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Cigar Review: Bandolero Bravos

27 May 2015

So far this year I’ve reviewed three interesting smokes from United Cigar: the Atabey Ritos, an expensive cigar that’s complex and nuanced; the Garofalo Robusto, a mild-mannered smoke that’s affordable, flavorful, and satisfying; and the Byron Serie Siglo XX Londinenses, a handsome $30 stick that’s memorable and harmonious.

Bandolero BravosAll three creations are impressive, not only in their performance but also in their packaging. So I’ve made it a point to try and smoke my way through the rest of the United Cigar portfolio, which includes Fleur de la Reine, La Gianna, and Bandolero.

Here’s the origin of the Bandolero name from United Cigar: “Between 1717 and 1817, the Spanish Crown prohibited cigar production in the Caribbean and the rest of the American colonies, and although its precious leaves continued growing on the other side of the ocean, the ‘puro’ cigar rolling that we all know today could only be done at the Sevilla Royal Factory… [This] led to the rising prices of tobacco and the birth of the Bandolero, an intrepid figure that hid on mysterious roads with tobacco leaves rolled in other countries…”

The Bandolero Bravos is part of the so-called Premium selection of five vitolas that are packaged in humidified tubes (tubes that, by the way, make excellent reusable single-stick travel humidors). This size measures 5.25 inches long with a ring gauge of 52. It is only available in a special gift pack that includes five Bandolero cigars and costs $159.99. (A similar size, the Picaros (5.5 x 54), runs $12.79 for a single.) The Bandolero blend makeup is not disclosed.

Once out of the tube, the Bravos is certainly dressed like a super-premium with its banded cedar sleeve foot, and another two bands near the head with glossy, raised fonts and graphics of gold, silver, black, and red. Beneath is an oily, milk chocolate-colored cigar with thin veins, virtually invisible seams, and a well-executed cap. The feel is consistently spongy throughout, but the foot shows a cross-section of tightly packed tobaccos. The cold draw has just a little resistance.

Once lit, pre-light notes of hay and coffee give way to a medium-bodied profile of coffee, leather, oak, and some faint citrus. The core is natural tobacco and the texture is bready. Spice and nicotine strength are both minimal. The resting smoke is an enticing blend of roasted nuts and cream.

Construction—as I’ve grown to expect from United Cigar—is consistent with the characteristics you should demand from a stick priced in the super-premium range. The burn is straight, the ash holds firm, the draw is smooth, and the smoke production is slightly higher than average. Put plainly, the Bravos is a beauty to watch burn.

Given the cost, I was hoping for a memorable, complex experience that would make me reach for this cigar to celebrate special occasions. The Bandolero Bravos falls a little short of those lofty expectations. While I enjoy the flavors, I think the complexity isn’t quite there, and that results in a rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: J. Grotto Silk Lancero

21 May 2015

j-grotto-silk-lanceroJ. Grotto, a Rhode Island-based cigar brand, makes two lanceros. Two years ago I wrote about the J. Grotto Reserve Lancero. Today I examine the newer J. Grotto Silk Lancero. (The company has four lines, oldest to newest: J. Grotto, J. Grotto Reserve, J. Grotto Silk, and J. Grotto Anniversary Maduro.)

Paul Joyal, the man behind J. Grotto and Ocean State Cigars, says he came up with the name Silk after seeing the wrapper, and its hard not to see why. The Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, reportedly aged three years, is smooth, almost vein-free, and medium brown with a lot of sheen.

Beneath the wrapper are double binders—Indonesian and Criollo ’98 tobaccos—that surround filler sourced from Trojes in Honduras and Jalapa in Nicaragua. I smoked four of the Lanceros (7.5 x 40), which come in boxes of 10 and have a suggested retail price of $7.99.

Off the bat, the J. Grotto Silk Lancero features a mild- to medium-bodied combination of cream and cedar, along with hints of wood and pepper spice. As it develops, the flavors intensify, but the basic formula (cedar and cream with a slight spice) remains dominant.

I waited a while to smoke these because they seemed very soft to the touch when hey first arrived. Ultimately, that didn’t change much after a few months, but it didn’t impact the construction, which was flawless with a razor-straight burn—an impressive achievement given the notably finicky lancero size.

I’ve never seen the J. Grotto Silk Lancero, or even any J. Grotto cigars for sale at a cigar shop I’ve visited, and I suspect that’s true for many readers of this review, too. That’s a shame. The J. Grotto Silk Lancero is an impressive, well-constructed smoke that sells for a reasonable price. Those characteristics earn it a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Aurora 1495 Robusto

20 May 2015

The premium cigar industry’s annual trade show is just around the corner, and that means we’ll all soon be bombarded with a bevy of new releases, marketing hype, and dozens of cigars claiming to be the next best thing. Earlier this week, my colleague penned a thoughtful piece about keeping things in perspective this time of year. For me, it was a reminder to revisit some old favorites before the mad rush to sample and size-up the many new blends.

La Aurora 1495 RobustoThat same colleague also recently reviewed the Churchill vitola from La Aurora 1495, a blend that’s been around seemingly forever. It prompted me to dig through my stash, where I was pleased to discover a five-pack of 1495 Robustos that had been aging for at least a year (probably more like three to four years). In the spirit of revisiting old favorites, I decided a review was in order.

By way of background, La Aurora 1495 commemorates the founding of the city of Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic (no, the oldest cigar maker on the island hasn’t been crafting cigars for 520 years—more like 112 years). “Made from six different types of tobacco, Aurora 1495 is ideal for connoisseurs who prefer a medium- to full-bodied smoke that combines a variety of aromas and offers a flavor of incredible complexity and richness,” according to La Aurora’s website. It boasts an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper around a Dominican Corojo binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua, Peru, and the Dominican Republic.

The 1495 Robusto (5 x 50) can be found for about $3-4 when bought by the box of 25, or about $5 when bought as a single. Despite those prices, in no way does this cigar look cheap once out of the cellophane. The dark, mottled, sun-grown wrapper has a tremendous oily sheen and great texture. The feel is consistently firm, and the pre-light notes remind me of raisin and cocoa.

The flavor starts with black pepper, leather, and tea, buoyed by a core of natural tobacco and a medium dose of Ligero strength with some spice on the aftertaste. Smoke production is slightly above average. After an inch, the spice calms a bit to make way for oak and a creamy sweetness, both of which add balance. At times some bitterness creeps in. The finale witnesses a return to spice.

The physical properties are befitting a cigar from La Aurora. Expect an even burn, solid gray ash, and smooth draw. I found these characteristics to be consistent across all of my samples.

La Aurora’s 1495 Robusto isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it offers a well-balanced, classic profile with medium strength and enough changes along the way to hold your interest. Keep it in mind if you’re looking for a respectable, cost-effective smoke. It earns three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: L’Atelier Travailleurs

12 May 2015


With the cold of winter and heat of summer, sometimes the ideal cigar is one that doesn’t last much more than 30 minutes. Because of this, I find I’m always in search of a good, reasonably priced little cigar.

In that search, the relatively new L’Atelier Travailleurs seemed like a promising new addition to the little cigar category. In particular because the full-size L’Atelier blend, on which the Travailleurs is based, is a cigar I enjoy. (The blend uses an Ecuadorian Sancti Spiritus wrapper over Nicaraguan filler and binder tobaccos.)

The challenge, however, seems to be taking a full-sized blend and miniaturizing it without losing complexity and nuance. It sounds simple enough, but experience suggests it isn’t, at least not while keeping the cigar affordable enough to peak consumers’ interest.

Introduced at last summer’s trade show, the Travailleurs, along with mini (4.5 x 38) versions of the Surrogates (Animal Cracker), El Suelo, and Trocadéro, started shipping earlier this year. All the L’Atelier brand minis come in five soft-packs and have a recommended price of $14.50 per pack ($2.90 per cigar).

No cutting of the cap is needed as it comes pre-cut. Once lit, I find medium-bodied smoke. There are doughy bread and hay flavors, hints of graham cracker, cream, and leather notes, and a persistent dry sawdust finish. There’s little variation beyond that profile, but the result is a consistent, tasty smoke for 30-40 minutes. The cigar is a little soft to the touch, but that isn’t to the detriment of construction. The burn is even and the draw isn’t too tight (a common problem for small cigars).

While my quest for the perfect mini cigar may not be over, this new offering is a welcome addition. The L’Atelier Travailleurs is a straight-forward but tasty, well-constructed, medium-bodied little smoke offered at a very reasonable price, and that earns it a rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Perdomo 20th Anniversary Sun Grown Churchill

11 May 2015

Perdomo is one of those brands that takes a straightforward, traditional approach to cigar making, marketing, and branding. While there’s nothing wrong with the company’s classic style, Perdomo never quite seems to grab the limelight—at least to me, anyways.

Perdomo 20th Anni ChurchillSo perhaps it’s no surprise that I’m just now getting around to smoking the 20th Anniversary Sun Grown, which debuted back in the summer of 2012 (there’s also a 20th Anniversary Maduro). This Nicaraguan puro includes high-priming tobaccos from Perdomo’s farms in Estelí, Condega, and Jalapa. The Cuban-seed wrapper is aged 6 years, then an additional 14 months in bourbon barrels.

Six vitolas are available: Robusto (5 x 56), Epicure (6 x 56), Gordo (6 x 60), Torpedo (6.5 x 54), Corona Grande (6.5 x 48), and Churchill (7 x 56). The latter retails for about $9 and comes complete with a soft box-press, only thin veins, moderate oils, and faint pre-light notes of hay and cream. The cold draw has just the right level of resistance.

Once lit, you’re immediately hit with a rich sun-grown sweetness and some notes of wood and dried fruit, particularly apricot. The undertones are straight natural tobacco, and the texture is bready. In the background, you’ll find hints of coffee, sweet cream, and peanut. The resting smoke is incredibly sweet. Spice is present—as you’d expect from a Nicaraguan puro—but the black pepper is definitely not as dominant as you’d think.

I’ve plowed through a five-pack of Churchills over the past couple weeks. This is one of those flavor profiles that really grows on you. While all of my samples were consistent in terms of flavor, I found the last to be much more enjoyable than the first. In other words, the 20th Anniversary Sun Grown blend is like an album you need to listen to a few times before you really start to appreciate.

Construction-wise, I have no complaints. The burn line may require a touch-up along the way but, for the most part, the Churchill smokes evenly and slowly. The ash holds firm off the foot. The smoke production is above average.

I haven’t yet tried any of the other Sun Grown vitolas. You can bet I will, especially since my only real complaint is the large Churchill format tends to overstay its welcome a bit—particularly since there are few flavor changes along the way. I’d wager the Robusto or Corona Grande would be more up my alley.

That said, this is an interesting, satisfying, sweet specimen, and a good value at about $9. It earns three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Aurora 1495 Churchill

6 May 2015

1495For many smokers, warm weather signals the time to find some lower-priced sticks that can be enjoyed while pursuing outdoor activities such as golf, fishing, or mowing the lawn.

My advice? Buy a box of La Aurora 1495 Churchills.

Forget the no-name bundles, seconds, factory throwouts, and all those others where you run a high risk of poor construction and inconsistency.

The 1495 delivers top construction and performance with four-alarm smoke production at bargain-basement prices. Just what you’d expect from La Aurora, which has been rolling cigars in the Dominican Republic since 1903.

Check several of the big online retailers, and you’ll find the 1495 at less than $70 for a cardboard box of 25. (Smaller sizes are even cheaper.)

With a ten-year history, this line combines tobacco from Ecuador (wrapper), the Dominican Republic (binder and filler), and Nicaragua and Peru (filler). It’s a smooth combination that creates a mild to medium strength experience.

It’s not overly complex, not the sort you’re likely to look forward to as a celebration stick. But you’ll find nice tobacco flavors with nuts and a subtle spice near the end. At 7 inches with a ring gauge of 50, the 1495 is perfect for those long, sunny afternoons wherever you are or whatever you’re doing.

Smokers looking for a bargain cigar really need look no further. A few years ago, a review awarded the 1495 Robusto four stogies.

While, for me, the Churchill isn’t quite at that level, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to new smokers and those looking for a better-than-just-good daily cigar.

I feel the 1495 Churchill is worthy of a strong rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Epicurean Carnavale Lancero

4 May 2015

CarnavaleOn Friday, it was announced that Gary Griffith had stepped down as head of Emilio Cigars, House of Emilio (the distribution arm of Emilio and several other boutique lines), and the Delaware Cigars retail shops. The announcement referred to this development as Griffith’s “retirement,” noting “his legacy will continue through the brands he’s helped, the distribution company he led, and the cigars that he blended.”

One of the brands Griffith “helped” is Epicurean, which is still part of the House of Emilio. “Epicurean Cigars was created under the careful eye of Steven Ysidron with its focus on handcrafted, small-batch salon cigars,” reads the Epicurean website. “Steven started making cigars in the late 1980s with his father and the Fuente family in the Dominican Republic. In 1999, Steven and his family started producing cigars in Nicaragua.”

Epicurean boasts brands like Gonzo Santeria, AG Vintage 2007, AG Azul Vintage 2008, Santeria Mojo, and Gonzo Vintage 2007. Last September, the Plasencia-made Epicurean Carnavale started hitting retailers in 4 sizes that retail for $9-10 apiece. The blend features a Jalapa Habano Oscuro wrapper around American, Honduran, and Nicaraguan tobaccos (including ASP Estelí Ligero, which are some of the most sought-after leaves around).

The box-pressed Carnavale Lancero samples I smoked for this review all had seamless surfaces and only the thinnest veins. The feel is moderate to moderately soft, and a simple V-cut is all that’s needed to establish an easy cold draw. Off the foot, there’s plenty of pre-light sweetness and earth.

Once underway, the initial profile has plenty of oak and dried fruit with lingering cedar spice. From there, coffee takes center stage, while some sweet chocolaty notes add balance. The texture is bready. Black pepper only becomes evident with frequent puffing, especially if smoked through the nose. At the midway point and beyond, there’s ample bitterness, salt, and earth along with rich tastes of espresso and cocoa.

Construction is solid with average smoke production, a stable ash, smooth draw (especially for a Lancero), and a mostly straight burn line that requires only a few touch-ups along the way.

I’d recommend the Epicurean Carnavale Lancero to anyone looking for a medium-bodied, coffee-centric Lancero. While some additional age would likely round off the edges, right out of the gate this cigar is worthy of an admirable rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys