thought I was destined to thoroughly enjoy. All things considered, this cigar earns a disappointing rating of two stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Drew Estate Nica Rustica Belly

16 May 2016

Belly 2

Whether by design or coincidence, Nica Rustica feels like a discount version of the immensely popular Liga Privada No. 9. Both feature Connecticut Broadleaf wrappers (Liga uses “Broadleaf #1 Darks” while the Nica Rustica uses a “Broadleaf Medium”), and both debuted in just one size—a toro—before later growing to multiple vitolas.

BellyContinuing to follow in Liga’s footsteps, last year Drew Estate expanded Nica Rustica with two new sizes: the immense Belly (7.5 x 54) and the Short Robusto (4.5 x 50). They join the original El Brujito vitola (6 x 52), which is named for an ancient image found on a rock in Estelí. The image depicts a Pre-Columbian shaman—thought to be one of the earliest users of tobacco for “ceremonial and medicinal rituals,” according to the Drew Estate website.

In addition to the Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, each Nica Rustica format includes a Mexican San Andrés Negro binder (which is also the wrapper on Undercrown) with Nicaraguan filler tobaccos from the Estelí and Jalapa growing regions. Intended to be “medium- to full-bodied,” “rustic,” and “un-polished and unrefined,” Jonathan Drew calls the blend a tribute to the people of Nicaragua.

With its dark, oily, toothy, slightly reddish wrapper and generous proportions, Belly is an intimidating cigar. Before the first puff, you can sense the flavors are going to be rich and heavy, and the pre-light notes of leather, cocoa, and earth seem to validate those expectations. The imperfect cap clips easily enough to reveal an ultra-easy cold draw.

After setting an even light to the closed foot, the first thing you’ll notice is the voluminous smoke production. The thick, dense smoke seems to ooze from the foot virtually effortlessly, which helps you dive head-first into the bold tastes of dark chocolate, roasted nuts, white pepper, and espresso. The texture is chalky. A fleeting vegetal note is particularly noticeable on the retrohale—a sensation that should be familiar to fans of both Liga Privada No. 9 and Undercrown.

There are few profile changes throughout, rendering the beginning, middle, and end of this huge cigar all very similar, save for an increase in intensity at the finale. If you’re a fan of how the Belly tastes at the outset, chances are you’ll be fine with the consistency; that said—especially for such a large cigar that takes at least two and a half hours to burn from light to nub—a shift in flavor or texture would have been welcome.

In terms of construction, the Nica Rustica Belly doesn’t live up to the high standards set by Drew Estate. While the ash is solid, the draw smooth, and the smoke output extremely high, the burn leaves much to be desired. Frequent touch-ups are necessary to keep the cigar burning evenly.

Even so, this is still a good bang-for-the-buck at around $8, especially considering the size and big flavors. Add this to your list if you’re looking for a large time-filler with bold, dense flavors. In my book, the Belly earns three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: E.P. Carrillo Short Run 2016

2 May 2016

Short Run

When the man who made La Gloria Cubana a household name started his new family-run company in 2009, few in the cigar industry doubted he would be successful in his new venture. To date, by seemingly every measure, he has been.

Short Run 2016One undertaking that has helped solidify Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s post-General Cigar success has been Short Run. So far, the line has resulted in one release per year—although, when it was first introduced, we were told there might be two Short Run blends per year. The concept is pretty simple: Make a limited run of a blend using tobacco that isn’t available in enough quantities for a full-blown release. (Read our thoughts on the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015 Short Run cigars by clicking on these links.)

“The Short Run 2016 takes a new direction and departs from our prior approach, since it is only one vitola,” reads a letter from the E.P. Carrillo team that accompanied my samples. “It is adorned with a beautiful honey Colorado wrapper from Ecuador that is smooth to the touch and alluring to the eye and utilizing unique tobacco from several regions in Nicaragua for the binder and filler.” Only 2,500 boxes of 10 cigars were made, with each cigar carrying an MSRP of $12.

The toro-sized smoke (6 x 52) is oily and light brown in color with minimal veins and potent pre-light notes of sweet hay and light syrup. Moderately firm to the touch, the well-constructed cap clips easily to reveal a smooth cold draw with a slight spice on the lips. Notably, the large, ornate band of gold and red is the most detailed, regal, and textured band to adorn an E.P. Carrillo cigar since the company’s inception—which may signal how Ernesto Perez-Carrillo feels about this particular release.

Once lit, the initial profile is characterized by a hearty dose of roasted nuts, spicy cedar, and graham cracker. Well-balanced with a creamy texture, it’s the kind of flavor the makes your mouth water significantly between puffs—and the sweet, abundant resting smoke doesn’t hamper my enjoyment either.

As it progresses, this medium-bodied treasure loses some of the cedar bite in favor of more graham and creamy nut. Oak, hay, and restrained leather add more balance without overpowering the core tastes. All the while the physical properties are excellent from light to nub. The gray ash holds well off the foot, the draw is easy, the burn line straight, and the smoke production is well above average.

If I were asked what flavors I most enjoy in a cigar, sweet cream, graham cracker, and roasted nuts would rank among my top tastes. The E.P. Carrillo Short Run 2016 has all three in spades. This cigar wasn’t blended specifically for my palate, but it might as well have been. Exquisite in every way while maintaining incredible balance and offering rare subtlety, I have no reservations about awarding this triumph a rare rating of five stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here. A list of other five-stogie rated cigars can be found here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Hoyo by Hoyo de Monterrey Robusto

27 Apr 2016

Long a General Cigar staple, Hoyo de Monterrey is the latest offering to receive a makeover. This time, the overhaul comes via a new line inspired by an earlier limited edition. The cigar even sports a different, shorter name—simply Hoyo—and, as you’d expect, modern bands, boxes, and promotion.

HoyoInterestingly, the new Hoyo was touted in a press release by General’s vice president of marketing, Alan Willner, rather than a cigar blender.

Hoyo is being offered to tobacconists in four sizes: Rothschild (4.5 x 50), Robusto (5 x 54), Toro (6 x 50), and Gigante (6 x 60). For this review, General provided me with a five-pack of the Robustos, which carry an individual MSRP of $6.59.

The tobaccos used in Hoyo reflect the blend from last year’s Hoyo Edición de Cumpleaños 150 limited edition that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the original Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey.

That cigar features a proprietary wrapper leaf called Estelí Habano Shade, which has been fermented longer and applied to the new Hoyo. It is thick and oily with little pre-light aroma. Under an Ecuadorian Sumatra binder is a filler mix of Pennsylvania ligero along with Nicaraguan tobacco from Estelí and Ometepe.

I found excellent construction, draw, and burn in each of the samples. Smoke production was top-flight. The cigars are densely packed, and a slow burn makes the fat Robusto last longer than many larger cigars.

For me, there’s often a fine line between peppery and harsh. Sometimes it shows up in a back-of-the-throat bite, sometimes in a lingering, coarse finish. With the Hoyo Robusto, it seems to show up in both, especially during the first inch or so.

The harshness backs down somewhat in the second half, with burned coffee and tobacco sweetness coming to the fore. Overall, though, there isn’t much development throughout the five-inch smoke.

While it’s nice to see a major cigar maker reexamine long-time brands, it can sometimes feel like they’re trying too hard to emulate their boutique competitors. With Hoyo, General has produced a perfectly acceptable cigar, but one that seems a bit heavier on the sizzle than on the steak.

On the other hand, with its reasonable price and excellent combustion properties that are characteristic of General Cigar, I’d recommend giving it a try. As for rating, I give the Hoyo Robusto three stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Black Label Trading Company NBK

25 Apr 2016

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In November, Black Label Trading Co. (BLTC) creator James Brown announced a new “small-batch cigar line” called Black Works Studio. “Part of the motivation for opening our own factory, Fabrica Oveja Negra, was to experiment and develop unique blends highlighting Nicaraguan tobacco,” said Brown. “Black Works Studio (BLK WKS) is my first opportunity to use our factory as my playground. Blending cigars is my passion and I ended up with several blends and ideas on the shelf [so] the time was right to launch a new brand.”

NBKFor the uninitiated, BLTC’s core lines include Salvation, Lawless, Royalty, Redemption, Benediction, and Last Rites. “Our attitude re-thinks standards for cigar making, and caters to cigar lovers and aficionados tired of a mainstream, mass-produced approach to cigar making,” reads the BLTC website.

In late 2015, BLK WKS added three cigars to the BLTC portfolio: Killer Bee (4.5 x 46), an Ecuador Maduro-wrapped petite corona; Rorschach (5 x 38), an Ecuador Habano-wrapped petite panatela; and NBK (6 x 46), an Ecuador Habano Oscuro-wrapped corona larga.

The latter is a dark, reddish cigar with a soft box-press and a closed foot. The size is right up my alley (three cheers to BLK WKS for keeping all of the ring gauges under 50) and the uniformity of the wrapper’s color, tight seams, and minimal veins make this a very appealing smoke. The well-constructed cap clips cleanly to yield an ultra-easy cold draw, and the pre-light notes are sweet and chocolaty.

Once lit, I am immediately struck by the powdery nature of the texture of the smoke. While the smoke is undoubtedly cool, airy, and light, that certainly doesn’t mean the flavor is lacking in any way. Right off the bat, the profile has balanced, complex notes of cocoa powder, coffee, roasted nuts, and black pepper spice. Impressive and highly enjoyable.

As it progresses, NBK tends to favor its most delicious taste—roasted nuts—while the spice mellows and a delightful creaminess emerges. Then, at the midway point and into the finale, the pepper picks back up while coffee and chocolate takes center stage. The body is decidedly medium throughout.

The three samples I smoked for this review (each provided by BLTC) all performed admirably in the construction department. Each had a solid while ash, voluminous smoke production, a clear draw, and a well-behaved burn line that only required a slight touch-up here and there.

NBK delivers on its $9 MSRP, and then some. I’m enamored with the flavors, I love the size, and I have no complaints about the presentation or physical properties. That’s why, in my book, this gem from BLTC 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: Davidoff Nicaragua Short Corona

18 Apr 2016

The spicy start from this cigar comes quicker and stronger than other vitolas I’ve smoked in this line. Of course, when a cigar is only 3.75 inches, starting fast is nearly a requirement.

Davidoff Nicaragua (1)That wasn’t the only difference that struck me as I smoked through a five-pack of Davidoff Nicaragua Short Coronas I’d bought for about $50 last summer. There was less change throughout—again, not unexpected. In the Robusto, for example, I found the spice to lower in intensity at about the halfway point, especially as coffee became more prominent. Not so here; spice continued pretty much as it began, with the coffee maintaining a moderate level.

Other flavors I noticed were chocolate, wood, and the earthy, musty note that seems to be a part of Davidoff’s DNA. The Short Corona finish was velvet smooth, another common Davidoff characteristic.

I drank coffee while smoking a couple, and it was an excellent pairing.

For such a small smoke (the ring gauge is 46), the draw was perfect, as was the burn throughout. Smoke production rivaled that of a much larger stick.

These Nicaraguan puros were introduced by Davidoff in 2013. Originally released in three vitolas, there are now six, including two box-pressed versions and a Diadima.

The wrapper is a ten-year-old Havana-seed rosado, the binder from Jalapa, and the filler a mixture of leaves from Nicaragua’s tobacco growing regions of Estelí, Condega, and Ometepe. Despite the tobacco composition, the cigars are rolled at Davidoff’s Dominican factory.

While a bit late to the Nicaragua tobacco fest, Davidoff knew what to do when it arrived. Our earlier reviews of the Robusto and the Toro each earned four stogies.

When the Nicaragua line was announced, Davidoff said it was part of the company’s goal of bringing “delightful experiences” to cigar smokers. I believe they did just that with the Short Corona, and I, too, give this smoke four stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Old Henry Gold Label Toro

13 Apr 2016

Gold Label

As I wrote in my review of the Pure Breed Toro last month, Holt’s Cigar Company has a Best in Show sampler that features two Toros from each of the four Old Henry blends for just $29.95 ($3.74 per cigar). For cost-conscious fans of José “Pepín” García, this eight-pack is a total no-brainer.

Old Henry CTAnd whether you’re trying Old Henry for the first time or looking for an excuse to revisit these value-priced smokes, your timing couldn’t be better. This year marks the tenth anniversary of Old Henry, a house blend made for Holt’s by Pepín. Holt’s, as you may know, is the Philadelphia tobacconist that launched the Ashton brand in 1985 and today maintains a strong catalog and online presence. That means you don’t have to traipse to 1522 Walnut Street in downtown Philadelphia to get your hands on some Old Henry smokes.

Today, the Old Henry portfolio ranges from the original Old Henry (Nicaraguan Corojo wrapper), Maduro (Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper), Pure Breed (Ecuador Sumatra wrapper), and the subject of today’s review: Gold Label. Gold Label sports a clean, bright, minimally veined Connecticut-seed Ecuadorian wrapper that provides a silky cover for the Nicaraguan tobaccos underneath. Five vitolas are available in the highly affordable $4.75 to $5.75 range: Belicoso, Churchill, Corona, Robusto, and Toro.

The latter is firmly constructed from head to foot. The pre-light notes are faint with delicate hints of sweet hay, honey, and sawdust. After nothing more than a V-cut, I find the cold draw to be a bit stiff for my liking. A simple guillotine cut, though, reveals a good draw with only moderate resistance.

Right out of the gate, the Gold Label Toro exhibits a well-balanced flavor with an enjoyable interplay between sweetness, spice, and cream. Roasted nut, café au lait, dry oak, and white pepper best characterize the profile. The body is mild to medium with a buttery texture.

As it approaches the midway point, the taste becomes spicier with the additions of cinnamon and black pepper. I also notice that when my puffs become more frequent, a fleeting bitter taste has a tendency to materialize, but only for a moment. Avoiding the bitterness—which is not a flavor of which I’m particularly fond—is as easy as remembering to take your time.

The final third of the Toro has lots more cinnamon and pepper, though the body is still barely verging on medium. Construction across both of my samples was consistent and admirable. Both burn lines were of the set-it-and-forget-it variety, the smoke production was above average, and the gray ashes held firm.

This isn’t the first time we’ve reviewed the Old Henry Gold Label. My colleague examined the Belicoso way back in October 2012, finding it not complex enough to merit a four-stogie rating, but “a good bit better than a fairly routine three stogies.” He ultimately split the difference, and I concur. The Toro is worthy of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys